ByÂ Gabriel Enogholase
CHIEF John Odigie-Oyegun, first civilian governor of Edo State and member of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Board of Trustees is one of the prominent June 12 activist.Â In this interview with VanguardÂ he spoke on the importance of June 12 in the political history of Nigeria. According to him June 12 would not be resolved until late Chief MKO Abiola the acclaimed winner of the Presidential election is recognized as the President-elect that was never sworn-in. He alsoÂ commented on other national issues. Excerpts:
Seventeen years after the June 12,Â 1993 presidential election was annulled by former Military President Ibrahim Babangida administration, that singular event has continue to re-echo in the political history of the nation.Â What makes June 12 tick?
June 12 is still very important. It is still an unresolved issue. It was a watershed in the history of this country. It was a time when Nigerians decided that they have had enough of the military. In fact, the military was becoming part of the country’s problem instead of a solution. Military in most countries like Turkey, Egypt even Libya, where they have intervened forcefully,Â whatever you want to say about these countries, have been agents of rapid change that weld these nations; but in Nigeria, that has not been the case. TheyÂ became part of the problem; theyÂ became an obstacle to the political development of the country, to the entrenchment of democracy. And we were not getting compensated by rapid economic and social progress, so the country was loosing all rounds.
I think like one mind, the whole nation decided that enough was enough of military rule. The nation was lucky that there were people who were ready to make the sacrifice to wrestle the military to the ground, to convince them that their time, their days were over and permanently for good. That was the main thing.
The Chief M.K.O. Abiola issue became a secondary issue, became a symbol of the struggle and even that is still unresolved because I will not be satisfied until he is properly recognized as president-elect who was not justÂ sworn in into office. The election was concluded, the votes were properly tabulated, it was just that the formal announcement was suspended and cancelled. In addition to that, I am glad that later as it may be that there is now a growing groundswellÂ for him to be immortalized and his role to be recognized.
So all these are still unresolved issues, but we are now finally moving in the right direction, the recognition of the role of Chief Abiola, roles of the many, many nationalists, those who lost their lives, those who did not but were economically ruined in the process of the struggle, those who went to prison, all the brave newspapers, civil rights groups that stuck out their necks in spite of the risks, yes, recognizing those, I dare say, you people are part of the positive history of this country. You served this country, you took risk for this country and we want to say, thank you and recognize that you did something significant. There should even be highways, a June 12 Road, June 12 Boulevard and whatever, things like that and we will all be happy and be satisfied that the sacrifice was well worth.
Is it not an irony that the man, Ibrahim Babangida who annulled the June 12, 1993 election is now calling for the immortalisation of Chief M.K.O. Abiola?
You are right in a way and those are some of the ironies of history. Again, it is better late than never. You know, these military people think admitting to mistakes is a sign of weakness whereas it is the best sign of courage to be able to say, yes, I made a mistake; if I have a second change, I would not have done things the way I did. That is a sign of courage. It is a sign of strength; it is not a sign of weakness.
I donâ€™t think he has started to come out to say that yet. But his language is giving indication that he properly would have done things differently if he had a second chance. Who knows, who knows, may be, that is why he is back in politics. May be he is trying to convince the people to grant him opportunity toÂ govern for a second time.Â Â We just have toÂ wait and see.
And I will at this time say that I have read a lot of the comments on him and his entry into the political arena, canvassing for support for peopleâ€™s votes and I have seen the spate of objections, why he should not run and I laughed and ask why? Why should he not run? We must learn in this country to put the past behind us and get the man by what he has to offer at every point, look at future and see whether it is relevant to our future. It is the voters that will finally decide whether he is relevant to our future, whether he is not.
I am one of those who suffered because of June 12. Apart from having my election as governor virtually abolished, we only served for 22 months out of the four-year tenure, but I harbour absolutely no bitterness because that is water under the bridge.
I am concerned today about tomorrow, I am more concerned about those who can improve the future of this country, who can properly exploit the potentialities of this country, who can place Nigeria on the road to greatness and on the map of international discourse positively. That is my concern for tomorrow, not yesterday. Yesterday is gone, yesterday is dead. So, let’s therefore wait patiently, this is a democracy.
Let us listen to Babangida and if he makes the right noise, it is then we are confident that this time he means well and let the Nigerian people judge. So, I think that we should not be saying de novo that he should not contest, he must never contest. No, no. This is a democracy and there is no such thing. Let us leave the Nigerian public, the electorat
e to decide whom they prefer among those who are offering their services to be our leaders at whatever levels. That is the way I look at it.
There are those who believe that June 12 should have been celebrated as our Democracy Day, because of what it stood for, when for the first time in the history of this country, North and South, Muslims and Christians spoke with one voice instead of May 29 when the present democratic set up was inaugurated. What is your comment on this?
I absolutely agreed that June 12 is the most stable date and that in any case, June 12 must be celebrated one way or the other because it is a landmark. It marked the freest, fairest election, it marked the interest of Nigeria as a country that can overcome ethnicity, that can overcome religion because we had two Muslim candidates and if it has been allowed to stand, Nigeria would have been a totally different place.
Instead, we have tended to degenerate in the key areas of ethnicity, religion and others and these are what kill nations. Everything positive about this country happened around June 12. That dayÂ really has significance for the soul of this nation, for the spirit of this nation, for the politics and for the people. What could be a more relevant date than this? I donâ€™t know, we just all think that we will ever experience another June 12. We hope we will.
As one of the NADECO chieftains that suffered untold hardship and was forced into exile by the General Sani Abacha regime, how do you see our democracy since 1999?Â Have we arrived?
The answer is no. The only thing that we can celebrate is that we are still one, we are still together and I think that is worth celebrating. But as far as democracy is concerned, we are tended to be moving backwards. In a situation where government doesn’t respect the rule of law,Â the electoral law,Â the constitution,Â and pronounced electoral contest as a do or die affair, used all the institutions of state to ensure that pre-determined results are returned, used all the powers of state to destroy the opposition parties, those are the antics of uneducated men, totally unprogressive human beings; people who donâ€™t wish the nation well, people who are afraid of contest and contention, people who are afraid to think ideas, to trust the Nigerian public to make the right choice, choices that will benefit them.
Right or wrong, they are the masters, they are the owners of Nigerian sovereignty, and they only vest it on their leaders in terms of the management of affairs. So, we have a long way to go. Yes, we still
sing about democracy, we still talk about democracy. It is a working progress, but we are not making any progress. We hope from the promises of President Goodluck Jonathan, something new will happen.
We need him to move swiftly. We need legislation. For example, in Paris, he made a statement clearly well made that those who infringe on the constitution or electoral law during elections will go to jail. That is beautiful, but we will ensure that they go to jail or they come to trial or justice. Unless you are able to do some of the things the Justice Muhammed Uwais recommended in setting up an independent prosecutor, otherwise, people will take the law into their own hands during elections in the knowledge that when they succeed in installing their government, of course, their own government will run after defendingÂ whatever infringements including murder that happened during the elections.
I expect President Jonathan having made that statement to send a bill to the National Assembly to establish the office of an independent prosecutor. So, we look forward to action following the very, very beautiful pronouncements. Every time President Jonathan speaks, he brings smiles to my face, but we are waiting for action, a lot of us are waiting for action. We want to see proposals, we want to see action plans, and we want to see laws before the National Assembly to give flesh to his very, very laudable pronouncements. So, we are waiting.
Would you say that President Jonathan has been doing enough in the implementation of the electoral reform, which may mark the success or failure of his administration?
Well, I donâ€™t know what he is doing privately, but in the public domain; the Uwais report is still there. You know sometimes, I sit and wondered that can a country like Nigeria that put together some of its most eminent citizens, a former Chief Justice, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and before that, a professor and many other very, very eminent people, writes a beautiful report and we are unable to implement it. What are we saying, that these people were so un-intelligent that they put a report that was unimplementable? Is it fair? Or are we admitting that we donâ€™t have the courage to fight to the full, to do the very far sighting recommendations including that legislation which they included in their recommendation.
It makes me wonder whether in future, you will really get serious minded Nigerians that will agree to take up government appointments or assignments of that nature because I can imagine how they feel today having put up so much energy into that exercise and to find the way the report is being tossed about by people who are far less knowledgeable particularly in the National Assembly. It is a pity.
So, I personally expect that the President will move with greater determination to let us see how he wants to guarantee free and fair election. So, we mustÂ think of our situation as Nigerians, how we do things, how we behave and devise a system tailored to suit our peculiarities which is what the Uwais report was all about.
So, I still think that we cannot run away if we are talking of free and fair elections from implementing the most significant aspect of the Uwais report. One is already done because he has nominated the Chairman of INEC, which we felt should have been done by an independent body.
The commissionershave also be nominated, but others in the Uwais report, we hope they will still find their way to implementation. What we hear or read about is thatÂ the National Assembly is just toiling with the major items, they really do not address the fundamental issues, they keep talking of independent candidacy as if that is the fundamental issue. No, it is not.