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Our struggle was not in vain – Adebanjo

By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a  top chieftain of Afenifere and ex Deputy national Chairman of Alliance for Democracy, AD, was at the forefront of the actualisation of June 12 1993 presidential election widely believed to be won by MKO Abiola.

He was at the forefront of National Democratic Coalition, NADECO’s struggle for which he was sent to jail. Looking back 17 years later, Adebanjo said the struggle was not in vain as they succeeded in chasing out the military and ushering in civil rule.
Excerpts.

Today is June 12 and for the past 17 years, there’s been a struggle to actualize genuine democracy for which people like you went to jail. How far, so far?

Adebanjo: Obasanjo was an imposition

The struggle continues. All that we fought for is yet to be achieved. Those who fought for freedom, those of us who stampeded the military out of governance have not seen the democracy of their desire. They are messing it up. We fought for democracy but we  got a civilian regime.

There is no democracy yet because a lot of things are still going wrong. There is no rule of law, people just do things the way they like, peoples’ mandates are  not executed. Things are being done without proper procedure.

So many things are not properly done, peoples votes don’t count yet and until we get to that place where there is regard for rule of  law, where the votes of the people count and where due process is followed in doing things, we are not yet there.

Generals are still striving to rule Nigeria after Obasanjo, how do you see that?

I feel very sad about that. It is one of the reasons why we do not have democracy yet. All those generals who are now retired should not show their faces or aspire to rule us because they are the reason why things are this way in Nigeria today.

These generals caused all the problems we have in the country. Why should we fight for democracy, why should we fight for civilian rule and yet, the civilians are not the ones who are ruling us. None of these generals deserve the peoples’ mandate and nobody in his right sense should vote for them. After all that the people have suffered under the military regimes, we don’t need them again in any form.

Forget the sentiment of people exercising their fundamental human rights, we don’t need ex-generals in the system especially those who ruled us before. It’s an insult for some of them to come and ask us to vote for them so they would continue the ruin they did in the past.

It’s possible that people like General Buhari and General Babangida would contest 2011 elections and IBB even promised to immortalise MKO Abiola, what’s your take on that?

IBB should go and tell that to the marine. I am not one of the people that he can dribble. What does he mean by saying he would immortalise Abiola after all that happened, after all that happened to Abiola and his wife? What will he do? He had the opportunity to do things right but he didn’t. So, he should go to a corner and continue to pray for forgiveness.

So, you don’t like him to return?

How can any rational person who fought during the NADECO days support any military person, particularly IBB to come and rule us again? We spent months in detention over June 12 1993 presidential election. Some of us went to exile for years. Anybody who was part of that struggle who supports any general in power now should have his head examined. We ran helter-skelter for our lives. We were hounded.

I spent time in jail over June 12. Some of us were killed. Didn’t you know of Kudirat Abiola who was martyred due to the struggle? Afenifere championed the cause for June 12 and many of us paid the price.

The consequences of  the annulment of June 12 1993 general elections caused a lot of problems. You followed us everywhere, in the days of Abacha during the struggle. You were very young but you understood. No. Don’t you know the consequences of annulling June 12? It led to many deaths, it led to many distortions in the country. It let to the devaluation of the naira.

But IBB who was in power then has repented and accepted responsibility for June 12.

He should continue to pray in a corner for forgiveness and forget about contesting any election. And if he has repented, he should come out and support those who the people want, and not he wanting to contest. He should come out and support those who clamour for the respect of peoples mandate.

He should join or support the civil society campaigners who clamour for rule of law to be respected and for the peoples vote to count. If IBB regrets June 12, let him prove it through this line of action. It is through this that we can say, truly he has repented. I don’t support him coming out to campaign to be elected.

We say June 12 1993 presidential election was the freest and fairest election in the country…
Of course, it was. But the government in power annulled it. No other election in Nigeria has been free and fair.

Obasanjo did not win the 1999 presidential election. It was just given to him because they thought they would use him to appease the South-West where Abiola, the winner of June 12 1993 presidential election comes from but it was a disaster to have Obasanjo as the President. He was not the choice of the people. He was the choice of the military who were in power then.

In fact, it was IBB who made Obasanjo President and that is the person you said has repented. If he has repented, he should stay away and forget about wanting to come back to do worse than he did.

Some parties are talking about zoning but Abiola didn’t win under zoning. He defeated Bashir Tofa in the North to win that presidential election. Do we need power to be rotated between the North and the South?

That is a very fundamental matter. People are getting the idea of zoning very wrong. The type of zoning we had during the time of Abiola was different because since the civil war, only the North was in power until Obasanjo’s short tenure as military head of state and he handed over to Shagari and after the coup, the North continued.

So, all these while the North was in power, other sectors of the country were deprived. Some people in this country even believed it is their right to become rulers and not any other tribe. So, at that time, there was need for power to shift to other zones who have not experienced leadership in this country. But even then, Abiola of SDP contested against Bashir Tofa of NRC and beat him in the North.

The zoning we need today is not between the North and the South. There are principal ethnic groups in the country and power should rotate around them. It should not be made by fiat that only the Hausas and Yorubas must rule the country. What about the Igbos, the Ijaws, the Efiks and so many others. Every minority has the right to produce the president of this country.

And the constitution must make provision for that. The constitution must make provision for every ethnic nationality to produce the president of Nigeria. That is the zoning we need, not the North-South matter. That way, there should not be any monopoly by one section.

So, zoning should not be the question of the North and the South. And that is why the NADECO at that time, led by Afenifere was talking of restructuring the country, talking about the need for a National Conference because it is necessary for all the sections that make up Nigeria to decide on how they want to exist together.

Our constitution today was given to us by the military. We have not had the peoples constitution. We don’t have a federal constitution.

So, the concept of zoning is not what they are interpreting it to be. The concept of zoning at the time of the struggle was that power must shift from the north because the North was producing all the Presidents and Heads of State and we say no. It is not the priority of the North alone to produce Nigeria’s President.

The North was always in power and that was not acceptable. And okay, when power shifted to the South, a Yoruba became President. But what about the Igbo from the South and the other ethnic groups. That is why we must jettison zoning between the North and the South to talk about zoning around the major ethnic nationalities and the minorities.

So, when June 12 1993 presidential election was annulled, Babangida wanted to pacify the Yoruba and gave them somebody they never voted for.

But OBJ was good enough. He was also a victim at that time.

We didn’t choose Obasanjo. He tried to use Obasanjo to make a fool of us, as if we didn’t know what we were doing. It was Babangida, the military and the North that chose him. IBB rigged the election of Obasanjo. He didn’t win any election in this country.  The military imposed him on us and they did everything to make him win.

Based on what you said about zoning, should President Goodluck Jonathan contest the next presidential election which PDP at present has zoned to the North?

Zoning presidency to the North is the PDP arrangement, not a national arrangement and I have told you that zoning to the North is no longer necessary because we have six geo-political zones in Nigeria and many ethnic nationalities. Zoning to the North is not a constitutional provision and zoning to the North is an arrangement of PDP.

It is believed PDP will still produce the next President as there is no viable opposition.

You are not talking to one of these ‘come and chop’ politicians. You are talking to a different kind of person and we are talking about the right thing to be done. We are talking from the position of  law. It is wrong to draw the conclusion that PDP will win and that is why we are insisting that electoral reforms should be effected and it is because PDP plans to continue in power that they are sitting on electoral reforms.

If we are really serious about letting the peoples vote count, about electoral reforms, let them implement Uwais Committee submission. Then, we will know we want free and fair elections. If Uwais report is not implemented, then we should forget about free and fair elections.

The period of elections are very close but there is nothing on ground to show it. No voters register, no constitution amendment and then electoral reforms have not been implemented. Are we ready for the next elections?

That is what we are saying. We should implement Uwais report. Are we going to have election without voters register. Nothing is ready. And this is prelude to rigging election. There must be registration of voters. Some people who were not of age at the time of the last election are of age now. There must be genuine voters list and re-registration. Otherwise, we are heading towards another fraudulent election.

We had Democracy Day May 29. today is June 12. What is its significance to democracy?

May 29 is not democracy day. May 29 is the day of return to civilian regime. June 12 is democracy day. And what democracy have we got under Obasanjo when he did not obey court injunction. June 12 is democracy day.

Without June 12, there can be no May 29. If there was no June 12 and we did not fight for the military to go, there could be no question of May 29 coming in. May 29 is a day of pacifying those who fought for June 12.
So, what would you want the government to do to pacify the memory of Abiola, the symbol of June 12 struggle?

One of the things the government can do in memory of Abiola is to have a proper electoral reforms and a free and fair election. Abiola was killed and people were jailed as a result of the agitation. If not for June problems, Abacha would not have come in.

Abdulsalami would not have come in, Abiola would not have died and Nigerians would not have been subjected to the mis-governance of Obasanjo. it was because Abiola was not given his mandate that gave rise to Shonekan, to Abacha and to Abdulsalami Abubakar and that equally gave birth to the tragedy called the Obasanjo administration.

So, let us lay the foundation right by having a good electoral reforms and free and fair elections through the process of voters registration and a reliable voters list so we know the number of people that are eligible to vote. That will stop rigging of election.


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