BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
Nigerians on the march again…
On the march again!
Looking for Mr. President…
Is our man ooh!
ANYONE who is up to 30 years and lived in Nigeria in 1993 would be familiar with the above song. It was the first stanza of the late Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola’s ‘Hope 93’ campaign jingle for the June 12, 1993 presidential elections entitled: “Farewell to Poverty.”
Twenty years after that historic election, adjudged the freest and fairest polls ever held in the world’s largest Black nation, the song is still fresh in the minds of many people who witnessed the electrifying campaigns and turbo-charged electoral atmosphere that characterized the elections.
Before the June 12, 1993 election, Nigeria had conducted several elections and even after that, elections have been held but no one seems to remember the campaign jingles of the other elections. Even that of 2011 is almost forgotten, a mere two years after.
This is a measure of the impact of the 1993 elections on the Nigerian political firmament and landscape. Standing on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Abiola beat his National Republican Convention (NRC) challenger, Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa with 2.25 million votes in a keenly contested race.
However, the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida regime that conducted the exercise annulled the election. The Professor Humphrey Nwosu-led National Electoral Commission (NEC) was still announcing the results when the annulment order came. The order set the polity on fire and paved the way for a six-year pro-democracy struggle that culminated in the return of civil rule to the country in 1999.
The June 12 elections recorded a number of firsts in the annals of electioneering in the country. It was the first time only two candidates ran the presidential race. It was also the first time that presidential candidates participated in a live television debate. It was an election that broke ethnic and religious barriers. How? A Muslim-Muslim ticket depicted by Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe defeated a Muslim-Christian ticket of Tofa and Dr Sylvester Ugoh.
Compared with other elections, some critics argue that the epochal June 12 election had its share of flaws. For instance, Senator Francis Arthur Nzeribe, the leader of the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), who led a maverick campaign for the cancellation of the election, said most Nigerians did not want the polls to hold. Speaking before the election, he said that 25 million voters or 65 per cent of the 39 million registered voters had promised him that they would not vote.
Indeed, at the polls only 14,396,917 votes were recorded, an indication that about 25 million voters did not take part as Nzeribe claimed. Abiola, according the results announced by Nwosu in June 2008 (fifteen years after the poll) polled 8,323,305 votes while Tofa had 6,073,612 votes.
Asking voters to queue behind the candidate or party of their choice was said to have led to intimidation of voters and consequent low turnout at the polls. There were also allegations of vote buying through Naira burger, where voters who queued behind some candidates were given ‘refreshment’ in the form of N50 note sandwiched in a loaf of bread.
But for all its worth, a host of local and international observers were unanimous that in spite of the alleged flaws, June 12 remained the most credible election ever because every vote counted.
Asked if June 12 could be repeated in the country, pioneer chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos and now a chieftain of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Chief Olorunfunmi Basorun, said it might be difficult.
Why? Only two parties and candidates contested the June 12 election, voters queued behind the party/candidate of their choice. Today, there are over 40 parties and the elite will remain opposed to the crude electoral system of queuing behind a candidate.
June 12, 1993 to June 12, 2013: A litany of events:
*June 12, 1993: Nigeria holds freest and fairest election ever.
*June 23, 1993:Babangida annuls election.
*August 26, 1993: Babangida steps aside and hands over to Chief Ernest Shonekan, Abiola’s tribesman,
*November 17,1993: Late General Sani Abacha, shoves Shonekan aside and takes over.
*May 15, 1994:Pro-democracy and human rights activists establish the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to fight for the restoration of June 12 and Abiola’s mandate.
*June 11,1999:Abiola declares self president and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces at Epetedo, Lagos.
*June 23, 1994:Abiola arrested and detained.
*1995: Activists intensify campaign, many flee into exile.
*June 4, 1996:Kudirat Abiola, killed in Lagos by government agents over June 12 struggle.
*June 8, 1998: Abacha dies in office.
*July 7, 1998:Abiola dies in detention.
*July1998:Abdulsalami Abubakar unveils 10-month transition programme.
*December 5, 1998:Local council elections held nationwide for nine provisional political parties.
*December 1998:Three parties, Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Peoples Party (APP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) given final registration.
*February 1999: General Olusegun Obasanjo of PDP beats Chief Olu Falae of AD/APP in presidential elections.
*1999-2007: Obasanjo refuses to immortalize Abiola.
*June 13, 2008:Nwosu declares Abiola winner of the June 12 polls.
*May 29, 2012:Jonathan names UNILAG after Abiola.
*June 25, 2012: Court restrains FG from renaming UNILAG after Abiola.
*February 22, 2013:President Goodluck Jonathan retains the name of UNILAG.
Unsung heroes of June 12
ANYTIME the June 12, 1993 presidential election is mentioned, attention is immediately shifted to late business tycoon and politician, Chief M.K.O Abiola, who won the election and was denied his mandate and he later died in detention. So also is Abiola’s wife, Kudirat, who was killed by government agents over the issue.
Following the crusade for the revalidation of June 12, which later led to the return of democracy in 1999, some eminent Nigerians and activists, who waged the crusade through the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Joint Action Council of Nigeria (JACON) among others have also been praised. When the government’s arsenals were unleashed on them, some of them were killed, some went into exile and some escaped or survived assassination attempts on their lives. A host of them were arrested and detained.
Those who were killed included Pa Alfred Rewane, Suliat Adedeji, Bisoye Tejuoso, Kudirat Abiola, Bagauda Kaltho (bombed) and Toyin Onagoruwa. The likes of late Pa Abraham Adesanya and Alex Ibru survived gun attacks.
Those who threaded the thorny narrow road to exile included late Pa Anthony Enahoro, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Dan Suleiman, Olawale Oshun, etc. Many including the incumbent chairman of NADECO, Rear Admiral Ndubisi Kanu, NADECO Secretary, Chief Ayo Opadokun were also detained and their business interests attacked.
A pillar of support also came from late Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), Ebitu Ukiwe, Wole Soyinka, Segun Osoba, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Balarabe Musa, Anya O Anya, Guy Ikokwu, Frank Kokori among numerous others. These are the sung heroes of June 12. Behind these men and women, are people, whose roles in the struggle have been glossed over ever since.
They include men, women and youths, who defied odds to vote but were denied their choice via annulment.
Several were killed by state agents either covertly or in the protests that accompanied the annulment. Many died in auto accidents while fleeing the hotbeds of the protests.
Paying tribute to heroes of the struggle recently, Tinubu said: “We can never forget Pa Alfred Rewane, a man who in his late septuagenarian years showed that it was not about age, but about honour and courage.
Deploying his personal material resources at every point that they were needed, and providing strategic and ideological barricades to the onslaught of terror and treason, Pa Rewane was in the very core of the vanguard that insisted that this land shall be free.