By Mazi Sam-Ohunabunwa
MONUMENTAL history was made this past week. A nation that seemed to be in denial for 25 years finally came home to face the truth. On June 12, 1993, Nigerians went to the polls to elect a civilian democratic president. The election was generally adjudged to be peaceful, free and fair but the official result was not released. The military president in power, Nigeria’s own IBB cancelled the elections using all kinds of subterfuge. The nation, especially, Southern Nigeria rose up in protest against IBB and his henchmen.
I fully remember the late Dr. Beko-Ransome Kuti, Barr. Femi Falana and the trade unionist Frank Kokori leading protests which many of us joined on Ikorodu Road and Airport Road marching to Alausa in Lagos. There were bon fires all over Lagos and other parts of the South West and a full blown civil disobedience was in full swing dragging economic activities to a halt for weeks. Many Nigerians panicked, afraid that another civil war was imminent causing many to relocate (Oso Abiola).
The peoples ‘force’ compelled IBB to step aside, enthroning Chief Shonekan’s interim National Government, ING. The empaneling of the vision 2010 committee was a major strategic initiative by Shonekan. In keeping with written secret scripts held between IBB and his man Friday, Sani Abacha, Shonekan was forced to resign and with it his government came crashing. Abacha, the ultimate dictator assumed office. It is on record that Chief MKO Abiola the then presumed winner, but now confirmed (by PMB) of the June 12, 1993 election was one of the earliest persons to pay a courtesy call on Abacha.
Why did he do so? Only historians will tell. But some of us suspected that Abacha played a fast one on him. Perhaps he naively believed Abacha was going to ‘restore the kingdom to Israel.’ Rather, Abacha locked up MKO as the man made efforts to claim his victory. Abacha latter died and God delivered Nigeria. Soon after Abacha’s death, hope was raised that MKO would be sworn in as president.
But that was not to be. The nation woke up one day, to hear that MKO Abiola had been despatched to his ancestors. I thought the nation was going to burn. Only a tepid response and Nigerians moved on with the fast transition to civil rule plan of Abdulsalami Abubakar. Olusegun Obasanjo was thrust on the nation by the Northern military establishment led by the irrepressible IBB himself. Against all odds including sidelining those who midwifed the new democracy and who prepared to assume the Presidency, people like the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Chief Olu Falae, OBJ, past military head of state returned as a civilian democratic President of Nigeria.
It was said that the North gave the presidency to the West to appease them for denying Abiola the presidency. But was the West appeased? It did not look so. In the 1999 elections, it was predominantly the North, the Middle Belt and the East that gave OBJ victory. The initial hostility of the West led by Bola Tinubu’s Alliance for Democracy, AD, continued almost through OBJ’s eight-year tenure. Could this be the reason OBJ never paid any attention to Abiola and the June 12 movement, one may never know.
President Umaru Yar’adua’s health did not give him enough time to pay attention to several critical national issues and so it is difficult to say if he would have had a different view about Abiola and June 12, even though the national honor he gave to Gani (which Gani eventually rejected) showed a softness to human right activists. Jonathan,who was in my view a true democrat in this Fourth Republic showed more understanding to the June 12 issues. It is on record that he decided to honour the memory of MKO by naming an important national institution after him – University of Lagos. Again the AD now turned ACN political movement of the South West Nigeria mobilized very strongly to oppose that honour. The democratic Jonathan retreated and perhaps that laid to rest any other plans that he may have had.
Then entered President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) under the political amalgam called APC as arranged between Tinubu’s Southwest dominated ACN, Buhari’s Northern dominated CPC and the Bugaje/Amaechi/Saraki minority belt-led nPDP. This party paraded democratic principles at formation but as at now has become a democratic party with very few true democrats if any at all. Much of the promises it made during the campaigns, including those in its manifesto have been largely ignored or denied.
Majorly, it promised to restructure Nigeria but came to power and became the major obstacle to restructuring Nigeria. Because of the apparent poor performance of PMB, in its chosen key result areas- Security, Anti-corruption and the Economy, it has lost some of its most ardent supporters. Prominent among these are the leading lights of Nigeria’s military establishment – IBB, TY and OBJ. In addition, the country seems to be slowly descending into a dictatorship with the unfolding erosion of the powers and relevance of the legislature and a patently evident repression and intimidation of the main opposition. As last week closed, OBJ issued a statement claiming that his freedom and life were in danger essentially because of his criticism of PMB’s lacklustre governance performance. As I read that statement, my mind went back to the Abacha days and I asked myself: are we seeing the reincarnation of Abacha?
It is in this charged political milieu where we were wondering how we got here that PMB sprung the greatest surprise of his tenure. In a twinkle of an eye, he rewrote history and did what Napoleon could not do. According to the media, he acknowledged for the first time that Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory actually won the June 12, 1993 elections. To demonstrate this, he awarded MKO the highest national honour- GCFR, reserved for only heads of state of Nigeria. Abiola’s vice-presidential candidate Babagana Kingibe was awarded GCON.
He also gave similar honour to Gani Fawhenmi, the late human rights crusader and democratic icon. To cap it up, he changed the date for the observance of Nigeria’s democracy day from May 29 to June 12. These are issues which the June 12 movement, other pro-democracy groups and Abiola’s family have consistently canvassed over these many years.
Since this surprise was sprung, there have been several comments in the media. The consensus is that this is a good move but done with a motive to score political points. And then I ask, what is wrong with that? My wish is that PMB would score many more of such political points. How wonderful it will be for us to wake up tomorrow to hear that a man from the South East has been made the Inspector-General of Police for example! (please this not to say that I have joined the Senate to fight IGP Idris and I pray that this my humble suggestion is not mischievously transmitted to him).
Or how will it be wrong to hear tomorrow that he has accepted the recommendations of the 2014 political conference and ordered immediate implementation or agreed to drastically restructure Nigeria using the six geopolitical zones as federating units for example. Let him score all the political points (cheaply or costly). For one thing, they will help write off his current political deficits and perhaps place him on the positive. Won’t that be a good thing for Nigeria?