By Owei Lakemfa
TOMMORROW, the 25th Commemoration of the annulled June 12 Presidential Elections, is to be recognised as ‘Democracy Day’ in Nigeria. That quasi recognition of the injustice meted out to the people by a conscienceless, kleptocratic and brutal military dictatorship should not be just about the elections, but the sustained, sometimes bloody struggles to force a historical and conservative state to recognise the electoral wish of the people and bring murderers to book, even if it has to be done, a quarter of a century later.
When coup plotters who had usurped power on December 31, 1983 changed guards in August, 1985, they embarked on a long journey of mass deception called ‘Transition to Civil Rule.’ But some quite perspective patriots led by Alao Aka-Bashorun, former President, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA , saw through the deception and warned that the generals are not soldiers, but mere power-hungry Abduls who do not want to work but want to be extremely rich. They warned that the generals, led by Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida with Sani Abacha as de facto Number Two, had a Hidden Agenda to perpetuate themselves in power. So it was not surprising to these patriots when the regime continuously shifted the hand-over date; 1990 to 1992, later, January 1993, then August 1993.
The Aka-Bashorun group which transformed into the Pro-Democracy Movement, analysed quite correctly that the primaries and the June 12 elections being held by the unprincipled generals, were a ruse and mere manoeuvre to perpetrate themselves in power. For this, many patriots especially Beko Ransome-Kuti, the medical doctor who eventually led the anti-military campaign and progressive lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi were detained without trial.
While politicians including Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, winner of the June 12 elections continued to express belief in the regime’s fake Transition Programme, those who knew it was fake began to mobilise to throw the generals out of power.
In 1990, Aka-Bashorun, leading patriots like Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, Chief RBK Okafor, Prof. Adeoye Lambo, Drs. Kola Balogun and Frederick Fasehun under the National Consultative Forum, NCF, tried to stage a National Conference in Lagos which the military aborted. Two years later, the NCF was expanded to bring in all anti-military groups and was renamed the Campaign for Democracy, CD.
The regime tried to scuttle the June 12, 1993 elections by using groups like the Arthur Eze-led Association for a Better Nigeria, ABN, and a June 11, 1993 midnight ruling by Justice Bassey Ikpeme, but the elections held and results started tumbling in. Early morning June 14, my comrade, Kayode Komolafe who served in Abiola’s Presidential Hope ’93 Office, woke me up with the results from the Electoral Commission which showed Abiola had won the elections by 8,341,309 votes (58.36 per cent) to his rival, Bashir Tofa’s 5,952,087 votes or 41.64 per cent. All that was required was the formal announcement of the full results. That was when the generals stepped in to stop further result announcements and later, annulled the elections.
The bulk of the politicians were stunned, petrified and immobilised. But the pro-democracy movement under the CD, led by Ransome-Kuti which had envisaged the scenario, was ready for battle. It announced July 5, 1993 as the commencement date for nationwide street protests to force the military to de-annul the elections and hand-over power. Mass mobilisation followed with campaign materials produced in their millions and distributed nationwide. That day, the country was in a lockdown. Almost all cities and most towns experienced tidal waves of Nigerians pouring into the streets. Lagos, the megacity and economic capital of the country was the epicenter of the mass eruption.
Apart from being a national coordinator of the protests and in charge of mobilising the Oshodi-Mafoluku axis, my primary duty was to mobilise enough crowds to stop flights at the local and international airports. But this turned out an easy one as the roads were devoid of human traffic; the protesters were fully in control.
Our plan was to shutdown Lagos, get the people into the streets, move them towards Ikeja Bus Stop, hold rallies and protests, and then direct the tidal human waves to Abiola’s house, off Toyin Street in acknowledgement of his victory and status as President-elect.
Femi Falana, now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, led the teams and crowds in the Ikeja sector. Debo Adeniran then a teacher, and now an anti-corruption advocate, was in charge of Ogba/Agege. Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, now a senior lecturer in LASU, liaised with the Lagos Island groups. Shina Loremikan, a quiet journalist, moved the crowds in the Shagari-Ipaja axis. Funso Omogbein, now an American citizen, led the crowds from Ajegunle/Mile Two.
One of the most ambitious plans was to move the Mushin, Isolo and Okota areas as well as take over the 10-lane Apapa-Oshodi Express Way. These tasks fell on a group led by a quiet medical consultant and proprietor of the Besthope Hospitals, Dr. Frederick Fasehun. He had a radical group of young men including Abiodun Aremu, now Secretary of the Joint Action Forum, Femi Obayori, a quiet poet, Bayo Ojo, a political activist now in Osun State, Opeyemi Bamidele, later of the House of Representatives and two comrades who unfortunately have passed away; Olaitan Oyerinde and Biodun Ogunade (Revo).
A grassroots mobiliser, Fasehun also had the market leaders in the area, Baba Oja and Iya ‘Jebu, articulate Kunle Adesokan and an artisan, Gani Adams, now the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland. This last group and the Ijaw internationalist, Tony Engurube, were to found the Oodua People’s Congress, OPC. They executed their brief, brilliantly.
Another group that was pivotal to the success of the protests was the Militant Mainlanders led by radical lawyer, Osagie Obayuwana, later, Edo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. This group with then young leaders like Wale Balogun and the late Wale Salami, effectively took over the Third Mainland Bridge, Carter Bridge and all the areas from Iddo to Sabo-Yaba.
When the Mainlanders moved, the streets shook under their pounding feet. When the crowds got to the St. Anne Barracks, a military truck filled with soldiers which came from a side street suddenly saw itself facing a sea of people. It drove through the crowds, killing four persons and injuring a number. The soldiers managed to flee the scene, their truck was burnt, the injured evacuated, and the march resumed.
There was a confluence of this human tidal wave with that from Surulere flowing into the waiting Ikorodu Road protesters led by the late Chima Ubani. With the ocean of people flowing to the Ikeja convergence point, it was my duty to get down the national leader of the protests, Dr. Ransome-Kuti. While preparing for his possible arrest, we planned that rather than stay in his Imaria, Anthony Village house, he would stay at his elder brother, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s music centre, The African Shrine on Pepple Street, which was a stone throw from Ikeja Bus Stop. It was hectic leading him from the Shrine, as the crowds pressed. Soon, those from the Shrine who formed a ring round us, lost control and we were propelled forward.
After speeches, we began the very slow march towards Abiola’s house. On the way, I had to break from the main march, and with the help of some of our protest marshals, prevent the burning of the FAN milk company. Although it was an old name, some of the protesters had misinterpreted the name to be the acronym of the ABN leader, Francis Arthur Nzeribe who had tried to scuttle the June 12 elections.
At the intersection of the Opebi/Toyin Street leading to Abiola’s house, some protest marshals brought the noted musician, Onyeka Onwenu to me. The protesters believed she was sabotaging the protests by driving on the streets when the instruction was that the populace either join the protests or stayed at home.
She mumbled some explanation and I advised her to follow my instructions. I called the pressing crowd to order, proclaimed Onyeka was part of us on a special mission and announced that as part of her contribution to the protests, she was going to sing her popular song, One Love, after which the crowds were to make way for her as the marshals lead her to her car. It worked. After the song, the crowd parted like the Red Sea, she walked through, and drove off. Later, Onyeka became an anti-June 12 advocate, campaigning with people like former footballer, John Fashanu for the successor-dictator to Babangida, General Sani Abacha to perpetuate himself in power as the sole candidate in planned presidential elections.
When some of us, including Ransome-Kuti and Olisa Agbakoba, later, NBA President, got into Abiola’s house to get him to address the crowds, we were told he had travelled. I told his assistants it was impossible as we had met him the previous night to brief him about the planned protests. They told us he flew out to Abuja early that morning. I told them I was in charge of the airport and no flight had taken off that morning. Dr. Ransome-Kuti advised we left and redirect the crowd. A minute down the road, we were told Abiola was calling us. But it was too late; we could not wade through the crowds.
Later, as we returned to his home, Dr. Ransome-Kuti suggested we go tease Chief Fawehinmi who was sick and was unable to participate in the protests. He was watching a broadcast of the protests on the CNN. Fawehinmi shouted when he saw us and said against his doctor’s advice, he would be at the protests the next day.
The next day, Babangida sent Abacha to retake Lagos; his long military convoy, shot at anything on sight. That day, the junta massacred 118 unarmed pro-democracy protesters on the streets of Lagos particularly from the Oshodi axis to Ikorodu Road. As we went around picking the corpses, we found most of them were shot in the back which meant they were running from their murderers; it was a heinous crime against humanity.
It is those incarcerated, injured and murdered in those protests, I remember today as the 25th year commemoration of June 12 rolls by.