By Tonnie Iredia
The Presidential election held in Nigeria on June 12, 1993 was the first in the history of the nation to be formally annulled by the government of the day. It was indeed the very first time the word ‘annul’ was used in connection with our elections. No one expected it. It did not only shock the nation, it brought her to her knees. Nigerians were angered and although some citizens who thought they could benefit from it attempted to defend it, the overwhelming majority of our citizens condemned it.
As the then spokesman of the electoral body which conducted the election, I can affirm that it caught the Humphrey Nwosu – led National Electoral Commission and its officials unawares. To start with, none of our electoral decrees had a provision for annulment. Besides, the then Military President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida assured us severally of the sincerity of his political transition programme and gave us ample support to successfully carry out our assignments as scheduled in phases. Hence, we were able to organize hitch-free Local Government elections on December 08, 1990; Governorship and House of Assembly elections in all the states on December 14, 1991 and the National Assembly elections on July 04, 1992.
This made it hard for us to understand why the Presidential election of June 12, 1993 which was described by foreign observers as the freest and fairest in the country was annulled. Obviously, the problem that arose had nothing to with the electoral process, instead it was a few ambitious individuals who chose to plunge the country into chaos putting forward many strange and illogical arguments. They argued for instance that officers and men of the Nigerian military were opposed to the winner of the election, Chief M.K. O Abiola becoming their Commander in Chief, yet the man won in virtually all the polling booths across army formations nationwide.
Well, so much blame has rightly been heaped on President Babangida because he had a choice to align with the voices of reason against those who canvassed annulment. Since he did differently, he has to, on the basis of vicarious liability accept the negative verdict of history. But Nigeria will get it wrong if it looks only at the direction of the former President in apportioning blame. This is because the problems associated with the annulment were by far too many. In his book, “the tale of June 12” Professor Omo Omoruyi, the late Director General of the Centre for Democratic Studies CDS during the Babangida transition programme clearly established that the real reasons for the annulment were different from the official reasons.
The anti-June 12 elements were far more than can be imagined. Apart from those in the corridors of political and traditional power aided by international collusion, the most notable phenomenon was the fragmentation of the political class and the desperation of the average Nigerian politician to get into office. This was quite true of the June 12 era. Just before the Presidential elections, Governors and legislators who had been elected earlier canvassed the system of Diarchy which would keep them in office as civilians working in ‘harmony’ with a Military President. So, anti-democratic tendencies had been on well before the June 12 stalemate. In fact, the problem of the presidential election did not start with the June 12 annulment.
Much earlier, the first set of presidential primaries featuring Shehu Musa Yar’adua and Adamu Ciroma as the leading contenders were cancelled at the instance of those who lost. Today, our politicians are reenacting same with their rancorous party congresses and conventions. As the nation has just seen, there were parallel congresses of the ruling party where nomination forms were turned into essential commodities and where in some cases, party officials vanished in the full glare of aggrieved members. Of course, those who have been short-changed would do all that they can to make the polity violent and render our elections hitch-laden.
If our political system would continue to be so bedeviled, it means our elections would neither be free nor fair, suggesting that we might have a Democracy Day in the midst of innumerable undemocratic practices. For our democracy to work, INEC has to design a system whereby persons who are not eligible to vote can NEVER be registered while no one can use another person’s card to vote. For us to enjoy democracy, we need to put an end to the practice where a few well paid miscreants can hijack ballot boxes in a state in the presence of an announced figure of 25,000 law enforcement operatives thereby tactically annulling the election in such areas.
Using incumbency to postpone elections to favourable times as the PDP did at the federal level in 2015 which the APC imitated in Edo in 2016 is an integral part of annulment. During the military era, many election petitions were sold and bought. The trend is yet to end. Thus, before we begin to sing democracy songs we need to have a judicial arm of government that is not feeding on justice for sale. These and many more have to be done for our people to find visionary leaders who can ensure good governance.
In Nigeria, there is little development and plenty of politics. With so many people seeing public office not as service but as business, we need to cut down on the size of government. As I said elsewhere, 37 Ministers at the federal level are too many just as a-2 chamber federal legislature is superfluous. Indeed, Nigeria is in dire need of part-time law makers, not legislators especially at the state level who collude with the executive to defraud the people. At this year’s Democracy Day lecture, the unreasonable pay of our legislators was reiterated. We need to stop that and the stupendous pensions to governors who served for only 8 years in states where pensions of workers who served for 35 years are owed. Indeed, workers’ salaries are owed for several months.
Except Nigeria’s over-lucrative political system is redressed, the dangers of using every weapon to fight election battles will greatly challenge the nation’s survival. It is therefore not enough to condemn the annulment of June 12 or to hope that it can never happen again. If to annul means to void, cancel, negate or invalidate, it can happen in several ways. Did political warlords in Anambra not attempt at a point to annul the government of Dr Chris Ngige? With Nigerian politicians, anything can happen.