By Douglas Anele
Although NEC went ahead to conduct the election and had announced results from many states which showed Chief Abiola leading Alhaji Tofa even in the north, Chief Judge of the federal capital territory, Justice Dahiru Saleh, ordered it not to announce the full results. Now, instead of going to the Appeal Court to vacate the judgements of Ikpeme and Saleh, a handful of June 12 sympathisers rushed to High Courts in Benin, Ibadan and Lagos and obtained orders demanding that NEC should announce the full results. But these courts have coordinate jurisdiction with the Abuja High Court, which implies that decisions emanating from them are not superior to the earlier judgements from Abuja and, consequently, would not be implemented.
Meanwhile, although the June 12 1993 presidential election was significant mainly because it signposted a potential political and psychological paradigm-shift in the democratic evolution of Nigeria, the vociferous Lagos press, through the tried and tested strategy of relentless propaganda, popularised the notion that it was “the freest, fairest and most peaceful election” in Nigerian history. If we put in abeyance the problematic issue of defining what the “freest, fairest and most peaceful election” means in the Nigerian context and examine closely the processes that threw up the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the National Republican Convention (NRC), and the presidential candidates of both parties, the undemocratic character of Babangida’s transition programme, and therewith the June 12 presidential election, leaps into bold relief. In an essay entitled “How the south west hijacked June 12,” Mahmud Jega provides compelling reasons for questioning President Muhammadu Buhari’s choice of June 12, 1993 election as the iconic Democracy Day in our topsy-turvy political history. The SDP and the NRC, just like the 1999 constitution, did not come into being through democratic processes.
Rather, they were created by the military government after it had proscribed all political associations that emerged to take part in the transition programme. According to Karl Maier, the two parties “were effectively clones of each other …The state funded them, wrote their party platforms [and] built offices for them around the country.” The much acclaimed Option A4 introduced by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu was used after Babangida had annulled the on-going NRC and SDP presidential primaries. He also banned twenty-three aspirants in both parties from contesting again. Prominent among them were Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Olu Falae, Lateef Jakande, and Olusola Saraki (all from SDP), whereas Adamu Ciroma, Umaru Shinkafi, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Bamanga Tukur belonged to the NRC. Gen. Babangida claimed that the primaries were cancelled and the aspirants banned because the politicians committed several electoral offences, including money politics. Moreover, his government wanted to stop “old breed” politicians in order to pave way for the “new breed” to emerge. But these claims were unconvincing to most Nigerians because, in the words of Maier, Babangida had “earned the nickname Maradona, after the Argentine soccer star, as the consummate tactician who could dribble the political football with bamboozling effect around friend and foe alike.”
Mahmud Jega recalls what Shehu Yar’Adua told him about how he was betrayed by Chief Abiola at the SDP convention held in Jos. Having been banned from contesting, Yar’Adua chose Atiku Abubakar as his candidate. Lamidi Adedibu cobbled together a deal under which all supporters in their two camps would vote for Abiola and Abubakar as the party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates respectively in order to defeat Babagana Kingibe, who was backed by SDP governors. However, some delegates in Abiola’s camp did not vote for Atiku Abubakar. As a result, Abiola came first, followed by Kingibe and Atiku Abubakar in that order. Afterwards, Abiola was able to argue that Atiku should stand down for him in the run-off with Kingibe to choose the Party’s presidential candidate. Shehu Yar’Adua was disappointed by what happened, but he decided to stand with Chief Abiola because the latter promised to pick Atiku Abubakar as his running mate. In addition, Yar’Adua disliked Kingibe: he believed that Kingibe connived with Gen. Babangida to annul the 1992 primaries which he won and stop him from contesting. Once again Chief Abiola failed to deliver on his promise: he was pressurised by the governors to choose Kingibe. It is interesting to note that before Babangida made the infamous broadcast to confirm that the election had been annulled, Chief Abiola phoned Shehu Yar’Adua requesting him to do whatever he could to stop the broadcast. But Yar’Adua could not do anything: he had a good alibi; his father died a few days earlier and he was in Katsina his hometown receiving condolences. Probably, for Shehu Yar’Adua and his supporters, the annulment was a case of karma.
Keep in mind that the open ballot system was applied during the elections conducted between 1990 and 1992, which had the fundamental flaw of excluding the element of secrecy necessary for free electoral choice. Although the system was later modified with the introduction of Option A4, a sizeable number of voters did not vote in the June 12 presidential election because they thought that the open ballot system would still be used. That, perhaps, is the main reason for the voter apathy during the election. According to available records, approximately 39,000,000 registered to vote, whereas the number of valid votes cast was 14, 293,396, which is about 37% of registered voters.
In virtually all democracies worldwide, money politics is inevitable: the only difference is that in developing countries, money tends to have deep-seated pervasive and corrupting influence on the system. An inconvenient truth diehard proselytisers of June 12 fail to appreciate is that the process which led to Chief Abiola’s emergence as the presidential candidate of SDP was not free and fair – it was infected with corruption. Mahmud Jega makes a plausible case that the aspirants (including Chief Abiola) gave a lot of money to delegates from different states, and that Abiola outspent Yar’Adua’s political machine at the Jos convention. It did not end there: during the presidential campaigns, Chief Abiola went to Argungu and some community leaders in the area shamelessly demanded that he should donate money for the completion of a stalled mosque project. Abiola obliged with a cash gift.
From the foregoing, it is clear that Babangida’s convoluted transition programme, the SDP Jos convention where Chief Abiola was selected as the party’s presidential candidate, and the campaigns proper were marred by treachery and corruption. Therefore, anyone who still believes dogmatically that the June 12 1993 presidential election was the fairest and the freest in our political history must also reckon with the Machiavellian tactics Abiola and his supporters used to ensure his emergence as SDP’s standard-bearer in that election and in the campaigns that followed. That said, it is unlikely that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Mallam Aminu Kano deployed the same unwholesome strategy to emerge as the presidential candidates of their respective parties in the 1979 general elections. Consequently, it is time to reassess the significance of Chief Abiola and the June 12 presidential election in Nigeria’s democratic evolution so that facts can be separated from the bramble of hyperbole and appropriate lessons learnt from the obnoxious decision of Gen. Babangida and his band of conspirators who annulled the election.
The recent recognition by President Buhari of June 12 as Democracy Day and posthumous awards to Chief Abiola and his wily running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, have generated heated controversy. In my view, for the President June 12 is a weapon or steroid needed to reinvigorate his drooping electability particularly among the south-west voting block for whom the June 12 annulment remained an open wound that could be healed somewhat by belated recognition of Abiola as the hero of democracy and June 12 as a defining moment in Nigeria’s political history. For some prominent Yoruba led by Bola Tinubu, anything connected to Abiola and June 12 has for long been an avenue for appropriating political capital. Nevertheless, I pose the following questions to those praising President Buhari without considering seriously the morality of the distasteful Machiavellian intent behind his June 12 epiphany: What had been Buhari’s attitude, what did he say or do particularly before he became President, with respect to the annulment and lamentable death of Chief Abiola? What does his overt endorsement of Gen. Sani Abacha’s crooked ascension to power and insistence that the late dictator did not steal public funds when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary reveal about his genuine feeling towards Abiola and his fate after the annulment?