By Gambo Dori
THE June 12 saga can be likened to those Nollywood melodramas that always come in a convoluted, stretched, unending story lines that wobble into many parts, trying the patience of the audience.
The date, like a recurring decimal, has been with us since 1993 and I bet majority of Nigerians, particularly those under the age of 30, would be found wondering what the heck it is about. Even those of us who were innocent bystanders at that time and had a good view of events can hardly piece together a complete narrative.
It seems as if nobody has the complete story. You hear parts here and there, as in those ancient fables, and it is up to you to make up your mind what to believe. What is not in doubt is that a presidential election took place on that date. When the results were being collated and just at the point of announcement, the military regime headed by General Ibrahim Babangida decided to annul it. The country was thrown into turmoil. For years after, there were perennial strikes, riots, demonstrations and a general civilian insurgency. There was even a successful hijack of a Nigerian Airways flight that ended up in Niger Republic, with perhaps only the hapless passengers traumatised.
For the first time since the civil war there seemed to occur a deep gash of dissatisfaction in a part of the country where the demand for actualisation of Abiola’s mandate was loudest. What worsened matters for the country was that Abiola, though incarcerated by the military, stubbornly refused to negotiate away what he believed to be his mandate. The impasse was only broken when both Abiola and the head of state, General Sani Abatcha, tragically died within a month of each other in 1998.
The succeeding regime headed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar restored all the institutions of democracy. Nevertheless, the issue of Abiola’s missed mandate, like a sore thumb, continued to be a painful irritant. When elections were held in 1999, it certainly helped the cause when many of the Abiola adherents captured power in some states of the federation and they forged ahead to find novel ways of keeping his memory afresh. By a stroke of luck in 2015 they found themselves at the centre of power and of course it was only a matter of time before June 12 would receive some form of consecration. This has now come to pass as President Muhammadu Buhari whose pillars of support are the Abiola adherents, had set the ball rolling on the demands to give some form of recognition to Abiola.
As a starter last year he extended a tacit recognition to the mandate of the winner of the election, Moshood Abiola, and his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe, by conferring on them honours that were normally reserved for the president and vice president. More honours kept being heaped on Abiola. The date, June 12 that hitherto was celebrated in only a few states of the federation, is now recognised as Democracy Day and a public holiday throughout the country. This year during the first celebration of Democracy Day on June 12, President Buhari announced that the National Stadium will henceforth be known as Moshood Abiola Stadium.
Definitely these are signs that some form of closure is being sought for this seemingly unending saga that played out year in year out. But some of the actors in that sordid drama are now freshening up, and asking for a spot under the June 12 sunlight. There is a fresh demand for national honours by those who conducted the election on June 12 for what they perceived as the heroic role they played in this saga. The Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission, NEC, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, is at the forefront agitating for honours for himself and his team because as he reasoned, if they had not conducted the election on that date and kept the results nobody would be talking of June 12 now. I thought there was some validity in his assertions until I stumbled on the book he wrote entitled: Laying the Foundation of Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of the June 12,1993 Presidential Election and its Annulment. Actually the book is an autobiography of Prof. Nwosu that details his life from a humble village in Anambra State through his brilliant performances in various educational institutions. He rose to become a professor of political science in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, at a period when President Babangida was taking on board academicians to serve in his government. Nwosu was at first appointed as a commissioner in Anambra State and later given the national assignment of chairman NEC.
Many who would get hold of the book will browse and go straight to those chapters dealing with the days of the presidential election and its aftermath. Nwosu never spared details on the election. He had earlier shown how they effectively supervised the party elections for the presidential candidates to emerge. The part that would grip the attention of the reader would be what happened from June 10 to 12 when the election held and was annulled a few days later. Fairly detailed, Nwosu’s account could be counted in hours rather than days – you could see all the efforts made for NEC to be ready for the election and then the rude shock on the night of June 10 when Justice Ikpeme gave an interim order restraining them from conducting the presidential election on June 12.
One could also see Nwosu and his electoral commissioners exhibiting unusual courage to go ahead and conduct the election knowing fully well that they were covered by provision of section 19 of Decree13 of 1993 which precluded any interference, in the form of orders or judgements, from the courts in the conduct of elections. Nwosu even gate-crashed into a meeting of the National Defence and Security Council, NDSC, headed by President Babangida to stave off the hawks that were urging him to obey the court order. Surprisingly the hawks in the council that wanted him to postpone the election even included the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF.
The election day came and passed without any incidence. Results started streaming in from all the states of the federation and were being declared as they came in. By June 14, all results had been received with the exception of Taraba State. The next day, June 15 when NEC was at the point of receiving the Taraba result they were served with a court order restraining them from announcing the result.
One would have expected Nwosu and his commissioners to show the same courage earlier exhibited and go ahead to announce the result. This time they decided to act cautiously by staying action on the announcement of result and filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal challenging the jurisdiction of the said court to entertain the suit. Obviously this dithering by NEC made them sitting ducks for the hawks in Babangida’s government. In a few days NEC was dissolved by the government and their conduct became a handy reason for annulling the election. At that time as far as the government was concerned NEC became the perfect fall guys.
After reading Nwosu’s account I pondered how he expects the country to recognise his dithering actions with a national honour. He had an opportunity to be a hero but he frittered it away. Nevertheless, to have a complete picture of June 12, we need to hear from many of those mentioned by Nwosu in his book as active participants in the course of the elections. And these include Major General Joshua Dogonyaro, Major General Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, Brigadier General David Mark, Brigadier General Halilu Akilu and Vice-Admiral Muratala Nyako. It is only when we read their accounts that we would probably draw the line.