June 14, 2023

Tinubu and the June 12 saga, By Rotimi Fasan


President Tinubu

IN his June 12 nationwide broadcast, his first since he became president and commander-in-chief, President Bola Tinubu harped on the need for Nigerians to brace up to make more sacrifices on the path to build a virile and economically stable nation.

There’s something providential (a point that Jamiu Abiola alluded to in his Arise TV interview shortly after) about the fact that it was Bola Tinubu, a major ally of MKO Abiola, who had to speak on this occasion. It was as if the path had been cleared for him by the likes of Muhammadu Buhari who took the first step in formally recognising June 12, outside the South-West, for the historic day it has become. 

President Buhari had declared June 12 a national holiday and consecrated it as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, away from the May 29 day that Olusegun Obasanjo selfishly chose to celebrate after the military handed over power to him. Buhari conferred the national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, the highest in the land, on Abiola and named the national stadium in Abuja after him. These were major concessions he had to make apparently in response to the demands of the Tinubu-led tendency of the All Progressives Congress. 

That this happened only after Buhari had spent his first term in office, during which Tinubu and his supporters had been sidelined until their support was again needed to return him to office, should confirm to anyone in the dark Tinubu’s probable influence on Buhari’s decision.  Obasanjo turned a blind eye to demands by Nigerians that June 12 be accorded its due recognition even though he was the major beneficiary of the struggle to re-validate the election that took place on that day in 1993 and which resulted in the military returning to the barracks.

Obasanjo could have done something about recognising Abiola’s contribution to the country’s return to civil governance on very objective grounds aside the fact that they shared a lot in common, including the fact that they attended the same school and were from the same state. It would appear, however, that Obasanjo just couldn’t see anything good in Abiola, if not any other Yoruba politician, especially one that could rival his own record as a former war hero and head of state. He was the first to cast doubt on Abiola’s victory by declaring he was not the messiah that Nigerians looked forward to even if nobody told him Abiola was a messiah. The question was about the election he validly won. 

Yet all Obasanjo could see to comment on was the point about a non-existent messiahship that was not at issue. Following the backlash he received after this comment, he resolutely turned his back on anything about MKO Abiola or June 12 for all the eight years he was in office. Nothing could be more mean-spirited for a man who just six years after the election would emerge the candidate of the military and the rest of the country that had conceded the office of president to the South-West as a sop for the annulment of the June 12 election Abiola won. 

Since Obasanjo chose to ignore the historic June 12 election and the narratives connected to it, it would have been inappropriate for him to be the one speaking on the 30th anniversary of the event. Buhari took the important step of moving in the direction of recognising that day but even that step would seem grudging, a concession he had to make to placate an important supporter like Tinubu who needed it to show his South-West base and for a day like this when he would directly address Nigerians in a national broadcast as the country’s elected president. This is without prejudice to the electoral cases still in court. 

There is a lot about Tinubu’s path to the presidency that reminds one of and parallels MKO Abiola’s struggle to become president. Which is what made his national broadcast and the entire saga of his walk to power providential. He seemed to have modelled himself on Abiola and perfected Abiola’s strength as a politician while simultaneously correcting and avoiding the errors made by the late winner of the June 12 election and the pitfalls that destroyed his ambition. 

Tinubu’s political brand was taken straight from MKO’s playbook. But if one has to go a little way back, both he and Abiola had taken their lessons, albeit from a distance, at the feet of Chief Obafemi Awolowo- from the rigorous preparation and readiness for power and the personal branding (attitudinal and sartorial) that went with that.

Yes, the specific methodology might have been different, especially with regards to political strategy but the overall tactics remain the same. While Awolowo did this mainly as a highly programmatic intellectual, Abiola and Tinubu followed the path of building a formidable network of allies across religious, ethnic and political boundaries. 

Tinubu was an opponent of military rule who invested his personal resources in the struggle to reverse the annulment of 1993. He paid dearly for this but in it all he stood firm and resolute. His association with Abiola didn’t stop with the struggle to reclaim his mandate, after his incarceration and eventual demise in jail. He stood by the family Abiola left behind and sustained the struggle to recognise the sacrificial role of the MKO Abiola family towards Nigeria’s democratic attainments. 

Exactly 30 years after the June 12 election and with a manifesto that echoed the wider and specific details of the Hope ‘93 Campaign of Abiola, Tinubu fought his way to power on his Renewed Hope 2023 agenda. In an audacious move that many thought was doomed to fail, he chose a Muslim running mate against the run of play, still following the MKO Abiola template, and literally butted his way into Aso Villa. He didn’t at any point hide the fact that he was holding a script that was not entirely new but it was one he felt confident enough to sell to Nigerians. 

That he could emerge where he is today, against the odds of real and manufactured obstacles, is a testimony to courage and single-minded purpose. It is only proper then and, perhaps, as a fitting conclusion to his personal exertions and investments in the recognition of June 12 (at a time, his was the only state that observed that day as a public holiday), that he deliver the June 12 thirtieth anniversary broadcast. He has come a long way and paid the price he had to. Nigerians can now only hope for the sake of our country that he succeeds and help bring to fruition the hopes that MKO Abiola nursed for Nigeria but which he was unable to accomplish. 

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