June 16, 2024

INSIDE JUNE 12: Many of those boasting as ‘heroes’ today took advantage of struggle — Zik, ex-UAD leader

Dr. Ibrahim  Zikirullahi

•‘I confronted Abacha with over 2, 000 MINT workers’
•Speaks on Abiola’s unfulfilled dreams

 By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, CHRICED, Dr. Ibrahim  Zikirullahi, fondly called Zik, is one of the key actors who fought for the revalidation of June 12, 1993 election. Using his position as the Secretary of over 2, 000 Security Printing and Minting Workers Forum, who were disengaged by then-Head of State, General Sani Abacha, and Deputy Secretary-General of United Action for Democracy (UAD), he, alongside others, led millions to resist Gen Sani Abacha’s self-succession bid and advocated for the validation of the June 12 mandate. His June 12 story, which he tells in this interview, explains how commoners, unlike what is happening today, took ownership of the struggle for a better Nigeria. Zikirullahi provides a nuanced understanding of the roles some who flaunt themselves as heroes of June 12 today played at the time. He also speaks on what the event should represent in the quest for good governance in Nigeria. 

31 years after, June 12 is still an issue in Nigeria. As someone who was in the struggle, are you surprised at the place of significance it has assumed? 

 I am not at all surprised because June 12, 1993, marked a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s political history with the presidential election won by the late Chief MKO Abiola. The significance of this day lies in the people’s united stand for political independence, transcending religious, ethnic, and tribal divides. The rejection of the annulment and oppressive military rule reflects the enduring impact of the June 12 struggle. As a result, any shortcomings in present electoral processes and governance are viewed as contradictory to the spirit of June 12.

 June 12 was a watershed in Nigeria’s history, especially as it relates to credible elections, but same cannot be said of recent elections in the country. What can you say about that?

 The significance of June 12 in Nigeria’s history cannot be denied, particularly in terms of credible elections. However, it is disheartening to observe that recent elections in the country have not lived up to the same standards. Had the principles of the June 12 election been upheld, subsequent elections would have built upon the progress achieved. Regrettably, the annulment of that election by anti-democratic forces within the military, who continue to exert influence as civilians, has resulted in a skewed democracy where they are the primary beneficiaries. Consequently, it is unlikely that we will ever experience truly free and fair elections under the current system.

 Would you say that the significance of June 12 has found full expression in democracy as being practiced in Nigeria?

 Absolutely no!

Looking back, how do you feel about the celebration of the June 12 anniversary for the second time under Tinubu who was a key actor in the June 12 episode?

 Unfortunately, the commemoration of June 12 has been reduced to mockery, a mere facade. It is disheartening to see that those in power today do not uphold the values of democracy and justice that June 12 symbolises. Instead, it has become a day for extravagant spending of public funds.

 Can you share your June 12 story in details… 
 Depending on the perspective from which one observes the June 12 struggle, it is evident that no single individual or group can lay exclusive claim to its success. June 12 was a collective battle fought on ground of ideas and political arenas. It is the street boys, student unions, unemployed individuals, farmers’ collectives, and transport unions, often overlooked, who truly deserve the utmost credit and recognition for their contributions to the June 12 struggle.

Contrary to those who now boast of being the ‘heroes or champions’ of June 12, many of them exploited the situation to seek better opportunities in foreign lands, leaving behind their supposed dedication to the cause. Apart from issuing occasional press releases to maintain their relevance, they contributed less or nothing to the struggle. In the realm of pro-democracy movements, these ‘heroes’ were merely seen as paper tigers. In my capacity as Deputy Secretary and subsequently Secretary-General of the United Action for Democracy (UAD), a coalition of pro-democracy activists formed in 1997 to resist General Sani Abacha’s self-succession bid and advocate for the validation of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, I emphasized the importance of Nigerians standing up against the tyranny and corruption of the ruling military class. Overseeing logistics and mobilization in most cases, I made sure that UAD members and groups across the country received the necessary support to carry out various activities. In addition, my residence at 124A Ojuelegba Road, Surulere, Lagos served as a safe haven for some activists hunted by General Sani Abacha’s covert security operatives. Led by Olisa Agbakoba and his team, which included Ayo Obe, Chima Ubani, Abdul Oroh, Dr. Ola Oni, and Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, UAD engaged in crucial ideological and political struggles to liberate our nation from the grip of the military. I fondly remember Olisa Agbakoba always asking if I could supply my troops whenever we were planning mass actions. Of course, as the Secretary-General of the Mint Workers Forum, representing 2, 042 employees unlawfully dismissed from the Nigeria Security Printing & Minting Company (NSPMC) by Abacha regime, I could easily mobilize my members for protests. These efforts, along with the significant battles fought on intellectual, ideological, and political fronts, led to the successful execution of various mass democratic actions such as the famous 5-million-man march held in Lagos on March 3, 1998, which vehemently opposed the Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) 2-million march in Abuja; the boycott of the National Assembly elections scheduled for April 25, 1998, which would have paved the way for Abacha’s continuation in power; and the May Day Rallies that took place in cities such as Ibadan, Ilorin, Lagos, Benin, Kano, and Port Harcourt on May 1, 1998  that played a key role in thwarting the military junta’s efforts to cling to power. For me, whenever I recall the June 12 struggle, I remember the downtrodden, the artisan, the youth, the students, the unemployed, the market women and men, the homeless, the area boys and girls in the street who made enormous sacrifices in challenging the obnoxious and reprehensive annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election.

 How do you feel that Abiola never became President despite the efforts to de-annul the election? 
 It is truly disheartening. The fact that Abiola was denied the chance to become President and instead met a tragic end at the hands of military rulers, with the silent approval of their civilian counterparts who viewed his death as a means to further their own political aspirations, only adds to the sorrow.

 How do you feel that Abiola isn’t alive today?

 Very sad indeed! Abiola was a visionary leader who had the potential to bring about positive change and unity in our country. His commitment to democracy and social justice inspired many, and his sudden death left a void that has yet to be filled. The gap left by Abiola’s death created a power vacuum that has been exploited by corrupt politicians and opportunists, leading to widespread corruption, inequality, and injustice. The lack of accountable leadership in our government has only exacerbated the problems facing our nation. The people are suffering, struggling to make ends meet, and facing increasing levels of poverty and insecurity. The government’s failure to address these issues and provide solutions has only deepened the divide between the ruling elite and the marginalized population.

 Are you satisfied with what has been done so far to honour Abiola posthumously?

 It is imperative for those in positions of authority to recognize the impact of Abiola’s passing and to take ownership of the current state of our nation. We, as a collective, must unite to demand reform, transparency, and fairness for all. Abiola’s legacy should be upheld, and his dream of a better Nigeria should be actualized through a Sovereign National Conference, SNA, that will establish a constitution focused on the people, facilitate democratic free and fair elections leading to a genuinely national government that prioritizes citizen participation in decision-making for political, social, and economic development, rather than adhering to the dictates of the IMF/World Bank. Only then can we truly honour Abiola’s memory and work towards a brighter future for our country.

Do you feel the cause of democracy for which Abiola died is being served? 

 The cause of democracy for which Abiola sacrificed his life is far from being served. Abiola’s vision encompassed the eradication of poverty and the establishment of a truly independent Nigerian nation where justice and fairness prevail. However, even after 31 years since his passing, Nigeria has unfortunately become a global capital/hub for poverty. Shockingly, Nigeria accounts for more than 10% of the world’s maternal and child deaths. Additionally, there are over 20 million children out of school, and unemployment rates have reached alarming levels. Furthermore, the nation’s inflation rate has skyrocketed to 31.7%, while its currency has hit an all-time low.  The country is plagued by insecurity and a lack of infrastructure, including electricity, water, quality roads, adequately equipped hospitals, and schools. Considering these distressing indicators, it is evident that the cause of democracy, which Abiola sacrificed his life for, remains unfulfilled.

 We have done 25 years of democracy, but it is like democracy is failing us because of bad leadership. We are in fact worse off…

 Our current situation is a result of the absence of true democracy. Mere presence of elections and civilian government does not equate to democracy. Without genuine political participation, our government and legislatures lack inclusivity, as seen in Nigeria today. The key to actual democratic participation lies in an educated population on human rights, political systems, and civic duties. The question remains: do we have political parties that truly represent citizen’s voices and interests, while being democratic, inclusive, and open to oversight? Unfortunately, most parties in Nigeria today fall short of these ideals, either representing oligarchies or former power holders, composed of former radicals that have not adjusted to norms and practices of partisan politics, or individuals united by their personal interests in seeking power, without coherence, credibility, and innovative political platforms. As a result, without democratic parties, our path ahead seems bleak.

What’s the way forward for Nigeria?

 Non-democratic institutions hinder the achievement of democratic results. In a fledgling democracy like Nigeria, it is crucial to revamp the constitution, electoral system, and important political bodies like the legislature and local governments to guarantee representation, participation, and accountability. The rule of law plays a vital role in democracy, serving as the foundation that must be safeguarded through measures such as establishing civilian oversight of the military and preserving the judiciary’s independence. There is a pressing need for internal party reforms and the establishment of new, well-structured political parties in Nigeria. It is crucial to strengthen the state to ensure the accountability of state leaders, transparency, efficiency, and the democratic nature of public institutions, laws, and policies.

The conditions for political participation can only be guaranteed when there is a free press, access to information, freedom of association, and a prevailing commitment to values such as tolerance, equal opportunities, and non-discrimination. While it is the responsibility of the state to establish safeguards, the development of a democratic culture primarily relies on civil society’s articulations and oversight. Citizenship is intimately connected to the nature and level of political participation. The different aspects of citizenship, including its social, economic, civil, and political dimensions, should ideally improve during the process of democratic transition and consolidation. However, this is not always the case when political participation is blocked and limited to a select few elites. The articulation of demands and proposals by civil society plays a crucial role in the development of democracy and the enhancement of citizenship in relation to the state and political institutions.