May 29th provides Nigerians a veritable opportunity for deep retrospection in the context of our uninterrupted political peregrination since 1999. Following the euphoria that greeted the dismantled edifice of military dystopia, Nigerians welcomed the new dispensation with open arms. Alas, looking back we have been confronted with an anaemic economic and political prognosis that has abysmally failed to affirm our progress and advancement as a nation. Looking back, one is forced to ask, what has changed as reflected in the standard of living of the ordinary citizen? A head count of the gains of democracy since 1999 and the gains recorded during military regime will in- deed kick-start a fierce debate, the kind of debate as to which date should serve as Nigeria’s day of democracy, June 12th or May 29th.
The dilemma that confronts Nigerians regarding the true day of democracy is a moral one and will continue to straddle our consciences in a malignant, acrid manner. The opinion on this issue is as varied as the populace. However, both dates remain sacrosanct in our national calendar, one unofficial and the other official. Giving that our democratic experiences have been sustained by unofficial behaviour, given that the political class is established in unofficial idiosyncrasies,naturistral follows that we should embrace the unofficial date as Nigeria’s day of democracy.
Let us briefly juxtapose the two different dates and determine their differences and relevance in Nigeria’s political aviary. Following the IBB rigmarole which left Nigerians with two options in SDP and NRC, the business mogul MKO Abiola entered the political fray as the presidential flag- bearer of SDP with Alhaji Bahir Tofa his opponent representing NRC. It was indeed an epoch event for Nigerians as they trooped out in their millions, motivated by a desire for a new beginning having survived the crucible of military regime for many years
The political process was nurtured by a common resolve among Nigerians to sack the military and have them return to the barracks. And so, it happened that Nigerians spoke with one voice and made a huge, remarkable choice. Unfortunately, the one who prefers to be called the evil genius, for impenetrable reasons cancelled the election while the results were being announced. As a young boy fresh from college, I remember watching the eloquent electoral umpire, Professor Humphrey Nwosu on TV declaring that the election was totally free and fair across the country. IBB didn’t think so and without consideration for Nigerians and MKO Abiola, someone who many people insist was his friend, he cancelled the election. The cancellation of that election threw Nigeria into a conflagration that almost snowballed into a civil war but for the sake of providence. While fighting to actualize the mandate, many people lost their lives, many eminent citizens went on exile from where they fought the junta to a standstill. Abiola died, his wife died, many more died, the common people died, the illustrious and unknown, blood snaked its way across the land and Nigeria almost became a pariah state.
One remarkable thing about the events of 12th June 1993 was that it collapsed the fetid boundaries of ethnicity, religion and all other considerations that continue to divide Nigerians. Although the final result of that election was not announced officially, it was believed both locally and internationally that MKO Abiola won the election. Nigerians marched on, IBB was forced to step aside by civil society groups, then the manic despot, Sani Abacha took over. The years of Abacha’s misrule are not years to be recalled if one is committed to protect the sanity of one’s mentalstate.Then came Abdulsalami Abubakar who defied all odds and returned Nigeria to a democratic era. The emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo as the elected executive president of Nigeria in 1999 is both comical and suspended. On the 29th of May 1999, having won the election on the platform of PDP, Olusegun Mathew Aremu Obsanjo was sworn in as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria. Many believe that the political principalities, both spiritual and physical jointly agreed to hand over the mantle of leadership to a Yoruba man to assuage the violated impulses and aggrieved people of that ethnic ex- traction West of Nigeria. Those who share this view maintain that Obasanjo benefitted from the demise of Abiola. Technically speaking,
May 29th can be said to be the brain child of 12th of June 1993. However, for reasons that defy any intellectual polemics, the subsisting power protocol at that time treated June 12th with disdain and disrespect, choosing May 29th as Nigeria’s day to celebrate democracy. Although Lagos State under Ahmed Tinubu and other states West of Nigeria continued to
celebrate June 12th as a day of democracy, the practice gradually waned with successive administrations in these states. Can the ghost of June 12th be buried in such flimsy and unceremonious manner? Where is our sense of history? I never met MKO Abiola, I never knew him, but from available records, he was a colossus that even in his own individual capacity changed the lives of many people, institutions and groups.
May 29th is here upon us and we must mark it in some way. As usual in every sphere of life, we are confronted with a platform of dualities. While today presents a few the opportunity to celebrate, it also activates apathy and sinister byways in the psyche of millions of people across the land. While a few to- day celebrate, and count their gains in politics, many others mourn their unfortunate socio-economic and political experience since the return to civil rule. While some click their glasses and pop expensive champaign in celebration of their political achievements, others wriggle their waists made thin through hardship as they dance to the macabre dissonance of democracy. While some see today as a day of celebration, many others see it as a day of mourning and bereavement, a day which naturally revives the receding memory of June 12th. In whatever category of the people one belongs to, whether celebrating or mourning,it is indeed time to reflect and think.Al- though some observers have insisted that the general mood in the land is that of grief, dashed expectations with a populace wallowing in dispossession and exploitation, I maintain that today is a day for critical appraisal of our experiences and objective introspections.
It is indeed difficult to separate June 12th and May 29th, at least in the context of Nigeria’s persistent search for the meaning of democracy in terms of social and private experience. Democracy naturally confers on the populace the right to choose who occupies political positions, the right to self-expression and the freedom to associate. As a phenomenon of human freedom and expression, democracy captures the paradox inherent in politics and exposes the infinite unease that lies in the heart of men in their commitment to achieve success at all cost. June 12th validates May 29th and vice versa. In the coming years, Nigerians will make a permanent choice between the two dates as our genuine day of democracy. Adiele writes from Department of English University of Lagos via [email protected]