For 19 years, several attempts were made by prominent Nigerians and civil society groups to make successive administrations recognise June 12 as Democracy Day. But they ran into a brick wall.
In fact, in 2017, at an event by the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) in Lagos to commemorate the June 12 anniversary, where former Abia State governor and now senator, Dr. Orji Kalu, was the chairman on the occasion, Kalu had urged the Federal Government to declare June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy Day, in honour of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, who won the 1993 presidential election.
He said the date was a precursor to the democracy the nation is enjoying and should be set aside as a symbol of fairness and equity.
“The Democracy Day celebration should not be on May 29 but on June 12. That date should be the symbol of fairness, equity and obedience to the rule of law,” Kalu had advocated.
Interestingly, on June 6, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari stunned Nigerians by declaring June 12 the country’s Democracy Day, as against May 29, earlier set aside by government at the onset of the current democratic journey, which began in 1999. Although it was not marked as public holiday all over the country that year, from today, June 12 would not only be a public holiday across the country, it would also be regarded as the country’s Democracy Day celebration. The National Assembly gave legal backing to this with the passage of a bill, which President Buhari signed into law. With June 12 recognised as Democracy Day, May 29 will now served as the day or anniversary of the inauguration of government.
The Federal Government has also conferred on Abiola the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
In giving legal teeth to June 12 as Democracy Day, the Senate and some Nigerians had also called for the results of the June 12, 1993, presidential election to be announced, with all entitlements due to President paid to Abiola.
The Senate’s decision followed a motion brought at the time by Senator Abiodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti), a day after the President’s declaration, calling on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to declare the results of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
Speaking in the same vein, former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, who was national secretary of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), the platform that produced Abiola as winner of the June 12 presidential contest, said: “Let me, however, add that, if the government declares him winner of the election, they should pay him all his entitlements, including the N45 billion debts, which they owe him. They said the reason they annulled the election was because of the huge debts they owed him. Let me also add that most of those angling, trying to benefit from the harvest of June 12 today, were not there on June 11. They only came on board on June 13.”
However, by law, no one can be declared a President or Vice President without taking the oath of office. What, therefore, would be the fate of Abiola and his vice presidential candidate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe?
Weighing in on the legality or otherwise of Buhari’s action, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, said: “The legality of the executive order, which has been raised, is not tenable and is a red herring. First is the issue of precedence. President Shagari awarded a national honour posthumously to Chief Israel Adebajo and his son collected it on his behalf.
“Secondly, the award cannot be subject to strict legal interpretation. I would rather suggest a Dennington approach, where determination is based on the need to achieve justice. MKO Abiola was elected in 1993 when he was still alive and remained alive for six more years. That is when he earned the GCFR. Acts of illegality prevented him from being decorated with it. Those acts of illegality have just been annulled.”
Speaking in the same vein, lawyer and activist, Olukayode Ajulo, former national secretary of the Labour Party (LP), believes that the President was right to have given due recognition to June 12.
But Debo Adeniran, the executive chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), thinks otherwise. He says the June 12, 1993, presidential election was not democratic and that the day should not have been proclaimed Democracy Day.
He further said: “For some of us, the process that led to June 12 was not democratic or fair; it was flawed and arranged. When you consider that about 23 political associations that wanted to transmute to political parties were banned and several politicians that wanted to contest the presidency also banned, you will agree that it was not democratic. A process in which several politicians were banned from participating cannot be called a legitimate democratic process. The military administration also formed two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). Political parties should be a freewill associations of people of like minds that hold similar ideology. This was turned upside down by Babangida when he formed the NRC and SDP. The formation of these two parties was antithetical to the spirit of democracy.”
How it all began
By tomorrow, it will be exactly 26 years since Nigerians filed out in an unprecedented manner to cast their ballot for a Muslim-Muslim ticket. There were just two front-runners in the contest: late Abiola (MKO) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa. While Abiola, running on the platform of the SDP, had Kingibe, a fellow Muslim and former Foreign Affairs Minister as running mate, Tofa, a Muslim from Kano, running on the platform of the NRC, had Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, a Christian Igbo, as running mate. But unlike today, where the Nigerian electorate bother about the religious and ethnic inclinations of the candidates, both factors played little or no role in the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
Lending credence to the above assertion, Ajulo sees June 12 as the “most significant and remarkable change in Nigeria’s political evolution.”
He said: “Throughout the chequered political history of the country, you will note that it has been fraught with diversity, disunity, ethnicity and tribalism. You will recall that during the struggle for independence, there was no uniformity as regards the date for declaration of independence after Anthony Enahoro first moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953. You will further recall that his motion for Nigeria’s independence suffered setbacks in parliament on several occasions, with the northern members of parliament staging a walkout. Similarly, the civil war experience, which was brought about on the heels of ethnicity and disunity, is one of the several instances of disunity in the country. It is worthy of note that the significance of June 12 as Democracy Day, therefore, resides in the fact that never in the history of elections in Nigeria had the electorate spoken in unison about who they wanted as their leader. Only on June 12 did Nigerians jettison the choice and pairing of president and the deputy on the basis of religion and tribe. It was the first time Nigerians voted for a Muslim/Muslim ticket. June 12 is, therefore, an allegory of the biblical story of the building of the towers of Babel. Even God said: “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language.” Thus I would rather refer to June 12 as unity/consensus day.
At the end of the election in 1993, Abiola and Kingibe were adjudged to have won the race. However, midway into the release of the results, the final result was arrested and the hope of Nigerians dashed. The result was annulled.
Barely 48 hours to the election, June 10, to be precise, an Abuja High Court, presided over by Justice Bassey Ikpeme, gave an interim injunction restraining the then National Electoral Commission (NEC), led by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, from going ahead with the conduct of the presidential election, as scheduled on June 12, 1993.
The order, which was said to have been given by 9pm that day, followed a suit filed by Mr. Abimbola Davies for himself, and on behalf of the members of the Association of Better Nigeria (ABN), challenging the process of the election.
Although after some back and forth, the election eventually held, as the NEC relied on Section 19 of Decree 13 Presidential Election Basic Constitutional and Transitional Decree 1993, which forbids any court from interfering with the process, the election results were eventually annulled by the military junta, using the same court order and another, which ordered NEC to stop further announcement of results, as basis for the its action.
Nwosu speaks on the annulment
Speaking for the first time on the matter in public about five years ago, chairman of the defunct NEC, Nwosu, revealed that he and his team worked hard to deliver a credible, free and fair election because they were promised national honours, if local and international observers could certify the election as credible.
Explaining how he risked his life, first to ensure that the election held, after the earlier injunction to stop it and later to push through the court to ensure the final result was announced by NEC, Nwosu said: “Halfway, as the results were being collated, Abuja High Court, presided by the chief judge of Abuja, came out with a decision that the results of the election should no longer be announced. This time, the national commissioners were around. We mounted a big board at the headquarters of the commission, where the results were recorded and announced publicly, Abiola, Tofa. Abiola was leading. I told you the military was divided. The same pro-Abacha group met at the National Defence and Security Council and summoned me and asked if that was the way every Nigerians would be hearing about this election, through the signboard. I said: ‘This is the provision of the law, to make it transparent. I don’t interfere, no one does (and) this is what Decree 13 approves.’
“Abacha said, ‘So you went ahead to conduct the election, which the court said you shouldn’t conduct? Go and dismantle the board.’ You know it was a military regime. In fact, at the point we received this, almost all the results were in. The only result remaining was Taraba, out of the 30 states of the federation; that was about June 15. It was when I was coming out of Aso Rock that I was served the court decision by a Commissioner of Police. I went back to the commission’s headquarters, the Taraba man, was just coming in with the result.”
Nwosu said he called an emergency meeting to discuss how to vacate the judgment of the court and conclude their job. But there was no one to do it for him, especially because the Attorney-General at the time, Clement Akpamgbo, was one of those who wanted the process scuttled, he said.
He, however, added that, while that was going on, the government had also set up the Abacha committee to look into the election matter and advise it on way forward.
According to him, the committee had David Mark, former Senate president; Murtala Nyako, former governor of Adamawa State, who was next in command to Abacha in the committee; General Aliyu Mohammed; Akilu; secretary to the commission; Akpamgbo and himself.
He said: “When we got to Abacha’s residence, another subcommittee was set up, a smaller committee comprising Akilu, Akpamgbo, me, secretary to the commission, Aliyu Umar, who is late now, and director of legal services (Buhari Bello). When we got there, I told them we had no business challenging the process, as the law had already set out the process, and anything we did would be outside the law. The law provides that the result should be released and if anyone objects to it, he should go to the tribunal. I said if the government, which is the highest sovereign authority representing the people of Nigeria, wanted a political solution, the winner was Abiola, so they should invite Abiola and negotiate with him. They said we should go back and report to the larger committee, which Abacha headed. I told the chairman of the committee we were a technical body set up to conduct and release election results, we were not a political body; that Abiola had won the election and the only result not collated was that of Taraba. I said, if they wanted political negotiation, they should invite Abiola. Abacha shouted on me, ‘You went ahead with an election the court said you shouldn’t hold; you are not even a member of the National Defence and Security Council. You are telling us what to do. Who are you? Call your commissioners to appear before the National Defence and Security Council.’ It was the era mobile telephone was just beginning in Nigeria and David Mark was the Minister of Communications. I was about to call them; then, he said I should tell him the name of my personal secretary and he would do that for me. It was he who called my secretary, Andrew Umanah, to tell the national commissioners they were wanted in Aso Rock.”
He further said: “I, Professor Ideria, Bello, Umar arrived Aso Rock and were put in a room pending the arrival of my other colleagues. As soon as they arrived, we joined the others. Babangida was presiding. He said, ‘What is your official position regarding the election, the court says don’t announce.’ I asked the President to give us three minutes to confer so that whatever we came out with would be the decision of the commission and not my personal opinion. I reminded my colleagues the enormity of the national assignment on our hands and how we were even promised national honours if we got it right, and we were getting it right until the sudden changes. I told them we must vacate the judgment and have legal authority to complete the announcement of the results so that we are not seen as undertaking an illegal task, by going to the Court of Appeal in Kaduna. We agreed on this position. This was what we announced to the body and they said, ‘You are now on your own.’
“Now, who would have gone to the court for us, it was the Attorney-General, but he was not available. I took the initiative and Bello went to the appeal court in Kaduna quietly within the next two days and appealed. The court was summoned. Abiola was represented by GOK Ajayi. Tofa was also represented, and we submitted all the results showing that Abiola won the election. Were it to be in the United States, the journalists would have published the results. Where were Nigerian journalists? They were only busy saying Humphrey collaborated with Babangida rather than following the sequence of events. All the results were submitted to Okey Achike’s court – he was heading the appeal court.”
How the court became helpless
Nwosu further noted that, in its preliminary meeting, the Appeal Court agreed that the Abuja High Court had no business interfering with Decree 13. It also said there was a procedure on how results should be released and that if anyone was not satisfied they could go to the tribunal, not the High Court.
“The Appeal Court gave a date, June 25, for accelerated hearing of the case so that we could conclude the good work we started. But on June 23, 1993, they dissolved my commission. No court or journalist has commented on the dissolution of NEC on June 23 when the court would have sat on June 25. I submitted all the results showing that Abiola won. His lawyer, Ajayi, would have seen the result, and any investigative journalist would have seen it,” Nwosu said.
And Nwosu left without honours, severance pay
The defunct NEC chairman, who said he was committed to delivering a credible election because of the promise by the then government to decorate him and his team with national honours if they pulled it through, further noted that no Nigerian asked questions after he was treated with disdain for striving to deliver a credible process.
“If it were the United States, Britain or any of the Western democracies, they would have queried why Humphrey and members of the commission were sent away with nothing, no severance allowance, nothing! That was how our journey, fighting for Nigeria, ended. And people are saying I collaborated with Babangida. Tell me what any reasonable Nigerian would have done under that circumstance? And throughout Abacha’s rule, almost five years, he never agreed that that election should have been conducted. The Minister of Information is there; he was always calling it an illegal election. What have Nigerian journalists done about all these? I played my part. And that is why I don’t talk much,” Nwosu said.
The annulment, protests, agitations
The annulment led to series of uprisings in the country, especially in the South-West, which forced the then Military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, to hurriedly step aside, and put in place an interim government, led by Chief Ernest Shonekan, who hailed from the same state – Ogun – like Abiola.
In spite of the fact that Shonekan, an Egbaman, was in charge of the affairs of the country, the agitations in the country for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate did not abate. And barely three months in the saddle, the Interim National Government (ING) was kicked out by the military, led by late Gen. Sani Abacha after a court declared it illegal.
When Abacha first came in, the protests across the country, especially in the South-West, reduced ostensibly because there was an alleged understanding between Abiola and the military government that the June 12 mandate would be restored. But about one year after, in a last-minute attempt to claim his mandate, Abiola declared himself the democratic President of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos on June 11, 1994. He was subsequently picked up for treason after the declaration, before his eventual death in 1998.
Lending credence to the above allegation, the late Chief Tony Anenih, who took over from Kingibe as the national chairman of the SDP, said Abiola kept the leadership of the party in the dark when he entered an agreement with then Secretary of Defence, General Sani Abacha, to overthrow the Shonekan-led Interim National Government on November 17, 1993. He made the revelation in his book, “My life and Nigerian Politics,” which was presented in November 2016, at the International Conference Centre, in Abuja.
The late political strategist said Abiola mistakenly sealed the accord thinking that Abacha would hand power over to him after sacking Shonekan.
He wrote: “When the Abacha takeover was announced, there was jubilation by all those who knew of the ‘agreement’ between Chief MKO Abiola and General Sani Abacha. The Nicon Noga Hotel was in celebration mood as all those senators who had a pre-knowledge of the so-called agreement and who anticipated that Abacha would hand over to Chief Abiola the next day or immediately were shouting ‘MKO! MKO!! Presido! Presido.’
“Chief MKO Abiola, as indicated earlier, had said if you want to go to Kano, going by air or going by road does not make any difference, as long as you get there. His interpretation was that going by air meant Abacha taking over from Shonekan and he, Abiola, being sworn in the next day. Going by road was waiting till March 1994, when Shonekan would use the National Assembly to hand over to him because he actually won the election.
“Unfortunately for Chief Abiola, there was, in fact, no landing, and Kano as the desired destination proved to be a fantasy. It is a pity, indeed, that Chief Abiola kept the leadership of the party away from his arrangement with General Sani Abacha to takeover from Shonekan. If he had brought it to the notice of the leadership of the party, he would have been well advised. The ‘agreement’ was phony and hollow. It was an agreement, which was inexplicable and inexcusable in its folly and terrible in its consequences.”
However, when it became clear that Abacha was not sincere and was unlikely to keep to the alleged understanding, the agitations started all over again, with the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) leading the struggle, in the South-West. The struggle culminated in the arrest and detention of Abiola by Abacha in 1994. By 1998, Abacha died. Incidentally, Abiola also died in detention, a month after Abacha’s demise. The struggle to actualise the June 12 mandate inevitably forced the military, led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to hurriedly put together a transition programme, which saw Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in May 1999.
Abdulsalami chose May 29 as handover date, which he also pronounced Democracy Day.
In spite of that, since then till date, no June 12 date has passed without some Nigerians marking the day. At the June 12, 2017, commemoration in Lagos, national coordinator of OPC, who is now the Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Gani Adams, said he was saddened because those whom he described as beneficiaries of the June 12 election had forgotten the late Abiola and his mandate. He criticised what he termed the conspiracy of those he said were determined to forget the ideals the date represents.
He said: “June 12 will always be remembered by those who have defied the culture of silence and conspiracy against a significant moment in Nigeria’s history, to remind us of how today, the battle against the exit of the military from power was fought at the ballot by a determined Nigerian people.
“It is sad that, apart from the South-West states, there has been indifference to the June 12 phenomenon by the Federal Government and the rest of Nigeria. That election was adjudged to be free, fair and peaceful, but the military government of that time, led by Ibrahim Babangida, played games with the transition to civilian rule, and so it chose not to announce the final results of the election. That singular act was seen by many as a coup against the Nigerian people and an act of brazen injustice.
“It is unfortunate that Nigeria forgets too soon, for when the Jonathan administration tried to address this injustice by naming a significant national institution after Abiola, the attempt resulted in controversy and a storm. Jonathan had renamed the University of Lagos after Abiola, but the students and members of staff trooped to the streets in protest. Politics and opportunism was read into the gesture and the government had to eat the humble pie.”
The results of the 1993 presidential election may not have been formally declared, but recognising it legally as the country’s Democracy Day, beginning from today, is a clear indication that the struggles and labour of activists and politicians who, before now, annually called for the recognition of the date as such, have not been in vain.