On Wednesday, June 23, 1993, the Federal Military Government issued a short statement terminating, by fiat, the entire transition programme. The very manner in which the statement was made public indicated a deliberate intention to insult and ridicule the entire Nigerian people.
The statement was undated, unsigned, unauthorised, and made on a plain sheet of paper. But for the fact that it was distributed to the press by the Chief Press Secretary to the Vice President, it could very well have been issued by the Association for Better Nigeria.
The effect of this statement was to render everything done in the last six years in promotion of the transition programme an absolute nullity. There have been amendments before. There have been disqualifications, postponements and cancellations before. But never before has there been such a cynical and contemptuous abrogation of solemn commitments and fixed programmes.
In the three previous abortions of the transition programme, the whipping boy was the political class, who were derided and reviled as corrupt and selfish. But this time around, this same political class conducted itself, in the campaign leading to the June 12 election, and on June 12 itself, with unprecedented dignity and restraint, to avoid offering the authorities any excuse that could once again be used to abort the transition process.
Most reasonable observers concluded that the election of June 12 was the freest and fairest in Nigerian history. The international community unanimously confirmed this verdict. But because the purported ineptitude of the political class could not be blamed, this time, we are now being told that it is the judiciary that must be held responsible for the termination of the transition programme.
Before making the personal decision to vie for the presidency, knowing fully well the misfortune of other distinguished Nigerians in the recent past, I consulted widely, and sought assurances that I would not be chasing shadows. These assurances were given, in some cases from the highest levels of government including the president himself. I was therefore convinced that the commitment to civilian rule, come August 27 this year, was firm, settled and irrevocable. I could not imagine that the purported transgressions of the judiciary could possibly be used as the excuse for cancelling the election of June 12.
I never went to court. Alhaji Tofa never did. The two political parties never initiated any litigation on any matter relating to the election. The only person who went to court was Arthur Nzeribe, in the guise of a legally banned organisation called ABN. Nzeribe was not a candidate. He did not even vote. His association is not even registered. And yet the Abuja courts granted him injunctions at the unprecedented hour of 9.30pm, which, in retrospect, now seem contrived and deliberately intended to cause the greatest possible confusion.
And NEC too was suspended and all its actions to date cancelled. But you do not take the extreme measure of killing a newborn child just because the midwife is a bad woman. The judiciary was peripheral to the election process. Assuming that there was good faith on the part of government, all matters relating the election should have gone to the tribunals set up by law for such cases, and should only have been initiated by persons or bodies that had a genuine interest in the election.
Instead, we are being told that the judiciary behaved so badly that Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola should be penalised for its conduct. It is incredible. In view of all this, I find the conclusion unfortunate but inescapably that the Federal Military Government is guilty of bad faith, pure and simple. No one has accused me of any offence against any known electoral law or regulation. The people of this country went to the polls on Saturday, June 12, 1993, and, without let or hindrance, chose me as their president.
The figures say so. The agencies of government: MAMSER, CDS and the Presidential Election Monitoring Group say so. The International Observer Group says so. NEC knows so and says so. In its affidavit to the Court of Appeal, NEC said that results were ready and known. I won. Yet the Federal Military Government, on the most unconvincing and disingenuous premise, that the judiciary caught itself in a web of ludicrous contradictions, has decided to cancel the election and its results. I say, categorically, that this decision is unfair, unjust, and consequently unacceptable.
Prior to June 12, 1993, it was possible for the Federal Military Government to claim that those who spoke their minds and opposed its policies represented none but themselves, and were self-appointed critics who had no mandate from the people of this country. That situation changed on June 12.
As I speak today, I am, by the infinite grace of God, and the wishes of the people of this country, the president elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I am the custodian of a sacred mandate, freely given, which I cannot surrender unless the people so demand, and it is by virtue of this mandate that I say that the decision of the Federal Military Government to cancel the election of June 12, 1993 is invidious, unpatriotic and capable of causing undue and unnecessary confusion in the country.
I therefore call on all our people who have yearned and worked for a speedy return of our beloved country to civilian democracy to reject any act by anybody, which takes away their inalienable and fundamental human right to decide who governs them. No other institution or group can confer legitimacy on the presidency except through a free and fair election throughout Nigeria based on universal adult suffrage such as the one in which I was elected president.
I also call on the international community and all democratic forces to stand by the Nigerian people in our just struggle for democracy, freedom and justice in our fatherland.
From now on, the struggle in Nigeria is between the people and a small clique in the military determined to cling to power at all costs. We are fully convinced that a majority of the Armed Forces are law abiding and wish for Nigeria to become a democratic nation.
It is inconceivable that a few people in government should claim to know so much better about politics and government than the 14 million Nigerians who actually went to the polls on June 12. It is gratuitous insult to suppose that any government, no matter how impressed it is by its own knowledge and wisdom, should, against the people’s will, continue to make laws and regulations whose only permanent characteristic is inconsistency.
The people of Nigeria have spoken. They have loudly and firmly proclaimed their preference for democracy. They have chosen me as their president for the next four years. They have determined that August 27, 1993, shall be the terminal date of military dictatorship in Nigeria. On that date, the people of Nigeria, through their democratic decision of June 12, 1993, expect me to assume the reins of government.
I fully intend to keep that date with history.