By Aare Afe Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN
June 12 is of utmost significance in Nigerian history. It was the day when MKO Abiola, a wealthy, popular philanthropist and politician was overwhelmingly elected by Nigerians. The election was acclaimed by national and international observers as the freest and cleanest ever conducted in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, Abiola died in incarceration in questionable circumstances at a time he was still busy battling to reclaim his mandate.
In an attempt to validate his victory through the Court, his battle suffered irreversible defeat at the Court of Appeal, Kaduna when Phillip Umeadi, SAN, tendered a one-sheet Gazette annulling the election and ousting the jurisdiction of the court. I could remember vividly that we were at the Court of Appeal in Kaduna. We were prepared to argue our case. I came to the Court with 30 lawyers. As soon as the Justices of the Court of Appeal came in and the case was mentioned, I rose up and announced myself as leading other lawyers for Chief Abiola.
However, the defence counsel, Philip Umeadi, SAN, rose up and announced himself as the government lawyer. Umeadi submitted that the case had been overtaken by events. The court asked him why? He told the court that the government had annulled the election and therefore there was nothing for the court to entertain. I responded by saying that the court could not rely on Umeadi’s oral statement that the election had been annulled. Umeadi then asked for a short adjournment to enable him to produce the Gazette. About two hours after the adjournment, he came with a one-sheet Gazette which stated that the election had been annulled.
After Umendi had tendered the Gazette, the court asked me whether it still had jurisdiction to continue with the case in view of the latest development. I shook my head and said this is the end of the matter and I added that that was the saddest day for the Judiciary in our country. The man (Abiola) went through an election and to get judgment, he was now being sent out of the court with a Gazette that the election has been annulled. But I added a prophetic statement that:“This is the beginning of a journey, the end of which nobody knows”. My colleagues and I left the court unhappy and sad.
Today, many years after that prophetic statement, Nigeria is still on the search for true democracy which began on June 12, 1993. Nigeria had been denied true democracy and until we have democracy properly so called, the journey which began with the annulment of late Abiola’s election of June 12,1993 will remain uncompleted. Democracy thrives on three pillars, namely: Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. For many months, Nigeria’s Judiciary existed only in name. The courts were paralyzed by a nationwide strike by JUSUN. For the first time, all the courts in the country were shut-down
The complaint of the workers was that the Judiciary lacks autonomy. This fundamental issue remains unaddressed even with the calling off of the industrial action by JUSUN. Up till now, the legislative and the executive arms have not addressed the issue satisfactorily. The legislature, which is the second arm of government in a democracy, has failed to enact a law to constitute a National Conference to fashion out a true Federal Constitution to replace the 1999 Military/Unitary Constitution foisted on Nigerians when the Military was vacating power in 1999. Recently, it has spent billions of Naira merely to invite Nigerians to discuss a mere amendment to the 1999 Constitution which is the root cause of Nigeria’s problems today. The Presidency is engulfed in a serious battle with insecurity by way of Boko Haram, bandits, kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, armed Herdsmen who roam about the farm lands – killling and destroying farm products. The naira has depreciated to an all-time low while many farmers have abandoned their farms due to rampaging cattle rearers and kidnappers. Many schools have had to close down due to the ogre of kidnapping. To prevent Nigeria from total collapse, it is my humble view that it has now become necessary to immediately address the critically important issue of National Conference to draft a peoples’ Federal Constitution similar to the 1963 Constitution based on Parliamentary System of Government.
Finally, one may ask whether the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day by the Federal Government has so far yielded any result and whether Abiola died in vain or not? Time will tell.
•AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL. D (London), LL. D (UNILAG), LL. D (UI), D. Lit (NDA), FNSE, FNIALS