By Omoniyi Salaudeen
TODAY marks the 23rd anniversary of the annulment of the June 12 presidential election believed to have been won by the late business mogul and philanthropist, Chief MKO Abiola. Till date, the annulled election still remains a watershed in the annals of Nigerian politics. 23 years after the sad episode of the annulment, the election is still adjudged to be the most credible, freest and fairest election ever witnessed in the history of the nation. For the first time ever since independence, the electorate ignored their tribal and religious fault lines and voted massively for a Muslim/Muslim ticket. It restored the confidence of Nigerians in the ballot box. But regrettably, the eight-year transition programme mid-wifed by the military administration which culminated in the victory of the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, MKO, and his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe, ended up in fiasco.
Abiola had slugged it out with a Kano-born politician and candidate of the National Republican Convention NRC, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, on the platform of the Social Democratic Party in a keenly contested election and recorded a resounding victory across the states of the federation. But last minute to the announcement of the result by the National Electoral Commission (NECO) headed by Prof Humphrey Nwosu, the military annulled the election and truncated the Third Republic. That set the stage for the political imbroglio that almost marred the very existence of the nation.
The two registered political parties which had some semblance of left and right ideological persuasions were the creations of the military. While the progressives alligned with the SDP, the conservative elements gravitated towards the NRC. But unknown to the populace, the military which set up the transition programme was itself a partisan party in open contention with the political class. Thus, it set a booby trap in the guise of Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), a campaign group bent on scuttling the electoral process. The group was led and effectively coordinated by Senator Arthur Nzeribe.
After a robust campaign by the candidates of the two political parties, the chairman of the electoral body, Nwosu and his team announced June 12, 1993 as the date for the presidential election, which was to bring to an end over a decade of uninterrupted military rule. However, a section of the military believed to be reluctant to leave the political stage was said to have expressed reservation on the conduct of the election hinging their position on a needless legal tussle between the commission and a group of military apologists bent on scuttling the election-ABN. A night before the election day, ABN had secured an injunction from Abuja High Court headed by the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme restraining the commission from conducting the election. Despite the injunction, Nwosu went ahead with the election and recorded a huge success in terms of transparency of the process. In line with option A4 adopted for the conduct of the election, results were announced at the polling booths. According to Nwosu, the overall figure showed that Abiola won across the states of the federation except Taraba’s result which was still being awaited when the military secured a court injunction to stop further announcement of the results. He said he was reprimanded and summoned by the military for his audacity to conduct and announce the results of the election.
What eventually transpired in Aso Rock is already history. In the final analysis, the election was annulled and the country paid heavily for it. The presumed winner of the election, Chief MKO Abiola, took it as a challenge to defend the mandate of the people freely given him in the freest and fairest contest. He said, “I cannot surrender (my mandate) 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 results of the elections is unpatriotic and capable of causing undue and unnecessary confusion in the country.”
On June 11, 1994, Abiola declared a Government of National Unity at Epetedo in Lagos. In a speech titled ‘Enough is Enough’, he said, “As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief. The National Assembly is hereby reconvened. All dismissed governors are reinstated. The state assemblies are reconstituted, as are all local government councils. I urge them to adopt a bi-partisan approach to all the issues that come before them. At the national level, a bi-partisan approach will be our guiding principle. I call upon the usurper, General Sani Abacha, to announce his resignation forthwith, together with the rest of his illegal ruling council. “We are prepared to enter into negotiations with them to work out the mechanism for a smooth transfer of power. I pledge that if they hand over quietly, they will be retired with all their entitlements, and will be accorded all the respect due to them. For our objective is neither recrimination nor witch-hunting, but an enforcement of the will of the Nigerian people, as expressed in free elections conducted by the duly constituted authority of the time.
“I hereby invoke the mandate bestowed upon me by my victory in the said election, to call on all members of the Armed Forces and the Police, the Civil and Public Services throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria , to obey only the Government of National Unity that is headed by me, your only elected president. My Government of National Unity is the only legitimate, constituted authority in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as of now.”
He was consequently arrested and remained in incarceration until he died in 1998 in a controversial circumstance the day he was billed to be released. Prior to that, his wife, Kudirat Abiola was shot dead on a street in Lagos by assailants suspected to be agents of the state.
This set the stage for the forced exit of Ibrahim Babangida, the self styled military president. Street protests and organized civil disobedience became a feature of Nigerian politics. At the height of the ensuing confusion, Babangida announced his decision to “step aside” on August 26 and set up the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government with a mandate to run government and organise fresh elections.
But by guile and intrigue, Gen Sani Abacha, who was left behind to ‘stabilise’ Shonekan’s administration, shoved it aside on November 17 and took over the reins of government. The struggle for the actualisation of the people’s mandate continued unabated. Scores of Nigerians were killed as the military cracked down on protesters. Several members of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) went on exile and more were jailed for daring to stand up to the military. State-sponsored terror became the hallmark of Abacha’s iron fist rule. Several prominent people like Chief Alfred Rewane, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua, Bagauda Kalto, Suliat Adedeji and many others lost their lives in the process.
Abacha’s tyrannical rule came to an abrupt end on June 8, 1998 when he died in controversial circumstances at the presidential villa. A month later, Chief Abiola also died after drinking a cup of tea in the presence of American diplomats led by Thomas Pickering. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and initiated a transition programme which ushered in the current political dispensation in 1999.