Debo Adeniran is the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL). He says June 12, 1993 presidential election was not democratic and that the day should not have been proclaimed as ‘Democracy Day.’
How do you see June 12 as the new democracy day
The date to me signifies the day the military made pretences to democratic values. It was the climax of a long quiet move by the citizens of Nigeria to have a government that is their own that is not governed by military laws. For long before June 12, nobody was sure whether the then Head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida wanted to hand over power, the transition programme had been postponed several times, even after Babangida swore and said ‘ Insha Allah’ that he will hand over he reneged on his word. That was what prompted the now late national president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Alao Aka Bashorun to voice out that Babangida had a hidden agenda. Eventually because of widespread agitation and the threat by civil society organisations to convoke a sovereign national conference, Babangida succumbed to pressure and allowed the June 12, 1993 election to hold. Babangida introduced the Option A4 open secret ballot system, and everyone believed that he wanted to be transparent. At the end of the exercise the election that held on June 12 was annulled.
However, 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 in, 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 association 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.
President Muhammadu Buhari has proclaimed June 12 the new Democracy Day. What is your take on that?
What happened on June 12 was not democratic, so rather than declaring June 12 democracy day; June 12 could have been called M. K. O. Abiola Day in recognition of Abiola, whose activities cut across class and religion to impact on Nigerians. Before the election, Abiola had been fighting for reparation to be paid by western countries to Africa for the hundreds of years of slavery. Abiola apart from being a pan Nigerian is also a pillar of sports in Africa. He was a philanthropist, whose generosity cut across religious divide. He attended Church programmes and made huge donations even though he is a staunch Muslim.
Abiola actually took the platform to fight the fight of the people and that fight eventually led to his death. But I believe that his winning that election could have been a pre-arranged victory because Babangida picked a very popular M. K.O. Abiola, who is widely known throughout the country and beyond to run against a relatively obscure Alhaji Bashir Tofa, who was hardly known by Nigerians. If Abiola and his running mate Alhaji Babagana Kingibe who are widely known by Nigerians were pitched against Tofa, it is like pitching two unequal teams to play in a match. That is an unfair competition ab initio; it is like Abiola won that election even before it held. Nevertheless, Abiola campaigned vigorously in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and got the support and mandate of the citizens but June 12 cannot be called Democracy Day. Democracy cannot be described by the series of events that occurred, pre, during and post June 12, 1993. That is why June 12 does not deserve to be called Democracy Day.
Are there any lessons we can borrow from June 12, 1993 which has been adjudged the freest and fairest election ever in Nigeria?
Elections should be an individualistic interest thing and not one that will exhibit where you stand. People voting at democratic election should enjoy their privacy. The choices they make should not be made public. That is why I don’t agree that the open-secret ballot where you queue behind the photograph of your candidate of choice is the best. The system exposes those who didn’t vote for particular candidates to danger of attack by overzealous supporters of opposing political parties. If there is any lesson at all, I believe it will be that it is possible for Nigeria to have a pan Nigerian president without primordial sentiments of religion and ethnicity. It also shows that a rich man who does not need to steal the common wealth can fight on behalf of the masses and commit his entire all to it even to death. There is also the lesson that people should go beyond personal aggrandisement and pecuniary gains to want to serve the people like Abiola did. Abiola didn’t go into politics because of money. This much was made clear because of what happened during his incarceration. A politician can become as popular as Abiola if the people recognise that all he is doing is for their benefit and not for selfish reasons. Don’t forget that there was widespread apathy during the June 12 exercise. Only about 14 million people voted that 14 million was less than 10 percent of the eligible voters then. This could have accounted for the seeming peaceful nature of the election. There was no sign of real competition because it was clear that the SDP will win. Basically there is little to learn from June 12, 1993 apart from the spirit with which people like Abiola fought a great battle within the pedestal that June 12, 1993 provided then. But we can improve on it to the extent that even if any military jackboot wants to impose political parties on the people, we should resist and form our own political parties based on ideology.
In proclaiming June 12 as democracy day, rightly or wrongly, President Buhari recognised Abiola and Kingibe leaving out the Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the umpire of that credible election. Is that fair?
Prof. Nwosu does not deserve recognition because he didn’t summon adequate courage to complete the declaration of the result of the election. The National Electoral Commission (NEC), which Nwosu led, already had the complete result of that election. He should have summoned the courage to complete the declaration of the result. He didn’t speak up on the result which was already in public domain until several years later after the winner of the election had died. All the same there is no credibility to that election due to the reasons I mentioned earlier as there was no real competition in that election. What could have been outstanding is if Nwosu had the courage to declare the result against the dictates of the military even if he will run away after doing so, or even declare the result from outside Nigeria.
However, Buhari did well despite the fact that he saw Abiola as one of those who engineered the coup that removed him from office. He could have ignored the people’s agitation. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo didn’t do it despite the fact that he is from the same state with Abiola. Former President Umaru Yar’Adua didn’t do it; then President Goodluck Jonathan too didn’t do it. For Buhari to do it means that he has become a new born democrat, who heard the voice of the people and hearkened to it. That is a credit that Buhari should be given. Nobody believed that a Buhari government will want to touch Abiola’s interest even with the longest of spoons. But he has bestowed the highest honour in the land on Abiola, even though it is posthumous. And, the Kingibe that was honoured doesn’t deserve it because he chickened out. Kingibe is more or less an opportunist trying to take what does not belong to him. Buhari has done well by making efforts to hearken to the wishes of majority of Nigerians. Of late he has been talking about true federalism and efforts are being made to ensure local government autonomy. A lot of other things are being done, you hear of state and local government Police. All these are democratic ethos and values a leader should exhibit to earn the honour of being describes as a civilian president.