By Ismail Omipidan
It is exactly 24 years today 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 Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Tofa.
While Abiola, running on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, had Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, a fellow Muslim and former foreign Affairs minister as running mate, Tofa, a Kano man and a Muslim, running on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC, had Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, an Igbo, a Christian and former governor of the defunct Central Bank of Biafra, as running mate.
Intrestingly, prominent Nigerians have continued to pay glowing tributes to Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the historic June 12 , 1993 presidential contest. Among them are: former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, governors of Ekiti, Ondo, Lagos and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
However, unlike today that the Nigerian electorates bother about the religious and ethnic inclinations of the candidate, both factors played little or no role in the June 12 1993 presidential election.
In the end, Abiola and Kingibe were adjudged to have won the race. However, midway into the release of the results, the final result was arrested the hope of Nigerians dashed. The result was annulled.
The annulment led to series of uprisings in the country, especially in the South-West, a situation that forced the then Military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, to hurriedly step aside, and put in place an interim government, led by Chief Earnest Shonekan, who hails from the same state- Ogun, like Abiola.
In spite of the fact that Shonekan, an Egba man was in charge of the affairs of the country, the agitations in the country for the actualization 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.
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, 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 1997, Abacha died. Incidentally, Abiola also died same year in detention. The struggle to actualize the June 12 mandate inevitably forced the military led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) to hurriedly put together a transition programme which saw Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999. But rather than set aside June 12, as the country’s Democracy Day, May 29 was set aside for the day. In spite of that, since then till date, no June 12 date has passed without some Nigerians marking the day.
Already, the OPC has since said that its annual June 12 lecture in memory of Late Chief Moshood Abiola would hold today, in Lagos, under the chairmanship of former Abia state governor and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.
In a statement last Friday, the group said the lecture’s theme, “MKO as a Symbol of Freedom in the History of Nigeria’s Democracy,” would be delivered by an Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos, Dr. Chiedozie Okoro.
The statement added: “The June 12 lecture, powered by OPC, will be the 17th edition. It is to commemorate the symbol of Nigeria’s democracy, the late Chief MKO Abiola, who contested in the June 12, 1993 election to become Nigeria’s President.”
On his part, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar said the annulled June 12 1993 presidential election won by late MKO Abiola would continue to be a watershed in the nation’s history because it was a major step to true democratization of Nigeria.
He said the annulment of the election stretched the unity of the country to an unimaginable height reiterating that it would continue to hold a place in the nation’s democracy, adding that it was a traumatising period which caused many Nigerians to question the unity of the country.
Abubakar in a statement by his media office said whiff of June 12 would continue to be on the trail of democracy in Nigeria, adding that “June 12 and the events that brought it are part of our country’s history and cannot be forgotten, especially because of the unity and comradeship displayed by Nigerians on that election day in 1993.”
While commending Nigerians for moving beyond the challenges thrown up by June 12 and putting in place a democratic system of government that has lasted for 18 years, Atiku said “democracy is flourishing in the country adding that restructuring of the country as being demanded by some well-meaning Nigerians would further consolidate democracy and give greater impetus to the unity and development of the country.”
He described the late Abiola as “a national ‘Hero and Patriot’ deserving of accolades and honour by Nigerians. He calls on the federal government to pay the necessary tribute to the late chief Abiola of blessed memory by naming a befitting national institution after him”.
Wole Balogun reports from Ado Ekiti that the Ekiti state governor, Ayodele Fayose, has declared today a public holiday in honour of late Abiola.
In a statement issued on Sunday in Ado Ekiti, Fayose said he took the decision to join his other colleagues in the South West in the spirit of the unity of the region.
“Yoruba nation’s interest is beyond personal interest of anyone. For us to forge ahead as a people, we must speak with one voice. In the light of this, I declare Monday a public holiday to further strengthen our collective belief, hope and aspirations. This, I have done in the spirit of Yoruba nation and South West integration.”
Bamigbola Gbolagunte, reports from Akure, the Ondo state capital that Lagos Lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) would today deliver a public lecture to mark the 24th anniversary of the annulment of June 12, 1993 election , in Akure.
The public lecture, which is being put together by the Ondo State government, is expected to attract politicians, rights activists, professionals and students from both within and outside the state.
The state government has already declared today a work free day in honour of late Abiola.
According to a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, Mr. Segun Ajiboye, the lecture was also to commemorate June 12 1993, being the day Nigerians, irrespective of tribe and religion spoke with one voice through their votes. Falana, according to the statement would speak on “June 12: A celebration of courage and resilience.”
Moshood Adebayo, reports that the Lagos state government has also declared today a public holiday, to mark the 24 years of the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election.
In a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Tunji Bello on behalf of the State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, the government said the holiday was in honour of the ideals which June 12, 1993 Presidential election represents.
“June 12, 1993 is a day we must not forget in the annals of our democratic history. Our present democratic experience may still be far from the ideal but we must all make concerted efforts to entrench fiscal federalism which is the only way to achieve true nationhood.
“We owe it a duty to genuinely immortalize the fallen heroes of the June 12 struggle nationally and deepen our democratic values to ensure that never again will such anti-people action be allowed to take place”.
On his part, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, has described the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election as not only mother of democracy in Nigeria but also in the African continent as a whole.
He also described the election as a positive reference point for free, fair and peaceful election in Nigeria in particular and the whole of Africa in general.
In a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Musbau Razak, the Speaker said the election “taught all Africans that the will of the people will always prevail no matter the odds. Majority of Nigerians irrespective of status, religion or ethnic background voted overwhelmingly, albeit in peaceful nature, for late MKO Abiola. Thus, the June 12 election remains a positive reference for free fair and peaceful election in Africa.”
Making his own contribution, former Lagos governor and All Progressives Congress national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, underscored the importance of the June 12, 1993 election and the agitation that followed its annulment, saying June 12 was the precursor of the democracy Nigerians now enjoy in the country.
“Without the uncompromising resistance to military rule engendered by the annulment of the June 12 election, there would most probably be no 4th Republic today and we would still be groaning under the jackboots of military dictatorship,” he said.
In a statement on the occasion of the 24th anniversary of June 12, entitled “What June 12 Taught Us,” released by his Media Office on Sunday night in Lagos, Asiwaju Tinubu poured encomiums on the late Abiola, describing him as an embodiment of “the eternal Yoruba adage, which says that death is better with honour than life without dignity”.
He further said “The blood of those who gave their yesterday and sacrificed even their lives for the democracy and freedom we enjoy today was not shed in vain. The truth is June 12 is the mother of May 29th. Without the uncompromising resistance to military rule engendered by the annulment of the June 12 election, there would most probably be no 4th Republic today and we would still be groaning under the jackboots of military dictatorship.
“The annulment was a bitter pill to swallow especially for the millions of people who expended so much time, energy and material resources to help ensure victory for Chief MKO Abiola. The late MKO selflessly committed so much of his substantial fortune towards ensuring his victory at the polls. In doing this, he was not motivated by personal, selfish or pecuniary considerations.
“Abiola could have chosen to abandon the mandate in order to rebuild and resuscitate his disrupted business. But he opted for the path of the true ‘Omoluabi’. He refused to sacrifice honour for an ephemeral mess of pottage. He was an embodiment of the eternal Yoruba adage, which says that death is better with honour than life without dignity.
“Looking back, we can say, thank you Chief MKO Abiola for giving your all that we may bask in the glow of democracy today. The annulment was meant to halt the unstoppable and irresistible march to deeper democratic practice in Nigeria. That objective failed woefully. The annulment was a challenge that precipitated a concerted response, which helped to promote the cause of democracy in Nigeria contrary to the will of its anti-democratic perpetrators. That annulled free and fair election taught us, once again, to organize. It tutored us new tactics and strategies of confronting, undermining and ultimately overcoming seemingly impregnable forces and fortresses of dictatorship and oppression.
“It revealed to us the imperative of forging working relationships and diverse networks across ethnic, religious, regional and partisan divides if we were to move forward. It is this invaluable experience we gathered in the struggle to enthrone democracy and retrieve our country from the iron grip of dictatorship that emboldens us today to warn those directly or indirectly threatening our democracy through another military intervention to perish the idea. Just as happened in the past, those who stand on the path of truth and higher moral values will always triumph over those whose strength derive from the barrels of the gun.
“Twenty-four years after its annulment, the spirit of June 12 lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of Nigerians. The lessons of that election still speak eloquently to us today despite the utter lack of vision and imagination in governance between 1999 and 2015 that has fuelled the revival of separatist agitations and deepened distrust among the component parts of Nigeria.
“One enduring truth that June 12 demonstrated is that given inspirational, visionary and sincere leadership, Nigerians can rise above divisive primordial sentiments to demonstrate high patriotism and a belief in merit in their voting patterns.
“Thus, Chief MKO Abiola won a pan-Nigerian mandate in that poll garnering considerable votes across the various zones of the country and even beating his opponent in the latter’s Kano State home base. Again, despite having a fellow Muslim, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, as his running mate, the duo won handsomely even in wholly-Christian dominated parts of the country. All these show that it is really the elite most times that deliberately instigate the politics of distrust, fear, suspicion and divisiveness; they are the ones that all too often exploit our differences to destabilize the polity for their own selfish interests.