An old Chinese proverb says: Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil. This short proverb sums the intensity of attacks against President Muhammadu Buhari, not leaving the ratcheting up of violence in some the states after a period of relative calm, in the wake of the political tsunami honouring the heroes of June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was annulled thus preventing the widely-acclaimed winner, Chief M.K.O Abiola (of blessed memory) from taking office as the President of Nigeria.
Even at that time, it was pretty obvious that the unjust annulment was a huge elite conspiracy, well beyond the schemes and machinations, for which the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida had established a formidable reputation.
June 12 annulment was inspired and supported in spirit, cash and in kind by high-level citizens who saw an opportunity for themselves and cashed in upon it. Beyond the coterie of two dozen or so military officials whose names have been documented as literally having had a gun to the head of their Commander-in-Chief in trying to induce the annulment, there were tens, possibly hundreds of co-conspirators who either forced the annulment in one way or the other, or joined the sustenance of the injustice done to Abiola and Nigerian voters which, from then evolved into an industry of a kind, supplying incomes and conferring privileges of state upon those in the plot.
Many have forgotten by now that an interim government was contemplated at that time and a number of retired army generals were on queue, having been invited to get ready to head it. There was the foremost social scientist of the Yoruba stock who prophesied to the then rulers, on the day the announcement of election results was suspended that “the Yoruba will not be angry with the Head of State if he will go ahead to annul the election.” Then he did it.
In the media, there were many who conspired against the June 12, including the publisher who told their editors not to “lose your heads over this June 12. After all, was it not Abiola who thwarted the ambitions of …?”
In the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE where I was one of the three Vice Presidents at that time, rising to become the full occupant of the office a few years later, we had our own battles. For example, when Vanguard newspaper correctly quoted me as asking that Abiola be freed or, in the least be tried in court because detention without trial, even under the military was wrong, two newspapers, both of them now out of print circulation, lambasted me for expressing that view. Their editors, themselves members of the executive committee of the NGE said in a counter statement that those views were not of the Guild since, as they said, the organisation hadn’t met to take a position on the matter.
If you are counting the large number of Nigerians united by that annulment, and who must now be very, very angry with President Buhari for righting that wrong which nourished them, one must not leave out the men and women in the temple of justice who used one subterfuge or the other to keep June 12 buried and its biggest symbol, MKO Abiola in detention until his end came (or was induced). Naturally, there is also the fear of the unknown. What will come after this?
Remember that since the incident took place, no past administration in 25 years has asked the question, why was the election annulled? Who annulled it? What were the consequences? Beyond Abiola and his late wife Kudirat, how many people did the nation lose? In terms of the economy, how much was lost? How much of a dislocation was it, socially, politically and internationally? Overall, how much damage did it cause the nation?
Now would there be an inquisition into all of the things that happened? I have not been briefed if there is going to be any. Neither have I heard of any discussions on this. I cannot, therefore, speculate.
Should anyone be afraid? Our very erudite and sharp minister, Lai Mohammed, said no Nigerian should fear for their rights under President Buhari, unless they are guilty of wrongdoing. I haven’t still mastered the art of predicting army Generals, not even this one. On this question, only the President can say “yes” or “no” if there will be a probe as many have begun clamouring for.
Understandably, anger against the new Democracy Day and honour to Abiola in a few quarters, the intensity of attack on President’s person would mount as the momentum he gains becomes manifest, even as we recognize that the opposition had been gearing up for offensive towards 2019 elections.
In normal times, even before the shocking master stroke honouring Abiola, President Buhari is a leader who had not been in the good reckoning of a powerful, very vocal section of the country’s elite. The reason is basically that they would lose when you put in place corruption-free governance, institute economic growth with special focus on farmers, and a strong drive for inclusiveness particularly regarding women and marginalised sections.
The Buhari administration has annoyed these groups by putting in place long neglected infrastructure, establishing a social welfare scheme, the Social Investment Programme targeted at the basic needs of the common citizens and has given the country a major jump in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings.
Railways and federal roads are being rehabilitated and new ones, including a standard gauge rail are being put in place to bring better and more efficient transportation services. Power generation and distribution have more than doubled with many consumers reporting 16-17 hours and in some parts of the country, actually enjoying up to 22-23 hours of power supply a day.
Foreign relations have improved and the awesome investments in defence and security sectors are paying off through peaceful economic activity in the Niger Delta and the on-going restoration of normalcy in the northeast and north central states.
President Buhari’s journey to the Presidential Villa had been long and tortuous – having contested three times and ended with appeals at the Supreme Court before he was fourth time lucky. A candidate many had taken as the unlikely one considering that he had been a man who is separate from the political establishment. That he emerged at the contest as winner was itself enough to rattle the political elite.
In trying to explain the gush of criticism and increasing resort to blackmail by those who have lost out under this honest man of humble origins, and frank dispositions, who has succeeded so far in running a clean government, it is important to note that these are qualities that only a few Nigerian politicians possess.
To borrow the words of another writer, “bitterness is inevitable for those who have been pampered and coddled and suddenly the suckling tit is removed from them and they become ordinary citizens without anything “special” or appropriating disproportionate political clouts.”
If you read the history of our country, hardly do we have the top elite joining hands for the good of the nation. While Buhari’s tsunami on June 12 has stoked the anger and the fear of this group, the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and the conferment of National Honours on MKO, his running mate Ambassador Kingibe and the foremost pro-democracy activist, the late Gani Fawehinmi was, in another breath, greeted with great enthusiasm and warmth by Nigerians, most especially on the social media.
Barely after 48 hours by my count, there were over 150, 000 Tweets on Twitter trend discussing the new presidential directive. Thankfully and expectedly, over 80 per cent of these Tweets and reactions hailed Mr. President’s decision.
In what could be described as a twist, many of such applauses came from well-known opposition voices like Femi Fani Kayode (@realffk) amongst others.
The story on Facebook was not an exception. Nigerians were thankful to President Buhari for upholding Democracy and staging a surprise when it was least expected.
• Shehu is Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity).