Accolades are flowing for President Muhammadu Buhari for doing what is obviously “the needful” as it relates to the June 12, 1993 presidential election. For declaring June 12 as Democracy Day and also recognising, more or less, the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola as winner of the election, the president deserves all the praises. He has, figuratively, done what Napoleon could not do.
Nigeria has had presidents, from 1999, when democracy was restored. These former presidents knew the story of June 12. They knew how sentimental Nigerians are about June 12. They knew that on June 12 the majority of Nigerians stand. However, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, for reasons best known to them, did not do anything to address the injustice that was the annulment of an election that unified the country. They refused to address a national question, which would have made a statement to the effect that injustice should not prevail, no matter the circumstance.
Those who say President Buhari’s decision to address the June 12 question was anchored on politics are talking to themselves. The question remains: Is it politics to right a wrong? If righting a wrong is politics, then politics is good. What it means is that Buhari has played better politics than previous presidents of the country. Annulment of June 12 presidential election was not only wrong but also an injustice done to Nigeria as a country, Nigerians as a people and Abiola as a person. It was an injustice that needed to be redressed, to prove that evil will not always prevail against good.
The redressing of June 12 mistake was a great opportunity presidents before Buhari missed lost.
Obasanjo, in eight years, had everything going for him and could have done something about June 12. He did not. Yar’Adua, in three years, could not do it. It is a matter of conjecture to assume that, had Yar’Adua not died, he could have done something. Jonathan, in five years, had the opportunity to make things right. He did not. By doing it now, no matter the reason, Buhari deserves everybody’s commendation. He scored the bull’s eye. Whether he reaps political capital of it or not is left for providence to determine.
Like him or hate him, Buhari is right to recognise June 12. He is right in recognising Abiola and others who played one good role or another in the election. He is right to confer a posthumous national award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola. He is right to award the national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) on Abiola’s running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. He is right to have also awarded posthumous national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) on the fearless lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. These actions may not make him a saint, but they do make a lot of difference.
The annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election was a disservice to Nigeria as a country. It was a coup against Nigeria and its people. The annulment was an opportunity lost to have a unified Nigeria, which could have been an antidote to the current fragmenting of the country along ethnic and religious lines.
On June 12, 1993, Nigerians went to the polls and spoke with one voice. Abiola, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic party (SDP), was a Yoruba men and a Muslim. He picked an Hausa/Fulani from the North as vice presidential candidate, also a Muslim. On the D-Day, Nigerians, in voting, did not see Yoruba. They did not see Hausa. They did not see Islam. They only saw a presidential candidate with mass appeal, a man they considered a good candidate. They saw only Abiola and his good works. And they voted for him overwhelmingly nationwide.
The Abiola victory in 1993 showed that Nigerians could look beyond tribe and religion in elections. It proved that when a politician or a candidate for an elective position earns the confidence of Nigerians, such a person will get the support of all. Abiola emerged as a phenomenon because of the things he did. He was a successful businessman, who touched the lives of Nigerians in different ways. He was generous to a fault. His philanthropy went beyond borders. Abiola extended goodness and goodwill to all sections of Nigeria. And he earned the love, trust and confidence of the majority. When the time came for him to reap the benefits of his labour, it came bountifully.
President Buhari has done well. His recognition of June 12 and some of the major actors is not victory for Abiola, who is dead, anyway, or his children, who lost their breadwinner. It is not victory for Yoruba. It is a victory for Nigeria and Nigerians. However, the gesture should go beyond just awarding national honours to Abiola, Kingibe and Fawehinmi. President Buhari should take other measures to recognise and acknowledge many others who were involved in the June 12 struggle. Some people have said that justice will not be complete if Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, former chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), who organised the election, is not honoured. I agree.
The history of June 12, 1993, presidential election will not be complete without Nwosu. He is also a hero of democracy. This is a man who organised what many have adjudged as the freest election ever conducted in Nigeria. His novel Option A4 remains a study in transparency in the conduct of elections. He also risked his life, defied threats, harassment and intimidation, to conduct the election. He was determined to do it right. And he did. He deserves recognition.
There are many other Nigerians who contributed greatly in the struggle that has crystalised in the recognition of June 12 today. They include journalists, alive and dead. They include politicians and professionals who stood to say no to injustice. They include people whose businesses and careers were ruined because of their agitation for June 12. They include ordinary Nigerians killed during riots, raped by hoodlums and maimed by both hoodlums and security agents. These people are the unsung heroes, who must also be recognised and acknowledged.
Most importantly, the government should ensure that never again will the collective will of Nigerians be thwarted or frustrated by a few people who want to play god. Having recognised the injustice that was the annulment of the June 12 election, government must ensure that credible elections are conducted henceforth. At a time when there are fears that the coming general election may not be free and fair, government must prove doubting Thomases wrong by doing whatever it takes to ensure that Nigerians vote without let or hindrance and that their votes will not only be counted but also count.
Politicians, from the two divides, also have a task. Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Tiv, Ibibio and Kanuri, among others, voted for Abiola. He achieved it because of what he did towards the socio-economic development of Nigeria. Our politicians should stop being local champions and become national phenomenons by rising above their local environment to be national icons. This they would achieve by what they give to the society. It is only when they do this that Nigerians of all tribes and religions will line behind them during elections as it happened on June 12, 1993. On June 12, we must stand because therein lies Nigeria’s renaissance.