Chiedu Uche Okoye
When the British Union Jack gave way for the hoisting of Nigeria’s national flag, which symbolized the end of colonial rule in Nigeria, millions of Nigerians poured into the streets and erupted into shouts of joy. They’re both Jubilant and expectant. And they believed that Nigeria’s attainment of political sovereignty would pave the way for the rapid development of Nigeria and the deepening of its democratic culture.
Their high hopes for a united, better, and progressive Nigeria were not misplaced given the fact that Nigerians ,who were the leading lights of our democracy during that political era, were erudite men ,who possessed leadership qualities, political experience and sagacity, and integrity.
However, against our expectations, the first republic collapsed like a pack of cards owing to factors like Nigeria’s disunity and ethnic animosities, the political problem in the western region, the January 1966 coup d’état ,and the July 1966 bloody counter-coup. Inevitably, Nigeria descended into a gratuitous civil war in which millions of people were killed, and properties that were worth millions of naira destroyed. Thankfully, Nigeria got out of that war not dismembered. So, we experienced a thirteen -year military interregnum.
The army handed over political power to the civilians in 1979. However, again, the Jackboots and brass hats sacked the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari via military coup on December 31, 1983.Then, Muhammadu Buhari, who became our head of state, evinced tendencies of a moral and political reformer. He tried to instill a sense of discipline and order in Nigerians. But he enacted a decree, which came into effect, retroactively; consequently, it led to the execution of some Nigerian born drug barons and traffickers. A Muslim teetotaler, he was known for his iron -fist rule, then.
Before 1999, the chief method of changing government in Nigeria was via military coup. So, on August 27, 1985, the soldiers struck again and ousted Muhammadu Buhari from office via a palace coup. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida became the new head of state, then. Rtd. Gen. Babangida, who conceived and implemented economic measures to buoy up our country’s economy in the 1980s, was known for his cunningness. Till now, he’s still infamously remembered for embarking on a long political transition programme rigmarole, which landed Nigeria into a political cul-del-sac. But, at the long last, he created two political parties called SDP and NRC.
And, Chief M.K.O Abiola, a Yoruba Muslim multi-millionaire, contested on the political platform of SDP against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of NRC in the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. Chief M.K.O Abiola was coasting to victory based on election results, which were announced when Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election. To say that Nigerians were jolted by his action is an understatement. Nigeria was on a knife-edge following the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, which was adjudged the fairest and freest in our political annals.
Rtd Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who was the Head of State, inaugurated an interim transition government, which was headed by Ernest Shonekan. Expectedly, the indignant Yoruba people united and rallied behind Chief Abiola in his spirited efforts to retrieve his stolen political mandate. They formed NADECO in unison with other progressive- minded Nigerians to fight for the re-validation of Abiola’s purloined pan-Nigerian political mandate. But, Mr. Shonekan was easily shoved aside by the dark goggle-wearing Sanni Abacha, an army officer.
Sani Abacha, who combined irrepressible homicidal propensities with kleptomania, descended on NADECO members and others who had sympathies for the ill-treated and disfavored M.K.O Abiola. Not only did Sani Abacha engage in mindless primitive looting of our collective treasury, he cracked down on members of the opposition. It’s believed and alleged that he plotted the state killings of Pa Alfred Rewane, Kudirat Abiola, and others. Kudirat Abiola, one of the wives of M.K.O Abiola, who was in the forefront of the struggle for the actualization of Chief Abiola’s mandate, was felled by assassins’ bullets while internationalizing the struggle. Since her untimely death, she has become one of the icons and martyrs of our democracy.
So, when it became obvious to Nigerians that the mean-spirited Sani Abacha was keen on liquidating those kicking against his continued stay in office, a horde of NADECO members and other activists fled into exile for safety. Chief Olusegun Obasnajo, Shehu Yar’adua, and others were clamped into jail for alleged treasonous offences.
Abacha’s serial wrong-doings, high-handedness, and violations of people’s fundamental human rights compelled international organizations to isolate Nigeria. Consequently, our dear country became a Pariah nation-state. Mindless of the sanctions imposed on Nigeria, Abacha, who was pachydermatous to criticisms and suggestions, hatched plans to transform to a civilian President of Nigeria.
But death sneaked up on him and consumed him while he was orchestrating plans to drop his khaki uniforms for civilian garb. It took his death for Nigeria to return to the path of representative government. However, unexpectedly, M.K.O Abiola died in suspicious circumstances in jail, which added an ugly twist to the unfolding political imbroglio in the country, then. Alhaji Abdusalaam Abuakar, who succeeded Sani Abacha, freed political detainees from prisons and conducted a presidential election, which was won by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. It’s not unknown to us that Chief Obasanjo was helped to become our President in 1999 to placate the indignant Yoruba people, who were wronged.
The June 12, 1993 annulled presidential election has become a watershed in our political annals. It’s a turning point in our political odyssey after the collapse of the first and second republics as Nigerians, for once, voted according to the dictates of their conscience, and not along ethnic and religious lines. Didn’t millions of Nigerians from diverse ethnic groups and religions vote overwhelmingly for Chief M.K.O Abiola and his running mate, Babagana Kingibe, who were both Muslims?
And the struggles by well-meaning Nigerians to revalidate Chief Abiola’s annulled political mandate has shown the resilience and commitment of our people to put an end to military rule in Nigeria and install representative government here. June 12, which is now officially designated as a democracy day in Nigeria, has kick started evolutionary trends in our presidential system of government.
President Buhari’s recognition and official designation of June 12 as democracy day in Nigeria is a proof that the martyrs of the June 12 struggle didn’t die in vain. Making every June 12 a public holiday in Nigeria is a commendable memorializing of our fallen democratic heroes and heroines, who died fighting for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria.
Okoye writes from Uruowulu-Obosi, Anambra State