Where were you when you heard the news of the June 12 annulment? Where were you when you heard that the man you freely gave your votes in the freest presidential poll ever held in this country would no longer be president of Nigeria? Where were you when the hope of the man of hope turned into hopelessness?
Everyone surely can remember where he or she was. You surely can remember your immediate reaction to that piece of ugly news: shock, disbelief, indignation, exasperation.
Then the rage. The outpouring of grief and anger. The bonfire on the streets. Oshodi suddenly exploded into one insane city, with every one walking in every direction at the same time.
The verbal missiles at Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and his regime for that ‘act of national perfidy.’ The collective condemnation of the taboo of ‘annulment,’ a strange word that suddenly found its way into our political lexicon, courtesy of the Maradona.
Then, there was the incoherent ‘Step Aside’ speech on national television and the usually courageous president shivering, like one who had been summoned to preside over a hollow ritual; his voice croaky, his feet wobbly, his eyes unsteady and his lips twitchy as he declared that he was stepping aside as his own ‘personal sacrifice’ out of the political crisis he and his men had contrived.
Before anyone knew what was happening, Chief Ernest Shonekan, the former UAC chief, was announcing himself as the new head of an Interim National Government (ING) hurriedly assembled by the fleeing General.
Then, the not unexpected news: Shonekan and his ING swiftly packed up like a pack of ill-arranged cards after barely 82 days in office [not in power], and the dark-goggle-loving General Sani Abacha took over after hovering in the shadows of the interim men, like a hawk, for all the period they pretended to be in power.
And like a bad movie, Abacha clamped the man who won election into jail for declaring himself [and rightly so] president. After five dark, brutal years, the military strongman [Abacha] himself suddenly expired, while the man he was preparing to kick out of the army, General Abdusalami Abubakar, stepped in as head of the new military junta.
Hope rose that the man who had been kept in a hellhole by Abacha would sooner be released to go home to be president of his family, if he would not be allowed to exercise the mandate given him by his countrymen and women. It was a hope tragically dashed.
Barely one month after Abacha’s death, news filtered in that the man with the lavish smile had finally ended his earthly struggles after having a deadly sip of tea served by his jailors.
M.K.O. had gone to be with the saints. Gone to be with his maker.
Never to be with the people he loved to no end. Never to agitate over any mandate anymore. Never to have enemies who pretended to be his friends. Gone from the Nigerian political field filled with all kinds of mines and dangerous guys.
Another June 12 is the day to remember the epoch event, when all Nigerians, from all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, voted across tribal and religious divides to have one man lead them in an unprecedented free election.
June 12 is Nigeria’s freedom day. Freedom from the dictatorship of ethnic jingoism and other kinds of cant. Freedom to freely choose our leaders even though that right was cruelly aborted.
June 12 is simply unforgettable for the unity it brought to the country. Without June 12, there may have been no Nigeria. Sadly, the gains of June 12 are gradually being eroded by those who do not wish the country well, by their words and deeds. Those who have been stealing the country blind since 1999, when they found their way to power.
Leaders who have nothing to show other than their expanding waistlines as dividend of democracy since the advent of democratic rule.
The real tragedy of June 12 is that many of those who fought the military to a standstill before, during and after June 12, are today not in power but still at the barricades fighting to have a just and truly democratic society.
Another great tragedy of June 12 also lies in the fact that the key actors of that sad episode in our national chapter have not yet owned up to the fact that the roles they played in that monumental tragedy, which threatened to drown the whole nation, were indeed truly ignoble.
The nation, I suppose, would have been too glad to have these men make a clean breast of their roles in the sad event by coming clean and confessing that, by their action[s], they have sinned against God and man, and then asking for forgiveness from the people, majority of whom have not quite recovered from the shock and trauma of the madness of the aftermath of the June 12 annulment.
The casualties abound in the cities, towns and villages. Many lost families and loved ones, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters; kids separated from their families forever. Businesses and means of livelihood severed forever, no thanks to the June 12 annulment.
As a reporter, I have had the opportunity of interviewing some of the major actors of the June 12 saga, and I have been trying to make sense out of the reasons they have been giving for the roles they reportedly played. I am sorry, I can’t make a head out of what they are saying.
Once in an interview with the former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, at his Minna home, I had asked him why he annulled Nigeria’s freest election ever. And, of course, he repeated his stock answer: he accepts the responsibility of that annulment since the buck stopped on his table at the time.
Also, in an interview with Prof. Omo Omoruyi, a close ally of Babangida, the man said IBB won’t apologise over June 12 because he did no wrong. Omoruyi said the system, and not Babangida, annulled June 12. And Omoruyi is a professor of political science.
I have also met and interacted several times with Chief Arthur Nzeribe, the guy who went to court in the dead of the night to obtain a judgement stopping the June 12 polls. I have asked Nzeribe: Why did you move against Abiola by pushing for the annulment of his election?
His reply: Abiola refused to recognise him as a leader of the defunct SDP and one of the tripods on which the party stood. Simply put, he was certainly on an ego trip. He gave some other reasons I cannot now remember.
As we celebrate yet another June 12, we can only hope and pray that many of those who played whatever role in aborting June 12 will stop trying to be smart and simply own up to the fact that the decision to annul June 12 was a costly act, which bled the country from several points. True, we cannot continue to cry over spilt milk. But what is wrong with the guys who spilt the milk simply owning up and apologising?
As for MKO, he is certainly not dead. He lives in the hearts of millions of his countrymen and women. And to live in the hearts of those we leave behind, according to the old saying, is not to die. And never, never again, will there be another June 12, when one man or group of men, drunk on power or whatever, will sit and arrogantly annul the people’s mandate for whatever reason. Never Again!
N.B: This piece was first published 13 years ago, June 11, 2005. Last Wednesday’s honour for Abiola by President Muhammadu Buhari is indeed a fitting testimony to his unforgettable contribution to Nigeria’s democratic project.