By Andrew Essien, Godwin Mbachu Nnanna
As Nigerians mark the 22nd anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola, MBACHU GODWIN NNANNA and andrew essien asks if any lesson has been learnt from the incidence for which he gave his life
Exactly 22 years ago, Nigerians took part in what political analysts described as the most credible and transparent presidential election in the nation’s political history.
June 12 perhaps remains one of the remarkable date in Nigeria’s political history as the events of that day remain evergreen in the minds of Nigerians. The events of that day, political pundits say would have shaped Nigeria’s successive elections and democracy, but has it?
The controversial June 12, 1993 presidential election which was widely acclaimed free and fair and won by the late business mogul, Chief Moshood Abiola was annulled by the then Babaginda led military regime after several efforts to stop the election had failed.
No sooner than the electoral body commenced a state-by-state announcement of election results that Babangida announced the annulment of the election.
In a speech on June 26, 1993, Babaginda cited electoral malpractices such as rigging and vote buying as reasons for his action.
Nigerians were enraged and the subsequent protest set the stage for the forced exit of IBB, the self-styled maradona from power. Street protests and organised civil disobedience became a daily routine. Babangida eventually “stepped aside” on August 26 and set up the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government with a mandate to run government and organise fresh elections. The protests continued; the late General Sani Abacha, who was left behind to ‘stabilise’ Shonekan’s administration, shoved it aside on November 17 and took over the reins of government.
The struggle for the actualisation of the people’s mandate continued unabated. Scores of Nigerians were killed as the military cracked down on protesters, several went on exile, and more were jailed for daring to stand up to the military.
Activists, civil servants, students and the media literally shut the nation down with daily street protests and prolonged strikes by workers in critical sectors of the economy. The presumed winner of the election, Chief MKO Abiola, erroneously believing that Abacha would do the right thing by restoring his mandate, encouraged some of his lieutenants to participate in the Abacha administration. When it became obvious that Abacha was as unwilling to honour the people’s will, Abiola took his destiny in his hands and stepped forward to claim his mandate.
On June 11, 1994, Abiola declared a Government of National Unity at Epetedo in Lagos. In a speech titled ‘Enough is Enough’, he said, “As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breath of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief. The National Assembly is hereby reconvened. All dismissed governors are reinstated. The State Assemblies are reconstituted, as are all local government councils. I urge them to adopt a bi-partisan approach to all the issues that come before them. At the national level, a bi-partisan approach will be our guiding principle. I call upon the usurper, General Sani Abacha, to announce his resignation forthwith, together with the rest of his illegal ruling council.
“We are prepared to enter into negotiations with them to work out the mechanics for a smooth transfer of power. I pledge that if they hand over quietIy, they will be retired with all their entitlements, and their positions will be accorded all the respect due to them. For our objective is neither recrimination nor witch-hunting, but an enforcement of the will of the Nigerian people, as expressed in free elections conducted by the duly constituted authority of the time.
“I hereby invoke the mandate bestowed upon me by my victory in the said election, to call on all members of the Armed Forces and the Police, the Civil and Public Services throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria , to obey only the Government of National Unity that is headed by me, your only elected President. My Government of National Unity is the only legitimate, constituted authority in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as of now.”
Abiola had famously declared, “I cannot surrender (my mandate) unless the people so demand and it is by virtue of this mandate that I say that the decision of the Federal Military Government to cancel the results (of the elections) is unpatriotic and capable of causing undue and unnecessary confusion in the country.”
This courageous move led to the arrest and subsequent death of MKO in detention on June 24 .
Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar took over the reign of power and initiated a transition programme which ushered in the current political dispensation in 1999. His transition programme was taken with a pinch of salt as very few Nigerians believed he was going to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian president.
A lot has happened in the political scene since 1993. The results of other elections, except from that of 1999, have been subjects of litigation. The idea of several amendments to the Electoral Act was unable to re-ignite the general feeling of being a Nigerian, which the June 12, 1993 election represents.
Osita okechukwu , a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) while assessing Nigerian democracy since 1993 and whether any lesson has been learnt from the june 12 episode said “ democracy has evolved and I believe it’s a gradual process, democracy is not a revolution, I think that peoples will are beginning to count in elections in Nigeria and the peoples will are being respected and no longer subverted as it was in the old. We just had the general election and the that of national Assembly presiding officers and you saw how it went , so I think that we are making progress”
Although he wavered that they were efforts to force Nigeria back to the days of ethnic and religious politics but insist that Nigeria democracy is evolving.
However, there are opinions that nothing has been learnt from the june 12 episode by the political class as the political scene is dominated by hatred, winner takes all, imposition of candidates , political motivated killing and thuggery as a result of armed youth by politicians who use them for their selfish interest..
Apart from the declaration of June 12 as public holiday as is being observed in some states of the Federation ,especially in the South-West and the naming of monuments after the acclaimed winner of the election, political analysts opined that our political leaders need to take a cue from the exemplary sacrifice made by the late business mogul and winner of the famous June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, and ensure his sacrifice is not in vain by providing the necessary dividends of democracy to the masses.