By Adebayo Abubakar.
Some people, particularly, those who were born at the beginning of this century, who think that Nigerian Democracy Day was May 29, can actually be pardoned, for that is the narrative with which they have been fed, especially those who are bent on standing history on its head, owing to the ignoble roles they played in truncating the transition program, midwived and annulled by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB.
Some politicians have erred against history, and are therefore, bent on covering up their abominable crime against democratic struggles in Nigeria. The infamous, Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, led by one Abimbola Davis, bankrolled by Senator Arthur Nzeribe, got a “Jankara” court injunction, on the eve of the election (June 11, 1993) restricting the electoral umpire, National Electoral Commission, NEC, led by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, from going ahead with the election in barely 12 hour’s time.
But Nwosu, relying on the provisions of the law, which empowers NEC to exclusively take decisions on matters relating to election in the country.
The election went ahead, with MKO flying the flag of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, while Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a Kano-born multi-millionaire business man, flew the flag of National Republican Convention, NRC.
Expectedly, going by the unofficial results collated and was about to be announced officially, Abiola was coasting home to a landslide victory.
The election was annulled by IBB, about two weeks later.
Pro-democratic forces in the country went in to the trench and then began the struggle to actualize the pan-Nigerian mandate, freely given to the acclaimed winner, by the good people of Nigeria.
Struggle for the actualisation gave birth to a lot of events, the aggregate of which is the democratization process that ushered in the current dispensation on the 29th of May, 1999, which some people erroneously thinks, or mischievously feel, is ideal to be called “Democracy Day”.
The democratization experience that led us to this juncture was symbolised by the incarceration, and later, death of late Chief MKO Abiola in the hand of military dictatorship, in 1998.
It did not start after the death of Abiola in 1998. Rather, it started with the criminal annulment of the election on the 26th of June, 1993.
The election up till today, is still being referred to as the most peaceful, freest and fairest, in the history of Nigeria as a sovereign nation.
But ,the military administration, led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, popularly known as IBB, thought otherwise and announce its cancellation about 2 weeks later.
He handed over power to an “Interim Narional Government”, led by Earnest Shonekan, who was, barely three months in office, when he was forced out of office by, General Sani Abacha, a prominent member of the infamous “Khaki Boys club”, who are always the brains behind almost every coup in post-civil War Nigeria.
That would mark the begining of a long-drawn battle, between pro-democracy activists and the military junta.
When the then-maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha, expired, there was a very wild jubilation in the land, especially, among the pro-democracy activists, anchored around the belief and hope that Abiola’s mandate would be restored; followed by Abiola being sworn-in as the democratically elected president.
About a month after the death of General Abacha, Abiola died in the hands, and midst of American diplomats (Susan Rice and Thomas Pickering, who were in the country to broker a deal, between the contending forces in the power struggle at the time, on the 8th day of July, 1998.
A dark cloud enveloped the sky of the nation. Many people feared, there would war. But as fate would have it sanity was maintained, but not without pockets of intergroup conflicts in part of the South West Region, where Abiola hailed from.
At every forum where a return to democracy was discussed, June 12 and the need to compensate the South West, over the death of Abiola, would always pop up.
As the fire of the struggle for the actualisation of June 12 presidential mandate raged, it was becoming glaringly clearer than ever that, the milestone that June 12 presidential election represents in the country will someday, symbolise the Nigerian democratization experience.
This was however not to be, until President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2018, thought it wise to immortalise the symbol of June 12 himself, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
Before then, there was a feeble attempt by the immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to name the University of Lagos, after the late philanthropist; but it was met with very stiff opposition, both from the then, main opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and the University’s Alumni Association.
Many people argued that; if Abiola was to be honoured, naming the June 12 of every year, the “Democracy Day”, to honour the memory, and appreciate the sacrifices of those martyrs, whose blood watered the seed of the democracy we now enjoy, would be the most ideal thing to do.
Many people lost their lives in the struggle, while some were arrested and thrown into jail arbitrarily.
The likes of former leaders of Afenifere; late Pa Adekunle Ajasin, Late Pa Abraham Adesanya, Late Pa Alfred Rewane, Late Mrs. Kudurat Abiola one of the wives of the acclaimed winner of the election,paid the Supreme price.
Others are; pressmen like Dapo Olorunyomi, Dare Babarinsa, Niran Malaolu, Blessing Anyanwu, and a journalist in Kaduna, late Bagauda Kaltho who was blown up by the killer squad, believed to be working for the military junta then.
The likes of Pa. Anthony Enahoro, Arthur Nwankwo, Balarabe Musa, Maitama Sule, chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), Lateef Jakande, were some of those who survived the Abacha regime but are now late.
Others who survived and are still alive are; Bola Tinubu, Olisah Agbakoba, Chukwuemeka Ezife,
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Dele Momodu, a journalist and publisher of Ovation magazineamong others.
Media houses were not spared, as outfits like Guardian had their Rutham House Headquarters, along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Isolo, Lagos, bombed by agents of the Abacha regime. “The Tell”, Newswatch, “The News” magazines and others, had copies of their publications seized.
Other school of thought are of the opinion that, if Abiola is to be honoured, it must be in such a way that, it fosters “National Unity”.
They argued that, institutions that must be named after him should be ones outside his region of birth, as he died for a national course; not a regional one. After all, his acts of philanthropy were not confined to the Southwest.
Another line of argument was that, the name, University of Lagos cannot be changed through mere executive pronouncement. It must go through due legislative processes. So that was how the Jonathan attempt at immortalising Abiola became “dead on arrival”.
But on the 6th of June, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari delivered a political masterstroke, when he decided to honour the late billionaire politician, by recognising the date “June 12”, as the democracy day.
He did not stop at that; as he also named the National Stadium Abuja after the former African Pillar of Sports, (Moshood Abiola Stadium).
He equally, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, tendered an unreserved apology to the family of Late MKO Abiola for the injustices metted out to their family, in addition to honouring him, posthumously with the award of, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic [GCFR].
Similar gesture was extended to his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who is still alive, with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
Also, late human rights activist and senior lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, was awarded the GCON, posthumously as a mark of recognition for his contribution to the struggle for the de-anullment of June 12 presidential election.
Many people who played ignominious roles during the June 12 struggles were tactically absent from the ceremony. People like IBB, Obasanjo among others, refused to attend the event.
By and large, the eventual recognition of June 12, as opposed to May 29, as the “Democracy Day”, is to the relief of those who survived the military brutality of the Abacha regime and were still alive then; and even now.
Mention must also be made of pro-democracy organisations like the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, Civil Liberty Organisation, the Pan-Yoruba Sociocultural group, Afenifere, among others.
As we celebrate this year’s “Democracy Day”, it is time for the political leaders in the country to reflect on the journey so far and ask themselves very critical questions:
1. Are they living up to the ideals of those who fought for this democracy we enjoy today?
2. Did the heroes of the democracy embark on the struggle to enrich themselves?
3. Was the struggle all about making the masses suffer more?.
How much have they impacted the quality of lives of the citizens?
While Nigeria is currently going through a moment of turbulence, that has shaken the very foundation of our nationhood, some of our leaders are still busy, playing politics of religion and ethnicity. They are busy, highlighting our faultlines, making divisive utterances.
A United and indivisible Nigeria is more to, the benefit of everyone, and much cheaper to operate, than a divided one.
So as we celebrate “Democracy Day”, I urge all Nigerians to always endeavour to untter statements and embark on projects, that will foster peace, unity and progress, in our dear country.
Adebayo Abubakar Writes from Ilorin.