June 12: Blood Democracy and the Spirit of Reconciliation

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Unlike my previous June 12 articles, particularly “June 12: Hope and The ‘Dividends’ of Democracy” and “June 12: Sacrifices, Unity & Politics of Division”, this one is obviously very special because June 12 is now official!

On June 6, 2018, President Buhari announced the posthumous honouring of the winner of the June 12, 1993 elections, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) title.

This is an honour long-overdue to a great man and philanthropist extraordinaire.

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Before getting into the nitty-gritty, I would like to state that some of us have been consistent with our June 12 position and were aware that something was in the offing.

In predictable fashion, some political opportunists are trying to reaffirm their relevance and take credit for what they know nothing about.

As I basked in the June 12 euphoria, it occurred to me that 1993 was 25 years ago and some young Nigerians may not appreciate what the fuss is all about. Though some of our youth may be somewhat forgiven for their ignorance, they still need to be informed about their history. For those of us who witnessed the struggle, the memories are evergreen.

During that draconian era, people were being arrested and tortured for speaking against the military regime. There were government spies snooping around. Various mufti wearing service men scoured the streets and boarded commercial vehicles to arrest those who criticised the regime.

It was a period the public spoke while looking over their shoulders, as there were many cases of missing persons. Some of us still have those scars: Psychological and physical. A dreary period characterised by unlawful detention, frog jumping, beatings, tortures, gun wounds, ‘accidental discharge’ and cold blooded killing.

That particular military era was extremely brute and generally merciless. So, those courageous enough to confront tyranny were the real activists. They sacrificed and laid the foundation that today’s so-called ‘social media activists’ are enjoying.

The June 12 struggles that lead to the ouster of the military were a series of tragic events that were steeped in blood. So the democratic freedom Nigeria attained in 1999 can be considered as what I term ‘blood democracy’.

Essentially, Nigerians united across ethno-religious divides on June 12, 1993 and voted for M.K.O Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The election was illegally annulled by Ibrahim Babangida, and this led to him exiting power on August 26, 1993. An interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan immediately took over. On November 17, 1993, Sani Abacha booted out the interim government and dissolved all political structures across the three tiers of government.

Incidentally, Abiola and Abacha both attended the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in South Africa on May 10, 1994. M.K.O Abiola was chiefly accorded the official protocols of a president by the South African government.

With a rejuvenated spirit, M.K.O Abiola returned to Nigeria and made his famous Epetedo Declaration on June 11, 1994.

The following are excerpts of the Epetedo Declaration:

“People of Nigeria, exactly one year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.K.O Abiola, as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by the president you had yourselves elected.

“These soldier-politicians introduced into our body politic, a concept hitherto unknown to our political lexicography, something strangely called the ‘annulment’ of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful-ever held in our nation.”

A primary objective was to reduce June 12 to a sectional struggle, so it would be perceived as a Western Nigeria and Yoruba issue. However, the military junta, deluded by the trappings of power, really underestimated what June 12 symbolised nationally and were rudely surprised that Nigerians from various backgrounds sustained the reclamation of the June 12 mandate.

“However, although this peaceful approach has exposed me to severe censure by some who have mistaken it for weakness on my part, those with whom I have sought to dialogue have remained like stones, neither stirred to show loyalty to the collective decision of the people of their own country, nor to observe Allah’s injunction that they should exhibit justice and fair-play in all their dealings with their fellow men.”

“Enough is enough of economic mismanagement! People of Nigeria, during the election campaign last year, I presented you with a programme entitled: “HOPE ’93″.

“This programme was aimed precisely at solving these economic (problems) that have demoralised us all.”

“To be precise, you gave me 58.4 per cent of the popular vote and a majority in 20 out of 30 states plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Not only that, you also enabled me to fulfil the constitutional requirement that the winner should obtain one-third of the votes in two-thirds of the states.”

“As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity (GNU) is in power throughout the length and breadth 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 quietly, 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 GNU that is headed by me, your only elected president.

“My GNU is the only legitimate, constituted authority in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as of now. People of Nigeria, these are challenging times in the history of our continent, Africa, and we in Nigeria must not allow ourselves to be left behind.

“Our struggle is the same as that waged by the people of South Africa, which has been successfully concluded, with the inauguration of Mr. Nelson Mandela as the first African president of that country.”

“Let us say goodbye forever to minority rule by the military.”

“God bless you all. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long live the Government of National Unity.”

Evidently, M.K.O Abiola was not mincing words – the speech was by all intent and purpose, presidential. On June 23, 1994, Sani Abacha arrested Abiola.

President Buhari’s deft June 12 move has definitely discombobulated his traducers, especially Obasanjo. Never in Obasanjo’s wildest dreams or eeriest nightmares, would he have envisaged that Buhari would recognise June 12! The move becomes more significant because of their falling-out on the 2019 elections.

What ensued was a protracted anti-government battle that cut across social strata – artisans, students, teachers, journalists, politicians, civil rights groups, trade unions, and many others all came together to confront the military regime. The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) played a prominent role in the struggle.

The military regime’s desperate bid was to delegitimise June 12 and undermine its significance nationally. The military intelligentsia spearheaded a coterie of elite who felt June 12 challenged their status quo. They bribed some political leaders and recruited hatchet men from across the country to counter the people’s mandate.

A primary objective was to reduce June 12 to a sectional struggle, so it would be perceived as a Western Nigeria and Yoruba issue. However, the military junta, deluded by the trappings of power, really underestimated what June 12 symbolised nationally and were rudely surprised that Nigerians from various backgrounds sustained the reclamation of the June 12 mandate.

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On June 8, 1998 Abacha died and was replaced by Abdulsalam Abubakar on June 9, 1998. Abiola remained in custody during this period and his wife, Kudirat Abiola had been brutally gunned down in Lagos by government agents on June 4, 1996. On July 2, 1998, Abiola had meetings with the secretaries-general of the United Nations and the Commonwealth, Kofi Annan and Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and his release was expected. Sadly, Nigeria’s president-elect, M.K.O Abiola, who won a free and fair election on June 12, 1993, died under mysterious circumstances on July 7, 1998.

The military government headed by Abdulsalam Abubakar could not contain the concerted and sustained local and international pressure from these events. Eventually the regime called for general elections to be held on February 27, 1999. The winner of that election was Abiola’s fellow Egba-Yoruba, Olusegun Obasanjo. Inexplicably, Obasanjo has been often accused of envying Abiola since their High School days at Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta.

Obasanjo, who had stated that Abiola was not the ‘messiah’ Nigeria was waiting for, exposed his petty vindictiveness by mischievously choosing May 29, 1999 – the military to civilian handover date – as Democracy Day. This was a deliberate attempt to spite June 12 and M.K.O Abiola. The political faux pas was a grievous travesty and injustice against all those who had fought and died for someone like Obasanjo to even emerge as a civilian president in 1999.

Obasanjo’s callous action entrenched Nigeria’s ‘blood democracy’ and irked the souls of all those who sacrificed for democracy. Democracy day has been celebrated on May 29 since 1999 and Obasanjo has had a say in those who succeeded him within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). So each of those previous governments trampled on the blood of those who died for democracy.

However, the 2015 elections was the game changer. Obasanjo, in his usual glory seeking manner, used the change initiative to subsist his political relevance. He expediently capitalised on the change movement because the emergence of President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was inevitable. Due to Goodluck Jonathan’s colossal failure and unprecedented corruption, Nigerians wanted a change in government. So an incumbent president was defeated.

President Buhari’s deft June 12 move has definitely discombobulated his traducers, especially Obasanjo. Never in Obasanjo’s wildest dreams or eeriest nightmares, would he have envisaged that Buhari would recognise June 12! The move becomes more significant because of their falling-out on the 2019 elections.

Obasanjo suffers from a grave messiah complex, and he recently cried wolf by stating that the Buhari government was witch-hunting him to abandon his ‘divine role’ for Nigeria. This allegation was summarily dismissed as a farcical attempt at diverting the attention of Nigerians from June 12 and his self-inflicted follies.

President Buhari’s June 12 altruistically inspired gesture is timely, because he inherited a deliberately fragmented polity from his predecessor.

The legacy of June 12 typifies unity because Nigerians came out en masse and voted for a Muslim-Muslim Ticket. This is a feat that may be impossible to achieve in present-day Nigeria. On June 12, 1993, Nigeria displayed a high level of political sophistication and unprecedented maturity. With a turbulent civil war history, Nigeria’s cohesion was evident and was truly on the path to national unity.

The illegal annulment of the June 12 elections set Nigeria back decades and it still hasn’t recovered. Nigeria gradually snowballed into parochial ethno-religious chasms, and the manifestations of ethnic clannishness have polluted the polity ever since.

Undoubtedly, the illegal annulment of the June 12 1993 elections was a major setback with national, continental and international implications. With Nigeria’s strategic role in Africa, the success of June 12 in 1993 meant the country was ready to rise above its ethnic or religious differences, instil national cohesion and initiate a sustainable process of development. This could have been the template for other African nations facing similar challenges to replicate.

Some critics of President Buhari have called the June 12 honour a ‘Greek gift’ and I wonder if it is politics or another matter in the spotlight. For the sake of argument, be it a Greek gift or Fulani present, a wrong has been righted and it obviously comes with some political vantage for President Buhari.

Hitherto, only the Nigeria’s Western States celebrated June 12, as if it was only the Yoruba that voted for Abiola. It was a national mandate because Abiola was voted for across the country. The victory was so emphatic, and Abiola won in Kano, the home State of his opponent, Bashir Tofa. So President Buhari has advertently revived the spirit of unity and reconciliation. The irony of this entire episode is that Abiola was close to Babangida, who annulled the June 12 election. Babangida toppled Buhari’s regime, but he has been magnanimous enough to honour Abiola.

For the record, those who insinuate President Buhari is just playing to the gallery by associating with M.K.O Abiola is au contraire! As a flashback to 2007, I was among those who welcomed Muhamamdu Buhari to M.K.O Abiola’s residence, when he came to pay his respects to the late mogul.

Interestingly, Buhari had also visited Gani Fawehinmi at home as well. For the 2007 elections, the candidacy of Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) was endorsed by Gani Fawehinmi.

Unfortunately, years of fighting for the cause of justice and incarceration eventually took its toll on the indefatigable freedom fighter. Gani Fawehinmi died in 2009.

Deservedly, the great luminary, legal icon, human rights activist and ‘Senior Advocate of the Nigerian Masses’, will also be posthumously honoured with Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).

Expectedly, there have been some reservations about the honouring of Babagana Kingibe, who abandoned the June 12 struggle. Nonetheless, the move is still a plus for the Buhari government, because it has initiated a process of reconciliation.

At this juncture, I must emphatically state that Kudirat Abiola should have been distinctively mentioned and honoured in her own right. If in the United States, New York can honour Kudirat Abiola by renaming the corner of Second Avenue and 44th Street as Kudirat Abiola Corner on January 23, 1998, the Nigerian government can surely do better.

Some recent events have shown President Buhari may be getting his groove back. Nigerians witnessed news of the Presidency being ‘hijacked’ by some elements who didn’t necessarily work for the president’s emergence in 2015. The subtle warning from the president’s wife, Aisha and Mallam Nasir El Rufai’s leaked memo highlighted the exigent issue. Howbeit, I have come to accept that President Buhari is just one who takes his time doing things – which can really be frustrating for some of us who prefer a speedier approach on certain matters, e.g. corruption.

In view of these circumstances, the June 12 honour is better late than never.

Some critics of President Buhari have called the June 12 honour a ‘Greek gift’ and I wonder if it is politics or another matter in the spotlight. For the sake of argument, be it a Greek gift or Fulani present, a wrong has been righted and it obviously comes with some political vantage for President Buhari.

Before the 2015 elections, when Jonathan posthumously honoured Sani Abacha in 2014, was he politicking or presenting his PhD thesis? Also, in 2012, when Goodluck Jonathan unsuccessfully tried to honour M.K.O Abiola by renaming the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University, was it political or apolitical?

President Buhari is a politician – a ‘reformed democrat’, and he has succeeded where others have failed. In political terms, this political masterstroke has consolidated his democratic credentials. With one tactical manoeuvre, Buhari has effectively retired Babangida and Obasanjo from politics.

President Buhari plays a crucial role in our polity because he belongs to a fading era of former military men who determined the fate of the nation for so long. Hopefully, Buhari will be the last from that era and will help retire his contemporaries that are holding the nation to ransom.

Nigeria needs to attain a level of strong institutions and build a system where people can excel meritoriously without nepotism and ‘godfatherism’. This will solve many peculiar issues affecting our milieu, including the security challenges – the veridical and the politicised.

Ultimately, among other governmental proceedings:

● June 12 should be celebrated as Democracy day from 2019;

● INEC should formally declare the full result of the June 12 1993 elections and acknowledge M.K.O Abiola as a past president of Nigeria;

● A June 12 cenotaph should be built at the Federal Capital Territory Abuja to commemorate all those who struggled and laid their lives for democracy;

● A reconciliation committee is instituted for national cohesion: primarily to unite the polity, and promote peace, love and tolerance;

● An enquiry panel is constituted to investigate politically motivated assassinations.

With this June 12 development, the blood of those spilled for the democracy some Nigerians have taken for granted can be appeased.

God bless all our departed souls and God bless Nigeria.

Happy June 12 Democracy Day!

By M.B.O Owolowo

Culled from: Premium Times

CHECK THIS OUT: #June 12: Kashimawo The Hero Of Nigeria Democracy (M.K.O Abiola)

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