By Ehichioya Ezomon
THE past 24 years have not been able to bring to a close the cancellation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, a franchise adjudged as the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria’s electoral contests.
Next June will mark the Silver Jubilee of that annulment; and such anniversary serves supposedly as an occasion for revelry rather than as a platform for soul-searching on what went wrong with a well-ordered balloting that received global acclaim.
The reason that the preceding years have not been able to bring to a close the cancellation polls is that those who annulled the polls, the then self-styled Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and his cohorts, were and still unable to give verifiable and convincing explanation for their unconscionable action.
The excuse of “widespread irregularities” at the election was an afterthought sprung on the ever-gullible public to achieve their sinister motive of not handing over power to Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a renowned businessman-turned politician, who was “friends” to the military apparatchik of the time, and who won the election.
However, perhaps unknown to Abiola, chiefly addressed as ‘MKO’ and the politicians of that era – as events were later to indicate, the Military wanted to use them as guinea pigs, and a test-run for the elongation of their hegemony over the people. Hence, they continued to shift the goalposts in the electoral process.
Of particular mention, the Military had no real appetite for an Abiola presidency, and this showed in the way and manner of abolition of the election in its entirety – by first suspending midway the announcement of the results after two days of the voting, and finally annulling the outcome eleven days later.
Abiola’s campaign slogan of “Bye, Bye To Poverty” caught on as a wide fire. It was a reflection of his philanthropic attitude to helping the needy not just to “give them fish” but to also “teach them how to fish.”
He was a man with a large heart, who empowered thousands, if not millions of Nigerians of all ethnic backgrounds through scholarship awards to students to study locally and overseas, and grants to farmers and petty traders to ply their trades; built mosques and churches for adherents of the faiths; sponsored marriages and pilgrimages to the Holy Lands; and generally put many non-privileged and physically-challenged persons on monthly stipends, even as he opened his house for guaranteed daily meals for many others.
It was no surprise that Abiola, a Muslim, who also paired with a Muslim on the ticket, was very popular across the country, and thus rewarded with hundreds of chieftaincy titles from virtually all the tribes. Of particular mention was the one he received at about 5am at Ekpoma in Edo State, during the homestretch of his campaign for the presidency in early 1993.
It has been argued – and without definitive contradiction – that Chief Abiola, armed with his universal popularity and an unlimited war chest, would have won the presidential election standing as an independent candidate, were Nigeria’s Constitution to sanction it.
Thus, his winning of the election on the back of such popularity, and his promise to banish poverty from the system, probably rattled, and indeed, infuriated the Military to swing into action.
From there on, events sometimes moved in slow but steady stream, and in other times in rapid motions. From the conduct of the election to the suspension of its results and eventual cancellation; from the mass protests of the Military action to the abdication of office, coined “Stepping Aside” by Gen. Babangida and handing over the reins to a hand-picked Interim National Government (ING); from the sacking of the ING by Gen. Sani Abacha, as the new helmsman to fleeing into exile of prominent pro-democracy activists to avoid being hit by state-sponsored killers, to Abiola going overseas and returning later to declare himself as the duly elected President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and his arrest and detention by Abacha; from the killing of Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief Abiloa, Pa Alfred Rewane and other pro-democracy activists and supporters, to Abacha trying to form political parties (dubbed “Five leprous fingers” by Chief Bola Ige) and organise sham elections to blunt agitation for June 12; and from the sudden death of Gen. Abacha in a bizarre circumstance and to the equally dramatic and unexplainable death of Chief Abiola under the watch of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, as successor to Abacha, everything was giddy in form and substance, thanks to the Military mishandling of the aftermaths of the June 12 that ended in an unmitigated disaster.
The totality of the series of events is why Abiola and June 12 have remained as symbols ingrained in our psyche for the past 24 years, especially as the current 18-year-old democratic experience in the country came on the coattail of the struggles to actualize the people’s mandate and the supreme sacrifice Abiola and many pro-democracy activists and ordinary Nigerians paid for Nigeria to live as a single entity.
As we remember Chief MKO Abiola, June 12 and those who suffered unjustly for its sustenance, we must say no to latter-day converts: fifth columnists parading as our saviours when they did not participate in the battle for June 12, and yet are the major beneficiaries of its epoch; so-called patriotic military officers and their civilian collaborators, and ethnic irredentists, who want to continually divide us.
Collectively, Nigeria’s real patriots – the masses and peace-loving citizens – must reject the evil machinations of these people masquerading as do-gooders. June 12 has no place for their nefarious utterances and actions.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.