By - Makinde Ebenezer
Many years and many regimes in the making; on June 6, 2018, eight days after May 29, 2018 had been celebrated as Democracy Day, the President Buhari-led Federal Government of Nigeria declared June 12 the new Democracy Day – a kind gesture no doubt, many would say, for the 1993 June 12 election annulment perpetuated by Ibrahim Babangida. Notwithstanding, it still took the Senate almost a year to ratify the Public Holiday Act Amendment Bill, to appropriately recognize June 12 as the new Democracy Day. But in the end, it was worth the wait.
On the face of it, it could be said that President Muhammadu Buhari had corrected a political injustice, by this most symbolic of gestures and that he had showed political conning in doing so! however, the same could not be said when it came to seeking justice for the Nigerian people, then, the resolve seems to wither; by justice here, I mean the kind of justice rooted in ethics, a sense of fairness and respect for the Nigerian people at large but more importantly, the setting of a precedent for future generations of Nigerians, an absolute show of resolve, that never again shall this happen in our nation, that never gain will the Nigerian people have their mandate stolen from them in this or any other manner.
This reluctance to seek justice, which some say is bordering on complacency, is quite evident when we look at the perpetrators of this act of malfeasance, IBB and his colleagues hit the airwaves and without any inhibitions, explain to anyone listening, their skewed logic and justifications about what happened, in their frantic efforts to rewrite history, they are often seen going from studio to studio freely, never having any fear that one day of being held accountable for their role in this grave act, done rather insidiously.
This is perhaps why many people see the declaration of June 12 as the new Democracy Day and a national public holiday by Muhammadu Buhari, as nothing more than an empty gesture. Many lost their lives as a direct consequence of what happened on that day and the ghost of that day still haunts Nigeria till this very day.
There is always this feeling of collective discontent no matter how hard those in power try to obfuscate the memory of the annulment. It is quite palpable among the Nigerian people, this sense of unfinished business pertaining to this particular episode of our collective history. A sense that justice had not been done and is not being seen to be done.
The reason for this feeling to many is very clear; in the first instance, it was widely considered to be the fairest, most competently organised and most transparent elections ever to be held in these parts of the world. We were promised, that finally the will of the people would be adhered to, we had the promise of military rule coming to an end, that we, the nations stakeholders with a collective vested interest in her future , that we will have a say in who governs over us and with these basic hopes and the associated anticipation of a better future and better Nigeria, Nigerians came out in great numbers, wanting to make their voices heard. There was no reason for them to anticipate the faith that was about to befall them.
We were also told that the election ethnic chauvinists and political hustlers were now contained, previous politicians were banned godfathers neutralised by the funding structures put in place and provision of political infrastructure by the government of the day and when it came to voting, it was without precedent, it seemed votes were not cast along ethnic lines.
Commentators make claims that the 1993 general elections in Nigeria was the most credible in the history of electoral politics in the country and by all reckoning, this is even true when the latest conducted elections in Nigeria are also taken into consideration.
The questions persist, why annul an election if it was as credible, transparent and truly reflective of the will of the people as they say? And with each passing year comes each prevailing conspiracy theory! one has lost count of how many grand conspiracy theories out there as to why the election was annulled, some more plausible than others. So, on this 26th year anniversary why not take a trip down memory lane and lets take a closer look at the varying key players and see, if, after so many years we can shed some insight into what really happened, if for no other reason than, just making sure this is simply never allowed to happen again in our country, never!
Babangida and the 1993 Presidential Election
Like the Second Republic (1979-1983), the aborted Third Republic was preceded by military regimes. Those periods in the history of Nigeria witnessed scenarios of coups and counter-coups. It would be recalled that the military had invaded the country`s nascent democracy in the First Republic (1963-1966) with the objective of eradicating corruption and installing good governance. The men in uniform wanted to stop the ten per-centers as it was the condition of things then, so they played the reform card. But they ended up prolonging their collective stay and after consolidating their position, they thereafter held a tight grip on power.
IBB at first seemed a charming character, the junta insisted he be called president, he got rid of some of the most draconian decrees introduced by the previous junta and it seemed fine. Then the it slowly IBB to reveal himself, and the Nigerian people started growing increasingly impatient. Firstly, it was the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and the IMF attached conditions. In what was an introduction for a bigger and more mischievous act, IBB made Nigerians debate whether to accept or reject a loan from the IMF and then foisted the loans and its conditionalities on the Nigerian people after they had explicitly rejected it during the national debate. Of course, Babangida generally introduced Nigerians to the neo-liberal world of privatization and commercialization characterized by many other capitalistic policies that the Nigeria`s working class of that time found unfavourable.
And then it happened that the Babangida`s regime was also not able to achieve good governance and deliver on its promises despite all his western-style approaches to governance. When he could not cope with agitations that surrounded his continued presence as a military president, he instituted transition committees to usher the country into a new democratic dispensation. By fiat, the administration imposed two party system on the country. The two parties that emerged thereafter- the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) were the creation of the military government.
The subsequent 1993 presidential election organized by the military regime of the junta Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida was contested between Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (MKO) of the Social Democratic Party and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. Despite the fact that the candidates of the two contesting parties were Muslims, both Christians and Muslims trooped out to exercise their franchise. At the end of the ballot, the candidate of the SDP, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola received over eight million votes and won in 19 states of the federation, while his political rival, Alhaji Bashir Tofa received about six million votes and won in 10 states of the federation. Of a total of 14 million votes, Abiola of the SDP won about 60 percent, making him the duly elected president of Nigeria.
But instead of jubilations, Abiola`s supporters were greeted with news of annulment. Ibrahim Babangida in a national broadcast claimed that he was compelled to nullify the election and its results because of security threats to the enthronement of a democratic government at that time. In other words, he believed that the government of MKO, if inaugurated would be toppled by another military coup. Nigerians came out in their numbers to reject the annulment. The country was on a locked down and IBB was forced to step down. Before he left, he constituted an interim government headed by Earnest Shonekan. The interim government was swept aside by another military coup spearheaded by Sani Abacha and so the conspiracy was completed.
The annulment of 1993 presidential election was perhaps the most tragical event in the political history of Nigeria. The annulment, coupled with the death of Abiola emphatically underscore the veracity of the conspiracy that MKO Abiola was not wanted as the president of the country in the first place. Perhaps if his opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa had won the election, he would have been inaugurated. While the 1993 presidential election transcended the reaches of ethnicity and religious bigotry, its results and outcome could not transcend the reaches of primordial sentiments of ethnicity, religion and region.
An average electorate both in the south and the north at that time was not really interested in the religion or faith of who rules the country, they just wanted the military to be gone. But the then military president and the power that be, being mostly from the northern part of the country wanted their kind to be in power. So, when MKO Abiola won the election, they developed a theory to explain the need for the annulment. A theory that fitted perfectly with the reality of that time- a period of coup and counter coups.
The Babangida`s theory that there was a security threat to the new democracy to be instituted later materialize when general Sani Abacha toppled the interim government of Earnest Shonekan. Except that Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida were working together to ensure that MKO Abiola did not become the president of the country. It would be recalled that Sani Abacha was almost the next in command to Ibrahim Babangida which further highlights the fact that the two were lead orchestrators of the political events of that time.
The death of MKO Abiola in prison a day before he was to be released by the Abdulsalam Abubakar’s regime therefore makes more sense in the light of the grand theory that Abiola was never wanted to become the president of the country since a dead man cannot rule. Also, since the dead cannot speak, nobody has been punished for the death of Abiola till today not even the grand master of the annulment, Ibrahim Babangida. Abiola and his dream of becoming the president of Nigeria died with the politics of that time. Politics rooted in shared hatred, acrimony, ethnic jingoism, backbiting and religion and regional animosity. Like I said before now, though the election was not characterized by ethno-religious sentiments, the results of the election were interpreted along ethno-religious lines.
The Stolen Mandate
What Buhari did when he proclaimed June 12 as the New Democracy Day ought to have been done long ago. If not by Goodluck Jonathan, by Olusegun Obasanjo. But we heard that the deceased, MKO Abiola, and Olusegun Obasanjo are fond enemies- that Obasanjo never wanted him as the president of Nigeria. Ironically, it was Obasanjo that benefited from the annulment of 1993 presidential election. He reaped where he almost did not sow.
The politics of necessity of 1998 demanded that the new president of Nigeria in the latest and newest republic should emerge from the southwest zone as a compensation for their loss as a result of the annulment of the 1993 Presidential Election. Being a former military officer himself, the military favoured and supported Obasanjo`s candidacy in the 1999 elections. Also, the fact that Obasanjo was jailed by general Sani Abacha for alleged coup plot was enough to generate public sympathy for the Owu man which culminated into empathy vote during the 1999 presidential elections.
It is not much that Obasanjo benefited from the June 12 annulment and the subsequent political events in the country, but the fact that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo failed to honour MKO Abiola during his time as the GCFR is nothing to write home about. Obasanjo could have used his good office to honour Abiola`s memory and the heroism of all those who suffered and died during the June 12 struggle. On this and many other notes, Obasanjo scored zero. He benefited from the stolen mandate without acknowledgement.
Still in Search of Justice
IBB used one stone to kill two birds with the annulment. He stole the mandate of Nigerians who voted for MKO Abiola and also reconfigured Nigerian politics on the path of ethno-religious sentiments. The 1993 election proved that Nigerians could live beyond politics of religion and ethnicity, but IBB ensured that Nigerians did not live beyond it. He re-echoed primordial sentiments to the ears of the people of Nigeria. Denying Chief Abiola his presidency has caused Nigeria great and monumental setback since the last twenty-six years.
The country has continued on an unconvincing path since then. Subsequent elections in Nigeria after the 1993 elections have been characterized by evidence of ethno-religious sentiments. Ethnic politics on its own have created enmity and animosity among Nigerians such that many lives have been lost to political violence influenced by ethnic chauvinism and religion zealotry. Good governance is nowhere to be found. Even though IBB stole our commonwealth, the last twenty-six years in Nigeria have produced state governors that are wealthier than IBB can ever hope to be.
Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari has done well, he has honoured history. He has corrected injustice. Nonetheless, there is still more to be done. In the memory of June 12 hangs spirit of impunity and attitude of immunity against the law. The fact that one man with flimsy excuses annulled a presidential election after the fact without any punishment is an insult to all Nigerians who directly or indirectly participated in the election. All the sins of IBB might have been forgiven if he had not annulled the June 12, 1993 election. Therefore, for the annulment, he deserves to be punished. IBB and all those who perpetrated the dastardly act, including Justice Dahiru Saleh deserve some years in prison.
The failure to punish Ibrahim Babangida and his cronies has created and would continue to create political leaders with authoritarian tendencies. This is why in our current political dispensation; the voices of the people are not heard. Though we have not experienced any electoral annulment since 1993, it is not uncommon for electoral contest to be decided in a court of law, sometimes without recourse to the votes and voices of the electorates.
It is therefore important for the current administration to go beyond verbiage and ensure that all those who stole the 1993 mandate are brought to book. They must face the wrought of the law to serve as deterrence for future occurrence. As we celebrate June 12, 1993 annulment this year, it is important that having agreed that MKO Abiola won the election and having conferred on him a posthumous GCFR award, the President Buhari-led Federal Government of Nigeria must take further step to punish the people who committed a coup against the Nigerian people. Furthermore, this will give the Nigerian people who suffered and died during the 1993 struggle a sense that justice has been properly done.
This call for justice is also necessary and important for the preservation of our fragile democracy. We must begin to make our leaders to understand the enormity of the people’s mandate. We must begin to show that the people matter and that their votes and choices cannot be ignored. Therefore, in a larger context, June 12 represents an opportunity for the Nigerian people to demand accountability and transparency from their political leaders and give them an impression that never again will Nigerians allow their mandate to be ignored like in 1993.
I am appreciative that president Buhari was bold enough to honour history, I am just not happy that IBB is still yet to be held accountable for his betrayal of the Nigerian people. This is a call for the federal government of Nigeria to rise to the occasion and prevent this injustice from going unpunished.
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