Abiola ...the symbol of June 12 struggle
Once upon a time- precisely some 20 years ago- in the very heart of West Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, held an election that was widely adjudged the freest and fairest and about the most credible on the continent at the time. And, except something fundamentally defining changes, that electoral exercise seems to have a lifetime rating on the chart of political history.
It was an experience that completely changed the cause of history. Coming from the backdrop of incivility that often characterised the conduct of elections in Africa generally and indeed, other developing countries of the world, the pride of the June 12, 1993 presidential election was shared beyond the borders of Nigeria. Even the colonial masters would be proud then that things were about looking up for one of their former colonies.
That Nigeria, at the least expected period, moved away from the known indecent tradition of electoral malpractices and resolved to advance the cause of good governance by joining the league of progressive nations. It soon turned out a momentary fantasy. That ecstasy was cut short in a fit of indiscretion and pronto, Nigeria began a journey into quasi-civil war that would last another five years.
The fact that June 12 came with as much peculiarity spurred the spontaneous protest that followed its annulment. It was the first time and perhaps, the last that the nation would experiment with a Muslim-Muslim ticket, given the present experience on the horizon occasioned by insecurity and sectional agitations.
Aside, though the central figure of the struggle, the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, was a Yoruba man from the South-west, June 12 was indisputably a national struggle embraced across the regions, religions, tribes and even disciplines.
For the ordinary man, it signaled an uncommon hope, while for the elite, it spoke more to paradigm shift to which they were not averse. It was not stunning therefore that even the top notch of the military was divided as far as June 12 was concerned. Many top military officers enlisted in the struggle.
And in spite of the blustering of the military establishment and their allies, which hounded, maimed and killed as many people as they thought to silence for standing up to their oppression, the people came out stronger; defied their intimidation and held on to the struggle for the actualisation of June 12, to which they craved no alternative. For that struggle, there was no ‘Plan B’ as far as the people were concerned.
This, of course, explained why the struggle was, in the final analysis, a success. Although, June 12 was not eventually actualised nor Abiola declared winner and president accordingly, it helped to create a new beginning for the country. It marked yet the birth of an era that Nigerians, irrespective of whatever happens now, would keep alive because there is yet no alternative to democracy.
It is also for the same reason that June 12 remains a watershed in the history of Nigeria’s political evolution and a contrived electoral complication that may elude intelligible classroom analysis for a long time to come.
Unfortunately, 20 years down the line, apart from boasting about 15 years of unbroken but quivering democracy, the question that keeps agitating the minds of many is: what has changed? But really, look around- has anything changed? Does the political class appear to have learnt anything to suggest that change is imminent?
Naturally, this brings to fore, the essence of the struggle which was about the restoration of an egalitarian society; a democratic system that underscores both representative and participatory governance; a country, which despite the diversity in culture, religion, language and tribe, is everyone’s.
That was the significance of the struggle which in spite of the secular nature of the society presented a Muslim-Muslim ticket on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and nobody dare raise the issue of religion or suspected the marginalisation of one against another.
The June 12 struggle emphasised one Nigeria, her differences notwithstanding. It showcased the beauty in the coexistence of her people and that in diversity lays such strength that would resist the vilest of dictatorship that ever was in history.
Even if June 12 or its central figure was yet to be accorded any national recognition, the greatest good that could be done to the memory of that era is institutionalising democracy and actualising good governance across the strata of the society. That was the constructivist approach to governance that Abiola had propounded in his quest to bid poverty farewell.
Ironically, the tragedy or better still, regret of that struggle can be located in the nation’s leadership misfortune ever since. This is better understood from a poser raised a few days ago by Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, one of the actors at that time and a former military administrator of Lagos State, when he asked some pressmen at an interactive forum: “How many of you were reporting the events of the struggle then as journalists?”
Alas, from the about 12 journalists present, only one could boast active journalism of 20 years. And then, he went on to establish the reason for his question. “Do you know that a child of 15 years then is 35 years now and they are the ones in government? They are the ones steering the affairs of this nation.”
The former naval officer didn’t have to say much. It was clear where he was headed. For him, if those who took part in a struggle some 20 years ago now found themselves in the corridors of power and yet, could not effect striking changes, then, the future of the country is in trouble. How much more those who were older and played as much defining roles in the struggle?
Twenty years after the struggle and coming less than two years to the next general election which is already a cause for concern; a time the country strongly craves the need to talk and review the coexistence of her people; a time a new constitution is in the offing; a time the challenge of security is overwhelming to say the least; a time good governance remains elusive; a time the scourge of corruption is almost synonymous with the name, Nigeria; a time that the human capital development has witnessed mesmerising decline than any period in history; a time that the Nigerian story is not proudly told anymore anywhere in the world, then the 20 years anniversary of the annulment of June 12 calls for a sober reflection, beyond regional whimsy.
Indeed, it is not a time for the human rights community and their counterparts in the civil society groups to continue to grandstand since they have always laid claims to driving the birth of democracy. It is also not the time for government to disregard the significance of the struggle as if June 12 merely strolled by in the annals of the nation’s body polity.
On the contrary, it is time that both the political actors and their civil society counterparts found a common ground and seized the opportunity of the occasion to chart a new cause for the nation. Although, the times are challenging, they are sure not hopeless and that is why the smartest thing to do is cash-in on the obscure hope that still stares the nation in the face and save Nigeria from herself by avoiding this imminent but needless crisis that is waiting to exhale.