June 12: Twenty-three Years After

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It is 23 years today since the conduct of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, but it remains a mystery to Nigerians why the milestone poll, which Chief Moshood Abiola was poised to win, was cancelled by then military president Ibrahim Babangida. Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Like previous anniversaries, pro-democracy actors and civil society groups will converge on Lagos and other cities to discuss the centrality of the annulment of that election to the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria. They would make salient demands on the place of the winner of the June 12, 1993 election, Chief M.K.O Abiola, in Nigeria’s history.

Unresolved Mystery
Since the former military president, General, Ibrahim Babangida, declared the election annulled on June 23, 1993, concerned actors and groups have not stopped asking questions on the reasons the process was cancelled. Twenty-three years after, several issues still remain unresolved on the June 12 election’s annulment.
In separate interviews with some key actors, interrelated explanations were offered for the annulment. The national chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group, Hon. Olawale Oshun, ascribed it first to Babandiga’s selfish interest and, also, to the conflicting interests of some national leaders, whose intervention on the restoration of the process could have spared Nigeria the global consternation that followed the annulment.
In a national address he co-signed with his National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Gusau, and the then Director of National War College, Brig-Gen. David Mark, Babangida provided different grounds on which the National Defence and Security Council based its decision to cancel the electoral process then adjudged to be the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s electoral history.

Babangida’s Explanation
The real reason the Babangida regime annulled the June 12, 1993 election remains largely unknown. Even though Babangida had explained in a national address, his reasons were not credible enough for the pro-democracy actors and civil society groups to believe, neither did Western diplomats, mainly the then US Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Walter Carrington, believe it.
Babangida first cited the 1992 presidential primaries, which he said, were cancelled because the process “did not meet the basic requirements of free and fair election. The Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) had good reason to cancel those primaries.”
For the same reason, Babangida said the June 12 election was annulled because it was afflicted by the problems that featured in the 1992 primaries.
Before the election, the former leader said the ruling council had full knowledge of the bad signals pertaining “to the enormous breach of the rules and regulations of democratic elections.” But because it was committed to the August 27, 1993 handover deadline, he claimed that the ruling council “overlooked the reported breaches. Unfortunately, the breaches continued into the election…”
Aside, Babangida cited different cases of alleged irregularities and other acts of bad conduct against the presidential candidates, though the National Electoral Commission (NEC) went ahead and cleared them. Also, the former president noted that there “were proofs as well as documented evidence of widespread use of money during the party primaries as well as the presidential election.
“These were the same bad conduct for which the 1992 presidential primaries were cancelled. Evidence available to government put the total amount of money spent by the presidential candidates as over N2.1 billion. The use of money was again the major source of undermining the electoral process.” However, he said, the ruling council overlooked the problems to keep faith with its handover promise.
Besides the tremendous negative use of money during the party primaries and presidential elections, Babangida said there “were moral issues, which were also overlooked. There were cases of documented and confirmed conflict of interest between the government and both presidential aspirants, which would compromise their positions, and responsibilities were they to become president.”
The former president admitted that the presidential election was generally seen “to be free, fair and peaceful. However, there was in fact a huge array of election malpractices virtually in all the states of the federation before the actual voting began. There were authenticated reports of the election malpractices against party agents, officials of the NEC and also some members of the electorate.”

Babangida Faulted
Some pro-democracy activists, who spoke with THISDAY at the weekend, faulted Babangida’s explanations. For them, Babangida’s reasons for annulling the election are unfounded. Prominent among the actors is the former Director of Studies at the Centre for Democratic Studies, Professor John Ayoade. Given his position, Ayoade was largely involved in the democratisation process, which led to the creation of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).
Ayoade offered three interrelated reasons, which according to him, impelled the former president to cancel the mandate of the people. He first cited Babangida’s reluctance to hand over power. Ayoade referred to different statements of Babangida’s aides at the time that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock. He said the former president “was not ready to transit power.”
Ayoade cited Babangida’s responses to media enquiries on two different occasions on whether his transition programme would stand. But on each of the occasions, he said Babangida was evasive. Rather than providing direct answers to the enquiries, Ayoade said Babangida simply retorted: “We will not stay in the office a day longer than necessary.”
The third reason, which the don gave for the annulment was revealed in some unguarded comments some associates of Babangida made at different times. Ayoade said, “Babangida did not expect the pattern of the transition. His associates confirm it. He actually wanted transition from military to civilian government. But according to his allies, nobody planned the transition from the North to the South.”
Apparently, Ayoade’s explanation showed that Abiola’s electoral victory was a real challenge to Babangida and the ruling cabal then. His account was, thus, a testimony to the explanation of Oshun, who said Babangida was not interested in relinquishing power. With his few loyalists, he said, the former president never planned “to transit power. Rather Babangida planned self-succession.”

Conflicting Interests
Different conflicting interests played a central role in the June 12 election annulment, according to Oshun. Likewise, Ayoade disclosed that some military henchmen insisted that Babangida “should transit power to Abiola. The henchmen were not ready to leave office. They were in high offices. Also, they were largely northerners,” whose interests were in conflict with that of the military establishment.
It was on this ground that Oshun said the military establishment was not responsible for the annulment of the process. During the June 12 struggle, Oshun explained, the military was an institution operating on its own. Babangida and his henchmen had constituted themselves into another institution. So, he said, only few of his loyalists decided against the mandate of the people.

Some prominent people were alleged to be part of the cabal that subverted the June 12, 1993 mandate. They included the then Minister of Communication, Brig.-Gen. David Mark, National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Gusau, Field Commander of ECOMOG Peacekeeping Force in Liberia, Brig.-Gen. Adetunji Olurin, and Commander of Federal Special Guards, and Col. One Mohammed, among others.
Even though the CDS gave Babangida a position paper on how to resolve the post-election conflict, Ayoade said Babangida and his associates did not consider the paper. Rather, he said, they went ahead with an unpopular decision.
The politics of the June 12 elections also involved a high-level intervention by two former Heads of State. Oshun, who was the Chief Whip in the House of Representatives, disclosed that the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, initiated the intervention then. He said the intervention was meant “to end the political impasse and ensure that Abiola was installed.
“President Olusegun Obasanjo was supposed to host the meeting of retired senior military leaders. Buhari had travelled to Otta, the venue of the meeting. Gen. Alani Akinrinade also travelled to Otta for the same purpose. But for one reason or the other, Obasanjo did not support the June 12 election. Eventually, the Otta meeting did not hold as originally scheduled,” Oshun explained.
He explained that Obasanjo did not support the June 12 election because he was probably scheming to be the Head of Interim National Government, but Babangida eventually considered Chief Ernest Shonekan to head the interim government. He explained the role of Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua. Initially, Oshun said, Yar’Adua “supported June 12 election. But after it was annulled, he thought it would avail him chance to contest in a fresh presidential election.”
Beyond all these reasons, Ayoade observed that Babangida “has not done justice for keeping to himself the real reasons that culminated in the annulment. All the reasons he gave in a national address that annulled the process were an afterthought. Exactly 23 years after the unpopular decision was taken, he should have opened up and told the country why the ruling council actually subverted people’s will.”

Immortalising Abiola
But Oshun lamented the failure of successive governments to recognise the significance of the June 12 election in Nigeria’s political history. He said it was tragic that no government “has given due recognition to Abiola 23 years after. Abiola is late already. But that does not take way the fact that he won the election. The records are still there that of the 30 states of the federation, he won in 19.”
He thus called on the Buhari administration “to recognise the June 12 election and declare the result. Buhari has opportunity to recognise Abiola’s electoral victory. Sufficient time has passed. It will address the injustice already done. But injustice will continue as long as the posthumous victory is not made.” He noted that due recognition would mark the healing of national ailments.

If Abiola had been accorded the right place in Nigeria’s history, Oshun argued that the healing process “will not have been long. No election has been credible in the country like the June 12 election. Only Buhari’s election was close to the June 12 election in terms of credibility.”
Oshun advocated that a national monument “be built to preserve the sanctity of the June 12 election and its winner.”