June 12, Democracy and National Unity

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The late Comrade Ola Oni and Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu led the people of Oyo state in the national movement to protest the treasonable decision of the Ibrahim Babangida junta to annul the result of the June 12 presidential election won by the late Bashorun M.K.O Abiola. I was therefore not surprised when I received the invitation of the Governor Akeredolu administration to join in the celebration marking the 24th anniversary of the memorable event on Monday. I am particularly delighted to note that the Ondo state government has decided to honour the winner of the historic election and acknowledged the sacrifice of all the heroes who were killed or brutalized for defending the democratic rights of the Nigerian people.

The lessons of June 12 should be highly instructive in the light of the current political climate in Nigeria.
Even though the political class had promised to demilitarize the political system and ensure that the Nigerian people produce a democratic Constitution to replace Decree No 24 of 1999, otherwise called the 1999 Constitution, the demand for the convocation of a sovereign national conference to produce a democratic Constitution was rejected by the federal government. Consequently, the political crisis plaguing the country has assumed a dangerous dimension. We are currently witnessing a situation whereby a young man who has lived in Lagos for over 25 years recently issued a 3-month notice to Igbo people to pack out of all the 19 states in the north. While northern traditional leaders and political leaders have assured the Igbo people of their safety Dr. Ango Abdullahi has endorsed the illegal quit notice. It is sad that Dr. Abdullahi is at it again. On May 23, 1986, the authorities of the Ahmadu Bello University invited the mobile police to clamp down on students who were on a peaceful protest. Although the rally had been concluded the armed policemen shot into one of the hostels and killed 4 students. When confronted by the media to confirm the number of students who were killed by the police the then vice chancellor, Dr. Ango Abdullahi said that the police killed “only 4 students”. The statement provoked Nigerian students who embarked on a nationwide protest in solidarity with their fallen colleagues. Chima Ubani and 8 of his colleagues who coordinated the protest in the southeast zone were charged before a special military tribunal. Based on my preliminary objection and the resistance of the then vibrant National Association of Nigerian Students the charge was dismissed in favour of the students.

Even though they were discharged the authorities of the UNN turned round to expel them. The action, which I filed in the Enugu State high court against the expulsion of the students, succeeded as they were reinstated. The lesson from this story is that students of Igbo extraction once had cause to protest the killing of northern students. And when they were charged to court and later expelled from the university it was a lawyer from the southwest who defended them against the injustice meted out to them. In his “Beast of No Nation” did the late Fela Anikulapo-kuti not sing against a crazy world where students were killed at “Soweto, Zaria, Ife”? Let our young people draw inspiration from Chima Ubani who led Igbo students to protest the mindless killing of Hausa students.

The French election has just produced a 39-year old President. The French people did not vote for him because of his age but because he represents the interests of the majority of voters who are opposed to the resurgence of reactionary nationalism in Europe.
What are the lessons for Nigerians?

The Nigerian youths constitute 62 per cent of the voting population. Instead of taking advantage of the large number of young voters to produce leaders who are imbued with vision and mission young people are queuing behind agents of disunity and destruction. While voters in other climes are using their electoral power to demand public accountability Nigerian youths are being recruited as agents by corrupt politicians and warmongers. The threat to balkanize the country has completely diverted national attention from the allocation of the first tranche of N516.38 billion reimbursements made to the 36 states and the federal capital territory from the Paris Club debt refund by the federal government.

June 12 and Demand for Restructuring
Unlike some Nigerian leaders who have pathological disdain for the events which contributed to the termination of military rule in the country President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the Late Chief M.K.O Abiola as a watershed in the political history of Nigeria. The attempt to change the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University was rejected by the institution’s Alumni Association. Chief Abiola should be recognized posthumously as an elected President. The national stadium at Abuja should be named after him. June 12 should replace May 29 as Democracy Day. The Federal Government should release the Report of the Oputa Commission of Enquiry on human rights abuse.

But beyond the naming of institutions in honour of a man who paid the supreme sacrifice for the restoration of democracy the federal government should mark June 12 on a daily basis by respecting the democratic rights of the Nigerian people. It should be borne in mind that the Nigerian people voted for Chief Abiola because of his commitment to make poverty history. Nigerians have also recently voted for the All Progressive Congress (APC) because it promised to change poverty to prosperity in the land.

In the wake of the growing agitation for the restructuring to restore the federal status of the country Nigerians have been rudely told that restructuring is not in the agenda of the Buhari administration. Nigerians should reject the arrogant statement because the APC had undertaken in its manifesto to “initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal Spirit.” With respect, it ought to be pointed out that the struggle for restructuring has been partly won by state governments through litigation and defiance. Specifically, state governments have won the legal battles over the control of physical planning and control of local government funds. The States have also won the battle over the collection of taxes from hotels etc. Even though the Land Use Act is a federal enactment entrenched in Constitution state governments have rightly won the battle over the control of land. Hence, the federal government is currently appealing to State governments to donate land for grazing of cattle. Public holiday is in the executive legislative lists. But State governments have continued to declare public holidays without any challenge from the federal government.

However, in line with the manifesto of the APC one of its leaders, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has recently called for “a restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralized, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constitutional units and localities.” As far as Alhaji Abubakar is concerned “the call for restructuring is even more relevant today in the light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a nation.” (June 1, 2016.) As I said at another forum last month, “the demand for restructuring or devolution of powers without democratization is dangerous for the polity. Any restructuring that does not address the crisis of poverty, unemployment and infrastructural decay is an invitation to anarchy. Strengthening the States and making the centre less dictatorial is not a panacea to political stability.”

Let it be made abundantly clear that the national question is not about empowering champions of ethnic groups to continue to run the affairs of the federating units. It is about the equitable distribution of resources and democratization of powers. The call for restructuring should not be reduced to the mere transfer of powers from the centre to the States to make the federal government “less centralized, less suffocating and less dictatorial.” Contrary to the misleading impression of some of the agitators, state governments are not less dictatorial than the federal government under the current distorted federal structure. Hence, even though state governments have won the battle for some devolution of powers has not impacted positively on the people because such powers have not been democratized.

The 2014 National Conference was compelled to address the issue of restructuring in a rather comprehensive manner. Realizing that the devolution of powers was not sufficient to guarantee political stability in the country the delegates unanimously recommended the actualization of the socio-economic rights enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution, payment of living minimum wage for workers, establishment of a special anti-corruption court, 35% representation for women, removal of immunity clause in respect of criminal offences etc. To stop the manipulation of religion by the ruling class it was recommended that the government should withdraw completely from religious affairs. Specifically, the government is to withdraw from the sponsorship of pilgrimages to holy sites.

As the federal government is not going to allow devolution of powers without a protracted struggle, state governments that are genuinely committed to political restructuring should mobilize the people to take their destiny in their own hands. As far as I am concerned, regional economic integration by state governments does not require the fiat of the federal government. State governments which are demanding true federalism should stop rushing to Abuja for monthly allocation and distribution of the revenue realized from oil sales and VAT.

We cannot restructure the country without the redistribution of the commonwealth. For instance, through privatization and liquidation of national assets the federal government has devolved economic power hitherto concentrated in the centre. But such economic power was not transferred to the state and local governments but to a few foreign and local business groups. With dwindling revenue the federal government is being compelled to allow state governments to take up matters that are in the Exclusive Legislative List. For instance, state governments have been allowed to build airports, power plants as well as rail lines and federal roads.

* The column is adapted from the address delivered in Akure by Mr. Falana at the 24th anniversary event of the June 12, 1993 presidential election organised by the Ondo state government on Monday

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“Regional economic integration by state governments does not require the fiat of the federal government”