President Buhari made the right call on June 12, argues Olusegun Adeniyi

As much as I subscribe to the notion that given the timing, the action is very political, even opportunistic, I am also aware that Buhari is not the kind of man who would take this sort of action without conviction, no matter the political implications. So, I believe he took the decision because he feels it is the right thing to do and he deserves to be commended for it. Besides, the ‘Not too young to run’ generation in the Southwest who now constitute the electoral majority may admire the spirit of June 12 based on the stories they are told by their parents but if you follow them on Twitter, they are more concerned about issues that directly impact on their lives. So, nobody should overplay the vote issue to diminish the significance of what President Buhari has done just as I abhor any recourse to provincial triumphalism that can only be counterproductive in a diverse society like ours.

In the 12th July edition of the Mohammed Haruna-led CITIZEN magazine (which was then the voice of the Northern elite), Mallam Adamu Adamu, the current Minister of Education and one of the finest writers in Nigeria, had reviewed the transition programme of General Babangida and the fiasco created by the annulment of the June 12 election and concluded: “We are today stuck at the crossroads with eight years wasted; small problems have become bigger problems, mist on the tracks has turned into a thick fog. From here moving back is impossible without terrible costs and moving forward extremely difficult.”

President Buhari has found a way around that problem by going for justice rather than expediency on what has for 25 years been a tricky situation. While conferring the posthumous award on Abiola on Tuesday, the president admitted: “We cannot rewind the past but we can at least assuage our feelings, recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and ease the future for the sanctity of free elections.” He then added, “this retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.”

That precisely is the point many of the commentators miss. June 12 goes beyond the person of Abiola and what he may have represented in the past. It is not even about what happened that day, as significant as the voting pattern (Muslim-Muslim ticket securing the votes of Christians) was. It is about what happened afterwards, when several Nigerians stood up to the military and paid heavy price for demanding that the votes they lawfully cast could not be so cynically taken away. Of course I am well aware that at that period, there were also those who bought into the divisive politics of the military and decided to accept the peace of the graveyard.

Those who have always imputed ethnic motive to that principled stand taken by Yoruba people for the stubborn refusal to abandon June 12 forget that Chief Ernest Shonekan, like Abiola, is an Egba man yet he was rejected and so was Obasanjo in 1999. Therefore, the issue was never about having a Yoruba man in Aso Rock; it was/is about righting the wrong of June 12 in a manner that would take into cognizance the supreme sacrifice paid by Abiola and several people without which the military would never have returned to the barracks. That is why the symbolism of upstaging May 29 for June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria should not be lost: It is an affirmation of the supremacy of the ballot over bullet!

The damage inflicted on the psyche of Nigeria by the annulment of the June 12 election was enormous and to understand how divided the country had become just a few weeks after ordinary citizens had cast their votes for a united nation, I reproduce below an abridged version of a chapter in my book, ’POLITRICKS: National Assembly under Military Dictatorship’ which captures the debate that followed the annulment of the election in the Senate that had at times been inaugurated under a curious political arrangement.

General Babangida had on 17th August 1993 addressed a joint session of the National Assembly to propose an interim government with the aim of conducting yet another presidential election, following a ‘tripartite agreement between the military and representatives of the two political parties, the defeated National Republican Convention (NRC) and the SDP whose leaders were trading away their victory without Abiola’s support.

In a speech designed to incite the National Assembly members against June 12, Babangida said, “The present negotiated choice of an Interim National Government by the Nigerian political elites is once again an imaginative and peaceful solution to the inevitable dilemma of democratization” before he added that the pro-democracy agitators were “disrespectful of your mandate and seize on the attraction of populist rhetoric to unleash vicious attack on the political leadership. They are after you, not me. They do not want to operate through the two party system. Please, invite them to join your parties; and work their way up from the grassroots as you did.”

At that period, the Senate, presided by Dr Iyorchia Ayu, had such members as Hamman Bello Mohammed, Chuba Okadigbo, Uba Ahmed, Paul Ukpo, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, Rasheed Ladoja, Ahmadu Idah Ali, Benneth Birabi, Ebenezer Ikeyina, Kanti Bello, Wande Abimbola, Magaji Abdullahi, Kofo Buckor Akerele, Idris Kuta, Aniete Okon, Paul Wampana and several others while the House led by Agunwa Anaekwe had Tehemba Shija, Lazarus Unaogu, Nicholas Agbo, Tokunbo Afikuyomi, Florence Ita Giwa and others. I am sure readers will find the debate that followed Babangida’s speech very instructive.

All said, what President Buhari has done on June 12 is not only significant, it has shown very clearly that he has the capacity to rise above certain narrow and clannish interests to do the right things, including rallying the entire country for the healing and reconciliation that is very much needed across board, if we must attain peace and prosperity. It is therefore my hope that the president can apply the same disposition to deal with the economic/lifestyle problems that now endanger inter-group relations in the North Central with dire implications for sectarian divisiveness as well as the ‘five per cent versus 97 per cent’ mindset that has almost alienated the entire South-east from his administration.

While these issues belong to another day and we will deal with them appropriately, President Buhari made the right call on June 12. But can he seize the moment or is it already too late in the day?

Adeniyi is Chairman, THISDAY Editorial Board