Shola Oyeyipo writes that 26 years after the June 12 presidential election presumably won by late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, his sacrifice, doggedness and contribution to democracy are still yielding positive impacts
Remembering the Saga
There are a few iconic dates in the Nigerian political history. These dates are reminiscent of landmark events that played significant roles in shaping Nigeria. The annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election represents an unforgettable political timeline.
June 12, 1993 when Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola assumedly won a presidential election that was annulled by Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd), has a place of prominence on Nigeria’s political calendar.
Nigerians will never forget the turmoil the country was thrown into after Babangida who alluded to pending lawsuits, announced on June 23 that the historic June 12, 1993 presidential election, adjudged freest, fairest and won by wealthy Yoruba businessman and renowned philanthropist, MKO Abiola was annulled. Not only was his action considered a brazen slap on the South-west where Abiola hailed from, it was also seen as the biggest setback to the emergence of democratic leadership Nigerians yearned for. That action forced democrats, progressives and civil society organisations to vehemently resist the military leadership. The international community was equally miffed.
Crisis erupted in various parts of the country. Groups, particularly National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and the Campaign for Democracy (CD) took up the fight. As much as there were causalities among them, they held on to their demand that Abiola must be sworn-in as the democratically elected president.
Hundreds of people died in riots before Babangida handed over power to the Interim National Government on August 27, 1993. The Head of the ING, Chief Ernest Shonekan, had barely served three months in office when he was forced to resign on November 17, 1993 by Defense Minister, late General Sani Abacha.
Spurred by NADECO and other agitators, Abiola declared himself president on June 11, 1994. He was arrested on June 23. Demanding for his unconditional release, petroleum workers and several other unions embarked on strikes that crippled the nation’s economy. Lagos and the South-west were worst hit.
While Abacha died of heart failure under questionable circumstance on June 8, 1998. Abiola also died under suspicious circumstance the day that he was to be released, July 7, 1998. Though the official autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, Nigerians were never convinced. That sustained the agitation to honour his memory. Worst still, the assassination of Abiola’s wife, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola on June 9, 1996 while her husband was detained by the Nigerian government further fueled the anger.
Stakeholders in Nigeria and friends of the country from around the world were quick to realise that the struggle for June 12 had reached crescendo. The barrel of the gun could not be quelled it.
After long and excruciating military intervention in politics, the June 12 election presented an opportunity to expel the military from active politics. Citizens were only pacified when the military bowed out. The current Fourth Republic that has spanned over 20 years came directly from the agitation for June 12.
Ordinarily, no decision could have been wiser than to give power to the South-west which was openly shortchanged by the June 12 annulment and which lost one of its most illustrious and philanthropic sons to the struggle. To resolve the power equation, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, emerged president in 1999.
This was why a son of late MKO Abiola and Kudirat Abiola, Alhaji Jamiu Abiodun Abiola while speaking at an event, ‘testimony of change’ held earlier in the year at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, noted that Obasanjo benefitted from his father’s blood but failed to recognise his contribution to Nigeria’s democracy. He stated that it took President Muhammadu Buhari who did not benefit from the struggle of late Abiola to recognise his acclaimed election as president on June 12 1993.
Heightened Calls to Imortalise Abiola
Shortly after Abiola’s death in detention, a cross section of Nigerians started demanding that the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who is his relative and classmate, immortalise him.
Prominent personalities including leader of the pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, Chief Abraham Adesanya, former Secretary-General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Ovie-Kokori Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Chief Mike Ozekhome, former military administrator of Lagos State, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd) and Comrade Moshood Erubami mounted pressure on Obasanjo and successive administrations to imortalise Abiola.
Abiola’s son, Jamiu, in a recent interview underscored the fact that even his family wanted Obasanjo to keep the memory of their father. He said: “When Obasanjo was the president, I visited him several times and called him several times. He also called me. Even when I wrote my first book, he did a fantastic review of the book and said the book gave people hope. There was a time I sent him a text message when he was president, telling him that peoples’ impression about his failure to honour Abiola was because he did not like him. Unfortunately, he did not do it. When I wrote the second book on my father, I gave him the book. I am sure he read it. All I have done for my father were not for a favour. They are the things I am supposed to do as a son. I saw it as an obligation. I will also want my son to do so for me.”
The eldest son of late winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Kola Abiola, Moshood Abiola, also revealed how he pushed for his late father to be honoured. He regretted that successive governments brushed aside calls for him to be honoured and for the federal government to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day.
The Politics of Recognition
With each passing year, there was an increase in the number of apostles of the June 12 agitation (mostly Southerners), demanding that Abiola’s sacrifice must not be swept under the carpet. They never relented in their quest to see Abiola join the league of national heroes. This soon evolved into a demand that encapsulated the South-west’s desire to posthumously celebrate one of their own who was a victim of the military in power.
Perhaps, his handlers understood that honouring Abiola would boost his acceptance in the South-west, hence former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan disclosed during a nationwide broadcast to celebrate the May 29 Democracy Day in 2012 that the federal government would rename the University of Lagos in honour of Abiola’s contribution to democracy.
The decision was rejected. Students of the university rejected the name Moshood Abiola University. Former Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola said Abiola would have rejected the renaming of the University of Lagos. The Pastor Tunde Bakare-led Save Nigeria Group (SNG) wanted the highest possible honour done to the late politician and deplored the manner Jonathan re-named the University of Lagos.
The defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) said through its former spokesperson that naming UNILAG after Abiola diminished the importance of Chief Abiola.
Worst still, Kola Abiola, said on national television that his father was bigger than the honour accorded him by the Jonathan administration, saying “That was a mistake. They were trying to regionalise MKO, he was more than that.”
Kola who said he begged Jonathan for the award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), hinted that he contacted the former attorney-general of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke and Pastor Tunde Bakare to ask Jonathan to honour his father with the award of the GCFR.
Boxed from all sides, Jonathan reversed the change of name.
Buhari Did the Needful
In what was seen as the fulfilment of the desire of many, on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari pronounced that Nigeria’s Democracy Day will, henceforth, hold on June 12 and not on May 29.
He didn’t stop at that, he also honoured the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Abiola, with the highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
Abiola’s running mate in that election, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, and the late fierce lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was also honoured with the second highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Niger.
Despite the fact that the decision came at a time when the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government’s goodwill was nosediving in the South-west, that singular proclamation reversed the trend. It was appreciated, though it was long in coming.
Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, hailed the declaration, but urged the federal government to take a step further by recognising the late Abiola as an elected President of Nigeria.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, stated that “Though he was honoured with the highest honour in the land, we want Abiola to be formally recognised as a former elected President of Nigeria.
The Abiola family appreciated the honour. In a letter dated June 6, 2018, and signed by Kola Abiola, the family thanked Buhari and the government for his decision.
However, the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stated through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, derided the action as, “political desperation by President Buhari, seeking to use Chief Abiola’s name as a tool to sway Nigerians.” Many south westerners did not give any thought to the opposition’s opinion on the matter.
As it is today, June 12 stands and Nigeria’s Democracy Day and it will go down in history that it is because a man paid the ultimate price to reclaim his stolen mandate, a decision that brought Nigeria out of military dictatorship and placed it on the path of democratic governance.
Worthy of note is the fact that this is the first national holiday in Nigeria to honour an individual or an ideal.
Previous Attempts to Honour MKO
Even before President Buhari took the step to honour Abiola, many believers in the June 12 mandate, mainly some South-west state governments, civil society organisations, his family and some individuals kept his memory alive. Lagos, Ogun and Osun states always commemorated June 12 with activities and a public holiday in those states.
For instance, in Ogun State, former Ogun State Polytechnic was renamed Moshood Abiola Polytechnic and later the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, signed into law the bill upgrading Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, into Moshood Abiola University of Science and Technology.
The 20,000 capacity stadium in Abeokuta has also been named after the presumed winner of the June 12 election.
In tribute to the thousands of lives lost in the June 12 struggle, a cultural centre in Abeokuta is named June 12 Cultural Centre.
In Lagos, there is the MKO Gardens, Ikeja and there is also the MKO Abiola Statue, in memory of Chief Abiola, unveiled on June 12, 2018 during the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. Though there was a statue done by his predecessor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Ambode opted for bigger statues for Chief Gani Fawehinmi and MKO Abiola.
In Osun State, an airport to be named after the multi-billionaire businessman-turned politician is currently under construction.
Not only did the first daughter of the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election, Lola Abiola-Edewor become a member of the House of Representatives, Senate recently confirmed her as Executive Director, Corporate Services of the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) for a second and final term of five years.
Abiola’s life, death and contributions to national development is still part of national discourse. Various documentation of his personality in books, musical and other theatrical productions coupled with the recent honour are sure to sustain his relevance for a long time in Nigeria’s history.
*June 10, 1993: Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Bassey Ikpeme issued an order restraining National Electoral Commission (NEC) from conducting the presidential election on June 12, 1993. This follows a suit brought by a largely ‘shadowy organization’, the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), headed by Chief Arthur Nzeribe, a disqualified presidential aspirant.
*June 12, 1993: NEC conducts presidential elections in defiance of the Abuja High Court order. Nigerians and foreign observers describe the elections as the freest and fairest the country has ever experienced.
*June 14, 1993: NEC published results from 15 states at its headquarters in Abuja showing that M.K.O Abiola is leading in all regions of the country including his opponent, Bashir Tofa’s home state, Kano.
*June 14, 1993: Government swears in a seven-member presidential election tribunal.
*June 15, 1993: Another interim order by an Abuja Court restrained NEC from releasing the results of the presidential elections.
*June 16, 1993: NEC shelves the release of the final results of the election because of actions pending in courts until further notice.
*June 22, 1993: NEC goes to the Court of Appeal to challenge the interim injunction by the Abuja High Court.
*June 23, 1993: The government annulled the results of the June 12 elections in a most bizarre manner; nullifies all the relevant court decisions, suspends NEC through an unsigned terse statement.
*June 24-29, 1993: Nigerians protest the annulment of the elections.
*June 30, 1993: Campaign for Democracy (CD), an umbrella organisation for no fewer than 40 NGOS/Human Rights groups, called for a one-week nationwide protest to begin on July 5.
*July 31, 1993: The National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) announces that an Interim National Government comprising of representatives of the NRC, the SDP, and leading military officers.
*August 1, 1993: A group of 30 senators signed a joint motion asking the government to declare the winner of the June 12 election.
*Abiola left the country unannounced.
*August 12, 1993: Clamp down on activists by government began across the country.
*November 17, 1993: General Abacha took over power. Chief Ernest Shonekan was forced to resign in what many considered a palace coup.
*January7, 1994: Abacha formally moves his administration to Abuja to avoid growing opposition in Lagos and other South-west states.
*June 11, 1994: Chief M.K.O Abiola declares himself president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the eve of the first anniversary of June 12 in an attempt to claim his June 12, 1993 presidential mandate at Epetedo, Lagos Island. He went into hiding after the declaration, fearing arrest by the military leadership.
*June 23, 1994: Eventually, the Federal Military Government arrested Chief M.K.O Abiola on treason charges.
*July 8, 1994: Riots broke out in the South-western states of Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, Ogun and Edo State in the South-south.
*August 3, 1994: Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) called for a general strike in solidarity with the oil workers’ strike.
*August 5, 1994: Justice Abdullahi Mustapha of an Abuja High Court granted Abiola a controversial and unsolicited conditional bail.
*August 6, 1994: Presiding judge in Abiola’s case withdrew.
*August 19, 1994: Chief Anthony Enahoro, Enemaku Idachaba, General Alani Akinrinade, Chief Cornelius Adebayo and other NADECO officials arrested at Sheraton Hotel and Towers. In Kaduna, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, former Governor of Kaduna State, and others, attending a meeting in his house were also arrested and later released.
*April 15, 1998: Late Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the ‘strongman’ of Ibadan politics, organises a pro-Abacha rally in Ibadan, which was countered by United Action for Democracy (UAD). There was hostility. Three people and five vehicles were burnt in the fight that ensued.
*May 5, 1998: The European Union (EU) officially pronounced Nigeria’s transition to civil rule programme a failure.
*June 8, 1998: Abacha died. His death was attributed to cardiac arrest.
*June 8, 1998: General Abdulsalami Abubakar emerges as Nigeria’s new military head of state.
*July 2, 1998: The UN scribe, late Kofi Annan, told the world that Abiola wanted freedom and that he might have dumped his mandate.
*July 7, 1998: Abiola died of cardiac arrest after taking ill during a meeting with Nigerian and United States officials. Civil society groups suspect foul play by the two nations.
*July 8-9, 1998: Widespread highway riots broke out at the news of Abiola’s death. Curfew was imposed in Abiola’s home state of Ogun.
*July 11, 1998: A cardiac pathologist, Dr. James Young, reaffirmed that Abiola died of natural causes; a long-standing disease of the heart, which he said was capable of causing unexpected death.
*February 27, 1999: Nigerians vote in presidential elections, Obasanjo wins.
*1999-2003: Obasanjo shun pleas to immortalise Abiola
*May 29, 2012: President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the PDP, during his Democracy Day speech announced renaming of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University, but it was resisted.
*June 6, 2018: President Buhari directed that the nation’s Democracy Day will now hold on June 12 of every year as against on May 29. He also resolved to honour Abiola with the highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic.