June 12: 26 Years After

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MKO Abiola

Polscope By Eddy Odivwri

In five days time, it will be the historic June 12. The day, many believe, marked the watershed of our democratic quest. It was the day, 26 years ago, that 14 million Nigerians trooped out to vote for a new president. There were just two contenders for the number one seat: Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) and Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Although it was in June, the heart of the rainy season, it was a day no part of Nigeria experienced rainfall. The weather was clement and supportive of the election.

It was a day Nigerians rejected voting along fault lines. They did not even mind the religion of the dramatis personae of the election. The SDP, for instance fielded a Muslim-Muslim ticket—in the person of MKO Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe.

Not only did the duo win the election, they in fact, defeated Tofa in his ward in Kano.

Years before the election, late Chief Abiola had built a nationwide network of friends, associates and allies. His philanthropic gestures across board were remembered. He was loved, what with his catchy lingo of Farewell to Poverty. The phenomenon of vote buying was unthinkable at the time. People voted freely and fairly. If there was any election that could be properly described as free and fair, it was the June 12 1993 presidential election. Not even the tiniest case of electoral violence was recorded.

In fact, it was so free that the NRC began to scratch for what could provoke crisis. The NRC, I recall, under the leadership of Chief Tom Ikimi, on the day of the election began to raise the issue of Abiola wearing a green agbada with the emblazoned image of a horse, which was the symbol of the SDP. He had argued, needlessly, that it meant Abiola was still campaigning on the day of the election.

The Hope 93 campaign organization superintended by Dr Jonathan Silas Zwingina and the likes of Femi Oredein, still remain one of the best organized campaigns in Nigeria.

Yours sincerely was part of the campaign , touring the length and breath of Nigeria, selling the message of better life for all Nigerians.

Despite the passage of time, it yet hurts that for no cogent reason, the outcome of that election was annulled by the man who calls himself the Evil Genius, Gen Ibrahim Babangida, the then military president.

It is also remarkable that the likes of Senator Arthur Nzeribe with his infamous Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) helped to trigger the huge political crises that almost consumed Nigeria. He is reaping the evil fruits thereof today.

Indeed, many, including MKO and his wife, Kudirat, had to pay the supreme price in fighting for the restoration of the June 12 mandate.

It became a historical reference point in the democratic struggle of the country.

It is remarkable that the direct beneficiary of the June 12 fiasco, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, ignored the significance of the day. He literally pooh-poohed it. He almost lived in denial of that historical date. But it was a day nobody could wish away.

Not even Obasanjo’s successor, Late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua acknowledged what the June 12 phenomenon meant for Nigeria.

Not too sure of how to immortalise June 12 and the Abiola heroic stature, former President Goodluck Jonathan decided to name the University of Lagos after MKO. The protest that followed could not be contained, and without any official reversal of that proclamation, the proposal died a natural death. Today, University of Lagos is still University of Lagos.

It took, however the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari to formally clear all the fog around the June 12 ghost which had been hovering, literally on the Nigerian political space. President Buhari not only declared that Abiola won the said election—thus ending the tag of inconclusive election, he went ahead to declare that June 12 has indeed become the new Democracy Day for the country. That was the redeeming crown for the historic day. And that explains why the real celebration of the second tenure of Mr President has been reserved for June 12, with foreign dignatories.

Yet, the lessons of the June 12 exercise cannot be lost on us. Beside the unity it fostered, the banal issue of religion and other petty political index cannot and should not be hoisted as determining factors in our polity. Rather the issue of character and competence must be allowed to rule.