Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 12, Not May 29, Is Nigeria’s ‘Democracy Day’

By Mike Ozekhome
On Sunday, June 12, 2016, leading lights in the human rights and pro-democracy movement in Nigeria, gathered at the late M.K.O. Abiola’s house, to mark “June 12”, 23 years after this talismanic, watershed and cornerstone of a people’s election. I was one of them. We paid tribute and sang solidarity songs. We x-rayed the state of the nation. We laid wreath at his tomb. We did not forget his lovely wife, Kudirat, who was martyred with him. We prayed by her graveside. An amazon that carried aloft the liberation torchlight after her husband’s incarceration in military dungeon, she epitomised women’s potency, fervour  and ardour.

June 12 is very stubborn. It is simply indestructible, ineradicable, indelible, imperishable and ineffaceable. It sticks out like a badge of honour, the compass of a beleaguered nation. It cannot be wished away. Never. Aside from October 1, when Nigeria had her flag independence, June 12 remains the most important date in her annals.
Nigeria and June 12 are like Siamese twins. The snail and the shell. They are inseparable.  Like six and half a dozen. Like Hamlet and the Prince of Denmark. You cannot discuss May 29 without its forebear and progenitor, June 12. To attempt that is comical, droll chucklesome, even bizarre and freakish. June 12 is not just a Gregorian calendar date. It is Nigeria’s authentic democracy day. That was when genuine democracy berthed in Nigeria. Nigerians had trooped to the polls to vote for Abiola. On June 12, 1993, Nigeria stood still. Nigerians became oblivious to religious sensibilities and ethnic nuances. They did not care that Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, Bashorun and Aare Onakanfo of Yoruba land, was a Moslem who was running with another Moslem, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. The gods and goddesses of ethnicity, tribalism and religious bigotry were brutally murdered and interred.
The apparitions of gender, culture and class discrimination, were sent back to their graves. Abiola, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, squarely won the election under Babangida’s option A4. He trounced his challenger, Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). He had campaigned with “Hope 1993 (a message of possibilities later adopted by Obama in 2008). His was “Farewell to Poverty” manifesto. Both resonated well with Nigerians. Abiola, who had joined politics at 19 under NCNC, in 1959, had used his stupendous wealth to water the ground and build bridges of unity, understanding and acceptability across the length and breadth of Nigeria. He had Concord newspaper and airline to help propel his ambition. He regarded money as nothing but manure with which, like plants, human beings are nurtured. Abiola had defeated Bashir Tofa, even in his Gyadi-Gyadi Ward, Kano.

Results already declared in all wards, L.G.A.s, states and FCT, showed that Abiola had already won the elections, even in military formations and police barracks across Nigeria. It only remained for Professor Humphrey Nwosu to formally announce Abiola, as the President of Nigeria. He demurred. He was forced not to, by IBB. He went into hiding. Senator Arthur Nzeribe was hired to use his Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), to procure a “black market” injunction from Justice Ikpeme to halt further announcement of results.
Thus, mindlessly, doltishly, IBB annulled the freest, fairest and most credible election ever held in Nigeria. In his 2,700 labyrinthine and laborious national broadcast devoid of any animation and wisdom, IBB, strangely ascribed the reason for the annulment to alleged evidence of “corrupt and unfair” practices during the election. He did this, allegedly, “in the supreme interest of law and order, political stability and peace”. Jesus Christ! IBB annulled an election for these reasons when there were election petition tribunals to adjudicate over any electoral malpractices? Like Abiola put it in his usual proverbs, no one can abort a child after he has been born. That is simply murder, infanticide.
As expected, Nigeria erupted in violence. Nigerians cried blue murder. We, human rights activists, and pro-democracy campaigners, led millions of Nigerians to protest and demonstrate on Nigerian streets. For weeks. We literally shut down the country. NUPENG and PENGASON shut down oil, Nigeria’s blood stream. Nigeria was totally paralysed. All Nigerians were involved, whether Bini, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Fulani, Ibibio, Etsako, Efik, Gwari, Ebira, Igalla, Nupe, Itsekiri, Annang, Birom, Idoma, Bomboro, Bunu, Esan, Koma, Kanuri, Eggons, Kushi, Ikwerre, Anga, Ogoni, Yewa, etc., Nigerians melted into one whole. For the first time, a real nation was born.  The efforts made by some of us in this epochal struggle for the heart and soul of Nigeria’s democracy and existence, as a country are well captured and historically documented in Joe Igbokwe’s epic book, “The Heroes of Democracy”.
Many of those currently ruling over us were nowhere to be found. They either escaped abroad, went about their normal businesses, or hid behind their wives’ backs. IBB was forced to step aside. Entered Chief Ernest Shonekan, a man who was more at home at boardrooms than in political maneuverings.  Accomplished in business, he was a complete neophyte and novitiate in the art and science of high wired politics of governance.
Nigerians rallied fiercely, to reclaim the mandate freely and voluntarily bestowed on Abiola by 14 million Nigerians. Abacha, who had seized power in a palace coup from Ernest Shonekan’s Interim National Government (ING), which was later declared illegal by Justice Dolapo Akinsanya of the Lagos High Court, would hear none of this. Abiola then victoriously returned from his self-imposed exile, where he had gone to drum up international support to reclaim his stolen mandate. At Epeteodo area of Lagos Island, he declared himself president of Nigeria. He was promptly declared wanted by bespectacled Abacha, who felt that there could not be two kings in the same palace. Abiola was arrested by a multitude of about 200 gun-toting policemen. I witnessed it. For the next four years, he was tucked away in solitary confinement in a dungeon, with only the Holy Bible, Holy Quran and 14 prison guards as his companions.
On June 7, 1998, the day he was billed to be released from Aso Villa incarceration, he suddenly died under mysterious circumstances. Talk about the witch crying last night and the child dying this morning. It is widely believed that he was killed in cold blood by powers that be, with the full support of neo-liberal international conspirators and the military oligarchy, the latter whom IBB had claimed Abiola was not acceptable to. IBB lied. Because Abiola even won in military barracks.
Thus, Abiola laid down his life as a sacrificial lamb, in his efforts at democratic  redemptive messianism. He paid the supreme price. And someone is telling me that May 29, the date capriciously and whimsically chosen by the Military to hand over power to militarily anointed Obasanjo, who was yanked out from Jos prison, where he was serving his jail sentence for alleged coup plotting, to become president, is superior to June 12? No way. Let us respect history. Let us give honour to whom honour is due. Let us not become historical revisionists, or the Bourbons of European history. Abiola is not the “acclaimed” or “presumed” winner of the 1993 presidential election, as some people always erroneously put it. He was simply the slain president of Nigeria. Pure and simple. In the eye of equity (even if not law stricto sensu), he was already president defacto, even if not strictly dejure. This is because equity regards as done, that which ought to be done. It looks at the substance, rather than the form.
Abiola’s name must be immortalised. General Abdussalami Abubakar, OBJ and Yar’Adua, dodged it. GEJ tried perfunctorily by naming Unilag after him. A section of the country kicked against this. It died. It is never too late. Abiola should be officially declared, proclaimed and recognised as president of Nigeria. Yes. Post-humously. To be inducted into the pantheon of former presidents and Heads of State. Afterall, even illegal and unconstitutional military dictators, including three months Head of Interim National Government, Shoneken, are so regarded. This is aside from any major airport and Federal University being named after him.
In USA, there is hardly a city that does not have a boulevard, street, freeway, etc., named after Martin Luther King Jnr., the African-American civil rights crusader, who was murdered before he had “reached the mountain top”. Why not Nigeria, Abiola. June 12, not May 29, should be officially proclaimed a public holiday and named “Abiola day”. I so respectfully submit.
*Chief Ozekhome is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria

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