The 26th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 election was commemorated for the first time as Democracy Day, yesterday. WALE ELEGBEDE, TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE and MURITALA AYINLA report on the issues that emanated from the commemoration across the country
For older Nigerians, no presidential election carries weight and significance than the annulled June 12, 1993 election, which the presidential candidate of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Moshood Abiola, was believed to have won and was viewed as the freest, fairest and most peaceful poll ever held in Nigeria.
After Nigerians have cast their votes, the election’s result was declared inconclusive before it was annulled on June 23, 1993 in a most bizarre manner. It was clear that MKO (as Abiola was popularly known) was coasting home to victory according to initial figures released by the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) before the military junta directed the electoral body to stop further announcement of results from the remaining few states.
The then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, justified the annulment on the grounds that it was necessary to save the nation. He alleged that political activities preceding the election were inimical to peace and stability in Nigeria.
That prompted Abiola’s insistence that he won the poll although the claim was a subject of debate for years until Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, then Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), set the record straight 15 years later (June 12, 2008), when he affirmed that the Ogun State born business mogul won the election.
The annulment of June 12 marked the beginning of decades laced with struggle, anger, agitation and cries for restoration. Civil societies, ethnic groups and Nigerians from all walks of life demanded for the restoration of the mandate.
In the course of the struggle, Abiola, who would have been president between 1993 and 1997, and or beyond, died on July 7, 1998, in the custody of the Federal Government four years after he was arrested and detained by the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, for daring to declare himself President-elect.
Upon the enthronement of the Fourth Republic, post-1999 administrations of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan failed to heed to the demand for recognition for Abiola.
Although Jonathan took a major step to immortalize Abiola, when he renamed the prestigious University of Lagos (UNILAG) to Moshood Abiola University, Lagos (MAULAG) on May 29, 2012, his effort, notwithstanding, didn’t see the light of the day.
But, a step towards the campaign to get the government to declare Abiola president received a major boost last year, when President Muhammadu Buhari directed that the nation’s Democracy Day will, henceforth, hold on June 12 of every year as against the current arrangement, where the ceremony holds on May 29.
The declaration by President Buhari explains the nationwide observance of the June 12 anniversary yesterday across the country as it was also used as a means by political leaders, activists and Abiola’s associates to demand for a better governed country.
Sanwo-Olu, Akinrinade, Alake, others seek good governance
The Democracy Day celebration organised by the Lagos State Government at the Blue Roof, Agidingbi, was used by politicians and activists to celebrate the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Bashorun MKO Abiola. They also used the event to demand for good governance, which June 12 struggle was about.
Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while joining other pro-June 12 activists to honour Abiola, said the philosophy behind the June 12 struggle must continually be celebrated by ensuring that elected officers are accountable and every Nigerian is treated equally.
He also said that the citizens must be prioritised always in order not to lose the essence of June 12, noting that June 12 would continue to remind Nigerians that free and fair election was possible and that it also showed there was unity in diversity.
Speaking at the June 12 Democracy Day celebration, with the theme “Democracy and Restoration of True Federalism in Nigeria,” Governor Sanwo-Olu who was represented by his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat, said June 12 will continue to remind Nigerians that free and fair election is possible and pursue of justice does not die, saying that said if the philosophies behind June 12 would be accomplished, it would require thinking differently.
In his address, former Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), who was the chairman of the occasion, said the essence of June 12 would be lost, if the people were not made the fulcrum of governance.
Akinrinade, who called for restructuring that would result in having local and state police, asked the Federal Government to declare herdsmen as criminal of the first order, adding that there was need for restructuring which should result in having local and state police.
“The President should not listen to those who have kicked against restructuring, and look into the political, physical and territorial re-alignment. Those against it are enemies of peace and they will stop us from joining the rest of the world in the race toward development, human dignity and comfort.
“I notice that you are trying to restructure the police, please do it snappily and do not allow it to turn to another talk shop. Please commence now because four years is enough to achieve it,” he said.
Akinrinade, who was a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) during the struggle against the military junta and return of Nigeria to democratic path, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his courage and respect for the voice of the people by posthumously honouring the symbol of June 12, MKO Abiola.
Also speaking at the event, former Lagos State Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Mr. Dele Alake, argued that quality service delivery and eradication of poverty is key to celebration of June 12 because that was what June 12 stood for.
Gani Adams, Kanu, Okei-Odumakin harps on restructuring
Speaking at the 26th commemoration of June 12 held by the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) also in Lagos, the 15th of Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, who is the convener of the summit; former Governor of Lagos State and chieftain of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd); President of Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, among others, were unanimous in their assertion on the significance of the annulled election as they canvassed for the restructuring of Nigeria to ensure the resonation of the June 12 election.
They also urged the federal government to declare Abiola as an ex-president, just as they hailed President Buhari for signing into law June 12 as democracy day.
Adams, who admonished President Buhari to go a step further by ensuring that Nigeria is properly restructured, said that is a must if the country must honour Abiola’s memory.
“If Nigeria is properly restructured, the spate of kidnapping, banditry, cattle rustling and clashes will become history. It is a shame that in the 21st Century, states still go to Abuja, cap in hand, for monthly allocations. That action is, in itself, contrary to the spirit of federalism. Although we are in a democracy, Nigeria is still being governed through a unitary system,” he said.
The Aare Ona Kakanfo warned perpetrator of kidnapping in Yorubaland to be mindful of their act.
His words: “I want to say it with pride that the Yoruba were never conquered and nobody can conquer Yorubaland, never. Those behind this dastardly act should repent now or face the music soon. The patience of our people has been exhausted. As the 15th Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, I know that I must lead this battle but this battle will be fought and won in collaboration with our governors.
“As our elders say, discretion is the better part of valour. I am particularly happy that our governors are already on the same page with us on the need for a security summit. This will hold very soon. But I want to assure those enemies infiltrating Yorubaland that your days are numbered.”
In his lecture, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Dr. Dele Ashiru, who was guest speaker at the event, said Nigeria must be restructured to give room for the interest of grassroots and also ensure that hardwork and competence is rewarded.
The don noted further that immunity for some elected officials should be removed, just as he called for the reduction in the cost of governance, adding that there must be a sustained war against corruption at all levels of government.
His words: “We must discard a winner-take-all approach to our politics and adopt a win-win system. We have to organize ourselves and provide alternative paradigm for effective structure of governance.
“Abiola must be recognised as president, all his emolument must be paid and his photograph hung in Aso Rock. Until that is done, the mandate given to MKO is still hanging. He must be recognized posthumously as president of this country.”
While charging Nigerians not to relent in demanding for good governance from its leaders, Kanu said the country was subjected to militarism during the June 12 annulment, adding that nothing much has changed in the country 26 years after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
In her address, Okei-Odumakin, said June 12 was a watershed, adding that, “the election result must be announced and we call for a true federalism by way of restructuring.”
Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Mr Debo Adeniran, said he preferred June 12 to be named MKO Abiola Day.
His words: “Like the United States Civil Liberty emblem, Reverend Martin Luther King Jnr, equally assassinated while struggling for racial equality and non-discrimination, Abiola has come to make June 12 an unforgettable moment in Nigeria’s quest for social identity and political/ideological direction. This inform why we advise that the Government should declare the day (June 12) MKO Abiola Day, never to be forgotten and reiterate the lesson and occasion when we all chorus and say, Never Again.
Hamzat, Utomi, activists, hail Abiola’s courage
It was a moment of celebration at MKO Abiola’s residence in Toyin Street, Ikeja as activists and members of the family gathered for the 26th commemoration of June 12.
The event organised by June 12 Pro-Democracy Movement, was used to pay tributes to the late winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and also called on government to address basic challenges in the country, especially the state of insecurity in Nigeria.
Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, said the nation has what it takes to be great if the citizens can play their roles as expected and therefore urged Nigerians to continue to keep the wishes of the late Chief MKO Abiola in their memories by behaving rightly.
Hamzat, who made the call after laying a wreath in honour of Abiola, said making Nigeria a better country, which was the wish of the late politician and business mogul, requires the collective effort of both the government and the people.
“Today is about the wish, legacy and the good that Chief MKO Abiola had done. And may the wish of MKO continue to be in our memories. If we all, as a people can maintain our lanes by doing what is right in our different capacities, Nigeria will be great,” he said.
Hamzat also thanked President Buhari for declaring June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day.
“We must thank President Buhari for making us to understand our reality and that June 12 is our history. Even our children will hear the story and appreciate it. The Lagos State Government will continue to strive and uphold the ideals of June 12 by ensuring the expansion of the frontiers of democratic governance and social justice,” he said.
In his speech entitled: “Hope 93: Democratic Prosperity and Political Stability,” a Political Economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, urged political office holders and the elite to work together by creating wealth to avert the impending anarchy in the country.
According to Utomi, there are many challenges confronting the country today and the political office holders as well as elites need to proactively work together in order to create wealth and jobs to prevent the impending anarchy.
He said that the late Abiola’s ideology was hinged on economic prosperity, good healthcare, education and liberation for Nigerians.
If the nation must do memory of MKO any good, Utomi said Nigerian leaders must build economic justice, ensure peace, stability and prosperity for all.
The Convener of June 12 Coalition, Olawale Okunniyi, said Abiola’s picture as a former president of Nigeria, by the virtue of being conferred with the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), should be hung at the Presidential Villa.
Also speaking, former member of the House of Representatives and daughter of late Abiola, Hon. Lola Abiola-Edewor, urged President Buhari to do his best to address security challenges in the country, saying that the problem of insecurity was becoming a big issue which needed to be frontally tackled.
She also expressed the family’s gratitude to President Buhari for the posthumous award given to his father and for declaring June 12 as Democracy, noting that President Buhari by his action had demonstrated uncommon courage for taking the steps.
Her words: “We thank the president for the honour bestowed on our late father and the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day. We are very grateful for this honour done the family and the Nigerian people.
“However, I want to appeal to the president to address the security challenges in the country as the issue is getting serious. If the president could declare June 12 as Democracy Day despite denials of the past, I believe he could tackle the problem of insecurity in the country.”
Abiola-Edewor, who described her late father as a lover of the people and a firm believer in democracy, thanked Nigerians of all backgrounds for standing with the family all these years and helping to actualise June 12.
Former Vice-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Issa Aremu also commended the president for recognising June 12 and declaring it a public holiday. He also commended the National Assembly for passing the bill recognising June 12 as Democracy Day.
He also described the June 12 as a watershed in the country’s history as it was the day Nigerians shunned all sentiments to vote for a man of their choice.
In their respective speeches, the President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima and member of the 8th Senate, Senator Shehu Sani, commended President Buhari for honouring MKO Abiola with the GCFR Award and for declaring June 12 as Democracy Day. Sani, who commended President Buhari for renaming the National Stadium, Abuja as MKO Abiola Stadium, said efforts must be put in place to address fundamental issues in the country.
Former presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) and Convener of BringBackOurGirls (BBOG), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, said democracy must be for the people and not for the political class, adding that people must build citizen political movement under which those who are passionate to offer public services can contest for public offices.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State, Mike Iginni, also commended President Buhari for recognising June 12 as Democracy Day, declaring that “For us, MKO Abiola wrote his name in the minds of many Nigerians. June 12 is MKO Abiola Day.”
Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi, son of the late human rights and lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, said the lessons of June 12 should guide the country’s democracy, noting that Nigeria’s democracy was still far from where it should be as leadership cared more that itself than it cared for the masses.
A human rights activist, Alhaja Aminat Irawo also called on the Federal Government to remember Abiola’s family by ensuring that the deceased family is compensated and also addressed poverty, which Abiola wanted to eradicate by contesting in the June 12, 1993 presidential poll.
In her remarks, one of Abiola’s wives, Bisi, thanked the Lagos State government and civil society organisations for keeping hope alive.
Politicians, activists ask FG to honour June 12 heroes
At another event, politicians and members of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) also called on the Federal Government to posthumously declare MKO Abiola as president of Nigeria and also honour all the heroes and heroines of the June 12 struggle.
Speaking at the 25 years remembrance of Epetedo declaration held at Epetedo Hall, Lagos, where MKO declared himself president on June 11, 1994, a Third Republic presidential aspirant, Hon Oladosu Oladipo, who received a Yoruba National Award on behalf of the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said “If after 25 years, June 12 that has been bastardised by the previous administrations has now been recognised and Abiola has been given posthumous GCFR award, which is usually given to President of Nigeria, it shows Abiola has been given recognition and should be regarded as President of Nigeria.”
Also speaking at the event, the National Coordinator, Coalition for a Better Nigeria, Comrade Awa Bamiji, called on governments at federal and state levels to honour and recognise all the heroes and heroines of the June 12 annulment struggle for the roles they played in ensuring that Nigeria returned to democratic path on May 29, 1999.
The chairman of the occasion, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, who was represented by Hon. Bayo Adesanya, the son of late Afenifere leader, Senator Abraham Adesanya, said Tinubu deserve the Yoruba National Award base on his contribution to the June 12 struggle and fight for enthronement of democracy in Nigeria.
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