Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari took a commendable step towards righting the wrongs of 25 years ago when the General Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta annulled what was widely acclaimed as Nigeria ’s freest and fairest election conducted on June 12, 1993, by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) under the chairmanship of professor Humphrey Nwosu, which Chief Moshood Abiola was poised to win.
That annulment, the agitations for its revalidation and the military crackdown that followed cast Nigeria down a dangerous route that threatened the very foundations of our nationhood and brought the country to the brink of war.
It was Nigeria’s most trying period post-civil war as the repressive military government at the time came down very hard on pro-democracy activists. Some were clamped into detention. some were killed or maimed for life, while many were harried into exile. Many simply disappeared without trace, while few were assassinated, including Abiola’s wife, Kudirat.
The annulment also delayed the citizens’ desire for a return to democratic rule after the Babangida regime’s eight year long transition programme which consumed a whopping N40 billion.
Abiola himself was incarcerated by the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha and later died in 1998, few days after the sudden demise of his jailer himself, paving the way for the restoration of democracy a year later in 1999 following a short but successful transition midwifed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd). At the end, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came from prison to become president. In Obasanjo’s inaugural speech, he proclaimed May 29, his inauguration day, as Democracy Day.
Notably, the monumental injustice surrounding June 12 remained unaddressed by successive administrations, both military and civilian, until President Buhari took the bold step to move the celebration of Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 in recognition of that historic struggle to reclaim governance from the military. He also conferred the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) posthumously on Abiola, an award reserved for presidents and heads of state. His running mate, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe and the late pro-democracyand human rights advocate, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, were also awarded the second highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), respectively. The president also tendered an unreserved apology to the Abiola Family for the injustice done to it, pledging that such injustice would not be allowed again in the country.
As a newspaper, we commend the president for taking this redemptive step. As the Abiola family stated, this recognition has brought some healing to the land as regards the grave injustice of the past. Also praiseworthy was the promise by the federal government that the names of other persons who played active roles in that struggle will be compiled and honoured.
There are, however, lessons that our present democratic experience needs to learn from the events surrounding June 12.
First is the fact that free and fair election is a sine qua non in a democracy. The June 12 election was not perfect, but it was generally free and fair. The politicians of today should learn the value of fair contest by eschewing all forms of electoral malpractices and violence. Those negate the spirit of June 12. Also, the electoral umpires, like those that organised that historic election, must show uncommon determination to do the best they can in the discharge of their very important mandate. A situation in which electoral officials allow themselves to be compromised by desperate politicians to undermine the process does serious damage to all democracy stands for.
Nigerians, for the first time, voted in a Muslim-Muslim ticket in Abiola and Kingibe as president and vice president. In doing that, they showed unity of purpose by putting aside their religious differences in the collective pursuit of national interest which, at the time, was to rescue the country from military dictatorship. Sadly, the country is experiencing vestiges of religious intolerance which must not be allowed to fester. Rather, Nigeria’s diversity in ethnicity and faith should strengthen her bonds of unity and not weaken it.
Nigerians also need to recreate that June 12 struggle, this time round, to reclaim the country from corrupt politicians and public servants who have hijacked the democracy we all craved for since 1999 and are using their privileged positions to divert public funds into their private pockets, while the living conditions of the masses continue to deteriorate. These lamentable actions have meant that the much desired democracy has not produced the expected fruits. In this new struggle, we join the rest of Nigerians in demanding accountability, transparency and better governance from the leaders at all levels.
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