Ordinarily, if things were normal, today, June 12, a date that evokes memories of events of 28 years ago and the struggle that followed afterwards, should put Nigerians on a celebratory mode. On that day in 1993, Nigerians went to the polls to vote in a presidential election that would conclude the long and tortuous transition to democracy midwifed by the then military President, General Ibrahim Babangida. The military had been in power since 1983 after it sacked the Shehu Shagari administration of 1979-83. Before then, it had ruled since the first coup of 1966.
So, at the time, civil rule had only been in place for 10 years since independence in 1960, and Nigerians were all very keen to complete the democratic process that would have sent the military back to the barracks. But that was not to be, as the military junta annulled the presidential election presumably won by the late business mogul, Alhaji Moshood Abiola, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) on June 12, 1993. That decision triggered a flurry of protests and resistance that compelled the Babangida government to step aside and install an Interim National Government (ING) headed by corporate guru, Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Predictably, it was overthrown by General Sani Abacha, who promptly dismantled the democratic processes and plunged the country into another military regime and yet another suspicious political transition. It would take his sudden death in 1998, five years later and a quick 11-month transition programme by his successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar for the country to regain its democracy in 1999.
With President Olusegun Obasanjo in the saddle, May 29 was declared as Democracy Day, but President Muhammadu Buhari reverted it to June 12 in 2019. And last year was the first time the day was devoted to honouring the struggle of Nigerians for a return to democracy.
June 12, symbolically, commemorates those five years of uncertainty in Nigeria’s political history, when democratic forces, locally and internationally, confronted the military dictatorship resulting in suppression of dissenting voices by the military, forced disappearances of pro-democracy activists, political assassinations, and international sanctions against the ruling junta.
Now 22 years after, can Nigerians claim that the struggle was worth the trouble? Hardly, for many. Nigerians rightly believed that a civilian democracy would better their lot, in terms of improved standard of living. That was a forlorn hope as one set of thieving elite in khaki has been replaced by another in agbada.
Two decades of poor, corrupt and wasteful governance, and failure to plan for the future has resulted in mass youth unemployment and the attendant youth restiveness that has manifested in all manner of violent crimes and bloodshed – terrorism, insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, ritual murder, armed robbery, cultism, contract killing, human and organ trafficking, etc. Other crimes like advance fee fraud, cybercrimes, drug peddling and pipeline vandalism have sadly engaged the youth in a country that failed to plan for them. For the youths, this democracy has not provided opportunities for their talents to flourish as it should have under a more conducive circumstance.
On the political side, the electoral system is a far cry from the free and fair polls of June 12. Today, elections are a do or die affair as desperate politicians employ and arm hoodlums to scuttle the process. At the end, the winners are not always the people’s choices leading to a disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. It is this arming of miscreants that has compromised the country’s security, with non-state actors seemingly uncontrollable by the country’s security forces. Now nobody feels safe anymore anywhere in the country.
June 12 brought Nigerians together in a remarkable way. Religion, region, class and creed took a back seat. Nigerians voted a Muslim-Muslim ticket in Abiola and his running mate Baba Gana Kingibe against Muslim-Christian ticket in Tofa and Dr Sylvester Ugo. Abiola was recorded to have won in 28 of 30 states, including in Kano where Tofa is a prince! Fast forward to now, and the nation’s fault lines of ethnicity and religion are at their worst ever, with separatists from south east, south west , south south and even middle belt wanting out of the union.
As a newspaper, we are at pains to say that Nigeria, as a country, have not done well after 22 years of democracy. While we remember June 12 with nostalgia, Nigerians, both the leaders and the led, need to retrace their steps and imbibe democratic values in order to pull the country back from the edge of a precipice.