In an election season, this year’s June 12 democracy day couldn’t have been more significant. This scenario as designed by providence, has set the stage for the quality of political engagement going into the 2023 general election which is already being dubbed a critical milestone in the nation’s history.
Besides coming days after political parties produced their presidential candidates, the flag bearers of the two major parties, All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former vice president Atiku Abubakar, were a product of same political family during the June 12 saga. They were both members of the old Social Democratic Party (SDP) political bloc, the platform on which Chief MKO Abiola contested and won the 1993 presidential election.
While Tinubu was Abiola prime political protege, Atiku lost the SDP primaries to Abiola.
Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari, redesignated Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 in honor of the late Chief M.K.O Abiola.
Before then May 29, had been marked as the day on which civilian rule returned and the 4th Republic was born with the inauguration of President Obasanjo in 1999.
Still, June 12, 1993 remains significant in Nigeria’s democracy struggle as it marked the day of the presidential election between SDP’s Abiola and the National Republican Convention’s (NRC) Bashir Tofa.
The election was poised to herald a return to democracy after the military cut short President Shehu Shagari’s reign in 1983.
However, Abiola a Yoruba businessman, with strong military links was viewed as the winner with 4.3million of the 6.6 million votes that had been announced.
However, the announcement was suspended with the NEC citing a court injunction which prohibited it leading to bursts of violence across the country and a leak of the final vote count.
On June 24, the election was annulled by the Gen Ibrahim Babangida administration, throwing the country into disarray as the electorate protested an attempt to renege on the promise to end military rule. Babangida stepped aside, handing over to Late Chief Ernest Shonekan who took over based on an interim government arrangement.
Then Defense minister, Late Gen Sani Abacha, sacked Shonekan’s government and took over the reins of power, while Abiola protested the injustice meted to him and Nigerians. Sadly he died in the course of the struggle after being placed on house arrest by the Abacha regime. Abacha’s death and Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar’s enthronement saw the return of democratic governance with former military head of state, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, emerging president and was sworn into office on May 29, 1999.
Indeed, the June 12 story is not lost on most Nigerians. If anything, it has become a major part of the country’s political history. For one, the election was adjudged free and fair despite the fact the winner Abiola ran on a Muslim/Muslim ticket with Babagana Kingibe.
But as 2023 approaches and with the myriad of challenges facing the country the expectations are high. How well the current candidates will deal with the pressing national issues will be significant.
Some political leaders who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday on the significance of June 12 and the expectations ahead of the 2023 presidential election reflect on how much things had deteriorated over the years.
They however laid out expectations for the candidates who intend to succeed President Buhari.
Former minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, said, “Presently, Nigeria’s democracy is on sale. All civil societies, youths whose future is at stake and all conscientious citizens of this great country must unite and retrieve Nigeria’s democracy from its Bazaar placement. The system has moved beyond being generally monetized to being specifically dolarized.
“Pretenders to democratic credentials must be derobed and shoved out of the path of national development. Now is another opportunity for action that must not be missed by all who genuinely believe in democracy, a properly restructured, just, equitable and peaceful Nigeria,” he said.
Former chairman of the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), Tanko Yunusa, said “Whoever will become the president of Nigerian people should take cognisance of finding a way to unite the country based on projects that are meaningful to the lives of Nigerians which include’ education, infrastructure, economic employment, power supply. These are key issues that are disturbing every Nigerian, especially the issue of insecurity. When the economy is doing well and people are doing well I can tell you that the issue of insecurity will fizzle out and we will start talking about how to control our borders.
“We should have somebody that will not think solely about his tribe or religion or where he comes from but rather somebody who would be thinking about how Nigeria will be made into a great nation that it deserves.that is the kind of leadership we are looking for. Who can change our hopelessness to hope and bring our consumer nation to a productive nation, people who have empathy, who care for the downtrodden, the same way any developed country cares for any of its citizens.
“And he should run away from the issue of antagonism and feeling that a part of this country does not want him or her. Rather he or she should look at Nigeria as an entity and embrace it as his or her own and that will be a great president by the time we have him or her as a leader,” he said.
On his part, former national chairman of National Democratic Party (NDP) Chudi Chukwuani, said “the candidates must resist the temptations of over confidence and taking other people’s aspirations for granted. Always remember that in Nigeria chop alone masters always meet their waterloo unexpectedly. When the military boys in all their leadership outings always tried to balance the critical fault lines in our nation in their leadership compositions by ensuring that a balance between North & South and Moslem & Christain was implanted; it wasn’t by happen-change but as a result of wisdom gleaned from the knowledge they gathered from years of leadership training that the military boys has acquired on management of peace and prosperity in a nation state. This, I believe the respective presidential candidates that have emerged from the major parties must try to abide by in their selection of deputies!!!
He continued, “Securing national security and maintenance of law and order across the states of the federation is the most urgent priority to fortify our nation is what is needed now above all other considerations at the present and trying times in our nation.”
On his part, Chief Olukayode Akindele said, “June 12 is the day we have set aside as a nation to reaffirm our beliefs and commitment to democratic principles and ideals.
This particular year coincides with the general election primaries! We need to reflect on the pitfalls we have had since 1999 and ensure that in making choices of leaders, we will choose those who will ameliorate these follies. A political leader must have love & passion for his country and its people irrespective of tribe and religion.
“To solve youth unrest, insecurity and poverty, today’s gladiators must eschew religious bigotry and be sensitive to the yearnings of the masses. The leader we want must have a formidable structure to address these issues and not just talk-talk! This is the time that he must lay bare his time-framed plan of actions to address the issue i.e economy, economy, economy!
By next democracy day, the deed would have been done,” he said.
Presidential hopeful of Allied Peoples Movement, Chuks Ibegbu, said, “The respected former GNPP leader Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim of blessed memory warned against politics of bitterness in Nigeria.
“There is a lot of rancor in our political space. This must stop .Nigeria politicians have to see politics as a tool for service.
“The quick fix to fortify our democracy include respect for the electoral law, respect for rule of law, doing away with do or die politics among others.”
While the country marks Democracy Day, it remains to be seen if the set of leaders today can live up to the democratic expectations.