Prominent Nigerians who participated in the movement to actualise the June 12, 1993 presidential mandate of the late MKO Abiola have reflected on their the struggle and have declared that the essence of the struggle is far from being met
In exclusive interactions with LEADERSHIP, the frontline campaigners in the struggle said although the nation has since 1999 returned to civil rule, the quality of governance and democratic ideals are far from what they desired.
The pro-June 12 agitators who collapsed their structures into National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) spoke against the backdrop of Nigeria’s celebration of Democracy Day today. President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2019 declared June 12 Democracy Day which was hitherto celebrated on May 29.
Following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Abiola, former military president Ibrahim Babangida stepped aside and installed the interim national government led by Ernest Shonekan.
But Shonekan’s resignation and Gen Sani Abacha’s takeover of power provoked activists and political leaders to form NADECO, to press for the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Most of them were detained by the military junta at the time.
But speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday, a NADECO chieftain, Senator Femi Okurounmu, described the NADECO struggle for the revalidation of June12 1993 election as a big sacrifice because they went through a lot of persecution by the defunct Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime.
“A lot of harassment, intimidation, many of our leaders were kept in jail for no reason, many were killed, many were hounded out of the country. They had to run away for their lives and many Yoruba people were forced to, whether they liked it or not, they were forced to join Abacha transition trail and joined one of the five political parties that were intended to make him life president.
“But the NADECO people refused and we insisted that our members should not join any of those political parties; instead we kept pressing that he should quit and allow democracy to reign and hand over to Chief M. K. O. Abiola, who won the June 12 election. For that, we were persecuted and we are lucky to be alive.
He, however, said he does not regret their struggle, adding that “those who will rather live in slavery than fight for their freedom are meant to be slaves,”
He, however, said of all the things they campaigned for, very little has been achieved.
“I am sorry to admit that, because foremost among what we agitated for is the Nigeria where everybody will have a sense of belonging, a Nigeria which is not seen in particular as belonging to one ethnic group to rule and others just to follow, because one of the reasons for the annulment of Chief M. K. O. Abiola election was that the Fulani North believed that Abiola did not come from that part of the country, to rule, to be the president. They believed the president must come from the Fulani in the North.
“The issue of restructuring, we fought for it, we have not got it. A Nigeria that will be equitable and just, we have not got it; a Nigeria where everybody will have the right to occupy any office irrespective of his ethnic group or religion, we have not got it. All these things, we have not got. That is why I admit unfortunately that many of the things we fought for, we have not achieved.”
On his part, Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said, “I have never experienced such a dictatorship like the one we had under General Sani Abacha,and all that we fought for or achieved because the demonstration and opposition to the military junta in the June 12 struggle has not yielded the desired results.
“The opposition to the military rule and annulment of June 12, 1993 election had come to nought, and the situation has been getting worse particularly under this present administration.”
On whether he would have acted differently if he faced similar situation today he said,
“Particularly under Abacha, the military regime turned everything upside down, particularly those of us who fought for independence, or who had the experience of colonial domination.”
On whether their expectations have been met, he said, “I can’t make reference to any met, but maybe I am blind to see them. You can ask others who might have seen it,you can also ask those in Aso Villa the expectations met. The struggle for June 12 was for a better society. Do we have the better society now?The answer is No.”
On his part, former governor of Plateau State, Air Commodore Jonah Jang (retd) who was also part of the movement said, “I am not advocating for military rule, but to me, having been in the two systems, I think Nigeria was better off during the military, and I want anybody to challenge my position. If Jesus doesn’t come back soon, I don’t know what will become of Nigeria.
“My experience as a military and civilian governor, and even going to the National Assembly has been an eye-opener. All I can say is, Jesus should have mercy on us; we have sinned; all of us, no exception. I don’t know the human beings that will be able to repair Nigeria, except God himself, in his infinite mercy to intervene in our present situation. If you imagine the foreign loans this administration has taken, you will conclude that IMF and World Bank are wicked. They are wicked to generations yet unborn in Nigeria. Unfortunately, these approvals started while I was in the Senate; it was one of the reasons I said I was not going back to the Senate. May God just help Nigeria.
“Sincerely I think the earlier Jesus comes, the better for us; let’s just go home. Let this world’s matters be closed once and for all. The Bible says there are some things we will only understand when we get there, otherwise there are so many questions to ask. Man’s heart is truly desperately wicked.”
Another NADECO chieftain, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye , described his experience as harrowing, adding “I pray that the situation today will not lead to that again, because we really suffered,”
Durojaiye who was detained said what they did led to the return of democracy; however, few of their expectations have been met.
“That Nigeria remains one country, and that the military has been ousted and that we are in a democracy,those are the things we need to thank God for.
“Every other thing has not been realised. The comfort we expect for our people is not yet there; in fact, for the majority, now is more harrowing, because the security aspect as at that time and security now is what reminds us of those days. We don’t want it to be like this, we want a change, we don’t want that time of sacrifice we made that time to go to waste.
“We should allow wiser counsel to prevail by all concerned, and we should not let the situation degenerate to the days of NADECO.”
The secretary general of NADECO, Ayo Opadokun, noted “I can say that none of our expected expectations has been met. Since 1994 that we set up NADECO, we thought that we will succeed in forcing the military back to the barracks and those who will take up government after the military will be men and women who have public spirit, who have public consciousness so that the economic and political promises that will be enunciated will be something that will bring qualitative upliftment to the lives of all Nigerians, because there was too much poverty, too much denial among our people, for a country which is either the sixth or eight largest exporter of crude oil and then we have the highest number of poverty stricken people; there is no correlation.”
He however said he had no advice for the current administration, saying, “If you listen to what President Muhammadu Buhari said in the interview with Arise Television, he has made up his mind, so I don’t offer advice to people who are hard hearted and not willing to allow the country to develop.
“That is why they want to reopen colonial grazing routes. It is strange; he was in the administration of General Murtala Muhammed/ General Olusegun Obasanjo regime where in 1979 constitution that they brought by decree.There were 17 insertions not discussed by the Constituent Assembly and one of them was Land Use Act, which invests the control of land in every state, and he says he now wants to run grazing routes.”
Meanwhile, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has urged Nigerians not to give up in the genuine collective struggle to reinforce democratic governance in the country, despite the intimidation, harassment and rights violations by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government.
The PDP, however, called on Nigerians to remain alert and law-abiding during the planned June 12 Democracy Day anniversary and cautioned the APC to desist from its reported plots to use security forces and thugs to clamp down and unleash violence on citizens as witnessed in the #EndSARS protest.
The party, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, also cautioned the APC to jettison its alleged plot to use hoodlums to hijack processions and introduce violence, after which it will blame innocent Nigerians as a basis for the planned clampdown.
The PDP lamented that “the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration has brutally violated all the known tenets of democracy and returned the nation to the dark era of military dictatorship, all in a bid to hold Nigerians under subjugation.”
June 12 was a dark chapter, but let’s not lose the lessons – Atiku
On his part, former vice president Atiku Abubakar has said it is undoubtable that the historic June 12 election of 1993 was a dark chapter in Nigeria’s chequered political history, noting however that Nigerians shouldn’t lose the lessons as they build democracy to greater heights.
“The illegal cancellation of the results of the 1993 presidential election was not a personal loss to Abiola alone, but a loss to Nigeria and its democracy.
“Abiola, whom I stepped down for in the 1993 primary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Jos, was a good man, and his only primary reason for joining the race was to offer selfless service to the ordinary Nigerians. I was deeply pained by the circumstances in which he was arrested and eventually died in government’s custody. Such gross injustice was unspeakably cruel.
“Sadly, the opportunism of some Nigerian politicians had contributed to the destruction of democracy; most of those who aided and abetted General Abacha’s self-succession agenda were politicians.
“The most important lesson on June 12 is that we should be united in the defence of democracy and resist the divide and rule tactics of the enemies of democracy.”
Our Democracy Is Being Undermined – Saraki
Former president of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has warned that democracy is continuously being undermined and endangered in Nigeria, adding that stakeholders must find new approaches to remind themselves of the current realities.
Saraki, who made the observation in his Democracy Day message to Nigerians, added that democracy remains the best system in evolving a modern government and it remains the most acceptable globally, even as he urged that today’s celebration should help raise the question of whether democracy is working to serve the interest of Nigerians.
“Today, our country faces security challenges and the government is not able to adequately protect the citizenry. There is massive unemployment which has impoverished a high percentage of the population and many citizens are questioning the basis for the unity of the country. These are pointers to the question of whether democracy is actually working in our clime,” he said.
“Thus, I appeal to all stakeholders to give peace a chance. This is because nothing can be achieved in the absence of peace. However, we cannot continue to lament and enumerate the problems. That is why I want to enjoin all members of the political class that it is time we all focused on debating the Nigeria that we want after the next round of elections. We should all concentrate efforts in discussing solutions to the problems that are threatening to bury our country or push her down the precipice. This is the time for all discussions to shift to solutions, creative and innovative ideas.”
NADECO Faults Constitution Amendment
Meanwhile, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) has picked holes in the ongoing constitutional amendment at the National Assembly.
The group, at a symposium organised at Ndubuisi Kanu garden in Alausa Ikeja, reiterated the danger of delaying restructuring of the country, saying it is a panacea to the myriad of problems facing the country.
Secretary of the pro-democracy group, Ayo Opadokun, explained that representatives of the ethnic nationalities can write a new constitution for Nigeria, and not the National Assembly that is toying with constitution review.
NADECO endorsed the Southern governors’ resolution and resolved to forward a strong letter to President Muhammadu Buhari to restate its objection to the 1999 Constitution that was imposed by the military.
According to the group, since ethnic nationalities have no independent institution for crisis resolution and redress of justice, it has resolved to transmit a letter of complaint to eight world personalities and institutions.
He listed the institutions to include the United Nations Secretary-general, the UN Security Council, president of the United States and Speaker of Congress and leader of the US Senate, the European Union and Parliament, the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the House of Commons, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the president of Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs of Nigeria, and two leading traditional rulers in each of the six zones.
NADECO also warned that “any delay to prevent the occurrence of national crisis and upheaval in Nigeria with about 200 million citizens would be detrimental to the peace and wellbeing of its region.”
Speakers at the symposium included Dr Fred Agbeyegbe, Dr Amos Akingba, Prof Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, Mrs Jumoke Anifowose, Olawale Oshun and Col. Tony Nyiam.
Also at the symposium were Nelson Ekunjimi, Raji Oyewumi, Tessy Urabir, Linus Okoroji, Samanta Kanu, Dr. Kolawole Afolabi, Foluso Aminu, and many artisans and peasants.
A minute silence was observed in honour of the NADECO leader, Admiral Ndubusi Kanu, who passed on in January.
Opadokun recalled that NADECO came of age to anchor the struggle for the re-validation of the historic free, fair and credible election, which was annulled by the military.
He said the poll gave a pro-Nigerian mandate to the late Chief Moshood Abiola, who ran on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP).
He lamented the lack of justice and fairness in the unitary system, saying that only restructuring can restore true federalism.
Agbeyegbe described successive administrations since 1999 as obstacles to restructuring, warning that only a people’s constitution can reposition the country.
On his part, Col Nyiam noted that the over-centralisation of security is injurious to federalism, urging Nigerians to continue their agitations for devolution of powers.
“The idea of having a centralised electoral commission undermines federalism. A centralised electoral commission can be manipulated by the central government,” he stated.