By Sampson Ikemitang
Twenty four years after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election that produced Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (aka, MKO) Abiola as the presumed winner, and the subsequent return of the country to a democratically elected civilian administration in 1999, with eighteen years of unbroken democratic rule, there are still echoes of hullabaloo regarding the most suitable and appropriate day to mark democracy in Nigeria.
It would be recalled that the June 12, 1993 Presidential election was a keen contest between Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Regrettably, while the results were being released to the Nigerian people, some latent forces mobilized against the complete announcement of the outcome of the political experiment and on the 23rd of June that same year, the Federal Government announced the annulment of the election in which Nigerians unanimously forgot their differences to give their mandate to one of the two equally loved political parties.
In view of the above, there have been arguments and counter arguments for June 12, as against May 29 to be Nigeria’s Democracy Day. The proponents of June 12, 1993 general election have avowed that it (June 12) was the only election adjudged to be the freest, fairest and most credible ever in the nation’s political history by the International Community. Thus, describing it as the foundation of democracy in the country, they have been quick to add that June 12 was the day that Nigerians across ethno-religious divides freely chose their leader and unequivocally affirmed the unity of the country.
It is pertinent to emphasise that there are also those who believe in the political correctness and sanctity of ‘May 29’ as the most authentic day to mark democracy in the country. They are of the view that it was on this day (May 29) that democracy returned from political exile to the country. Be that as it may, it will definitely not be out of place if one is edged into subscribing to this line of thought, given the fact that it was on May 29 that the dictatorial military regime, better still, the military hegemony unreservedly handed over power to a democratically elected civilian administration. Therefore, it will remain symbolic in the transition to civil rule, vis-à-vis the opportunity it presents for realising a truly democratic government that approximates the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people as it thereby paved the way for the enthronement of a leader perceived to have been capable of taking them to Eldorado.
Perhaps, it is in keeping with history that States in the South Western region of the country, particularly Lagos, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun and Osun States have oftentimes set aside June 12 of every year as democracy day in their respective domains to commemorate the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. This has been contrary to ‘May 29’ which is usually declared by the Federal Government as public holiday across the nation to mark democracy in the country.
But the question that has continued to agitate the minds of many Nigerians is – ‘If actually, we all voted massively for Chief MKO Abiola without due consideration to ethnic, religious fault lines as it is being proclaimed in some quarters, why would the South West geo-political zone mark the day (June 12) in a manner of seemingly orchestrating hatred? Commentators have however observed that dragging up the ugly memories of the past, the zone may inadvertently be fanning the embers of disunity, especially in a country like ours where the issues of religion and ethnicity have remained very controversial, inflammable and to say the least, the bane of our unity.
A careful and dispassionate appraisal of all the addresses marking the 24th anniversary of June 12 has revealed its ethereal nature. Should the issue persist and go on unchecked, it’s very likely that our country will be taken to a peculiar bar of history in the near future. But God forbids it. The Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola in his address marking the anniversary of June 12 maintained that it was the day when Nigerians freely expressed their choice on whom to be their leader and a day of unequivocal affirmation of the unity of the country by Nigerians across all divides. “We will never drop our commitment to June 12. Nigerians in their heterogeneity, on June 12, 1993 voted for Chief MKO Abiola in a pattern that defied ethnicity, religion, ideology and locality,’’ he said.
Why June 12 should not be Democracy Day
Several reasons have been adduced why June 12 should not be Nigeria’s Democracy Day. Firstly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the only body recognised and authorised by law to conduct, collate and declare a winner in any election. For instance, Section 69 of the Electoral Act as amended states that in ‘a presidential, governorship or other elections to elective offices, the result shall be ascertained by counting the votes cast for each candidate and the candidate with the highest number of votes shall be declared winner – subject to Sections 133, 134 and 179 of the 1999 Constitution.’ Therefore, as it were, Chief MKO Abiola was not officially declared winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election by the electoral umpire.
Secondly, ‘Section 75 of the Electoral Act as amended, mandates the Commission (INEC) to issue a Certificate of Return within 7 days to a candidate who wins an election as a proof of his or her victory. But it stresses further that in a case where a court declares another candidate as the successful candidate in an election, the Certificate of Return should be issued to the successful candidate within 48 hours. In the failure of INEC to do this, a certified true copy of the court order can be used to swear in the candidate.’ It is appropriate therefore to posit that Chief MKO Abiola was never issued a Certificate of Return as required by law; as such he remains an imaginary winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Thirdly, Section 140 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, stipulates that a person elected to the office of the President shall not begin to perform the functions of that office until he has declared his assets and liabilities as prescribed in this part of the Constitution and he has taken and subscribed to the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of office as prescribed in the seventh scheduled of this Constitution. Again, the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election did not satisfy this requirement of the law.
Fourthly, the 1993 general election has often been described by many political scientists as the aborted Third Republic. To abort signals the end of a political era. It would therefore be foolhardy for anyone to contemplate celebrating a Republic that was aborted wholesale.
Fifthly, the aborted Third Republic was dominated by successive dictatorial military regimes. For instance, the annulment of June 12 ushered in Chief Ernest Shonekan as Head of the Interim National Government (ING), followed by Gen. Sani Abacha and finally Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, who superintended over the election that eventually returned the country to a civilian administration in 1999. In view of the foregoing, June 12 by implication lacks the locus in-quo and the political savvy to be Nigeria’s Democracy Day.
Why May 29 should be Democracy Day
The advocates of May 29 have equally advanced superior arguments why May 29 should be the authentic day to mark Nigeria’s Democracy. Firstly, Section 69 of the Electoral Act which deals with declaration of election results emphasises that in a presidential, governorship or other elections to elective offices, the result shall be ascertained by counting the votes cast for each candidate and the candidate with the highest number of votes shall be declared winner – subject to Sections 133, 134 and 179 of the 1999 Constitution. In regards to the transitional election that ushered in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was accordingly declared winner of the presidential election by the Justice Ephraim Akpata-led INEC.
Secondly, in line with Section 75 of the Electoral Act as amended, which mandates the Commission (INEC) to issue a Certificate of Return within 7 days to a candidate who wins an election as a proof of his or her victory, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was accordingly issued a Certificate of Return as required by law. This has been the practice since the return to democracy till date.
Thirdly, sequel to Section 140 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended which makes it mandatory for the person so elected to the office of the president to declare his assets and liabilities and thereafter, subscribe to the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of office before he begins to perform the functions of that office, this condition was again satisfied by Chief Obasanjo and other subsequent successors of the democratic regimes. Of course, this cannot be gainsaid.
Finally, since the inception of the Fourth Republic in May 29, 1999 to date, the country has continued to enjoy uninterrupted, unbroken democratic rule for eighteen good years and experienced a peaceful transition from one government to another. It has also experienced a hand-over from an incumbent president to an opposition party, the first of its kind in the nation’s political history. This speaks volumes of the fact that indeed, democracy has come to stay in Nigeria, unlike the Third Republic that witnessed unprecedented military incursions in politics, invariably leading to its demise.
A cursory look at the foregoing leaves no one in doubt that truly, May 29 roundly enjoys the legal and political atmospheres necessary to be Nigeria’s Democracy Day. In fact, the day does not only mark the watershed for a viable democratic system of government in Nigeria, but serves as a silencer of military coup de’tats in the nation’s political development. Consequently, political observers have come to the firm conclusion that from the Fourth Republic to date, it has been a shining era of democracy and is worth felicitating.
– Ikemitang writes from Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Abuja