NIGERIA made a historic stride into democracy in an intriguing fashion way back in 1993, conducting a memorable election that majority believed its outcome truly reflected the wishes of the people, yet, annulled against all plausible reasons. The very foundations of the country suffered anomie in quaking proportion in the aftermath.
All that transpired to make the ignominious June 12, in Nigeria is now history but the scar of that epoch still elicits unending circumspect in the sustenance of the current Nigeria democracy, to ponder how far and where it is headed. Again, the characters that baked June 12 and the moulders of the country’s democracy as it were cannot be ignored in the historical narrative without risk of self delusion.
Yesterday, Nigeria celebrated her democracy, a significant national day next to independence. Many people on the fringe side may think, Nigeria won her democracy which drives her governance system currently on such a day, not quite right, as the current democracy was birthed on May 29, 1999, having taken off in 1991 under the then military leader, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. The interludes of promises made, promises broken and brazen perfidy that characterised the process by men in the boots ensured Nigeria never tasted it until 1999, after the death of the last despot in the legion of the boots, Gen. Sani Abacha.
It took the supreme sacrifice of a principal character in the episode, the presidential candidate of then Social Democratic Party (SDP), philanthropist and multi billionaire, Moshood Kashimolawo Abiola, aka, MKO Abiola, the clear winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election for what stands as democracy day in Nigeria to come into fruition. Many more souls went into the struggle for recovery of usurped mandate and restoration of democracy in the heat of the crisis.
In the narrative of Nigerian democracy, some key figures make recurrent features and may render objective analytical exercise mere conjecture in an attempt to surplant it with any element deemed necessary. These include people like, former military generals, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, whose administration lasted between 1985 and 1993, Sani Abacha, whose regime lasted from 1993 to 1998 and of course, the intrigues, desperation, oppressions and unpatriotic convolutions that characterised their reigns to the detriment of socioeconomic growth of the country. Much as high percentage of this may have been published or discussed in different fora, it may continue to feature, especially as factors inherent in their infamous times are yet to be routed out of the system many years after their exit from power and the affront their exploits inflicted on Nigeria as a country.
While Babangida began a winding electoral process in 1991 with two-party system that recognised National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), altering the timetable and shifting the election dates on different occasions; using Arthur Nzeribe’s Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) as a bait in the calculus for his ambition. It was not until 1993 that the whole gamut of processes produced meaningful result, as then electoral umpire, National Electoral Commission (NEC), under Prof. Humphrey Nwosu was set to complete the process, but for abrupt stoppage due to executive order that restrained the continuation when 16 out of 21 states had gone in favour of SDP candidate, Abiola.
Indications show that the coasting of Chief Abiola to the winning point raised uncomfortable concerns among some northern interests and was compounded by Babangida’s secret plot to become life president after divesting himself of military uniform. This ambitious move started with his subtle change of title from military Head of State to military president in the mix and coalesced into stoppage of electoral process midway, followed by the annulment bombshell without regard to consequences. Pressure mounted and the polity got so horrifically tensed, Babangida bowed to the situation afterwards and stepped aside on 27 August 1993, following pressures from prominent nationalities and international communities including warnings from his northern kinsmen to abandon him should he continue with his personal ambition of clinging to power further.
Apparently, Abiola would not have given up without a fight. With the northern interests driving all purposes in government decisions, the agenda shifted from annulment to stopping of Abiola from struggle for reclamation of his mandate, hence his charge with treason, trial and conviction in a rape of justice script. He was sent to prison where he never made it back alive again, having died in detention on July 7, 1998. Sani Abacha’s regime struggled to contain uprising that followed the epoch having ousted the Interim National Government’s Head of Government, Ernest Shonekan in November 17, 1993, adopting defiant postures in his determination to crush any dissenting views. Consequently, not only Abiola died, his wife Kudirat was assassinated. Many other civilians lost their lives and property as the struggle thickened, while a number of others were penciled down for extermination, Kokori, then PENGASON chairman ran into exile, so also Wole Soyinka and many others.
Abacha’s government unleashed brutality to perceived oppositions like never seen before. More persons fled into exile, while harvest of deaths held sway. Fear gripped the land even in the military circle. Oladikpo Diya,, Ishaya Bamaiyi, Victor Malu and a host of other top military officers got the better of terror from him even as close associates in the highest military ruling bodies, Armed Forces Ruling Council and Supreme Military Council respectively, for different reasons. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Bode George were among the Yoruba elites held in incarceration for their perceived disloyalty to the regime.
However, with the death of Abacha himself in 1998, Rtd Gen. Abdul Salami Abubakar took over and not only completed the electoral process but effectively handed over to former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a civilian president in May 1999. The euphoria that greeted that smooth transition brought May 29th as celebration of democracy day in Nigeria, until a presidential proclamation by President Muhammad Buhari changed the statusquo on June 6 2018 and recognised June 12 as the Democracy day in its true sense in Nigeria. The emergence of president from the southwest extract doused tension to a large extent. With Obasanjo installed as president, that did the magic and the Yoruba felt placated and integrated in a system that nearly pushed them to their wits end, forgetting that it was more a national issue than tribal confrontation.
As Nigeria rolled the carpet for 2019 Democracy day yesterday, many things come to mind. First, has the presence of democracy deepened national unity and cohesion for rapid development as envisioned in its inception in 1999? The roller-coaster chants yes! , but developments point to the contrary. Agitations seem to grow louder by the day, hatred and violence continue to spread than retract. How much has the electoral system improved to give all Nigerians impression of equity and fairness? There must always be dissent but must favouritism be made so obvious as professed by many in recent time? The governance which democracy preaches does not share tribal exclusion in national policy and makes no pratense in condemnation of acts that do not promote equity, justice and respect for rule of law.
Nigeria must be saluted for keeping faith with democracy despite the shambolic application of it in her polity.
Moshood Abiola’s death cannot be assuaged by either making his kinsman president at a time, or by posthumous honour embedded in the proclamation of June 12, democracy day but by entrenching his ideals manifested in extra-ordinary magnanimity, patriotism, and philanthropy which endeared him to both the ordinary citizens and the elites, thus, his personification as man of the people for all the people, accepted by all the people. What else is democracy?
Nigerian’s electoral system should have grown by now, but with manipulations and all manners of corrupt tendencies, one cannot say it is uhuru yet in that regard. According to former NTA Director and Communications Director to National Electoral Commission (NEC)_during the annulled election session, Dr Tony Iredia, “what bothers me is that 26 years after the infamous electoral event, we sit down and watch a new electoral commission doing things we did. I was hoping that at this point, the electoral commission would be on top of technology. They will be dealing with things that will be difficult for anybody to try to break into. But we are still hearing manual, we are still hearing, we didn’t use servers and all the rests.”
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