This discourse is inspired by the recent Federal Government’s pronouncement on the June 12, 1993 election, which was annulled by the military regime-led by General Ibrahim Babangida at the time.
The development is significant not only because it is raising new arguments and angles on democracy and democratic practice, it is because the one now making attempt to unravel what is certainly a web woven round the destiny of our country is one member of the military cabal who to an extent was also part of the military political history of our nation. President Muhammadu Buhari is taciturn yet he has been a core member of the power establishment since independence in 1960. He has been Military Head of State and currently civilian president on the verge of ending his first four-year tenure.
Before we go into whether what he has done is important or not, it is pertinent I make this point about what Buhari is trying to do with June 12 confirms what some of us in the liberation struggle of the Black people know too well and which I have severally stated here that liberators can also emerge from the rank of “conspirators” because those who walk the palace know the leaking points overlooked by the presiding King and more importantly for our situation should be the knowledge that contradictions in a system would always on their own throw up the very factors that would destroy the old order and raise a new one.
What usually happens, and which is responsible for despondency among the people, is that sometimes change may be long in coming and that is because the oppressor gang would usually employ all manner of antics to becloud the atmosphere, deceive the people and divert attention. But whatever is the case, a bad order is a bad order; daily its foundation is been eroded and as the day passes, that order exists on borrowed time, the inevitability of its collapse is certain. We have seen all these with the events surrounding the June 12 developments. In it we have seen inordinate ambition, group gang up, primordial sentiment taken much more seriously than patriotism and nationalism, we have also seen deception, nasty attempts to cover up and distort history and suddenly we are seeing events turn full circle. This is the beauty of life.
The Federal Government has made a pronouncement on June 12, and declared that the day the election was annulled would henceforth be observed as Democracy Day; it also awarded the highest national honour, GCFR, to MKO Abiola, the presidential candidate at that time who won the election and gave the second highest honor to his deputy, Babagana Kingibe. The Administration also honoured civil rights campaigner, Gani Fawehinmi and ended there. Typical of our character everybody is talking and many are dancing and clapping. There is nothing wrong with this development because for an issue that affected the nation the way June 12 event did, it is not unlikely that so many people and groups participated to make June 12 the reality it turned out to be and to that extent the interest and expectations would naturally vary.
The West at the time the cooking of June 12 was been done were not one with Abiola, majority did not like him because of his politics of National Party of Nigeria (NPN); many were skeptical about him. The majority felt he was against Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the doyen of politics of the Western region and that he was a stooge of the Northern political establishment. So they feared him, they joined only after he had emerged the presidential candidate of one of the political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and for those of us from the East, the Middle Belt and progressives in the core-North it was a struggle to recreate the political system, remove it from arch-conservatives and their military buccaneers, whose political, economic and social recklessness was becoming a great concern to majority of the citizens and in fact constituting a big threat to progress and national unity and hand it over to visionary and more progressive elements based on fairness, justice and equity.
Many of us who were practically involved had to battle pervading sentiments like tribe and religion, it was our thinking that the problem of our nation was not religion or ethnicity but a leadership that transcends those sentiments, one that is visionary and possesses qualities that make for effective leadership and given what was available, taken against the inconsistency and highhandedness that was the hallmark of that transition programme, most of the progressives found in Abiola a very cosmopolitan man, the best option. With it this in mind and what the military did, June 12 was born and Abiola became the hero and has remained so in spite of attempts to make it look like June 12 never happened or that it was a misguided action which it wasn’t.
What Buhari has tried to do is good. I join others to acknowledge it is a masterstroke. Whether he did it for political gains or not, it is still good. It is exactly what democracy is all about, leaders may not want to do some things or may want to do but are prevaricating, and the force of circumstance or time can provoke an action and this is it. The essence of elections in a true democracy is first to whip leaders into line and secondly to remind them things they ought to do which they forget. It would seem the 2019 election has reminded the president and his backroom handlers of some essential things they ought to have done which they left for whatever reasons undone. Suddenly we are hearing about June 12 and bills are being signed into laws at the speed of light, it may be late but I think it is better late than never, especially when the issues are very germane to proper nation building.
The president said he has handled the negative side of June 12 and I have already said that is good. Yet, it is important in the interest of the nation to tell the president the truth and one of the truths is that his first act is not comprehensive enough and this could have been as a result of hurry and forgetfulness. Great Nigerians like Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, the umpire who made June 12 possible, ought to be honoured and rehabilitated. Merely inviting him seems to me like a big insult to him and to the area he hails from; Ralph Obioha and Commodore Dan Suleiman should have been part of this first outing. This omission, which I think is inadvertent, can be corrected in a few weeks, after all the overriding motive should be nation building well and above momentary political gains. Abiola and Kingibe should have their full entitlements, national stadium should be renamed after Abiola and Democracy Day done away with; let us do everything on October 1st.
The substance of June 12 is in upholding human rights, rule of law and introducing real participatory democracy anchored on the pillars of fairness, equity and justice. Given where we are federalism is central, the nation was founded on this basis but it was destroyed by the military interlopers. The challenge is to return it. We must relegate religion and ethnicity and promote merit and vision. What a delight it will be to wake up tomorrow and hear that the president has reorganized his kitchen cabinet and security command officers to reflect our plurality. The truth is if what the president has started to do with June 12 does not extend to the substance, we may later on discover that leadership has wasted every one’s time. I hope it won’t be so.