The pundits are here. They have taken hold of the political space with magical wizardry. They have a job to do, to wit, to force or cajole us into a predetermined political outcome. As 2019 draws nearer, they seem to have zeroed in on the presidency. They must be telling the President what tomorrow portends; what must be done for him to have a successful return bid.
With an apparent reliance on the 2015 winning formula, the pundits must be telling the President to do all that he can to win the support of the South West. To make a headway here, the President must have been told to touch on an issue that the average south-westerner is passionate about. Of course, no issue in Nigeria’s contemporary history can have more appeal to the south-westerner than June 12. On that day in 1993, Nigeria held a presidential election, which the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida annulled. The election was presumed to have been won by MKO Abiola, who ran the race under the banner of the Social Democratic Party, one of the two political parties that Babangida decreed into existence at that time.
At first, Abiola did not appear too keen on contesting the annulment of the election. However, goaded on by pro-democracy bodies, notably the National Democratic Coalition, as well as human rights activists, Abiola went out of his way to contest the annulment. A series of events followed, which almost drove Nigeria to the precipice. This culminated in the death of Abiola, five years after, in questionable circumstances. Abiola’s death came with a lot of disquiet. It was injustice taken too far. To assuage the ill feeling, the South West was compensated with the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency in 1999. But that did not say it all. The zone has remained passionate about June 12 since then.
For pundits, therefore, it would be a selling point for President Buhari if he cashes in on the overriding sentiment in Yorubaland over June 12. He must have been told to try his hands on a certain political master stroke. And he did. That explains the post-humous recognition given to Abiola by Buhari. The President has conferred him with the highest honour in the land, reserved exclusively for the country’s presidents and heads of state. In other words, Abiola is being treated as if he was once Nigeria’s President. And this is being queried and contested in certain quarters. Regardless of that, the sentiments over this matter weigh heavily in favour of the President. He is being applauded by apostles and disciples of June 12.
We are in political times and the President seems to have achieved a masterstroke here. But we know, in all sincerity, that the President does not believe in the action he has taken. He has only played to the gallery. He has been made to understand the product that will sell at this point in time in the South West. And that is what he has taken to the market. There is high demand for the product, and the President is reaping bountifully from it. But if we divest the issue of all pretensions and colourations, we would be left with the gimmick called posthumous recognition for Abiola. The President we know has never been known to be sympathetic to the cause of June 12. His latter-day predilection towards June 12 is, therefore, meant to serve a predetermined purpose, to win the sympathy of the South West towards his second term bid.
To underline the fact that the President is feathering his own nest in this matter, he has annulled May 29 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day and replaced it with June 12. This is a ridiculous afterthought. For three years as President, Buhari did not see the need to annul May 29 in preference for June12. This sudden recognition is fraught with undercurrents. Beyond the 2019 calculation, part of the ploy is to spite former President Obasanjo, whose presidency instituted May 29 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. Obasanjo and Buhari have been at daggers drawn in recent weeks. Buhari’s action is partly targeted at diminishing the stature of Obasanjo, who was the direct beneficiary of the June 12 crisis.
Obasanjo is not the only target. Babangida, the military president who was responsible for the annulment, is also being dressed up for the slaughter. Babangida, as we know, is not properly disposed towards Buhari’s return bid. By his action, Buhari wants to blackmail Babangida. By giving June 12 the attention that he has devoted to it, Buhari wants IBB to look bad in the eyes of the world. He wants to give the impression that he is succeeding where IBB failed. There would have been no problem with that if Buhari were a democrat. Were it to be so, we would be rejoicing that democracy has found a voice. But that is hardly the case. Here, Buhari wants to play the revisionist. He wants to ride the crest at the expense of his predecessors. His overall objective is to win the sympathy of the South West in the 2019 elections. It is hardly borne out of genuine love for democracy.
The President’s ploy is a familiar one. His predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, tried his hands on something similar during the run-up to the 2015 general election. Like Buhari, the pundits of the time advised Jonathan to target the votes of the South West. Like now, Abiola also came into play. Jonathan was advised to rename the prestigious University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University. He bought the idea and made the pronouncement. But the move backfired. Angry reactions and responses took over the country. Jonathan could not manage the backlash. He was forced to reverse himself.
So, Abiola has always been a factor whenever people want to win over the South West during elections. Buhari is the latest adventurer in this electoral vineyard. He has pronounced June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. But there is no certainty that he will be in office long enough to celebrate the first anniversary of the date as the country’s new Democracy Day. If he loses the forthcoming presidential election to someone else, his ploy and plot over June 12 would have amounted to nothing. If this should happen, there is no guarantee that his successor will go ahead with the plan he has put in place. It is politics all the way. We can only wait to see whether President Buhari will reap bountifully from the seed he has planted.
As we await the outcome of this gimmickry in the years to come, the point must be made that June 12 has become the cheapest route to democracy. It has become the cheapest instrument in the hands of democratic pretenders. It has become customary and commonplace to see people who have no democratic antecedents to lecture us on democracy, relying heavily on the June 12, 1993, presidential election. They often tell us that the election was the freest and fairest the country has ever had. I have always winked at this claim. The reason we say this of June 12 is because the election had an accident. It was because the mandate was not actualised. For this reason, people have decided to romanticise the June 12 struggle. It is the only solace left for those who have nothing compelling to say about the election. Now that the ghost of that election has been laid to rest, I do hope that those who have been howling about it will have a better story to tell.