Twenty-six years ago today, Nigerians from all walks of life, tribes and tongues were enthralled by the cadence and sense conjured in the song: On the march again! It was not a cliché; it was a call for action to a people prepared. It was a rallying call that built consensus around one man and what he represents for the people. It was a song and dance for hope. And the people, both old and young, acknowledged that with him ‘hope’ is near. As such it was easy for all to chorus: M. K. O is our man!
For those Nigerians that were not born 26 years ago when Hope ’93 was extinguished, the idea of commemorating June 12 every year as Democracy Day may not make much meaning or conjure paroxysms of emotion. June 12 has become an oxymoron, a mixture of sadness and joy.
It is both a day of laughter and pain because 26 years ago Nigerians’ hope for participatory democracy and good governance was buried and postponed. Given the groundswell of opposition to the annulment of the presidential election, which Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was coasting to victory, it was obvious that the military was the biggest enemy to the country’s socio-political development.
But, having institutionalized electoral malfeasance, it was not surprising that the subsequent transition to civil rule programme organized by the military sustained the factor of popular exclusion. Nonetheless, the declaration and subsequent legislative backing for June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, despite amounting to so little so late, seem to have recognised the enormous sacrifice made by Nigerians to unite behind a leader, not minding the differences of religious and ethnic backgrounds.
If in the annulment of Abiola’s victory Nigerians endured the stab of officialdom, the citizens saw the government’s gesture as a source of solace for the increasing social fissures in the country. Yet when the euphoria disperses, it would be seen that the selfsame antipathy that precipitated the annulment of Abiola’s election has not been exorcised from the body polity. Questions have not been asked nor cogent answers given as to why the will of the people should be subsumed under the whims of a few.
The question, when is a nation, remains suspended in the air. What is the worth of citizenship? Who owns the country? Is Nigeria’s democracy a hybrid or quasi-military system? There are many questions begging for answers. Even in the declaration of June 12 as a day to celebrate Nigerians’ love for democracy to the extent that one man had to sacrifice his life to prove that power belongs to the people.
Yet, in his immolation, Abiola and what his candidacy represents have not been fully understood. Was he seeking political power for its own sake or as a means of pursing a purpose founded on public good? For instance, with bye-bye to poverty, how far have the present occupants of political officers factored freedom from hunger and poverty into their calculations? How many of the elected representatives could walk the streets of Nigeria and have the people attest that s/he is “our (wo)man o!
Like it happened to June 12 1993, elections have continued to be unending rigorous leadership selection processes that do not reflect the yearnings and aspirations of the people. It is obvious that as a country, Nigeria lost its democratic compass in 1993, because the zeal to register and vote at periodic elections has waned, culminating in voter apathy and vote buying.
What came across in the annulment of June 12 elections was the belief in the capacity of public institutions to deliver on their assigned duties. The electoral umpires have continued to shirk the responsibility of conducting credible, free, and fair polls.
Even when they are labeled ‘independent’, the electoral bodies still depend on the appointing institution to do its work and when the work is done, nobody questions it on its conduct. That could explain why after election, rival candidates appear in the tribunals and leave the umpire as an appendage.
Although chairman of then National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, and his colleagues did their best to ensure a foolproof process, it was the incidence of military authoritarianism that robbed the country what could have been the culmination of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s unending transition to its golden final moments. Consequently, the tragedy of June 12 and abortion of Abiola’s presidency remains a sad chapter in the nation’s political economy such that the token proclamation of the day as a public holiday and Democracy Day could not assuage.
Chief Abiola’s effort to reclaim his mandate exposed the shortcoming of social engineering in the country. The Epetedo declaration, which could have marked the onset of a shadow government, miscarried by the decision of the claimant to declare himself president instead as serving as a rallying point to sustain pressure on the military junta.
Perhaps, it was in recognition of the little gaps in the failed attempt by Abiola to pressure the authorities to regularize and uphold the outcome of the June 12 1993 presidential that citizens of Egypt and Sudan decided on public marches in expression of discontent. It was not a dirge that Abiola wanted to render at Epetedo area of Lagos. Rather, his speech showed that it was a place to situate the mass mobilization that attended the presidential election that held the preceding year.
The late pillar of sports in Africa and champion of reparation had declared: “People of Nigeria, exactly one year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.“But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by the President you had yourselves elected.
“These soldier-politicians introduced into our body politic, a concept hitherto unknown to our political lexicography, something strangely called the ‘annulment’ of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful ever held in our nation.
“Since that abominable act of naked political armed robbery occurred, I have been constantly urged by people of goodwill, both in Nigeria and abroad, to put the matter back into the people’s hands and get them to actualise the mandate they gave me at the polls. But mindful of the need to ensure that peace continues to reign in our fragile federation, I have so far tried to pursue sweet reason and negotiation.”
As Nigerians celebrate the first Democracy Day, reviewing Abiola’s manifesto and strategies for economic rejuvenation should occupy public attention. Making Nigeria work for its citizens could be the overall desire that motivated President Muhammadu Buhari to commemorate the struggle for June 12 actualization.
Calls for restructuring, particularly devolution of power to the citizens, should rank very high in the reordering of the nation’s priorities as they relate to statecraft and genuine democracy. Abiola actually envisaged a total abolition of military involvement in governance. The violence that has continued to characterize Nigeria’s elections bears ugly testimony of military hangover.
Abiola had declared: “My hope has always been to arouse whatever remnants of patriotism are left in the hearts of these thieves of your mandate, and to persuade them that they should not allow their personal desire to rule to usher our beloved country into an era of political instability and economic ruin.”
Curbing rigging and electoral violence could have been in Abiola’s mind when he stated: “Military rule has led to our nation fighting a civil war with itself. Military rule has destabilised our nation today. Military rule has impoverished our people and introduced a dreadful trade in drugs, which has made our country’s name an anathema in many parts of the world.
“We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone.”Starting an Otooge against rigging elections should be the best way to commemorate the struggle for the actualisation of June 12.
Cloned Hope 1999
AGAINST the background of the chequered fight for institutionalization of democracy, some commentators have dismissed the brand of democracy that was berthed in 1999 as not homegrown, but quasi-democracy. The cloned hope for better living conditions for citizens has not reflected in the welfare or inclusion of the masses. June 12 as Democracy Day therefore becomes a milestone to continue the struggle for democratic independence: Nigerians should take responsibility of electing their leaders and holding them to account!
Does the cost of organising periodic elections that end up as meal tickets to politicians reflect on the programme of saying bye-bye to poverty? How much conversation with the people preceded the decision to underscore June 12 as Democracy Day? Could it be another way of recognising the barrenness of Nigeria’s election, recalling that on June 12, 1993, the people’s will was aborted?
If the erection of June 12 as a totem pole of democracy would lead to interrogation of INEC’s independence and need for harmony between the executive and legislature in such a way that each arm acts responsibly within its ambit, the hope for a better tomorrow would not be misplaced.
Why are poll offenders not punished within the ambit of the law? Who were the villains and heroes/heroines of democratic struggle and credible elections in Nigeria? What could be the antidote to sloganeering political parties without strategies?Therefore, until productive intellectual and all-encompassing re-evaluation of June 12 and Abiola’s mission statement for good governance are carried out, making it a public holiday without infusing the precepts of democracy would rob the day of its essence.