11 June 2018, Sweetcrude, Port Harcourt — Like the “Abiku” phenomenon, the June 12, 1993, Presidential Elections and its fallouts have refused to be excluded from our national political discourse, coming and going as many times as Nigerians experience unwholesome elections, rigging at elections and the frequent perversion of the will of any electorate within Nigeria’s geography.
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari contributed to the June 12 discourse by awarding the arrowhead of the June 12 struggle and presumed winner of the election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola with Nigeria’s highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), posthumously, as the gentlemen died in prison, incarcerated for insisting that the mandate given to him by the Nigerian people in the election be actualised. Also honoured with an award in connection with June 12, was Mr. Baba Gana Kingibe, the Vice Presidential candidate of Chief Abiola’s party, the Social Democratic Party. The Presidency did not state why and Nigerians have continued to voice their curiosity over the motivation behind the awards. Also of curious note is the exclusion by the President of Bashir Othman Tofa and his vice presidential candidate, Mr. Sylvester Ugoh, the candidates of the other party, the National Republican Convention in the elections in the awards.
Days after the June 12, 1993, presidential elections and in the aftermath of the announcement of most of the results, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, the self-styled military president and umpire-in-chief of the elections annulled the results, earning for himself eternal condemnation in the hearts of democrats in Nigeria and the world. Babangida was derided by the press and political commentators for the annulment of the electoral contest that was adjudged Nigeria’s fairest and freest. But as the elections and the events that occurred in connection with it come under review again in the backdrop of the announcement of the date, June 12 as a bank holiday, “democracy day” in Nigeria and the insinuations made as to it being an unfortunate political strategy deployed by the President to shore up his waning popularity in an allied constituency, a more comprehensive audit of the causative factors ought to be taken in order for all Nigerians to come to terms that June 12 was indeed a national tragedy as it was a national blessing. There appears to be no dispute that the June 12 presidential elections constituted one of Nigeria’s finest moments, an event in which tribe, ethnicity, and religious affinity were relegated and jettisoned for better considerations. Chief Abiola and his running mate were Muslims but they won in Christian enclaves such as Delta, Anambra, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. They also won in Kano State, Bashir Tofa’s home state.
Gen. Ibrahim Babangida let it be known that though he was ultimately responsible for the annulment of the elections, he had been warned at the pain of losing his life against handing over to Chief Abiola by military officers such as Gen Sani Abacha, Lt. Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro, and Brig. Gen David Mark. According to the military president, these men were also prepared to kill Chief Abiola in the event he was sworn in as president. And then the horse trading and betrayals followed. Baba Gana Kingibe, Ebenezer Babatope and other members of Chief Abiola’s Social Democratic Party assured the world that they and their leader had agreed to forego June 12 and form a government of national unity. They, therefore, agreed to be drafted into national offices under Ernest Shonekan, a Christian from Chief Abiola’s Ogun State. Many legal scholars at the time argued that with the exit of Baba Gana Kingibe, Chief Abiola’s vice presidential candidate, the mandate given to their joint ticket had been undermined irreversibly. Again many SDP stalwarts swore that Chief Abiola had consented to his party men’s inclusion in the proposed government of national unity, a claim that was denied by Chief Abiola. Apart from this development, the National Republican Convention’s governors who had been elected and sworn into office about sixteen months before the June 12 elections vowed to secede from the Nigerian State, if the election results were released and Chief Abiola was announced as the winner, not minding their disparate geographical locations. Of course, certain that the results of the contest were not in their favour, Tofa’s NRC joined the cacophony of negative voices demanding the nullification of the results of the contest. Not to be outdone, the ethnic and religious bigots who had gone to sleep or been lulled into momentary patriotism by the fervor of the moment realised their “error” and took firm positions behind Gen. Babangida and all those who desired to undermine the best electoral contest Nigeria had experienced.
Who then do we absolve and blame over the June 12 saga? Who are the culprits and heroes within the context of the events and acts of betrayal by politicians from both opposing camps and who consequently should Nigeria honour and vilify? It is my humble view that until a detailed examination is carried out by a Panel of Inquiry of the roles played by the actors of the June 12 saga, any honours awarded to any persons or groups would deserve to be viewed within the prism of political pandering. A national inquiry into the June 12 matter is needed to lay the ghosts and grudges of that deliberate detraction from our collective destiny to rest.