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June 12: Still an albatross despite presidential appeasement

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Chief MKO Abiola

It seems like yesterday. The popular jingles still echo in the minds of those who were opportune to be around then. It was the year 1993 and the ecstasy was so thick in the air. Expectation was also high. Virtually every adult Nigerian was involved one way or another. “Em Kay O is our man ooo,” “Nigeria, on the march again.” Those and other such campaign slogans heralded the candidacy of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, who was standing on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP) as the Presidential flag bearer.

There were just two political parties, SDP and its rival, National Republican Convention (NRC), which flag bearer was Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa. It was easy for Nigerians to congregate on either platforms and that helped to make the entire electoral exercise very interesting and membership quite compelling.To a large extent the existence of just two political parties increased awareness and encouraged voters to keep tabs on developments in the polity. The choice of presidential flag bearers had its thrills and shocks.

In the NRC, both Tofa and Dr. Joe Nwodo battled for the ticket at a keenly contested primary in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, such that when Tofa carried the day, the popular expectation among NRC faithful was that Nwodo should deputize him. That frame of thought was provoked largely by what transpired within the rival SDP. Chief Abiola, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (the Bridge) were the topmost contenders in the race. At the end of lengthy bargaining and horse-trading, the Atiku camp from the General Musa Yar’Adua political group decided to back Abiola, who won the SDP primary in Jos.

But given the fact that Kingibe, like Nwodo, was a well known political actor, but came from the northeast where Atiku also hails from, he was adopted as Abiola’s running mate in a novel Muslim/Muslim joint Presidential ticket. Those in NRC had therefore expected that the runner-up in the Presidential primary, Nwodo should equally have been chosen by Tofa as running mate. But that was not to be, perhaps for the reason of the highly incendiary campaigns that preceded the Port Harcourt primary.

Above all, NRC playmakers perceived that Nwodo’s political clout and sagacity could become the setting for frictions and conflict of ideas. As such, Chief Sylvester Ugoh, a former Minister of Science and Technology was chosen by Tofa. Both paled into little effect before Abiola/Kingibe.Major attention on the buildup to the main election was therefore trained on SDP, whose flag bearer was a well-heeled philanthropist and employer of labour, as well as, the fact of its novel joint Muslim ticket.

Furthermore, Abiola’s singsong campaign theme of bye-bye to poverty resonated with the yearnings of a greater population of citizens, most of who were below the poverty line.Nonetheless, perceiving the Muslim/Muslim ticket as a minus in the electoral equation, the then military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, wallowed in the mistaken impression that as usual the northern candidate, Tofa of NRC, would dust the SDP and Abiola.

However, unknown to the military junta, Nigerians were united in the desire to end the cyclical deception and endless transition programme. As such religion or place of origin did not stymie their resolve to enthrone a civilian replacement. The fact that Abiola’s generosity extended beyond civil societies, churches and mosques up to the even military, as well as his perceived closeness to the then military President, Babangida, helped to galvanise massive public support in favour of SDP.

Intervening Disputations
ONE of the disposing circumstances in the 1993 Presidential election was that it was just between two candidates on two political parties and all other categories of elections had been held.As a result of the foregoing, the candidates were seen as running on the personal qualities, antecedents and pogrammes. Abiola’s exploits in the business and corporate world were well known. On his part, the NRC candidate, although a successful businessman was not seen as a job creator or employing a labour force compared to his SDP rival.

Public understanding of the issues involved motivated the formation of political action groups, particularly campaign volunteers. In a way, the election became more like between the military junta and citizens united, such that as the election drew near it was obvious that a clear winner would emerge to make it impossible for the junta to gainsay.

Nonetheless, seeing the direction of popular votes and the reality of a clean contest, some agents of the military junta, going by the name of Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, Presided by Justice Bassey Ikpeme, seeking a disruption of the collation.Yet another court of coordinate jurisdiction in Lagos had earlier restrained ABN from interfering with the election howsoever. But the attempt by Ikpeme to scuttle the election could not hold water principally because Section 19 of the Political Transition Decree actually removed the jurisdiction of any court from entertaining any suit relating to anything done or purportedly done under the Decree.

There was a snag however, because as soon as the National Electoral Commission (NEC) began collation of the results and actually announced the results from 16 states, the allegation that the SDP Presidential flag bearer, Abiola, breached the electoral law gained momentum. Nonetheless, the military government adduced reasons to scuttle the election.

Implications, Imputations Of Revalidation
LASTWEEK, President Muhammadu Buhari ignited fresh debate and discussions on the vexed issue of June 12 Presidential imbroglio, by not only moving the nation’s Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 of every year, stressing that latter date holds far more significance to Nigerians than the former.Not that alone, the President also announced a posthumous honour award for the winner of the annulled election, Bashorun Abiola, with the prestigious Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) title.

In a statement he personally signed, perhaps to underscore the import of the declaration, Buhari stated: “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29, as Democracy Day. That was the date when, for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government. The first time this happened was on October 21, 1979.

“But, in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12, 1993 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even the October 1. June 12, 1993 was the day, when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our independence.”He argued, “The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process…Therefore, the government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 cancelled elections. His running mate as Vice President, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.”No sooner had the President made the sudden declaration revalidating the 1993 Presidential election, than issues relating to correct procedure, implication and other imputations arose.

The upper chamber of the federal legislature took up the matter, pointing out that the proper sequence ought to be a directive to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to announce the full result followed by the announcement of the winner, in line with the electoral guidelines.But, adopting the same military style that led to the annulment of the election, the President decided to go solo, even though his statement hinted that “after due consultations, the Federal Government has decided that henceforth, June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day.”

As it turned out, it was not surprising that the procedure adopted by the President in delivering that redress ended up setting off a flurry of imputations, suggesting in the main, a political gimmick to harvest emotional sympathy at the next election.Added to that line of reasoning is the argument of timing. Coming after three years of the administration, which has been adjudged as lackluster, the contention that the gesture was intended to serve electoral ends seems to hold water.

Furthermore, for a greater part of the three years of Buhari’s Presidency, some distance was created between him and the leader of the Southwest caucus in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The icy relationship between the two leaders began to thaw shortly before the President indicated his desire to seek a second term in office.
That point must have informed former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido’s view that “President Buhari was merely in a hurry to court the Southwest to support his failed administration,” stressing that the wrong procedure renders the entire exercise as a mere token.

“President Buhari is not a democrat,” Lamido spoke further, “therefore, upholding the outcome of 1993 election eight months to another election does not make him a champion of democracy.”Then, on the implication of the Presidential order on the constitution, the Senate pointed out that shifting the handover date would require a constitutional amendment. But, fears that the declaration might amount to a Greek gift were also raised at the Senate when it was discovered that INEC should first of all release the result and entitlements granted to the winners of the election.

Was the President indirectly plotting a slight alteration on the handover date? There is nothing to justify such insinuation, but realising that the only major participant in the 1993 Presidential poll alive is Kingibe, who was Abiola’s running mate, gives cause for worry. Does the revalidation dispose Kingibe for a possible headship of an interim Government should the President decide to foist helplessness on the polity?

Incongruities
PRESIDENT Buhari’s good gesture towards the final exorcism of the June 12 demon on Nigeria’s democracy ended up raising some gnomes and zombies. In the first place, not having a legal precedent, could a dead man be conferred with the GCFR honorific? Senator Dino Melaye’s argument on the floor of the Senate did much to infuse some clear thinking in the emotive and celebratory mood stirred by the Presidential fiat. The Senator quoted section 43 of the National Honours Act and declared: “I believe very sincerely that Chief M.K.O Abiola deserves even more than the President have pronounced, because he is a true patriot, philanthropist and should be so decorated. But, we are governed in the country by the constitution and extant laws. No matter how beautiful a situation is, the law of the land remains the law of the land.

“Subsection 2 of the Act says, a person shall be eligible for appointment to any rank or holder unless he is a citizen of Nigeria. A dead man is not a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”Almost three years ago, a governorship candidate died midway into an election. The ruling party harvested votes earned by the deceased candidate and divested the running mate from its inheritance. In the light of President Buhari’s revalidation of June 12 election outcome, could Prince Abubakar Audu be eligible for a posthumous declaration, not having been sworn in or so declared?

The President has always expressed the belief that General Sani Abacha is a patriot that did no wrong in office. How does his recent declaration align with the fact that it was Abacha that jailed Abiola for seeking the revalidation of his mandate? Perhaps, part of the powers of the President is to approbate and reprobate.Can the President set up an independent Judicial panel of inquiry to examine all issues relating to the June 12 Presidential election annulment that would make judicial recommendations, including the trial and punishment of all those directly and remotely accountable for the annulment of the June 12 Election?

Would Buhari cringe if the panel declares his ally, Sani Abacha a murderer, order the removal of his name from the roll of former Chiefs of Army Staff, former Chiefs of Defence Staff and former Heads of State?Those posers might have inspired the Democratic Peoples Congress (DPC) to describe the June 12 revalidation as President’s “divide-and-rule tactics in his desperate effort to perpetuate himself in office by declaring June 12 Democracy Day.”In a statement by its national chairman, Rev. Olusegun Peters, DPC said although it does not oppose any honour accorded to the late Abiola, attempts should not be made to “tamper, alter or destroy the nation’s political structure in a desperate bid to remain in power or favour a section of the country.”

From Hope 93 To Despair 2019
DESPITE the incongruities thrown up by the official response to the unsettled issues surrounding the June 12, 1993 Presidential poll, it is obvious that the political climate and electoral essence of that era are a far cry from what obtains now. Apart from the multiplicity of political parties in the polity, none of the parties are able to evolve an effective internal democracy mechanism such that the people become the actual custodians of political power.

The option A4 model, which ensured that candidates emerged from their ward up to the state and federal level for Presidential contest, has not been replicated in the modern times.
Moreover, the delegate method of selecting party flag bearers has proved a veritable platform for political corruption. Worse still, INEC has been supervising or observing party congresses and conventions without sanctions against infringement on party constitutions and laid procedures.

While 1993 conveyed the idea of popular inclusion, apprehensions over the next election give the impression that it is going to be a civil war, with state actors doing all in their power to tilt the outcome a particular way. The pervading fear in the polity led to recent experimentation with inducement of voters to perform their civic responsibilities. Of all that should be restored and revalidated about the 1993 election that has remained a watershed in the history of Nigeria’s democracy, popular participation should be encouraged through free and fair access to polling areas.


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