Why June 12 continues to remain so strong in Nigerians’ psyche
Emeka Ugwu-Oju, the incumbent president of the South-east, South-south Professionals of Nigeria (SESSPN) and a quiet strategic member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) believes that the struggle to oust the military junta subsequently set the tone for civil disobedience against unpopular government policies. He said: “It became a moment of a collective response to an evil force. The June 12 election wasn’t about tribe or religion, it was about our freedom to choose; it was a referendum on our desire as Nigerians to remain united in a just and egalitarian society.” He spoke to South-East Bureau, Chief KODILINYE OBIAGWU.
Twenty-three years after the June 12, 1993, elections, and many elections thereafter, what has sustained the nostalgia about June 12?
The June 12, 1993, Presidential election which was won by the late Chief MKO Abiola, although not officially proclaimed the winner, destroyed a myth in Nigerian Politics then, which was that, it was impossible in Nigeria to have a national leader with a pan-Nigerian mandate to lead the country. In the First Republic, even though Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister, his party, Northern People’s Congress (NPC), was virtually non-existent in most of the Southern Nigeria. So was it in the Second Republic, where Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the President but his party, National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) did not have any significant following in Southern Nigeria. So for Abiola to have won both in Southern and Northern Nigeria even when his deputy was a fellow Muslim, which is deemed politically incorrect, was momentous. If we may also recollect, the famous slogan of the MKO campaign was “farewell to poverty” and with the current poverty ravaging the land we may understand the feelings of people of what might have been. Maybe MKO would have succeeded in laying the foundation for the banishment of poverty in Nigeria if he was not unfairly denied his mandate.
What are these lessons that Nigerians ought to have learnt or have failed to learn from June 12 after so many elections?
The major lesson of June 12 was that annulment of elections by fiat has no place in a democracy and I believe that so far, we have imbibed that lesson in Nigeria. We have now held several elections since 1999 without any annulment even though the elections have not been perfect but the judiciary is in a position to adjudicate.
The nation stepped away from the two-party system under which the June 12 election was conducted, and embraced what was considered as a more democratic multi-party system. Could that unanimity of choice in the June 12 election have been achieved under a multiple party system like we have now?
Even though we currently have a multiparty system in place, but in reality, we are now practicing a de facto two-party system – APC and PDP. Labour Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) though parties are really platforms for independent candidates. The difference then and now is that while the other two parties came into existence by fiat, the current two mainstream parties evolved through a democratic process.
How would you rate the success of protests in the Fourth Republic and the protests under the military junta?
Protests are rarely tolerated during a military regime so I don’t really know the yardstick to use in judging protests in a democratic setting and a militarized environment. Be that as it may, I would say that protests in Nigeria are evolving. It is currently more of a Lagos and Abuja phenomenon- Occupy Nigeria, Bring Back Our Girls, etc. Peaceful protests are good for democracy because it helps bring needed attention to important issues that may have been relegated to the background.
Do we need a NADECO today to champion the protests or do you liken the emergence of groups like the agitators for Biafra and the militants in Niger Delta to new NADECO?
We have to put matters in perspective. NADECO came into existence during a military regime to push for a democratic polity and the restoration of a mandate given to MKO by majority of Nigerians in a presidential election that was generally acknowledged to be free and fair only for it to be annulled by a military junta.
Now we are in a democratic society although we still have a lot to do with regard to imbibing the requisite democratic culture. As it stands, NADECO was largely successful in helping to midwife the current democratic setting but unfortunately did not continue the push to ensure that a solid foundation was laid for our democracy that will make it truly accountable to the electorate instead of the present scenario where governance could be hijacked by one arm of the government such as the executive arm and the other arms such as the legislature and judiciary deliberately made ineffectual.
NADECO under the current leadership of retired Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu is now back and reenergized to lead the struggle for the institution of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And not a government by the people for the few. We should, however, bear in mind that protests is just only one way of pushing for desired change. We have other means such as using the moral force and mobilizing ability of social media and getting judgements from the judiciary. Protest is an important instrument in a democracy and it is not made for one group alone. Protests by groups such as MASSOB, IPOB, MEND, NDA should be welcomed provided it is peaceful and the protesters do not suffer undue harassment. The alternative which is insurgency such as Boko Haram should not be tolerated in a democracy.
Do you think the ideal you NADECO members fought for is materialising into reality?
When I remember the caliber of people who used to drive all the way to Owo,Ondo State to attend strategy meetings at the home of the late Pa Adekunle Ajasin in those dark days of Abacha regime and the type of democracy they wanted enthroned in Nigeria, I would not hesitate to say that the current realities are far from their ideals.
We had people like Pa Abraham Adesanya; Olanihun Ajayi; Ayo Adebanjo;Bola Ige; Ndubuisi Kanu; Beko Ransome Kuti;Albert Ndulue; Kofo Bucknor-Akerele;Ganiyu Dawodu; Tunji Adebiyi , some of whom have gone to the great beyond. These were individuals who even at old age were more interested in a better life for the generality of Nigerians. Most of them had experienced what worked well for the people during the first republic and what didn’t and which would have been corrected if the army didn’t step in to truncate the then nascent democracy and were eager for the return to democracy to continue with the ideals and structures of the first republic.
There is a renewed call for the restructuring of the country. What form do you think this restructuring should take?
It is for the people of Nigeria to recreate the sort of country that they think will work for them and they have started that with the last National Conference. It is not for one person to decree what he or she thinks should be the structure in place. As an individual, I would want a country that fully guarantees its citizens full resident rights that is not abridged by state of origin or tribe. A decentralized Federal Government that is cost effective and anchored on six federating units.