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Democratisation, June 12, May 29 And Buhari

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Buhari at June 12 inaugural National Democracy Day Celebration at the Eagle Square in Abuja. Photo/Twitter/AsoRock

Glowing tributes and encomiums must never be denied Nigerian leaders of all shades in the early phase of our struggle for freedom, and particularly, for the resistance they mustered against slave trade and colonial domination.

Of course, there were elements from within whose levels of political consciousness and patriotism were at ground zero and certainly sold out for a paltry sum.

The absence of collective consciousness had remained an albatross in the struggle for human emancipation from oppression and blatant domination. Leaders of revolutions had consistently been betrayed from within when close allies cheaply sold out to enemies of the struggle.

As is well known and richly documented elsewhere, soon after ‘independence’ from colonial domination, largely of the British and French varieties, one country after the other collapsed as military coups became the norm in Africa. T

he military elite was then portrayed by pundits modernized and development agents.

However, it didn’t take long before the theory was flattened. The military in government was, in fact, worst than political elites that they shoved aside. There was really nothing correctional about the military in government. They proved to be greedy, self-centred and capricious in the extreme. In some cases, they led their countries to civil wars and unprecedented uprising. Of course, there were indeed disciplined gentlemen officers among them.

It is indeed to the credit of some institutions and individuals, which include Nigeria’s professional associations such as Nigerian Medical Association, Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), the Nigerian Bar Association (N. B. A.) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (N. L. C.) and the generality of student associations that fought the military to a standstill.

The doyen of Nigeria’s struggle for human rights, Chief Gani Fawehinmi among others never gave up even when the barrel of guns were literally pointed at them.

Media houses, particularly newspapers came under severe attack and some in fact were shut down. Their founders had close shave with death. It was a complete return to the jungle and self-help as Nigeria came under full-blown dictatorship. The three branches of government had been fused into one.

But the real game changer in respect of Nigeria’s democratization was the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which was a child of necessity that grew out of the struggle for the restoration of the ill-advised annulment of June 12, 1993 election under Babangida’s military regime. June 12 was significant as a landslide in certain respects.

Not only was it Nigeria’s freest election to date but, more importantly was the possibilities and powerful message about Nigeria’s nationalism that it provoked but which the military arrogantly and defiantly froze.

June 12, for a moment, subsumed ethno-religious, class and regional identities, loyalties and their divisive tendencies. Nigerians had then realised that their differences are artificial and peripheral.

Human existential challenges are the substantive issues, which can only be addressed through effective participation in governance through credible election. They demonstrated resilience, doggedness and braved all odds put on their path by reactionary forces and overwhelmingly gave their votes to Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola as the man who could lead them out to the promised even though a tiny group had sounded a discordant tone that he, Abiola, was not the messiah.

Of course, the State assassinated Abiola and so many other collateral casualties. Assassinations of prominent figures were a commonplace then.

Above are some of the highlights of events that preceded May 29, 1999. Indeed, without June 12, May 29 would probably not have been.

However, for years those political leaders at the centre who were the primary beneficiaries of June pretended to be oblivious of its significance, evidently denied its reality and relevance and indeed arrogantly consigned it to the dustbin. But can one who denies his own or historical watershed ever be great? The answer is obvious.

It smacks of rigour as it must be coming from a mindset that conflate Abiola’s person with the irrepressible social force of pan Nigerian nationalism, which June 12 symbolises.

Recent developments had indicated that earlier attempts to reduce June 12 to a subnational issue instead of its patent national character had not succeeded.

And here comes where President Muhammadu Buhari is to be located in Nigeria’s contemporary historical juncturee.

He himself had come to realise that great minds should be on the side of the people. Unlike his predecessors in office, he regarded himself as a beneficiary of June and it’s historical significance in Nigeria’s democratization. He had chosen not to live in denial of its realism.

Buhari must have been convinced that those who stood tall and still over the past 25 years for June 12 are patriots whose commitment to freedom and the good of Nigeria isn’t ethnicity, regional or religious bound. Buhari’s validation of the significance of June 12 will be an elixir and an incentive for people to continue to identify with what is good for Nigeria.

Generally, this action has shown President Buhari as being broadminded. He had demonstrated his independence from his close political associates in three previous examples. He is not a leader to inherit the prejudices of his political ‘benefactors’. He surprised many by some of the appointments during his first term. Secondly, upon being elected, he said he was for everybody.

Of course, he knew that Nigeria is his constituency. He was determined to be himself and have a mind of his own. Secondly, both in Imo and Ogun states, he made a powerful statement, which was significant for human freedom and a negation of the mind-set that openly transact in freedom.

In both states, he urged voters to vote for and in respect of other elections, people should vote candidates of their choices. It would be naive for anyone to think that Buhari was unaware of the silencing of majority voices in his party and the arrogant denial of internal party democracy.

I congratulate President Buhari for his doggedness in protecting the sanctity of people’s inalienable right to chose those to govern them as happened on June 12, 1993. Congratulations to NADECO home and abroad and all Nigerians who played one role or the other in respect of June 12. Congratulations to our President for righting the wrongs, which the Babangida-led dictatorship committed against almost three decades.

The President should be encouraged to propose a bill to the National Assembly that will recognize June 12 as Nigeria’s Day of Credible Elections and inauguration by just adding 14 days to life of the current administration. Though, Nigeria is currently in the throes of severe security challenges, which appear befuddling and overwhelming and acute poverty, these are not insurmountable with the cooperation of the citizenry.

Olurode is a former National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission Department of Sociology, University of Lagos.


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