‘Not Democracy Day, but day of struggle, mourning’
Former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief NDUKA EYA told LAWRENCE NJOKU, in Enugu that June 12 is not Nigeria’s democracy day, stressing that Nigerians should learn to ask questions
Is the declaration of June 12 Democracy Day enough propitiation in memory of the agitation for the restoration of Abiola’s presidential mandate?
Let me start by saying that a lot of Nigerians have in our usual helplessness accepted the situation. Nobody is questioning whether that decision is right or wrong. When it was made, I remember Justice Alfa Belgore (rtd) drew Buhari’s attention that it was wrong and it ended there. What are the facts? The fact is that a patriotic Nigerian called Moshood Abiola contested election, one of the best elections conducted in Nigeria using option A4; it was first in a multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. We had a Muslim-Muslim ticket – Moshood Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe – against Bashir Tofa, another Muslim. Nigerians didn’t care about their religion; they wanted a man of merit to rule them and they had an election. That was pointing at the fact that Abiola was going to win and, as a matter of fact, all the results were being displayed as they came by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) as it was called then, led by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, one of the best chairmen the commission has produced so far.
It was the cheapest run election; it was the most transparent election because you counted people specifically; they stood in line for whom they wanted to vote for and it was counted in number. It was not like secret ballot, where people carry about ballot boxes with already thumb-printed materials.
So that election was credible, transparent and Nigerians accepted it. I think it remained only one result and that election was annulled. It was annulled by the Nigerian military. So, the man who was heading to win the election – Moshood Abiola – was never declared the winner; he was never declared the president but before the declaration, Humphrey Nwosu almost left with a breadth of his life because the military forced him not to declare the result. If Nwosu had pronounced the result, it would have been another story, but that result was never declared, Abiola was never named as winner.
So what are we talking about? That day was June 12. If you will remember, Abiola left for United Kingdom and he was persuaded by people to come back and claim his mandate and on arrival, he was arrested and put in custody. He died in the custody of the Nigerian military. He was never pronounced a president. He was never pronounced winner.
So several years after that in 2018, the onetime military head of state, now civilian president, Muhammadu Buhari, woke up one morning and declared June 12 Democracy Day. Because Abiola came from the Southwest zone, the zone had always observed June 12 as a memorable day just as in the East where IPOB and MASSOB had always observed May 30, as the day they remember their people killed during the civil war. Nigerians are always euphoric in accepting things without asking questions. When IBB told us a little to the right, a little to the left, I challenged Nigerians to stand at ease, that a little to the right and a little to the left, you are still where you are. Nobody saw the meaning of ‘a little to the right and a little to the left.’ He might have meant well but that description means no movement.
Everybody accepted Abiola because he died in custody; the circumstances of his death may no longer be interested to Nigerians, but they should ask questions. When a man is in custody, a man who was supposed to have won an election leaves much to be desired. June 12 was a day democracy was truncated in Nigeria and for me; you cannot celebrate it as democracy day. You will celebrate it as something else, like a struggle date just as they do for Martin Luther King (Jnr). What was he preaching? ‘I have a dream that one day the future of my children will not be determined by the colour of their skin’; that is an ideology. What was Abiola doing? He was pursuing his mandate that he would have won this election but the Nigerian military truncated it and Buhari was part of the Nigerian military.
Now many years after, Buhari, who was part of that scheme, came up and decided that what we have celebrated as democracy day is no longer democracy and that June 12 is democracy day. I said it is wrong. We need to celebrate June 12 as a special day – a day of struggle and align with Martin Luther King of the U.S. We can have it as public holiday because it was a day we found a man who was deprived of what he deserved. The granting of GCFR (Grand Commander of Federal Republic) is not adequate because Abiola was never a president. Why don’t we declare him president to enable him earn all these? That award was in serious error. It is Buhari’s military background because he would have presented this to council of state and National Assembly but in his usual manner, he pronounced it like a decree.
Olusegun Obasanjo was right when he said that May 29 is democracy day. May 29 was when we left military rule and came back to democratic rule. It has a meaning. We should celebrate June 12 but we cannot call it democracy day because it was on that date that democracy was truncated by the Nigerian military. We can celebrate it as something else to remind Nigerians that their military truncated our democracy.
I am not worried about declaring it a public holiday because Nigerians like public holidays. We should celebrate June 12 as a remembrance day when Nigerian military truncated our democracy. Since almost all our heads of state have been generals in the army, they don’t want the history of this country to continue; they should allow June 12 to be celebrated, to point at them as the people that truncated democracy in Nigeria. The question is, why did Buhari not wait to be sworn in on June 12?
What do you mean by Buhari should have waited to be sworn in by June 12?
The whole thing is political. There are two reasons he did it. It was on the eve of an election; he either wanted to spite Obasanjo or to win favour of the Southwest or both and that is exactly what has happened. He consulted nobody. So we are in it and I want to wait till after four years whether the next president when he is sworn in May 29, will wait to make his speech on June 12. That is the irony and that is why I doubt the motive. I can stand alone on this, and that is that Nigerians must recognize June 12 as a day when their democracy was truncated by their military and should be remembered.
The whole award of GCFR to Abiola is in error, because that is the award reserved for people who have been declared president. Kingibe at a point jumped ship and you have given him an award. How about Humphrey Nwosu, who actually midwifed that? Nobody is talking about him.
He didn’t even get OON. They can declare June 12 a special day. It is day when we must always regret that our vision of democracy was destroyed by our own military and we should remain indoors to bemoan our fate on that day. It should be a day of mourning because the people should reflect on what had happened that day.
What are the implications of failure to realize June 12 on our polity?
If Abiola had been president in 1993, we would have by now deepened our democracy. Nigerians are very interesting people. On one side, they will say we want democracy; on the other side, they will encourage tyranny. Why do I say so? Humphrey Nwosu came with Option A4. I was Commissioner for Education in the old Enugu State when the election came. I supervised Polo Park polling unit. In terms of logistics and cost, it was the cheapest election anybody can think about. But our politicians, in the quest for power, have altered all that. This is a process that will not allow you manipulate figures.
They knew that option A4 would have put paid to every manipulation; they know that if what happened on June 12 was allowed, it would have gotten us better than we are presently. Check it out, people voted not looking at religion; they wanted the best but today, you vote because somebody is your brother. You vote because somebody is your church member; you vote because you are from the same ethnic group. June 12 should have been our own local democracy, but it was truncated.
Why don’t we manufacture our indigenous democracy and practice it for sometime? But our people want thumb-printed papers which INEC has been printing with millions of naira. Right now, we are having controversy over servers; that is, from inconclusive elections to server issues even in technology era. It is a serious issue.I am writing an article on this. In Rivers State, the Supreme Court made a ruling on card readers because card readers are not part of the Electoral law and yet, INEC used card readers. The Supreme Court said it should not be used to determine the winner in the present case. Our justices must decide whether to take the easy way out on technicalities in which injustice is sustained or go beyond technicalities and look at the issues as they are.
So, Nigerians need to get back to credible, transparent election. If with the type of technology we have employed and yet cannot get transparent and credible election, why don’t we use the type that gives you credibility? Why are we deceiving ourselves?
I am saying as crude as standing behind the person is, it is more acceptable, it is cheaper, it is convenient. It saves the trouble of running from pillar to post. Go there and stand behind the man you support and people will see the result in less time. See what the card readers, servers and what have you are doing to us in the name of technology.
We don’t even have the manpower to run the thing. So why don’t we accept that we are still developing and move from the known to the unknown? Do you know there was a time, when every candidate had a ballot box? You label it and put your poster on the ballot box. People started carrying away the ballot boxes.
Is it just option A4 that you think can help us get our elections right?
INEC must be made of men of integrity who are ready not to compromise their positions. I ran an election. I was the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ekiti State. They are very educated people and before I left the place, I got a title from the traditional ruler of Ikole Ekiti. He gave me Babaetoo and what does that mean – an organizer!
I was lucky that we had only two political parties as at that time. At that time, we had intelligence gatherers in our offices; I sent mine out and they were coming with information necessary for the process. So, what I am saying is that we need men of integrity to man our INEC. We need to change the orientation of our people and remove the greed mentality from them. We need laws to strengthen the electoral process and not just laws, but also laws that could be implemented at all times by those responsible.
Our leaders need to remove from themselves the idea of winning at all costs. Let people go and serve and await the verdict of the people. The fight against corruption is not only about finances; it has to do with how we manipulate our electoral system in the bid to acquire power.
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