“I had expected that the handover from military rule to democracy would be held on the 12th of June.That would have signalled the completion of a circle that began with a dream deferred.
But I waited in vain.The handover was set for May 29, a date pulled out of thin air, signifying nothing.
Then I thought that the chief beneficiary would ask the country to observe a minute of silence, in memory of MKO, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane, Umaru Yar’Adua, Bagauda Kaltho, the thousands of students, the tens of journalists, traders and politicians who lost their lives fighting to actualise an unjustly annulled election.
Again, I waited in vain for he started his inauguration speech…And nothing was said.￼Obasanjo silent on June 12 and its heroes as he was sworn in on May 29, 1999.”…… Hafsat Abiola-Costello (MKO Abiola’s (GCFR) daughter)
The Nigeria News Democracy Day piece did not go into details about the persecution democracy activists went through to actualize the mandate of MKO Abiola after the cancellation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. The election was canceled by the military headed by Ibrahim Babangida.
Many of these activists lost more than just their lives. Wole Soyinka, Bola Tinubu, Omoyele Sowere among others went into exile to continue the fight from abroad.
Sani Abacha, who took over from the Interim National Government (ING) took no prisoners back then. Those that went into exile did so on account of Abacha’s murderous. Abacha was Nigeria’s Idi Amin. A single piece can never fully describe how events went down.
A Brief History of June 12
After Babangida annulled the election that Abiola clearly won, he ‘stepped aside’ after much pressure from activists. But he didn’t hand over to Abiola.
He created what he called an Interim National Government to conduct another election. Somehow, Babangida felt it made more sense to organize a different election instead of handing over to Abiola.
The ING, headed by Ernest Shonekan, made the agitation for Abiola to be declared President seem like a Yoruba vs the rest of the country affair.
The late Senator Uchechukwu Merije played an ignoble role in the ING. As the Information Minister, he used the NTA and other government-owned media to daily flood the airwaves with fake news.
The propaganda campaign was sustained and effective. The masses from other parts of the country believed the Yoruba were out to get them. And for that reason, Abiola couldn’t be made President.
But the activists were undaunted. The legal approach was used as one of the fronts in the June 12 battle. Finally, a court declared the ING illegal.
This was the excuse Abacha needed to take over. If the activists thought ING demonized them, Abacha went a step further: he killed or jailed them.
Even presumed enemies who were not in the forefront of the fight against Abacha’s dictatorship were jailed or killed. That was how Obasanjo ended up in jail. According to Abacha, OBJ was part of a group planning to remove him through a coup.
When Abacha died in June 1998, Abiola was still held in detention. Many thought his mandate would be restored. Instead, Nigerians woke up to the news in July of the same year that he had died.
The dead of Abiola was a neat solution to a complex problem for the military. It gave them the chance to organize a new election with a candidate they preferred. That was how Obasanjo was released from detention and anointed the next president of Nigeria by them.
In plain terms, without June 12, Obasanjo wouldn’t have become president.
Without the activists who fought and lost so much over June 12, Nigeria wouldn’t have had the misfortune of 8 years of Obasanjo as a civilian leader.
The least Obasanjo could have done in his inauguration on the 29th of May 1999, was to acknowledge the role of June 12, 1993, to his emergence as president.
But like Abiola’s daughter said, he didn’t even mention the sacrifices of her family and other activists. The Abiola family lost so much. Abacha assassinated his wife Kudirat when she took up the fight for democracy after her husband was jailed.
The Abiola businesses and media empires were completely decimated over the June 12 struggle.
Buhari setting the records straight
It was simply the petty-mindedness of Obasanjo that stopped him recognizing all the events and people that brought him to power. And to make sure of that, he declared his inauguration day a public holiday and called it Democracy Day.
The notion in some quarters is that President Buhari’s decision to make June 12 Democracy Day henceforth is political. Why didn’t he do it 3 years ago when he became president?
That could be the case. But it shouldn’t detract from the fact that it was the right thing. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to right a wrong if it is finally done.
President Buhari didn’t stop there though. He made an attempt at restitution.
Conferring a posthumous award on Abiola and declaring him the winner of the June 12, 1993, election was the right step. Being given the highest award in the land, the GCFR, would go a long way to helping the Abiola family achieve closure. That is the least they deserve.
Recognizing Gani Fawehinmi too was awesome. The lawyer fought the good fight without running into exile.
While political associates like Babagana Kingibe, Abiola’s Vice Presidential candidate, abandoned ship, Fawehinmi kept on fighting at great personal costs to himself.
Giving Gani Fawehinmi one of the highest honors in the land, the GCON, is a recognition of a dogged fighter and an encouragement to others that standing by the truth is the most honorable path.
Festus Keyamo, who was mentored by Gani Fawehinmi, must be beaming with pride at the moment. This is one of the reasons he has never wavered in his support for Buhari despite the clear nepotism of the Buhari presidency.
It is an insult to honorable and decent people that Babagana Kingibe was part of that declaration. But it couldn’t be helped. If Abiola was declared the winner of that election, it is logical that his running mate also benefitted.
That GCON is an award conferred to all past Vice presidents automatically.
But let it be on record here that Kingibe is a typical politician. He ran into the arms of Abacha when he was offered a juicy ministerial position.
People don’t even remember seeing him at any rally calling for the June 12 mandate to be restored.
Today, the same man is still behaving true to type. He was fingered as the leader of the group that tried to blackmail the acting head of the NIA into releasing part of the $43 million discovered in that infamous Ikoyi flat to him.
Acknowledging the past and correcting historical errors like this are the sought of things we need if we want to be truly United.
Whatever President Buhari’s motivation, he must be commended. Once again, Obasanjo’s crass hypocrisy has been shown up for what it is.