By Ibrahim Habu Suleiman
It came like a bolt from the blues when last year President Muhammadu Buhari announced June 12 as the new Democracy Day instead of May 29. This was what none of his predecessors, two of them, former presidents Jonathan and Obasanjo, from the southern part of the country could do. The general impression was that the president had scored an unprecedented political victory ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Undoubtedly the campaign for the actualisation of June 12, was centred around Chief Moshood Abiola regarded as the person who had won the 1993 election rightly considered as the most free, fair and credible the country had ever known. It was the annulment of the presidential election by the then military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida that led to widespread pro-democracy activities across the country. National Democratic Coalition, NADECO came into being with the sole aim of driving the military away from politics, to where they truly belong – the barracks.
However, although the military eventually handed over power to civilians in 1999, many Nigerians felt the battle was not over. This was because the man considered to have won the 1993 presidential election and the symbol of the struggle for democracy which June 12 stood for, Chief MKO Abiola (including his wife, Kudirat Abiola) seemed to have been forgotten following his death after about four years in detention. There was the need to properly honour him post-humously.
Of course, the pro-democracy activities that ensued following the annulment of the 1993 presidential election also claimed several lives of pro-democracy activists who had gone to the trenches from 1993 to 1999. It is pertinent to note that although June 12 had its origins in the south-west, activists from all parts of the country – from Lagos in the south-west to Maiduguri in the far north-east and from Sokoto in the far north-west to Port Harcourt in the south-south.
The middle belt and the north-central, including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, were equally not left behind in the struggle as Nadeco North, the northern arm of National Democratic Coalition was discreetly formed with headquarters in Abuja, the federal capital in spite of the prying eyes of the military junta. All classes of individuals came together at the time to form the group; they include lawyers, journalists, businessmen, student activists, politicians, etc.
Subsequently, a pro-democracy movement seemingly regional in nature, because the man at the centre of it, MKO Abiola, was a Yoruba from the south-west, eventually took on a national outlook. NADECO gradually metamosphosed into a formidable nationwide anti-military organisation. Indeed, even the late General Sani Abacha before his sudden death in June 1998 was preparing to transform into a civilian president through a voodoo transition process that was fondly referred to as “tazarce.”
In Jos, the Plateau State capital NADECO was very much alive, operating discreetly by mainly carrying out nucturnal operations when some members of the organisation (drawn from civil society organisations) would target government facilities, billboards, etc. painting them red with the unsavoury, yet familiar taunts of “Abacha Must Go,” “No to Military Rule,” etc. Yours truly would normally return in the wee hours of the morning…. Leaflets and fliers were also produced enmasse geared towards enlightening and educating the people about the harsh realities of the dictatorship of the military junta vis-à-vis democracy and distributed freely to the general public.
It was apparent that June 12 had made a mark that never again should the military be allowed back into politics. Besides being a rape on democracy, military rule belongs to the annals of ancient slave society which thrived on survival of the fittest. In other words, military rule is only practicable in a predominantly illiterate society, where might is right. Henceforth, the military should stick to their constitutional role of securing the nation and its borders from any internal and/or external aggression.
Today Chief MKO Abiola has been honoured posthumously with the award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR – the highest in the country and the National Stadium in the FCT named after him while June 12 is now recognised officially as a national holiday in his honour. All these have been achieved with the help of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani from the far-north, who had also been a one-time military ruler now turned civilian politician.
Apparently, twenty years may not be enough to properly assess the country’s democratic experience vis-à-vis countries like the US and most western European nations. However, the successes so far recorded in terms of smooth transfers of power and the burning desire by our political leaders to ensure continued reforms of the democratic process point to the fact that we are moving in the right direction.