Friday, 12 June 2015

Between MKO’s #June12 and Saraki’s June 9

In this piece, TOLUWANI ENIOLA examines the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election in the face of the crisis besetting the National Assembly and reports that little lessons have been learnt from the June 12 struggle

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Like the 2015 presidential election, millions of Nigerians trooped out to vote in what is arguably the most peaceful and credible presidential election in Nigeria’s political history.

Today, several Nigerians will remember the exploits of the June 12 hero, the late multi-millionaire businessman, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, who contested and won the election on the platform of the Social Democratic Party. Abiola, a renowned philanthropist hailed from an Egba clan in Ogun State. As a result of his philanthropic gestures, he received national acceptance and defeated the National Republican Convention candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, even in Kano, the home state and stronghold of the northern candidate.

However, the annulment of the June 12 election by maximum ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, came to Nigerians and the international community as a rude shock. Many lives and properties were lost in the post-annulment crises while many tertiary institutions were also shut down for several months as students embarked on nationwide protests. Some media houses that demanded the recognition of Abiola as the winner of the election and his inauguration as president were shut down. The Babangida administration bathed Nigeria’s major cities and towns in blood. When the heat of the backlash from the unpopular action by the Babangida administration became unbearable, the Niger State-born soldier ignominiously stepped aside, leaving the entire country reeling in the throes of bloodiness, hopelessness and fear.

Abiola was subsequently arrested by Babangida’s successor, Gen. Sani Abacha, and eventually died in military detention on July 7, 1998. His beautiful wife, Kudirat, who mobilised against the detention of her husband, was killed in a state-sponsored murder on Jun4 1996.

The annulment of the June 12 presidential election precipitated the formation of pro-democracy groups such as the National Democratic Coalition, Campaign for Democracy, Civil Liberties Organisation and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights. These groups formed a massive opposition against military rule. The June 12 election was symbolic because Abiola, a southern Muslim, was able to secure a national mandate fairly – a record which President Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, came close to replicating as he gained the support of southern voters through a successful coalition of opposition parties that became the All Progressives Congress.

On June 11, 1994, Moshood Abiola defied all odds by declaring himself the lawful President of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island. In a speech entitled, “Enough is enough,” Abiola said, “As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief.

“The National Assembly is hereby reconvened. All dismissed governors are reinstated. The state Assemblies are reconstituted, as well as all local government councils. I urge them to adopt a bi-partisan approach to all the issues that come before them. At the national level, a bi-partisan approach will be our guiding principle. I call upon the usurper, General Sani Abacha, to announce his resignation forthwith, together with the rest of his illegal ruling council. We are prepared to enter into negotiations with them to work out the mechanics for a smooth transfer of power. I pledge that if they hand over quietly, they will be retired with all their entitlements and they will be accorded all the respect due to them. For our objective is neither recriminatory nor a witch-hunt, but an enforcement of the will of the Nigerian people as expressed in free elections conducted by the duly constituted authority of the time.

“I hereby invoke the mandate bestowed upon me by my victory in the said election to call on all members of the Armed Forces and the police, the civil and public services throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to obey only the Government of National Unity that is headed by me, your only elected President. My Government of National Unity is the only legitimate, constituted authority in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as of now.”

After declaring himself President, Abiola was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of the fascist military President, Abacha, who sent 200 police vehicles to bring him into custody. Abiola, who was detained in solitary confinement for four years, had a Bible, a Qur’an and 14 guards as companions. The sole condition attached to his release was that he renounce his mandate, which he declined.

National Assembly crisis

Twenty-two years after, the June 12 election truncated by the IBB junta is still a subject of discussion in and outside Nigeria. This year’s anniversary is also symbolic and historic as it coincides with the same week that the 8th National Assembly elected its leaders amidst intrigues and disagreements.

The ruling APC, which prides itself as the beacon of the rule of law, faced its first litmus test in power dynamics early on in the week when the elections to choose the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives ended up in bitter disagreement. Subsequently, the party failed to recognise the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker.

The APC had held mock elections for the principal posts of the National Assembly on Saturday after which it announced Senator Ahmed Lawan and Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, as its sole candidates for the two positions, whose elections were held in the National Assembly on Tuesday. But Saraki, a major contender for the Senate President seat and some of the governors, who defected alongside with him from the PDP to the APC, had complained that the sharing formula for the political offices in the APC was not favourable to them.

On Tuesday, both Saraki and Dogara ignored their party’s warning not to contest. Saraki was backed by PDP senators and 12 of his APC colleagues. In the absence of other APC senators, who went for a meeting with President Buhari at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, the PDP backed Saraki and elected him as Senate President.

The outcome of the votes contradicted the expectation and scheming of the APC leadership that favoured Lawan. Like in the Senate, APC members in the House of Representatives also revolted against their party by voting for a member of the House of Representatives from Bauchi State, Yakubu Dogara, as the Speaker. Dogara defeated Femi Gbajabiamila from Lagos State. Dogara got 184 votes while Gbajabiamila got 174 votes. Gbajabiamila was the candidate of the APC for the position.

In a show of peace on Wednesday, Gbajabiamila, who lost the speakership contest to Dogara, congratulated the new Speaker. Gbajabiamila had, shortly after the results were declared on Tuesday, walked up to Dogara, embraced and shook hands with him. On Wednesday, he stood up on the floor and specially recognised Dogara as the Speaker by congratulating him again.

Although President Buhari has accepted to work with both Saraki and Dogara, the APC has refused to recognise them. The APC had, on Wednesday, said it was considering meting out punishments to Saraki and Dogara, for refusing to abide by its directive not to contest the leaderships of the two chambers.

The PDP has, however, dismissed the threat by the APC to sanction the new leaderships of the National Assembly as an empty threat, saying there was no way the APC could punish the Senate President and the Speaker for refusing to abide by the ruling party’s directive.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, admonished the APC to shed its arrogance, eat the humble pie and get more organised for governance.

The PDP said, “Nothing can be more astonishing than the whining by the APC that the PDP at the last minute expressed its preference for Saraki and Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively after it had earlier stated that it was not interested in the positions. This calls to question the capacity, experience and skills of APC leaders on political matters and we have no apology whatsoever for their naivety.

“The APC is merely suffering the consequences of the greed, lust for power and inordinate ambitions of their leaders. They should note that Nigerians have since moved ahead with the new leaders in the National Assembly and stop wasting their energy on propaganda and blackmails to heat up the polity.”

Former speakers and other ex-principal officers of the House of Representatives have also advised the leadership of the APC to accept the election of Dogara as the Speaker of the 8th Assembly.

The former House officials were led on a courtesy visit to Dogara at the National Assembly by former speakers, Mr. Agunwa Anakwe, and Mr. Ghali Na’Abba. Others present were: Patricia Etteh, Aminu Tambuwal, Babangida Nguruje, Emeka Ihedioha, Mulikat Akande-Adeola, Leo Ogor, Ishaka Bawa, Muhammed Mukhtar and Suleiman Kawu. The former speakers and principal officers described the development as a “democratic revolution” which was a result of the legislature insisting on asserting its independence.

Although stakeholders such as President Buhari and other eminent Nigerians have accepted the outcome of the National Assembly elections, observers are wondering why the APC, which claims to be an advocate of free and fair election, has refused to accept the result of the National Assembly elections. The leadership crisis rocking the National Assembly   is a reminder of the June 12 imbroglio and calls for caution. It appears that 22 years after democracy’s return, Nigeria’s political leaders are still motivated in the main by personal ambition, power and greed.

What lessons have our politicians learnt from June 12?

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