In what has become a tradition, pro-democracy activists, politicians and civil society groups, this year again, marked the 22nd remembrance of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, presumed to have been won by late business mogul, Chief Moshood Kasimawo Abiola, but which was cancelled by the military government of the day. OLAOLU BILAU writes on this year’s commemoration of an annulment that shook the nation to its very depths…
June 12 has assumed a life of its own
Since the annulment of the election and the subsequent incarceration and eventual death of Chief Abiola in detention, June 12 has assumed a life of its own with state governments in the South-west of the country, making it an annual event to be remembered, especially among the former NADECO members, now holding public offices in some of the states in the region, where lectures, rallies and symposia are held and public holidays declared to mark the day.
Twenty two years ago, Nigerians went to the polls to elect a president. The two major contenders in the race were multi-millionaire businessman, late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Bashir Tofa of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC).
The election was adjudged by international observers as free and fair, but the military government at the helm of affairs at the time, led by General Ibrahim Babangida, cancelled the election and refused to release the results, which were believed to have been in favour of late Chief MKO Abiola.
The annulment led to violence and bloodshed and was the beginning of a major struggle and crises that eventually shaped further political developments in the country.
Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Osun States, declared June 12 work-free day to commemorate the annulled presidential poll
Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos States said June 12, 1993 represents an important section in the annals of the nation’s history, when Nigerians voted without recourse to ethnic, racial and religious sentiments.
The governor regretted that, 22 years after the annulment, Nigeria is still grappling with some of the challenges the June 12, 1993 elections could have solved, had the winner been given his mandate
He urged Nigerians to remember the martyrs of the June 12 struggle and their sacrifices that returned the country back to democratic rule.
For Governor Rauf Aregbesola, June 12 brought about the democracy the country’s citizens now enjoys.
Speaking through his Director, Bureau of Communication and Strategy, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, Aregbesola said: “Nigerians should reflect on the significance of June 12, the sacrifice made by Abiola for all of us to consolidate the current democratic experiment.
Speaking on behalf of the Ogun State Government, Secretary to the State Government, Taiwo Adeoluwa, said the day was in honour of the late politician who, fought for the entrenchment of democracy by standing for what he believed in.
“Government enjoins residents to spend the day to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the annulled election peacefully, pray for the continued repose of the martyr of democracy, Chief Abiola and general political and socio-economic growth of our country”.
Oyo State Government’s message came through a statement by the Head of Service, Mr. Soji Eniade, who urged the people of the state to remain steadfast in their prayers for the sustainability of democracy in the state and the country at large.
MKO Abiola’s travails
Late Chief Abiola was arrested on June 23, 1994 by the government of the late military ruler, General Sanni Abacha after he (Abiola) declared himself president, a year after the presidential election was annulled.
The family of the late business mogul, activists and various groups fought vigorously to regain the lost mandate, but all to no avail and in the heat of the struggle to get Chief Abiola released from detention, one of his wives, a leading figure in the struggle for her husband’s freedom, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was shot dead in Lagos in 1996.
Chief Abiola later died in custody in 1998, under very controversial circumstance.
Human rights groups, activists and civil society organizations have continued to clamour for a post-humous declaration of the late ‘martyr of Nigeria’s democracy’ as a former president.
There are also calls from various quarters for June 12 to be recognized as the true Democracy Day, instead of May 29.