Every June 12 has been approved by the Federal Government as Democracy Day in Nigeria and also a day of reflection on the democratic journey of the country. In this interview with OKUNADE ADEKUNLE, the lawmaker representing Epe Constituency 1 in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Abiodun Tobun, x-ray what transpired on June 12, 1993, lessons to be learnt by the political class, Nigeria’s party system and how hooliganism can be a thing of the past in country’s electoral process.
Nigeria is celebrating June 12, what do you think has been the effect of it to our democracy and also what lesson have we learnt?
One could say June 12 was the foundation to the current democratic dispensation and we have learnt a lot of lessons because the Will of the people will prevail and if subverted, it will continue to hurt us for a very long period of time. So, June 12 has become a hallmark in the political history of this country and that was when Nigerians regardless of tribe, religion and background came out enmasse to vote for Chief MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election.
Abiola won Alhaji Ibrahim Toba of the NRC (National Republican Convention) in his own town at that time. But the military junta dashed the hope of the common man and that sparked nationwide protests in the country
. Unfortunately, the winner of the presidential election died in the struggle. However, June 12 has come and will stay forever in our minds and memories. The history of Nigeria is incomplete without mentioning June 12 election and those who died in the struggle like Abiola, Pa Alfred Rewane, Kudirat Abiola and so many others.
The military knows that with the June 12 and the struggle that followed, they will not be able to come back again to power, so June 12 has entrenched the democracy we are witnessing today and Abiola must be immortalized because he was the man who laid his life for the enthronement of this democracy that we are witnessing. So, June 12 has come to stay. Even when Democracy Day was changed to May 29, but everyone knows that June 12 will continue to hurt us for a long period of time.
Some people even postulated that Abiola should be declared winner and swear-in as posthumous president. It shows the extent we are committed to the June 12 struggle
Looking at series of secession agitations in the South and the political behaviour of the political class in relations to 2023 general elections, can you say with the experience of June 12, the politicians have really learnt any lesson?
When looking at the political class angle to what is happening, we are all involved. The political class, the elite, technocrats and the businessmen we are all involved, even the military is also involved. We all know that democracy will not strive if we do not cooperate, we have to work in tandem. We have to work in line with the rule of law and we all know that the rule of law makes democracy thick.
So, if the military is not ready to abide by the provisions of the constitution, that means the military is involved. if the businessmen fail to abide by the provisions of the constitution, it means they are involved The political elite have learnt their lessons but don’t forget that the businessmen stay somewhere sponsoring politicians against each other and that is the problem.
Chief MKO Abiola was a strong businessman and politician who knew what happened; that there were some people behind the annulment of June 12. Some in the military, some in the royal palaces and some in the business world and some are politicians. So it was not as if politicians were the only one who annulled it; some people were behind it and that was what General Ibrahim Babangida said. It did not happen in the military circle alone, we knew when Al-Mustapha was arrested and he said they were compelled to do it.
So, the political class has learnt its lessons and I hope other sectors too so that the nascent democracy can thrive for a long period of time because if you vote for somebody and he does not perform to your expectations you use your vote to send the person packing rather than coming through military coup to hijack government. Recently in the United States of America, when Donald Trump was elected and people assumed he was rigged into power with the believe that some countries supported him to win election through back-door, America did not use military to topple him. They waited till his tenure lasted and was shown the way out through the ballot box.
In Nigeria we should learn to do so too. At least if Abiola was allowed to govern this country, he would have spent his term and gone by now. So, the record would have been there either he did well or otherwise but instead those who felt they don’t like his face, ganged up with the military to annulled the election and that is where we are till today.So, all of us must learn our lessons, that is the truth because if this world will fall, it will fall on all of us not only the politicians alone.
Regarding insecurity, this was part of what we witnessed in the military and the political circle. Most of these thugs were given dangerous weapons during elections. Even there are some among the police, military who have the weapons with them and did not release them to the armoury and are using such weapons to terrorise this nation.
And there are also those who went to neighbouring countries to import people into the country to support them during the election campaigns with arms with. Till now, they have a free day to operate and coerce people with their weapons. The cultists and thugs who were given ammunitions during elections are those we are seeing terrorising and operating in this country today. Except a decisive decision is made by the government, it won’t end. Those engaging in kidnapping are also benefiting heavily and it has become their stock in trade. We need to work together to ensure this country does not suffer undue loses and not allow War to occur at all because if war occurs, everybody will be consumed.
In the June 12 general elections, we only had two political parties in the race and so people had to choose between the two but in this democratic dispensation, we have multi-party system in place and the electioneering process continues to be tensed. Recently, INEC said they might de-register some parties that are not viable. Between two party system and multi party system, which one do you prefer?
If we say we should practice two party system, it is good but it is very good we have many political parties so that people can choose among many than two. If you critically look at what is obtainable in the world, even US does not practice two party system likewise Britain. Multi party system gives people the opportunity to choose wisely among the parties. If you look at how election was conducted in 1993, two party system was adopted and people voted for their choice but the annoying thing is that despite the fact that it was two parties and people voted for their choice, the military did not hand over power to the winner. In this case, let us give people the chance to be member of any political party they wish to among many. The same INEC that said the parties are too many. It was the same electoral body that registered them initially. But if they believe the parties are not viable as the major parties, they can re-register them. INEC knows the requirements and standard for a party to be a viable. But as far as I am concerned, I believe in multi-party system so that people can be allowed to participate in the political process properly and make wise choices among many parties during elections. It will even give political actors ample opportunity to leave a party if cheated and contest under another party and still win. For instance, in Lagos, a popular politician in Mushin Local Government, Hon. Kako Are left the APC to contest under Accord Party and he won the federal House of Representatives election convincingly.
If we carefully examine the June 12 general elections, thuggery, killings and hooliganism were not prevalent when compared with the elections we have in this democratic dispensation, how can we reduce electoral violence and hooliganism?
It is the military that we should condemn and hold responsible for the acts. The military really destroyed this country before handing over to the civilians. We must not allow them to return to power because our people had used June 12 election to say they will never engage in electoral violence but queue quietly behind who they want to lead them. But they observed that those they quietly queued behind were not allowed to govern, that is what brought about political thuggery and violence to occur in subsequent elections. Had it been they allow those who the people quietly queued behind to govern, there won’t be any act of violence by the people. People will know that their votes will count at the end of the process. Also, the candidates will know that once the people vote for them, they will emerge victorious without engaging in violence, killing and hooliganism.
Whenever the military takes over power, they give excuses of insecurity, economic depression, political violence and many more. Don’t you think the same factors are prevalence nowadays for them to strike again?
The song we should be singing is that the politicians should govern the country well, and the military should continue to protect our territory. They should protect us from kidnappers, bandits and terrorists. The military should ensure they protect this country so as to not to allow other countries to recolonise us. The excuses by the military are mere excuses to justify their undemocratic acts as they lack what it takes to govern the country. What is it that they want to do when they take over power that they can’t do while not in power? Presently, we have Chief of Army, Navy, Police and Airforce, what is it that they want to do if they get go power that they can’t do now? It is like they are not ready to discharge their constitutional duties. Why can’t the Service Chiefs deploy properly their troops to the war zone now rather than thinking it is when they get to power they can do so? As far as I am concerned, I don’t see those excuses as genuine reasons to topple democratic government.
In the just conducted Lagos APC local government primaries, some aspirants felt cheated when the party came up with list of winners which to them did not reflect the outcome of the primaries, what do you have to say to this since you are also a stakeholder in grassroots politics?
In politics, some will be aggrieved and felt cheated and some will be rejoicing that they have won but the point is, those who feel cheated should wait till another time when opportunity will come. We just have to appeal to them that in any political situation there are losers and there are winners. If they are like 7 who contested, it is sure that it is one person that will win and whoever loses will assume he was cheated. Election is like football, one person will win, one person will lose and that is why we have first runner up, second runner up. It is like that in beauty pageant too. The leadership of the party has come up with the list of winners and they have spoken. It was stated in the constitution of our party, it could be direct, indirect or consensus primaries, so either of the way the leadership has spoken and decision has been taken. What is left now, is for everybody to abide by the decision of the leadership of the party because we all belong to the same party and the constitution of our country has not provided for independent candidate, so they have to abide by the decision of the leadership of the party and work assiduously for the success of the party on July 24. Help us appeal to those who are aggrieved to take solace in God and believe their time will come.
Are you saying there was nothing like imposition because there are series of allegations levelled against some leaders in some local governments?
Those who are crying foul of imposition are those who are not favoured by the list. Had it been the list was in their favour they will be dancing and will not call it imposition.