Today, June 12, 2023, marks exactly 30 years after Nigeria held her first Presidential Election since 1985 military coup that ousted the Buhari-Idiagbon regime.
The result was a victory for Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO) of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) who defeated Bashir Tofa of National Republican Convention with 8,341, 309 votes over the latter’s 5,952, 087, a total of 14, 293, 396.
The election, which saw Nigerians jettisoning ethnic and primordial sentiments in electing leaders of their choice first in the history of the country, recorded the SDP with 58.36% and NRC 41. 64% votes respectively.
However, the election was later, precisely 11 days after, annulled by the military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida leading to a crisis that ended with General Sanni Abacha seizing power later in the year.
June 12 to this moment seem just like yesterday, but it is not just another day in Nigeria; because in progressive ideological circles and democratic ideals, today is regarded as the authentic ‘Democracy Day’ as against the “May 29” popularly celebrated by the federal government in the previous years.
Nevertheless, this ideology had recently been concretized as the just concluded Buhari-Osinbajo administration realised the significance of this day when it announced on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, that henceforth, the event of June 12, 1993, was far more symbolic in Democracy than May 29, or even October 1st, thus, its recognition as the new Democracy Day.
Also, the administration conferred some higher national awards to some heroes of democracy in Nigeria including: Late Chief MKO Abiola (Posthumous), the presumed winner of June 12 election, GCFR; Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, his running mate, GCON; and Late Gani Fawehinmi SAN (Posthumous), the tireless fighter of human rights and the actualisation of June 12.
It should, however, be recalled that “June 12” was heartily celebrated in 2018 (and a few years before) in all South-western states in Nigeria to commemorate the event that transformed the political landscape of Nigeria before its eventual nationwide recognition.
Be that as it may, let me quickly take us down the memory lane again so as to capture the momentous events that circumvented the inevitability of June 12, 1993.
To start with, his name, Kashimawo, means “Let us wait and see”. Moshood Abiola was his father’s twenty-third child but the first of his father’s children to survive infancy, hence the name “Kashimawo”. It was not until he was 15 years old that he was properly named Moshood, by his parents.
MKO showed entrepreneurial talents at a very young age, at the age of nine he started his first business selling firewood. He would wake up at dawn to go to the forest and gather firewood, which he would then cart back to town and sell before going to school, to support his old father and his siblings.
He later founded a band at age fifteen where he would perform at various ceremonies in exchange for food. Time will not permit me to delve into his early biography, as such, I’ll be chronicling the events that necessitated the June 12, 1993 incident and its aftermath.
Abiola’s involvement in politics was at a young age. He was 19 years old when he joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1979. This was the genesis of his political martyrdom which eventually culminated in his running for the June 12, 1993, Presidential election alongside his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe (a Muslim-Muslim ticket) under the professor Humphrey Nwosu led National Electoral Commission(NEC).
Bashir Tofa, his contender, was overwhelmingly defeated by Abiola with the latter, even winning in the former home state.
However, the poll, which was adjudged to be the most peaceful election in the history of Nigeria since independence and universally recognized as the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s democratic experience was, eleven days after, truncated by Ibrahim Babangida claiming that the election was ‘corrupt and unfair’. He also alleged that his action was justified on the basis of ”saving Judiciary from being ridiculed and politicised locally and internationally”.
These excuses by Babangida were seen by many critics as nothing but hocus-pocus and baseless. This incident, which plunged the country into a political crisis, consequently galvanised into the bloodless coup of General Sani Abacha the same year.
In 1994, Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island, an area mainly dominated by Lagos indigenes, after he returned from a trip to solicit the support of the international community for his mandate.
After declaring himself president, he was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of the military president General Sani Abacha, who sent 200 police vehicles to bring him into custody.
MKO was detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement with Qur’an, Bible and fourteen guards as companions.
Nevertheless, it may interest you to know that; two years after his detention, his second wife, Kudirat Abiola was assassinated in Lagos in 1996 after declaring public support for her husband.
Abiola continued to remain in detention as he refused to subscribe to the condition of his release which was the renouncement of his mandate as insisted by Abacha.
Abiola died on July 7, 1998, at 60, on the day he was due to be released from incarceration under suspicious circumstances shortly after the death of General Sani Abacha who died a month earlier. The official Autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, but Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Al-Mustapha alleged he was beaten to déath.
One spectacular thing about MKO Abiola is that he used a ‘Hope’ campaign which President Obama also used. Many people have paid attention to the word ‘Hope’ being used to convey a message of possibility during Obama’s 2008 election in the U.S, but 15 years before then, in Africa’s most populous nation, MKO Abiola had successfully used the ‘Hope’ message as his Campaign Strategy.
We can now connect the dot of historical continuity in the “Renewed Hope” campaign message of President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He even made it known earlier today in his national broadcast that the Abiola’s hope to “alleviate poverty” (a man-made phenomenon) will be reactivated in his tenure through social intervention policies.
Nevertheless, the struggle and death of Abiola have been widely regarded as the event that helped Nigeria return to democracy, with Abiola himself being regarded as one of the greatest elder statesmen Nigeria ever had.
June 12 remains a day to remember Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the then ‘Are-Ona Kakanfo’ (Generalissimo) of Yorubaland as well as other democracy martyrs in Nigeria.
©AMUSA AFEEZ ONIREKE