June 12 cannot be forgotten in a hurry. The events that played out still baffle a lot of bystanders and have left the political savvy amazed. Whether the day is accorded the attention it deserves or not, it cannot be forgotten in haste. 24 years ago, a Presidential election was annulled for some of the most bizarre reasons that are yet to make much sense to even apolitical folks. The day ‘June 12’ has been engraved upon our hearts in the most uncommon circumstances. Promoters of the day’s significance feel it is often ignored but as time goes by, the glimmer of hope that the events of June 12 presented, flashes before our eyes. Free and fair polls devoid of rigging happened in a military dispensation! That was supposed to be a sign of great things to come! Preliminary results also showed that voting across ethnic divide was not widespread as it is now. We have since returned to democracy in 1999.Whether that has been enough will remain a matter of discourse for years to come.
Another June 12 is here. As usual, Proponents of democratic values and ideals seize the opportunity to show solidarity and remind Nigerians of the events of 1993. This annual event usually includes public lectures and rallies in which resource persons become attack dogs; they seize the opportunity to hammer on burning national issues with a view to project the rape on democratic ideals that happened on June 12, 1993. This is not bad in its entirety but looking at the events that led to the cancellation of the 1993 general elections, a lot more can be done to at least improve the dying relevance of the day.
The annual remembrance of the events that happened on June 12, 1993 ideally should have a national reach. A quick trip down memory lane will show deep rooted primordial and ethnic sentiments in our elections mostly especially during this democratic dispensation. The elections of 1993 clearly showed that Nigerians put aside these sentiments and elected a leader of their choice. The election was devoid of the ills of modern day electioneering process in Nigeria – intimidation, violence and ballot box snatching. There was no record of protest (to the best of my knowledge) about the election results until the then military regime decided to halt the process for some of the most flimsy excuses ever!
The formation of a group like the Oodua People’s Congress was in response to the alleged ill-treatment of the Yorubas during the military regime of 1993. Many years down the line, rather than unite and form a common front, a lot of groups have sprang up with ethnic colouration. Many claim to be fighting for the common good of the people or region they represent. However, with each passing day, their activities are more tailored for personal aggrandizement than anything else. MASSOB,MEND, Arewa etc. are just a couple of them who have missed the point.
Rather than turn every June 12 to a lamentation day, Conveners of June 12 rallies can seek to unify the country and even ‘force’ the government of the day to set up a fact finding commission to review what happened in the past; not as a form of witch-hunt but to prevent the mistakes of the past. Nigeria has clearly not learned from history. Sadly, June 12 remembrance activities have been limited to the South-West only. In the real sense of it, the whole country suffered a lot.
What exactly does June 12 stand for?
This has meant many things to different political observers. Without any form of sentiment attached to it, it was a day spanner was thrown into the works. A seemingly peaceful electioneering process was truncated by the powers that be. Focus should rather be on the avoidance of such ugly experiences. Trying to making it political by focusing on the South-West has not achieved much. A south westerner ruled Nigeria for 8 years (1999-2003) and downplayed the relevance of June 12.He rather opted to go for May 29th as democracy day. Using the late Chief Moshood Abiola as a political tool has not helped either. He was an aggrieved party and not the architect. The military rulers at that time were the architects of the June 12 debacle. The significance of Chief Moshood Abiola’s election then cannot be downplayed as it would have brought about power shift to the South.
In essence, June 12 will just be like any other election day as February 29th, 1999, April 19th, 2003, 21st April, 2007, April 16th 2011 and March 28th, 2015. Unfortunately, looking at it the way the day is being remembered will limit its relevance to the controversy that arose from the annulment of the election conducted on that day. If the Military regime had allowed the electoral commission to conclude the presidential election by announcing the winner, nobody would regard June 12th as a defining moment in our political history.
Nevertheless, my argument does not take anything away from Chief Abiola who showed an uncanny form of bravery. Despite the betrayal from his political friends, he put up a spirited fight. Making the June 12 struggle a tribal one has damaged the enthusiasm and spirit of the struggle. Declaring a public holiday and turning the event to leaders bashing day, just to prove a point, will amount to shooting an arrow and drawing a bull’s eye around it.
Samuel Onimpa Alfred