Twenty years after the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, has the nation really lived the essence of that struggle? Ademola Adeyemo asks
Nigeria held the June 12, 1993 presidential election ten years after the military seized power in 1983. The sham election of 1983 had provoked a military coup led by General Muhammadu Buhari.
But the June 12 1993 presidential election renewed the hope of a better Nigeria in democratic garb. Presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), the late Chief MKO Abiola, was presumed to have won the election having maintained an early lead against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), from the results then released.
According to the results announced by the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) headed by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, Abiola had polled 8,357,246 while Tofa had to his credit, 5,878,685 votes.
But the cause of history changed for good when the election was annulled by former Military President General Ibrahim Babangida, leading to a political crisis that crippled the nation for a long time.
Today, however, marks the 20th anniversary of the annulment just as the country has come full circle. The June 12, 1993 election was significant because it gave Nigerians the first opportunity to vote and perhaps have a say in the choice of leadership, democratically without the familiar manipulations.
It seemed like the Nigerian electorate was more sophisticated twenty years ago. Besides, the election mattered because for the first time in the post-independence electoral history of Nigeria, religion or ethnicity was not given any consideration during voting; it was about democratic tenets and the rule of law.
Indeed, it was the first time Nigerians voted to have a president of their choice. Other significance of the June 12 election included the fact that there were no reports of electoral violence. Even the natural element (rain) that could have disrupted the process was not there despite being the month of June. And so, millions of Nigerians voted in an election generally adjudged the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria.
Even Tofa was reported to have sent Abiola a congratulatory message. There were also speculations that Abiola’s presumed victory had brought down the prices of goods in some parts of the country following wild jubilation. Those were the spirit and mood until Nigerians received the shock of the annulment.
Of course, many reasons, including the untenable and weird were advanced in defence of the military action. But that did not change the fact that the presidential election was won and lost.
Sadly, 20 years after, it does not appear anything has changed, at least, in deference to the struggle of June 12. There is a prevailing feeling of disappointment that things are not working in the country and in all sectors of the system. The system is still susceptible to manipulations while millions of people continue to live in abject poverty.
Ironically, Nigeria’s biggest problem is believed to be her inability to conduct free and fair elections. Usually, a well organised and conducted election provides the citizenry an opportunity to peacefully and democratically register their individual opinions regarding the destiny of their nation through the choice of leadership.
Where citizens are able to cast their votes and their votes actually counted, they are able to determine the direction of the nations- the economy, political and social developments, as their electoral preferences will reflect their dream ideas and profound desires.
But since the annulment of the nation’s best election some 20 years ago, Nigerians are still denied the opportunity to savour democratic dividends through free and fair electoral processes. Instead, the processes are often manipulated and contrived results are announced. The snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral malpractices are still very much prevalent.
It is however expected that if Nigeria genuinely intends to have a credible election again, it should be ready to discard its differences, real or imaginary because a credible electoral exercise is important as it confers on the government, the legitimacy of popular choice. The process also allows for diverse voices to have a role in governance.
Again, there is the argument that if the country desires a credible election, it has to do away with the current practice in which the Electoral Commission is made up of government appointees, who are said to operate the policy of the government in power, in driving the electoral process. Therefore, the need is canvassed for an autonomous electoral body, whose composition is not determined by the man in power.
June 12 was credible because that was the day Nigerians showcased to the world that they were united, irrespective of ethno-religious differences that now define the basis of their coexistence. Nigerians, at that time, did not ponder the fact that there could be a downside to allowing a Muslim-Muslim ticket to fly before they cast their votes.
Rather, they were interested in the manifesto of SDP and the promises of Abiola to deliver to the Nigerian people, a completely new era that will bid poverty goodbye. They fixed their gaze on his ideological shift. The June 12, 1993 presidential election was a veritable milestone and watershed in Nigeria’s awkward history.
Perhaps, many reckoned, it would have propelled Nigeria forward. The fact that it was shot down remains the albatross of the leadership and nothing that signifies the essence of the struggle appears to have been established by the political class, 20 years after an experience destined to change the cause of the nation’s socio-political history.
Small wonder, despite the advent of democracy and successive leadership changes, nothing seems to have appreciably changed. Development plans are mere proposals that never translate into tangible manifestations. If only the leadership has picked a lesson or two from the essence of the June 12 struggle, maybe, just maybe there would have been a world of difference today.