June 12: Celebration of Yoruba triumphalism or righting historical wrong?

By Ikechukwu Amaechi


My “June 12: I still remember,” article last week elicited, expectedly, diverse responses. The annulment of the election and the consequent turmoil remain very emotive issues.


What the responses prove most conclusively is that President Muhammadu Buhari remains a very polarising leader. And he profiteers from that. Sadly. I will come to that shortly.


A quarter of a century after the annulment of that historic poll and 20 years after the death of the winner, Bashorun MKO Abiola, President Buhari sprang a political surprise on many penultimate week by declaring subsequent June 12 anniversaries Democracy Day and honouring Abiola with the highest national award – Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).


My article, though an endorsement of the president’s action, was issue-specific as captured in the last paragraph which read:


“Some have queried the president’s motive. My answer is simple. Whatever informed the decision, it was the right thing to do. And if in doing what is right, he is reaping some political capital, so be it.”


In affirming this decision of the president, I was neither unmindful of the view held by many that it was a political gimmick for 2019 elections nor Professor Ben Nwabueze’s informed opinion that the president’s action was ab-initio a nullity because of its illegality.


Nevertheless, I insist that for the country to move forward, there must be a closure to sundry historical injustices. Annulment of June 12 election is one.

And that cannot happen without addressing the Abiola factor. In victory, he embodied the democracy ethos of that era and by insisting, even on to death, on exercising that mandate, Abiola became the issue.


But my affirmation of that presidential pronouncement was neither a validation of Buhari’s dismal scorecard, his government’s egregious policies, nor his scandalous provincialism.


I strongly believe that any incumbent who wishes to run for a second term must do so on the strength of his records during the first term. Second term is not and shouldn’t be an automatic reward for a first time no-matter how woeful an outing it was.


And I strongly believe that President Buhari’s performance in the last three years does not commend him for a second term. That was the thrust of my May 29, 2018 article on the third anniversary of his presidency.


“Three years down the road, the statistics churned out by government officials as proof of stellar performance are important. But more important is the evidence of ordinary citizens whose collective values, the government authoritatively allocates.


“The most practical measure of the success of the government is the number of Nigerians whose lots are better today than three years ago.

“On the average, life seems to be nastier, more brutish and shorter in Buhari’s Nigeria,” was my conclusion.


Nothing has happened in the last three weeks to warrant a different assessment.


Now, back to Buhari’s uncanny ability to bring out the worst in us even with the “best of intentions.” I don’t know how many Nigerians who, in principle, are against the idea of permanently exorcising the June 12 ghost in the spirit of national reconciliation.


But as has been evinced in sundry reactions, even this otherwise worthy gesture has polarised Nigerians along the same fault lines the June 12, 1993 poll symbolically consigned to the garbage bin of Nigeria’s history.


Many who had called me names in the past, accusing me of being anti-Buhari suddenly called to praise my “patriotism and forthrightness.” With people like me, they echoed, Nigeria’s future remains bright. I transmuted overnight from a “wailing wailer” who will be consumed by “hate” to a “hailing hailer,” on whose shoulders the much elusive Nigeria’s rosy future rests.


Conversely, those who hitherto hailed me as a “diehard Buhari critic” became “alarmed.” In fact, one was so outraged that he enquired how much I was paid to “betray the cause.”


Ironically, the way and manner the investiture was carried out on June 12 only strengthened the argument of those who perceived the awards from the prism of offish political agenda. Wittingly or unwittingly, the investiture became a cynical celebration of the extant Northwest/Southwest political coquetry. What is more, Yoruba triumphalism was on full parade.


Granted, Abiola was Yoruba but any attempt to limit his essence using the country’s primordial fault-lines of ethnicity and religion detracts fundamentally from his transcendentalism. 

As Dr. Femi Aribisala noted in his “What June 12 reveals about Nigerian democracy,” article published in The Vanguard newspaper last week, the annulment affronts all Nigerians.


Aribisala correctly noted that the spread of Abiola’s votes and the fact that he defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa in his home state of Kano by scoring 169,619 as against Tofa’s 154,809 was a veritable proof that he was not a regional candidate. His was a national mandate. 


Unfortunately, as Aribisala further noted, “The June 12 saga has now been politicised,” and “politicisation means it is now presented as if the annulment was essentially an affront to the South-west,” when “in actual fact, the annulment was an affront to all Nigerians ….”


So, while I insist that President Buhari should be allowed to enjoy his day in the sun, in celebrating his political masterstroke, Nigerians should avoid the mistakes of the 1990s that almost reduced an otherwise national struggle to ethnic affair.


I have heard some people ululate over what is now being promoted as the “political sophistication” of the Southwest. I don’t have any issues with that appelation. If the Southwest claims to be the most politically sophisticated region in Nigeria, it is welcome and entitled to the sticky tag.


But even that label does not detract from the truths of the June 12 saga which are: For every Arthur Nzeribe of the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) infamy, there was an Abimbola Davies. For every Uche Chukwumerije, there was an Ebenezer Babatope. For every General Sani Abacha, there was a General Oladipo Diya.


And for every General Alani Akinrinade, there were an Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu and Air Commodore Dan Suleiman who teamed up with other pro–democracy activists to fight the military government, co-founded the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), fled into exile and only returned after Abacha’s death in 1998.


For every Beko Ransome-Kuti and Femi Falana, there were an Olisa Agbakoba, Chima Ubani, Shehu Sani and Chidi Odinkalu.


For every Kunle Ajibade who was imprisoned on trumped up charges, there were a Chris Anyanwu, who nearly went blind in prison, Ben Charles obi, who didn’t quite survive his prison experience, and a James Bagauda Kaltho who died.


And for every Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the other Southwest political chieftains who were in the trenches fighting for the validation of the June 12 mandate, there were a Balarabe Musa and a Ralph Obioha, whose African Trust Bank, Safari Brewery, vegetable oil company, cement company were destroyed by the military. Unlike some of his colleagues from the Southwest and the north who have not only been rehabilitated but also handsomely rewarded, Obioha is yet to recover.


And need I say that the man who superintended over the freest and fairest poll that has become a reference point in the history of Nigeria’s electoral politics is Professor Humphrey Nwosu, an Igbo, while the man General Ibrahim Babangida handed over power while retreating from Aso Rock to his hilltop mansion in Minna is Chief Ernest Shonekan, an Egba from Ogun State like Abiola.


So, we debase the June 12 essence and dishonour Abiola if the idea is the celebration of ethnic triumphalism and promotion of a cynical and self-serving political dalliance rather than an attempt at wholesome national renaissance.        


-Culled from http://www.thenicheng.com

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