June 12: Now we can tell our history, by Remi Adebayo
History was again reenacted on Wednesday, June 6, 2018 when unsuspected Nigerians were beat to it by President Muhammadu Buhari in an announcement proclaiming June 12, not May 29, as recognized Democracy Day.
The day had started without anything showing that coming, in fact, the news media were awash with the controversies around the National Assembly and insecurity in the land when the President pulled the masterstroke.
Across the country, adulations have gone more than condemnation for Buhari in having the courage to address the over two decades injustice done to the late businessman and politician whose mandate was truncated by then military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
For the younger citizens whose ages rank below 25 and perhaps those too young to understand the essence of the pronouncement; the June 12, 1993 was a milestone, in that on that day, Nigerias unity and primordial sentiments plaguing this country were buried.
On that promising day, Abeokuta, Ogun State born Abiola, then candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), while running alongside Amb. Babagana Gingibe as running-mate defeated his contender, Kano born Alh. Bashir Tofa, even in his home state, Kano. Both Abiola and Gingibe were Muslims, a feat never to be dared in the current Nigerias politics, at least for now.
When hopes were rising for the expected announcement of Abiola as the winner of that contest, an unknown group, Association for Better Nigeria, (ABN), led by late Chief Arthur Nzeribe approached the court to halt the process.
Nzeribe who was believed to be a willing tool in the hands of mischievous players got the ears of Babangida leading to the annulment of the election credited to be freest, fairest and most credible in the history of Nigeria.
Immediately after the ill-advised pronouncement, human right activists, journalists and well-spirited politicians and Nigerian rose to demand the actualization of the cancelled poll. Along the line, Abiola himself, together with his wife, Kudirat became casualties of the struggle.
While Kudirat was assassinated through the gunmen on Lagos road, Abiola was later to die on July 7, 1998 in a controversial circumstances while in government custody four years into incarceration under Gen Sani Abacha and just a month after his death. Abacha had detained Abiola for declaring himself president at the famous Epetedo Declaration of June 11, 1994.
Apart from Abiola, the agitation recorded a number of casualties on the part of the human rights society, journalists and politicians of note; among them, Pa Alfred Rewane, Lai Balogun, Suliat Adedeji, Mama Bisoye Tejuosho, Bagauda Kaltho, and many unnamed Nigerians who were killed by unknown gunmen believed to be state sponsored and while known voices like Chief Anthony Enahoro, Prof Wole Soyinka, Babafemi Ojudu, Kunle Ajibade, late Dr Beko Ransom-Kuti, Chima Ubani, Olisa Agbakoba and others suffered several inhuman treatment in the most degrading prisons in the hands of the military dictators; in fact, Ubani died on the Maiduguri road in an accident while fighting the injustice.
History will forever be kind to Chief Frank Ovie-Kokori and his NUPENG, Campaign for Democracy of Beko; National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Pa Abraham Adesanya, Chief Ayo Opadokun, Ayo Adebanjo and a host of other Nigerians, including finest military officers like Col. Umar Abubakar who left the army in protest of the annulment and many others.
The demise of Abacha in 1998 paved way for the emergence of Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar as new leader who came in June 1998 and hurriedly organized an election that brought in Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president on May 29, 1999.
Ever since Obasanjo assumed office, there have been pressures mounted on him to recognize June 12, and not May 29 as a day to celebrate the return to civil rule. Agitators have always argued May 29, a day that Abubakar handed power to Obasanjo.
But such were resisted, at least not until 2012 when ex-President Goodluck Jonathan attempted to rename the University of Lagos (UNILAG) after Abiola but was fiercely resisted.
Not banking on the politics behind the move by President Buhari to right the wrongs perpetuated by Babangida with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election won by MKO Abiola, it should be commended as a right step to rekindle the Nigerian hope and defense of democracy, merit and sacrifice.
This recognition to me speaks volume about unchaining justice; respect for the democratic will of Nigerians and recognising Abiola as a president that he should have been while alive with the conferment, albeit, posthumously, of the GCFR award on him and the late legal and human right icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi on June 12, 2018.
I am not sure we here are too young to estimate the role played by the late Fawehinmi in Nigerias history. In fact, many have ascribed the decay in the polity to the absence of gadfly Gani and his relentless fight to protect the freedom of every citizen using the power of the law.
If this is not right, then we shouldnt ask further for justice; we shouldnt further protect democracy and we should not further expect selfless commitment to the cause of justice and expression of rights which the fallen heroes and those living legends alongside many unknown Nigerians who died for democracy to take its root in this country lived and died for. Of course, we seem to have taken that for granted today.
Buhari has done for the Nigerian history what we can transmit to our children about the account behind the essence of our unity, our nationhood and reason to keep believing and proud to be a Nigerian and much more, willing to sacrifice for the larger picture – Nigeria.