June 12: When the military murdered sleep

AT Independence in 1960, Nigeria held a lot of promises of a real power broker in global politics and international relations. Within years, it lived to the bidding of a veritable power broke. Exploring part of its immense human and natural endowments, possibilities and opportunities of truly achieving greatness, it salvoured the air of freedom by taking giant strides that could not be ignored by other nations, especially at the regional level of governments. The relative political stability and economic transformation and progression at home soon buoyed the country’s progressive foreign policy.

The gains of such pragmatic efforts became awesome as the national economy boomed through foreign exchange earnings from agricultural produce before the era of oil boom.  With such a huge empowerment, Nigeria became a key player and in fact, the alter ego in international politics, calling the bluff of even its hitherto colonial masters and other developed countries over the Apatheid rule in Southern Africa and colonial rule in other parts of the continent of Africa and the world in general. It became a major player in the battle for global peace; its troops, including policemen were drafted for UN peace operations in major trouble spots across the world. It became the undisputed leader in the bitter and costly struggle for independence in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique from the shackles of colonialism and inhuman treatment of the Black race across the world.

It was a golden era for the country, which made most Nigerians walked with their shoulders high  in the comity of Nations. Then, Nigeria’s naira was a superior currency to the United States dollar and the British pounds. Then, Nigeria had the temerity and could muster required political will to nationalize the British Petroleum (BP) in Nigeria as part of diplomatic strategies to facilitate and arm-twist the UK towards letting Southern African countries gain independence.

Sadly, the gains in the successful struggle and political enterprise were almost completely obliterated by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by the late business mogul and philanthropist, Chief Moshhod Kashimawo Abiola.  Nigeria soon turned into a pariah state, with the rest of the world ostracising the beacon of the Black man; treating her with disdain, scorn and contempt. It was all because of the inordinately ambition of a powerful clique within the military oligarchy, in collaboration with a rapacious few among the civilian elite neck-deep in pervert values. A global outrage over the cancellation of the election and mandate expressly given to Abiola marked the beginning of another intense and prolonged struggle against the Establishment that had perfected the art of invidious manipulation, chicanery and machination; an establishment that saw every dissenting voice as persecutory and must be crushed with maximum force.

Having trooped out to the tune of about 40million, Nigerians and indeed voters were optimistic about the dawn of a new era once the result of the widely acknowledged fairest and freest poll in the history of the country. Though the outcome of the election was already in the public space since it was conducted under Option A4 whereby voters had to queue behind the candidate of their choice, the rule required that nobody should jumped the gun. Only the National electoral Commission (NEC0 headed by Professor Humphrey Nwosu was empowered by the law to officially released the results after collation. However, the regime of military President, General Ibrahim Babngida decided to throw spanner into the works, as the initial results were being announced; he annulled Nigeria’s famed most credible presidential election in a fiat, in the face of obvious evidence that MKO Abiola, the standard-bearer of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP), had triumphed over his challenger, Alhaji Bashir Uthman Tofa, of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC). There erupted spontaneous outrage. From that moment, the country steadily moved towards the precipice, as a lot of Nigerians, especially pro-democracy and rights activists drew the battle by making the country ungovernable for those they described as usurpers.

The international community reigned their backing by embarking on measures designed to tighten the noose on Nigeria in all fronts, including economic sanctions, banning military assistance and other forms of foreign aid to the country. Reputable newspapers in United States and Britain subtly encouraged passive resistance against the decision of the military to subvert the will of the Nigerian voters. For instance, in an editorial comment entitled: Nigerian Follies, the Times of London on June 24, 1993, wrote: “Nigeria’s military council has just earned another entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Yesterday’s Decree annulling the June 12 presidential election ‘to protect our legal system from being ridiculed and politicized’ qualifies for a prize for the most original, it not the most cynical excuse for cheating voters of their rights.” In the opinion of the newspaper. “Nigeria is a potentially prosperous colossus of a country with an always fragile sense of nationhood, a miserable record in the arts of government and a still more unenviable reputation for mismanaging its wealth it is more fragile still today.”

In another report, it fumed over what it perceived as the landmines created by the military against civil rule ij  Nigeria, retorting: “The military has again frustrated the return to democratic civilian rule. Britain is reassessing relations with its former colony.” Describing the election as the “cleanest and fairest in the country’s history, the newspaper quoted Britani’s main ally, the United States as also deploring the outrageous action of the military regime, indicating that Washington was “to consider the $22.8 million (15 million pounds annual aid package allocated to Nigeria.”

Similarly, London Telegraph of June 26, 1993, in an editorial tagged: Nigeria’s stolen mandate, stated that, “After four years of preparing itself for democracy, black Africa’s most populous country, having cleared the final hurdle, has been left in the lurch.” It added that, “no one is suggesting that the new civilian government would have had an easy time in tackling Nigeria’s grave economic and tribal problems; for a start, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which was emerging as the victor from the final poll, would have had to throw off the stigma of being President Babangida’s creation. But by stealing the election from the people, the military regime risks an outbreak of violence in a country notorious for its volatility.”

The International Herald Tribune on June 24, 1993 identified the uncomplimentary role played by the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) founded by maverick politician, Senator Arthur Nzeribe, stating that the infamous body encouraged “Gen Babangida to remain in office at least another four years.’ in its own editorial, the Independent said Britain was freezing new aid to Nigeria and might withdraw its military training team in protest over the annulment. “This decision (annulment0 is bound to have serious implications for Nigeria’s relations with the international community, and the United Kingdom will have no option but to reassess its own bilateral relations with the country.” On the other hand, the Guardian noted that “Nigeria’s military rulers plunged the country into turmoil,’ quoting many informed Nigerians as saying “The military government has never been sensitive about respecting the integrity of the law.” The newspaper quoted a former Nigerian military Head of State, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, a known critic of the then military government, as saying: “The government has decided that the election didn’t go the way it wanted. This government has shown itself to be at war with its own people and I believe that the people will now react. There is a limit to their tolerance.’

Indeed, obasanjo was prophetic. Nigerians picked up the gauntlet having been fed up with the shenanigan being perpetrated over the years by the military. The chairman of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) then, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti corroborated the fact about public pent anger against the authorities for taking Nigerians for granted over the years. “I don’t think the people will accept it…We have a stand that if this kind of thing happens, everybody should go on strike.” Thereafter, the authorities came under fire, a mass volcanic eruption; having murdered sleep, they came face to face to the consequence of their action.

Apart from CD, other organisations like Joint Action Committee on Nigeria (JACON), Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CHDR), Civil liberties Organisation (CLO), Committee for Unity and Understanding (CUU) and The Patriots fired the cylinder of furnace.

The struggled equally witnessed the formation of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO); the Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM) otherwise called Yoruba koya; it energized Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Afenifere; Ijaw National Congress Civil Liberties organization, Nigerian Labour Congress (CLO); NUPENG, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA); Committee for Unity and Understanding. It also led to the formation of Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba under the leadership of late Gen Adeyinka Adebayo; Movement for National Reformation, ably led by Chief Anthony Enahoro; the Movement for Social and Economic Justice (MOSEJ), and many other pro-democracy bodies. NADECO, which was formed to provide leadership from May 15, 1994, paraded such personalities like Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Bola Ige, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe; Air Commodore Dan Suleiman; retired Colonel Yohanna Madaki; Lt-Gen Alani Akinrinade; Chief Cornelius Adebayo; Professor Bolaji Akinyemi; Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Chief Segun Osoba, Honourable Wale Oshun, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, Mrs Ayoka Lawani to name a few. Consequently, NADECO gave Abacha till May 31 1994 to restore Abiola’s mandate by handing over power to the business mogul. On May 11, 1994 at Epetedo in Lagos Island, Chief MKO Abiola had declared himself President.

 

Media siege

Because of the general crackdown on perceived opposition to the annulment, some sections of the Nigerian media adopted a guerrilla approach in carrying out their operations. But the agents of the state still trailed them. According to the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, in his memoir on the June 12 struggle, “The ascendancy of raw, naked power was rapid. Abacha’s police had graduated from merely seizing editions and setting fires to media houses; they now took to seizing journalists themselves, then asking their relatives—including wives and children –hostage, to force a wanted journalist or suspected dissident to turn himself in.” the Nobel Laureate, also recounted in one of the series of encounter and harassment by security operatives. He said: “In the early months of 1995, unable to find their way to my house—the nearby villages always misled uninvited guests, sent them in all directions, and left them going round in circles-the police resorted to scouting the terrain from the air. Thereafter they buzzed over the house whenever they wanted some diversion or relaxation.”

 

The bitter struggle

With the signing into law of the amendment to the Public Holiday Act passed by the outgone National assembly, June 12 phenomenon has been codified in honour of Abiola, who has also been given posthumously the highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), just as his running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, From the beginning, the struggle had all the danger of blood and sorrow. A lot of those that resolved to stand up against the military over the annulment were not ready to look back over the cancellation of an election in which Nigerians voted for the ticket of Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe of the SDP a Muslim-Muslim ticket against Alhaji Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), with Dr. Sylvester Ugoh as his running mate, a Christian. Nigerians set aside religious and ethnic biases to deliver the SDP ticket at the polls conducted by NEC under the leadership of Professor Humphrey Nwosu. Years after the cancellation of the election, he decided to break his silence on the conduct of the election. He claimed that his team worked assiduously to give the country a credible, free and fair election, just as he explained how the NEC suddenly found itself in a dilemma that culminated in the quagmire occasioned by the annulment.  Nwosu said: “Halfway, as the results were being collated, Abuja High Court, presided by the chief judge of Abuja, came out with a decision that the results of the election should no longer be announced. This time, the national commissioners were around. We mounted a big board at the headquarters of the commission, where the results were recorded and announced publicly, Abiola, Tofa – Abiola was leading. I told you the military was divided. The same pro-Abacha group met at the National Defence and Security Council and summoned me and asked if this was the way Nigerians would be hearing about this election through the signboard. I said: ‘this is the provision of the law, to make it transparent. I don’t interfere, no one does; this is what Decree 13 approves. Abacha said, ‘so you went ahead to conduct the election, which the court said you shouldn’t conduct? Go and dismantle the board.’ You know it was a military regime. In fact, at the point we received this, almost all the results were in. The only result remaining was Taraba, out of the 30 states of the federation; that was about June 15. It was when I was coming out of Aso Rock that I was served the court decision by a Commissioner of Police. I went back to the commission’s headquarters; the Taraba man, was just coming in with the result.”

Nwosu cclaimed that he summoned an emergency meeting to discuss how to vacate the judgment of the court, but that there was no one to do it for him because the then Minister of Justice and Attorney-General at the time, Clement Akpambo, agreed with the government to suspend the process. Consequently, the NEC boss government set up a committee with general Abacha as chairman to advise the authorities on the appropriate solution. According to Nwosu, the committee comprised David Mark, former Senate president; Murtala Nyako, former governor of Adamawa State, who was next in command to Abacha in the committee; Gen. Aliyu Mohammed; Akilu; secretary to the commission; Akpamgbo and himself. “When we got to Abacha’s residence, another sub-committee was set up, a smaller committee comprising Akilu, Akpamgbo, I, secretary to the commission, Aliyu Umar, who is late now, and director of legal services (Buhari Bello). When we got there, I told them we had no business challenging the process, as the law had already set out the process, and anything we did would be outside the law. The law provides that the result should be released and if anyone objects to it, he should go to the tribunal. I said if the government, which is the highest sovereign authority representing the people of Nigeria, wanted a political solution, the winner was Abiola, so they should invite Abiola and negotiate with him. They said we should go back and report to the larger committee, which Abacha headed. I told the chairman of the committee we were a technical body set up to conduct and release election results; we were not a political body, that Abiola had won the election and the only result not collated was that of Taraba. I said if they wanted political negotiation they should invite Abiola.

“Abacha shouted on me, saying: ‘you went ahead with an election the court said you shouldn’t hold; you are not even a member of the National Defence and Security Council. You are telling us what to do. Who are you? Call your commissioners to appear before the National Defence and Security Council.’ It was the era mobile telephone was just beginning in Nigeria and David Mark was the Minister of Communications. I was about to call them; then, he said I should tell him the name of my personal secretary and he would do that for me. It was he who called my secretary, Andrew Umanah, to tell the national commissioners they were wanted in Aso Rock.”

Nwosu further said: “I, Professor Ideria, Bello,Umar arrived Aso Rock and were put in a room pending the arrival of my other colleagues. As soon as they arrived, we joined the others, Babangida was presiding. He said, ‘what is your official position regarding the election, the court says don’t announce.’ I asked the president to give us three minutes to confer so that whatever we came out with will be the decision of the commission and not my personal opinion. I reminded my colleagues the enormity of the national assignment on our hands and how we were even promised national honours if we got it right, and we were getting it right until the sudden changes. I told them we must vacate the judgment and have legal authority to complete the announcement of the results so that we are not seen as undertaking an illegal task, by going to the Court of Appeal in Kaduna. We agreed on this position. This was what we announced to the body and they said, ‘you are now on your own.’

“Now, who would have gone to the court for us, it was the Attorney-General, but he was not available. I took the initiative and Bello went to the appeal court in Kaduna quietly within the next two days and appealed. The court was summoned. Abiola was represented by GOK Ajayi. Tofa was also represented, and we submitted all the results showing that Abiola won the election. Were it to be in the United States, the journalists would have published the results. Where were Nigerian journalists? They were only busy saying Humphrey collaborated with Babangida rather than following the sequence of events. All the results were submitted to Okey Achike’s court – he was heading the appeal court.

“In its preliminary meeting, the court agreed that the Abuja High Court had no business interfering with Decree 13. It said there was a procedure on how results should be released and if anyone was not satisfied they could go to the tribunal, not the High Court. The appeal court gave a date, June 25, for accelerated hearing of the case so that we could conclude the good work we started.

“But on June 23, 1993, they dissolved my commission. No court or journalist has commented on the dissolution of NEC on June 23 when the court would have sat on June 25. I submitted all the results showing that Abiola won. His lawyer, Ajayi, would have seen the result, and any investigative journalist would have seen it. If it were the United States, Britain or any of the Western democracies, they would have queried why Humphrey and members of the commission were sent away with nothing, no severance allowance, nothing! That was how our journey, fighting for Nigeria, ended. And people are saying I collaborated with Babangida. Tell me what any reasonable Nigerian would have done under that circumstance? And throughout Abacha’s rule, almost five years, he never agreed that that election should have been conducted. His Minister of Information is there; he was always calling it an illegal election. What have Nigerian journalists done about all these? I played my part. And that is why I don’t talk much.”

 

Formation of Interim National Government

While other top military brass went with General babangida when he decided to step aside from power, the then Chief of Army Staff, General Abacha was retained. But it was obvious that he was the one dictating the pace of events despite the headship of the Interim National Government (ING) by Chief Ernest Shonekan.  So, it was easy for the military officer to unseat Shonekan on November 17, 1993 in the climax to the intrigues and power play that went underground in the seat of power, even as activists sustained their agitations to make the country ungovernable. However, there were initial suspicion that Abiola had secured an understanding with Abacha to actualise his mandate.  A close ally of late Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and former SDP chairman, Chief Tony Anenih, corroborated the narrative in his memoir with the title, My Life and Nigerian Politics.  Anenih wrote: “When the Abacha takeover was announced, there was jubilation by all those who knew of the ‘agreement’ between Chief MKO Abiola and General Sani Abacha. The Nicon Noga Hotel was in celebration mood as all those senators who had a pre-knowledge of so-called agreement and who anticipated that Abacha would handover to Chief Abiola the next day or immediately were shouting ‘MKO! MKO!! Presido! Presido. Chief MKO Abiola, as indicated earlier, had said if you want to go to Kano, going by air or going by road does not make any difference as long as you get there. His interpretation of this was that going by air meant Abacha taking over from Shonekan and he, Abiola, being sworn in the next day. Going by road was waiting till March 1994, when Shonekan would use the National Assembly to hand over to him because he actually won the election. Unfortunately, for Chief Abiola, he had, in fact, no landing, and Kano as the desired destination proved to be a fantasy. It is a pity, indeed, that Chief Abiola kept the leadership of the party away from his arrangement with General Sani Abacha to take-over from Shonekan. If he had brought it to the notice of the leadership of the party, he would have been well advised. The ‘agreement’ was phony and hollow. It was an agreement, which was inexplicable and inexcusable in its folly and terrible in its consequences.”

 

What June 12 stands for

Having realised the futility of trying to kill June 12, especially through crude force, the government adopted other different Machiavellian antics, which forced some leaders in the struggle to either flee the country or were thrown behind the bar. This was in spite of the rising number of unjust killings and maiming of pro-democracy protesters.  In the midst of the state of anarchy, other agitators remained resolute on their conviction even at the risk of their lives. One of them was a former military governor of Lagos and Imo State, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi. He listed what June 12 stood for, with the most cardinal being that “federalism, true federalism has to be the way forward. The nations that make up Nigeria, and hence individual Nigerians, are equal shareholders in the Nigerian polity. Without the parts (the federating nations), there is no whole (the federal country). There was no country, Nigeria that got divided into nations (and I do no mean the states). In this case, the country (the whole) is a child of nations (the fathers).” June12, he said underscored that, “The equality should manifest in intent, in pronouncement, not pious empty pronouncements, and in actuality. The power should be moving round naturally and of mutual freewill, to all parts or nations.”

Another NADECO leader, Dr Arthur Nwankwo explained that June 12 was about the imperative of justice, equity fairness if the country must attain nationhood. His words: “I want to say here that I am a student of history and believe in historical consciousness, historical processes, historical identity and historical possibilities. As an Igbo man and more so an Orumba son, I believe the time is now very ripe for us to assess our history, our reality and indeed our potentials in a fast-changing Nigerian society. I also believe that we must come to terms with our situation in contemporary Nigerian politics, especially in relation to national restructuring. Whether anybody likes it or not, the nationality Question is today centrally vital in resolving the political crisis that presently threatens to consume Nigeria. “It is a fact that at the creation of Nigeria, our colonial masters never asked Nigerians whether and or how they would wish to stay together in one country. By an imperialist fiat, the British lumped so many independent ethnic nationalities into Nigeria simply because of their economic expediency.”

The unrepentant revolutionary thinker equally lamented what he described as the deliberate policy of physical and economic annihilation against Ndigbo and other tribes like the Yoruba. “The near attempt to wipe out the Yoruba race is another example. A landmark presidential election on June 12, 1993 was criminally annulled. The ethnicisation of that election of that election to justify its cancellation was a direct assault on the Yoruba and a horrible denial of Nigeria’s franchise. By rolling out tanks and ferrets to silence the people of Yoruba land and indeed Nigeria, physical and economic genocide were visited on us.”

A former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, is edifying in his submission on the existing structure called Nigeria, which remains a subject of claims and objections by most stakeholders. He believes the foundation of the country is patently faulted and required a sincere approach to rectify the anomaly. He said: “If one takes a dispassionate look at the history of Nigeria, one would in fact be struck by the similarities with that of the United States. There was no Nigeria before 1914, when Flora Lugard coined the name. Yet, there were nationalities which inhabited the area called Nigeria. In other words, there were Fulani, Hausa, Tiv, Idoma, igbo, Ogoni, Ijaw, Urhobo, Yoruba nationalities before there was a Nigerian nation. The series of Treaties which the British authorities signed with several nationalities before the imposition of a Pax Britannia implicitly and in most cases, explicitly, recognized the independence of those nationalities.”

With the behemoth nature of the centre, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi had warned that the incalculable act of injustice the annulment of June 12 is the critical danger posed by the existing father figure of the centre in the present feral structure. He said it will continually constitute a time bomb for the corporate existence of Nigeria. His words: “The constitutional aberration whereby federating units are made sub-servient to the Federal Government in terms of security in every respect, in terms of revenue either on mobilization or allocation and in terms of adjudicatory authority is clearly unacceptable. In that, it creates a master and slave relationship and that obviously inhibits development of the federating units on one hand and the Federal Government on the other hand.”

In its own contribution, the Oodua Youth Movement said: “Our people are tired of being discriminated against in their own land. Our people want recognition and self-identity. They want true freedom. They want fulfilment. They want to be the architect of their own fate. They want their development to be charted in a direction determined by their history, their culture and their tradition. They want to be free from all the shackling limitations imposed by Nigeria as presently constituted.

 

National Question

One issue that gained ascendancy and remained in the front-burner of political discourse about the future of the country is the National question, which is the euphemism for the aggregation of core challenges confronting the country. Despite a number of pseudo-conferences held after the annulment designed to address those critical issues, there is rising agitation that the time is running out unless practical efforts are made to return Nigeria to federalism, as opposed to the current quasi-military arrangement. JACON, which is a broad-based orgnisation for pro-democracy and rights activists, offered its own recipe for peace and stability in the country. According to the body, “The equal right of all Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic or class origin, religious and geographical affiliations, to aspire to any office in the land and democratically attain it without any obstacle whatsoever. It also include that the imperative of making a clean break with the ugly past and exploring new grounds in the relations between the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, with a view to giving all nationalities, no matter how small, an equal status in the country. This is of particular relevance to the minority sections in Nigeria most of which supply the mainstay or contribute the bulk of the Nigerian wealth. It also recommended that the principle of the sacredness and sovereignty of the will of the people, as well as the need to re-examine the economic, social and political foundation of the country, so as to be able to realise fully the great potentials of our peoples.”

It is curious that 26 years after the annulment, the nation is still gripped by a culture of mutual suspicion, fear, uncertainty and doubts about national unity. The economy is still gasping for breath because of the attendant multiple haemorrhage resulting from the struggle that followed the cancellation of the poll, coupled with this is fit-and-start political strategies of an inept ruling political elite. Therefore, more than two and half decades after the annulment, the path remains narrow and the hill steep in Nigeria’s quest to attain nationhood.

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