Unsung heroes of June 12

As the nation marks Democracy Day on Friday, KUNLE ODEREMI writes on the colossal damage the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election inflicted on the country, with most of the scars still dotting the political space.

“June 12 is worth defending with our lives, otherwise, our children will continue to be slaves in their own fatherland.”

 

THOSE are the words of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the martyr of the struggle against the annulment of June 12, 193 presidential election by military in Nigeria. She eventually paid the supreme price  in the course of the bitter and bloody struggle that led to restoration of civil rule in Nigeria. Kudirat, wife of Chief MKO Abiola, the symbol of June 12, the freest, fairest and most credible election in the nation’s history, was assassinated in a broad daylight in Lagos on June 4, 1996.

Many out of the 14 millions of her fellow country, who had enthusiastically trooped to the polling booths to entrust Abiola with their mandate as president, were also soon sent to their untimely graves.  They were callously mowed down for abhorring the act of injustice depicted by the June 12 annulment. The number of those killed remain under reported, as only the prominent principled few elite that stood to confront the totalitarian regime wickedly eliminated made the headlines. Lots and lots of other June campaigners died unsung and largely unnoticed majorly on the streets of the southwestern part of Nigeria. The State, police and undercover agents, as well as goons hired by the military junta laid siege to the areas with intent to annihilate the promoters of June 12.

Hapless citizens became canon fodders as the military rolled out armoured tanks and vehicles together with other lethal weapons against protesters. Notwithstanding that the protesters did not bearing arms, security agents applied maximum force, killing, maiming people, with many becoming widows, widowers and orphans. Do the eventual beneficiaries, most of whom looked the other way at the height of the prolonged bloody struggle, remember them and their families? They appear to have been forgotten and left  to their fate; to sulk in perpetual silence; to waste away like vegetable.

Whereas their leaders savour the privileges of office in abundance, the people that bore the brunt of the painful bloody and harrowing struggle wallow in poverty and wants, just as the media practitioners that paid enormous prize to ensure the struggle succeeded in desired change of guard is being chocked to capitulation by unpopular state policies and programmes. Thus, the country is gradually being driven to the abyss. Where are the Dan Sulaiman, Alabi Akinrinade, Ebitu Ukiwe, Ndubuisi Kanu, Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd); Chief Olisa Agbakoba, Dr Chukwu EmekaEzeife; who remembers Pa Solanke, Pa Alfred rewane, Alhaja Suliat Adedeji, as we only make paltry references to Gani Fawehinmi, Abraham Adesanya, Adekunle Ajasin.?

The scars of the June 12 in the South-West are evident almost three decades after. The landscape of the zone is engraved with sad memories of the savagery, murder and assassination of many June 12 promoters. The economy is yet to recover from a crash deliberately engineered by the State through subterfuge; violent attacks, denial and curtailment of access to financial facilities. Thousands of booming industries that provided jobs for teeming population have gone down, while the few afloat gasp for breath, years after the siege by the military on the nation’s commercial and industrial hub.

 

NADECO, UAD

The annulment gave an astronomical rise to the number of pro-democracy and human rights organisations. The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), United Action for Democracy (UAD), Campaign for Democracy (CD) were among the main vehicles for the pro-June 12 struggle. Consequently, the fascist regime bore its fangs menacingly. In one of the most vicious crackdown on citizens protesting against the injustice on May 2, 1998, security operatives almost killed Olisa Agbakoba, the convener of the UAD and NADECO leaders, including Chief Bola Ige, Anthony Enahoro; at Nigeria’s version of the Chinese Tenemen Square, Yaba Bus stop five-million-man march.  Agbakoba and others had organised the rally to counter the two million man march for Abacha, ostensibly designed for him to transmute from a military head of state to a civilian president beyond the October 1, 1998 he set to quit office after seizing power via palace coup against the Interim National Government (ING) headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, designed by former military President, Gen Ibrahim Babangida to supplant June 12 when he was being forced to step aside. Despite pressure from the international community, Abacha held tight to Abiola until he died in a mysterious circumstance a few days after the cold hand of death miraculously snuffed life out of Abacha.

While such leaders in the struggle like the late Pa Anthony Enahoro, Pa Adekunle Ajasin; Senator Abraham Adesanya, Lieutenant Alani  Akinrinade (retd), Chief Olu Falae; irrepressible Lagos lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr Fredrick Fasehun, Frank Kokori of the National Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers of Nigeria (NUPEND), who was able to tighten the noose on the military through a paralyzing strike in the oil sector. While Fawehinmi narrowly escaped assassination attempts, others such as Pa Alfred Rewane fell to the hail of bullets of the series of state-sponsored killings. Many others navigated what was called the NADECO routes into exile in Europe and the United States. Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, just name them, all escaped death by the whiskers before going into self-exile. They managed to escape from the hawks of the military predators and merchants of deaths marooning the nooks and crannies of Lagos, Ibadan, Osogbo, Akure, Ekiti and Abeokuta, which constituted the epicenter of the June struggle.

As the bloodletting persisted, the macabre dance in the military further pushed the country into the abyss, with plots and plots among the hawks and it became the politics of the generals until Abacha eased out Chief Ernest Shonekan and flushed out hose regarded as ‘Babangida boys’ and pro-June 12 officers from the system.  Abiola was arrested on June 23, 1994 for proclaiming his victory. The military turned deaf ears to global call, including the pontiff the politician, business mogul and philanthropist be released as he was a prisoner of conscience.

But, who remembers scores of activists that were thrown behind bars for years, young Nigerians detained and had to languish in Ikoyi prisons after being arraigned before the special military tribunals as well as the Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal. The coterie of musicians, politicians, businessmen that formed the Abacha for president orchestra have since taken over the centre stage in the nation’s tradition of business as usual. They were all brought together by an irrational and youth under the aegis of Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha. Their 2-million-man march from March 2 to March 4, 1998 at the federal parade ground, Abuja led the country to near Armageddon.

From 1986 to 1989, Nigeria packed about a billion naira and literally set it ablaze. Two successive political transition programmes ended in a fiasco. The most tragic was the human casualties; the fatality of the assault when the military rolled out the tanks against the  citizens without weapons stormed the streets demanding justice, freedom and equity was frightening. The repression awed the most perfidious act of the military junta which declared activists as prisoners of war.

 

Annulment

The election was annulled on June 23, 1993 by Babangida and the annulment was sustained by Abacha through shenanigan evidenced in a deceitful political transition to civil rule programme similar to IBB’s; it was laced with poison and infused with booby-traps. When Abubakar came on board, he was treated with skepticism despite his frantic bid to earn legitimacy by inviting some leaders among the elite for meetings in Aso Rock. Fawehinmi was poignant in his perception of the discussions; “I do not believe in his consultation method. I see Abubakar’s consultation method as a consolidation strategy. I have no reason or cause to meet him or his officers.” This was after the gradual extinction of the fingers of the same leprous hands that necessitated the siddon look mentality even after Abacha died and Abubakar mounted the saddle. It will also be recalled that the traditional institution was brought into disrepute through the evil machination of the junta. Having succeeded in infiltrating the ranks of monarchs through members of a fifth columnists, the military dangled carrot and stick to force them to either fall in line or maintain a dignifying silence.

 

Humiliation

Abiola suffered indignation and humiliation. He wept internally for his country over the treatment meted out to him because he wanted to serve his fatherland and consequently, took the legitimate and honourable path in the attainment of the dream. This was how the ebullient politician reflected on such attempt to humiliating him at one occasion: “I was brought here in a Black Maria in which I sat on a steel platform, from which I fell following ceaseless bangs from outside. I know the purpose is to humiliate me. I have never been humiliated in my life. I’m a respected man in the society. They want me to die, but I won’t die.” Abiola euphemistically meant physical death; not spiritual, as his spirit lives on almost three decades after he passed on sorrowfully in the hands of the dictators with June as albatross for the military. .

Another moment Abiola lamented his travails the military subjected him in his speech at his famous Epetedo Declaration in the heart of Lagos. He recounted the frustration he  was going through because of his bid to abide to the bond between him and the electorate: “People of Nigeria, you are all witnesses that I have tried to climb the highest mountain, cross the deepest river and walk the longest mile, in order to get these men to obey the will of the people. There is no humiliation I have not endured, no snare that has not been put into my path; no setup that has not been designed for me in my endeavour to use the path of peace to enforce the mandate that you bestowed on me one year ago. It has been a long night. But the dawn is here. Today, people of Nigeria, I join you all in saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”

 

 

 

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