A day after President Muhammadu Buhari, conferred national honours on late M. K. O Abiola, and other front line campaigners for the re-validation of the annulled June 12 election, pro-democracy activists demand the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel cause of Abiola’s death writes MIKE UBANI
If the dead could see, feel or hear, late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, (MKO), the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, would have expressed profound gratitude to the Federal Government for validating the mandate freely given him by the electorate. He would have been comforted to know that his unswerving struggles to institutionalize democracy in Nigeria did not go in vain.
But since the finality of death is a reality, he had remained oblivious of events after his demise. But his family members, friends and well-wishers, flocked the Banquet Hall, State House, Abuja, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 to do exactly what he would have done were he to be alive.
The event that day was the conferment of the posthumous national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR) on Abiola, and some others who were in the front line of the agonizing struggle to revalidate the June 12, 1993 presidential election annulled by then military President Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB).
Abiola – a multi-billionaire businessman – had contested the June 12 election on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, a seasoned diplomat as his running mate under IBB’s long-winded political transition programme, which produced only two political parties.
On the other hand, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a Kano-born businessman, had contested the same election on the platform of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
But mid-way into the announcement of the results of the election by the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) headed by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, IBB ordered the stoppage of the exercise, and later annulled the election, described by both national and international observers as the freest, fairest, and most peaceful poll in the annals of the country’s democratic journey. That was 25 years ago.
The annulment of the election sparked public outrage, leading to several months of street protests across the land spear-headed by pro-democracy activists. The leaders of pro-democracy movement alleged that hundreds of people were killed during the prolonged protests to revalidate the outcome of the June 12, election.
Abiola – the acclaimed winner of that election – was later arrested by the then military head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha, after he (Abiola) proclaimed himself president at Epetedo, a dingy area of Lagos. He died in detention on July 7, 1998, under mysterious circumstances. Abacha had died one month earlier – June 8, 1998, also under inexplicable circumstances.
But unexpectedly – 25 years after the annulment of the June 12 (1993) election – and 20 years after Abiola’s death, President Muhammadu Buhari, on June 6, 2018, announced the decision of the Federal Government to confer the highest national honour in the land – GCFR -to the late Abiola, and also designated June 12 every year as Democracy Day, instead of May 29, which had in the past 18 years been observed as Democracy Day.
The May 29th Democracy Day was instituted by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was sworn-in as president on that date in 1999, to usher in the current democratic dispensation.
Expectedly, some politicians and political analysts said the gesture extended to Abiola and other foot soldiers of June 12 was politically motivated – a ploy to win votes in the 2019 general election, particularly in the South-West where Abiola hailed from.
But at the investiture ceremony two days ago, President Buhari said that his decision to recognize the major actors of the June 12 struggle was not meant to open old wounds, but to right the wrong of the past.
He further said that it was also to aid the healing and the reconciliation process in the aftermath of the June 12 struggle. He warned that Nigerians would never again tolerate the perversion of justice and annulment of election.
Then the clincher – He apologized to late Abiola’s family and others who lost their lives in the course of the struggle to uphold the June 12 mandate.
His words: “Nigerians of their own free will voted for late Chief M. K. O Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, the presidential flag bearer and running mate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 1993 elections. The government of the day inexplicably cancelled the elections when it was clear who was going to be the winner.
“We cannot rewind the past, but we can as well assuage our feelings: recognize that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and in the future for the sanctity of free elections. “Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice
“The retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of the country.
“Our decision to recognize and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering would caused by the annulment of June 12 elections. I earnestly invite all Nigerians across all divide to accept it in good faith.
“Our action today is to bury the negative side of June 12, the side of ill-feelings, hate, frustrations, and agony. What we are doing is celebrating and appreciating the positive side of June 12, the June 12 which restated democracy and freedom; the June 12 that overcame our various divides, and the June 12 that produced unity and national cohesion. This is the June 12 we are celebrating today, and we will nurture it to our next generation…”
While the GCFR honour was conferred on late Abiola, the president also conferred the honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), on Ambassador Kingibe, and same GCON, albeit posthumously on fiery lawyer and renowned rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
But like Oliver Twist, the human rights community thinks the Federal Government should go the whole hog to announce the result of the June 12 election, and thereafter, proclaim Abiola as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Speaking yesterday on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) legendary programme – Good Morning Nigeria = Dr. Joe Odumakin, commended the Federal Government for recognizing June 12, and honouring late Abiola and others, but she sued for the release of the result of the election and proclamation of the winner as president.
She also demanded for the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry to determine what killed Abiola, while he was in detention.
She said: “Although President Buhari has taken the right step in the right direction by honouring Abiola, I don’t think this is the closure of the June 12 struggle.
“In view of the fact that the election was adjudged both locally and internationally as the freest, fairest and most peaceful election, we must demand our mandate. That election brought about the unity of Nigeria because Nigerians put aside primordial interests and voted overwhelmingly for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, -M. K. O Abiola, and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe.
“If we have to move forward as a country, I think the next thing to do is the posthumous declaration of M. K. O. Abiola, as the past President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Another thing that will gladden our heart is that wherever we have portraits of past presidents or past heads of state hanging, M. K. O. Abiola’s portrait should also hang there.
“And for us to put an end to the issue of June 12, the Federal Government should set up a judicial commission of inquiry to unravel who and what killed Chief Abiola in detention.
“Again, I felt heart-broken when M. K. O. Abiola, was referred to as the presumed winner of June 12 election. I think for us to expunge that lexicon of a presumed winner, we need the official declaration of June 12 result. Although, we had all the results at that time, but we were, and are still not constitutionally empowered to declare those results.
“The National Assembly should now through the passage of a law, empower the INEC to formally release the results, and as soon as the results are formally released, M. K. O. Abiola, will formally be declared as the winner of the June 12, election.
“Again, by instituting a judicial commission of inquiry, we will know why M. K. O Abiola, was liquidated so that this thing will never happen again. If we don’t redress the past, there is no way we can move forward.”
Senator Jonathan Zwingina, former director general, Hope ’93, Abiola’s presidential campaign organization, who was on the same programme, concurs. He suggested that national monuments should be named after the late Abiola, his wife Kudirat, who was assassinated in Lagos during the struggle, and other actors in the struggle to revalidate June 12 election.
According to him, “we should use the revalidation of June 12 to send a final message that the sanctity of the votes of the people must be respected. We must rise from this occasion of the June 12 error never to commit that error again…”
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had at the occasion of the investiture, urged that late Abiola should no longer be referred to as the presume winner of the June 12 election, rather should be proclaimed as the winner of the poll.