By Ibrahim Ola Balogun
The protests, riots, consternation, and outcry that trailed the annulment of June 12 are still very fresh in our shared memory. One can still recall clearly those burnt tyres, cars and charred bodies on the major roads of Lagos and across the country. The annulment was greeted with series of bomb attacks and intense defiance against the guns and armored tanks. Consequently, hundreds of Nigerians lost their lives while defending their collective mandate. Many pro-democracy activists were either packed into prison or forced into exile.
Some military administrators narrowly escaped bomb attack, as Nigerians displayed zero tolerance to an attempt by IBB to remain in power beyond the scheduled time. May the likes of IBB’s annulment of June 12 and the attendant crises never resurfaced in our dear country again.
Unpalatable political experiences that witnessed manipulations from the ruling class to keep themselves in power has kept Nigerians alive to the usual sneaky schemes. Leaders typically pursue this under the pretext of perfecting one project or programme. Students of Nigeria’s political history will recall vividly that this trend became apparent in 1974 when General Yakubu Gowon reneged on his commitment to return the country to democratic rule in 1976. Gowon had erroneously assumed himself as the major determinant of Nigeria’s survival, but he was wrong.
Consequently, he was shown the way out while he was attending OAU summit in Kampala.
Gowon’s attempt paled into insignificance compared to what happened during General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s transition programme. In the Third Republic when the 1989 constitution was drafted, IBB (as he is fondly called) promised to terminate military rule by 1990 and return the country to civilian rule. He later came up with extensions that led into January 1993. When he eventually lifted the ban on political activities in 1989, the military government established two political parties: National Republican Convention (NRC), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), allowing no other parties to register.
In December 1990, the first stage of elections was held at the local government level with SDP winning the control of the larger chunk of the local government councils. Next were the gubernatorial and state legislative elections in December 1991. Surprisingly, despite the smooth sojourn of the previous polls, the presidential election was postponed to 12 June 1993 due to ‘political unrest’.
In a shocking twist, Babangida decreed that previously banned politicians could then contest in primaries scheduled for August 1990. In another deplorable move, the August 1990 primaries were canceled due to ‘fraud’ and subsequent primaries scheduled for September were also canceled. All candidates earlier announced were disqualified from contesting for presidency in the newly drawn election format.
After all the postponements, cancellations and bans, the presidential election was finally held on June 12, 1993, with the inauguration of the new president scheduled to take place August 27, 1993, the eighth anniversary of President Babangida’s coming to power.
On June 23, Babangida, hiding under the pretense of several pending lawsuits, annulled the election and threw Nigeria into a horrendous turmoil. Nigerians reacted with riots and soldiers, acting under Babangida’s watch, killed hundreds of patriots as citizens fought forthe actualisation of the mandate given to MKO Abiola.
Subsequently, the United States and a league of many other civilized nations imposed sanctions on Nigeria. These included travel restrictions on government officials, suspension of arms sales and military assistance. Additional sanctions were also imposed on the nation because of its failure to gain full certification for its counter-narcotics efforts.
Nigerians decided they had had enough. People took to the streets, cars were burnt, and buildings torched. History shall not forget Frank Kokori as he led oil workers union on a historic but symbolic strike action that crippled the country’s main source of revenue.
1993 went down in history as Nigeria’s auspicious moment of unified uprising, agitation and struggle. Citizens saw themselves as truly Nigerians. There were neither slogans of tribalism nor chant of religious bigotry in spite of the fact that the presidential
candidates and his running mate were Muslims. Their religious affiliations and regions that produced them were of no significance.
They knew their candidates, trusted them and voted them massively. For the first time in Nigeria, the general opinion moved in the same direction. There forged a common front for a common cause as demonstrators trooped to the streets to confront the military
Not even IBB, popularly refers to as ‘Maradona’ because of his special skill as a trickster and ability to distract, in the fashion of Argentina’s soccer genius, Diego Maradona who infamously cheated to earn victory over England in the 1986 World Cup was able to sway Nigerians resolve. Eventually, when it dawned on the Nigeria’s Maradona that the game was up, he was forced to vacate his beloved presidential seat.
Nigerians will for long remember how Babangida made a spectacle of himself on the teevee station, NTA as he bounced incessantly on a chair in utter confusion when he had to “step aside.”
“June 12″ therefore became Babangida’s nemesis as it ultimately brought an end to the reign of the dictator called IBB. General Babangida bowed to pressure, ‘stepped aside’ and handed over to an Interim National Government on August 27, 1993.
Chief Ernest Shonekan, the head of ING was to rule for six months and mid-wife another rounds of elections scheduled for February 1994. But he was unable to manage the political turmoil which later ensued as the country slide into further chaos. Riding on this situation, the then Minister of Defense, General Sani Abacha on 17 November 1993
quietly removed Shonekan-led government following the ‘resignation’ of Chief Ernest Shonekan. This palace coup by General Abacha was welcomed with mixed feelings. Abacha dissolved all democratic institutions and replaced the elected governors with military officers. Although he promised restoration of civilian rule he refused to announce a
transitional timetable until 1995. Consequently, the discontent of many Nigerians who initially welcomed Abacha grew rapidly.
Riots and protests resumed almost immediately. Once again, the revolt of the Nigerian masses took a dangerous turn. In January 1994, Abacha formally moves his administration to Abuja with the hope of consolidating his power and escaping the heat of opposition in Lagos.
Few months later, the league of opposition coalesced into the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) solely for the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the reinstallation of all democratic structures. The struggled climaxed on the eve of the first anniversary of the annulled election when Chief M.K.O Abiola was
arrested on charges of treason after declared himself president.
National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) went on the longest strike in Nigerian history to protest the annulled election, plunging the nation into a monumental fuel crisis and
causing untold hardship to citizens. Riots broke out in the South Western states as well as Edo. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) also called for a general strike in solidarity with the oil workers.
The Abacha government responded to the strike by sacking the Executive Councils of NUPENG and PENGASSAN, and NLC; arrested Frank Kokori as well as many other labor leaders and placed the unions under appointed administrators. It also closed down three newspapers: the Punch, Concord group (owned by Abiola) and The Guardian.
He however announced a partial lifting of the ban on politics, allowing individuals to ‘canvass political ideas’ but not under the banner of political parties. Abacha-led government went further to promulgate decrees that put its actions beyond any legal challenge!
The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) eventually assumed the unofficial status of the opposition group, the voice of the people and the mouth piece of pro-democratic elements.
In September 1996, National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) registered five political parties namely Committee for National Consensus (CNC), United Nigeria People’s Convention (UNPC), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM).
The government alleged in early 1995 that military officers and civilians were engaged in a coup plot. Security officers rounded up the suspects, including former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, retired General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. After a top-secret tribunal, most of the accused were convicted and several death sentences handed down.
Interestingly, Nigerians and their leaders are known for uncanning proclivity to spring surprises from time to time. It was not amazing therefore that some people gathered to drum up support for Abacha’s transmutation plan to become a civilian president. All but one of the five registered parties adopted Abacha as consensus candidate for the presidential elections. It was more than definite that Abacha was going to become a civilian president irrespective of masses opinion.
The hand of God however played Abacha out. The strong man died mysteriously, albeit, of heart failure (or so we were told) on June 8, 1998 and was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Again, an attempt to circumvent the wish of the Nigeria citizens was crushed by divine intervvention.
In August 1998, Abubakar established the National Electoral Commission (NEC) which successfully held elections in 1999. Obasanjo eventually ran and won the presidential election.
As if those were not enough, the schemes against the wish of the Nigerian people reared its ugly head few months to the end of the second term of President Olusegun Obasanjo, given the controversy that broke out on the clandestine plan on ‘third term agenda’. It then occurred to many that the last may not have been heard about the tenure elongation plot. An attempt to secure an extension via amendment of the 1999 Constitution nevertheless met stiff opposition.
The unholy move that was funded with public money and donations from highly placed businesspersons created a sharp division within the National Assembly and across the country. Despite many good things about Obasanjo’s administration, it is believed that the third-term agenda passed as Obasanjo’s worst political mistake; an attempt to rape the nation’s constitution, which was aborted.
Following sustained public outrage and the media aggression, the coffin of the ignoble and infamous act of self-perpetuation was finally nailed when the National Assembly refused to amend the necessarily portion of the Constitution. That singular effort of the National Assembly was seen by Nigerians as a classic manifestation of political maturity and seen as a new wind of democratic awareness.
With these experiences, no one would believe that any elected official in Nigeria will again toy with people’s intelligence and betray their trust, thinking to go scot-free. Nigerians have now developed a great sense of smell for danger, and as they suspected IBB, Abacha and OBJ, so is their keen suspicion of GEJ.
With the presidency body language and disposition to many recent events, one is been tempted to subscribe to Napoleon Bonaparte’s postulation that the only lesson which men learn from history is that they learn nothing from history. Obasanjo once advised IBB neither to ‘‘mistake the silence of Nigerians for weakness’’ and nor take ‘’the sycophancy of the greedy and opportunistic people who parade the corridors of power as representatives of the people’s true feelings.’’
Similar advice has also been advanced by many to President Goodluck Jonathan, asking him to realize that Nigerians shall not tolerate any attempt to hold on to power beyond May 29, 2015 under any disguise.
Previous Nigerian leaders learnt their lessons the hard way, so President Jonathan and his handlers should take lesson from the political history of this country before he become an object rather than subject of history. It is expedient for him to respect the desire of the people for the enthronement of the rule of law, democracy, federalism as well as the sanctity of the Nigerian constitution.
Nigerians therefore have every reason to suspect the real intention of the president and his handlers or why and how would an election that has been planned for several months be postponed against the wish of the Council of States and the electoral umpire itself? While IBB blamed the postponement on unrest, our Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces blamed his on the ominous advice of the National SecurityAdviser who did not even consult him!
Having almost survived the ‘security extension’, issues that bother on the card readers, PVCs, acknowledgement of the newly registered party, AYP and removal of the INEC Chairman are being brought to the table. Many queried: If Jonathan believes so convincingly in the necessity of modern technologies and plans to take the citizens to the moon, and as well fight corruption with it; should it then be difficult for a youthful President with a PhD to appreciate that card readers falls within modern technologies.
Speculation on suspension, removal, or notice to proceed on compulsory terminal leave by Jega are obviously not good for the well being of INEC at this critical moment of our democratic sojourn, for it will be tantamount to a deliberate attempt to circumvent the wish of the people, just as the scaling up the war against Boko Haram to further postpone the election further confirms speculations in some quarters that the crisis has been orchestrated by the government. Or how reasonable is it to believe that a government that appeared helpless and tarried for six years will defeat and capture Abubakar Shekau in six weeks!
Nigerians have therefore have pretentiously decided to treat as unfounded rumours and plain propaganda from the President’s ‘detractors’ all the issues surrounding elections shenanigans. It then behooves the president to let them remain in the realm of conjectures.
It is our wish that attempts to disqualify the leading opposition candidate would not eventually become a reality. It is our fervent believe too that the death wish/wishes will not graduate into assassinations and that the wish of those who forecasted the demise of a nation called Nigeria might be witnessed by 2015 shall not come to pass. May 29, 2015 hand-over date should not only remain sacrosanct, handing over to any form of government other than the winner at the forth coming election should be treated a taboo.
History is a funny, awesome but wonderful phenomenon, it will always repeat itself for those who will learn lessons and take heed and for those who shall refuse to learn from its teachings and become objects of history from which others take lessons.
IBB did it, Abacha attempted it, OBJ tried it, and GEJ is attempting it. It is instructive to realize therefore that, if history holds any significance, as the will of the people finally triumphed over IBB, Abacha and OBJ, so shall it come to pass on all those who are hell bent on truncating this fourth republic.
Ibrahim Ola Balogun writes from Lagos