By Ademola Adegbamigbe
On Wednesday, 12 June 2019, Nigerians will roll out the drums to mark Democracy Day, declared by President Muhammadu Buhari. To emphasise its importance in the political history of the country, the Federal Government made the day to take the shine off 29 May, the hand-over date which, this year, was marked low-key.
On 11 June 1994, MKO Abiola declared himself the democratically elected president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos. It was a day to the first anniversary of “June 12, 1993,” when Abiola, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, won the country’s presidential elections with a majority of 58.36% of the total votes cast. With that, he clinched 20 out of 30 states against the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Bashir Tofa.
Notwithstanding that the election was widely considered by national and international observers as the nation’s freest and fairest, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Nigeria’s military president, decided to throw spanner in the works. He annulled the election.
It was a move that drove political activists, critical media, human rights lawyers, progressive students into the trenches. The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was one of the outcomes.
Meanwhile, a year after the annulment and the installation of an interim government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Sani Abacha sent the government packing at gunpoint though it was widely believed that Shonekan resigned.
It was at this point when “interim” ought to have yielded to a substantive democratic government headed by Abiola that Abacha came into the picture. The SDP candidate would have none of that! He drew a line in the sand.
Abiola, therefore, declared himself the president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos on 11 June 1994. Abacha, the Adolf Hitler of that period, in Gestapo style, deployed 200 police vehicles to arrest and detain Abiola. He slammed treason charges on him.
For Abiola, it was a journey of no return. He died in detention on 7 July 1998, after spending four years in the slammer.
Below is his speech:
People of Nigeria, exactly one year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by the President you had yourselves elected.
These soldier-politicians introduced into our body politic, a concept hitherto unknown to our political lexicography, something strangely called the ‘annulment’ of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful ever held in our nation.
Since that abominable act of naked political armed robbery occurred, I have been constantly urged by people of goodwill, both in Nigeria and abroad, to put the matter back into the people’s hands and get them to actualise the mandate they gave me at the polls.
But mindful of the need to ensure that peace continues to reign in our fragile federation, I have so far tried to pursue sweet reason and negotiation.
My hope has always been to arouse whatever remnants of patriotism are left in the hearts of these thieves of your mandate, and to persuade them that they should not allow their personal desire to rule to usher our beloved country into an era of political instability and economic ruin.
All I have sought to do, in seeking dialogue with them, has been to try and get them to realise that only real democracy can move our nation forward towards progress, and earn her the respect she deserves from the international community.
However, although this peaceful approach has exposed me to severe censure by some who have mistaken it for weakness on my part, those with whom I have sought to dialogue have remained like stones, neither stirred to show loyalty to the collective decision of the people of their own country, nor to observe Allah’s injunction that they should exhibit justice and fair-play in all their dealings with their fellow men.
Appeals to their honour as officers and gentlemen of the gallant Nigerian Armed Forces, have fallen on deaf ears.
Instead, they have resorted to the tactics of divide and rule, bribery and political perfidy, misinformation and (vile) propaganda.
They arrest everyone who disagrees with them. Even the 71-year old hero of our nation, Chief Anthony Enahoro, was not spared.
How much longer can we tolerate all this? 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 our people.
There is no humiliation I have not endured, no snare that has not been put in 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!
We have endured 24 years of military rule in our 34 years of independence.
Military rule has led to our nation fighting a civil war with itself. Military rule has destabilised our nation today as not before in its history.
Military rule has impoverished our people and introduced a dreadful trade in drugs which has made our country’s name an anathema in many parts of the world.
Even soccer fans going to watch the Green Eagles display in America are being made to suffer there needlessly because Nigeria’s name is linked with credit card and fraud and ‘419.’
Politically, military rule has torn to shreds the prestige due to our country because of its size and population.
The permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council that should be rightfully ours, is all but lost.
For who will vote for Nigeria to get the seat if Nigerian military rulers do not respect the votes of their own people?
Enough of military rule.
We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone.
Enough of square pegs in round holes.
We are tired of the military’s repetitive tendency to experiment with our economy: Today, they say “no controls.” Tomorrow; they say “Full controls”. The day after, they say “Fine tuning”. The next day, they say “Devaluation.” A few days later, they say “Revalue the same naira upwards again Abi?”
All we can see are the consequences of this permanent game of military “about turns;” high inflation, a huge budget deficit and an enormous foreign debt repayment burden, dying industries, high unemployment and a demoralised populace.
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