IT REKINDLES MEMORIES AND VERY REMARKABLE, that 25 years after deliberate neglect, late MKO Abiola, a notable Nigerian and philanthropist, who contested and won June 12, 1993 Presidential election in Nigeria, was recognized, honoured, and conferred with Nigeria’s highest national honour, Grand Commander Of The Federal Republic, GCFR, by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigeria’s maximum ruler in 1993, Military President Ibrahim Babangida designed “Option A4” presidential election to ensure free, fair and credible election. Voting candidates cued behind their preferred presidential candidate – MKO Abiola for Social Democratic Party, SDP, and Bashir Tofa for the National Republican Convention, NRC; while Humphrey Nwaosu was the election umpire, Chairman INEC.
Midway declaring the results by Humphrey Nwaosu, according to African Elections Database [unofficial result]; Abiola was leading with 8,243,209 votes, and Tofa trailing with 5,982,087 votes. Abiola was thought to have won majority votes in 20 out of then Nigeria’s 30 States federation, securing the required figures by law to be declared winner.
Beyond every imagination, came the contrivance from Ibarahim Babangida. On the basis of claimed court judgment, and claimed electoral malpractices, the June 12, 1993 presidential election was annulled by Babangida. Babangida said: “There was, in fact, a huge array of electoral malpractices virtually in all the states of the federation before the actual voting began”.
In further high-handedness, Babangida banned Abiola and Tofa from contesting future elections when rescheduled. What followed the annulment of the election were organized mass protests, national and international condemnation of the annulment – perhaps not contemplated by Babangida. They were overwhelmingly beyond Babandida and his constituency – the military. The way out for Babangida was to “step aside” in August 27, 1993.
To pacify aggrieved Nigeria populace, particularly, the people of Nigeria’s South-West, Babangida put in place the infamous “interim national government”. Ernest Shonekan, Abiola’s kinsman, from Ogun State, was appointed head of the “interim national government”. November 1993, ambitious General Sani Abacha toppled Shonekan’s “interim national government”, and announced himself as Nigeria’s Head of State.
Abiola vowed to reclaim his mandate. He left the country and stayed away for a while, and planned to form a parallel government in exile. As a result of promptings from well-meaning citizens for him to return home and negotiate with General Abacha, Abiola return and intensified his struggle to reclaim his mandate.
At Epetede in Lagos Island, June 11, 1994, Abiola declared himself president. His words: “As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief.”
General Sani Abach, military head of state, declared M.K.O Abiola wanted and accused him of “treason”. Abacha dispatched squads of policemen and vehicles after Abiola for his arrest. June 23, 1994, Abiola was arrested and put in government custody. For four years, Abacha kept detained M.K.O. Abiola under solitary confinement – given only a Bible and Qur’an as his companion.
While Abacha confined Abiola, he vowed not to release him unless Abiola renounced his widely given mandate. Abiola insisted he preferred to remain in detention, than renounced his mandate. After the death of Abacha, his successor Abdulsalami Abubakar, promised to release Abiola. On the day he was expected to be released from detention, Abiola died, July 7, 1998.
The watershed June 12, 1993 presidential election won by M.K.O. Abiola, continued to be at the centre of national discuss after his death. Past national leaders from 1999 to 2018, gave little attention to the symbol of the election. First, it was, and has ever been the freest, fairest and most credible election Nigeria ever conducted till now. Second, it was the peoples’ choice and conducted by a most pragmatic unbiased umpire, Humphrey Nwosu.
Incumbent Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari takes on the huge task by recognizing that watershed, June 12, 1993 presidential election won by M.K.O. Abiola. He conferred him posthumously with Nigeria’s highest honour, Grand Commander Of The Federal Republic, GCFR. Buhari announced that June 12, will annually, be celebrated as “Democracy Day” and national “Public Holiday”.
Abiola’s vice president, Babagana Kingibe was honoured with Grand Commander Of The Order Of The Niger, GCON; while June 12, activist late Gani Fawehinmi was also honoured with GCON. At the investiture, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, President Buhari tendered a national apology to the family of late M.K.O. Abiola for the annulment of the election. He said the wards were not to open old wounds.
Buhari’s words: “We recognize that an error has been committed. We will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This honour is for the grievous injustice done to the country. It is meant to assist at healing the wounds and building national reconciliation of the 25 years of wounds caused by the annulment”.
“I earnestly urge Nigerians to accept it in good faith and bury the past of June 12. We are celebrating June 12 as a democracy sustenance, freedom, unity and national cohesion. It will impact positively on the next generation. I tender the nation’s apology to the family of MKO Abiola, Also to those who struggle and stood for June 12.”
Real impact President Buhari’s actions validating the annulled June 12, 1993 election would have, would be for the president to think bigger – ensure the choices Nigerians would make for 2019 general elections stands. President Buhari would also ensure, under his watch, that Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, conducts free, fair and credible 2019 election as an unbiased umpire.
On coming Ekiti and Osun States elections would be a foretaste of President Buhari’s preparedness to think bigger and ensure free, fair and credible elections in the country.