Recently, Nigerians celebrated democracy day on June 12 as is the practice since 2018 when the APC regime forced it on us. And as I sat at home watching the democracy day charade on TV, it dawned on me that the problem of this country is not so much of bad leadership as it is of blind followership.
It rankled in my mind that Nigerians are intelligent people with very short memory; easily deceived for poor sense of history. Indeed, Nigerians are unbearably very credulous people who accept without interrogation whatever narratives that are pushed out to them. Nigerians have made themselves amenable for unscrupulous politicians, ethnic irredentist, crank intellectuals, ersatz professional and charlatans to manipulate. It is like a country of individuals with false notion of everything that don’t ask question or interrogate issues before they accept. This was why Nigerians committed the blunder of 2015 that brought the country to its knees. As I watched the charade at Eagle Square and the reports from across the states, I kept wondering whether we are actually celebrating or making mockery of Democracy.
Whenever June 12 adherents gather, they dwell on M. K. O. Abiola’s alleged sacrifice and contributions to democratic struggles in Nigeria. And whenever I read or hear those glowing tributes to Abiola I kept wondering whether the praise singers are Nigerians or creatures from outer space. Clearly, Nigeria is celebrating democracy on a wrong day, for a wrong reason and with a wrong symbol. And the pertinent questions which the people never bothered to ask are: was M. K. O. Abiola ever a democrat? What qualified M. K. O. Abiola as the hero or symbol of Nigeria Democracy? Does contesting election make one a democrat? Does membership of a political party make one a democrat? Buhari has been a member of different political parties and serially contesting elections but, can we honestly ascribe democratic attributes to him? The answers to these questions are not far-fetched. Democracy is a system of government that allows for political representation and the rule of law. It makes room for interest articulation and aggregation and pursuit of shared interests.
Democracy allows for diversity, tolerance, liberty, equality, fairness, openness to change. In Democracy, dialogue, conciliation, power sharing, stakeholder engagement, individual responsibility and civil involvement etcetera are the norm. The constitution is supreme while sovereignty is with the people in a democracy. What makes one a democrat therefore is believing and observing the principles and ideals of democratic system. And this must include inter alia, respect for the rule of law, tolerance of other people views and opinion, fairness and equity, patriotism, respect for dialogue as a means of conflict resolution.
A true democrat should be liberal, tolerant and open-minded not autocratic, not a fundamentalist or an extremist. A democrat would not be a military apologist. He would never sponsor or partake in violent overthrow of a democratically-elected government. Thus, belonging to a political party and contesting election do not make one a democrat rather it indicates desire or quest for power. Chief M. K. O. Abiola never lived his life like a true democrat. He lived a life that is antithetical to the ideals of democracy. In fact, he was the worst military apologist that has ever emerged in this part of the world. Thus, I will say without any shadow of doubt that Abiola had no democratic credentials.
But before I am accused of speaking ill of the dead I must say that while it is not good to talk ill of the dead; it is equally not good to sing the hagiography of him who had died simply because he is dead. It is only in this part of the world that when a man dies he is adorned in an outsized garb and venerated, no matter the type of life he had lived. But, my people say that when you blame the dead, you bury him. That means that funeral ceremony is not just about ode to the dead. When you blame one who lived uninspiring life, you are telling the living to be wary of their life style. This is why Steven Covey the famous writer and motivational speaker admonishes all to begin to live and cultivate attitudes consistent with how we wish to be addressed while we are lying in state.
Abiola was a notorious military apologist. His romance with the military began with his friendship or association with Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed when the latter was the federal commissioner for communication and he the chairman of International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT) Africa and Middle-East. When Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1979 after the long period of military interregnum, Abiola joined partisan politics and was part of the ruling Party, NPN. He stormed out of the party in 1983 when he could not get the party presidential ticket.
Abiola who seemed to trust in his enormous erroneously believed that he could obtain anything including the party’s presidential ticket with money. But Umaru Dikko, the flamboyant Kano politician told him bluntly and sarcastically that the Presidency was not for sale and would not be for the highest bidder. When he left the party, he established his paper the National Concord to fight the government. And when the power-hungry military boys approached him for sponsorship to overthrow Shagari’s government, he saw it as an opportunity to get even with the party; he grabbed it with open hands. That was how a democratically-elected government was toppled in 1983 and a military regime led by Gen. Mohammadu Buhari installed. And when he fell out with Gen. Buhari following the seizure of his four million Naira imported newsprint, he also connived with his friend and long time ally Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to overthrow Buhari in 1985. It is said that his involvement in armed conflict was not limited to Nigeria.
He was fingered to be involved in the crisis in Sudan, Uganda and Burkina Faso. Furthermore M.K.O Abiola was a religious fundamentalist. He was the champion of the Sharia and OIC movements in Nigeria. He was alleged to be the sponsor of most of the religious riots in Nigeria during his time. A fundamentalist is an extremist who had no consideration for others and therefore cannot be a true democrat. Abiola’s fundamentalism came to a head in 1986 in the heat of the OIC imbroglio prompting CAN to pronounce a nation-wide ban for Christians on the reading of National Concord, Abiola’s newspaper. Again Abiola was fingered as the man behind IBB’s convoluted transition program, during which time he was said to be in the background scheming. He used his military connection to ban the 23 more credible political gladiators of that era that include: Shehu Musa Yar’adua, Adamu Chiroma, Abubakar Rimi, Arthur Nzeribe, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Abel Ubeku, Olusola Saraki, Umaru Shinkafi, Balarebe Musa, Bode Olajumoke among others. And when the coast was cleared, he came out and contested against a relatively unknown political greenhorn Bashir Uthman Tofa of National Republican Convention (NRC).
That was crass opportunism. Abiola showed how insensitive he was when in defiance to pleas from concerned Nigerians for him to pick a Christian running mate to reflect our multi-cultural diversity, after receiving Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential ticket, he chose Babagana Kingibe, a fellow Muslim, betraying Atiku who had stepped down for him and whom he had earlier promised to pick as a running mate. The June 12 promoters described Abiola as the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 election but failed to tell the complete story about the election. On June 10, 1993 two days before the supposed election, an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Bassey Ikpeme issued an order restraining National Electoral Commission (NEC) as it was known then, from conducting the Presidential election on June 12, 1993 following a suit filed by one Abimbola Davies representing an organization known as the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN).
But NEC went ahead to conduct the election without seeking legal interpretation or challenging the court verdict. So, the said June 12 election was an illegal election ab initio. The election witnessed very low turn-out of voters probably due to the court injunction and the campaigns of some shadowy organizations parading as pro-democrats who tried to dissuade Nigerians from voting. So before the conclusion and announcement of the result of the election, the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) acting on secret report ordered that the election be suspended. So the election could be described as inconclusive. On June 15, 1993 there was another interim Order by an Abuja High Court restraining NEC from releasing the results of the presidential elections. This time NEC complied with the court order shelving the release of the final result of the election until further notice and on June 22, 1993 it headed to the Court of Appeal to challenge the interim injunction by the Abuja High Court. Following these developments and some other reason not made public, the government annulled the results of the June 12 elections and nullified all the supervening court verdicts, and suspended NEC in the process. Thus, the result of the election was never officially released. How then could anyone have won an illegal and inconclusive election which result was never officially released? But goaded by the rabble rousers masquerading as progressives and pro-democrats and blinded by his inordinate ambition, M. K. O. Abiola went ahead to illegally declare himself the president-elect on June 29, 1993 rather than challenge the decision of AFRC in a court of law as real democrat should or wait patiently for the new date rescheduled for the election, thereby throwing the nation into a political crisis. And soon after, he skedaddled out of the country to America.
When Gen. Sani Abacha toppled Shoneka’s interim government, a coup that Abiola encouraged and make nominations into the cabinet, he returned to the country and began afresh to do what he was supposed to have done earlier with the vain hope that Abacha would hand over power to him. The first person he visited upon his return from his flight to America was Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe whom he had told that he can do without his people, the Igbo, following Nzeribe’s protest about the exclusion of the Igbo from the political office by the Adekunle Ajasin-led zoning committee of the party, and whom it was that used his organization ABN to obtain the court injunction stopping the election. When his bid to persuade Abacha to hand over power to him failed, he made the infamous Epetedo Declaration on July 11, 1994 prompting his arrested and incarceration that he never survived. Meanwhile a group of individuals most of whom had earlier discouraged Nigerians from participating in the election and most of whom had seen Abiola as betrayal and a corrupt person in the past hijacked the June 12 agitation. It became a career for some jobless, self-seeking individuals as anyone who wanted to seek relevance joined the agitators. However, it is instructive to note that it is not every Nigeria that stood for June 12, contrary to the picture being painted in the media. As the vociferous minorities were raising the dust and the din about June 12, there was the silent majority, intimidated, blackmailed and disillusioned watching helplessly as the nation was plunged into political impasse. People were disenchanted with the noise associated with the agitations. The country was heat up; there was tension and apprehension and many fled Lagos as a result of this.
To some talking about June 12 is like dwelling in the past while to some it is nemesis, divine comeuppance and poetic justice. Umaru Dikko who had berated Abiola in their NPN days about his trust in simony captured the views of many Nigerians when he told Abiola in the heat of the crisis that he who rides on the back of the tiger to achieve success may end up in the belly of the tiger. Also, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who knows Abiola too well and who grew up with him told Nigerians during that period that Abiola was not the messiah we are looking for. There are many more people who could not voice out their opinion, the silent majority, because they had no platforms to speak and more especially because they were wary of attracting umbrage from the negative press who had used June 12 as a standard to gauge who was democratic and patriotic as those who were courageous enough to hold contrary opinion about the alleged struggle were attacked. Some of the agitators say June 12 is not about Abiola but about Democracy and yet they canvass that Abiola be officially declared winner of the illegal election, installed posthumously as president and conferred with highest national award.
Some again say they celebrate June 12 because it is fairest and freest election ever conducted in Nigeria but they would never say that a court of competent jurisdiction stopped the election and that the court order may have affected the turn-out for the election. And if it is the freest and fairest election, should the credit be given to Abiola? Was he the brain behind the conduct of the election? Shouldn’t the credit be given to Prof. Humphrey Nwosu the NEC chairman who conducted the election? And if the election was so perfectly conducted why are the June 12 agitators not advocate for the “Option A4”—the method used to conduct the election—to be adopted as a means of conducting election in Nigeria.
Members of the ruling party APC mostly from South-West who pretend to be progressives are all June 12 exponents. Why have they not agitated for the adoption of “Option A4”? The most ridiculous thing is that there are pronounced irregularities—vote buying, rigging, thuggery, inconclusive elections etcetera—in this regime more than any other in the annals of Nigerian politics and yet many of them are talking about June 12 as if it is the only injustice in the land. So, why do we deceive ourselves? What is the difference between annulment of election, inconclusive election, rigging and overthrow of government? All are about subversion of the will of the people. So, how could the worst military apologist in Africa suddenly transmogrify into a democrat. It is because Nigerians have lazily allowed camouflaged turncoat advocates and ideological impotent commissars to infiltrate their thought processes with lies and inane propaganda. June 12 Celebration is a product of hypocrisy, ignoratio elenchi and false consciousness and I will not be part of it. How can I tell my children, the future generation and the world that I am part of this charade; that I am part of the celebration of something non-existent, a nullity? And that Nigerian’s symbol of Democracy was indeed an enemy of Democracy? It is an irreconcilable irony! It is a national disgrace! If you are celebrating Abiola as a man who courageously pursued his personal ambition, I will have no problem with that, after all some people are used to celebrating everything including failure. We have seen that play out in the current regime.
But it is heretical to associate a military apologist with democracy. It is an aberration in the extreme! It is a monumental error! Clearly, celebrating June 12 is akin to making a mockery of Democracy. It actually indicates that we do not understand the tenets of Democracy if a character like M. K. O. Abiola is our mascot for democracy. This is possibly why the practice of democracy has not had not taken foothold in Nigeria sixty years after independence. June 12 is also the result of wrong attribution. Nigeria is a country where patriots, real democrats are vilified while ethnic chauvinists are called heroes, sages and legends for primordial reasons.
If Nigerians had not committed the blunder of ushering in the current regime in 2015, the promoters of Mr. Integrity would have sustained the narrative about a patriotic general, a God-sent figure who was destined to clean up the country and stamp out corruption but was frustrated by reactionary elements in the land and they probably would have canvassed for February 29, the day the presidential election of 2015 was held to be declared Anti-corruption Day just as there is this misleading narrative about an ex-governor of Lagos State who during his time promoted the reign of area boys but today he is being hyped and primed as the man who developed Lagos. What a country! Undoubtedly, we are tired of these expletives and empty democratic bromides from charlatans and political pettifoggers that are churn out during the June 12 charades. It is fraudulent and misleading for anyone to say that Abiola died for democracy.
Abiola died for his inordinate ambition. Nigerians we are where we are today because we accept whatever narrative that is spewed out. We seem to be too naïve and lethargic to interrogate issues. It is time to unearth that which is suppressed; to do historical revisionism. It is time to correct that which is misrepresented. It is time to change the narrative for present adjustment and for the future. If the truth about Buhari was not misrepresented in the media we will not be in the mess we are today. We have to dispel the myth and face the truth. And that is my mission.
AUTHOR: Gozie Irogboli
Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.
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