June 12, Afenifere and the battles of NADECO

MKO Abiola

President Muhammadu Buhari stirred the ever active political waters on Wednesday when he announced the conferment of Nigeria’s highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 Presidential election, the late Chief MKO Abiola.

Buhari, in scoring what looked like a quick political goal also announced the recognition of June 12 as the Democracy Day in Nigeria. He also singled out Abiola’s running mate in the annulled election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe and the late fiery Lagos lawyer, Chief Gani Fewehinmi for conferment of the second highest honour in the land, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).

In making the announcement, Buhari has received praises and knocks. The fact that not many saw the announcement coming gave it some form of novelty. Buhari has never been cited among the June 12 debate. In the heat of it all, he sided with the late despot, General Sani Abacha, who jailed Abiola and eventually nailed the coffin of June 12.

The June 12 imbroglio has been a long standing watershed in the annals of Nigeria’s contemporary history. It all started with the commencement of the last leg of the eight-year transition programme of the then military President, General Ibrahim Babangida.

IBB, as he is fondly called, had seized power in August 1985, promising to return Nigeria to the path of democracy. But the transition programme took an unwinding and tortuous bend, leading to qualification and disqualification of political actors.

IBB midwived what he called the new breed politicians, banned a number of old hands and registered two political parties for the politicians. After banning and unbanning politicians, IBB missed the 1992 transition to civil rule date his government set for itself following the annulment of the political party primaries of that year.

The mantle then fell on Chief MKO Abiola to seek election to the highest office in the land as most of the big names were either rubbished in the 1992 primaries of banned from contesting.

Baba Gana Kingibe

With Abiola, a well-known friend of the then military president, Babangida on the political turf, and winning the presidential primary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), lots of drama, pomp and ceremony got infused into the politics. It appeared clear that the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC) Alhaji Bashir Tofa, was no way a match for Abiola, a known philanthropist before his venture into politics.

Some declassified information had it that the then military government believed that Tofa would win the election and that it would be easier to handle Tofa if the election had to be annulled.

The adoption of Option A4 by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) under Prof Humphrey Nwosu however gave the election the toga of freest election in Nigerian history. The electorate were required to form a queue behind the posters of candidates of their choice, while officials did physical headcount. That made results readily available and the nation was soon to be buzzing with news of impending Abiola Presidency.

But the military and its allies in the transition, the Association for Better Nigeria(ABN) led by Senator Arthur Nzeribe, chose to build on the tense situation they had created on the eve of the election when an High Court gave a  midnight judgement suspending the election, despite the ouster clauses in the electoral decree. With tension at fever pitch levels, General Babangida announced the annulment of the election on June 23, 1993. The announcement, no doubt, immediately cast a huge dark pall on the national mood.

Organised labour, the civil society and students took up the battle and with a very hot seat getting hotter by the day, General Babangida stepped aside and hand-picked Chief Ernest Shonekan as head of Interim National Government (ING).

General Sani Abacha, who overthrew Shonekan in a palace coup in November 1993, came on a promise. There were behind-the-scene understandings that the goggled General would settle the June 12 debacle by bringing Abiola on board.

But months after he took over power, Abacha started showing signs he would renege on any such promise. He launched a reign of terror on activists and campaigners for June 12. Bombs started booming in different corners of the country, with political opponents of the government the target. Abiola had to go underground to escape immediate arrest. A full scale war had been launched by Abacha and the battle line was drawn. Afenifere leaders, with alliances across national divide and the international arena launched the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The same organisation was launched internationally. That was in 1994.

Ibrahim Babangida

At inception, NADECO was comprised of known political figures and activist groups as well as retired military officers. Some of the groups include the Movement for National Reformation (MNR) led by Chief Anthony Enahoro, Campaign for Democracy (CD), MNR, the Peoples’ Consultative Forum (PCF), Afenifere, and the Committee for Unity and Understanding (CUU). The CUU is like the precursor to today’s Southern and Middle belt unity initiative which primarily aimed at encouraging rapprochement among the Igbo, Yoruba, Northern and Southern minorities.

When it emerged on the scene, some of the leaders of the CUU include retired Generals: Ebitu Ukiwe, David Jemibewon, Adeyinka Adebayo, and Theophilus Danjuma. The Afenifere, led then by the late Governor of old Ondo state, Chief Adekunle Ajasin and later by the late Chief Abraham Adesanya provided the strong platform for the huge resistance that gave the military regime of Abacha tough times.

Some of the NADECO leaders who at one time or the other got harassed, arrested and  incarcerated include Chief Enahoro, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), Chief Olu Falae; Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Alfred Rewane, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, General Alani Akinrinade; Mr. Clement Nwankwo; Mr. Olawale Oshun; Dr. Frederick Faseun; Mr. Ayo Opadokun, Femi Falana and Frank Ovie-Kokori C.C. Onoh, Mohammed Arzika, Olu Lulu-Briggs, Chief Bola Ige, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Yohanna Madaki, Cornelius Adebayo, Wahab Dosunmu, Uma Eleazu, Segun Osoba and Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife among others.

Other leaders also included Dangiwa Umar; Femi Falana and Kayode Fayemi, who manned the pirate Radio Kudirat at the height of the ‘war’ against Abacha regime.

Following up scaling mystery and terror in the land, a number of the activists stepped out of the country, using the popular “NADECO route.”  Some of them include Chief Enahoro(who ran into exile in London), Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (rtd), Ralph Uwechue, Gen. Akinrinade (rtd),Prof.  Bolaji Akinyemi, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Chief Ralph Obioha, Senator Bola Tinubu, Chief Peter Obadan, and Senator Tokunboh Afikuyomi.

Kudirat Abiola

Other civil rights advocates who had persistent brushes with Abacha regime included the late Dr. Beko Ransom-Kuti, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who was to form a militant group named National Liberation Council of Nigeria (NALICON);  Mr.Femi Aborisade, Comrade Chima Ubani; Mr. Joe Igbokwe, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba(SAN); Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah and Father Olubunmi Okogie among others.

 

Deaths, imprisonment for all

Violence was met to the agitators in full scale. Kudirat Abiola, wife of the late chief, was murdered on the streets of Lagos in the early hours of on June 4, 1996. Pa Alfred Rewane was killed for his support for June 12, Senator Abraham Adesanya escaped the assassin’s bullets, same for the late Chairman of the Guardian Newspapers, Alex Ibru, Chief Ajasin was harassed and brutalised in his Owo home by the then Military Administrator of Ondo state, Navy Captain Anthony Onyearugbulem, most leaders of Afenifere lived from street to prison as officially sponsored deaths became commonplace. After bouts of seemingly endless incarcerations, the late Chief Bola Ige coined the siddon look phrase. Chief Olu Falae and Dr Frederick Faseun were also common faces in the Abacha jail houses. Many deaths were recorded due to stray bullets; many of the leaders languished in prisons, tertiary institutions remained shut.

Some of the core demands of NADECO which the group claimed would guarantee true federalism and political stability include:

1. the present arrangement by the military government for a so-called constitutional conference is only a ruse and a distraction, reminiscent, and even in line with the antics of the last military administration that brought the country to this impasse.

2. The military government is not qualified by its antecedents, disposition and track record, and has no moral standing whatsoever to organize a proper sovereign national conference as desired by Nigerians. The military as an institution is essentially authoritarian and cannot, therefore, midwife true democracy. The often repeated claim by successive military administrations that civilians are to engage in a democratic learning process established and supervised by the military is as fraudulent as it is insulting.

3. The military government should stop forthwith all preparations for, and call off, the ill-conceived constitutional conference that will be futile and prove a colossal waste of public funds especially at this time of untold economic hardship being experienced by the people of Nigeria, including a vast majority of armed forces personnel and the Police who are not in government.

Abraham Adesanya

4. The national democratic coalition hereby demands the actualization of the June 12 mandate. For this purpose, NADECO further demands that the military government should call upon Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola to form a broad-based national government, composed of representatives of various ethnic and interest groups in the country.

5. The primary mandate of the national government so composed shall be the immediate organization and convening of a sovereign national conference.

6. The sovereign national conference shall, among other issues, undertake an appropriate restructuring of the Nigerian polity as a means of establishing true federalism and political stability in Nigeria. It shall also deal with power sharing, revenue generation and allocation, and all other matters vital to the future progress, peaceful co-existence, justice and harmony within the nation.

7. The democratization process anywhere in the world is never helped by muzzling individuals or groups and preventing the exercise of the fundamental right of self-expression and association. This is more so in the case of Nigeria where the people desire, and even the military government pretends, to pursue democracy. NADECO therefore rejects the ban on discussion by groups as declared by General Sani Abacha.

8. NADECO notes and it is aware that many Nigerians have commenced participation in good faith in the election process to the (Abacha organised national conference of 1994). Therefore, NADECO hereby urges all Nigerians not to participate in the election or any of the processes leading to the so-called ‘constitutional conference’.

For most of 1994 up to 1997, the government of the day, Afenifere and its allies as well as civil society groups held suffocating rallies , demonstrations and road blockades that made life not just difficult for the government but also made the government sink deeper into pariah status in the international community.

The government of Abacha landed a major blow following the arrest of Chief MKO Abiola after the Epetedo Declaration on June 11, 1994. Chief Abiola had gone underground hitherto and upon his emergence in the public on the eve of the first anniversary of June 12 election, he made the historic Epetedo declaration, announcing himself as President of Nigeria.

Abacha thereafter sent over 200 policemen to arrest Abiola and he was subsequently detained at a Federal Government facility in Abuja, where he eventually dies a month after Abacha’s death in July 1998.

 

The Epetedo Declaration

Chief MKO Abiola, on June 11, 1994, at Epetedo, Lagos, declared himself President of Nigeria. In that declaration, he captured the depth of the overall power of the people’s choice. He brought to the fore the significations and signifiers of the strength of democracy. Abiola evinced what the people should expect in the government of their choice, saying “From this day, show to the world that anyone who takes the people of Nigeria for fools is deceiving himself and will have the people to answer to. God bless you all. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long live the Government of National Unity.”

The death of General Sani Abacha on June 8, 1998 gave hope that Abiola would regain freedom and possibly become President. But it never materialised as the late Chief died in the presence of foreign diplomats who had come to negotiate a peaceful end to the Nigerian saga.

 

June 12 and the return of Democratic Rule

With the death of Chief Abiola, mystery and gloom took over the world of agitators whose sing song had been ‘on June 12 we stand.’ The song soon changed to the calls for recognition of the election as a watershed in the history of Nigeria. The activists declared that ‘though the soul of the June 12 election was gone, the spirit lives with us as a country’ as they insisted something must give to keep June 12 in its pride of place.

Sani Abacha

Following Abacha’s demise, NADECO activists already exiled found their ways back home. There was however a bit of tentativeness in engaging the new democratic order as the NADECO chieftains largely doubted the sincerity of the military to hand over.

Somehow, Senator Abraham Adesanya and the new military leader, General Abdusalami Abubakar struck a cord and the then leader of Afenifere asked the Yoruba to join the transition. It yielded the formation of Alliance for Democracy (AD) one of the three political parties registered to partake in the 1998/99 transition. The AD, which fielded persons associated one way or the other with Afenifere cleared almost all the elective pots available in the South West as a reward for the group’s steadfastness in the June 12 struggle.

The elected governors on the platform of the AD thereafter declared June 12 as Democracy Day in the states of the South West. Holidays were observed on that day with different states staging programmes in honour of Abiola.

But the observation of that holiday slowed down from 2003 when the Peoples Democratic Party won five of the six South West states. Though, Ogun State under Otunba Gbenga Daniel carried on with that tradition, most of the states under the Action Congress of Nigeria and now All Progressives Congress (APC) have been observing June 12 as Democracy Day.

Before Buhari’s announcement, former President Goodluck Jonathan had attempted to honour Abiola by naming the University of Lagos after him. Some members of the Alumni Association and some politicians were believed to have sponsored suits that frustrated that bid.

Today as Buhari finally recognised Abiola, he appeared to have moved a step higher. He has also been joined by the Senate, which on Thursday resolved to mandate the Independent National Electoral Commission to announce the results of the popular election. It looks the truth about June 12 is now coming home to roost. If he is declared winner of the election officially, Abiola may be named an ex-President of Nigeria. Then, maybe then, history will experience a dose of justice.

The election was adjudged the freest and fairest in Nigerian history, even now, the nation can only look ahead for a replica come 2019.

The post June 12, Afenifere and the battles of NADECO appeared first on Tribune.

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