#June12: 5 Important facts about this day in the History of Nigeria
In the history of Nigeria, June 12 is not just another calendar day, today is regarded as the authentic ‘Democracy Day’ as against the ‘May 29’ date popularly celebrated by the Federal Government.
Here are five important facts you should know about June 12:
The day is celebrated in honour of an annulled presidential election
That may sound strange to foreigners or young people without a knowledge of Nigerian history but the truth is ‘June 12’ is a celebration of an election won by the late chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, born August 24, 1937, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) on June 12, 1993. The results of the election were however annulled, a decision that plunged Nigeria into crisis.
Before Barack Obama, there was MKO Abiola with a ‘Hope’ campaign
Many people may have first really paid attention to the word ‘Hope’ being used to convey a message of possibility during Obama’s 2008 election in America, but 15 years before then in Africa’s most populous nation, MKO Abiola became a rallying figure for many Nigerians with his ‘Hope’ campaign.
Ahead of the June 12, 1993 elections, Chief MKO Abiola and his running-mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe toured the nooks and crannies of Nigeria with a message of hope for a vastly impoverished people grappling with a structural adjustment programme that tightened the belt so much it nearly cut them into two.
June 12 marked the beginning for most Nigeria’s present day politicians
There are certain politicians in Nigeria today who identify as progressives after the fashion of the late Western Nigeria Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The truth, however, is that many of them were too young in Awo’s active political days to be his students. They really and truly joined the ‘progressive’ cause when the need arose to galvanise the people to protest the annulment of Abiola’s election as Nigeria’s president.
Notable among those progressive leaders today is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Dr Kayode Fayemi and Chief Dele Momodu who joined the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka and the late Chief Abraham Adesanya among others to form the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which for many years agitated for the restoration of Abiola’s stolen mandate.
It is for that reason that states like Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Osun which are governed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) where Tinubu is designated as ‘National Leader’, the day ‘June 12’ has over the years been designated as a public holiday.
MKO Abiola and the Epetedo declaration
Following the annulment of the June 12, 1993, election, Chief MKO Abiola embarked on a prolonged campaign, even seeking global support, for the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida to officially declare him the winner of the election. He wanted his mandate restored so he could be inaugurated as Nigeria’s second civilian president but Babangida would have none of that.
Following his return from a trip abroad in 1994 to seek global support, MKO Abiola held a world press conference in the Epetedo area of Lagos that has come to be known as the Epetedo Declaration, where he declared himself as Nigeria’s president.
The Epetedo Declaration marked the beginning of Abiola’s sojourn to martyrdom as he was shortly after arrested with about 200 police vehicles and battalions of soldiers on the orders of the new military head of state, dark-goggled General Sani Abacha, who would become Nigeria’s most dreaded dictator.
Abacha charged Abiola for treason and put him in detention till 1998 when they both ironically died within a space of a month. Abiola was said to have been detained largely in solitary confinement with a Bible, Qu’ran, and fourteen guards as companions. Many world leaders and human rights activists, home and abroad, campaigned for his release but Abacha was adamant. The only condition Abacha gave for Abiola’s release was for him to renounce his mandate, to which Abiola never agreed.
MKO Abiola died for the June 12 mandate but he was not the only June 12 casualty
General Sani Abacha died in mysterious circumstances on June 8, 1998 with the generally acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 elections, MKO Abiola still in detention. Abacha had been planning to become a civilian president, perhaps for life, and with his death, all Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief and believed the new Head of State, Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar would release MKO and make him president.
Nigerians were waiting for MKO’s release when they woke up sadly to the strange news that an otherwise healthy MKO Abiola had died shortly after meeting with an American delegation in prison on July 8, 1998. That American delegation included Susan Rice who is now America’s National Security Adviser. There were insinuations in some quarters, and still are, that MKO Abiola was poisoned in the course of that meeting.
Autopsy reports at the time indicated Abiola died of natural causes but a man who should perhaps be in the know, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Major al-Mustapha later claimed that MKO Abiola was in fact beaten to death.
Final autopsy reports conducted by international experts were never released. So, on July 7, 1998, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola became a martyr for democracy at the age of 60. He became the man who refused to take the easy way out of prison but stood resolutely in suffering to reclaim his mandate till he died in mysterious circumstances in prison.
MKO Abiola was however not the only casualty of the June 12 elections. Before his death in July 1998, many pro-democracy activists were randomly arrested, brutalised, maimed and killed by the despotic Abacha regime. Many notable Nigerians also had to run into exile, with some of them even betrayed by friends and returned to Nigeria to be imprisoned or as was said, ‘disappeared’.
June 12 is thus a day to remember Chief MKO Abiola and other democracy martyrs. Abiola may have himself been a frontline businessman and formerly friends with some of the military officers who later snatched his electoral victory from him, but June 12 transcended Abiola’s personal ambitions. It became a popular cause of the Nigerian masses and many of them suffered in many ways to see to the actualisation of that mandate that never came.