June 12: Lessons for Today’s Democracy

June 12: Lessons for Today’s Democracy

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 1:35 pm

By Abdulfatah Ahmed

It is with a deep sense of history that I give this lecture today in memory of a hero of our democracy, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, whose victory, unfortunately annulled by the military, marked a watershed in our country’s quest for true democracy.

That victory, delivered by Nigerians across geopolitical and ethno-religious lines, undoubtedly remains the most unequivocal demonstration of popular will in our democratic history.

Gov. Abdulfatah AhmedAs we recall that landmark event in our political life, and prepare for another general election, we also remember those who equally paid the ultimate price for the sanctity of our democratic aspirations.

I salute the courage and resilience of those who suffered intimidation and persecution in defence of popular will. Today’s event, no doubt, reminds us to remain vigilant and to be more assertive in our demand for good governance as our country approaches perhaps the most crucial general elections in her chequered history.

Today, we live in a society where you become a leader not because you come from a certain region of the country or profess a particular religion but because you are imbued with the right measure of leadership skills, understand the challenges confronting our country as well as the concrete pathways to their solution.

Ladies and gentlemen, the situation that confronts us today calls for sober reflection.

With the nation literally at war, confronted by record unemployment, disturbing infrastructure decay that questions our place as the world’s sixth largest oil producing nation, a comatose educational system, a hobbled industrial sector, and disenchanted youth, a gathering such as this reminds us of the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives for democracy.

It is the reminder we need, too, to properly appreciate the necessity of uniting as one people, eschewing greed and selfishness, to protect our democracy and stave off those, who lack basic understanding of democratic tenets, and therefore beat the drums of war when faced with electoral defeat.

Really, June 12 has become a guide to where we are coming from, how we got to where we are today, where we are going and what we need to get there.

It is, therefore, paramount for everyone here, to take a look back to June 12, 1993, and recall how it felt when 21 years ago, the nation received the shock annulment of the freest and fairest election in our political history.

This lecture, therefore, seeks to put in proper perspective, the emerging interests and developments relative to the June 12 debacle while extractingnecessary lessons that would be crucial to the  struggle ahead.

Mirroring our hero: MKO ABIOLA

Born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, fondly referred to as M. K. O. Abiola, was a popular businessman, publisher and politician who however epitomised perseverance in the face of daunting challenges. Indeed, his uncommon ability to overcome adversity and achieve tremendous fortune must have stirred in M.K.O Abiola a philanthropic spirit that remains unrivalled.

From 1972 until his death, Moshood Abiola had been conferred with 197 traditional titles by 68 different communities in Nigeria, in response to his generosity of spirit that transcended ethnic and religious divides in Nigeria. In addition to his work in Nigeria, Chief Abiola was a dedicated supporter of the southern African Liberation movements from the 1970s and he sponsored the campaign to win reparations for slavery and colonialism in Africa and the Diaspora. Chief Abiola personally rallied every African Head of State, and every Head of State in the black Diaspora to ensure that Africans would speak with one voice on the issues. These strides established MKO as a detribalised Nigerian who built bridges across the country and as a pan-African patriot driven by a quest for justice and the eradication of inequality.

Abiola’s involvement in politics started early on in life when he joined the NCNC at age 19. After an aborted initial primary, Chief Abiola stood for the Presidential nomination of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and beat Ambassador BabaGana Kingibe and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to secure the presidential nomination of the SDP ahead of the June 12 1993 Presidential election.

Unfortunately, on Wednesday, 23 June, 1993, the military annulled the election, which was supposed to usher the country into democratic rule. However, as we are aware, the June 12 Presidential election was believed to have been in favour of the Presidential candidate of the SDP, late Chief Abiola. He overwhelmingly defeated his rival, Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in an election that was declared to be the country’s freest and fairest by national and international observers, with Abiola even winning in his northern opponent’s home state and in over two-thirds of Nigerian states.

For the very first time, Nigerians voted massively in a free election, for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, devoid of the parochial sentiments previously associated with elections in the country.

Outraged by the blatant denial of the his popular mandate, Chief Moshood Abiola, in 1994 declared himself the lawful President of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island, an area mainly populated by impoverished Nigerians. Bashorun was promptly declared wanted, accused of treason and arrested on the orders of the Military Head of State, late General Sani Abacha.

He was detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement, while eminent figures such as the late Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and human rights activists from all over the world lobbied for his release.

Sadly, he passed on in prison on Tuesday, 7 July 1998. This in effect rendered Abiola the ceremonial War Viceroy. According to folklore, the Aare Ona Kakanfo is expected to die a warrior in the defence of his nation in order to prove himself in the eyes of both the divine and the mortal as worthy of his title. Late MKO did. He died defending his June12 mandate.

Looking Back To the Future

Ladies and gentlemen, to clearly understand the essence of June 12, there are a number of issues that we need to find answers to. First, there is the need to classify what June 12 represents – a revolution? How and why did counter-revolution triumph? And, perhaps, what lessons are there to learn from the struggle?

Instructively, the election recorded a total vote cast of 14,293,396, all in the bid to send the soldiers back to the barracks. Polls collated from the polling units indicated that the SDP had 8,341,309 votes (58.36 per cent) while the NRC scored 5,952,087 (41.64 per cent) votes.

Eleven days after, the elections were annulled. While it was a rude shock to those following the events leading to and after the elections, many saw it coming. Before the elections, the grounds had been prepared already as the nefarious Arthur Nzeribe-led Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) had “secured” a judgment from Justice Bassey Ikpeme’s court at 9.30pm on 10 June, to stop the elections.

Justice Dahiru Saleh subsequently declared the election a nullity. The FG thus claimed that “no responsible or responsive government will watch its judiciary built on sound and solid foundation to be tarnished by the insatiable political desire of a few”. It also alleged the “offer and acceptance of money and other forms of inducement” against officials of NEC. The junta believed that it could get away with the annulment as it had with previous transitions. This, however, was one too many; all hell was let loose as the masses unleashed their pent-up anger against the military overlords.

True Democracy Day

Gentlemen of the press, distinguished audience, in view of the pivotal place of June 12 Election in our political history, I am still perplexed by the choice of May 29 as Democracy Day. How can this qualify when it barely represents the Nigerian peoples’ revolution, which June 12 was? June 12 was to the Hausa what it was for the Igbo or Yoruba. June 12 soared above religion, tribe, social status, or personal ambition.

It was the only day Nigerians spoke in one voice, their elemental differences swept aside and forgotten. That day remains the closest we ever came to true nationhood as one mission and vision united our diverse people. This is why I feel very strongly that it is high time this grave error of recognising May 29 as Democracy Day was corrected.

Chief Abiola may have died, but he left us with so many lessons. From what democracy truly means, to the power of joining forces, the heroism of courage and the fact that Nigerians can overcome their differences to midwife change.

The Quest for True Leadership

June 12 also showed us the consequences of allowing our judiciary to dispense with neutrality and descend into the arena as our courts were manipulated into laying the foundation for the election’s annulment. Going forward therefore, the judiciary must resist any attempt to abuse its processes and procedures in a quest to truncate the people’s will. Never again should our courts earn public opprobrium by appearing to shirk their toga of impartiality and condoning judicial abuse by the political class.

I charge everyone to follow in the footsteps of the late Abeokuta chief and give democracy its true meaning. However, the truth is that those who clamor forwhat belongs to them never do so with their hands folded. They march out and demand it.


As the nation marches into an election year, in 2015, it is incumbent on every Nigerian to be on the alert about the processes that would guarantee a free and fair election and usher in a leadership that will genuinely transform the lives of our people. The June 12 struggle simply re-inforces the fact that the actions or inactions of the different parties in any revolution play a huge part in determining the shape of or balance of forces in the political history of any nation. In essence, what persons, organisations and alliances do or do not do largely re-inforces held views, values and strategies and determines the direction of any nation’s life.

Thankfully, Nigeria has enjoyed fifteen years of uninterrupted civilian rule. The truth, however, is that revolutions always bring about change.

The June 12 political revolution limited itself to the change of political leadership from the hands of the military to that of their civilian counterparts. But as can be seen, the real revolution is one that involves both political and socio-economic change.

While I am not advocating violent change, I clamour for a peaceful revolution through the free and assertive expression of popular will by all Nigerians. Long before the Arab Spring, Nigerians demonstrated their capacity to stand up for their right and bring about the type of leadership with the capacity to create spaces for their prosperity. Further, demonstration of this resilience can be found in the unanimous rejection of the fuel subsidy removal by Nigerians in 2012, forcing the government to recant and retrace its steps.

Until the people decide to fight what they do not like, therefore, nothing will happen. Indeed, it was the opposition against the military junta that forced the military to resume the interrupted return to democratic rule and gave us a government we could call our own, however flawed.

I, therefore, once again urge progressive forces to set aside, like we did on June 12, ethnic differences, religious sentiments and personal ambition to build a New Nigeria, where every citizen has the opportunity to be what they want to be, to earn a decent living and where the elderly, disabled and the unemployed are assisted by the state.

Let us a build a New Nigeria in which governance and prosperity are inclusive. Those who brandish progressive credentials must ensure their conduct does not sully the ethos of the movement which essentially entail purifying and elevating politics and governance.

Let us come together to build a New Nigeria that will be economically and socially vibrant. Let us be united to build a New Nigeria where preference will be given only to the content of our character and not to parochial considerations. Our democracy has come of age and Chief MKO has set a standard for us to follow. His soul will truly rest when we walk the path he has shown us.

I rest my case. Thank you

–  Being a lecture delivered by Kwara State Governor, His Excellency, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed at Oranmiyan Hall, Airport Hotel, Ikeja, at the commemoration of June 12, 1993 Presidential election organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Lagos State Council on June 12, 2014.

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