Now that 12th of June has been officially signed into law as the country's `Democracy Day` and a public holiday, I am of the opinion that it will be pertinent to do a thorough review of its nitty-gritty for clarity and better understanding because there is more to `that date` in the history of our existence than meets the eye.
June 12, 1993 was a day Nigerians came out in droves to exercise their one of their civic responsibilities. But, unlike what transpired in previous elections where tribal ethnocentrism and religion played dominant roles in shaping the patterns of voting; the people were united in shunning sentiments by freely voting for the candidates of their choice and conscience in an atmosphere devoid of violence and other malpractices.
The history of this feat cannot be completed without accordance of appropriate accolades to some important events that preceded it.
One of such was the abolition of multiparty arrangement; and, the introduction of two-party system. By this action, the regional style of politics which was hitherto in vogue was eliminated.
The Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention had national outlook and their presence could be seen and felt in every corners of the country. As a result, national interest began to replace regional and tribal interests in all political calculations and permutations. The fact that the parties were fully funded by the government also made it very difficult for regional politicians and money bags to hijack their nucleus. To this extent it will not be a misplaced statement to say that the government in power at that period was sensitive to the dangers inherent in the regional and tribal politicking in place; hence, they came up with two-party structure to neutralize the dangers and forged a common front for the electorates. Also, in the run-up to the main elections the parties held their presidential primaries.
Interestingly, I was privileged to be serving (NYSC) in Jos where I witnessed the SDP`s primaries at the Jos Township Stadium (now Rwang Pam Stadium) as a Protocol Officer in the then Plateau State Deputy Governor`s Office. At that event, delegates from all the states of the federation converged at the arena to elect the party`s presidential candidate amongst some of the finest in the country`s political and business circles. The frontrunners were Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, Mrs Sarah Jubril, and Otunba Reuben Famuyibo, to mention but a few.
For the two days the event lasted, the atmosphere was engulfed with melodious music from various traditional troupes and other musicians which included the likes of late Sunny Okosun. That venue could be better described as a mini Nigeria because despite the rivalry amongst the candidates and their supporters it was obvious that `the people` were unanimous in their quests for a better Nigeria. Aside from some skirmishes (which were normal and expected in such huge gathering); there were no signs of hatred or tribal bigotry.
The serenity of Jos town coupled with the beautiful weather and the `then second to none peacefulness and hospitality` of the people made the occasion to be a worthwhile and memorable one. (at this juncture, it will be an exciting bonus for me to quickly use this opportunity to call on the governor of Plateau State not to rest on his laurels towards ensuring that total `peace and security` are restored and sustained in the state; because, that is the only way to make all his other achievements count. Though the problem has been in existence before you came on board; that does not really matter because you can make the difference.
The herders/farmers clashes which have been degenerating into ethnic killings are majorly caused by destruction of farmers’ crops and farmland, and the rustling of cattle by unscrupulous elements. So, if the herders can restrain or prevent their cattle from trespassing; and, the people can also mobilize to keep the activities of rustlers in check; peace will definitely return to `our Plateau`. The misconception that the indigens do not like the Hausa/Fulanis and vice versa is a ruse that has been planted in the minds and imaginations of the people by mischief makers and enemies of our nation.
Going back to the major review, I can comfortably say that the show of love and patriotic zeal/commitments which pervaded the conducts of those presidential primaries (reports also confirmed that NRC`s was also orderly and peaceful) contributed largely to laying a solid foundation for what eventually became the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections in the history of our country. Therefore, during the electioneering campaign, the leaders of the two political parties did not create any atmosphere of warmongering for their supporters and the generality of the citizenry.
They went about their campaigns peaceably, orderly and in mature manners; and, every corners of the polity were flooded with posters and souvenirs without harassment and intimidation from any quarter. There were no bickering and name calling; no pulling down of rival`s billboards and tearing or defacement of posters; no campaigns of damaging propaganda; and, no any form of hate speech etc.
Expectedly, `enemies of the nation` made spirited efforts before the elections to cause animosity and disaffection amongst the people.
They began by spreading dangerous rumours (amongst several other antics) about plans by northerners to attack southerners and southern interests in the northern parts of the country (and vice versa) during the elections. This made a lot of people to embark on panicky emergency journeys across the states. Many people (including corps members) lost their lives in road accidents in the process; and, this impelled me to embark on a `one-man demonstration` (with my service uniform) as a way of contributing my little quota to dissuade people from buying into the destructive antics of the enemies of progress.
On the day of elections, Nigerians from all works of life came out in their large numbers to cast their votes freely, fairly and peacefully for their preferred candidates without fear or favour. This feat was achieved because the candidates and the leaders of their parties were disposed to free and fair elections. In addition to these, the Professor Humphrey Nwosu led National Electoral Commission (NEC) did a great job by ensuring that the umpires were professional in their handling of the exercise.
There were no incidence of `inconclusiveness`; no thuggery; no disruption of voting in opponent`s areas of strength; no over voting; no vote buying; no box snatching; no abduction of Returning Officers and declaration of results under duress; and, no alteration of results, etc.
From the aforementioned, you will agree with me that the concept of June 12th is not all about an individual; it is not all about the north, west or south; it is not about a particular party or their ideologies; it is not about rotation or zoning; and, it is not about just the date.
The truth is that June 12, 1993 represented the beauty of a united people; it represented the proactiveness and sensibility of government to eliminating the major problems of tribal politicization and political monetization; it represented the political sagacity and consciousness of the Nigerian electorates; it represented unity in diversity; it represented willingness to sacrifice personal ambitions for national interests; it attested to the fact that we can assemble men/women of honour and integrity as umpires to conduct elections in this part of the divide; and, it proved that the people can play by the rules under an atmosphere without mutual suspicions.
Today, it is a thing of joy that the date has been made our `Democracy Day` and a public holiday; but, the pertinent question that needs urgent answer is: are we truly making conscious, genuine, and deliberate efforts towards replicating the numerous attributes that the `real June 12, 1993` encompassed?
Sincere answer to that question will go a long way to determining our next line of action as a nation.
Please note that this write-up is without prejudice to anyone or any of the subsisting suits at the various election petitions tribunals and courts.
PUBLIC POLICY ANALYST/COMMENTATOR