June 12th is no ordinary date in Nigerian history. It embodies the sacrifices that have been made over the years for the democracy (or semblance of same) that we now enjoy, further serving as a timely reminder of the ills of military autocracy.
Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO), a Yoruba Muslim on a joint ticket with fellow Muslim, Babagana Kingibe, led his party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to electoral victory against Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). It was a moment of hope in non ethno-religious politics and an epoch when competence and merit won over patronage and primordial tribal sentiments. With optimism agog in the prospects of a new Nigeria, military interventionism truncated the people’s victory and led on to years of hard lessons in brutish military autocracy.
It is therefore only fitting that with Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 and successive transitions from civilian to civilian governments that we anoint this most canonical of dates to remind us of our tripartite loss, and the hope and potential in our democratic experiment.
Sadly, it is inconceivable in recent times that tribal or religious sentiments do not drive local and national politics. We’ve walked back the gains of yesteryears in leaps and bounds, blundering through what little democratic gains have been had over the years in servitude to the whims of a non-performing political class.
Our people have been stripped of the dignity of selves; of assembly and association, and of protest against bad governance. We’ve become fodder in the fatalistic ambition of political jobbers and their merry band of trigger-happy cops and servicemen.
Today, I joined a multitude of protesters who trooped out in exercise of their God-given & constitutionally affirmed right to protest against bad governance and corruption. Amongst this peaceful and surging crowd of protesters, I noticed that Press Officials where clad in Bullet-Proof vests and strategically positioned away from the milling crowd of protesters. I did not have to wonder why for long. Civil protests have in fact become death-wishes and the war-time dress code of the media men covering this protest attested to this summation. No less on DEMOCRACY DAY!
So while we celebrate Democracy Day today, we must sober up to the truth that we’ve frittered away the gains of the past in hideous pursuit of ‘strong-man' politics. We must admit that a lot more has to be done for Nigeria to come marginally within the spectrum of a true democracy. We must accept the disservice we've wrecked upon the sacrifices of our heroes past and yet be buoyed by the massively spreading socio-political consciousness that is setting this generation apart.
I am at once proud and invigorated by the guardians of our fragile democracy who without let and rest have registered protestations against poor political leadership and the oppression of the masses by a privileged few. We may not be where we want to be or could be, but our feet are firmly planted on the path to Uhuru.
As we rightfully commemorate this most auspicious day, the Nigerian Government must be reminded that the right to peaceful protest and assembly is fundamental to our national, regional and international laws and the Nigerian government must respect same. They must seize this moment to receive feedback from the public and be humble enough to admit their failings and work to right their wrongs.
I love the concept of One Nigeria but not at any cost. Our union, it must be said, is negotiable, and the terms must be adjusted to best reflect the wishes of the people. This are considerations that must rule reflections amongst our elected leaders today and I truly hope that the efforts of today will birth a new Nigeria tomorrow.
Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq., is a Legal Practitioner and the Principal Partner at LAW CORRIDOR, Nigeria.