The Action Congress governorship candidate in the 2007 April elections and by the Grace of God, the incoming Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, a few days ago asked me if I could join you in the this year’s June 12 celebrations. That indeed was a great privilege for me, as I reasoned that it would give me the opportunity to acknowledge once again, the progressiveness and the steadfastness of the Ekiti people in matters of governance and basic welfare of the people. It is not a new phenomenon, I believe it is a cultural one; and that explains why inspite of the harsh terrain facilitated by the peoples Democratic Party usurpers now in Government at the centre and Ekiti State House, you have remained as constant as the Northern star in seeking for the restoration of your stolen mandate. I can assure you, you have the support of all freedom and democracy lovers throughout our country.
A few during the Abacha years came up with the disingenuous position that they stand by or for June 12, as if June 12 were the proverbial elephant being assessed by a group of blind men. June 12 is that day on June 12 , 1993 when presidential elections were held throughout Nigeria and the great and long suffering people of our country rose in one voice to give true meaning to democracy. They voted willingly, put aside all the prejudices that had hitherto divided us as a people, be it ethnic, religion and culture and at the end of it all, Bashorun Kashimawo Moshood Olawale Abiola emerged as the President-elect of the Federal republic of Nigeria. The elections redefined Nigeria’s concept of unity, and showed a people eager and willing to work together and make Nigeria a great country. The elections broke all well known myths woven around our country by ourselves and even by non-Nigerians.
The Nigerian military then under the firm grip of General Ibrahim Babangida and the small Ruling clique that had held on to the country since independence however had other thoughts in their mind other than the greatness of Nigeria. These thoughts were later to crystallize in what was to be christened as the ‘Babangida Hidden Agenda’. Babangida never intended to vacate office as he led the country through the most tedious transition process, albeit with novel electoral concepts that will aid us in quickly identifying the fraud of an agenda. Secondly if he intended vacationing power, he never intended the military to give up power. Thirdly, the most profound of all the contents of the agenda, was and remains the iron cast determination of Nigeria’s Ruling clique to allow whoever they regarded as an outsider from taking over power.
Babangida however, if left to himself chose to perpetuate himself in power. Following the botched coup attempt which ultimately led to the execution of his childhood friend and colleague, General Mamman Vatsa, Babangida tightened the reigns of power around himself nurturing in the process the emergence of a clique of young military officers to whom he became the sole personification of government. The press and the civil rights leaders became casualties as they were trampled under various draconian rules and the State Security apparatus became a personal tool in the process of governance. Nigerians saw through all these moves and there began a sustained clamour for a transition process that would lead back to civil rule in Nigeria. In the midst of all this was an interplay of another individual military officers ambition, that of General Sanni Abacha, who information said, sought to become Nigeria’s Head of State even if it was only for one day; even if Nigeria would go to pieces thereafter. General babangida under pressure by the civil society found solace in the arms of General sanni Abacha, and that gave birth to what was later known as the cultic agreement between the two; in return for full support and loyalty of General Sanni Abacha, Babangida was to ensure that he was succeeded by him.
To deal with the restive society however, Babangida kept it busy by creating a maze of activities dubbed the Babangida Transition to Civil Rule process through which he offered to lead Nigerians back to democracy. He created a plethora of democratic institutions, banned and un-banned political leaders, encouraged the formation of political parties and turned round to ban them; created two parties in the image of his government and appointed government administrators to initially chaperon them. He dribbled and toyed with various policy ideas until he outmaneuvered himself to the gain of the country with his adoption of the Option A4 system of electoral balloting.
For the first time an electoral process emerged that brought the whole electoral process into the public glare. Accreditation for voting was done openly and at the same time throughout the country, thus seriously eliminating the potential for cross movement of voters and violence. Even if there was to be violence it was localized. Voting, by openly queuing behind the party or candidate of choice also was arranged to take place simultaneously in all centres in the country, followed immediately by public counting and declaration of the votes. As voting centres had no more than five hundred electorates, it was easy to dispense with matters of electoral management and all that remained was for public collations of votes at designated centres. If there were disputes, they could easily be resolved.
Nigerians patiently waltzed through all the mazes created in the Transition process and inpite of last minute induced judicial intervention of late Justice Ikpeme to halt the elections, went to polls on June 12 1993 and dealt a heavy blow on the sit tight Agenda of General Ibrahim Babangida. Nigerians however thought that was all the problem, they did not take into consideration General Abacha’s ambition and iron cast position of the Ruling clique. It will not be true to say Babangida did not fight back. Even he, was not enthusiastic in implementing his cultic agreement with Sanni Abacha, hence the last minute grandstanding at the National Assembly, seeking to use that hallow institution to legitmise his stay. Ghana Must Go Bags did not just start under, General Olusegun Obasanjo. General Babangida initiated it and turned it into an art. In spite of this the courageous leadership under Senator Iyorchia Ayu and the progressive members of the National Assembly fought his scheme to a standstill and as a cursor to the role played by the National legislative arm in aborting Obasanjo’s third term scheme; declined Babangida’s scheme to have him called back from stepping down as Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Pardon me if I had taken you through a long history of what June 12 is. One it is to suggest that never again should our military be allowed to be hijacked by political and self seeking officers, for what General Babangida did and which Generals Sanni Abach and Abdulsalaam Abubakar came to accomplish with the mysterious death of Chief M.K.O Abiola who won the elections, were not borne out by the popular feelings in the barracks where the gallant men voted for democracy. Reports showed that the military men turned out in large numbers and voted in their barracks for return to civil rule in Nigeria. Secondly, it is to give lie to General Abdul Salaam Abubakar who appeared to have found his voice at the 10th anniversary events organized by the family of General Sanni Abacha to mark his passing. Abubakar was quoted to have asked that June 12 be forgotten in his own words to allow the country to move forward. We have however seen how the Generals, Babangida, Abacha, Abubakar and lately Obasanjo in twenty two years moved us forward as a people. Their regimes were enmeshed in unimaginable corruption while Nigerians got abused and had their humanity debased. In 2007, what stared the Nation in the face was systemic collapse of all infrastructure and the destruction of basic human values without which Nigerians could ever hope to attain greatness.
That brings me to the second part of this discourse, which is what I perceive to be the significance or inter-relationship of June 12 in the ultimate emergence of democracy in Nigeria, in the nearest future. The immediate impulse is when democracy is mentioned to state that, it is “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. People is or becomes the engine and also the focus of any democracy. Larry Diamond in a published essay stated that for a country to be democratic, it must have;
• must have more than regular, multi party elections under a civilian constitutional order
• elections must be truly free and fair’ and requires freedom to advocate, associate, contest and campaign
• fair and neutral Electoral administrations
• widely credible system of dispute resolution and,
• balanced access to mass media.
As this discourse remains more of talk back, I shouldn’t bore you with many thinkers view of what democracy is. Just that it may assist us to recall Barak Obama’s claim in his recent book, ‘Audacity of Hope’ that American Constitutional contributions to the democratic world center around the following;
• Rule of Law
• Representative government
• Bill of Rights
• Separation of government into three co-equal arms, a bi-cameral Congress, a Fedral government that preserves authority in state governments, and without him saying so, the judiciary
The first admission we must make here is that, June 12 has shown to us all that at least electoral democracy is feasible in our country. That is that it is possible to have truly free and fair elections, where the freedom to advocate for votes, associate with like minded persons, campaign amongst the citizenry and contest elections are unfettered. Electoral democracy is at the root of democracy evolution. It does not confer all that democracy promises, but it ensures a renewal process, a process that ensures that the people could stand by an acceptable government and when the need arises throw them out like rags which that government might have turned into. This brings us to the issue of enduring institutions and electoral processes.
In June 12, we saw how a transparent voting process could generate confidence amongst the populace. It is not just enough to hold elections, people must clearly have confidence in the implementation of the whole electoral process. The concept of transparency cannot be over-logged when it comes to electoral administration. We saw how Option A4 was able to galvanize the confidence of the people in the whole electoral process, such that those who lost elections knew that they lost free and fair.
June 12 also opened our eyes to the fact that it is possible to have a reasonably neutral Electoral Agency. Whatever the shortcomings that might have been attributably to the Humphrey Nwosu led Electoral Agency, there was reason to believe that the body set out to be neutral and barring the heavy handed intimidation of the electoral boss which led to his stopping the announcement of the results, which were all already in his care, the agency showed that Nigeria and Nigerians couls evolve a neutral agency that would do credit to our elections.
June 12 has also shown that if the hypocrisy of Western countries is minimized, realizing that it cannot be eliminated wholly due to their respective self-interest, it might be possible to put in check all anti democratic forces inherent in our polity. During June 12, we saw how a firm position by the Unites States government that it saw no reason why the June 12 elections should be postponed following the dagger in the night judgment of Justice Bassey Ikpeme, prodded Babangida and the Electoral agency not to give in to the blackmail of that judgment. We observed also, the unimaginable courage of the Canadian government in giving support to the clamor to restore faith in June 12 and get the winner duly declared by the Babangida dictatorship, and later on under Sanni Abacha. June 12 however also showed to us how both the British government and the American government looked the other way when babangida through Abacha, Abubakar and lately Obasanjo unleashed repressive agencies against the civil class seeking restoration of democratic values whether in finding solutions to June 12 or in aborting the third term aberrations that was to be foisted on us. They also looked the other way when corruption feasted on Nigeria, as they were direct beneficiaries of unwholesome trade and serving as havens for stolen funds. Not until the September 11 pogrom in the Unites States and the ultimate focus on tracking of terrorist funds did the moral dilemma of serving as destination of stolen Nigerian resources start to stare them in the face.These countries looked the other way when Nigeria which advocates democracy in other countries and serve as a strong contributor to international agencies work in conflict management in other countries, continued to trample on the rights of its citizen. June 12 showed us this despicable behavior by so called champions of democracy is possible.
June 12 has shown that once there is openness the need for arbitrary use of repressive agencies will decline if not totally eliminated. Security agencies observed the whole processes leading to June 12, and unless in the course of duty to their fatherland had no reason to directly undermine the electoral process. What we are talking here is of possibilities, and that since the security agencies played laudable roles during June 12, they could still do it; without recourse to their flagrant and open use in manipulation and abuse of the electoral process through the elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
The greatest impact that June 12 would have had was on the economy, and a strong and well diversified economy is a requirement in the sustainability of any democracy. Jobs have to be created, the gap between the haves and don’t haves have to be reduced to a justifiable level, and the aspirations and yearnings of the people have to be met. In the aftermath of the June 12 elections, uncompetitive trade practices started to unravel with increased availability and concomitant decline in prices of consumer goods. Expectations of a buoyant economy heightened as importes who had hitherto hoarded goods released them into the market and there were high expectations of increased participation in Nigeria’s economy by various foreign countries.
June 12 has shown aptly that one can only give what he has. The military could not give democracy, if it could it would not annul a free and fair election. If it could, it would not foist on Nigeria in May 1999 a noted advocate of one party state, a dictator in place of a democrat and would not have manipulated the 1999 elections the way it did. A consequence of this is that the electoral processes that culminated in the 2003 and 2007 elections facilitated by a dictator and believer in life rule can only be anything but democratic. The concocted regimes could therefore not have delivered on any democratic dividend. Our currencies nose-dived in spite of a huge foreign reserve base, a factor inherent in the lack of a virile productive sector; crimes soared, be it the violent and malfeasance type or that pushed by the pen. Basic Infrastructure in the transportation industries, energy, health and education decayed and in the energy sector suffered systemic collapse.
These situations mired in a wholesome attempt to manipulate the 2007 elections, intimidate political opponents, compromise security agencies including our men of the armed forces and the police who played significant roles in votes snatching and manipulation, suggest that we can more be farther away from the tenets and practice of democracy. As democracy can never be built on a farcical election so the future of democracy in Nigeria, cannot be anything but bleak.
This is not to suggest that as a people we are helpless in all of these. I have earlier on referred to the sturdy and hard cultural traits of the Ekiti people when it comes to standing up for justice and equity. You must hoist the flag and demand for free elections as a minimum basis for our movement towards democracy. You are already asking for justice at the elections tribunal, and it is my fervent hope that justice shall be upheld by that body. When this is achieved, it is also my fervent hope and prayer, that the new government will work assiduously towards delivering on the dividends of democracy. I know you are a modest and hard working people. You are not asking government to do everything for you. No. But you are asking of it to deliver on its promise to provide you with security, create enabling atmosphere for the improvement of education, health, and establish essential infrastructure without which any people cannot aspire into modernity. That is what you ask, and I dare say that is what we as Nigerians aspire to have in our governments.
I will not leave you without suggesting that at the centre our democracy can only evolve and thrive when the dreams of our founding fathers are given meaning to. Chief Obafemi Awolowo fought all his life for the emergence of a true Federal Nigeria. Alhaji Ahmadu Bello enunciated the principles of federalism when he insisted his government would not deal with the Israelis (even though in such areas where his region could have been the beneficiary) while the Federal government and the Western region followed different options. The regions grew at their respective pace, there was healthy competition and even today everything seem to suggest that only a return to a true federal state, can sustain democracy in Nigeria. I also cannot leave without suggesting that the present constitution is a military contraption which does not reflect the moods, yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
There are agitations in the South South for a return to fair resource distribution and control. There is agitation in the South East by a silent majority that wishes to opt out of Nigeria. There is agitation in the South West for Constitutionalism and return to federal state, there is agitation in the three Northern zones for an official recognition for their way of life particularly on religious and governance issues. There is agitation of the stomach in all the six zones. What all these seem to suggest, is that Nigerians seek to evolve a modern state on the basis of their own visions not the cataracted visions of the selfish Ruling Clique and of the Military. Nigerians need to talk to one another and build their country on their own visions. No democracy will ever take root in Nigeria if this is not done
May I once again thank you for this opportunity to dialogue and I ask that as always, STAND UP FOR THE TRUTH AND FOR YOUR RIGHTS.
Hon Olawale Oshun
Former Chief Whip. House of Representatives
June 12, 2008