After October 1, Nigeria’s independence anniversary, June 12 is the second most popular date in Nigeria. It got its popularity because it commemorates the perceived freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history.
The date makes two notable Nigerians unforgettable in the history of the country. They are Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
June 12 in Nigeria
Nigeria celebrates Democracy Day on June 12, which is a national holiday. It was held every year on May 29 until June 6, 2018. Democracy Day commemorates the handover of power from the military to an elected civilian government in 1999, marking the beginning of the country’s longest period of civilian governance since its independence from colonial rule in 1960.
Beginning in the year 2000, it has been an annual tradition. June 12 was once known as Abiola Day, and it was commemorated in Lagos and several of Nigeria’s southern states.
June 12 history
When the military administration, commanded by the astute General Ibrahim Babangida, postponed civil rule elections once more to June 12, 1993, it had no idea it was setting a historic date that would eventually consume it and force the military out of power. It was part of the general’s covert plan to hold party primaries and elections, then annul them and delay the transition program’s deadline.
The June 12, 1993, election was regarded as the fairest election in Nigeria. The election involved two parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). Moshood Abiola, popularly known as MKO Abiola, ran for presidency under the SDP, while Bashir Tofa ran for NRC.
Even though international and local observers declared the election free and fair, the military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida cancelled it over irregularities.
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Abiola was widely regarded as having won the fairest, freest, and most peaceful election in Nigerian history, but Babangida refused to hand over power to him, raising the delicate and long-standing issue of the North versus the South.
As a result, there was widespread agreement that the annulment of the election was motivated by ethnic factors rather than claims of political corruption and electoral fraud.
The cancellation of the election caused some riots and uproar in the nation, forcing Babangida to step down. He made Ernest Shonekan the President of an interim government on August 27, 1993.
On June 11, 1994, MKO Abiola declared himself President of Nigeria. He was later accused of treason, and under the command of General Sani Abacha, he was arrested on June 23, 1994.
Babangida and June 12
General Ibrahim Babangida was the military Head of State at the time of the June 12 election. The military ruler still maintains that he took the step of annulling the elections for the interest of the nation.
He has also revealed that if he hadn’t annulled the election, it would have led to a coup d’état.
Speaking in an interview on Channels Television, Babangida claimed that his behavior was appropriate at the time and that future coups supported his choice.
“It was a choice we made. That was a decision I had to make. I did it to the best of my knowledge and in the national interest,” he said.
He also stated that he made the right decision concerning the annulment of the election. He also went further to state that he could sit back and say that part of what he said came true after he had left power. A coup was staged, which lasted for five years.
Effects of the June 12 crisis
The annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections saw a lot of uproar in the nation. The effects of the election caused a crisis in the nation. Some of the effects of the election are:
Civil unrest in the country
The annulment vindicated the mass movement’s interpretation of the transition programme’s underlying deception, with the implication that the dictatorship’s power would be extended. The stage was therefore set for a massive, critical, and historic popular rebellion and revolution among Nigerians. Following the election, the government imposed restrictions on or shut down media outlets as well as arrested journalists. The government issued orders barring any legal action related to the cancelled election. National Electoral Commission’s operations were halted.
In a palace coup on November 17, 1993, Abacha deposed the temporary government. He disbanded the legislature, as well as the state and local administrations, and appointed military and police personnel to replace the elected civilian state governors. He also banned all forms of political activity. Abacha intended to appoint several civilian lawmakers to his government in order to weaken Abiola’s camp.
Abiola’s running partner Baba Gana Kingibe was named Foreign Minister, as was former Lagos governor Alhaji Lateef Jakande, who was named Minister of Works and Housing. After declaring himself president and commander-in-chief in June 1994, Abiola was arrested and charged with treason.
For nine weeks, workers in the petroleum sector, banking sector, and academia protested and went on strike in response to Abiola’s detention. The petroleum sector’s strike brought the economy to a halt. Following this, the Abacha administration jailed union leaders and fired civilian members of his cabinet.
Lessons learnt from June 12
Because of the effect it had on the nation’s polity, June 12 is arguably the second most significant national crisis after the civil war of 1967-1970. Following the annulment of the election, the entire country came to a halt as a result of organised labour’s strike action and the public’s daily protests. As a result, the terrified leadership dispatched military tanks into the streets.
Here are some of the lessons learnt from the June 12 saga.
Tribe did not matter in the election
Despite the fact that Abiola was a Yoruba man from Ogun State, he was able to defeat his rival Alhaji Bashir Tofa in Kano State. This clearly showed that tribal bloc voting did not play a significant impact in the election.
The possibility of a new Nigeria
The most important takeaway from June 12 is the possibility of a new Nigeria, in which our so-called fault lines are no longer our best lines. As a result, Nigerians must begin a new discourse about a democracy that inspires citizen confidence, allows for unrestricted breathing, and promises a better life for everybody, regardless of who they are or where they come from. The most important lesson of June 12 was that a new Nigeria, a better Nigeria, is possible. We must teach it, learn it, and keep it etched in our subconscious.
The Nigerian political class can be petty
After losing the election, the NRC acted terribly. Rather than coming together with the SDP to safeguard democracy and oppose the military, it became a case of “if I don’t have it, nobody else should.” NRC quickly bowed out of the fight. To make matters worse, SDP members who had been angry that Abiola had been given the party’s presidential ticket in the first place, were keen to have the mandate revoked. Soon after, SDP officials met with military commanders to form an interim administration with the aim of trying to save Nigeria.
Anyone can become a symbol of resistance
Starting with Gen Murtala Muhammed’s military regime in 1975, Abiola was an established figure who wined and dined with the powers that be. Gen Ibrahim Babangida was a renowned friend of his. Abiola was supposed to accept the annulment of June 12 peacefully, get into his car, and return to his home.
Babangida and his crew were taken aback when Abiola launched a revolt against what was intended to be a routine election cancellation. Abiola’s defiance, let alone the fact that he would fight until the end, was not anticipated.
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