Since 1993, the 12th of June, has become a very popular date in the annals of Nigerian history, etched in the minds and memories of many.
In that year, there was a lot of hope for the country to return to democratic rule after two successive military regimes had spent almost ten years at the helm of affairs in the country. An election was organised by the Military government of General Ibrahim Babangida and was fixed for June 12 1993.
Business Mogul MKO Abiola became the winner of the elections which were adjudged to have been free and fair by many. To his dismay and that of most Nigerians at the time, the elections were annulled and an interim government was set up which led to other situations that quickly spiraled into events which had sent the country back to military rule.
Abiola himself was imprisoned and lost his life under controversial circumstances on the 7th of July 1998, which was the date that he was supposed to be released,.
In the year 2018, the Federal Government gave recognition to the date to serve as the official day to celebrate democracy in the country. 2019 however is the first year that, this day will be officially celebrated across the nation to mark the gains of the nation’s democracy.
In this article, we shall be considering some of the seeming heroes and villains that that played a huge role in what blossomed to become the June 12 saga.
Heroes of Democracy
Chief MKO Abiola
Chief MKO Abiola is undoubtedly the undisputed hero of the day. The multi millionaire business icon was the Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Abiola had ran for the post of President alongside Baba Gana Kingibe who was his running mate. Abiola had Alhaji Bashir Tofa, who was a businessman from Kano to contend with in the polls.
After the elections were concluded, Abiola coasted home to victory with 58.56 percent of the votes, numbering, 8,341,309, while his rival Tofa was only able to garner 5,952,087 votes which was 41.64% of the total votes cast. Hence Abiola was adjudged to have won the 1993 elections which local and foreign observers have termed the best ever in the history of the country.
The nation was to however experience a very rude shock as the election was annulled by the Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida.
Abiola was later sent to Prison by Military Head of State, General Sani Abacha for daring to stand up for his right and fight for his mandate. Sadly he would not make it out alive as he died on July 7 1998, the day he was scheduled to be released from Prison.
Alhaja Kudirat Abiola who was the wife of chief MKO Abiola was an activist who spoke up after her husband who is widely believed to have won the elections was placed under arrest by Abacha in 1994. Immediately Abiola was arrested, Kudirat boldly made calls for his release from detention despite the fact that the government of Abacha was always harassing the entire family of the SDP Presidential candidate.
She granted interviews on a number of occasions to both the local and international media where she leveled accusations against the government of trying to wreck their family financially as she called for the release of her husband.
The government had tried to charge her with treason for her outspokenness but she was acquitted of the charges. After failing to silence her, she was assassinated by self confessed killer, Sgt Rogers, on May 28 1996, who later said that he was acting on orders of his boss, Al-Hamza Mustapha a top loyalist of Abacha.
Wole Soyinka has always been known to be a strong critic of governments in the country, most especially against military dictators. He as well have spoken up against other notable figures considered to be high handed, even those outside the country such as Robert Mugabe.
It hence, did not come as a surprise when he spoke up against the Abacha led government especially against the continued detention of Chief MKO Abiola. Soyinka eventually had to escape from the country on a motorcycle, as threats to his life became imminent.
Even in his absence, Abacha handed down a death sentence on him, making Soyinka remain in exile till a democratic government was sworn in in 1999.
There were other notable Nigerians who contributed to the struggle for a democratic government after the June 12 saga. Some of them include, Alfred Rewane, Frank Kokori, Adekunle Ajasin, Sam Mbakwe, Dan Suleiman, Colonel Umar Kangiwa, Frederick Fasehun, Aye Opadokun, Arthur Nwankwo amongst others.
OPC and NADECO as well played a heroic role along with the Nigerian media who made sure that they put out the ills of the military governments who were trying to scuttle the gains of the 1993 elections.
Villains of Democracy?
On the other hand, there were some notable Nigerian who had played a role in working against the interests of democracy in the country as the whole June 12 saga played out.
General Ibrahim Babangida
Former Military Head of State Ibrahim Babangida tops this list as he was the one who had annulled the June 12 presidential election, after it was deemed free and fair by many.
It was all the more surprising as Babangida was an ally of Abiola. It was reported that Abiola had provided support for Babangida for him to ascend to power. Rather than support Abiola who had the backing of majority of Nigerians, Babangida had done the opposite and in the process, dashed the hopes of Nigerians who were eagerly waiting for a transition into civilian rule.
General Sani Abacha
General Sani Abacha is also in this category as he was one of those who strongly pushed for the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections.
He was said to have also favoured the set up of a transitional government headed by Earnest Shonekan. Abacha however, seized power from Shonekan within three months of the setup of the interim government.
He went a step further to arrest the acclaimed winner of the election, MKO Abiola, detaining him for years. Abacha strongly resisted any move that would displace him as Head of State, and arrested many who spoke in support for Abiola’s mandate even assassinating some of them.
Baba Gana Kingibe
Kingibe was one of those who inadvertently played a role in the suppression of democracy in Nigeria after June 12 1993.
Kingibe was the running mate to MKO Abiola during the elections, but after the poll was annulled and Abacha became Head of State, Kingibe went on to serve in the government of Abacha as a minister. This was despite the fact that Abacha had detained Abiola with whom he was running with.
Kingibe kept silent on the whole issue and supported Abacha’s government leading many to refer to him as a traitor who enjoyed the gains of a scuttled democracy.
Other notable Nigerians who as well fall into this category due to their actions include Tony Anenih and Paschal Bafyau.
It comes as a huge sigh of relief that the struggles of all those who fought and died for the survival of democracy in 1993 is now beginning to bear fruit.
Do you however, agree with those listed as heroes and villains of Nigeria’s democracy?
Let us know with your comments below.