Lagos — Today, Nigeria's pro-democracy community would as usual organise series of activities to mark the 16th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by late businessman and politician, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
However, as the activists relive memories of Abiola and the election believed to be the fairest and freest in Nigeria, Ademola Adeyemo looks for the personalities behind the struggle for actualization of democracy in Nigeria
Exactly sixteen years ago, 12th June, 1993, Nigeria in its long march to democratic system held a presidential election which was generally adjudged to be the freest and fairest election ever held in the history of the country after several years of failed attempts. As the results of the election were trickling in as announced by the Humphrey Nwosu led defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC),it was clear that Chief Moshood Abiola the presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party(SDP) had won the election. However, the military junta led by General Ibrahim Babangida was not comfortable with the Abiola Presidency and decided against the popular yearnings of Nigerians and the international community to annul the result.
The annulment was however resisted by pro democracy and human rights activists all over the world, but the resistance only forced Babangida to step aside and eventually paving way for the emergence of the late dictator General Sani Abacha to seize power from a rag tag interim government chaired by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Abiola's insistence to actualize his mandate irked Abacha's government and the presumed winner of the presidential election was arrested and put away in detention. Abacha later died and General Abdusalami Abubakar took over failed to effect the immediate release of Abiola from detention contrary to popular expectation that he will be the first on the list of those to be released from detention. Instead of Abiola it was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that was released. However, Abiola later died under a questionable circumstance on Tuesday July 7, 1998 after falling ill during a meeting with a visiting U.S delegation.
However, sixteen years after the historic presidential election in Nigeria, the pro-democracy community has not abandoned the cause.
As usual, today the civil society groups will march in commemoration of the 16th anniversary of the fairest and freest poll.
But Ironically, politicians and almost all the people who benefitted in one way or the other from the sacrifice and bravery of Abiola in his struggle for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria had totally forgotten the struggle and sacrifices made by Abiola and others who struggled to bring the present dispensation into reality. The reminiscence over Abiola's struggle and death has been completely overshadowed and since ignored.
Apart from Abiola other heroes and heroines of the June 12 struggle are:
Kudirat Atinuke Abiola
Late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was one of the wives of Late Moshood Abiola , the winner of the June 12,1993 Presidential election. She was born in 1951, in Zaria , where she also had her early education. Testimonies of her times at Muslim Girls High School, Ijebu Ode, indicate the evolution of a powerful mind that married the qualities of hard work with the diligence of an achiever.
However, the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which her husband had won, forced Kudirat into the pro-democracy movement with eminent nationalists like Chief Anthony Enahoro braving military bullets. When her husband was incarcerated and kept in solitary confinement for claiming his presidential mandate, Kudirat stepped forward and confronted the military dictators , convinced that the military's actions amounted to a violation of the fundamental right of Nigerians to elect their government.
Her leadership motivated other pro democracy groups to spring up and pressed for the actualization of the popular presidential election. Particularly, in 1994 during the heat of the struggle, Kudirat was actively involved in sustaining the oil workers strike which succeeded in crippling the nation's socio-economic sector and weakened the military government
Kudirat gave interviews on several occasions to the foreign and Nigerian press in which she called for her husband's release and accused the government of destroying her family financially. On May 8, 1996. the Lagos High Court acquitted her of charges of conspiracy and making false statements. She was charged again with these offences on May 28, 1996 and the Lagos High Court ordered her release on bail . Despite this harassment, she continued her outspoken campaign on behalf of her husband.
But on 4th of June, 1996, few days to the anniversary of the June 12 commemorative date , Kudirat was ambushed and shot dead by assassins.
Late Chief Adekunle Ajasin
Born in Owo on 29 October 1908, Late Chief Adekunle Ajasin , an educationist was one of the leading associates of Late Obafemi Awolowo .
Following the death of Awo, the future appeared bleak. There was no one with the charisma, soar-away persona to drive the system in an increasingly complex Nigeria. The oldest of the surviving was Chief Adekunle Ajasin. And he accepted to lead the struggle
Ajasin singlehandedly wrote the policy on education for which the defunct Western Region became the envy of other regions in the country. He was in fore front of the agitation for the rights of the children to education, human rights and political emancipation.
Ajasin's passion for self government informed his early association with pro democracy groups . Ajasin was again at the forefront when General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the 12 June 1993 presidential election, won by the now deceased business man, Moshood Abiola.
His quest to revalidate the election resulted in the formation of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which he was the pioneer leader . On several occasions, and despite his frail health, Ajasin endured arrest and detention in the battle to force Gen. Sani Abacha to relinquish the reins of power to Abiola..
Ajasin's principled stand on issues was put to test when his health began to falter. In August 1995, he fell ill and the military administration in Ondo State decided to foot his medical bill. This generated an uproar as some interpreted it to mean that he would compromise his campaign to enthrone true democracy. But upon his return from his medical trip abroad, he renewed his quest for the revalidation of Abiola's 12 June mandate.
In June 1995, he was arrested by the military along with 50 others for holding a meeting and asked to go home 24 hours later. But he refused after learning that no other person among those arrested along with him, had regained freedom
A great unionist, Ajasin showed leadership qualities, he played a major role in fashioning the 1951 Macpherson Constitution that paved the way for the decision by the colonial masters to grant Independence to Nigeria.
The late Alfred Rewane was an icon of Nigeria's pro-democracy movement during the dark days of the later dictator General Sani Abacha. He campaigned tirelessly for democracy and human rights, true federalism, honesty, transparency and accountability in public office, and ethics in business. He was also involved in pressing for the actualization of the June 12, 1993 presidential election ..
In October 6, 1995 he was murdered in a suspicious circumstance. His death provoked national and international outcry which consequently led to the isolation of Nigeria by the International community.
Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya
Late Senator Abraham Adesanya, elder statesman, lawyer, former senator and an irrepressible opponent of military adventurism remained consistently dedicated to his belief in good leadership and accountability.
His commitment to democratic practice, justice and fairness was non-negotiable. when he returned to the country after his studies abroad , Adesanya joined the progressive brand of politics, symbolised at the time by the likes of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. During the Second Republic, he was elected into the Senate on the ticket of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and became the Senate Minority Leader.
When the election of late Moshood Abiola was annulled, Adesanya joined others to form the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) a strong pro-democracy group which confronted the military might of the late dictator, Gen Sani Abacha . His group encouraged Abiola to stand by his mandate as it insisted on the actualization of the June 12, 1993 election result. The organisation was vehement and combative in its struggle.
In January, 1997 Adesanya miraculously escaped assassin's bullets. However, the incident failed to dissuade him .
In 1998, He became the leader of Afenifere , a pan-Yoruba social and cultural group promoting the virtues of minority rights, equality, federalism and nationalism.
Pa Anthony Enahoro
Chief Anthony Enahoro, nationalist and elder statesman is one of Nigeria's foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activists - was born on 22 July, 1923, in Uromi in the present Edo State of Nigeria. Chief Enahoro has had a long and distinguished career in the press, politics, the civil service and the pro-democracy movement.
Chief Enahoro was a member of the Western House of assembly; and later member, Federal House of Representatives in 1951. He later became Minister of Home Affairs in the old western region. He was the Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Legislative Affairs in the Federal House of Representatives, 1959-63; and moved motion for the independence of Nigeria. He was a delegate to most of the constitutional conferences leading to the independence of Nigeria in 1960.
Chief Enahoro was also a leader of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO; a pro-democracy group that fought dictator Sani Abacha to a stand still. In 1995 he was detained for more than eighty days without any charge by the military government of Sani Abacha
Chief Enahoro is the chairman of the Movement for National Reformation, MNR; as well as the Pro-National Conference Organisation, PRONACO.
Prof Wole Soyinka
Professor Wole Soyinka ,Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and critic, first black African who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 was born in Abeokuta, southwestern Nigeria.
Soyinka was first time imprisoned after elections in Western Nigeria, charged for illegal broadcast criticizing fraud of the results. After Samuel .Ladoke Akintola was elected premier of the Western Region, Soyinka, armed with a gun, had entered the broadcasting studios in Ibadan, and played his own tape instead of Akintola's victory speech. During the regime of General Yakubu Gowon.
Soyinka was jailed in 1967-69 for alleged conspiracy to aid Biafra's independence movement. Several American and British
Soyinka lived in exile in the US and France after leaving Nigeria in 1994. When the June 12,1993 presidential election was annulled Soyinka played a leading role in mounting pressure on Abacha regime to actualize the result of the election. He used his influence to mount a vigorous international campaign against the dictatorial regime of Abacaha, which was isolated by the world community for its human rights abuse and killing of oppositions. . In 1997 he was tried in absentia with 14 other opposition members for a thump up charge of bomb attacks against army. The military regime of General Sani sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia.
For the past forty years, Lagos based lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi(SAN) has been an issue in the nations legal and political life
A distinguished lawyer, acclaimed author, publisher and philanthropist, he is better known as a torn in the flesh of all past governments in Nigeria .
He gained national and international recognition as a fierce human rights crusader. He has been in private legal practice since 1965 and has handled over 5,000 - mostly high-profile-cases from the lower to the apex Court.
Fawehinmi has been detained and imprisoned by various governments more than 35 times since 1969.
He was in actively involved in the struggle to actualize the annulled election and for Abiola to regain his mandate
Soyinka has been imprisoned several times for his criticism of the government. From the 1970s he has lived long periods in exile
Frank Kokori, a renown labour leader is the former secretary-general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), A pro-democracy activist, Kokori in 1994 led Nigeria's oil workers to a prolong strike over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. The strike paralysed the social and economic life of the nation and embarrassed Gen Abacha's military government.
Kokori was arrested on August 20, 1994 by security operatives . Like many of the other detainees, Kokori was moved around different prisons, mostly in the northern part of Nigeria.
The incarceration, however did not stop his pro democracy activism. After regaining his freedom , he has not refrained from civil rights activities
Ambassador Walter Carrington was an American diplomat who served as United States ambassador Extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Nigeria between 1993 and 1997
When in Nigeria, Carrington stood resolutely with pro-democracy activists agitating for civil rule .He publicly criticised the decision of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to annul the June 12 presidential election widely adjudged to be free and fair because of selfish and parochial reasons. He used his position as an ambassador to encourage the respect of the rights of all Nigerians and foster democracy in the country.
He was greatly concerned about the abuse of human rights, and the unfortunate descent of Nigeria under the military into a police state.
A graduate of the Harvard Law School, Carrington was the Director of the Department of International Affairs of Howard University. From 1971-1980, he was Executive Vice President of the African-American Institute and held various positions in the Peace Corps from 1961-1971, including that of Regional Director for Africa.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo was a staunch member of NADECO and has played opposition politics for many decades, he along with the late Adesanya and others fought the military regimes to return power to the civilian
Chief. Ayo Opadokun, vocal commentator and human rights crusader, is one-time General Secretary of the Pan Yoruba socio political group, Afenifere as well as the spokesman of the famous National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) He fought the military to a standstill for democracy to flourish in Nigeria.
Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe,
Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe is a retired Commodore in the Nigerian Navy , who served as the second in command during the Bbangida's military government from 1985 to 1986. Most Nigerians believe that Ukiwe lost his post due to his principled nature. Knowing that Ukiwe could not pushed around, then military President General Ibrahim Babangida replaced him with, Augustus Aikhomu. Aikhomu . After his exit from the military, he joined the pro-democracy group and was one of the leaders that fought Abacha's regime to a stand still.
Commordor Ndubuisi Kanu is a former governor of Lagos State, after his retirement, he joined the democracy groups and was in the fore front of the agitation for the actualization of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Moshood Fayemiwo, then Publisher/Editor of the dreaded weekly tabloid: Razor used his medium to fight the military government of Late Gen Sani Abacha . He published stories no other newspaper or magazine dared published. His paper Razor became hot came and readers delight during the struggle to actualize the annulled June 12, presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola. His caustic paper became the rallying vanguard for pro-democracy organizations to mount sustain efforts to get rid of the dictatorial government of Gen. Sani Abacha. He gave hell to politicians working in harmony with the military rulers . Some of the papers caustic stories are the story of Abacha's loot in Switzerland . The monster of corruption under Ibrahim Babangida, why the General ordered the murder of late Dele Giwa, founding Editor of Newswatch magazine, Gloria Okon's drug episode which led to Babangida's coup of August 27, 1985, the roles played by late MKO Abiola and Gen. Obasanjo in the coup that toppled Gen. Buhari and many more were stories no newspaper/magazine could publish in Nigeria but only Razor.
His brand of journalism was different, which earned him a lot of enemies; he stepped on too many toes. He took on the powerful, the rich, the privileged and the influential. According to him " The purpose of journalism is to reshape society. Those in positions of power and authority must be made accountable to the people."
When he was eventually arrested by the Abacha regime, he was kept at the underground tunnel of the dreaded Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) run by Abacha's Gestapo His pathetic condition attracted the attention of human right organizations around the world including late Pope John Paul II who had to travel to Nigeria in summer 1998 to plead with Abacha to release him and other political prisoners held by the regime . He regained his freedom in September 1998 following the death of Gen. Sani Abacha. He later relocated from Nigeria to the United States with his family.