Former Deputy National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, was the military governor of Ondo State during the aborted Third Republic when former President Ibrahim Babangida annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election. He was also a Staff Officer in the office of the former Chief of General Staff during the late Gen. Sani Abacha's government. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE on reasons former President Olusegun Obasanjo could not immediately address the issue of June 12 and also throughout his tenure.
PDP and Obasanjo's failure to honour Abiola or recognised June 12 Democracy Day
With all sense of modesty, I think I am also in a better position to speak on June 12, 1993 elections. Specifically, the process of the elections, how it was annulled, and what transpired in late Gen. Sani Abacha's government before Chief MKO Abiola was arrested and his death. Do not forget that I also played an important role as a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So I can speak as a serving military governor and also a staff officer with former Chief of General Staff Gen. Oladipo Diya (rtd) as someone who witnessed the story of June 12.
In the first instance, June 12, 1993 election remains a day in history that Nigerians can never forget. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has legalized that day as a special day, which would remind Nigerians especially the younger generation that something special happened on that day. It was a day democracy was dissolved but at the same time some people felt otherwise. Whatever the case is, a government has accepted to recognise that day as Democracy Day 26 years after the incidence and 20 years after Nigeria returned to civil rule. That was a good development. You must remember that I was in the military service as governor in Ondo and we were the ones that prepared the political parties, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Party (NRP), which were government-created parties then. We built the party secretariats at the state headquarters and in every local government - one for NRC and SDP. The preparation was optimum and somehow the elections went; issues were raised and it was annulled.
Abiola himself went to Epetedo to declare himself president perhaps on the advise of those people were around him who urged Abiola when Abacha had taken over power. We had a meeting in the Villa where the issue of Abiola and June 12 was deliberated, because he was charged for treason for declaring himself president. Some said he had committed treason while others were of different views. I wouldn't go into the details.
I am saying this because we need to put the story of June 12 in perspective for those that would read it in future and in order for them to understand your question: reason former President Olusegun Obasanjo and PDP were unable to declare the day as Democracy Day or go ahead immediately in 1999 after the transition to civil rule to honour Abiola.
You should recall that the Abacha military government set up another constitutional conference to look at several issues but I saw the behaviour of our military colleagues, which made me nervous about service. Before the military ventured into politics, there was this camaraderie spirit in all officers which does not bother on ethnicity, religion and whatsoever but as the issue of June 12 progressed, the military started to digress. This must have been part of the reasons Gen. Abulsalam Abubakar hurriedly prepared the transition programme to return Nigeria to civil rule and send the military back to the barracks, because politics began to change that military bonding. You would recall that some of the officers who felt that the military should leave politics at that time were retired.
In the first instance, if Abiola had been a Northerner he wouldn't have been treated the way he was treated. Coming back to your question, as at the period Obasanjo took over as civilian president, Nigeria was still in the mess of June 12, and there was the need to stabilize the country. It would therefore have been another issue if He Had gone ahead to address the issue without first looking for a way to stabilize the country.
Another thing I understand is that majority of those that championed the issue June 12 didn't do it out of genuine mind and purpose towards the struggle. That I can tell your clearly. It was not that PDP didn't deliberate on June 12, but one thing is that the two political parties - SDP and NRC - were not originally from the people; they were government's agencies.
If you also look at the circumstances that brought in Gen. Abdulsalam as Head of State and reason he hurriedly sent the military back to the barracks, then you would appreciate the decision of Obasanjo and why he was tactical about June 12 matter.
The question we should ask now after Buhari had declared it Democracy Day is, whether we have done deep analysis of June 12 considering the sharp division it created between the North and South? One of the major things Nigerians must appreciate in Abdulsalam was his proactive step to get the military out of politics otherwise if we had allowed politics to further divide the rank and file of our officers beyond what it was then, the story would have been worse today. It is also important to realise that Obasanjo could not just come in in 1999 and starte with the issue of Jstartle, when ethnicity had obviously divided the country based on June 12 matter. It would be like hot potato. It was not that he didn't want to but the country was in a state of flux then.
The first thing was to look at the needs of the country and ensure we stabilize. So it was like transition government. I am not against what Buhari did over June 12 but have they really analyzed June 12, to consider the positives and negatives, the lessons to be learned so that our children would not repeat the same mistakes that have put us in the same quagmire?
What I would love to recognize in June 12 is the lesson people should learn. It was true that no election has been annulled since then but what about the approaches to the elections we have had after that of June 12?
Does that mean we are yet to get the right system of government 20 years after democratic rule?
The current system of government we run is faulty, absolutely faulty and you know why? In the first coup and the counter-coup of 1966, the hierarchical system in the military was introduced when the First Republican Constitution was suspended. The military gives orders from the top to bottom unlike civil rule where dialogue takes place. This nation is not moving forward because the system we have adopted is akin to military setting. It was during the First Republic when Nigeria practiced real democracy that it he country recorded serious advancement economically, structurally and politically. True federalism was in practice in the 1960s when every region developed according to their strength.
If you are now saying this, what was the thinking of PDP for 16 years it ruled Nigeria? Is this not an after-thought because your party is no longer in power?
Those 16 years you keep on emphasizing was to prepare the ground. In nation-building there is no perpetuity. When Obasanjo came because of the background and what had happened, he needed to stabilise the country and the first thing wouldn't have been to open any Pandora boxes. What Obasanjo did was to rebuild the political foundation of our nation, which was a rebirth. Remember, his first cabinet included people from other political parties to give everybody a sense of belonging. PDP has laid the foundation it is now left for the incumbent to build on it. Remember, it was former President Goodluck Jonathan who said, let us save the country and he organiesd a national conference in 2014. It was at the conference that my eyes were really opened that Nigeria cannot work unless we return to true federalism. The truth is, Nigeria is still being run like a military government. What is the business of the Villa in my local government?
I think President Buhari should endeavor to call a town hall meeting in Abuja for him to hear directly from the people. There is the need to re-order the system of government because the present one is not working and it would not work.