By Akeem Soboyede
One of the popular—even if cynical— expressions that pervaded Nigeria during the drawn-out and unfortunate June 12 crises in the country between 1993 and 1998 was “I’m standing on June 12”. It was meant to signal the speaker’s defiance at those intent on subverting the popular will that gave the late Bashorun MKO Abiola a convincing presidential mandate in the election that held on June 12, 1993. Abiola’s victory on that day was eventually aborted by Nigeria’s martial maximum ruler at the time – and Abiola’s bosom friend – Ibrahim Babangida.
It later became known that those who proclaimed “standing on / by / with” (or whatever preposition that caught their fancy!) June 12 were actually engaged in burying it, or consigning that great victory to the dustbin of history. In that hall of infamy were members of the late Chief Abiola’s own family, “trusted” employees (especially at the now defunct Concord Press, with a particular journalist there being especially “famous” / notorious for such, since he was literally a spy for the ruling junta’s security services, while he enjoyed Chief Abiola’s trust and legendary generosity at the same time) and numerous feckless aides, including those who have since feathered their odiously-luxurious nests from the public till at the state and federal levels in Nigeria, while affecting the fraudulent mannerisms of “veterans of the June 12 struggle”.
Even Abiola’s June 12 running-mate, Babagana Kingibe, now the proud (and, I dare say, shameless) recipient of a GCON honour from the present government eventually got tired of standing on June 12 and instead chose to stomp on it, joining the usurper and profligate military government of the late Sani Abacha as its Foreign Minister.
It is apparent the present government of retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari has, more than two decades later, also elected to join the ranks of those hiding behind “June 12” to execute other less-than-stellar agendas.
I do like and admire retired General Buhari; I have always respected his reputation for uprightness, integrity and a well-praised disdain for self-enrichment that has trailed him throughout his career in public service. I also always like to say of him that a man who had the chance to amass mind-boggling wealth as a very young man while serving as state governor and Minister of Petroleum Resources in 70s-era Nigeria (and also as Head of State in the early 1980s) is very unlikely to catch the nasty bug of corrupt self-enrichment through public funds when he is now more than 70 years old.
But I simply cannot say the same of the sundry advisers, aides, hangers-on and inevitable power-hungry parasites that inevitably populate Buhari’s corridors of power, just as has been the case with numerous Nigerian leaders before him. These minions will, of course, always manage to steal Nigeria blind while also managing the balancing act of not incurring Buhari’s wrath, exploring every trick and artifice to keep themselves in their plum positions and feed their odious personal preferences / vices, including doing anything to buy “four more years” in power at the expense of long-suffering Nigerians, in order to keep the odious gravy train bellowing and running “smoothly”.
Buhari has made it widely-known he intends to contest for the 2019 presidential elections despite the health challenges that has largely marked his first term in office and the less-than-impressive scorecard his administration has received across the broad spectrum of Nigerian society these past three years.
In recent months, also, one of the most strident voices that has emerged in opposition to Buhari’s possible second term in office is that of retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, Buhari’s truculent predecessor in that office. Everyone also knows the role Obasanjo played—starting from the very uncertain and tension-filled days in 1993 before the annulment was finally announced—in stomping on the ideals of the June 12 election. It was a sly Obasanjo who cryptically declared that MKO Abiola, the apparent winner of the election, was not the “messiah” Nigerians sought at that time. I remain convinced that particular action by Obasanjo emboldened the nervous elements in Nigeria’s then-ruling military junta who then proceeded to announce the annulment of that election.
Obasanjo’s petty action then of standing / stomping on June 12 at that critical juncture (which I was later told primarily stemmed from local Abeokuta / Egba politics regarding the unprecedented possibility of a Muslim emerging as an Alake of Egbaland in an Abiola Presidency) has since made him one of my least-favorite human beings to this day, especially since one of his Egba minions, Ernest Shonekan, later emerged as the head of the “interim government” contraption that Ibrahim Babangida sought to use as the final nail on June 12’s coffin, prior to the disgraced dictator’s thankfully-hasty flight from power in August 1993.
Later, in 1999, the same Obasanjo headlined the reactionary vanguard that foisted May 29 as ‘Democracy Day” on Nigerians, when it was apparent to all that Obasanjo could not have emerged the first civilian president in Nigeria’s current Fourth Republic but for the immense sacrifices and struggles that trailed the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, including the supreme sacrifice made by MKO Abiola himself.
Against this backdrop, one finds it hard to believe Buhari’s recent announcement of June 12 as “Democracy Day” in Nigeria is not simply a ploy to spite and discredit Obasanjo for the latter’s opposition to Buhari’s second term ambitions. In a larger context, the action can and should also be viewed as an attempt by the present Nigerian administration to ingratiate itself with the dominant progressive base of Abiola’s kinsmen and political associates in Nigeria’s southwest, who were instrumental to Buhari’s emergence as president nearly four years ago but have become increasingly disenchanted with Buhari’s Presidency, its betrayal-like political manoeuvres and its general performance in office.
It is unbelievable that had Obasanjo simply continued to smile at and salute Buhari and his administration, the latter would have proceeded to proclaim June 12 as Democracy Day, knowing Obasanjo’s well-known opposition to memorializing MKO Abiola and legitimizing in any way the election the business mogul won squarely and convincingly.
Equally strange and comical is the government’s decision to legitimize the betrayal of Babagana Kingibe, who was MKO Abiola’s running mate during the June 12 election. Whoever made that decision must have known that Kingibe’s action of clambering off the June 12 train when it mattered most—when he ran off to be an inconsequential (as it turned out) Minister in Sani Abacha’s ill-fated military junta—literally sounded Abiola’s death knell. Why would a government that purports to honour a hero’s memory (Abiola’s) also seek to recognize the treachery of that hero’s once-trusted aide, a betrayal that can be said to have ultimately led to the hero’s untimely death, directly or indirectly?
It’s really incredible, these insanely continuous bids to execute nebulous agendas while “standing on” and exploiting the political juggernaut that June 12 apparently continues to be! Such “do or die” political instincts are simply beneath Buhari, who would have been better served by his aides to shun such ultimately unproductive political stunts.
Buhari and his increasingly clueless aides must have witnessed how such a bid to “stand on” June 12 ended up for the government of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, which named the University of Lagos after MKO Abiola, until the subsequent uproar forced it to beat an undignified retreat. Why the Buhari crowd would replicate the same spin-move is simply beyond the scope of this article, since this writer is unlettered in the arts and sciences of psychology or psychiatry.
One thing is clear, though: it’s time members of Nigeria’s Political Desperadoes class leave MKO Abiola and his untainted political legacy alone, close to two decades after the man’s underserved demise, hastened by dyed-in-the-wool enemies who posed as his friends / colleagues. Such characters, like others before them, will soon find thatJune 12 has a recurring habit of consuming those who mischievously “stand on” it to achieve maliciously cynical political agendas.
* Soboyede is a US-based Lawyer and former Employee of the defunct Concord Newspaper