+Straightening The K-leg Of June 12, Thirty Years Later

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BY OWEI LAKEMFA

Today is exactly 30 years after the June 12, 1993 presidential election which were annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida military regime.

On June 18, six days after the election, my media colleague and brother, Kayode Komolafe, came to my house with a copy of the full election results being uploaded by the electoral commission.

Businessman and friend of Babangida, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, had won the election with 58 per cent. Then, on June 23, 1993, Babangida announced the annulment of the election, claiming there had been vote-buying. The annulment of an election generally perceived to be the freest and fairest in the country’s history, set off six years of bloody resistance against continued military misrule.

A narrative gives a lot of credit to politicians for that glorious resistance which led to civil rule on May 29, 1999. This does not reflect the complete history of that struggle. There were actually three eras of that war corresponding to the regimes of Babangida, Shonekan and Abacha, and the political class was virtually absent in the first two.

The civil movement whose expression vibrated in the voice of towering lawyer, Alao Aka-Bashorun, was convinced that the military was merely deceiving the populace with a bogus transition programme. After a layer of presidential hopefuls had been swept away by military fiat, Abiola and Bashir Tofa were allowed to contest the June 12 election.

While Abiola and his group thought they could persuade the military to de-annul the election, the civil movement which had started off in 1990 as the National Consultative Forum, NCF, transformed into a broad national coalition of anti-military forces which included student, youth, professional, market, community and civil society organisations. It was renamed the Campaign for Democracy, CD. Its transition leadership passed from Aka-Bashorun to the medical doctor, Beko Ransome-Kuti.

The CD began mobilising for mass protests across the country to force the military out. But it had two challenges. The first was how to contain the murderous military and minimise the inevitable casualties. The second was how to persuade the political class that did not want to confront the military, not to side the regime. To overcome the second challenge, CD leaders, including Beko, Olisa Agbakoba, Frederick Fasehun, Femi Falana and I held meetings with Abiola to get a commitment that even if he would not support the nationwide protests, he should at least not denounce us.

The protests were overwhelming across the country. In Lagos where we hoped to get some 50,000 protesters, the streets were clogged with millions of people.

The Babangida regime panicked and ordered its Army Chief, General Sani Abacha, to take back the streets by force. Abacha led a long military convoy into Lagos which opened fire on all human beings in sight beginning with youths who were playing football in Apakun/Toyota, Oshodi. That July 6, 1993, the Nigeria Medical Association compiled a figure of 118 corpses brought to the general hospitals in Lagos. They had gunshot wounds with most shot in the back which indicated they were running away when shot.

Despite these huge losses and the arrest of many, including Beko and Gani Fawenmi, we continued the protests. Tragically on the day of the massacres, Abiola denounced us in a public statement. He said his mandate was given without bloodshed so he did not want to reclaim it with bloodshed. Two weeks later, we asked Nigerians to sit at home, and the nation’s streets were deserted.

The continued defiance by the populace, forced the Babangida regime to hand over to a military contraption called the Interim National Government, ING, headed by Ernest Shonekan.

Its primary purpose was to organise new elections supervised by the compromised military. But Abiola said the June 12 election was like a derailed train; so until it was cleared, no other train could use the tracks. He turned to the CD to stop the new election process. Beko, Fasehun and I met Abiola’s representative, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his office. It was decided that I coordinated the disruption of the ING’s voters registration and review exercise which was necessary for the planned election. We succeeded in doing so across the country and the tottering ING which was later declared illegal by the courts, just needed a push to collapse. But Abiola disagreed with our plans to employ the mass to force the ING out and install him. The alternative he went for was a military coup by alleged pro-June 12 Generals like Oladipo Diya, Chris Ali and Abacha.

We disagreed with the coup and after he met new Head of State, Abacha with Diya and Tinubu as witnesses, we met and warned him to stop his support for the new regime, including his agreement to provide it credible politicians as ministers. But he told us that Abacha was a dwarf, and to greet a dwarf, one had to bend down to his level. It was after it became clear that Abacha and his gang were not going to de-annul the June 12 election and swear him in as President in accordance with their understanding, that the politicians joined the struggle to oust the military from power. It was in that process the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, coalesced.

NADECO itself had origins in the meetings of the CD and old experienced politicians led by Chief Alfred Rewane with Chief Anthony Enahoro as Deputy. Others included Chiefs Ayo Adebanjo, Ajise and Cornelius Adebayo. After Rewane was murdered in his Ikeja GRA residence where we used to meet, Enahoro led an expanded group and we began meeting mainly in Abiola’s house with Alhaja Kudirat Abiola as hostess. Despite Abacha’s murder of Kudirat, and many like Enahoro, Dan Suleiman, Wole Soyinka and Tinubu forced into exile, the forces that would see the backs of the military had been born.

Let me on this day, pay tribute to two virtually unacknowledged heroes of the democratic struggles. Prince Ademola Adeniji-Adele who was crucial in keeping Abiola safe when the military dictatorship declared him wanted, better dead than alive; and who contributed funds to keep the streets alive for June 12. His undoing was that he later joined the Abacha transition programme. Then there was Chief Rasheed Abiodun Gbadamosi, economist, writer and an assumed apolitical industrialist who when the goons closed in on Abiola, and people were afraid to give him shelter, took the June 12 presidential election winner to his Victoria Island home. One night, when it appeared his home might be compromised, Gbadamosi got Abiola to climb the fence and shelter in the adjacent premises which he also owned.

My salute to these heroes and heroines and hundreds like Bagauda Kaltho who lost their lives in the struggle for democracy in Nigeria.

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