June 12 1993 was a milestone in the history of Nigeria democracy and political evolution. It is a symbol of the people’s struggle against social injustice, ethnic chauvinism, and the repudiation of the collective will of the people by military tyrants; and the triumph of the will of the people, and their awakened aspirations over the terror of the gun. However, in addition to its symbolisms, June 12 has some lessons for Nigerians.
To overcome the drawbacks of parliamentary democracy and enhance the fragile unity of our heterogeneous country, the crafters of the Nigerian constitutions opted for presidential democracy. Conscientiously, they crafted the Nigerian constitution to encourage the election of national and unifying figures to the presidency. Unlike in parliamentary democracy, where a local, parochial bigot, elected to represent a rustic, insular outpost in parliament, can, through the internal power-play of parliament, emerge the prime minister, only a national figure, with an across the board appeal to the Nigerian electorate, can become a president.
Moshood Abiola was an epitome of this recherché national and unifying figure. For many years, he traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria making friends, forming alliances and doling out his philanthropic largesse. Although, a devote Moslem, he transcended religious intolerance that emanates from every religion’s tendency to claim a monopoly on the Truth, and thus, impress it on its votaries that theirs is the only true faith. He extended his patronage to Christians, and Christian projects. It was a testament to the trust – that bestrides religious divides – reposed on him by Nigerians that Christians voted en-masse for his Moslem/Moslem presidential ticket. In addition, he bestrode the divisiveness of tribe in Nigerian politics. His friendship and benevolence knew no bounds; it was totally indifferent to tribal and regional divides. Invariably, he unified what was, for long, a fissiparous and finicky electorate notorious for its extreme sensitivity to ethnic and other peculiarities. Thus, he won a decisive victory in that most transparent and credible presidential election in the history of Nigeria.
Unfortunately, in stark contrast to Moshood Abiola, President Buhari is an Islamic fundamentalist and an unabashed proponent of the Sharia penal code. His undisguised religious bigotry unnerves many Nigerian Christians; some even suspect that he has an agenda to Islamize Nigeria. His tribalism and nepotism are deepening and widening the ethnic and sectarian fault lines of the country. Never before, not even during the civil war, have Nigerians been so divided along tribal, religious and regional lines. Buhari’s appointments, especially, in the security agencies were totally insensitive to federal character. It was so skewed against southern Nigerians, especially, the Igbo. Of his eighteen appointees to head the military and other security agencies, fourteen were northerners, four, southerners, and none, Igbo. His Fulanization of the leadership of the Nigerian security apparatus and his administration’s obvious support for the Fulani blood-spattered incursions into the Middle Belt and South of Nigeria is very worrisome. Buhari is an extremely divisive figure; his presidency is rattling the peace of the country by eroding mutual trust amongst Nigerians and exacerbating ethnic and sectarian discords.
The June 12 election was acclaimed the most transparent and credible election in Nigerian history. Contrarily, the election that re-elected Buhari to a second term was undoubtedly rigged in favor of Buhari. Many Nigerians suspected it and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has evidence to that effect. In addition, impartial and reputable international election observers, including the European Union, and International Republic Institute, in their final reports of the February 23rd 2019 presidential election that re-elected President Buhari to a second term, wrote that the election was deeply flawed.
So, as we extol the recognition of June 12 as the Nigerian Democracy Day, it is important that we appreciate the lessons from June 12. The lessons of June 12 are that Nigerians can organize and hold indisputably free and fair presidential election, and a true national and unifying figure can unify the Nigerian electorate and win a decisive presidential victory without resort to electoral fraud. The other lessons of June 12 include open-mindedness, religious tolerance, and accommodation for all in total blindness to creed and tongue, as opposed to the narrow-mindedness, religious intolerance, tribalism, nepotism and electoral fraud that are the hallmarks of the Buhari administration.
Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria