October 6, 2022

Punch Newspapers
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GBENGA ADENIJI examines the contributions of pro-democracy groups and individuals to the struggle against the nullification of the June 12, 1993 presidential election results
June 12, 1993, is undoubtedly a watershed in Nigeria’s political space. It was a time when informed citizens and distinct politicians coalesced to birth a new Nigeria and contributed their quotas to dream actualisation for both present and unborn generations. The phase was a time when arguably the freest and fairest election took place in the nation’s democratic process. Sadly, the presidential election which took place on that day and won by the late philanthropist, Chief M.K.O Abiola, was annulled by the military junta headed by the maximum ruler, Gen Ibrahim Babangida (retd), for inconsiderate reasons. The action threw up violent protests in the country.
Drenched in both domestic and international pressures, Babangida, who assumed office on August 27, 1985, left office on August 26, 1993.
An Interim Government took over and was headed by Chief Ernest Sonekan from August 26, 1993 to November 17, 1993. The late Gen. Sani Abacha, took over on November 17, 1993. His regime largely exhibited profound nastiness, repression, arrogance, bigotry and totalitarianism. But despite the demeaning activities of the power-drunk military regimes to silence dissidents, Nigerians remained resolute to end the reigns of despotic leaders garbed in military attire. There are individuals and institutions who tenaciously fought the despots to a standstill notwithstanding the dehumanising situations they suffered. They spoke truth to power and queried the logic in the subversion of the people’s will by annulling the election. Like the South African poet, Dennis Brutus, wrote in his poem, “A Troubadour I Traverse,” activists and people of conscience in Nigeria also “…laughed disdaining those who banned enquiry and movement.”

The media
The media extremely resisted the military and remained undeterred by harassments and detentions. It rejected military dictatorship on all fronts even when dictators dangled three options before dissidents: jail, exile or grave. The June 12, 1993, period exposed the energy of the media in resisting unpopular views and confining tyrants to the ash heap of history. The media used the June 12 debacle to give the metonymic adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” popularised by the English author, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, its truest meaning. This newspaper stood firm like the rock of Gibraltar against despotic regimes and pursued its legal responsibilities including promoting and defending values of democracy amid closures and harassment of its employees by military juntas. There were newsmagazines such as The News and TELL who rebuffed authoritarianism and kakistocracies. They were unruffled even though the maximum rulers haunted them with seizures of copies, arrests of editors and proscriptions. The Kaduna State correspondent of The News magazine at the time, James Bagauda Kaltho, was gruesomely murdered by the junta during the June 12 struggle.
In an interview with our correspondent, Bagauda Kalto’s widow, Martha, said, “I did not have any regrets that my husband participated in the June 12 struggle. I only hope our leaders would make the country better to justify the deaths that had been sacrificed for the country. Since I got married to my husband, we had never stayed together for a month until he passed on. We were married for only five years from September 1990 to 1996 that he died.’’


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In his comment, Executive Director, International Press Institute and ex-President, National Association of Nigerian Students, Mr Lanre Arogundade, said that the media took a decisive position with the Nigerian people during the June 12, 1993 crisis, noting that it ensured its survival and upheld press freedom.
Arogundade stated, “The media understood that the election represented the wishes of the Nigerian people and should be upheld. The media as an institution represented the position through editorials and stories.’’
NANS
Members of the National Association of Nigerian Students mobilised energetically against the annulment including perceived sell-out by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Pascal Bafyau. The association partook in rallies and deliberations to condemn the unjust cancellation of the poll. In one of its protests in July 1993, the Lagos University Students’ Union said, “The nation should henceforth see and treat IBB’s regime as illegal,” saying all sections of Nigeria should confront IBB’s dictatorship with mass disobedience as its legitimate tenure had expired.’’
Like many of the chapters of NANS in tertiary institutions in the South-West and beyond, the students of UNILAG stormed the headquarters of the then Nigeria Labour Congress at Ojuelegba Road, Lagos, where they held the congress’ Head of Information and Public Relations, Mr Salisu Mohammed, hostage. The students were led in the protest by a former NANS president, Mr Olusegun Mayegun. Students of the College of Education, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, also protested. The students’ protests were caused by the observations that the then leadership of the NLC, Bafyau, was pro-government and the Nigerian workers had been betrayed over the June 12 political crises.
Pascal would later at a meeting with Babangida deny reports that the congress gave the Federal Government a 48-hour ultimatum to announce the June 12 election results or face strike by Nigerian workers. There were calls by workers for Bafyau resignation or lead workers’ strike against the annulment. Labour unions in Ijebu Ode in July, 1993, embarked on an indefinite strike to protest the political impasse.  Ogun, Edo and Kwara states NLC chapters among others also joined the indefinite strike.
Strikes across the states were massive. IBB’s bust at the Market Square on Adesida Road, Akure, Ondo State, was vandalised. The bust was renovated by the state government after it got burnt during the 1991 May anti-SAP riot.

A team of policemen also raided the NANS 30th Senate meeting at the University of Nigeria, Enugu State, and arrested the members. NANS condemned the action and its members remained resolute in their fight against tyranny.
In his recollection of the episode, a former NANS leader, Mr Ropo Ewenla, recalled that the student body played a significant role during the protests against the cancellation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.

He said, “The NANS leadership at the time provided leadership at critical moments of course with guidance of older comrades unlike other times when hoodlums took over protests. It was a major force at every decision-making stage.’’
NADECO, activists
Distinguished Nigerians joined forces to dare the junta for its illogical action. They pushed their positions and demands under the aegis of the National Democratic Coalition. Many were arrested and detained but to sustain the struggle, some of them fled the country. The regimes were terribly oppressive and their jackboots painful to their victims. But the commitments of the NADECO members and the activists to the June 12 struggle were outstanding. Excellent pro-democracy campaigners such as Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, the late Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the late Pa Alfred Rewane, ex-secretary, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Frank Kokori, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, Chief Ayo Opadokun among many others were a thorn in the flesh of the despots. Many activists tasted brutality from the oppressors. They, however, refused to be cowed. M.K.O Abiola’s wife, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, who campaigned against the military, was cruelly murdered on June 4, 1996, in her Mercedes Benz around 7-Up area, Ikeja, Lagos.  The then Chairman, Campaign for Democracy, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, called for a one-week rallies and demonstrations from July 5, 1993, to protest the cancellation of the June 12 presidential poll. Also, the then President, Universal Defenders of Democracy, Chief Mike Ozekhome, and Ransome-Kuti were arrested. The late fiery lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, was not spared of the venom of tyrants.
Soyinka on July 3, 1993 said during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation in London, United Kingdom, “To wait until elections have been completed and are halfway announced and then take all sorts of tedious steps which culminated of course in his coming out openly and annulling the results is most ridiculous.” Also, in an open letter to Babangida, Tinubu who was the then Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Finance, Banking and Currency, said, “Ever since your excellency annulled the June 12 presidential election, and ordered fresh election, a pall of uncertainty has descended over our beloved country. There is poisonous fear and anger borne out of perceived betrayal in the hearts of millions of our people. Discordant voices of hatred and disunity rend the air. Violence and anarchy reign in many of our major commercial centres. Also, Ikeja and Lagos branches of the Nigerian Bar Association boycotted the courts to protest the cancellation of the June 12 presidential poll.
In her view, President, Women Arise, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, who featured prominently in the June 12 struggle alongside her late activist husband, Yinka, said that the authentic democracy day and the other one both compelled retrospection.


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She stated, “The authentic one, June 12, on account of a series of actual events in intense activism and the other one, May 29, as a reactionary scheme, a ploy to cream certain political realities and also blunt the edge of June 12. Looking back now as another June 12 comes, the living activist is in another place in his/her mind. You must just reminisce if you were there and still draw breath. The activist was standing in the gap between Abacha’s determined destructive onslaught and the destiny of a country.
“There were three broad categories of activists: The traditional activist of socialist hue who had been the thorn in the flesh of military dictators from time. Activists who had paid by seized freedom, by torture, by blood and even by life. These were the military’s usual and perpetual suspects. The next group was of politicians who took the moment to act against the military junta or indeed in favour of the junta, like recently deceased Francis Nzeribe. This was expected as the heart of the conflict was politics. The denial of an electoral process flowing to conclusion. Chief MKO Abiola turned an activist, NADECO grew from an angry political history and in their wake was a lioness like Alhaja Kudirat Abiola and many others.
“The third broad category was the everyday Nigerian on the sundry streets of this country who were totally outraged by the bare faced cheating and would not accept it. We all acted from different depths but with a common indignation.’’
She added that activism showed the military that guns were not enough to stop people from demanding their rights. Okei-Odumakin stated, “At great cost, the military machine which mowed down about 200 protesters at Fadeyi, came to a halt. Activism gave Nigeria a breathing chance again. A fighting chance. Sadly, it appears today the chance had been squandered. This current Nigeria is not what patriots fought, bled and died for. Gani, Beko, Chima, YO (Yinka Odumakin) and numerous others must all be appalled. The tragedy, however, is that genuine activism is aging, weary, dying or converted. The future is bleak. In the next generation when Nigeria thirsts and calls for the genuine activists, who would heed her in dire straits? We are not reproducing our champions. Our appetite has been programmed to hunger for the dollar. Not our collective humanity, although history will be kind to a few genuine ones. June 12 indeed was a “watershed.” Abacha said that. Yet, not as he meant it, but as activism on June 12 made it and marked it.’’
Radio Kudirat
The secret radio of the pro-democracy campaigners, Kudirat Radio, was established to fight tyranny. The radio station reportedly started as Radio Democrat Nigeria International but later renamed Radio Kudirat in honour of Kudirat.  The station prominently featured dogged pro-democracy activists forced into exile by the repressive Abacha regime. It broadcast exclusive news items, engaging interviews and analyses bordering on military dictatorship which caused the regime untold discomfort.
A journalist, Mr Lemi Olalemi, in an earlier interview told Sunday PUNCH, said “I collaborated with other people to start Radio Freedom in 1995. It was a guerrilla radio station and they (military government) didn’t even know where it was coming from. I started it before it became Radio Kudirat International that later became Radio Kudirat. I was detained for six and a half months and put in an underground cell at the Directorate of Military Intelligence. But I wasn’t afraid because I knew what I was fighting for—the emancipation and freedom of Nigeria from military dictatorship because, as far as I know, democracy in any form is always better than the best military dictatorship.’’


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