Exactly 27 years ago today, the June 12, 1993 election that was globally adjudged the fairest and freest in the history of Nigeria was annulled. The June 12 election was conducted with lots of hope and expectations from Nigeria and Nigerians. With the annulment, President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida literally plunged the nation into a prolonged political imbroglio.
The sad event truly changed the narrative of Nigeria’s political landscape, culminating in the crisis that led to the death of many innocent people in the country. The struggle for the actualisation of the June 12 election became a sort of worry for some people, paving the way for today’s democracy.
However, in trying to explain the events that transpired during the struggle, I think it is pertinent to tell the story for the younger generation of Nigeria and Yoruba in particular so that they can have an idea of how the journey of this democracy began close to three decades ago.
It is an irony of fate that many of those that did not even raise a finger in the protests against the brutal annulment of that election are now top beneficiaries of today’s democracy. Even those that risked their lives by putting their lives on the line in the face of military assaults are nowhere close to the corridors of power.
A few number of the characters of the inglorious era of the Babangida regime that are still lucky to be alive today are now churning out stories about the June 12 fiasco, but the main actor, and the Minna General, in his wisdom had remained silent about the events that played out during that moment of history. But he often tells a bit of his regrets about the role he played in the June 12 saga, mostly to his cronies.
On June 12 election alone, there were stories and there were stories. There were stories of how some Yoruba leaders conspired with the Minna General to truncate Abiola’s dream of becoming the Nigerian president. There were stories about those that are known as enemies within. There were stories about the grand conspiracy of the North to strip Abiola the coveted laurel of becoming the next Nigerian president.
Telling the truth, it is never in doubt that the annulment of the June 12 election was a grand conspiracy against the late MKO Abiola, who was the 14th Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland then. Abiola’s Midas touch in the political arena then was clearly evident by his surging popularity across the country. And as the Egba chief was hoping for the actualisation of his dream, the mafia struck and left the entire country in disarray.
There were yet another stories of how Abiola was paid back in his own coin, long after his “political coup” against the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in the 1979 and 1983 elections. These were stories that had been told about the June 12 political impasse.
But as much as I am not interested in opening the various chapters of the June 12 stories, I will never fail to say here that in the course of actualising this democracy, there are some untold stories that needed to be told for the sake of posterity. Lies may go on for a very long time, but the truth will always catch up with it because truth as they say is always constant.
Interestingly, the story of the June 12 election as well as how this democracy began will never be complete without a prominent mention of the role of members of the Oodua People’s Congress to the success of this democracy. This, for me, is the untold story about the June 12 election saga.
Shortly after the annulment of the 1993 election, the most unthinkable happened. A group of Nigerians of Yoruba extraction came together to form the OPC. The late Dr. Fredrick Faseun and the present Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Abiodun Ige Adams, and a few others founded the group in Mushin, Lagos. And their intention was clear: to struggle for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate popularly given to the late chief MKO Abiola through a free and fair election.
The OPC was a child of necessity and the Yorubas were happy that the group would put up a good fight against the government of the late General Sanni Abacha, who eventually got to power through a palace coup that kicked out the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Sonekan. OPC at that time grew in leaps and bounds across the South West as the group embarked on a journey of redemption of a cause in which they so much believed. They were fearless because their commitment to the cause of that struggle was total. It was a struggle between life and death. It was a very long, hard journey to freedom. The OPC stalwarts made up their minds to sacrifice whatever it was worth for the struggle.
In the course of the battle, so many members of the group lost their lives, some were maimed, jailed and killed by the agents of government. As an activist, Gani Adams’s surging fame became pronounced during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration when OPC was declared a terrorist group. Adams was eventually declared wanted following the death of a Divisional Police Officer in Bariga, Somolu Local Government Area of Lagos State.
Obasanjo, in his characteristic manner, ordered that members of the OPC be shot at sight. The shoot at sight order was one of the rewards the Owu chief gave the Yoruba group for their contributions to this democracy.
Despite their sacrifices, nobody, especially from the South West, has come out to appreciate or recognise the efforts of the OPC. Many of the people enjoying the perks of this democracy were nowhere to be found during those trying periods. In truth, the role of the OPC in the actualisation of this democracy cannot be overemphasised.
There are some people within the South West region that are poised to distort history. And whether they like it or not, history will always remember the efforts and sacrifices of these great sons and daughters of Yorubaland who laid down their lives so that democracy can be deeply rooted in this country.
I am happy, President Muhammadu Buhari, despite his foibles, made history by giving honour to whom honour was long due. After long years of injustice meted out to the heroes and heroines of our democracy, Buhari made June 12 the official democracy day, burying the dusts raised over the authenticity of June 12 as the most important day in the history of this democracy.
So, as we celebrate another historic moment in the history of the nation’s democracy today, never shall we forget the stories of the transition that gave birth to what today remains the official democracy day.
Interestingly, apart from this year when the Coronavirus pandemic has made things difficult globally, it is on record that OPC under the leadership of Iba Adams remains the only group that has been celebrating the June 12 anniversary annually for the past 19 years, non stop. The event, according to the leadership of the group, is to tell the world about the injustice meted out to the late Abiola and several other Nigerians that made the huge sacrifice.
Therefore, as we celebrate yet another milestone in the history of our nation’s democracy, may the sacrifices of all the heroes and heroines of this democracy not be in vain
. Aderemi is the Special Assistant on Media to the 15th Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Abiodun Ige Adams.