I can never forget my social studies classes in Corona Gbagada. In primary 3 or 4 we were introduced to the topic “Democracy”. There is where I first heard definition of Abraham Lincoln, “Democracy is the government of people, by people, and for the people”. Sadly, as a Nigerian who only lived to see two years of military rule and nineteen years of democratic rule, the definition is lost on me.
Democracy is only a foreign concept I read about in books and see in Hollywood movies. This because our so called democratic leaders are firstly not the will of the people, they are will of the politically powerful and influential. They are not for the good of the people because they loot our resources for themselves and their generations unborn. They simply do not care about the common people or their needs.
However, there is one story of democracy at its purest form in Nigeria. I was not alive at the time but I grew up always learning the story of the June 12, 1993 General Elections. How Nigerians of all walks of life came together and voted in the first and only free and fair elections. M.K.O. Abiola was declared the winner of the election by NECON (now INEC). Abiola was candidate of the SDP party and his running mate was his primary opponent named Baba Gana Kinigibe. Third primary opponent was Atiku Abubakar. Abiola successfully secured large amounts of votes in Kano which was Bashir Tofa’s hometown (his opponent) and other major parts of Northern Nigeria which always instrumental in winning elections in Nigeria.
During this period, the Nigerian political scene was dominated by Northerners. It was prevalent in that time than it is presently. All the winners of federal elections have been won by Northerners. That’s almost 30 years of Northern dominance. The odds were against him at first, but his love and fanfare throughout the nation was too much to be ignored. This was strange at the time, two Muslims, one a South-western the other a Northern on the same ticket. The usual thing in Nigeria is One Muslim Northerner, the other a Southern Christian or vice-versa. For us, that’s democracy, representation of religions and geo-political zones. This is still prevalent in Nigeria especially in presidential elections and many gubernatorial elections especially in the South-west. Both religions must be reflected one a ticket. If you do not have a Christian on the ticket you have lost the South, if you don’t have a Muslim you have lost the north(this does not mean that all Northerners are Muslims or all Southerners are Christians)
The results of the elections were celebrated throughout the nation. The horrors of the 1964/1965 and the 1979 elections are finally behind us. We are moving forward. There is finally a government of the people. So they taught. In typical fashion, General Babangida annulled the results which caused a lot political turmoil and caused Sani Abacha to take power in November 1993. Abiola was doomed a coup had already happened before he entered office. In 1994, Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria and was subsequently arrested for treason by General Sani Abacha
Some years ago, I listened to the telephone conservation Abiola had with BBC News. He sounded like a man that was not bothered. He was still laughing and confident was going to happen to him. Unfortunately that was the last time Nigerians heard his voice. On July 7th 1998, he day of the release he was declared dead of “natural causes”. Before his death many pleaded with Abacha for his safe release even the then Pope John Paul. But nothing changed. Kudirat Abiola his second wife, was also assassinated in 1996 before his release. His release announced after the death of Abacha. There are various conspiracy theories that say Abiola was killed so that he wouldn’t return to exercise his claim as the President.
Fast forward 21 years after his death, President Buhari declared June 12 as democracy day and awarded MKO Abiola and Gani Fawehimi the national honour of GCON. Many people saw it as a ploy to gain votes from South West ahead of the 2019 elections to appeal to them as Abiola was a South-Western man. If that is true, unfortunately it didn’t work for him as he recorded less votes in the South West than in 2015.
Some APC members have come out to defend the decision saying it was part of the cardinal plan of the ACN party before the formation of APC. For clarity sake APC is a union of different parties majorly CPC and ACN aimed at removing PDP as the ruling party.
It has been 26 years since the elections and democracy has only gotten worse. We have come to see worse rigged and manipulated elections in the land. Presidents seeking an unconstitutional extension of their tenure, complaining that his counterparts have been in power longer than him. Governors who ahead handpicking people to become local government chairmen, House of Assembly members and principal officers, and the person that will succeed them.
We live a county of selection and handpicking of the politically powerful. A country where a federal minister announces that nobody can change is re-appointment into a new tenure. Where an incumbent president cannot contemplate losing an election but only congratulate himself before the election process is even over.
Democracy is not worth celebrating in Nigeria because it has been used to deceive the common man. The common man is made to trust the process attend overcrowded rallies. Go through the entire process of voters registration, an eventually spend a whole at the polling booth waiting for election materials. Only for a political thug to come to you at gun point threatening you to vote for another party. How can you really celebrate what is not yours? If we were still under the British Empire we would not be able to celebrate Independence Day. Democracy is not real to be in Nigeria, it was only real on that fateful Saturday afternoon in 1993.
The very document that establishes our democracy is the constitution. However, the constitution was created by a Military decree. It was drafted and supervised by a Military Government and imposed on the Nigerian people. The preamble however reads, “We the people of Nigeria…” but I keep asking myself, which people? Its provisions are by no way for written by common Nigerians or for their good. It was written to subject the common man and the man the government rules arbitrary. They are vested so much power and influence making them the landlords in Nigeria while the citizens are the tenants that pay rent in the form of our votes.
When I read political commentaries from the US and the UK about various issues ranging from Brexit to the Trade war with China, one thing is clear. The basis of everything is how thing ought to be and necessary steps to be taken and possible disciplinary actions against who err these rules. They pride themselves in having good structures were everything is done properly. But in Nigeria all I see is lamentations of people of how the government only satisfies their own selfish desires and other ills in the political structures. When will be the story be different, when will the conduct of a free and fair election stop being a singular historic event which is celebrated throughout the nation. When will it be normal for an incumbent governor to lose an election? When will be people be the focus in the government? When will be true political power be in the hands of registered voter and not only in the hands of a corrupt rogue?
2019 marks twenty years of celebrating democracy day in Nigeria. One can only hope for better days to come. President Buhari has marked it by changing the name of the National Stadium Abuja to the MKO Abiola Stadium. In truth, all these are not true reflection of what democracy is. Its not by giving national honours, changing day of celebration, increasing the number of public holidays or even naming the stadium after people. Its about restoring power to the people. Its about making the government people centered not party centered. M.K.O. Abiola should not be total definition of democracy. The reason June 12 is instrumental to the democracy of Nigeria is because that has the first and only it was truly practiced in a Nation plagued with tribal politics and violence. It was only the people spoke and their voices where heard with no blemishes.
As a human being I am truly saddened about what happened to MKO Abiola but he himself was not a perfect man. He conspired with coup plotters when military governments did not favour him. He was one of the notable Nigerians that were awarded Government contracts to fattened themselves. While Abiola was working in ITT Corporation he was given a contract to provide hardware to military and subsequently contracts to supply automatic telephone exchanges in number of locations in the country. The monies awarded in typical Nigerian fashion were misappropriated by Abiola. These monies were invested in Nigeria and beyond and eventually made him the richest man in Nigeria. Through his Concord Newspaper advocated for the islamization of Nigeria particularly Nigeria’s entry into the Organization of Islamic Countries which caused a lot of backlash from many Christians and Christian Organisation particularly CAN.
In my opinion, He didn’t vehemently oppose the annulment of the election results for the good of the country but for his own selfish interest. That’s why he went ahead to declare himself the lawful president of Nigeria. He did it for himself, not for Nigeria, not for you, not for me. This view is very unpopular among people who view Abiola as a hero. To them he didn’t need to run for presidency. He was the richest man in Nigeria which investments all over the world. But I always tell them one thing. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Its my view that through Abiola’s interactions with world leaders. He found himself in close quarters with power and coveted it. He wanted it more than anything else, even more riches of the world.
I hope that one day we live in a country of the people, where the leaders are decided by the people, where the governors and president are lords but are servants. Where the people decides what is wrong.