The Dummies’ Guide to understanding the fuss over June 12, Nigeria’s alternative Democracy day

It is said that he was not properly given a first name until he was about 15. Kashimawo, “we’ll see* or “let’s wait and see”, they called him until then because all the other kids of his father had died too young.

The events of Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola’s childhood echo what this day now stands for. This day, a public holiday in at least 6 States of the Federation is what many call “Nigeria’s real Democracy Day”.

This day, 24 years ago, Chief MKO Abiola, the business tycoon, philanthropist and world renowned statesman stood to be elected as President of a promised democratic Nigeria and most likely won in a landslide. It is said that he won fair and square in an unprecedented, and yet unmatched general election in Nigeria.

The election was later annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida, then Military Head of State, starting a political, social and democratic impasse of sorts that saw Abiola spend years in prison and delayed Nigeria’s democracy by 6 years.

Why then, after so many years is it still so important, this June 12?

Apart from the fact that it has remained the only uncontroverted general elections in our history in terms of results means a huge deal.

MKO Abiola had tried to run for office at least twice before 1993. Once, in 1983,  military coup dashed his hopes of becoming president under his Nigeria National Party.

When General Babangida took over power with the promise to deliver the nation to democracy, MKO Abiola was already with the Social Democratic Party. His running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe has been his opponent at the party primaries and was also muslim, though from the North. But this did not matter then.

Jude Egbas says “back in [his] Christian community, it didn’t matter where or who they worshipped”.

Abiola and Kingibe ran on the slogan: “Hope ’93”.

Hopes were dashed after having won “over two-thirds of Nigerian states” including the his National Republican Convention opponent, Bashir Tofa’s own state in the North, Abiola was not returned a the President-elect. General Babangida annulled the elections.

Even he seemed to understand the gravity of what he was doing as he addressed Nigerians “with a deep sense of world history and particularly of the history of our great country” when he tried to explain the reason for the annulment.

In the crisis that ensued, another military ruler came to power that year, cementing the fact that transition to democracy was no longer happening – General Sani Abacha.

This did not deter MKO Abiola though. The “President-Elect” went on to declare a “a new Government of National Unity… throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by [him, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola], as President and Commander-in-Chief.”

It was this June 11th speech in Epetedo, Lagos, a year after June 12, that led to the arrest and eventual death of Chief MKO Abiola in July 1998 under extremely suspicious circumstances.

But something already died 5 years before him: Nigerians’ hope. Hope for a chance to have control over their own affairs.

We are a democracy now quite alright. May 29th every year we remember that; celebrate it. But we are yet to acknowledge the death of that hope. And that’s where June 12th comes in. The day every conscious Nigerian resolves to continue to “wait and see” if there’s a chance for revival.


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