June 12, 1993 is a watershed moment in the history of Nigeria: an election that has been adjudged to be the freest and fairest ever conducted in the country was held, and one that broke barriers with a Muslim-Muslim ticket winning in a country with deep religious cleavages.
This was why there was so much anger when the elections were annulled, the military continued to be in power and the presumed winner, Chief M.K.O. Abiola jailed for trying to claim his mandate.
The events of the period after are still fresh in the memories of Nigerians: the struggle for democracy, the emergence of groups such as the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the detention and even assassination of many pro-democracy activists and journalists such as Chief Alfred Rewane, Mrs. Kudirat Abiola and Bagauda Kaltho, the underground publishing and broadcasting that many media organizations had to resort to and the general palpable tension that pervade the country until the death of military dictator, General Sani Abacha and our eventual return to democracy in 1999.
However, there is a group of actors for whom history has barely had even a footnote for: the hundreds of people that lost their lives in the protests and riots that ensued immediately after the annulment of the election.
There are no accurate reports on the number of people that were killed in the various riots and protests that broke out after the elections, predominantly in the South-West, but they range between tens and hundreds.
These people were the embodiment of common Nigerians: everyday people trying to eke out a better living for themselves daily and believing that tomorrow will be better. They died defending their right to freedom to choose their own leadership, a leadership they believed will bring to reality that better tomorrow they dreamed of.
Sadly, history hardly mentions them. We do not even know their names, faces or stories. Their families have been left alone to mourn them, and to remember them.
It is to people like these that we owe a duty to protect our democracy in order to ensure that the freedom of choosing our own leadership and determine the kind of government and country we want to live in is never taken away from us.
The history of Nigeria is littered with the stories of such people who gave up their lives in the struggle to make our country a better place – nameless, faceless people. It is also this class of people that bear the brunt most for the dysfunction of this country, unable to escape it even if they desired to or stayed away from being involved in the struggle.
We must always remember such people and for their sake, and that of many like them, to protect our democracy and to work towards having a Nigeria that works for all and where it is possible to have a decent life rather than one that is nasty and brutish.
We do not just pray and hope that their lives were not lost in vain. We must also work to ensure that it was not in vain.