From the lyrics of the late great Afrobeat music legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he likened democracy to a “demonstration of craze, crazy demonstration”, hence, coined the name “democraZy”.
une the 12th, a day that will forever remain indelible in the heart of Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora, is a day of great significance in the history of the country. As it is the culture, people gather en masse from all works of life to celebrate the day tagged, “Democracy Day”.
The day means a whole lot to Nigerians as it signifies the day the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, popularly known as MKO Abiola, unofficially was declared the winner of a free and fair election in Nigeria.
It can be recalled that in that year, June 12, 1993, the first election was conducted since the 1983 military coup hoping to pave the way for democracy. Unofficial results indicated that MKO Abiola won the election by a landslide and one would have thought that the seat of power would be handed over to him without fuss. Little did the people know that the much-celebrated victory nationwide was about to take a new turn for the worse.
MKO was arrested and jailed for reasons best known to the military-run government. All pleas, agitations, protests by civil society, the print and electronic media, Nigerians, foreign nations, and organizations like the UN, ECOWAS, etc., proved abortive. The agitations went on for months and people thought that at some point the government is going to crack for the people to have their way; little did they know that the military government had something off their sleeves for the masses who, for months now, had disrupted all economic activities in the state.
The truth is, politicians (be it in a democratic dispensation, military rule, or monarchical) always know how to play their cards right. They know how and when to put up a defense and bring their manipulative act to play.
Before we go any further, it is imperative to know what really played out on this day, 12th June 1993.
Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) defeated Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), according to the unofficial results of the election, which were not declared by the National Electoral Commission (NEC). Because the elections were nullified by IBB (President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida) due to electoral irregularities, the winner of the election was never announced. The annulment sparked protests and political unrest, including IBB’s resignation and the formation of a weak interim civilian government, culminating in the country’s continuation of military rule with Sani Abacha’s ascension to power as the country’s military head of state via a bloodless coup later that year.
In July, following the annulment, there was a series of violent riots in the southwest area. Hundreds of people are said to have died as a result of security forces trying to put an end to the rioting. The United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union all expressed their displeasure with the annulment. Foreign nations, as expected, were accused of intervening in the military government’s affairs and attempting to destabilize the country.
The government banned or shut down media outlets following the election, and journalists were arrested. The administration issued decrees barring courts from hearing cases related to the canceled election.
An Interim National Government was formed on 26 August led by Ernest Shonekan, with Sani Abacha, a close ally of Babangida, acting as Defense Minister.
Abacha, on the other hand, overthrew the interim government in a palace coup on November 17, 1993. Abacha disbanded the legislature, as well as the state and municipal administrations, and appointed military and police personnel to replace the elected civilian state governors. He also outlawed any and all political activity and gatherings.
The Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) and the Federal Executive Council were founded by Abacha as governing entities. Abacha’s new government was made up of civilian politicians, notably Baba Gana Kingibe, Abiola’s running mate. Abacha then convened a Constitutional Conference to prepare for a civilian takeover. The meeting opened on January 18, 1994, with the PRC having the ability to veto any decisions made by the conference; and since one-third of the delegates were nominated by the government, the government of the day was indirectly in control of the decisions made.
Renewed protests and strikes broke out across the nation, following Abiola’s imprisonment. Because the country relied on oil for foreign cash on the worldwide market, the strike largely paralyzed the economy. Following this, the Abacha regime jailed union leaders and fired civilian cabinet members.
General Abacha died in a mysterious manner in June 1998. One month later, on the eve of his release from prison, Abiola met with a US group in Nigeria, including Assistant Secretary Susan Rice, and Under Secretary Thomas Pickering, to discuss the country’s planned democratic transition. Abiola felt unwell, fainted, and died in the hospital shortly after the meeting on July 7. After drinking tea during the discussion, some suspected he was poisoned by members of the US delegation.
An autopsy was carried out on the deceased body, MKO Abiola, and it was revealed that he died of cardiac failure. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery to this day.
Currently, the civilian President of Nigeria in the Fourth Republic, Muhammadu Buhari, in 2018, designated June 12th as the new date for commemorating Democracy Day, based on the date of the annulled 1993 election. The preceding Democracy Day was May 29, 1999, which marked the end of Abacha’s dictatorship and the return to civilian governance.
As you can see, the day in Nigeria’s history book remains memorable. Unlike previous democracy day celebrations, this year’s own was greeted with mixed feelings among Nigerians. Civil society and human right activists alike admonished Nigerians to come out in droves for a peaceful protest in all cities across the nation; the protest which was dubbed, #Buharimustgo went viral on social media, and the youth especially, were gearing up for that day to air their displeasure over the state of the nation ranging from insecurity, abductions, kidnapping, rape and worst of all, the soaring rate of food and other household commodities.
Days before the 12th of June, pandemonium hit the air, rumours of a purported invasion by some unknown elements were being sold to the people through social media, and some people advised Nigerians especially those in the south to stock up their homes with food because they were in for a ride of their lives, according to the rumour. That spiraled into panic buying on Thursday and Friday leading to the 12th of June. People hit the bank, withdrew a lump sum of money, headed to the marketplace, bought foodstuffs in sacks, bags, and what have you.
Finally, the day came – 12th of June, surprisingly, there was calm in the air; the streets were deserted from Lagos to Port Harcourt, Abuja to Kano, and all other cities in Nigeria were not left out either.
Later on, as planned, some groups gathered at Ojota in Lagos, and Abuja for the scheduled peaceful protest. Before their arrival, security had been beefed up and one could see armoured tanks, patrol vans, and men in uniform in and around the proposed venue for the protest in Lagos and Abuja respectively.
Truth be told, this year’s June the 12th, 2021 was peaceful up until the men in uniform came by to display their “craze” in an attempt to stop the citizens’ peaceful demonstration which apparently was not as “crazy” as it was earlier speculated by rumours in the media.
Going by the way democracy is being practised in Nigeria, from the uncanny ways the politicians behave in public, unguarded utterances during public presentations, their ill-manner towards public interest and infrastructure, to the lackadaisical approach and lackluster attitude towards the nation’s affairs, one would agree with Fela that truly what is being practised on this side of the divide is “DemocraZy”.