On June 12, 1993, Nigeria voters overcame the hurdles of Option A4 at the primary and long queues under the sun, as the country conducted most credible election to decide, who would become the President of Nigeria. In a two-party race, the contest was between Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party and Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. The outcome of the election have never been officially certified. In contrast, African Elections Database indicates that Abiola won with 8,243,209 votes, while Tofa polled 5,982,087 votes.
General Ibrahim Babangida had been in power since 1983 to 1993. He played a significant role in the coup that replaced the civilian government of Shehu Shagari with the military regime led by Muhammad Buhari. However, deep dissatisfaction with Buhari’s restrictive governance led General Babangida to oust Buhari in August 1985.
Suspiciously, Babangida started to trifle with the transition timetable prematurely. Babangida moved the poll twice and the third attempt was resisted by the human rights community. After numerous protests and resistance across the country against the Babangida government lead to the state congresses of the two government-sponsored political parties, the only legal parties, the National Republican Convention and the Social Democratic Party, were held in the summer of 1990 and campaigning began in earnest thereafter.
As expected by most Nigerians, the June 12, 1993, presidential election was declared Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election by national and international observers, with Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola even wins in his Northern opponent’s home state with slogan “… abolition of poverty”. Based on Prof. Humphrey Nwosu ( former chairman of the disbanded National Electoral Commission (NEC)) statement, 14 million voters participated in the poll.
Abiola is thought to have won majority votes in 20 of the then 30 states in Nigeria, thereby securing the constitutionally required tally to be declared a winner. But that did not happen. The results of the election were never released. But unofficial results gathered through the various polling stations by civil society groups across the country indicated broad national support for the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Chief MKO Abiola.
In a decree signed by then military leader, he said “these steps were taken to save our judiciary from being ridiculed and politicized locally and internationally.” The elements of civil society, notably, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), a human rights organisation, successfully mobilised Nigerians living in the major cities in the west of the country (the major economic hub), to stay at home, paralysing economic activities for days and months. The action changed nothing.
However, the Babangida government handed over to an Interim National Government (ING) headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan. The trasitional government did not last long as another military officer, General Sani Abacha hijacked power from Chief Shonekan on November 17, 1993 after a military coup that ended the Nigerian Third Republic. Abiola, widely seen as the victor of the June 1993 elections, was later detained for five years after he declared himself president for winning a democratic election. In 1994, Abiola was a charge for treason by the military regime.
Having literally shot down the historic presidential election results of 12 June 1993, and the democratic political structures of his predecessor’s transition programme, Abacha would, for the next five years, be involved in what amounted to a ferocious battle of political credibility and legitimacy. To survive, he resorted to an admixture of force, that is, the stick or the threat and the actual use of force against the political opposition; and the carrot or a reward system in relation to social forces, groups and individuals that supported the regime.
Activists who criticized his regime were imprisoned for months, with some put to death. Opposition leaders were jailed under his leadership. Abacha’s regime came under fierce international criticism when he executed popular playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists, who came to be known as the Ogoni 9. The men were charged with murdering four men and were convicted and sentenced to death at a special tribunal. Throughout, Saro-Wiwa maintained that he was being framed for criticizing Abacha’s regime. General Sani Abacha died in office apparently of heart failure in June 1998, which paved the way for democratic elections. These were won by Obasanjo on his release from prison, ending a decade and half of unbroken, brutal military rule in Nigeria.
During his imprisonment Abiola was deprived of outside news and subjected to solitary confinement and abuse that included negligent medical care. His release seemed imminent following the death of General Abacha in June 1998. However, Abiola died suddenly under mysterious circumstances, arousing suspicions of foul play, although a heart attack was officially declared to be the cause of death.
In Nigeria, Democracy Day is a national public holiday and was previously observed on May 29th due to the fact that the country transited from military to civilian on that day in the year 1999. Rewriting the Nigerian history, President Muhammadu Buhari on June 16, 2018, declared June 12 Democracy Day which was later backed up by an Act of the National Assembly last year become a public holiday which is celebrated each year.
With the decision to move Democracy Day, the Government has also awarded posthumously the highest honour of the land, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), to late Chief Abiola on June 6, 2018. Twenty-eight years after the annulment, without doubt, the Democracy Day on June 12 is very significant in the mind of patriotic Nigerian’s as it has immortalised Abiola, the adjudged winner of the nation’s freest and fairest presidential election.