June 12: Memory Of A Pan-Nigerian Mandate

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The June 12, 1993, presidential election adjudged to be the freest and fairest election ever conducted in Nigeria and its cancellation have become history. However, eighteen years after, the date still remains indelible in the minds of Nigerians.

It was the day Nigerians without bothering about tribe, religion or language voted overwhelming for the late business mongul, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, to rule the country.

The election which was hailed by both local and international observers, was devoid of religious and ethnic acrimony as have ever since dogged Nigerian politics.

The business mogul turned politician, who was the Social Democratic Party, SDP, standard-bearer, defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention, NRC.

Surprisingly, the outcome of that election did not see the light of the day as the then military Head of State, Gen Ibrahim Babaginda, who superintended over the exercise, cancelled the poll for a reason best known to him.

The annulment came despite the wide acceptability of the unofficial result by both local and international observers. Indeed, observers adjudged it as the fairest and the best-conducted election ever held in the country.

Although the result of the cancellation is now history, the day has remained indelible in the minds of the citizenry.

Despite successive governments have refused to acknowledge the date and the late MKO considered as the epi-centre of the nation’s renascent democracy, June 12 still remains a balloon floating on water which cannot submerge.

Abiola’s political manifesto for the June 12 presidential election was tagged ‘Hope ‘93,’ his campaign slogan which stood for the ‘banishment of poverty.’

The reason the election was so historic was because the Northern electorate voted overwhelmingly for a Southerner. The fact that Abiola, a southern Muslim was able to secure a national mandate freely and fairly, remains unprecedented in Nigeria’s history.

However, the political crisis that followed the annulment led to the late General Sani Abacha seizing power later that year.

In 1994, Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island, an area mainly populated by impoverished Nigerians, after he returned from a trip to solicit the support of international community for his mandate.

After declaring himself president, he was accused of treason and declared wanted by the government of Abacha. He was subsequently arrested and detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement with a Bible, Quran and 14 guards as companions.

Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and other human activists lobbied the Nigerian government for his release to no avail.

The sole condition attached to his release was that he should renounce his mandate, something he (Abiola) refused to do, though the military government offered to compensate him and refund his huge election expenses.

Abiola died under questionable circumstances on the day he was due to be released on 7 July, 1998, shortly after the death of Abacha.