June 12 Mandate, Democracy and Unity of Nigeria

Femi Falana1

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana

(Being the address delivered by Femi Falana SAN at the 25th anniversary of the June 12 1993 presidential election won by the late Bashorun M.K.O Abiola organized by the Osun state government on Tuesday, June 12, 2018)

Introduction

The Mohammadu Buhari administration took the nation by surprise last week when it decided to confer the posthumous national awards of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Chief M. K. O. Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) on Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN for his huge contribution to the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria. By declaring June 12 Democracy Day the Federal Government has officially validated the integrity of the credible election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta. By recognizing June 12 as Democracy Day the Federal Government has put an end to the hypocrisy of May 29 which was proclaimed by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime.  This year’s celebration provides a golden opportunity to review the democratic journey with a view to strengthening the fragile democratic process. Before addressing the topic of our discourse permits me to respond to the attempts by certain persons to questioning the decision of the federal government to revisiting the monumental injustice that has lived with us for 25 years,

Legal validity of posthumous awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi and declaration of June 12 as a public holiday

The Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria was reported to have questioned the legal validity of the decision of President Buhari to confer posthumous awards on Chief M. K. O. Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN on the grounds that the advice of the National Honours Committee headed by his lordship was not sought. It was further contended by his lordship that it is illegal to confer national honours posthumously. Curiously, his lordship did not refer to any section of the National Honours Act or any other law that has been violated by the President. It is however pertinent to point out that the National Honours Committee is unknown to law. Hence, there is no reference to it in the National Honours Act.

With profound respect to the Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, the National Honours Act has not prohibited or restricted the powers of the President to confer national honours on deserving Nigerian citizens, dead or alive. No doubt, paragraph 2 of the Honours Warrant made pursuant to the National Honours Act provides that “a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an Order when he receives from the President in person, at an investiture held for the purpose…” But paragraph 3 thereof has given the President the unqualified discretion “to dispense with the requirement of paragraph 2 in such manner as may be specified in the direction.” Therefore, since the national awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi cannot be received by them in person the President has rightly invited their family members to receive same on their behalf.

Senator Dino Melaye has equally questioned the national awards on the grounds that the two honourees are no longer citizens of Nigeria because they are deceased. I am compelled to draw the attention of the Senator to section 25 of the Constitution which provides that the citizenship of Nigeria can be acquired by birth by any person whose parent or grandparent is or was a member of a community indigenous to Nigeria. If a Nigerian can acquire his citizenship by tracing his roots to a dead parent or grandparent it is submitted that the death of Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi has not robbed them of their rights as citizens of Nigeria. A few years ago, it was accepted in legal circles in Nigeria that the fundamental right of a dead person to life could not be enforced since he was no longer a citizen. But that erroneous contention was discarded by the Court of Appeal in the case of Mrs Precious Omonyahuh v Inspector-General of Police (2015) LPELR-25581, Adamu Augie J.C.A (as she then was) held that the fundamental right of Nigerian citizens to life guaranteed by section 33 of the Constitution can be enforced by relations of any person whose life has been illegally terminated.

Some members of the House of Representatives have challenged the legality of the declaration of June 12 as a public holiday on the grounds that the approval of the National Assembly was not sought and obtained by the President. It is undoubtedly clear that the attention of the legislators has not been drawn to section 2 (1) of the Public Holidays Act  which provides that, in addition to the holidays mentioned in the Schedule to the Act, the President may appoint a special day to be kept as a public holiday either throughout Nigeria or in any part thereof. Therefore, the President is not required by the Public Holidays Act or any other law to seek and obtain the approval of the National Assembly before declaring a public holiday in the country. To that extent, the declaration of June 12 as a national holiday with effect from 2019 is well grounded in law

Lessons from the June 12 struggle

It would be recalled that the Campaign for Democracy (CD) led by the Late Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti had organized massive rallies in July 1993 to protest the annulment of the election. Dr Ransome-Kuti, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and I were captured in Lagos and taken to Abuja by security forces in a desperate bid to stop the demonstrations. We were charged with conspiracy, unlawful assembly, incitement etc. before a Wuse Magistrate Court.  Our application for bail was refused by the magistrate who ordered our confinement at Kuje prison. Notwithstanding our incarceration the protests and other forms of civil disobedience continued unabated.  Chima Ubani, osagie Obayuwana, Debo Adeniran,  Odion Akhaine, Abiodun Aremu, Y.Z.  Yau, Chris Abashi, Shehu Sanni, Luke Aghanenu, Jiti Ogunye, Bello Aideloje, Gloria Kilanko, Joe Igbokwe, Joe Okey-Odumakin and several other comrades effectively coordinated the revolts until General Babangida was chased out of power on August 26, 1993.

I have deliberately read out these names to emphasize the point that the struggle for the validation of the June 12 mandate was waged by progressive Nigerian citizens from all parts of the country. The role of the progressive extraction of the media deserves special mention. When the junta could not silence the Punch, National Concord, Sketch and Nigerian Observer it banned them. But the Tell, The News and TEMPO magazines resisted proscription as they resorted to guerilla journalism. They exposed the forces of annulment and their unpatriotic collaborators. In a suit filed against the proscription of the Concord newspapers the Lagos High Court set aside the illegal proscription of the Concord newspapers in October, 1993 while the Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan was declared illegal and unconstitutional on November 10, 1993. At that juncture the Campaign for Democracy called on  Chief Abiola to  proclaim himself President. But the call was rejected based on the false assurance given to Chief Abiola by Generals Sani Abacha and Oladipo Diya. A week later, both Generals rolled out the tanks to re-impose full-fledged military dictatorship on the nation.

The CD asked Nigerians to reject the new impostors but Chief Abiola pleaded for understanding as he remained convinced that the sanctity of his mandate would be respected by the Abacha junta. But in order to consolidate power the junta appointed Chief Abiola’s key lieutenants as ministers including the elected Vice President, Alhaji Babagan Kingibe. As martial law was not sufficient to silence Nigerians the junta established a killer squad called “Strike Force” to eliminate all leading opposition figures in the country. The Strike Force actually killed some pro-democracy and human rights defenders and subjected others to detention in dehumanizing conditions for demanding for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate.

When it dawned on Chief Abiola and his supporters in the political class that the Abacha junta had betrayed them they held a meeting in Lagos on May 18, 1994 and resolved to form the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) under the leadership of the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin. On June 12, 1994 Chief Abiola declared himself President and called on the Nigerian people to defend the mandate. He was arrested and charged with treasonable felony. Even though the Court of Appeal admitted him to bail in self recognizance the junta refused to release him from military custody. For four years, he was held incommunicado in a solitary confinement and denied access to his doctors and family members. On one occasion Dr. Ore Falomo, Bashorun Abiola’s personal physician got the approval of the junta to visit him in custody. However, not only was the doctor disallowed from visiting his patient he was also arrested by security forces. It took the personal intervention of General Abacha to secure the release of Dr. Falomo from illegal custody.

On June 4 1996, Chief Abiola’s wife, Mrs Kudirat Abiola was brutally assassinated in Lagos by Sergeant Rogers on orders from above. Chief Alfred Rewane, Bagauda Khalto, and many other people were gruesomely assassinated by the Strike Force. Unsuccessful attempts were made to murder the NADECO chief, Senator Abraham Adesanya, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa and the Guardian Publisher, Chief Alex Ibru. Political leaders and activists who went on exile include Professor Wole Soyinka, Chief Tony Enahoro, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Professor Julius Ihonvbere, General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Chief Ralph Obiora, Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd), Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Nosa Igiebor, Dapo Olorunyomi and Bayo Onanuga went on exile. Some of the ardent supporters of the June 12 mandate who remained in the country were the late Bala Usman, Col Umar Dangiwa and Balarabe Musa, Commodore Ndubusi Kanu (retd), Chief Ayo Adebanjo,the late Chief Olanihun Ajayi, Chief Olu Falae, Hon. Wale Osun etc. For 4 years Comrade Frank Kokori was detained at Bama prison in Borno State. His detention conditions were horrible but his spirit was unbroken. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Aborisade and I were detained for about 19 months in `1996.

In a desperate bid by General Abacha to metamorphose into a civilian president he decided rto cow the Nigerian people to complete submission. In 1995, former military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo and his former deputy, General Shehu Yaradua and a host of other retired and serving army officers were roped into a phantom coup, tried by a military tribunal which convicted and sentenced them to death. Some journalists like Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mbah and the CD Chairman and deputy, Dr Ransome- Kuti and Shehu Sanni respectively were sentenced to life imprisonment. For daring to expel Shell from Ogoniland the junta executed Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

In 1997, General Oladipo Diya and other military officers who had fallen out of favour with the murderous junta were tried for treason, convicted and sentenced to death. They were awaiting the noose of the hangman when the maximum ruler was poisoned and killed in a palace coup on June 8, 1998. The junta’s chief of defence staff, General Abdulsalami Abubakar succeeded General Abacha. When all efforts made by the Abubakar junta to persuade Chief Abiola to abandon his mandate failed he was reported to have died after taking a cup of tea served by a member of a United States delegation. With the elimination of both General Abacha and Chief Abiola the Abubakar junta rolled out a political transition programme which was manipulated to produce the current rickety democratic process.

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Even though the political class had promised to demilitarize the political system and ensure that the Nigerian people produce a democratic Constitution to replace Decree No 24 of 1999, otherwise called the 1999 Constitution, the demand for the convocation of a sovereign national conference to produce a democratic Constitution was rejected by the federal government. Consequently, the political crisis plaguing the country has assumed a dangerous dimension.

June 12 and demand for restructuring

Unlike some Nigerian leaders who have pathological disdain for the events which contributed to the termination of military rule in the country, President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the Late Chief M.K.O Abiola as a watershed in the political history of Nigeria. The attempt to change the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University was rejected by the institution’s Alumni Association. During the centenary celebrations in 2014, President Jonathan honoured Chief     M.K.O. Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN.

But beyond the the Order of G.C.F.R. conferred on Chief Abiola paid the supreme sacrifice for the restoration of democracy in the country the federal government should mark June 12 on a daily basis by respecting the democratic rights of the Nigerian people. It should be borne in mind that the Nigerian people voted for Chief Abiola because of his commitment to make poverty history. Nigerians have also voted for the All Progressive Congress (APC) because it promised to change poverty to prosperity in the land.  But the administration has been hijacked by neo-liberal forces who have ensured the devaluation of the Naira and the complete take-over of the economy by market forces. In order to hide the cause of the underdevelopment of the nation the collapse of the neo-colonial economy has been blamed on the fall in the price of crude oil in the international market.

Having embraced anti-peoples’ policies the APC-led government has asked Nigerians to be prepared to make sacrifices.  Instead of further impoverishing the Nigerian people the Buhari Administration should pluck up the courage to stop the dollarization of the economy, capital flight and illegal diversion of public funds by public officers. As part of the whistle blowing policy of the federal government the EFCC should recover from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation the over $21 billion which it has failed to remit to the Federation Account.  At the same time, the AMCON should intensify efforts to recover the toxic loans of N5.4 trillion from about 50 companies and stop the loss of revenue through indiscriminate granting of duty waivers to importers of goods which can be produced in Nigeria. The national assembly should stop the federal and state governments from mortgaging the destiny of the country by engaging in external borrowing spree to bail out the comatose economy.

Since section 16 of the Constitution has imposed a duty on the federal government to prevent the concentration of the commonwealth on a few people the leasing of oil blocks to individuals should stop. Oil blocks should henceforth be allocated oil blocks as some individuals who got them have confessed that they do not what to do with the billions of dollars realized from subleasing the oil blocks to foreign investors.

As no economy can recover with interest rate of over 25 percent the federal government should stop the Central Bank from the reckless manipulation of the nation’s monetary policy. If the Bank of Industry is allowed to peg interest rate to less than 10 percent why should the Central Bank permit commercial banks to charge close to 30 percent interest rate? Why should the Central Bank be allowed to sabotage the economy by manipulating the foreign exchange market? About two years ago, the British, American and Swiss governments imposed a fine of $3.5 billion on 5 banks which engaged in forex manipulation. In Nigeria, banks which are involved in money laundering and round tripping are only suspended from the forex market for a week or two.

In the wake of the growing agitation for the restructuring to restore the federal status of the country Nigerians have been rudely told that restructuring is not in the agenda of the Buhari administration. The arrogant statement should be rejected by Nigerians because the APC had undertaken in its manifesto to “initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal Spirit.”  With respect, it ought to be pointed out that the struggle for restructuring has been partly won by state governments through litigation and defiance. Specifically, state governments have won the legal battles over the control of physical planning and control of local government funds. The States have also won the battle over the collection of taxes from hotels etc. Even though the Land Use Act is a federal enactment entrenched in Constitution state governments have won the battle over the control of land. Hence, the federal government is currently appealing to State governments to donate land for grazing of cattle.

However, as I have repeatedly maintained, the demand for restructuring or devolution of powers without democratization is dangerous for the polity. Any restructuring that does not address the crisis of poverty, unemployment and infrastructural decay is an invitation to anarchy. Strengthening the States and making the centre less dictatorial is not a panacea to political stability. Let it be made abundantly clear that the national question is not about empowering champions of ethnic groups to continue to run the affairs of the federating units. It is about the equitable distribution of resources and democratization of powers. The call for restructuring should not be reduced to the mere transfer of powers from the centre to the States to make the federal government “less centralized, less suffocating and less dictatorial.”

Contrary to the misleading impression of some of the agitators, state governments are not less dictatorial than the federal government under the current distorted federal structure. Hence, even though state governments have won the battle for some devolution of powers it has not impacted positively on the people because such powers have not been democratized.

The 2014 National Conference was compelled to address the issue of restructuring in a rather comprehensive manner. Realizing that the devolution of powers was not sufficient to guarantee political stability in the country the delegates unanimously  recommended the actualization of the socio-economic rights enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution, payment of living minimum wage for workers, establishment of a special anti-corruption court, 35% representation for women, removal of immunity clause in respect of criminal offences etc. To stop the manipulation of religion by the ruling class it was recommended that the government should withdraw completely from religious affairs. Specifically, the government is to withdraw from the sponsorship of pilgrimages to holy sites.

As the federal government is not going to allow devolution of powers without a protracted struggle, state governments that are genuinely committed to political restructuring should mobilize the people to take their destiny in their own hands. As far as I am concerned, regional economic integration by state governments does not require the fiat of the federal government. State governments which are demanding true federalism should stop rushing to Abuja for monthly allocation and distribution of the revenue realized from oil sales and VAT.  We cannot restructure the country without the redistribution of the commonwealth. For instance, through privatization and liquidation of national assets the federal government has devolved economic power hitherto concentrated in the centre. But such economic power was not transferred to the state and local governments but to a few foreign and local business groups. With dwindling revenue the federal government is being compelled to allow state governments to take up matters that are in the Exclusive Legislative List. For instance, state governments have been allowed to build airports, power plants as well as rail lines and federal roads.

No doubt, Nigerian youths constitute over 60 percent of the voting population. Instead of taking advantage of the large number of young voters to produce leaders who are imbued with vision and mission, young people are queuing behind agents of disunity and destruction. While voters in other climes are using their electoral power to demand public accountability Nigerian youths are being recruited as agents of violence by corrupt politicians and war mongers. The threat to balkanize the country has completely diverted national attention from the criminal diversion of national treasury and reckless killing of innocent people by armed herdsmen, terrorists and bandits. We are currently witnessing the politicization of criminality by the ruling class whereby criminal suspects rush to the media to allege political victimization whenever they are invited to account for their involvement in serious criminal activities.

Conclusion

In celebrating the June 12 mandate we should realize that the Nigerian people voted for a joint Muslim ticket and that Christians voted for the ticket. It is also on record that Chief Abiola defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa in his home state of Kano. Hence, the election is said to have marked a watershed in our history because it provided a golden opportunity to unite our people, terminate unending military rule and restore democracy in Nigeria. Although we are indebted to Chief Abiola and all the other heroes who emboldened us to chase away highly corrupt military dictators we have a collective duty to ensure that the vote of every voter counts and that the government is committed to the welfare and security of the people.. As a matter of urgency, the reckless killing of unarmed people should stop forthwith.  In addition to the highest national honour conferred on Chief Abiola the Federal Government should proceed to implement the provisions of the fundamental objectives of the Constitution which informed his Welfare to Poverty programme. Furthermore, Mrs Kudirat Abiola who was brutally assassinated while defending the June 12 mandate and others who equally paid the supreme sacrifice in defence of democracy and rule of law deserve to be honoured posthumously at a later date.

It is indisputable that Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN championed and defended the human rights of the Nigerian people in his life time. The best tribute that can be paid to him is a commitment on the part of all the governments in Nigeria to respect the human rights of the Nigerian people. In particular, the Federal Government should release all citizens who are being detained illegally all over the country. Chief Fawehinmi would not support the arrest of any citizen without any justifiable reason. Therefore, the Federal Government should comply with section 35 (1) (c) of the Constitution by ensuring that no person is arrested or prosecuted unless there is reasonable suspicion that he/she has committed a criminal offence.