Exactly twenty-one years on June 12, 2014, Nigerians united in electing Moshood Abiola as their President in what is now known as the June 12 saga. The election, universally acclaimed as the best in the history of the country, was criminally and inexplicably annulled by the self-styled evil-genius of a military president– Ibrahim Babangida, thereby plunging the nation into another cesspool of military misrule and murderous carnage. Having taken the nation on an endless circus of a transitional programme, Babanginda and his ilk of satanic potentates had sold us the dummy that he was real about a return to democracy. Through the manipulative apparatchik of the National Electoral Commission led by the brilliant but loquacious Professor Humphery Nwosu, Nigerians were treated to a macabre dance of disingenuous political engineering. Political parties and politicians were banned, unbanned, and banned again.
In the end it was a zero-sum game of political musical chairs. Babangida took no prisoners when it came to dealing with political opposition, as great citizens like Ebitu Ukiwe, Eme Awa, Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti, as well as student union leaders, felt the wrath of the smiling general from Minna. To show the despot’s disdain for education and enlightened civil society, Dr Patrick Wilmot, an erudite scholar and popular lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello Univeristy (ABU) Zaria, was brazenly kidnapped and driven overnight from Zaria to Lagos, and ultimately deported from the country. The “Maradona” was also responsible for surreptitiously upgrading Nigeria from an observer to full-fledged membership of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC).
No matter the litany of lame excuses offered, the only thing clear about Babangida was that he craved to be president for life, and was ready to kill and maim, and even to destroy the nation to achieve this objective. At first it was the Supreme Military Council (SMC), then the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), the Provisional Ruling Council, and finally the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC). Babangida constituted, dissolved, and reconstituted these bodies at whim. He also organised and cancelled election primaries whenever it suited him.
He turned his Chief of General Staff into a Vice President in anticipation of his ultimate transmutation into a civilian president. Also, he kept shifting the goal posts as the date for the return to civil rule was moved from 1990 to 1992, then to 1993. After the annulment, the date for the handover was to be on August 27, 1993 (the eighth anniversary of the putsch that brought him to power), but Babangida ingloriously “stepped aside” on August 26 of that year. His political demise ushered in the lame-duck contraption known as the Interim National Government (ING), a baby jaundiced in the womb and midwifed by Ernest Shonekan.
The aftermath of the annulment was mass demonstrations, which were met with brutal force, resulting in thousands of deaths. There was also large-scale looting and ethnic killings in places like Lagos. Once during this period, the writer of this article had to trek from Idumota to Onipanu because transport was paralysed. At this stage the sounds of the civil war resonated so much that many families had to relocate to their areas of origin – many never made it back to Lagos and the other cities.
The biggest shock from all this was that the political class sold out on the nation as they co-operated with the junta in aborting the democratic aspirations of the Nigerian people. The Leaders of the two main political parties then signed up with the military in an unholy marriage of convenience, and the catastrophic result was that Sani Abacha, having taken out the much-maligned Interim National Government, established himself as the maximum ruler with devastating consequences. Tony Anenih, Tom Ikimi, Babagana Kingibe, Lateef Jakande, Ebenezer Babatope, Abubakar Rimi and other “progressives” embraced Abacha and became poster boys for the dictatorship. Kingibe, the vice president-elect committed the worst possible political suicide by becoming Foreign Minister- the chief diplomat – to the tyrant.
Now, if Babanginda made corruption a chronic malaise (he has yet to account for the missing 12 billion dollars windfall) Abacha made it a national brand and official insignia. And if Babanginda made state-sponsored terror a sport, Abacha made it an article of faith, and an instrument of state policy. Sixteen years after his fortuitous demise, Nigeria is still fighting to recover the billions of stolen dollars. In terms of human rights abuses, Abacha made a life out of hunting his political enemies – real or perceived. Agents of the state were bombing public places, while its killer squad went on a killing orgy. Pa Alfred Rewane was shot dead in his bedroom (1995); Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni kinsmen were hanged (1995), Bagauda Kaltho disappeared for good (1996); Kudirat Abiola was gunned down (1996); Dr Alex Ibru survived the assasin’s bullets by whiskers (1996); Dr. Sola Omatsola, Chief Security Officer of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, was blown to smithereens in his car at Beesam Gate in Mafoluku (1996). Other notable Abacha-era murders include: Commodore Tunde Elegbede (1994), Capt. Tunde Ashafa (1995), Admiral Olu Omotehinwa (1996), Alhaja Suliat Adedeji (1996), Toyin Onagoruwa (1996), Esther Tejuosho (1996), and Irene Obodo (1996). None of these heinous crimes has been solved. The heat was so much that many flew into exile to avoid Abacha’s murderous rage.
However, to the relief of all citizens of good will, Abacha died suddenly on June 8, 1998. This paved the way for Abdulsalami Abubakar who, organized a flawed transition programme that ushered in the feral and petulant Olusegun Obasanjo as civilian president. OBJ was anything but a democrat, as he used the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to hunt his opponents. He pursued personal vendetta above national economic interests as shown by the brazen closure of Savannah Bank and Slok Airlines. He also elevated cronyism to a fine art by making billionaires of the likes of Andy Ubah and Femi Otedola. Obasanjo was responsible for acts of genocide in Odi (1999) and Zaki Biam (2001). His era also witnessed a number of high profile political assassinations – Bola Ige (2001), Barnabas and Abigail Igwe (2002), Marshall Harry (2003), Ogbonnaya Uche (2003), Andrew Agom (2004), Aminosari Dikibo (2004), and Funsho Williams (2006). Once again, none of these political assassinations has been solved.
Under Obasanjo, mediocrity was given top priority as we saw our legislative chambers led by shady and corrupt characters like Salisu Buhari, Evan(s) Enwerem, Patricia Etteh and Dimeji Bankole. Accountability was on a sabbatical leave, as the nation has absolutely nothing to show today for the billions of dollars sunk into the power sector. The tempestuous and unforgiving man of Otta was also consumed by a desire to perpetuate himself in office, and did all he could to realise the ill-fated Third Term project. When it become apparent that it would not work, he chose to foist on the nation a good but chronically ill, and hence unsuitable Umaru Musa Yar’Ardua.
The death of Yar’Adua in 2010 plunged the nation into the present conundrum. We now have a president whose only qualification for the high office seems to be his “good” luck. Goodluck Jonathan may be a doctor of something, but he speaks and acts like anything but a doctor. His rudderless leadership has taken us to the brink of disintegration. Those of our countrymen and women who opposed his candidacy in the last election were viewed as “tribalists” and haters of minorities. Less than a year to the end of his disastrous leadership, one is still yet to find anyone who voted for him because they thought he was competent to run a critically ill nation like Nigeria. The main and perhaps only reason most people voted (and rigged votes) for him was because he was a southerner. So, as a people, we are getting the leadership we deserve. When a nation or group of people put someone in office not based on leadership skills or policy visions, what they get is a society that runs on luck – blind fate.
So far our luck seems to be running out and the nation as a united entity seems to be on its last legs. The drums of war are beating louder and louder. We have crossed Baghdad and are now on the road to Mogadishu. Several of the federating units are wanting out while the government is apparently clueless on how to break the deadlock. Meanwhile those people who thought that supporting Boko Haram or any other terrorist group as a way of destabilising Jonathan should be biting their fingers by now. The monster they created has exceeded its mandate and is ultimately coming back to haunt them. And also, those in the South who think it’s a northern problem have every need to be worried because, if not checked, it’s only a matter of time before it takes over the whole country.
Meanwhile the political class has carried on like everything is OK. Our politicians, like drunken sailors, are striving to outdo each other in revelry, corruption and political tomfoolery. Everyone talks about corruption but no one tries to as much as look into it. Everyone seems happy to dip their filthy hands into the endless flow of the “national cake” Many governors have practically abolished the Local Governments while seizing their allocations. The members of the State Assemblies are just content to pass any bill proposed by the Executive branch, so long as it is accompanied with hefty Ghana-must-go bags. This is exemplified by the benumbing and criminal pension bill recently approved for the Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Lagos State has a similar law.
No one seems to care as our (s)elected leaders rape the country to disintegration. So long as you have the gumption, you may steal and go. All the corrupt ex-governors who could not make it to the Senate have used spurious “perpetual” injunctions to avoid having to face the law. Peter Odili and Orji Uzor Kalu are still looming large. Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola have quietly gone back to business as usual. Stella Oduah has just been honoured by her community, even as Rochas Okorocha continues to undermine the constitution by not obeying court orders in Imo State. And curiously, a man who was sacked as Central Bank Governor, with possible criminal charges hanging over his head, has just been installed as Emir of Kano, mainly as a way of defying the President but also a way of shielding him from justice. And what we get is a rascally Nasir el Rufai saying all those unhappy with that could “go jump into the lagoon” That is the quality of the men and women who have run this Nigeria for decades and it’s no wonder ours has remained a comatose nation.
The swashbuckling renegades running our dear country have taken us to the very limits of political brigandage, and the very limits of endurance. It’s so bad some people are already calling for a military comeback. They carry on like the civil war did not happen. They carry on like the decades of military rule did not happen. They carry on like everything was all right. Like Nero, they fiddle while the country is on fire. Who will save Nigeria one does not know. But what is certain is that the shenanigans cannot and must not continue. On this anniversary of the June 12 debacle, we pay tributes to all our compatriots who paid the ultimate price in the fight for freedom, justice, fairness and democracy.
***All opinions expressed are of the author
photo credit: http://farafinabooks.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/june-12-cover130529.jpg