Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Tortuos Journey of June 12

Another June 12 is here, as one of the protagonists of the June 12 struggle, how will you describe the day? Well, my description will be the following: On that June 12, Nigerians decided as a collective to send the military back to the barracks; so much that no matter what policy measures were taken, provided June 12 were a reality, Nigerians decided to go straight to the polling station to cast their votes, to send back the military to the barracks.
So, June 12 was the day of liberation of Nigerians from the clutches of darkness. If you looked at the junta then, at whatever frame you want to put them, there were sufficient evidences for us to appreciate that they didn’t want the election to hold. So, that June 12 was a day of liberation for our people politically. Unfortunately, General Babangida annulled the freest and fairest election in the history of our struggle.
In a broader term, what does your reflection on June 12 look like?
Well, June 12, for all intents and purposes, is a very unique and important date in Nigeria’s political history. Whether anybody likes it or not, the fact that will continue to be stated are as follows: That it was on June 12 that Nigerian people in every part of the country decided to ignore the dubious divides of this nation - the dubious divide of Christian/Moslem religions, the dubious divide of North/South dichotomy, the dubious divide of ethnic liabilities in whatever form.
Nigeria decided to ignore those dubious divides in order to bring about a pan-Nigerian nation that can be called our own. It was like a kind of Magna Carta of Britain. That was the day when whatever you imagined went wrong with the ticket – the Muslim-Muslim ticket (of Bashorun MKO Abiola and Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe), Nigeria decided to ignore it and voted for whom they imagined was the best choice for the Nigerian nation. On that date, there was no rainfall in any part of the country, even though it was in June. The then electoral commission set up something like a small shelter for the polling units in many parts of the country. Yet that did not bother people. They went out, very, very calmly. They did all that they needed to do by going through the register of voters. They waited until it was time for the voting. It was a peaceful one, very organized, well regarded both by the Nigerian people and the international community. So, June 12 symbolizes a unique day and it continues to remain so. Anyone who imagines that June 12 should be consigned to the basket of history is talking rubbish. Those of us who got engaged in the process that led to June 12, has a duty to ensure that June 12 remains very, very vibrant in our consideration of political history.
When you look at the June 12 struggle, the essence was to achieve democracy which had for a long while eluded Nigeria. Will you say therefore, that the democracy we have today, is a true reflection of what you and other activists canvassed for?
I will say that the experience that we have in the last eight or nine years has not been helpful enough. What I’m I talking about? We thought that the processes and the actual election that gave Bashorun Abiola victory, that at the end of it all, Nigeria would have a president who had declared in his manifesto with a caption – Farewell to Poverty. That Nigeria would have a nation which we could call our own, where we would have too much of natural and human resources that will be enough for us to take off; galvanise the potentials of the Nigerian people into a national aggregate and then forge ahead to make Nigeria the leading light of the African continent as God has destined us to be.
But having looked back, the first-eight years of the democratic struggle has been hellish of a kind. I can say with all sense of humility that it was not what we fought for. We imagined that Nigerians would be able to have square meals on their table. That there would be an affordable accommodation; that health services would be affordable. And we imagined that education, being the most important in human socio-economic activities, would be given the pride of place that even if you could not get to what United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, recommended, that is, 26 per cent of every national budget, that at least, we would be able to come to the middle course of that, in order for us to be able to provide true education for our people.
But what we are giving them today is an unfortunate reminder of our inability to take off.
Look at America. Look at the Western Europe. In spite of the fact that they are far ahead in education, they (take a place like America for example,) still consign a very heavy percentage of their national budget to education. Yet in the Nigerian nation, we are struggling between one to three per cent of our total budget on education. That is why most schools are in shambles. You get to the laboratory, there are no facilities there even at the university level. If there are no facilities in the universities as they ought to, what do you talk about in secondary schools where students should have primary contact with the laboratory?
We have failed in all these. In health, we have been so shortchanged. That is why our leaders, at every small crisis of their own medication, have to run to Western Europe or America to treat themselves. What about the greatest percentage of Nigerians who are not fortunate to have that kind of opportunity? We can’t give them efficient medical care. So what are you saying that we have got?
I’m saying that the first-eight years of this new dispensation had been a disaster. When former president (Olusegun) Obasanjo came into office, he met about 2,000 mega watts of electricity. Today, it is below 2,000, after eight years and after the huge sum of money that he had spent on power supply. Whoever presided over that inefficient and disorganized government ought to bury his head in shame. There is no alibi that anybody can give for that kind of situation. Up till today, we are still unable to supply petroleum to power the Nigerian mobility. Countries that are very much lower to us in their production had been able to organize domestic refineries that are sufficient to supply petroleum for their local consumption.
For the whole eight years that former president Obasanjo was in power, he couldn’t organize one. Even the ones that are available have remained very, very unkempt to the extent that if you get them to pronounce that they are going to revamp those refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri, Kaduna, it has come to nothing today. That is the negative story of our lives.
So, I will say that the first-eight years has been a disaster. Apart from GSM, there is nothing that I can say that I am happy about. But I do also know that General Sani Abacha, despite how vicious he was, set up the machinery for the advent of GSM. The remaining part of the business was the bidding. So, I’m not happy about how far we have gone, because today, poverty and misery, you can hold them in the lives of our people. So, we have never had it so bad. Those of us who sacrificed our blood, our sweat and our lives, these are not the kind of things we expected to happen to our country and ourselves.
Does the annulment still inflict any pains on those who fought against it till today?
Honestly, till today, what was inflicted on the generality of Nigerians and I, remain very fresh because we put in a lot to get to that date. We sacrificed so much to get to that date. You will remember that the first thing that Babangida did was to set up a committee – a political bureau.
When the political bureau finished its work, Babangida asked all interested Nigerians to go and form political parties on their own. We formed political parties. I was the Director of Organisation of the Peoples Solidarity Party (PSP). We went with 15 vehicles, loaded with materials and the name of our party, membership and officers all over the country to the electoral commission. Some other people also did very well.
In the recommendations made, PSP was first. National Republican Convention (NRC) was second. PF was third. In spite of all the sacrifices that we made, the electoral commission as prompted by the military junta, said none of us met the yardstick to qualify for registration. They didn’t tell us against what yardstick they were going to measure us. We were never given the templates upon which we were going to be measured. And what was most annoying was that Nigerians voluntarily, in every part of the country, got offices, furniture into these political parties’ offices to show how Nigerians were so eager to make democracy work.
It was thereafter that we knew even from the speech of Colonel Tony Iyang that even before we started, General Babangida had commissioned them to go to Egypt to examine how far the political authority there had been able to cope with the political system. So, they recommended a two-party system. So, we were just put on a very circumspective journey. We were just being asked to go and do what was going to be a failure from day one. The promoter of the agenda knew that he was not going to register any of us.
Yet we were made to bear big burdens. So we were just being used to make ourselves busy for nothing. If you witnessed that kind of thing and saw that it was thereafter that they announced the formation of NRC and Social Democratic Party (SDP), you would see the kind of tortuous journey that we went through.
The kind of things we would have had in this country, if those political parties that were volunteered were allowed to coalesced together, because if two parties were raised up and registered, others could have found accommodation in the two. So, we have gone through tortuous journeys, only for somebody to ignore the wishes of the Nigerian people as reflected in the election.
During the June 12 struggle, a number of people were killed. Some were maimed while others went into exile. Can you relieve the ordeal of June 12 debacle?
Each time I’m asked this question, I don’t know where I should begin from. In August 2003, after Babangida had annulled the election, General Sani Abacha, the then Chief of Defence Staff was here in Lagos. From all security and intelligence reports, he was the one who ordered shoot on sight of our people who were reacting seriously against the annulment on the streets of Lagos especially on Ikorodu Road.
To make matters worse, we were going to bury some young men in Ikorodu. Two or three of them were part of the people that were killed. The police and security agents took them to the mortuary. We were going to do an activist burial for them.
Were they part of your team?
Yes. But the intelligence team – the army and the police knew the family of these men and they went there to warn them that there should be no celebration of any kind, that there should be no burial ceremony. So, we were disallowed from organizing a burial ceremony for them. You can appreciate somebody slapping you and denying you the opportunity of crying. It went to that level. When I look back at June 12 and I hear revisionism, rearing its head of recent, it’s a sad one because we had everything in the struggle.
We put in everything about us - our sweat, our blood, our lives, our possession.
We denied our families relevance. I had to go underground for five and half months before I was arrested. And the kind of things we went through, because we were determined and bold, we were ready to suffer the consequences of our actions because we knew it was in the best interest of our people.
There is none of these Western Europe countries where there had been no issue of that nature. Some people, some elements, decided to bear the brunts and laid the ground for the kinds of development that are taking place in their socio-economic and political life. That was the reason we made those contributions. But anytime one remembers that event, it makes one sad that one had gone through mixed opportunities. Those were the kinds of opportunities that would have enabled Nigerians to have their own pan-Nigerian political platform, but they have been made to slip away. For example, in the current political system, there are over 50 political parties. One of them claims that it controls 28 out of the 36 states.
You can understand what is going on. I laugh when I hear pronouncements of repeat elections. The platforms are not equal. It is a wasted opportunity because the local government has been put there by the man that was removed by the tribunal. And so, his people are still in control. And come to think of it, a situation where a contestant in an election appoints the chief umpire, he knows the results before the election is held. So, there is nothing new in all that is being done. We have not started. Let me hope that the rightly headed people put in the electoral committee set up by the Federal Government will come up with something that will help the system.
Do you agree with notion that it is the ghost of June 12 that is haunting the current system?
I will imagine so because what we are doing now, as far as I am concerned, is still a reflection of the gone hegemony that is still very much around. What I’m I talking about? The military top shots - Generals Babangida, Aliyu Gusau decided to promote General Obasanjo, while General Obasanjo on his own promoted the current ruler. We are not yet free from the clutches of the military.
What is your June 12 message to Nigerians?
My advice to the Nigerian people, first to those who are in government, is that they should make the best use of this electoral reform committee. Nigeria’s political system has not helped the course of development in the country. It is in our best interest to get back to a situation where you can have an integrated political party system. Yes, multi-party system is to be preferred. But at this age of our country, we should get involved in an integrated political system. I’m saying that two party system should be made to evolve. You can raise the bar for the third political party.
If you do so, you are going to have an integrated political system all over the country, so that a political party that happens to be popular in Sokoto can also be popular again in Port Harcourt. No matter what General Babangida meant by establishing two parties, it had started to become a stabilizing force of the time. So, I’m suggesting that they should be conscious of the fact that having a two political party system and raising the bar for the third political party is going to be helpful. In addition also, there should be room for independent candidates to run for any election.