Before We Repeat June 12

Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, now more than ever, I believe History must be taught in our schools. Every time I watch and observe our politicians, I come to the conclusion that we’ve learnt nothing tangible from the terrible mistakes of our tragedy-prone past. And it makes me ponder over that profound Yoruba proverb: if it takes us 20 years to prepare for madness, when are we going to go stark raven mad? It is a very important poser to contemplate.

In case you are 30 or below that age, you could not have been more than eight years old in 1993. As such, I won’t be surprised if you don’t know the real story of Nigeria’s best election ever on June 12, 1993. You probably won’t know much or anything about the winner of that Presidential election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. I’m almost certain that you would never have heard or known of Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the NRC Presidential candidate who was mercilessly trounced by Chief Abiola.

The June 12 election has been described as a watershed and as, arguably, the fairest and freest election ever in the history of Nigeria. Events leading to June 12 indicated that there were danger signals ahead. Some people working in cahoots with the Ibrahim Babangida government chose to destabilise the whole process for reasons best known to them. It is such a long and ugly story many would not wish to remember for its traumatic effect. The most unforgettable aspect of the higgledy-piggledy was the attempt by these guys to stop the election from holding and getting an injunction in the middle of the night.

But, somehow, Professor Henry Nwosu, Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission, and his amazing team, managed to conduct an election without parallel.

The electoral system used at the time was popularly known and acclaimed as Option A4. It was a brilliant cocktail of an open ballot system which was unique and very effective. Till this day, no one is able to tell us what transpired behind the scenes that eventually led to such a beautiful election being terminated at birth. Sadly, a new vocabulary, annulment, was introduced into our lexicon. What should have been our happiest moment soon became our worst nightmare. It won’t be wrong to say our madness attained another level from that period.

The tales of what happened thereafter should be left for another day. Nigeria took a plunge and hit the ground in a cataclysmic fall. Everything that could go wrong started going haywire. We waltzed from one crisis to another. Our propensity for self-destruction became amplified and exposed to the world at large. The battle between the military regimes and civil societies raged endlessly and left many of us badly bruised. Some were flagrantly murdered, callously maimed, maliciously jailed or compulsorily forced into exile.

For six agonising years, we groped in total darkness and our country was on the brink of collapse. Miraculously, we managed to pull through and Democracy returned. But there was a major snag. Those who fought and struggled for the Democracy were not the prime beneficiaries. The ubiquitous owners of our country still succeeded in keeping power to themselves while the June 12 activists mercifully got the token compensation of some parts of South West Nigeria under the aegis of Alliance for Democracy. The People’s Democratic Party was an umbrella of hard-core Republicans who dreamt of ruling Nigeria as a one party nation for as long as possible, or even indefinitely. The rest is history.

My heart skipped a few beats as I was teleported back to 1993 with the rumours of plans to postpone the February 14 & 28 2015 elections. What started as a joke was confirmed days ago by no less a personage than our National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki. His main reason was that INEC was not yet ready to hold a credible election resting his influential view on the fact that about 50% of eligible voters were yet to collect their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC). This may at first seemingly be a very sound argument, no doubt, but on closer reflection and consideration of the facts it is not exactly so. Even if this were the case, what is needed is to encourage and empower INEC to fulfil its constitutional duty by ensuring that the neccessary materials are provided well in time before the election.

Fortunately, the fears expressed by the NSA are unfounded. I was opportuned to catch and watch the highly informative interview of Professor Attahiru Jega, conducted by the cerebral Kadaria Ahmed on Channels Television, just before this bombshell from The Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, in London. For the first time since 1993, I saw a ray of hope in our electoral process. Jega was very confident, coherent and proficient. He answered every question fired at him by the fiery interviewer with calmness and candour and I was particular elated and extremely proud of this famous scholar. Perhaps, the beautiful ones have been born after all, contrary to the cynicism conveyed in the title of Ayi Kwei Armah’s novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born.

Prof Jega has, on Friday January 23, at a press conference, re-affirmed the commitment of his Commission to conduct the elections as scheduled even in the troubled areas of the North East of Nigeria. Whilst he was quick to admit that a significant proportion of PVC are yet to be collected, Jega is confident that with the further extension of time which has been granted for this purpose most people would have done so before the election. There is therefore no cause for alarm. More importantly there is no need for anyone to distract voters from analysing the presentation of the issues by the candidates through scare-mongering that raising the spectre of postponement will cause.

As far as I can see and feel, I believe Nigeria is heading towards a successful election. The campaigns have been quite serious, minus a few skirmishes here and there which I find objectionable and condemnable. The near-physical attack on the President is as unreasonable as it is suicidal. The burning of party offices and shooting of members of rival parties are totally reprehensible. But the situation is looking so good, expectations so high and the mood so exhilarating that all combined we should have a commendable election next month.

There is no justification for postponing one of our most anticipated elections. It is an opportunity to show the world that we are ready to join the comity of other nations in their march towards global relevance, importance and general advancement. INEC has come a long way under Jega. A lot of investment has gone into keeping INEC alive and running. In its so-called imperfection, INEC can be assisted to help itself and help the rest of us. We can’t afford to throw the baby away with the bathwater.

We already have more than enough problems to tackle. There is mutual suspicion everywhere. No matter the righteousness of those in favour of postponing the elections, they would always be countered by a preponderance of doubting Thomas. Can anyone blame them? A woman whose child was once killed by a witch would forever suspect every woman. Such is the situation we’ve found ourselves today. Politicians have pulled all manner of stunts and they are capable of anything. This is why Nigerians find it difficult to believe whatever they are told no matter how plausible.

My humble advice is that every Nigerian and friend of Nigeria must support our Government and INEC to bring these forthcoming elections to fruition. We’ve crawled for far too long. Now it is time to walk, if not yet run. While it is true that Rome was not built in a day, I’m sure it did not take forever.

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