June 12: Thy Spirit Liveth!

General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) served in the Nigerian military high command for decades as a professional coup-plotter. He achieved international fame or infamy by rising to power in 1985 via a palace coup treasonably executed with perfection against the then ruling ‘rigid’ regime of the late Tunde Idiagbon and Muhammadu Buhari. IBB was a garrison survivalist who always belonged to the ‘winning’ side in every audacious coup d’etat he and the late Gen Sani Abacha had participated in. He came in gap-toothed, fair-complexioned, audacious and handsome brandishing the face of a benevolent dictator who had come to ‘save’ a people emasculated by a brutal military tyranny in which he had occupied a vantage position of command as Chief of Army Staff. He repealed the vexatious draconian decrees signed into law by the ousted dictatorial duo (decrees meant to curtail the journalistic abuse of press freedom and capital punishment for drug trafficking offenses) releasing political prisoners and undoing other controversial policies of the regime. Babangida was a master ‘militrician’, a Maradonic character who confessed his inside knowledge of Nigeria and Nigerians!

june12Soon after whipping everyone into line IBB set about executing an endless transition programme whose agenda was hidden from the outset. Bogus schemes were put in place to hoodwink the people that the new ‘Moses’ in town was a better ‘oppressor’ indeed. The voices of reason and popular opposition figures had all retreated into pastoral silence — faced with the menacing jackboot! Only one irrepressible “Senior Advocate of the Masses” the late Gani Fawehinmi took the bull by the horns by constantly denouncing the Babangida pestilence and going to prisons for his effrontery. IBB had an eye fixed on history as he courted great men of letters and technocrats incorporating them into his government and rubbishing the reputation of some in the process. Some were sacked after their loyalty or usefulness could no longer be guaranteed. Others came out of the government damaged morally and intellectually. But IBB soldiered on, keeping his head while others were losing theirs!

Major Gideon Okah and Gen. Mamman Vatsa, IBB’s best friend in school, were summarily executed as they tried and failed to overthrow the Babangida national fraud. The abortive coup of 1986 was the first in a series of attempts (some gory) to unseat the evil genius from Minna who was repeatedly accused of nepotism, homosexualism, grand corruption and running an international drug syndicate. Babangida banned and unbanned politicians of repute and disbanded parties creating two in his own image — (SDP and NRC). You had other white elephant projects like SAP, DFFRI, MAMSER and what have you scattered across the nation gulping millions of dollars and providing jobs for the boys and favoured elite. Babangidaism became the new mantra in towns and cities with “settlement syndrome” draining whatever is left of morality from the few good men still standing! Pecuniary mischief was used as a state policy to woo the wooable or silence the silenceable! IBB corrupted good morals and destroyed the military; he institutionalised corruption and allowed fraudsters to prosper at will.

Flashback June 12 1993, the Hope ’93 rebound. Twenty three years ago today a presidential poll finally took place after postponements upon postponements. The National Republican Convention (NRC) produced one knucklehead, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, as its flagbearer. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) had nominated the late Bashorun Moshood Abiola as its candidate for the election. Despite the spanners thrown in the wheels of progress of the then electoral commission headed by the courageous Humphrey Nwosu and deliberate intrigues surrounding the poll happening at all it did happen and produced a conclusive outcome that certified the winner and the loser. According to the late MKO he had sought and received assurances from the highest quarters that he would not be chasing shadows as other politicians had done before him.

Enter Hope 93! The message of that hope was good enough and the bearer was the audacity of hope personified! It resonated with voters of every region in the entire federation where the message was taken. Since the messenger was a tested and trusted great Nigerian, a patriotic benevolent billionaire whose wealth and generosity had traversed state boundaries across the nation cutting across religion, region  or ethnicity majority of Nigerians bought the message hook, line and sinker. Bashorun Abiola was a national brand name in Nigeria of yore; a popular charismatic figure whose entrepreneurial greatness was acknowledged globally. Concord media group, Abiola Bookshop, Abiola Bakery, Abiola Babes FC, Concord Airlines etc the man from Abeokuta was an iconic figure whose story of rag-to-riches made headlines around the world. He had sold firewood as a teenager to be able to fend for himself and assist his poor parents pay his school fees! He was destined for greatness as his name ‘Kashimawo’ indicated.

Bashorun MKO Abiola went about the presidential campaign with every determination and strength in him covering every region from the north to the south. He had desperately wanted to be at the helm from where he could administer the change he had articulated by making hope possible in a hopeless nation blighted by every sort of socio-economic problems. Babangida had failed as a leader as he ran out of crafty ideas. No more new tricks from the inner workings of the power-hungry dictator as the 8-year lonely long distance race hit a terminus. Years of palpable insincerity had reached its limit and the ghosts of Vatsa, Okah and Dele Giwa (whom he had murdered via a parcel bomb delivered to his home by his security agents!) were roaming around and about Abuja and Minna waiting for the Maradona to be given a red card and sent off the pitch before pouncing on him for retribution! Today IBB is limping in limbo courtesy of the infirmity called radiculopathy and his life seems to be more in the hands of German doctors!

Faced with the Babangidaized bastardized political engineering and re-engineering with concomitant seemingly interminable fraudulent transition programme millions of Nigerians trooped to the polling booths to vote for change, for Hope 93. History was made as voters, in organized disciplined manner, queued up to cast their ballots in an environment devoid of rancour or tension. According to early indications candidate Abiola of the SDP was on the verge of winning a landslide — defeating the NRC candidate, Tofa, even in his hometown of Kano! But suddenly IBB was mortified of the emerging scenario: the Abiola presidency! So before the results could be released he ordered his then Chief Press Secretary, Duro Onabule, to release an unsigned statement officially annuling the June 12 landmark presidential election with no justification whatsoever! IBB had murdered sleep and would sleep no more!

There was palpable tension in the land leading to national paralysis. Nigerians (especially those from the south-east region) began heading towards the hinterlands from the cities fearful of the consequencies of what had just happened — an aggressive rape of democracy. In the ensuing exodus thousands lost their lives and families displaced. IBB was scared stiff; the sole thought of losing the grip of power overpowered his consciousness that he became a reclusive ‘animal’ soon after June 12 became a national balloting success story. Post June 12 IBB suddenly became paranoid, hounded by the contemplation of life after power. He was obviously suffering from what could best be described here as the lunacy of the Jackboot! He dug in, baring his fangs as opposition mounted over the criminal annulment. Many Nigerians rose in defense of their votes.

Babangida as the predator-in-chief never expected the positive outcome. The transition programme was planned to fail right from the beginning. He had recruited the likes of Arthur Nzeribe’s Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) to scuttle the poll from ever happening to no avail. Nzeribe, the man in love with the filthy lucre, had gone to town with the satanic campaign to ‘kill’ June 12 using the instrumentality of the corrupt justice system. The late ‘midnight Judge’ Justice Bassey Ikpeme was sought out and she delivered a ruling at wee hours of the night stopping the election from taking place! Nwosu ignored the shenanigans and went on with the polls as planned. Nzeribe was a notorious dealer in political circles, a controversial man of all-government-in-power from Oguta in Imo state. He cornered contracts to hurt the national interest without any iota of remorse; he played game of numbers and used tribalism sometimes to score cheap points! His religion was money and his god was one that made money possible as the root of all evil!

IBB was forced to surrender power in August but before he left he cobbled together the so-called Interim National Government led by the political lightweight, the malleable Ernest Shonekan who ‘ruled’ for few months before Gen Abacha ordered him to vacate the seat. No one was surprised as the ‘Khalifa’ claimed his throne! Abacha came in as a brutal dictator unmindful of history or posterity. He went about the business of governance without any regard for good manners or diplomatic niceties. His soldiers gunned down hundreds of demonstrators in Lagos and elsewhere! He threw opposition figures into his gulag (including one Olusegun Obasanjo accused of participating in a coup!) forcing others to go underground or run for dear lives abroad. He came to ‘bury’ the killed June 12. But Bashorun Abiola refused to be intimidated or abandon his pan-Nigerian mandate. After wide consultations the ‘Aare Ona Kakanfo’ of Yorubaland decided to take power by his own volition proclaiming himself President in Epetedo area of Lagos. He declared himself as the custodian of a “sacred mandate, freely given, which cannot be traded off or negotiated upon”. He called on the “usurper” in Aso Rock to quit!

The late goggled dictator would not have any of such affront of two sitting Heads of state of one nation! He sent his zombie boys to lay siege on Abiola’s residence as the embattled billionaire went underground. The independent press (especially the African Concord, Tell and The-News magazines and the defunct Tempo weekly tabloid) gave Abacha serious troubles as they weekly revealed his archaic methods and tactics. Some were caught and jailed but the opposition, both local and international, grew worse. Randall Robinson of the TransAfrica fame took Abacha on from the States accusing him of committing human rights abuses and running a mad regime that settled issues of the day with iron and blood! Even the late Nelson Mandela butted heads with the ‘Khalifa’ as other world leaders intervened in vain for the peaceful resolution of the national impasse. Despite global efforts to save democracy June 12 was still sabotaged on the alter of expediency. As a result of the diplomatic spat with South Africa Nigeria boycotted the Nations Cup of 1996 forfeiting the right to defend the African soccer championship she won two years earlier.

Abacha’s security goons succeeded in cornering Abiola pouncing on him and whisking him away in the middle of the night. He was locked up incommunicado in a secret location. The dictator chose the way of intimidation, persecution and brute force. After some giddy years in power he was eliminated through a poisoned apple delivered to him by an imported prostitute from India! And few months later Abiola himself was killed in a bizarre tea-drinking episode that marked the end of the ‘June 12 film’ with the leading actor having ‘diplomatically’ been liquidated! Obasanjo was ‘coronated’ President after the transition of Gen Abdusalami Abubakar. Before Abiola’s demise the beautiful wife, Kudirat, had been shot dead in cold blood on the streets of Lagos by those suspected to be Abacha’s killer squad!

Personally, I nearly lost my young promising life (barely 20) in the struggle against the invalidation of June 12. I survived by God’s infinite grace to tell the atrocious story but Osas was not that lucky. My good old student friend standing beside me as we demonstrated violently at Ring Road in the heart of Benin City was shot dead by the zombie soldiers ‘imported’ from the north to kill and maim! My late sister’s boyfriend, Marvin, had his skull broken with a bottle of chilled beer as they met us drinking inside our restaurant in New Lagos Road. His shirt was drenched in blood by the time we arrived a clinic near-by!

There were many heroes and a heroine of the June 12 protracted national crisis. And there were many victims and villains as well. The chief villains remained Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha (late). The chief hero was, of course, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola who fought to the grave in order to retrieve a stolen mandate! And the heroine was no other than his wife, Kudirat, a combination of brain and beauty, who gave her life while dutifully accompanying her embattled incarcerated husband to the mission of national salvation — from which both of them never returned. May their souls continue to rest in peace!
As we mark today yet another anniversary of June 12, twenty three years on, we say in unison in remembrance of the fallen heroes and martyrs: June 12, thy spirit liveth!
Written by
SOC Okenwa
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