The celebrations are over. But the conversations on what the day truly represents continue. June 12 is now legally Nigeria’s Democracy Day. President Muhammadu Buhari, having cashed in on the “crass opportunism”, as Prince Kassim Afegbua, one of the PDP campaign spokesmen, noted, is lapping up the accolades for honouring M.K.O. Abiola, the symbol of the June 12 resistance against military tyranny. He is now a latter-day apostle, though an obviously unpersuasive one, of one of the most significant political developments in the country’s democratic evolution.
What exactly did we celebrate June 12 for? And what does democracy day mean vis-à-vis our current reality of creeping dictatorship and poor governance?
(President Buhari) and his party and their willfully blind supporters are carrying on like what we all witnessed during the recent elections is normal and good for our country.
As Professor Wole Soyinka rudely reminded us all in his seminal piece, “A Democracy Day Premer 1”, the celebratory embrace of June 12 for political ends by those who, by their actions, mock the essence of democracy, amounts to rank obscenity. He noted with blinding clarity: “This year’s recall of an uplifting day in the year 1993 comes up against a background of its most shameful disavowal: the 2019 elections…an event that would be more accurately described as an exercise in body count rather ballot count. The elections however merely reflected a pattern of savagery and abandonment of human sensibilities that have eaten away the sheerest sense of community in the nation. I have already described it as the final descent into the abyss of human degradation…”
According to the European Union Election Observer Team’s report, 159 people were killed during the 2019 elections when rogue soldiers and policemen unleashed violence on Nigerians, who only wanted to vote, and election officials who were just doing their jobs. The number of those killed is, in fact, far higher than that, as security agents invaded collation centres, seizing results sheets and harassing collation officers. They also looked the other way as party thugs disrupted voting, grabbed ballot boxes and set them on fire.
The report gave a damning verdict on the elections as far below the global minimum standards for assessing any electoral exercise as democratic. America’s National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, regional, continental and local observer teams reached the same conclusion on the elections that, as Soyinka noted, were a total repudiation of everything that June 12 represented.
It would not change the reality that, our democracy, fragile at best, has become captive of political charlatans (fake democrats), purveyors of pernicious lies, those who re-write history and trade in perfidy.
The June 12, 1993, presidential election was universally acclaimed as one of the freest, if not the freest, Nigeria has ever had. It was a clear expression by Nigerians of their faith in the rich promise of their country and their total disgust with military dictatorship that had reduced their country to a Banana Republic. M.K.O. Abiola won a decisive victory as he got a pan-Nigeria mandate. The election, peaceful and credible, had signaled a rebirth of, and renewal of hope in, the Nigerian project of progressive nation building. But the signal soon turned out to be false, as the spoilers snuffed out the people’s joy in what they had thought was their red card for their oppressors.
Twenty-six years after June 12, we had elections that have been generally described as an unmitigated sham, a complete reversal of the positive improvements in our electoral system that were made particularly between 2007 and 2015. The 2019 elections sent us back to the beginning of electoral brigandage of 2007, in the current democratic dispensation. Buhari contested the presidential election, his second attempt, that infamous year and lost. He and his party, All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP, rightly cried foul over the conduct of the election that broke all the rules of a fair and credible electoral contest. The public sympathy for his complaint about the election was robust. And a dissenting Supreme Court judgment dissed the election as not fair, thereby validating his complaint.
PDP’s Umaru Musa-Yar’adua who won the election, publicly acknowledged that the conduct was far below acceptable standards and pledged reforms of the electoral system. He kept his promise by setting up the Justice Mohammed Uwais commission that came up with some far-reaching recommendations to upgrade our elections to global standards. After his death in 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan continued with his initiative, which culminated in the PDP losing the 2015 elections. And most importantly, Jonathan conceded the presidential election to Buhari even before the result was officially called by INEC. The whole world applauded Nigeria, and the people thought that was the beginning of the deepening of democracy here.
In a stark contrast to Yar’adua and Jonathan, who endeavoured to put the nation’s interest above their personal ambitions, Buhari has refused to acknowledge one glaring fact about the 2019 elections. They were arguably a degradation of the real essence of June 12 and a terminal blow to our collective desire for a progressive evolution of our democracy that Abiola, his wife, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane, and many other Nigerians paid for with their lives. He and his party and their willfully blind supporters are carrying on like what we all witnessed during the recent elections is normal and good for our country. So there is no need for them to spare a moment for some introspection over the pervasive disgust with the thuggish way he and his party snatched ‘victory’ from the gaping jaws of potential defeat.
In his triumphant speech during the celebration of the so-called Democracy Day, he failed to reference, even tangentially, the pains of families of those killed needlessly by security agents and party thugs, who had a free reign spreading mayhem and making Nigerians see war during the elections. In any case, why would he bother about those killed so that he could be re-elected? His first term had produced a dangerous spike in the violent death of defenceless Nigerians. And not one incident of people being killed had evinced the slightest empathy and provoked a decisive reaction from him. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the American Council on Foreign Relations, almost 26,000 Nigerians died violently in the last four years.
When the umpire becomes biased, compromised and complicit in the destruction of the integrity of the electoral process, and shamelessly indulges in illogical contortions over its conduct, then June 12 stands violated and loses its true essence.
Between the official designation of June 12 as Democracy Day and the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which could have advanced our democracy more? If Buhari had assented to the bill, that would have indicated that he understood the real significance of June 12 to our democratic evolution. But he deliberately withheld his assent to create the enabling environment for stage-managing his party’s victory.
We can adorn the decrepit National Stadium in Abuja with Abiola’s name and pretend that June 12, as Democracy Day, is some ill-defined progress. Or that it’s a moment of national epiphany over our country’s regression in all spheres of development, and disconnection from the values that flag a nation’s ambition to progress. It would not change the reality that, our democracy, fragile at best, has become captive of political charlatans (fake democrats), purveyors of pernicious lies, those who re-write history and trade in perfidy.
Contrary to the narrative that Buhari deserves applause for being the first president to recognise June 12 and honour Abiola, President Jonathan did in 2014 when he named the University of Lagos after him. But many of those now celebrating the so-called Democracy Day mobilised resistance to Jonathan’s initiative. Some of them said Abiola didn’t deserve to have the university named after him because, according to one of their ludicrous reasons for opposing it, “UNILAG is a world-class institution”. But the real motive was political. They wanted to deny Jonathan any political mileage he would have earned from honouring Abiola.
The man who, in their twisted logic, didn’t deserve to be honoured with a major federal academic institution named after him then, is now worthy of being honoured with a national day of democracy. They are content that a disused stadium is good enough to carry Abiola’s name. Who can readily recall the last major sport event the stadium hosted? By their perfidy and political harlotry, they desecrate Abiola’s memory and diminish his sacrifice for our quest for real democracy.
Our “final descent into the abyss of human degradation”, as signposted by the sham 2019 elections, is inversely proportional to the erosion of the independence and credibility of the national electoral commission. When the umpire becomes biased, compromised and complicit in the destruction of the integrity of the electoral process, and shamelessly indulges in illogical contortions over its conduct, then June 12 stands violated and loses its true essence.
Even Buhari indirectly indicted INEC in his Democracy Day speech, when he repeated for the umpteenth time the false claim that, 18 local government areas were still occupied by Boko Haram by the time he was sworn in as president in 2015. According to INEC’s records, all the elections were held and results declared in 2015 in all the local governments in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, which were, and still are, the epicentre of the Boko Haram terrorism. And APC won all the elections in the three states.
If Boko Haram had controlled 18 local government areas then, the elections could not have been held there, as those areas would have been part of the caliphate declared by the terrorists. And if there were no elections, how did INEC generate the results it announced? The commission has the obligation to set the records straight. But its failure to rebut the president’s claim shows that the commission is complicit in the rigging of elections and is anything but independent. And when that is juxtaposed against its dissembling on and somersault over its central server and electronic transmission of results – after it severally assured the public before the elections that would be done – celebrating June 12 is premature and frivolous.
A mere declaration of Democracy Day cannot obviate the mortal wound inflicted on our democracy by the kind of elections that only dictatorial regimes certify as acceptable.
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