Until 2018, the date on which Nigeria commemorated the restoration of democracy was May 29. But President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018 declared June 12 to be the new Democracy Day.
June 12 carries huge significance for older Nigerians. It was on this date in 1993 that the presidential election was held for the first time since the 1983 military coup.
On the day, an estimated 14 million Nigerians – irrespective of ethnic, religious, class, and regional affiliations, (in a period when religious acrimony and tension had reached its zenith) – defied bad weather to elect their president with the hope of ending many years of military dictatorship.
The euphoria was short-lived, however. The results of the election were never released. But unofficial results gathered through the various polling stations by civil society groups across the country indicated broad national support for the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
Abiola was a businessman, publisher, politician and aristocrat of the Yoruba Egba clan. He made his fortune through various enterprises, including communication, oil and gas.
Despite his popularity, and the turnout, the elections stalled. The then military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, decided to annul the results of the election. He justified the annulment on the grounds that it was necessary to save the nation. He alleged that political activities preceding the election were inimical to peace and stability in Nigeria.
The June 12 election and subsequent annulment marked the beginning of a decade-long struggle to see the election result restored and democracy rehabilitated.
Below is a list of some people who betrayed Abiola and abandoned the struggle even while he was alive. Others even disowned, condemned and denied him in his hours of need. They are the Judases of June 12.
The "evil genius" was the head of the military government from 1985 to 1993. History will remember him as the prime architect of the June 12 debacle. He came up with the two parties, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC). One, a little to the left and the other a little to the right – on these platforms MKO Abiola and Basiru Tofa respectively contested. The gap-toothed dictator annulled the June 12 election on June 21, 1993, when it was clear that the winner was the late MKO Abiola and ordered a fresh election.
Abiola refused to go to the polls again. Often called Maradona – after the rotund diminutive football genius from Argentina – for his political deftness, Babangida would later feint and dribble the nation into a political cul de sac. On August 26, 1993, Babangida announced his exit by saying he would "step aside" thus adding a new word to our ever increasing repertoire of political lexicons. By that singular action, he ushered in the Interim National Government(ING) headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
However, things used to be rosy between the self-avowed evil genius and Abiola before June 12 drove a wedge into their relationship. In fact, MKO said, in his lifetime, that it was Babangida who first mooted the idea of running for the presidency to him. He raised the idea with him during the burial of his first wife, Simbiat, in Lagos in 1992. IBB, as he is fondly called, told MKO that he must contest the election as the country could not wait to welcome him as their next president.
Abiola would later regret trusting Babangida while in Abacha's gulag by saying: "I believed in a friend. I trusted a friend and he betrayed me. IBB betrayed me." IBB would later describe the June 12 debacle as "unfortunate".
A British-trained Nigerian lawyer and an Egba man like Abiola. In a move ostensibly made to placate the aggrieved south-western bloc, IBB imposed Shonekan as head of an illegitimate contraption called Interim National Government. However, the real reason for installing Shonekan was to upstage his fellow Egba man in a way reminiscent of how Dr Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi (the Federal Minister of Health), in the wake of the political crisis known as operation Weti e that rocked the Western region, was used as a stop-gap by Tafawa Balewa during his declaration of state of emergency (the first in the history of Nigeria) in the region ensured Obafemi Awolowo had been cooling his feet in prison before installing S.L. Akintola, his estranged deputy and the Hausa-Fulani minion.
Recounting the events that preceded the imposition of Shonekan as head of ING, Professor Omo Omoruyi, the late political adviser to IBB in his expose of a book titled: "The tale of June 12" (an insider's account of the intrigues that characterised Gen. Babangida's transition), said,: First, he (Shonekan) gave the assurance and undertaking to the outgoing president (Babangida) that under no circumstance would he reopen the June 12 matter. Second, was that he would do everything to divide the Yoruba on the matter of June 12."
Coincidentally, Abiola and Ladoke Akintola were holders of the traditional title of Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland while alive. Shonekan would later be booted out of power on November 17, 1993, through a bloodless coup by General Sani Abacha. Abacha was the man that brought the June 12 drama to its climax.
A suave retired diplomat who contested against Abiola in the presidential primary election of the SDP and lost. Abiola was persuaded by his friends and political supporters to pick Kingibe as his vice-presidential candidate because of his political clout in the North and closeness to Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua who was the deputy Head of State in the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. Together they sold HOPE ‘93 to Nigerians.
Unfortunately, as the plot for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate thickened, Kingibe changed camp and ensured that Hope ‘93 was not just deferred but completely dashed. Kingibe served as foreign minister under Sani Abacha, the same man that arrested and jailed Abiola with whom he ran on the platform of SDP.
Abiola would later regret choosing Kingibe over Dan Suleiman, a retired air commodore and former military governor from the then Middle Belt. Abiola referred to Suleiman as a 'complete gentleman'.
MKO said he did know that his running mate had "extensive connections and relationship" with the security agencies and the military high command. Kingibe contributed to the abortion of the third republic. He would later be honoured by President Muhammadu Buhari with Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) solely because of being Abiola's running mate. An honour many believe he does not deserve.
In the build-up to the 1993 election when Babagana Kingibe decided to throw his hat into the ring for the presidential primaries in SDP, he stepped down as the Chairman of the party and Anenih took over. He worked for the emergence of Abiola as the winner of the 1993 presidential election. However, the story changed after the annulment.
Anenih was later quoted to have declared that the day the Interim National Government was signed was the happiest day of his life. He even subtly mocked Abiola in his autobiography titled 'My Life And Nigerian Politics'. In the book, Anenih said "Chief MKO Abiola as indicated earlier has said that if you want to go to Kano, going by air or going by road does not make any difference as long as you get there.
“His interpretation of this was that going by air meant Abacha taking over from Shonekan and he, Abiola, being sworn in the next day. Going by road was waiting till March 1994, when Shonekan would use the National Assembly to hand over to him because he actually won the election.
“Unfortunately, for Chief Abiola, there was, in fact, no landing, and Kano as the desired destination proved to be a fantasy."
MKO Abiola regretted doing the bidding of Yar'Adua to ensure the victory of Anenih over Chief Sergeant Awuse. He said Anenih did not consult him before "he negotiated away our victory". The late Professor Omo Omoruyi corroborated Abiola's claim in his book. He, however, included Alhaji Sule Lamido who was the National Secretary of the SDP as being privy to the signing away of the June 12 mandate.
Former Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo, like Abiola, is also from Ogun state. In fact, they both (Abiola and Obasanjo) attended Baptist Boys High School. Obasanjo was said to have served as the deputy editor of the school magazine known as the Trumpeter, while Abiola served as editor.
Obasanjo initially supported Abiola in the struggle to reclaim his mandate. Obasanjo had urged Babangida to relinquish power and stop dawdling on the transition programme. He said, "Annulment or no annulment, Babangida must leave by August 27. He made the promise, he has to keep it." However, Obasanjo would later become a renegade of the June 12 struggle by saying "Abiola is not the messiah".
Obasanjo would later become the chief beneficiary of the democracy Abiola paid the supreme price for when he was sworn in on May 29, 1999, as the president of Nigeria. He kept mum on the issue of June 12 throughout his tenure.
Like Obasanjo and Abiola, Lieutenant General Oladipo Diya is from Ogun State. He served as second in command to the late dictator, Sani Abacha. Diya had promised that Abacha’s reign would be brief. Having put his mouth to the nectar of power, Diya started singing a different song. In fact, in the heat of the struggle for the actualisation of June 12, Diya became an instant punster; he derided agbako (woe) the coalition of democrats, known as the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).
He later regretted his action as Abacha, his boss, would later try him for planning to topple his regime.
EBENEZER BABATOPE, OLU ONAGORUWA, LATE LATEEF JAKANDE
The duo of Ebenezer Babatope and the late Lateef Jakande were always staunch Awoists. They decided to serve in the Abacha cabinet at the behest of Abiola who thought Abacha would redeem his pledge of having civilians as deputy governors. However, they refused to back out of the deal when it became obvious that the game had changed.
Olu Onagoruwa was a firebrand and legal luminary. He used to be Gani Fawehinmi's ally and confidant until he decided to serve under Abacha. He was said to have decided to serve in the Abacha’s cabinet on the prompting of his fellow Odogbolu townsman, Oladipupo Diya. It is a sad thing that Onagoruwa would be reminded as a 'villain' of June 12 having sacrificed a lot for activism and human rights. His decision to serve in Abacha's cabinet cost him a lot. And he was eventually sacked by the dictator.
LAMIDI ADEDIBU, ARISEKOLA ALAO
Both were Muslims. In fact, Arisekola held the title of Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland till he died. And like Abiola, he was a businessman. However, both decided to pitch their tent with Sani Abacha in the battle for the realisation of the June 12 mandate. Arisekola and Adedibu hobnobbed with military men and other enemies of June 12. Arisekola even defended Babangida on the annulment of June 12 election.
At a press conference, he had said: “Wallahi Tallahi, Billahillazi la’ila ha illahuwa, and we are in the month of Ramadan, that is what happened at that time. It was after the election that members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council threatened to kill both MKO Abiola and IBB if he insisted on releasing the result of the election. They threatened to kill both IBB and Abiola.”
Arisekola later narrowly escaped death when he followed Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar to the premises of the University of Ibadan for an event. Irate students who felt he contributed immensely to thwart the realization of the June 12 mandate attacked him and set his car ablaze.
A former personal assistant to the late Kudirat Abiola, wife of Abiola who was assassinated during the struggle of June 12. Call him an enemy within or a fifth columnist and you will not be far from the truth. Shofolahan was prosecuted along with Al-Mustapha, a former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Head of State, Abacha over the death of Kudirat Abiola. Shofolahan was travelling in the same car with the late Kudirat Abiola when she was shot in the head.
Her driver was also killed but Shofolahan miraculously escaped unscathed.
In the court, Mohammed Abdul (aka Katako), who gave evidence as a prosecution witness, narrated how the late Kudira Abiola’s personal assistant, Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan, gave his boss away to the assailants. Though they would later be discharged and acquitted, Shofolahan will go down in history as a villain and one of the Judases of June 12.
UCHE CHUKWUMERIJE, TOM IKIMI, WALTER OFONAGORO
The lethal troika, and you may throw Jerry Gana into the mix, worked tirelessly against democracy. Blessed with the gift of the gab, they deployed their awesome talent into the services of the anti-democratic forces holding this country in the jugular.
Chukwumerije who served as information minister in the Babangida regime and Shonekan's ING was a virulent propagandist in the mold of Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of propaganda who kept rationalising holocaust.
He once called Abiola a generalissimo (referring to his traditional title) that ran away from war. And in a moment of madness even asked General Abacha to sign a decree outlawing the mention of ‘June 12’ in public places. Chukumerije later served as a senator before his death. He benefited from Abiola's sacrifice as well.