The author expressed some concerns about Akin Akintayo’s piece Nigeria: Time to give June 12 a decent burial over Twitter, and we invited him to write a rejoinder. Here it is.
By D.O.A Coker
June 12, 2011 marked the 18th Anniversary of the 1993 presidential elections in Nigeria. Those elections have been adjudged by many Nigerians as one of the best in the country’s history.
In his own special way of marking the event, and probably for dramatic effect, Mr. Akin Akintayo chose this occasion to publish an essay titled: Time to give June 12 a decent burial.
In it, Mr Akintayo began with praise for some aspects of the electoral process that culminated in the vote on June 12, 1993 by stating that: “What made the elections of 1993 a benchmark for freeness, fairness and credibility was the voting method adopted that prevented the usual electoral criminality that we had gotten used to in the Nigerian landscape.”
Even the enemies of June 12 accept this obvious fact. But the main thrust of his article was soon centred on the need to consign that milestone event and all it stood for to history’s dustbin.
While I respect his right to his opinion and do sometimes share his viewpoints on other issues, there was a compelling need to take a different view on this occasion.
Under the heading – Annulment versus result, he wrote that “despite its failings, it (April 16, 2011) delivered a result that many will find difficult to dispute even though there are many that are disaffected as much as there was voter apathy in many regions too but on average a higher turnout (the lowest was in Ogun State with 28%) than in 1993 (which Professor Okon Uya said was just 13% on average.).
Wasn’t it rather hasty to comment on the difficulty or otherwise of this ‘dispute’ while the jury is still out on the April polls as evidenced by the cases currently making their way through the elections tribunal? Should we not at least await the determination of those cases before deciding on that? I probably wouldn’t have found a need to respond if Akintayo left matters here, but his other claim in that paragraph certainly deserves a closer look.
In an attempt to reinforce his point on June 12’s diminished status, Akintayo allowed himself to be taken in by Prof. Okon Uya’s claim of voter apathy in many regions as prop for his thesis. The good professor said that this apathy led to a poor turnout of 13% of the electorate. This claim not only stands on shaky legs, it is untrue. But this did not stop the otherwise meticulous Mr. Akintayo from going on to use this 13% figure in making a comparison with a 28% voter turnout in Ogun State (on April 16) as justification for April 16’s supremacy. As will become clear with a review of the events of that troubling period in 1993, both Uya and Akintayo who believes him, are well and truly off the mark.
Here is why I say this. Within hours of the polls closing, the results were being collated (and announced in some states) by NEC, the 2 political parties and civil society groups amongst others. From one those announcements reported in The New York Times, we learnt that “final results were widely circulated among politicians and activist groups, despite a government ban on their publication. Campaign for Democracy chairman Beko Ransome-Kuti said Abiola also exceeded by eight states the requirement that the winner get at least one-third of the vote in at least 20 states.
The Times continued by making reference to what we now know to be incomplete results, which in the words of the report, were “released by Abiola’s Social Democrats and showed him winning 8,128,720 votes nationwide compared with 5,848,247 for Tofa. The party announced the results on national television.” We will come back to this point in the assessment of the third claim in Akintayo’s article under review here.
Mr. Akintayo, then went on to announce that “June 12, 1993 was dead on arrival, a stillborn, a sad narrative, the low point of our democratic yearnings because that (sic) the expectations we had were completely snuffed out and it produced no result…there is no legally recognisable data to extrapolate the assumptions thrown around like the truth.
This assertion might stick if we inteprete it with a strictly legal yardstick. But from a broader moral and patriotic standpoint it holds no water. Even the legal measure is highly questionable if we regard the spirit of the law as well as the letter. The election results – what Akintayo calls legally recognizable data – were being collated and announced on Radio, TV and Newspapers by NEC within hours of the polls closing and after being passed up a “chain of custody.” But as it became obvious that the electorate had failed to read their fraudulent memo and follow the script, an order came from the military hierachy to halt the announcements. This culminated in Gen. Babangida’s annulment speech of June 23, 1993 in tandem with Justice Dahiru Saleh’s Abuja High Court injunction on the same day.
It was those same incomplete results that the SDP and Campaign for Democracy – under the leadership of Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti – had earlier released on June 18 in defiance of the regime and following the expiration of a Lagos High Court ruling on June 17 compelling NEC to release them within 24 hours. It was a bizarre season of injunctions and counter-injunctions from the courts, but everyone knew that the ultimate body responsible for electoral decisions was the Orwellian sounding National Security and Defense Council headed by Babangida.
Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, NEC Chairman and Chief Returning Officer for the June 12 presidential elections eventually complied with this ruling 15 years afterwards on June 12, 2008 during his book presentation in Abuja. He declared as follows: “Social Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Chief Moshood Abiola won by 8,323,305 votes against National Republican Convention’s Alhaji Ottman Bashir Tofa 6,073,612 votes.” (emphasis mine) Prof. Nwosu went further to say that : “Tofa scored at least one-third of the votes cast in each of 23 states of the federation. While Abiola scored at least one-third of the total votes cast in each of the 28 states.” Thus Nwosu belatedly declared Abiola the winner of the June 12, 1993 elections.
There is no doubt Nwosu flinched and chose a form of cowardice over courage when it mattered most, but with his June 2008 declaration of the election results in his custody for those 15 years, he had done his part in shedding light where his masters preferred darkness. If people like Mr. Akintayo still question the legality of those results, the next best thing to do is to head for the courts and challenge Nwosu’s publication with superior facts or otherwise, forever hold their peace.
Humphrey Nwosu was the NEC Chairman in charge of the elections which had almost 40 million registered voters and not Okon Uya who seems to have plucked his figures from thin air. If however, Prof Uya’s 13% voter turnout were to be believed, the results given by Nwosu will have required the registered voters to be over 100 million. Nigeria’s official population from the 1991 census was 88.5million.
Many Nigerians saw Nwosu’s declaration as coming rather late in the day, but I hold the belief that it was better late than never, even though the man himself appeared to have other reasons for publishing those results when he did. The fact however remains, 18 years on, and with some of the actors receding from the public space, that many truths about who said or did what during the events of that time remain shrouded. But thankfully, a significant amount of this truth is coming into the public domain.
In building a case for the burial of June 12, Mr. Akintayo was also quick to point out the imperfections of that seminal election. But in “leaving the verdict” to former NEC chair, Prof. Okon Uya that all elections since 1922 (including, June 12, 1993) were manipulated, one would have expected Akintayo to make a convincing case for the exemption of his exemplary April 16 polls from the roll call of manipulated polls. But he did not, probably because he couldn’t. And I wonder on what valid basis he came to the outlandish conclusion that “April 16 represents the best progress we have made on the democratic experiment in Nigeria so far.”
Mr Akintayo is wrong when he calls for June 12 to be forgotten and buried “because the expectations we had were completely snuffed out and it produced no result” What an unkind cut! It’s like saying to the survivors of a murdered crime victim to forget about seeking justice to its conclusive end just because a detective botched initial investigations resulting in the mistrial of the killer.
I find it hard to believe that Akin Akintayo will intentionally give comfort to a discredited cabal – peopled by the likes of Ibrahm Babangida and a revisionist David Mark – who from the get go set out to undermine and downplay the role and importance of the June 12 elections to Nigerian democracy. He should not give any impression that he is doing just that.
June 12 and the supreme sacrifice of its chief protagonist, MKO Abiola, represents the very best of the democratic spirit embedded in the Nigerian DNA. And as Ebere Onwudiwe aptly put it “Abiola’s struggle and death, symbolically shot the first bullet for Nigeria’s second struggle for independence and self determination from internal colonialism…Abiola’s position ultimately benefitted Nigeria’s political development.”
George Santayana it was who said: “those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” That famous quote has often been paraphrased as “those who fail to learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat it.” Feel free to pick your choice. But if a younger generation of Nigerians fail to learn the lessons of June 12, backed by factual accounts of the events that have led to its legendary status, I’m afraid that a repeat might just be down the road.
- D. Oluwatosin Coker is a student of African History, with an obvious Nigerian bias. He lives a few miles north of Dundee in the Northeast of Scotland. He tweets as @NaijaHistory