Pres­i­dent Buhari made the right call on June 12, ar­gues Oluse­gun Adeniyi

THISDAY - - COMMENT - Adeniyi is Chair­man, THISDAY Ed­i­to­rial Board

As much as I sub­scribe to the no­tion that given the tim­ing, the ac­tion is very po­lit­i­cal, even op­por­tunis­tic, I am also aware that Buhari is not the kind of man who would take this sort of ac­tion with­out con­vic­tion, no mat­ter the po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions. So, I be­lieve he took the de­ci­sion be­cause he feels it is the right thing to do and he de­serves to be com­mended for it. Be­sides, the ‘Not too young to run’ gen­er­a­tion in the South­west who now con­sti­tute the elec­toral ma­jor­ity may ad­mire the spirit of June 12 based on the sto­ries they are told by their par­ents but if you fol­low them on Twit­ter, they are more con­cerned about is­sues that di­rectly im­pact on their lives. So, no­body should over­play the vote is­sue to di­min­ish the sig­nif­i­cance of what Pres­i­dent Buhari has done just as I ab­hor any re­course to pro­vin­cial tri­umphal­ism that can only be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in a di­verse so­ci­ety like ours.

In the 12th July edi­tion of the Mo­hammed Haruna-led CIT­I­ZEN magazine (which was then the voice of the North­ern elite), Mal­lam Adamu Adamu, the cur­rent Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion and one of the finest writ­ers in Nige­ria, had re­viewed the tran­si­tion pro­gramme of Gen­eral Ba­bangida and the fi­asco cre­ated by the an­nul­ment of the June 12 elec­tion and con­cluded: “We are to­day stuck at the cross­roads with eight years wasted; small prob­lems have be­come big­ger prob­lems, mist on the tracks has turned into a thick fog. From here mov­ing back is im­pos­si­ble with­out ter­ri­ble costs and mov­ing for­ward ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.”

Pres­i­dent Buhari has found a way around that prob­lem by go­ing for jus­tice rather than ex­pe­di­ency on what has for 25 years been a tricky sit­u­a­tion. While con­fer­ring the posthu­mous award on Abi­ola on Tues­day, the pres­i­dent ad­mit­ted: “We can­not rewind the past but we can at least as­suage our feel­ings, recog­nise that a wrong has been com­mit­ted and re­solve to stand firm now and ease the fu­ture for the sanc­tity of free elec­tions.” He then added, “this ret­ro­spec­tive and posthu­mous recog­ni­tion is only a sym­bolic to­ken of re­dress and rec­om­pense for the griev­ous in­jury done to the peace and unity of our coun­try.”

That pre­cisely is the point many of the com­men­ta­tors miss. June 12 goes be­yond the per­son of Abi­ola and what he may have rep­re­sented in the past. It is not even about what hap­pened that day, as sig­nif­i­cant as the vot­ing pat­tern (Mus­lim-Mus­lim ticket se­cur­ing the votes of Chris­tians) was. It is about what hap­pened af­ter­wards, when sev­eral Nige­ri­ans stood up to the mil­i­tary and paid heavy price for de­mand­ing that the votes they law­fully cast could not be so cyn­i­cally taken away. Of course I am well aware that at that pe­riod, there were also those who bought into the di­vi­sive pol­i­tics of the mil­i­tary and de­cided to ac­cept the peace of the grave­yard.

Those who have al­ways im­puted eth­nic mo­tive to that prin­ci­pled stand taken by Yoruba peo­ple for the stub­born re­fusal to aban­don June 12 for­get that Chief Ernest Shonekan, like Abi­ola, is an Egba man yet he was re­jected and so was Obasanjo in 1999. There­fore, the is­sue was never about hav­ing a Yoruba man in Aso Rock; it was/is about right­ing the wrong of June 12 in a man­ner that would take into cog­nizance the supreme sac­ri­fice paid by Abi­ola and sev­eral peo­ple with­out which the mil­i­tary would never have re­turned to the bar­racks. That is why the sym­bol­ism of up­stag­ing May 29 for June 12 as Democ­racy Day in Nige­ria should not be lost: It is an af­fir­ma­tion of the supremacy of the bal­lot over bul­let!

The dam­age in­flicted on the psy­che of Nige­ria by the an­nul­ment of the June 12 elec­tion was enor­mous and to un­der­stand how di­vided the coun­try had be­come just a few weeks af­ter or­di­nary cit­i­zens had cast their votes for a united na­tion, I re­pro­duce be­low an abridged ver­sion of a chap­ter in my book, ’POLITRICKS: Na­tional As­sem­bly un­der Mil­i­tary Dic­ta­tor­ship’ which cap­tures the de­bate that fol­lowed the an­nul­ment of the elec­tion in the Se­nate that had at times been in­au­gu­rated un­der a curious po­lit­i­cal arrangement.

Gen­eral Ba­bangida had on 17th Au­gust 1993 ad­dressed a joint ses­sion of the Na­tional As­sem­bly to pro­pose an in­terim gov­ern­ment with the aim of con­duct­ing yet an­other pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, fol­low­ing a ‘tri­par­tite agree­ment be­tween the mil­i­tary and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the two po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the de­feated Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­ven­tion (NRC) and the SDP whose lead­ers were trad­ing away their vic­tory with­out Abi­ola’s sup­port.

In a speech de­signed to in­cite the Na­tional As­sem­bly mem­bers against June 12, Ba­bangida said, “The present ne­go­ti­ated choice of an In­terim Na­tional Gov­ern­ment by the Nige­rian po­lit­i­cal elites is once again an imag­i­na­tive and peace­ful so­lu­tion to the in­evitable dilemma of de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion” be­fore he added that the pro-democ­racy ag­i­ta­tors were “dis­re­spect­ful of your man­date and seize on the at­trac­tion of pop­ulist rhetoric to un­leash vi­cious at­tack on the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. They are af­ter you, not me. They do not want to op­er­ate through the two party sys­tem. Please, in­vite them to join your par­ties; and work their way up from the grass­roots as you did.”

At that pe­riod, the Se­nate, presided by Dr Iy­orchia Ayu, had such mem­bers as Ham­man Bello Mo­hammed, Chuba Okadigbo, Uba Ahmed, Paul Ukpo, Bola Ahmed Tin­ubu, Sun­day Bolorun­duro Awoniyi, Rasheed Ladoja, Ah­madu Idah Ali, Ben­neth Birabi, Ebenezer Ikey­ina, Kanti Bello, Wande Abim­bola, Ma­gaji Ab­dul­lahi, Kofo Buckor Ak­erele, Idris Kuta, Ani­ete Okon, Paul Wam­pana and sev­eral oth­ers while the House led by Agunwa Anaekwe had Te­hemba Shija, Lazarus Unaogu, Ni­cholas Agbo, Tokunbo Afikuy­omi, Florence Ita Giwa and oth­ers. I am sure read­ers will find the de­bate that fol­lowed Ba­bangida’s speech very in­struc­tive.

All said, what Pres­i­dent Buhari has done on June 12 is not only sig­nif­i­cant, it has shown very clearly that he has the ca­pac­ity to rise above cer­tain nar­row and clan­nish in­ter­ests to do the right things, in­clud­ing ral­ly­ing the en­tire coun­try for the heal­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that is very much needed across board, if we must at­tain peace and pros­per­ity. It is there­fore my hope that the pres­i­dent can ap­ply the same dis­po­si­tion to deal with the eco­nomic/life­style prob­lems that now en­dan­ger in­ter-group re­la­tions in the North Cen­tral with dire im­pli­ca­tions for sec­tar­ian di­vi­sive­ness as well as the ‘five per cent ver­sus 97 per cent’ mind­set that has al­most alien­ated the en­tire South-east from his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While these is­sues be­long to an­other day and we will deal with them ap­pro­pri­ately, Pres­i­dent Buhari made the right call on June 12. But can he seize the mo­ment or is it al­ready too late in the day?

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