By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje
Exactly 22 years after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 general elections many Nigerians outside the political struggle must sometimes wonder how Nigerians managed to preserve the existential spirit of perpetual optimism in the midst of inexcusable and sordid disregard for the people’s mandate and those that fought assiduously for democracy.
Indeed, we must celebrate NADECO, the umbrella socio-political movement that struggled and campaigned for the actualisation of the June 12 people’s mandate and by extension the return of civil rule. More than anything else, their strident call on the military high command and their conniver to give up their game of power for a democratic process is appreciatively first-class for the new dawn.
Following constant hard-nosed demands from this non-celebrated group and their coalition of civil society counterpart, the country became democratised again in 1999 from the perfidious military regime and many Nigerians had reason to be proud. But the collective aspirations for a people driven constitution is still far from reality and as the wind of change beckons, the ideals of true federalism and the devolution of powers from the almighty centre at Abuja is suspect.
First, in remembering the dark past of our democratic effort, we must salute the uncommon courage and toughness of Pa Abraham Adesanya, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Professor Wole Soyinka, Dr. Akin Akingba, Chief Odigie Oyegun, George Noah, Dayo Johnson, Dele Momodu, Ndubusi Kanu and Dr. Kayode Fayemi and the like too numerous to mention and on the other hand those who agonisingly died in the struggle. May their soul rest with the Lord.
Disappointingly, too many Nigerians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of NADECO movement for the restoration of democracy from the stranglehold of the military, who are now meaninglessly and unthinkingly the greatest beneficiary of the movement. This contempt for historical knowledge has serious consequences for a national rebirth for Nigeria as a whole. In government circles, it makes room for poor public policy decisions. In the public space, it reinforces winner takes all attitude and fuels political distrust between the people and those that hold public trust at the centres of political influence across the country.
It is indeed national heartbreak and indignity for failing to signpost the hero and female protagonist of the struggle in the realm of national public interest by successive government in the last 16 years and regrettably also the progressives that are in the front seat at moment are not pointing in that direction.
As Nigerians, we share a great sense of responsibility to remember and acknowledge the pain and suffering of those who fought for our democratic freedom particularly the late Chief MKO Abiola and his beloved wife Kudirat respectively – a deep pain that has been handed down to us as people and too recent to be forgotten. We need to right those wrongs, heal together as a nation, and the re-establishment of a conciliatory state that honours victims of our national struggle and they deserve to be in the national hall of fame.
Sadly, too many Nigerians do not know the contributions of NADECO to the evolution of the current democratic experiment that we all cherish, or understand that by virtue of the June 12 and the Abiola Phenomena; Nigeria is where it is today. Of a truth, history plays an important role in the healing of old wounds; but we have refused as a country and a people to build for the future; the political elite and all well-meaning progressives particularly the Buhari-led government must look to, and learn from, the past. In my view the change process can only happen when everyone accepts responsibility for the past in ways that foster respect and hope. In my view there has to be a conscious national awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action plan to change behaviour in line with the proposed new order. We are not there yet.
How do we do this as a country? First, through sharing the personal stories of those involved in the struggle in the public space. Second, education by exposing the truth of what happened and making sure it is never forgotten. Third, the 8th National Assembly dominated and populated by the emergent progressives of the APC must also work assiduously to institutionalize June 12 and its existential values. Fourth, to begin a national process of reconciliation that would set the country on a bold new path, fundamentally changing the very foundations of Nigeria’s political leadership template in tandem with the wishes of people.
Indeed, June 12, the people’s mandate, was stolen by the repressive regime of Ibrahim Babaginda in particular 22 years ago. In my submission, June 12 phenomenon is still significant for the restoration of the skewed political arrangements and unhealthy political malpractices that have disabled the country in the last 54 years. One of the single most potent was the commonality of national identity and aspiration mechanisms which was displayed by the electorate in the voting patterns and indeed in the choice of their leaders without recourse to ethnic and primordial sentiments that characterised previous elections since independence and this again has just been demonstrated by Nigerians in the just concluded 2015 general elections particularly with the wind of change mantra that has become defining feature of the Buhari-led government at the centre and the uncommon promise of a new beginning!
In truth, June 12 was a manifestation of the perception of the personality of Chief M.K. Abiola as a genuine national leader that would inspire and provide a critical mass for the realisation of a better Nigerian dream. Similarly, Buhari has shown deep conviction over the years on his desire to return the country from the trench and now he has the opportunity to do just that and he must sustain it wholeheartedly by being fervent about what policy and programmes he wants to achieve in order to inspire Nigerians to follow him and it is hoped that the campaign mantra of Hope ‘93 which is also resonated with 2015 change mantra campaign will be sustained. But painfully in Nigeria, the more things change, the more they remain same.
Indeed expanding public dialogue and action on nation-building efforts beyond the euphoria of change in government at the centre will be critical in the coming years. Although some progress has been made, significant barriers to democratic values and mechanism remain daunting. The APC alternative political platform through which the masses have been mobilised to sustain a new dawn for Nigerians should not be wasted by cheap political opportunism. Rather, we should dwell on democratic behaviour for national peace as we celebrate June 12 and what it stood for in our national consciousness.
More importantly, in my view the new government under the eagle eye of President Muhammadu Buhari must and should initiate what I call a national and affirmative action statement or charge with the following pledge: that the way we govern ourselves must change. How the laws (People constitution) of the land must change to reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people who voted for a manifest change. How policies and programmes of government must change with constructive citizen’s engagement and participatory feedback mechanisms. Additionally, the way we do business must also change, our thinking must of necessity change and indeed the way we talk to, and about, each other must change. Change and nothing but Change. So help us God.
Finally, it is hoped that the real change for a new Nigeria lies in the pursuit of honouring the truth, untainted national reconciliation mechanism and the eventual enthronement of institutional integrity that would strap up the values of June 12 movement for a greater today and indeed a better tomorrow that we all can be proud of.
Beyond doubt, Nigeria is on the march again and we are waiting for Mr. President. In the words of PMB: We have an opportunity. Let us take it. But, as nation, we believe we can get there, and we should passionately believe we can maintain it. Our sincere ambition as a country is to show how we can do that. Happy June 12 – the real Democracy Day and God bless Nigeria.
•Orovwuje, Founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, wrote from Lagos. Orovwuje@yahoo.com, 08034745325
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