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The unlearn lesson of June 12

He was, of course, referring to the postponement of this year’s general elections from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11 by…

He was, of course, referring to the postponement of this year’s general elections from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) whose hands were apparently forced by the military, which claimed it could not guarantee safety and security of voters on the original E-Days.
Adamu was also referring to speculations about conspiracies afoot to install an Interim National Government or contrive an extension of President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure.
The Trust columnist’s comparison of the shift in this year’s elections with the high-wire political drama that started on June 10, 1993 and climaxed on June 26 was apt. Indeed what happened last month was worse; it was a replay of everything that had gone wrong with our contemporary political history since the military first dabbled into the nation’s politics in the early morning of that fateful day of January 15, 1966.
As readers old enough may recall, on June 10, 1993 an Abuja High Court under Justice Bassey Ikpeme granted a dubious organization that, apparently tongue-in-cheek, called itself Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), and led by the controversial businessman/politician, Chief Arthur Nzeribe, its prayers to stop the presidential elections that the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida had scheduled for June 12 after several contrived false starts in its long transition programme. I said dubious because as at time of Ikpeme’s judgement, ABN had not registered as a legal entity. I doubt if it ever did.
In granting ABN its prayers, the Honourable Judge obviously chose to ignore Decree 13 of 1993 which gave the National Electoral Commission (at the time the commission’s name had not been prefixed by the questionable “Independent”) power to determine the days of elections regardless of what any court may say. Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the chair of NEC, decided to ignore the court and go ahead with the elections. In doing so he had the personal backing of President Babangida; a day after Ikpeme’s judgement, the 14-member National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) under Babangida met on the issue and agreed that NEC should comply. Babangida over-ruled the council and asked NEC to go ahead with the elections.
Undeterred, ABN went before the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Justice Mohammed Dahiru Saleh, this time to ask it to stop the release of the results. The Chief Judge, like Ikpeme before him, ruled in the association’s favour on June 15.
By then NEC had announced the results of 14 states or so along with FCT’s, and it was clear that the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola, was romping home to victory against his rival, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, of the National Republican Party.
This time, Nwosu decided to comply because this time he did not get the military president’s support to defy the courts. Instead, Babangida finally announced the cancelation of the election in a national broadcast on June 26. And the rest, as they say, is history.
At first glance the comparison of “June 12” and the postponement of last month’s elections may seem somewhat misleading; in one case the attempt to stop it failed and whereas the weapon of mischief in one was the judiciary in the other in has been the military. Even then their objective was the same; to stop a putative winner of the presidential election from taking over power and, by the same token, achieve the elongation of the tenure of the incumbent.
This was why I said at the beginning of this piece that last month’s shift of the dates of this year’s general election was worse than cancellation of “June 12”. My reason is simple: it shows not only that we have not learnt the lessons of that cancellation. Last month’s postponement also shows we are yet to learn the more tangible lesson that every single ruler in this country since 1966 who had tried to overstay his welcome and to play God has come to either a tragic end or suffered a disgraceful exist from power.
To begin with Major-General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, our first military leader. Barely a month after the ousted civilian government of the assassinated Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa surrendered power to him as army commander, he set up a Constitutional Study Group under the famous late Chief FRA ‘Timi the Law’ Williams to draft a new constitution for a return to democracy.
However, even before the committee had settled down, he listened to a few power-hungry advisers and, in a fit of ethnic triumphalism, promulgated the Unification Decree which abolished Nigeria as a Federation and concentrated all powers in his hands. He paid with his life in the counter-coup of July 1966.
Next, Lt-Colonel Yakubu Gowon who took over from Ironsi as the most senior Northern military officer. Under him the riots that had broken out in the North against Igbos in the region eventually led to our civil war. In his first Independence Anniversary broadcast after the end of the war in 1970, by which time he had become a general, he announced a six-year transition programme to democracy. He changed his mind in 1974 when he announced on October 1 that 1976 was no longer realistic. He was overthrown on July 29, 1975 while away in Uganda attending an Organization of African Unity annual conference. He subsequently suffered years of self-exile in the UK.
His successor, the mercurial Brigadier-General Murtala Mohammed, promised a shorter four-year transition programme. He was killed in an unsuccessful meaningless coup on February 13, 1976. But the triumvirate of Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Mohammed’s deputy, TY Danjuma, the army chief, and Shehu Musa Yar’adua, which took over kept his word. Obasanjo became a celebrated African statesman much in demand after he handed over power to Nigeria’s first elected executive president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, on October 1, 1979, after a presidential election which was disputed but which was nonetheless generally regarded as free, fair and credible.
The second election during the Second Republic in 1983 fell into even more disputation than that of 1979, not least because the civilians armed the Nigerian Police under Sunday Adewusi with weapons including armoured tanks and used it to try and cow the opposition. The impression that they were determined to retain power by hook or crook was cited by the military as one reason for the coup of December 31, 1983.
Major-General Muhammadu Buhari who took over did not announce any plans for a return to democracy. He was overthrown in a bloodless palace coup by his army chief, General Babangida, on August 27, 1985. The self-styled military president’s eight-year transition programme became the longest and the most intricate in the country’s history and ended with the ‘June 12’ denourment which, in turn, forced him to “step aside” on August 27, 1993.
The Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Sonekan – a business mogul and from Abeokuta, like Abiola – which Babangida handed over to ostensibly to conduct another presidential election lasted, only 82 days before it was overthrown by his army chief, General Sani Abacha, who Babangida had left behind as defence minister to shore up Sonekan. This was on November 17.
Interestingly Sonekan was overthrown at the behest of June 12fers led by no less than Abiola himself. Apparently they were all under the illusion that Abacha will risk his life and simply actualize June 12. Of course he did no such thing.
There are many who have argued that Abiola, far from being a hero of democracy, was a beneficiary of Babangida’s questionable political engineering in so far as he was silent when the military president twice banned more experienced politicians in order to clear the way for so-called Newbreed politicians, including the chief. Indeed he was on record to have boasted that he had a hand in a few coups, including the one that threw out Shagari whose administration he came to have serious political disagreements with.
Once in power, Abacha who had promised his stay would be brief pushed his transition programme to 1998 at the end of which it seemed he had plans to change his khaki for mufti; all the five political parties he allowed to be registered adopted him as their presidential candidate, prompting the late Chief Bola Ige to famously describe them as the five fingers of a leprous hand.
Sadly, Abacha, as we all know, died mysteriously in June 1998. He was succeeded by his chief of defence staff, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Abubakar promised eleven months of transition programme, the shortest in Nigerian history, and kept his word. This paved the way for the return of Obasanjo as the country’s second elected executive president on May 29, 1999.
We all know how, barely into his second term, he tried to change our Constitution to secure a third term but, mercifully, failed. He then foisted on the country a president whose health was weak and a Vice whose capabilities were questionable. The long-drawn out falling-out between godson and his godfather which ended last Monday with a sad melodrama of the godfather announcing his inglorious departure from a party he has been the alpha and omega of for close to a decade, was inevitable.
One would have thought that President Jonathan has learnt his lesson from the tragic political demise of his godfather and from the sad end to which everyone of our leaders who have tried to play God has fallen into.
After last month’s postponement of this year’s general elections, and widespread speculations about his unwillingness to leave, even if he were to lose fairly and squarely, it is obvious that the president has been a very poor student of History.

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