Dr. Wale Fashakin is a former Personal Assistant on Media to late Chief MKO Abiola.
In this exclusive interview, he speaks on the significance of the June 12, 1993, presidential election and the recognition of the day as Democracy Day by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He also advises on how the day should be celebrated, including the need to address poverty in line with Abiola’s dream and the adoption of A4 as the best option for electing leaders.
Twenty seven years after the annulment of the June 12 presidential election, how significant is this day given that it has now been declared the Democracy Day of Nigeria?
This year’s Democracy Day is very significant. In the first instance, I just have to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for making it possible to recognise June 12. We never knew he was going to pronounce it. In actual fact, we were expecting former President Obasanjo to pronounce it. Nobody ever thought it was going to be Buhari that would recognise Chief MKO Abiola’s travails despite the fact that the relationship between Abiola and Buhari was not that smooth. Some people even say Abiola was part of the people that overthrew him.
June 12 is a very significant day; that was the day we had a true election; free and fair. When Chief MKO Abiola was campaigning, he said “farewell to poverty”, but up till now, Nigerians are still wallowing in poverty.
We were in Cairo in December, 1992, when Babangida called Abiola that if he knew that he could win election, he should come and participate.
The first primary of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP) under the chairmanship of Babagana Kingibe was won by late Shehu Musa Yar’adua, but it was annulled and government banned all those who participated in it. That was when Babangida called Abiola to come on board if he knew he could win. Abiola accepted the challenge, joined PDP and another primary was held in Jos.
We all know what Abiola did when he was in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN); and what eventually threw him out of NPN and the time he came back to politics.
Abiola was running for the chairmanship of the Transition Council because as at the time Babangida annulled the primary of the SDP, he said he was going to set up a Transition Council to transit from military to civilian. And Abiola, being a very close friend of Babangida, said he would like to head that council as chairman. That was his ultimate goal then. He wasn’t really prepared for the presidency; he wasn’t even in the SDP or any political party. It was Babangida that pushed him to contest. Babangida is still alive, so people should ask him why he pushed his friend to that extent. When Simbiatu (Abiola’s first wife) died, Babangida was at the burial without any security; except his ADC.
Fast forward, the day Abiola was to go to Ipetedo after the annulment of the election, because the whole house was cordoned off, I did a decoy to deceive the police. Abiola gave me his clothe which I wore. I was at the back of his private armoured car with escort around 08:30pm and we left Ikeja for Opebi. We did not know the police were trailing us. They trailed us to the house of his wife at Opebi.
Around 02:00am, the police cordoned off that place and searched the whole house thinking Abiola was inside; but we were able to convince the police and diverted their attention. That was when we were able to pass through the back of the house in Ikeja.
You can imagine, as big as Abiola was, jumping fence because he wanted to go and declare since the Nigerian public had given him the mandate.
What Abiola went through that night is nothing to write home about. He even said that was the biggest risk he ever took; that was before he disappeared for almost 17 days. If Abiola could go through all these, coupled with the fact that Babangida is alive, we should ask him to tell us why he annulled that election.
This year’s Democracy Day is very significant in the sense that it has immortalised Abiola, because everybody, every child yet unborn will ask why June 12 is Democracy Day.
What other memories do you have of June 12 saga?
There are sweet and sad memories. The election was during the rainy season, and throughout the country that day, there was no single rain. That showed that God had assigned that day.
Secondly, when we started the campaign, Abiola said it was only those who took their heads to the barber that would have their hairs shaved. We went throughout the country and we did not have any accident.
Why did it take so long to recognise June 12?
Let me tell you a secret. Baba Obasanjo and Abiola went to the same school. Abiola respected this man so much, that when he (Abiola) came back from self-exile, he drafted a press release about Abacha that he was to send to the whole world. He took it to Obasanjo’s farm in Ota so that he could look at it. Obasanjo watered down the press release. It was later that we realised, Obasanjo, with all due respect, did not love this man (Abiola).
So when the press release was released, it didn’t have any impact. You know he later came out to say Abiola was not the messiah we needed. So the enmity between Abiola and Obasanjo must be far back from the time they were in school. Apart from Obasanjo being a former president, Abiola had more global recognition than him. So, I see envy and jealousy; that is my own way of assessing it, because I don’t know why it would have taken us this long to recognise June 12.
One thing people don’t know is that the national stadium that is named after Abiola is because he was the chairman of the fund raising committee for the stadium. We were in Cairo when he went to one Egyptian company to see if they could come and give us a design for that contract. I was hoping Obasanjo would name that stadium after Abiola. I believe what has happened was divinely decreed. It has been designed that the person that would recognise Abiola would be somebody he was “against”, because at the time Babangida came to power, people thought he had the hands of Abiola in it.
Now that Abiola has been recognised and June 12 declared Democracy Day, what does this portend?
That Buhari has done this doesn’t mean he did it as a way of looking for political popularity. He thought it wise to do the right thing, and that is why he has done it. As far as I am concerned, democracy actually started with the liberation of people on the 12th of June, 1993.
Secondly, we have never had it that good. That day, we used Option A4, and that is what we should revert to in Nigeria. The system said you should go back to your ward, then after the ward, you go to the local government and be elected and after that you go to the state and the representatives of the state would now push you forward for national election.
We now have all sorts of moneybags who want to be governors or president whereas if you take them back to their local governments, they do not even have the base. They have never done anything, nobody knows them in their wards, but because they have money people will vote for them. I am advocating that we should go back to Option A4.
How best can we celebrate the Democracy Day annually?
May 29, 1999, was when we transited from military to civilian. God so good, it wasn’t a public holiday. But Democracy Day should be celebrated in a very big way. There should be lectures, there should be symposiums; we should educate the masses on the importance of democracy, on the things we gained from June 12. Like I said, one of the legacies of June 12 is Option A4 that we have jettisoned.