Sunday 12 June 2011

Nigeria: Time to give June 12 a decent burial - Updated!

Yes, the hope died

June the Twelfth, 1993 has for years been marked as the day that Nigeria’s hopes for democracy died or as Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa would have so eloquently put it when he made his speech [1] as Prime Minister of a newly independent Nigeria; our claims to responsible government were rubbished.

After many years of military rule, the military leaders charted a course to return to the barracks and laid out a formula for self-determination and democracy which appeared to run its course to a point.

Parties were registered, campaigns were run, candidates were selected and elections conducted – Nigerians were waiting for the results.

An amazing change beckoned

As the results came in, it became apparent that a political earthquake was about to hit Nigeria and rearrange the topology of the single story that had defined what we knew of our country; the North, the South, Muslims, Christians and its tribal differences.

A Muslim Southerner was taking the spoils in the North and that trajectory was looking like Bashorun M. K. O, Abiola was going to be declared the winner and hence become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; a harbinger of change the ruling elite could not countenance with unfounded fears.

Unfortunately, just before all the tallies came in to confirm that emerging trend, the military Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida annulled the elections leaving an inconclusive state of affairs, but with at least enough to draw allusions from which now makes for the memorialisation of June the Twelfth.

It was not perfect

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.

The Option A4 voting was an open ballot system where voters openly queued up behind their respective candidates or symbols of their candidates and were counted; the results were then collated up the hierarchy.

That is not to say that the elections of 1993 were perfect, there are ways in which it could have been suborned but I will leave the verdict to the then chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), Professor Okon Uya, he suggested this year before the elections that all elections conducted in Nigeria since 1922 including that which he presided over in 1993 were manipulated [2]. See note at the end of the blog.

What could have been could have been, Nigeria might have returned to democracy since 1993, the hopes and aspirations of the people could have been realised through the leadership of a man that transcended the stereotypes that defined Nigeria, we could have been a viable member of the BRICS, the ignominy of the Sani Abacha years might never have happened but that all belongs to a parallel universe of time and space; we live in the reality of things that happen and really affect us.

Annulment versus result

It is arguable that the elections of June 12, 1993 are the gold-standard of credible elections to be conducted in Nigeria and one must give allowances to that notion but it needs to be compared with the elections just past, identified by the date April 16, 2011.

The 2011 elections were not perfect, but they did achieve a higher scale of freeness, fairness and credibility beyond many that have been conducted in Nigeria before, the ones in 2007 being the worst ever.

They will also turn out to be the costliest every conducted; that is the price that had to be paid to turn things around and deliver elections that represent as much as possible the will of the people; most of all, despite its failings, it 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.).

Could have been better

It is important to recognise that the modified open ballot system adopted was a maturation on the Option A4 system, it allowed people to secretly cast their votes thereby avoiding coercion and menace that would have forced voters to queue up openly in support of people they did not believe in and the count was done openly with the results for the count posted at the polling stations and then passed up a chain of custody through collation centres.

Theoretically, every means for having the most credible elections were there, participation was also widespread with the youth representing a burgeoning constituency, technology came to play though it requires more refinement – there is a lot that could be improved upon and the present-day INEC is working on those matters.

Now, this is not to make June 12 insignificant by any means, but it would be unfortunate if we all based our realities on a mirage when April 16 represents the best progress we have made on the democratic experiment in Nigeria so far.

Turn the page of history

In 2011, June 12, 1993 needs to assume its place in Nigerian history, the mourning over the death of democracy and self-determination that it represented has to go; a child born on that day will now be eligible to vote in Nigeria; the clamour about it will make no sense to that child apart from sounding like some fable, a memory, some story and part of Nigerian history as it should be taught.

We need to stop singing the dirges of the yesteryears and arrive at the reality of today; Nigeria cannot be governed by the standards, viewpoints, hopes or expectations of 1993 anymore, the world has moved on and changed; Nigeria is in 2011, it is time for us to seize our present and take our country forward.

The results [3] of the April 16, 2011 elections showed that we do have a national party despite our misgivings about its predominance and its machinations with a number of regionally strong oppositions; it showed a Christian Southerner making in-roads into the presumably impregnable North capturing the 25% threshold necessary across the whole country rather than in some regions; it represented a sea-change that had its Genesis in 1993 which has now been eclipsed.

Give June 12 a decent burial

June 12, 1993 was dead on arrival, a stillborn, a sad narrative, the low point of our democratic yearnings because that the expectations we had were completely snuffed out and it produced no result, the fact is we do not have certified returns and results for that election and that is final, it should not be a subject of supposition or speculation, there is no legally recognisable data to extrapolate the assumptions thrown around like the truth.

It is time to give June 12 a decent burial, build it a mausoleum, if you like, with all the ceremony that can be accorded its significance in Nigerian history, but we need to leave the graveyard of dashed democratic dreams; the dead cannot continue to walk amongst the living like a zombie.

Nigeria with a majority of its population under 35 indicates that majority have no real connection with June 12, 1993 to have been able to influence that situation; the more reason why they should give more credence to the elections they participated in to bring lasting change to Nigeria rather than become cultish worshippers of some ethereal ideal; a Utopian Nigeria that gets trotted out for occasion and slovenly aspiration.

We need to make the best of what 2011 gave us – a new hope, imperfect as it might be, it is a lot better than what 1993 ever delivered.


[1] Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa Independence day's speech - October 1, 1960

[2] The Sun News On-line | Every election since 1922 has been manipulated –Okon Uya, ex-NECON boss

[3] Nigeria: #NigeriaDecides Election Review IX - Analysing the Presidential Results

Note: Okon Uya did not preside over the June 12, 1993 elections; rather, he took over from Humprey Nwosu who was dismissed after the elections were annulled.

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