Writer, with Edo State Governor, John Odigie Oyegun (Meeting of 14 SDP state Governors and Babagana Kingibe,  Edo State Liaison House, Ijora. December, 1992) Writer, with Edo State Governor, John Odigie Oyegun (Meeting of 14 SDP state Governors and Babagana Kingibe, Edo State Liaison House, Ijora. December, 1992) Rashid Balogun

The Story of June 12, 1993 Featured

By News Reports / Tuesday, 03 July 2018 15:21

The journey to an enduring civilian democratic rule, against all odds, began on a day marked by events most Nigerians found a little bewildering. The plethora of promises used by Nigeria´s new crop of military leaders to justify the putsch of August 25, 1985, was visibly suspicious and brazenly self-serving. The ease at which erstwhile "military colleagues" within the ruling junta denounced their now deposed principals while promising to return the country to democratic tradition appeared manipulative.

As ex-Chief of Army Staff and strong man of the junta he toppled, General Ibrahim Babangida had warned against "undue radicalism" a few months before his putsch. Promises of a free press, freedom of expression and return to democratic culture from this man appeared pretentious. The appointment of erstwhile Commander of the Navy's Western Command, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe as the junta´s deputy leader followed the established pattern. Barely a year earlier, the naval gentleman had in unequivocal terms described the old junta he represented as one that "...was not pretending to be democratic". In which case, the issue of an early date for return to a civilian democratic rule was not considered as urgent.

Against these expressed views of Nigeria´s new crop of military leaders, novel promises were made as soon as the erstwhile Head of State, Major-General Muhammad Buhari was toppled. Political liberty, economic liberalism, social freedom and many more things were promised. The new junta presented itself as champion of the cause of Nigeria´s political class, with its pledge to return the country to civilian democratic rule. The junta identified itself with press and freedom, individual rights and rule of law.

However, an economic mandate it acquired for itself, presented in form of a policy program aimed at launching sustained economic development in the country that determined the fate of the new junta. The new leaders understood and were appeared quite prepared to encounter identified enemies of its socio-economic blueprint in a clash of will. An inevitable confrontation between both forces was destined to have profound consequences.

On the one hand, was a junta prepared to forcefully confront challenges to its economic reform program. And on the other, " organized labor" and other elements of Nigeria´s "progressive" and radical "left", spearheaded by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, ASUU, as the lightning rod of Nigeria Labor Congress NLC. "Undue radicalism", perhaps best describes the preparedness of this class to resist the will of General Ibrahim Babangida led junta, to enforce "Structural Adjustment Policy" (SAP), at whatever cost.

The bitterly fought war between the regime and the "progressive left" began on ominous note. Just as public scrutiny of motives that inspired the August 1985 Palace Coup was subtly discouraged, the regime established a number of committees headed by civilian technocrats to advise it on virtually everything. This initiative was once more overtly patronizing. President Babangida´s objective appeared to have extended beyond his desire to broaden the institutionally narrow political foundation of the junta he led. To blur the chasm between the "military dictatorship" it was, and everything it promised, the regime´s tenure in power was marked by an unusual number of civilian technocrats, scholars, and ex-politicians it hired, fired and re-hired as ministers, political courtiers and VIPs, at least. In no time, therefore, a significant portion of Nigeria´s political and intelligentsia class could clearly be identified with the "policy vision" of General Babangida. From an initial position of veiled tolerance, government disposition towards "the progressive left" and its attitude of "undue radicalism" rapidly degenerated into open hostility.

In contention was General Babangida's SAP policy design of accelerated economic development under military supervision, with himself playing a domineering role.
Against his position were views on economic and social policies advocated by "showy" radicals, leftist scholars and armchair syndicalists. But why was the junta unnerved?
To a degree not insignificant, thinking in the upper echelon of Nigeria´s security establishment was afflicted by the phobia of social revolution bogey that might upset the composition and structure of national establishment. The presupposed contradiction evolved into a full-scale confrontation between regime´s will to realize its "transformative vision" and the "Progressive Left´s" (i.e., "opposition") preparedness to resist it.

The regime found it impossible to shed accusations of its conservative, pro-business and oligarchy friendly identity. As much was obvious in its economic reform policy proposition. The decision to organize town hall debates with proponents and opponents of proposed Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP), on the pretext that government policy would be determined by public opinion was farcical. The copious sponsorship of a debate whose purpose was patently dubious, became General Babangida´s imprimatur, as President.

"Shock therapy" in economic terms, i.e., SAP, expressed in terms of a policy drive towards eliminating macroeconomic instability and its byproducts, elicited the nuisance of a 15 paged response by ASUU. Perhaps, without realizing it, ASUU drew first blood. An inevitable war was drawn and the media was forewarned of the dark days ahead.
The first call was Dele Giwa, publisher and leading light of free press in Nigeria. An invitation from State Security Service SSS indicated that he was under surveillance for betraying traits of one intent on fomenting "socialist revolution", in conjunction with organized labor and unnamed "leftist forces". Subsequently, assassinated by way of "a letter bomb" dispatched by individuals "unknown", akin to methods fashionable in certain parts of Africa, he was assassinated.
For those "teaching what they were not paid to teach", the method was different. They were hounded, deported out of the country, fired from their teaching job and ultimately exiled from the country, by a military President, that assumed the function of "visitor" to all Nigerian universities.
ASUU was proscribed and many of its members retired, fired and exiled, among them its national president, Drs. Festus Iyayi, Babs Agbonifo, Bala Usman, Idowu Awopetu, Patrick Wilmot, Professors Jackson Omene, Itse Sagay, Obaro Ikime, Omotoye Olorede, etc.

In one swoosh, the regime dealt with those it assured it knew "would not succeed
The trade unionists, leftist ideologues, university scholars and other rabble-rousers were decapitated, in a manner that President William Tolbert of Liberia failed to do before his regime collapsed in 1980.

However, in May 1989, the worst fears of the regime nearly materialized with student-led violent anti SAP uprising across cities, towns, and villages in Nigeria. The uprising coincided with the 1989 student protest at Tiananmen Square, Beijing and series of the pro-democracy revolutions in Eastern Europe. In April of the same year, South Korean students led a revolution that ended the 12 years old regime of President Syngman Rhee. Details relating to lack of a clear political program, strategic coordination and inexperience on the part the student revolutionaries, the likes of Salihu Lukman , Ogaga Ifowodo, Bamidele Opayemi, Gbenga Olawepo, prevented the uprising from transforming into a full-blown revolution. The students were crushed, their leaders arrested, street forces they herded into the streets dispersed and universities shut, some for an entire academic year.

What remained of the "progressive left" were civil societies and social activists, visible and vocal in Lagos-Ibadan press axis. In a society with less than half its population literate, served by media houses with less than 200,000 copies of newspapers and magazines circulated daily, the regime could afford to relax a little. Its "job almost done". At this point in time, the nexus between civil societies and street people was at best, tenuous. Social critics and civil societies they established lacked the capacity to design and effectively implement concepts on political resistance. Yet, what they lacked in quality, they more than made in dogged faith - i.e., insincerity or "hidden agenda" of General Babangida´s political program, and call to resist it. On daily basis, the regime´s credibility was questioned and programs mocked by Gani Feweinmi, Beko Ransome Kuti, Akao Bashorun, Femi Falana et al.

Never in the country´s history had state administration been disparaged as an exercise on subterfuge and state authority as a system sustained by underhand dealings of agential elements. The junta faced a challenge never previously encountered by any government in Nigeria.
Beyond widespread dissatisfaction occasioned by SAP, violent uprisings this induced in the streets, "stillbirth military coups" and summary execution of anti-regime putschists, loomed the greatest threat of all. A challenge that as promised, engaged, resisted and eventually, outlived the junta.

Pussyfooting that marked the junta´s attitude to its initial promise of democratic rule ended after the riots of 1989, and violent coup attempt that followed in April 1990. The pace of its political transition process was accelerated. Again, its convoluted design reignited suspicion many had of the true intentions of the regime.

The regime restricted recommendations posted by a 17 man Nigerian Political Bureau it established in 1986. Typical of it, the junta added important changes to what was recommended. Importantly, it announced a change of date from 1990, as recommended,

to 1992. Along with this was its decision to impose a five-year ban on anyone who ever held a senior government position. Those affected were told that they could not seek elective office for at least, five years. Included in the fold of those banned, were tens of thousands of members of the country´s political and business elite.

The political process leading to nonpartisan elections into local councils kicked off, without the participation of tens of thousands of members of the nation´s political elite class. Two " political parties were constituted and imposed on the country. But not before the ban placed on tens of thousands of politicians was removed. The junta invited to form political parties. After watching them expend life savings and investing borrowed resources from various sources in the formation of 13 political associations, General Babangida suddenly disbanded the 13 associations, on grounds that they were funded by private capital and unrepresentative of the nation´s character.


Between the early months of 1989 and late 1989, a staggered transition process marked by inexplicable hiccups witnessed the promulgation of a new constitution. Local Council elections and lifting of the ban on partisan politics followed. The politicians were presented one of two options, either becoming members of the party "a little to the left, i.e., the SDP or, of that a "little to the right", the NRC.

The politicians were invited to join either of the parties established by the regime, not as owners, as the SDP and NRC were the "only game in town". Regional parliamentary and gubernatorial were held in 1991. Party election into the National House of Assembly followed in 1992. Presidential election and inauguration of a new Republic originally slated for 1992 were however postponed, rescheduled and again postponed. This was the case until it finally held on June 12, 1993.


SDP and NRC party primaries to select presidential aspirants in 1992, were rejected by the regime "because reports that the primaries were massively rigged" in favor of the winners could not be ignored. Furthermore, an outcome that presented two northerners as presidential candidates of both parties was "unacceptable to it.

Therefore, the 23 presidential aspirants that participated in the primaries of both parties were forbidden from participating in the political transition process. In the fold of those excluded from the rest of the process, were the most popular personalities in the country´s political and business community. As alleged, entreaties directed at certain elements in the secretariat of parties for the results of the primaries to be re-examined, produced evidence intended. Party leaders of both parties teamed up with losers in primaries to discredit the conventions they supervised and participated in. This was all the regime required to elongate and re-direct the transition process.

Primarily, the unfolding drama appeared directed against Shehu Musa Yar´Adua, prince of the Islamic caliphate, retired General and number two man in a previous junta. Yar´Adua had invested in establishing a political structure that was effectively represented in the 30 states of federation and most the country´s 589 local councils. It would have presented a real problem to a regime that may not have been sincere about its political transition process if such an individual was not excluded from general elections at that point.

There is little to suggest that Yar´Adua wasn´t confident of General Babangida´s sincerity. His participation in the much-disparaged transition process gave the regime a measure of credibility it required to affirm its dwindling authority. To assure this, he founded the People's Front of Nigeria (PFN) in 1988. Upon the junta´s rejection of the 13 political associations initially established by politicians to participate in the transition process, Yar´Adua and his PFN moved over to the SDP. At the behest of Yar´Adua, PFN ex-Director of the organization, Babagana Kingibe was elected SDP party chairman. So effective was the PFN within the SDP, that its erstwhile Director General was directly involved in the nomination of gubernatorial, and Parliamentary candidates of the SDP in all the states of the federation.

Equally prevented from contesting elective offices, was Adamu Ciroma, the victor in the NRC party primaries. An ex-senior cabinet minister under the second republic, ex-Central Bank of Nigeria Governor and leading politician of the northern political establishment, Adamu Ciroma´s exclusion from the political process denied it of some gloss.

It might seem strange to note that the nominations and election proper into local councils, regional and federal parliaments, and the gubernatorial were successfully conducted by these political parties. Nothing was done differently, from party convention to election proper. The previous results were all accepted of by the junta until nominations for presidential election.

On October 16, 1992, the regime dissolved the Exco of both parties, at national and regional levels. In replacement, General Babangida appointed Caretaker committees to supervise the parties. Under the pretext of teaching the people basic tenets of democracy, the regime imposed Air-Vice Marshal Ishaya Shakari (Rtd) and Alhaja Lateef Okunnu as national chairpersons of the two entities it established as the only political parties in the country.

With Shehu Musa Yar´Adua out of contention, the lot appeared to have fallen on Babagana Kingibe to be presented as SDP presidential polls nominee after a rescheduled convention. A meeting of 14 SDP state Governors hosted by John Odigie Oyegun, at Edo State Governor, at his state´s liaison office, Ijora, delivered to Kingibe what he desired most. Unwavering support of all SDP state governors for his candidacy in party primaries scheduled for March 1993, in Jos. For the junta, the script was different. If Babagana Kingibe had forgotten reports on the conduct of the canceled SDP primaries, he was induced by the junta to present, the Generals hadn´t.
Unfortunately, submissions Kingibe presented to the junta were unfavorable to Yar´Adua ´s ambition.

Consistent with its peculiar brand of subterfuge, excerpts from Kingibe´s "old memo" were exposed. Still, with substantial support among party members, Yar´Adua moved to counter the aspiration of his erstwhile protégé. Buoyed by the support of 14 SDP governors he helped to install, as SDP Chairman, Babagana Kingibe still caused a tie in the primaries with a close second position, just above Atiku Abubakar, who as Yar´Adua´s new protégé came third.

Fractionalization of PFN into two factions accorded well with the interest of M.K.O Abiola, personal friend and close business associate of General Babangida, who was ahead in the first round of the primaries. Yar´Adua instructed his supporters to reject Kingibe, on the understanding that the favor would be returned with the nomination of Abubakar Atiku, as Vice Presidential candidate of the SDP. While M.K.O Abiola won the second and final round of the primaries, the said agreement was aborted. The 14 state Governors successfully persuaded the winner to accept Babagana Kingibe, as his running mate, as a basis of their support for his presidential elections campaign. The weakness of parties established by the junta and imposed on politicians was at once obvious. By sheer manipulation, the ambitions of powerful individuals were easily curtailed. Those whose support base in party politics was adjudged to be weak, were encouraged, possibly to weaken party resistance to government targeting of its representatives.

The emergence of northerners as presidential nominees of the SDP and NRC in the conventions of 1992, was presented as a reason for aborting the 1992 primaries. SDP´s presentation of an Abiola-Kingibe “Muslim-Muslim” at the Jos convention was seen as presenting an argument for the junta to again annul results of another party primaries. If the assumption is correct, then a repeat of the old performance was of little interest to the junta.

Yet, before the Jos primaries, Abiola´s political brand was not so popular. For years, he was presented in the local press as an informant of United States of America´s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and financier of military coups in Africa. He was labeled as the biggest business associate of Nigeria´s corrupt military establishment. Though he was highly visible for his philanthropic endeavors, M.K.O still was the bosom friend of a much-despised dictator, whose August 1985 military coup Abiola was said to have financed. The vulnerability of the M.K.O Abiola brand may have appeared interesting to a manipulative junta intent on disrupting its own political transition program. The luggage previously associated the political brand was heavy. Even more important was the fact that he owed his rise within the SDP to his friend´s manipulation of the political transition process, at the expense of very powerful political forces.

As for the NRC, the apparent effect of subversion within its fold resulted in the presentation of a weak an unpopular Bashir Tofa as presidential elections nominee. As a political personality, Bashir Tofa a Muslim from northern Nigeria was the weaker candidate, while M.K.O Abiola from the minority south was the stronger. Yet, the voting majority was northern. Conditions could be managed if the election was inconclusive.... the straightjacket appeared fitting.

Presidential elections held on the 12th day of June 1993. As forecasted by remnant forces of the "progressive left", it was aborted midway. Its annulment as announced by the junta was caused by judicial pronouncements against it, and faults in the transition process, which made its re-run on a future date imperative.



Again, Nigeria´s political class capitulated to "reality", with the NRC and SDP accepting the annulment as "de facto condition". Elected state governors found themselves in no position to resist "the new reality", while members of the Federal Parliament agreed in principle that military rule is extended in the country. Traditional rulers and religious leaders were invited to the seat of government and simply made to understand the position of Nigeria´s military ruler. The junta may not have considered its decision special. In Algeria not quite two years before, general elections conducted was annulled by the Algerian military on grounds of national interest. The victorious fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was successfully prevented from forming a government.


Strategic alignment of between remained of the "progressive left", and a brand as incompatible as M.K.O Abiola was hardly probable. So, the junta was caught off guard when it occurred.

At the vanguard of a plethora of civil society groups that mushroomed under the banner of "restoration of the June 12 mandate", were remnants forces of the "progressive" left. Once more, street forces were mobilized and positioned in precincts across cities and towns. Regime forces were baited and carnage erupted in several places.
On August 27, 1993, President Ibrahim Babangida "stepped aside" from power, and was succeeded by Chief Ernest Shonekan as Head of a hurridly constituted Interim National Government (ING).

 

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David Danisa

David Danisa

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