By Ezra Odogu
Struggles led by pro-democracy activists three decades ago for the enthronement of civilian government in Nigeria echoed from the past, as the nation marked National Democracy Day, on Monday.
In Lagos, the commemoration coincided with a two-day summit held in honour of the late Chief Moshood Abiola — the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election adjudged to be the freest and fairest process in the nation’s political history.
The ceremony, which marked the 30th anniversary since the annulment of the historic June 12 election, was held in the main hall of St. Leo Catholic Church in Ikeja, where 121 pan-Yoruba groups, under the aegis of Alliance for Yoruba Democratic Movements (AYDM), gathered to reflect on the significance of the June 12 movement in contemporary struggle for political stability and sustenance of democracy in the country.
The special guest and Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said June 12 remained a watershed in the nation’s annals of democratic struggle, noting that citizens’ resistance, spearheaded by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), came with devastating consequences, of which the late Abiola paid the supreme price.
Sanwo-Olu, represented by the Deputy Governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, said the ripple aftermath of the military’s opposition to the de-annulment of the election, had devastating effects on the social, economic and political fabric of the country.
The Governor said the election of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima revived the spirit of June 12 and the hope that it signified, stressing the last presidential election de-emphasised the divisive issues of ethnicity and religion in leadership recruitment.
To sustain the spirit of June 12 and move the country forward, Sanwo-Olu said the country must discourage ethno-religious conversations in the political process, while espousing the value of purposeful leadership to tackle contemporary challenges bedeviling Nigeria.
He said: “Today, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of that historic election in the annals of our country, it is proper and necessary to pay glowing tribute to the memories of the symbol of that struggle. Chief MKO Abiola GCFR, his loving wife, the late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola and all those who sacrificed their lives, including those Nigerians who were killed on Ikorodu Road in Lagos.
“We note the indelible efforts of frontline pro-democracy campaigners, both dead and alive, who were thorns in the flesh of the military despots that annulled the common will of the people. Many of these activists tasted brutality from the oppressors but refused to be cowed. Other paid supreme price and laid down their lives for the freedom we enjoy today.
“The victory of President Bola Tinubu and his vice, once again, reignited the spirit of June 12 and the hope it signifies by de-emphasising the divisive issues of ethnicity and religion in leadership recruitment. As we mark this day, I urge all Nigerians to remain steadfast in guarding our democracy as one great people with common destiny. We must keep our hope alive and have faith in the “Renewed Hope” being championed by the new administration.”
Sanwo-Olu noted that Lagos played a symbolic role in the enthronement of democracy and political development in the country, as the State became the epicentre of resistance against military dictatorship and suppression of civil liberties.
The Governor said Lagos offered the platform for the pro-democracy campaigners to launch their activism against the military regime, adding that the State would continue to play prominent roles in the sustenance of liberty, constitution and fairness.
“What is most profound about this year’s Democracy Day celebration is the fact that, for the first time since 1999, we now have at the helm of affairs, one of the foremost leaders of the June 12 struggle. As a major player in the journey to enthroning an enduring democracy, rule of law and social justice, President Tinubu will put in his best to fulfil his promises to all Nigerians,” Sanwo-Olu said.
The President of AYDM, Adewale Adeoye, a pro-democracy activist, said the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election was a consequence of power struggle among the military oligarch, noting the event suppressed the aspirations of all ethnic groups in the country.
Adeoye, a CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the Year winner, said young Nigerians must be educated on the tyranny of the military regimes, stressing that the military rule must not be allowed again despite the imperfections of the democratic government in place.
He said: “Democracy is work in progress. Let the echoes of our voices be heard across the country. There must never be military rule in Nigeria again. The worst version of democratic rule is far better than the most benevolent military dictatorship.
“Despite the faultlines, we need to defend the free electoral expressions of Nigerians in the last elections. This we shall uphold with all our strength, our blood, our veins and with all the energy within us. June 12 Anniversary is meant to remind us that Nigeria must never be governed again by fascists in military uniform.”
Secretary-General of the defunct NADECO, Chief Ayo Opadokun, said election of Tinubu as President reflected the hope for which the late Abiola sacrificed his life, urging the president not to fail the country.
“Tinubu is a major symbol of political activism. He is not only representing Yoruba people in Government, he is also a respected member of the pro-democracy community. I urged the president to bring our hopes to reality,” Opadokun said.
The summit conveners honoured President Tinubu and Governor Sanwo-Olu as symbols of democracy.
Dr. Hamzat led pro-democracy campaigners to the residence of the late MKO Abiola in Ikeja to lay wreath on his tomb as a mark of tribute to his memory.
The activists were received by the late Abiola’s eldest daughter, Mrs. Lola Abiola-Edewor and Lekan Abiola.
Ayo Abiola, daughter, thanked Lagos State Government for the continuous honour of June 12, saying the Sanwo-Olu administration had championed and elevated the struggle with good governance and economic prosperity.
She said the late Abiola family believed the struggle for which their patriarch sacrificed his life was becoming realizable, because of the election of a key figure of the movement as president.
“We are of the hope that President Tinubu will uphold the principle and the underlying values of the June 12 as he discharges the duties of his government. We pray all the sacrifices everyone has contributed towards the sustenance of June 12 will bear rewarding fruits for all Nigerians in this dispensation,” she said.