Is there a “spirit” of June 12, 1993? Very often, in the passionate debates over the whys and wherefores of the presidential election of that date, there is often a lot of controversy as to whether it has left a lasting legacy for Nigeria. In spite of those who claim that it was merely the climax of a flawed process, without any lasting effects whatsoever, it cannot be doubted that, whatever its shortcomings, June 12, 1993 brought into being a new set of attitudes and ways of thinking that have continued to influence the country’s approach to issues of governance, ever since.

The most obvious evidence of this is to be seen in the way in which June 12 symbolised the most profound manifestation of the ideals of republican democracy. All of the dangers and obstacles that had hitherto bedevilled the electoral process in Nigeria were overcome by a combination of circumstances that had never before asserted themselves to this degree in Nigerian politics.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) had put up a Muslim-Muslim ticket, comprising Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe as presidential and vice-presidential candidates, respectively. The conventional wisdom was that such a combination would never succeed in a nation that was so deeply divided along religious lines. The cynics were proved wrong, as even Christian religious leaders declared that they had no problems with the Abiola-Kingibe ticket. The election itself was distinguished by a large turnout of enthusiastic voters and the absence of violence. There was very little demonstration of the ballot-stuffing, multiple voting and the other malpractices that are a familiar feature of the electoral process in Nigeria.
This was due in no small measure to the innovative open-closed ballot system also known as ‘Option A4’. Through it, voters had the satisfaction of knowing what the local results were before leaving the polling booths. As a result, voting on June 12, 1993 was characterised by patterns that were strange in a nation where the parochial dominance of ethnic champions was the norm.

The SDP defeated the rival National Republican Convention (NRC) presidential candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, even in his home state, a victory that Tofa himself accepted as legitimate. Elsewhere, the popularity of candidates crossed ethnic lines as Nigerians freely gave their votes to the individuals of their choice.

In essence, the spirit of June 12 is encapsulated in its assertion of the right of the citizenry to freely choose those they wish to govern them, and to do so in a manner that respects the sanctity of their votes. In an election where the worst was feared, nothing but the best emerged, regardless of the flaws that characterised the run-up to the election itself. These shortcomings are undeniable, and they centred on the weak foundations that resulted in the ultimate un-sustainability of a magnificent electoral process, beyond the election itself. The SDP and the NRC were political parties that were patently artificial creations which had been brought into being by military decree and a tortuous process of proscriptions that virtually disenfranchised many politicians, and gave rise to accusations of a hidden agenda.

The midwives of the return to civilian rule were not as sincere or as committed as they should have been, and thus created opportunities for groups like the Association for a Better Nigeria (ABN), to exploit. Even an institution like the judiciary was unable to rise above the rot, as dubious judgements were delivered, one of them at night, on the eve of the election. The National Electoral Commission (NEC), which had assiduously worked to conduct a free and fair election, lacked courage when it needed it most, and was not able to release the remaining results of the election. It came as no surprise that the SDP’s own leaders delivered the final blow, by helping to scuttle the putative victory of June 12 that they should have defended stoutly.

In spite of the fact that these negative factors contributed to the undermining and eventual lowering of the esteem of June 12, 1993 election as a triumph of the electoral process, there can be no doubt that its spirit remains. This is because the day confirmed the belief that Nigeria can live up to the ideals of freedom, justice and equity. It showed that ethnicity, religion and other primordial interests would be of secondary importance if truly national leaders emerged, and if the citizenry was free to choose the candidates it wanted.

For so long as free and fair elections continue to be unattainable in Nigeria, for so long will the spirit of June 12, 1993 live in the minds of the nation and its people.

Not even the attempts in some quarters to immortalise May 29 as “Democracy Day” can in any way diminish the watershed that June 12, 1993 represents in the consciousness of Nigerians. For sure, May 29 could not have been without the criminal annulment of the June 12, 1993 election by the Ibrahim Babangida regime. June 12, it was, that begot May 29. So, the Federal Government would do well to straighten the record by according June 12 its desired position in history. This is not only in the interest of the symbol of that election, but also to immortalise all the martyrs that died in the course of events that followed the annulment.

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