The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on behalf of Nigerian workers celebrates and congratulates all Nigerians on the 25th Anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. President Muhammadu Buhari has already declared June 12 as a national holiday in commemoration of our democracy. He has also conferred the highest honour in the land to the arrowhead of the June 12 struggle, Chief MKO Abiola. This confirms June 12 as a muster point of our democratic aspirations as one people united by the quest for wellbeing, dignity and prosperity. We salute the working class, civil society activists, the trade unions, women and student groups for their roles and sacrifice in defending the sanctity of June 12 and enthroning our current democracy.
Nigerian workers celebrate not just the day – June 12 – but the ideals and the progressive credentials of the icons behind the day. The mast of Chief MKO Abiola’s campaign was “Hope 93”. The core of his campaign message was the promise to eradicate poverty. Not a few political commentators believe that Chief Abiola’s towering image as a foremost international philanthropist and humanist rubbed a lot of credence on his promise of hope.
The results of June 12, 1993 elections showed clearly that Chief MKO Abiola’s personality and promise of poverty eradication united millions of Nigerians who defied religious and ethnic boundaries to elect him as the President of the aborted Third Republic. Out of the then 30 states, Chief Abiola won 19 states. A significant feat of great political value was that Chief Abiola won at least a state in all the geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Though from Ogun State in Southern Nigeria, Chief Abiola defeated his only rival, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, in both his ward and in his home state of Kano State. Such a feat has never been recorded in Nigeria’s political history. June 12 was simply epochal.
When the June 12, 1993 elections was annulled by the military junta led by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, it was like dusk at sun rise. Nigerians from all walks of life were united in condemning the annulment and demanding the inauguration of Chief MKO Abiola as the President of the Federal Republic. Perhaps, apart from Labour’s struggle against neo-liberal tendencies of successive governments, no other struggle has resonated with Nigerians as the June 12 struggle. For this reason, at an occasion like this, we must all be sobered and tempered by the ideals and lessons of June 12.
The first lesson of June 12, is the capacity of our people to rise above ethnic and religious sentiments to recruit political leadership solely on the basis of antecedence, performance and ability to deliver desired developmental goals. This credits our ability as a people to build a modern nation state. The fact that Chief MKO Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe; both Muslims, enjoyed popular acceptance across the geo-political zones of Nigeria deals a cruel blow on the aspirations of many politicians of today to acquire political capital on ethnic and religious premise. Abiola’s politics had content – freedom from poverty! He walked the talk. Nigerians trusted him with their votes. We can hardly say the same of today’s politician who though adorned in the garb of ethno-religious pretensions yet impoverishes the rest of us with mindless looting and dubious perks of office!
The second lesson of June 12 is that of the nobility of democratic values and struggles. June 12 represents the struggle for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria. June 12 also epitomizes the values of freedom, respect for the rule of law and social justice for all. June 12 teaches us that there is lasting reward for every genuine effort to dare injustice. Chief MKO Abiola did not give up on the mandate freely given to him by Nigerians. He dared. Today, he has truly won. We can say the same of other Nigerians such as the legendary Senior Advocate of the Masses, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who was mercurial in his fight for democratic rights. There is also the slain wife of Chief Abiola, Alhaji Kudirat Abiola, who soldiered on like a true amazon behind her persuasion on the sanctity of June 12, and amidst very horrifying odds.
The 25th Anniversary of June 12 grants us a good space to reflect on our role as organized labour in the promotion and defense of democracy in Nigeria. The Nigeria Labour Congress was proscribed by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha on the account of our principled rejection of the annulment of June 12. Many of our comrades and labour leaders suffered extreme persecution in the hands of the state because of their persuasion on Jun 12. Comrade Frank Kokori was incarcerated in Bama Prisons on the account of June 12. Space will fail us to list the names of labour leaders, academics, activists and other patriotic Nigerians including NADECO leaders who were tortured, imprisoned, exiled or even killed because of June 12.
The NLC has consolidated these efforts by championing national campaigns for electoral reforms. The most prominent milestone of our modest strive are fruits from Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, which NLC was part of. We are also making efforts to reposition the Labour Party. As we said at the 2018 May Day celebration, Nigerian workers will continue to dare and to win.
Nigerian workers enjoin the Federal Government to honour Nigerians and even foreigners who suffered enormous discomfort, endured state persecution and even paid the supreme price on the account of their unwavering commitment to the June 12 struggle. Like we admonished in our earlier press statement commending the government of President Muhammadu Buhari for the recent honor done to the memory of Chief MKO Abiola, we restate our appeal that a June 12 Cenotaph be erected in the honour of heroes, heroines and icons of the June 12 struggle. This will go a long way in institutionalizing the lessons of June 12.
The third lesson of June 12 is our capacity as a people to organize free, fair and credible elections. The National Electoral Commission headed by Professor Humphrey Nwosu designed a very unique system of electioneering known as Option A4. This dealt a mortal jab at numerous infractions in our electoral process. Nigerian workers expect that with the introduction of technology in our electoral process, elections in Nigeria should be freer, fairer and more credible than the June 12 outcome. Unfortunately, this is not so as politicians have shown from their conduct in recent elections that violence, vote buying, fraud and abuse of the power of incumbency, and not the will of the electorate, are the most critical success factors in electoral contests.
Finally, there is more to June 12 than the symbolic commemorations. We urge the Federal Government to identify fully with the ideals and lessons of June 12 by removing all obstacles to free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. This can be best achieved by evolving the needed political will for the deepening of popular democracy and fully implementing the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Report especially aspects that recommended the setting up of Election Offences Commission, representative cum non-partisan recruitment of INEC leadership and INEC unbundling for increased professionalism. We also call on the government to also enforce relevant provisions in our Electoral Act that place a ceiling on political campaign financing and criminalize violence, vote buying and sundry fraudulent acts.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni