JUNE 12: The Heroes, The Villains

By Eric Elezuo

June 12 has become an official national day, after many years of the agitation to recognize it. It was the day that Nigerians set aside tribal and religious sentiment to vote massively for MKO Abiola and his running mate, Babagana Kingibe in an election everyone described as the freest and fairest.

But the presumed winner never took office because nidway into the release of the results, the then President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida annulled the process, and there began a crisis.

While many agitated for the restoration of Abiola’s mandate, many sold out, and joined the Babangida, Shonekan and Abacha oppressors.

Below is an abridged list of those in support and against the June 12 mandate. You can add more names if there are:

MKO Abiola

The story of Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola is better compared to the beautiful bride, so beloved and cherished all because of how she distinguished herself. MKO, as he is popularly called, was the candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the disputed June 12 1993 Presidential election – an election acclaimed by not a few persons as the freest and fairest the country has ever had. The Ogun state born billionaire entrepreneur was leading handsomely when the Babangida junta suddenly annulled the election.

Abiola will not easily let go of his mandate, and with the people solidly behind him, he fought the Babangida and later Abacha junta to a standstill, and finally paid the supreme price when he died in detention on July 7, 1998, a day he was supposedly to be released, in the presence of notable world leaders. His death was a great blow to democratic and June 12 struggle.

One striking thing about Abiola’s democratic struggle was the fact that he didn’t actually need it. He was stupendously rich, and could have let go but he didn’t. He died fighting for the masses. He died a selfless democrat at 60.

Gani Fawehinmi

One of Nigeria’s finest lawyers, late Abdul-Ganiyu Fawehinmi was a human rights activist, who defended the masses without equivocation. He was fearless in his approach to matters so long as it provides succor to a citizen. Before he was recognised and awarded the coveted Senior Advocate of Nigeria, his followers had ‘honoured’ him with the ‘Senior Advocate of the Masses.’

Late Fawehinmi reported that he was arrested, detained and incarcerated a total of 32 times by successive military regimes, including those of Gen. Yakubu Gowon (six times), Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (three times), Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (17 times) and Gen. Sani Abacha (six times).

Babangida said of him, “I appreciate you that you have a strong conviction and fight for it consistently. This is the context in which I see Gani.” He added that the arrest of Gani is ‘all in a day’s work. It’s just part of the job description’. Today, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has posthumously honoured him with the GCON award.

Frank Kokori

As the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) at the time, Kokori singlehandedly paralysed the country’s economy by calling out workers in the petroleum sector to go on strike. The mass action significantly paralysed the economy, and gave the government a wake up call.

He allegedly refused carrots dangled by the Abacha regime all because of the democratic struggle.

Wole Soyinka

An intellectual of repute, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, was not left out in post-June 12 struggle. It is on record that the literary icon used his international connection to draw the attention of the international community to events in Nigeria.

He was one of the brains and voices behind the much talked about Radio Kudirat, which was set up at a time when the military had their foot on media organisations and journalists. He was also a strong pillar of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) made up of pro-democracy fighters.

Kudirat Abiola

She was the second wife of MKO Abiola, who stood stoutly behind her husband. While Abiola was in detention, Kudirat took up the mantle, and was in the forefront of the fight for his release. Joining forces with other activists and civil rights giants, she became a painful thorn to the Abacha led regime.

Her fearless journey was cut short when she was brutally murdered at the Oregun area of Lagos on June 4, 1996. She was only 44.

A partaker in her assassination, Mr. Mohammed Abdul, aka Katako, in 2007, confessed that Kudirat’s murder was state sponsored.

He said: “On the day of the attack, we followed Kudirat Abiola’s white Mercedez Benz from Ikeja to Allen Avenue and then to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. When we got to the Toll Gate area, (Sgt. Barnabas) Rogers asked me to get close to the Benz and I did. Then, he (Rogers) leaned out of the window and started spraying the victim with bullets with the P90 rifle. After that, we immediately drove to Dodan Barracks.”

Anthony Enahoro

Also a leader of NADECO, Enahoro led the coalition in the Diaspora while on exile. He was the Chairman of NADECO; the Chairman of the Movement for National Reformation and was the leader of Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO).

The statesman, known for moving a motion for Nigeria’s self-rule, never relented in his call for the recognition of the June 12, 1993, presidential election won by Abiola.

On many occasions, he escaped assassination. He died on December 15, 2010, at 87.

Beko Ransome-Kuti

Beko formed what has been described as Nigeria’s first human rights organisation, the Campaign for Democracy, which was used to tackle Abacha’s dictatorship in the post-June 12 struggle. The CHDR is also Beko’s brainchild.

Under the regime, a military tribunal in 1995 sentenced Beko to life in prison for bringing the mock trial of Obasanjo to the attention of the world. His freedom came with the death of Abacha in 1998.

He died on February 10, 2006.

Ndubuisi Kanu

He is one of the few Igbo men who fought ceaseless for the restoration of the June 12-Abiola mandate.

After his retirement from the military, Kanu joined the pro-democracy movement and was one of the leaders of NADECO during the period; he later became chairman of the coalition in 2013.

Kanu also had his share of the bitter experiences like other pro-democracy activists like him. During the struggle, he reportedly escaped assassination by a stroke of luck

Alfred Rewane

Rewane was a successful businessman, a major financier of NADECO in the post-June 12 struggle. He used his means to support his compatriots in the opposition to the Abacha regime.

He was murdered on October 6, 1995, in his Ikeja residence, at the age of 78.

Abubakar Umar

Umar was another soldier, like Kanu who opposed to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election.

He masterminded Abiola’s installation as president, and was caught, but was lucky to get away. He left the Nigerian Army in the heat of the struggle in 1993, and became a social critic and founded a political party called the Movement for Unity and Progress.

Ayo Opadokun

Chief Ayo Opadokun spent a sizable part of his life behind bars in the battle to actaulise June 12.

Alao Aka-Basorun

A former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Aka-Basorun was one of the pioneers of legal activism. Fondly referred to as ‘The Lion of the Bar,’ he was said to be one of the earliest proponents of national conference and restructuring of Nigeria’s federation.

He was one of the leading lawyers who defended Abiola during his “treason” trial, aftermath of his ‘Epetedo Declaration.’

He suffered a memory failure at the assassination of Kudirat Abiola and never recovered.

Abraham Adesanya

Adesanya, as  the leader of the Afenifere and deputy leader of NADECO remained at home with the likes of the late Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba and a host of others while many fled the country.

He mysteriously escaped the assassins’ bullets in 1997. It was during the trial of those suspected to have attacked him that revelations were made that he was marked for assassination for being a member of NADECO, a group already outlawed by the military regime.

Tunji Braithwaite

Braithwaite was one of the brains behind the ‘June 12 Coalition of Democratic Formations,’ another pro-democracy advocacy group. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he rejected offers by successive military juntas and remained in the country even as a good number of activists fled the country.

Olusegun Osoba

One of the finest journalists Nigeria has ever produced, Chief Olusegun Osoba, was the Editor and Managing Director of government-owned Daily Times Nigeria Ltd under Babangida’s regime. He had bitter experiences like his compatriots.

Osoba revealed that Babangida sacked him three times while Abacha made attempts on his life three times due to his alignment with NADECO.

Osoba said in parts, “I will call him by his name. Three times Babangida sacked me. Three times he re-instated me. At last, he converted my sack to resignation. Three times Abacha wanted to kill me. I was in hiding for one year,” he said.

Other notable activists in the June 12 struggle are Frederick Faseun, Ibrahim Tahir, Balarabe Musa, Bola Tinubu, Ebitu Ukiwe, Walter Carrington, Bolaji Akinyemi, Bola Ige, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, Yinka and Joe-Okei-Odumakin, Dele Momodu, late Chima Ubani, Debo Adeniran, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, Omoyele Sowore, Segun Maiyegun, Segun Okeowo, Femi Aborisade, Tokunboh Afikuyomi, Ademola Adeniji-Adele, Joe Igbokwe, Solanke Onasanya, Kayode Fayemi, Shehu Sani, among a host of many others.


The Villains

Ibrahim Babangida

Perhaps there is no greater villain of the June 12 struggle that Babangida. He will be remembered for his infamous annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. In fact, he started the imbroglio when on June 23, 1993, in a nationwide broadcast, he annulled the election.

Though he took full responsibility for the annulment of the election he claims it was a collective decision.

Sani Abacha

Abacha had the opportunity to right the wrongs of IBB, but failed to do so, instead he constituted himself as a terror, and planned to perpetuate himself in power.

During his regime, many lives of activists were cut short, and he caused others to flee the country. He did not stop at denying Abiola his mandate, he arrested him and held him inncustody until his death in 1998.

In his quest to kill June 12, and democracy in general, he lured and lobbied friends and associates of Abiola to serve in his government. Many of them such as the running mate to Abiola, Babagana Kingibe, Ebernezer Babatope, Lateef Jakande among others, withdrew their loyalty to the presumed president-elect.

Tony Anenih

Chief Tony Anenih was the National Chairman of the SDP, on which platform Abiola contested the 1993 election. Anenih, alias ‘Mr. Fix It,’ He practically failed to fix the people’s mandate, and forced forces with the oppressors.

Babagana Kingibe

Many see Babagana Kingibe as the greatest let down of the June 12 struggle. He was Abiola’s running mate in the 1993 contest, and common sense assumed he will stick with his principal to the end, but he became a turncoat and sold the mandate when he joined Abacha’s regime with the likes of Tony Anenih.

A lot of people have said that he does not in any way deserve the honours of GCON bestowed on him by Buhari. He didn’t fight at all before giving up. He never believed in June 12.

Uche Chukwumerije

The late Sen. Uche Chukwumerije became Babangida and Shonekan’s Information Minister while activists were fighting to reclaim the June 12 mandate. His propaganda theory was so potent that many wondered where he gets them from. He fought activists to a standstill.

In later interview, he supported the annulment based, according to him, on ‘security report…at the time’. He eventually benefitted from the democratic process as elected senator.he died on April 19, 2015,

Daniel Kanu

Kanu came from nowhere to become Abacha’s henchman and perpetrated serious anti-democratic activities, including organizing the infamous one million march for Abacha with his ‘Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha’ group. He basically dined and wined with the autocratic government.

Kanu was reported as saying, “The destiny of this nation and the transition to democracy under the present dispensation can only achieve its viable potential if handled by prudent, purposeful, and transparent leadership of General Abacha.”

When he contested and won PDP’s ticket for the House of Representatives in AMAC/Bwari Federal Constituency in 2002, he was paid back in his own coin as his was ‘annulled’ over “unverifiable certificates” and “unclear antecedents.”

Arthur Nzeribe

He was Babangida’s own henchman, and was in the forefront of truncating the June 12 election with his infamous Association for Better Nigeria.

The ABN had made taken a major step to ensure the junta remained in power by approaching a court to prevent the conduct of the June 1993 presidential election. Its argument: leader of the NRC and the SDP were corrupt politicians.

The Campaign for Democracy challenged them and won.

Nzeribe’s association, again, went to court after the poll to prevent the release of the election results. Babangida listened and the political crisis ensued.

Nzeribe later boasted of his role in the cancellation of the June 12 election.

Abimbola Davies

He was one of the directors of the Nzeribe-led pro-Abacha ABN, among several others. He has been criticised for his links with the anti-democratic forces. Davies made a u-turn shortly after, and exposed the ABN motives.

Ernest Shonekan

A kinsman of Abiola, Shonekan happily accepted the interim leadership role. He could have used the opportunity to cause, but he never did. He revolved round the presidency until Abacha sacked him three months later.

Abdul-Azeez Arisekola-Alao

The late Ibadan-based billionaire businessman pitched his tent with Babangida in as much as he was Abiola’s friend and Yoruba Islamic leader. He spoke vehemently against the June 12 mandate.

He said, “Wallahi tallahi billahillazi la’ila ha illahuwa – and we are in the month of Ramadan; that is what happened at that time. It was after the election that members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council threatened to kill both MKO Abiola and IBB, if he insisted on releasing the result of the election. They threatened to kill both IBB and Abiola.”

Lamidi Adedibu

The late strongman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, was said to have ‘arranged’ the infamous conditional bail to be granted to Abiola while in incarceration, a move that would have denied Abiola his mandate if he accepted the offer.

IBB was later quoted as saying that Adedibu supported the June 12 annulment.

Jerry Gana

Prof. Jerry Gana was one of the civilians co-opted into Abacha’s transition and being the Minister of Information, he was one of earliest people to sing the dirge of June 12.

Gana had in May 1994, almost the first year anniversary of June 12, reportedly said, “The military administration (Abacha’s regime) did not actualise the June 12 election, in spite of its opposition to the annulment, for fear that certain sections of the country could rise against it. If they actualised June 12 when they came in, another section would rise.

“The annulment is a painful one but we cannot because of it allow the people of Nigeria to be destroyed. Somebody has made a mistake like somebody made in 1966, like somebody made in 1984, like somebody made a mistake by stopping Jerry Gana from becoming a president by annulling my own primaries.”

Al-Mustapha, Sofolahan, Others

Abacha’s former Chief Security Officer, Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha; Kudirat’s former Personal Assistant, Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan; a son of late military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, Mohammed Abacha; and Rabo Lawal were in December 1999 charged with conspiracy and murder over their alleged involvement in the assassination of Kudirat Abiola.

After 13 years of instituting the case, which was presided over by five successive judges and during which the accused persons were in prison custody, Al-Mustapha and Shofolahan were sentenced to death by a Lagos High Court on January 30, 2012.

Lawal Pedro, who led the prosecution, had accused Al-Mustapha of ordering Barnabas Rogers, (alias Sgt. Rogers), a member of Abacha’s Strike Force, to kill Kudirat. However, the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos on Friday, July 12, 2013, discharged and acquitted al-Mustapha and Shofolahan, saying there was not enough evidence to incriminate him in the murder of Kudirat. The verdict overturned the death sentence passed on al-Mustapha by the Lagos High Court.

Similarly, the likes of Bashir Tofa, the candidate of the NRC, who has yet to openly admit that Abiola won the election; Chief Tom Ikimi, the chairman of NRC, who defected to Abacha’s camp; Humphrey Nwosu, who couldn’t muster the courage to release the remaining results and others.

The Five political parties that adopted Abacha as their sole candidate for the election are also great enemies of the June 12 struggle. Someone had described them as the ‘five leprous fingers of Abacha’.

Additional Info from The Punch

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