June 12: Nigeria is trapped in MKO Abiola's 1993

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Late MKO Abiola

If there is an accurate word to describe the Nigerian experience in 2017, it would be 'demoralised'.

Nigeria is a poor student of history. This is not a secret.

Despite the baffling exclusion of history as a subject in Nigerian classrooms, the events of June 12, 1993 is one that remains in the conscience of the Nigerian people, if only superficially.

The military government of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) had seized power from Major General Muhammadu Buhari's government in a 1985 coup, with claims that it'll be a transition government that will hand over power to a civilian government by 1990.

 

Babangida seemed to deliver on this promise when his government established the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in 1987, and legalised the formation of political parties in 1989, enabling the country's two leading political parties, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) to nominate its presidential candidates.

 

The SDP nominated a certain Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (otherwise known as MKO Abiola) April 1993, while the NRC nominated Bashir Tofa to run against him in the now infamous June 12, 1993 election.

MKO Abiola was adjudged the winner of that election after winning 58.36% of the total votes cast, claiming 20 of 30 states.

 

The election was regarded by an overwhelming majority of national and international observers as the country's freest and fairest electoral process but Babangida's military regime strongly disagreed, claiming the opposite.

On June 23, 1993, the military Head of State issued a statement annulling the June 12 elections.

He issued a decree to repeal the Presidential Elections (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provisions) decree and terminated the transition process to democratic governance.

The chaos this catastrophic decision caused eventually led to the overthrow of Chief Ernest Shonekan's interim government by General Sani Abacha in November 1993.

 

Abacha's forceful installation of himself as the country's Head of State threw more confusion into Abiola's bid to somehow have his mandate recognised by the Nigerian state.

After a frustrating year, MKO Abiola, backed by the international community, declared himself the "President and Commander-in-Chief" of Nigeria, in a speech in the Epetedo area of Lagos

ALSO READ: The Epetedo declaration that killed MKO Abiola

This act prompted the authoritarian Abacha to send 200 police vehicles to arrest and detain Abiola on charges of treason against the state.

 

Abiola would later die in custody under suspicious circumstances on the day he was due to be released on July 7, 1998, four years after his arrest.

For a lot of reasons, MKO Abiola's declaration speech is interesting.

It is titled "Enough is Enough", and in it, the statesman lists a host of reasons why he wants to be the man to change the Nigerian narrative.

It can be argued that his failure to gain control has had an impact that we still experience today, because those narratives he wanted so much to rewrite are still burning in the Nigerian consciousness.

 

It would shock only a few to realise that the only thing that has changed in the Nigerian space since that fateful year in the country is the faces of the people at the helm of power. And this is only half-true, because old faces persist.

 

In a section of his address, Abiola lists a few problems with Babangida's regime that he's hoping to overcome with his democratic government.

"We are tired of the military's repetitive tendency to experiment with our economy: Today, they say "no controls." Tomorrow; they say "Full controls". The day after, they say "Fine tuning". The next day, they say "Devaluation." A few days later, they say "Revalue the same naira upwards again Abi?" he begins.

"All we can see are the consequences of this permanent game of military "about turns;" high inflation, a huge budget deficit and an enormous foreign debt repayment burden, dying industries, high unemployment and a demoralised populace."

Remove the word 'military' from the quote, and that statement would be as accurate as if someone said it in 2017.

In February 2017,  the naira closed trading at N525 to the dollar at the parallel market. Life was incredibly hard for the average Nigerian as the country's economy suffered a midlife crisis and tried to discover how low it could possibly plunge.

Democratic President Muhammadu Buhari had resisted calls to devalue the currency, and instead floated it after its value unbearably depreciated to worrying levels.

In 1993, Abiola was concerned with an unstable economy that made a habit out of tormenting the average Nigerian, as well as the disillusioned youth that the government couldn't find enough ways to put to work.

 

In 2017, we face the exact same problems, with an even more overflowing population.

On Monday, June 5, 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released worrying figures that reported the current unemployment of 7.9 million Nigerian youth aged 15-34 years.

ALSO READ: 61.6% of Nigerian Youth are unemployed – NBS says

If there is an accurate word to describe the Nigerian experience in 2017, it would be 'demoralised'. MKO Abiola used that word in 1993, and the country remains frozen in that time.

Abiola continued, "Our youths, in particular, can see no hope on the horizon, and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain. Is this the Nigeria we want?"

There's a running gag on Nigerian Twitter that concludes that the Nigerian dream is to travel out of the country and never look back.

 

It's played for jokes half of the time, but an unsurprising percentage of Nigerian youths will jump at a  real chance to depart the country's harsh shores and slave away in foreign lands.

This is not because they are unpatriotic, it's because the only thing Nigerian patriotism offers you in exchange is scorn.

Scorn that unrivalled conviction in your country's ability to scale unbelievable heights if it would allow itself is not enough as it continues to be undermined by the powerful and intellectually-limited ruling class.

The government keeps tripping over itself to commend Nigerians who have succeeded outside of the country's climes, shamelessly unmindful of the fact that they are not providing the same platforms for the youths at home to achieve that same kind of success.

The answer to Abiola's question is no. This is not the Nigeria we want. He asked that question in 1994, we should feel ashamed that it's still a relevant question 24 years later.

 

Abiola wasn't done at this point, "We are plagued also by periodic balance of payments crises, which have led to a perennial shortage of essential drugs, that has turned our hospitals and clinics into mortuaries."

There's a laughable culture of Nigerian politicians milking an elaborate ceremony out of providing the most basic infrastructure for the citizenry.

In a recent example, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom provided wheelbarrows for youths in his state, with "Gov. Ortom for you" branded on the sides.

Before you ask; no, these are not sentient futuristic wheelbarrows that will help you surf the seas to far and distant lands of shiny plunder.

They are regular wheelbarrows that look like this!

 

It is a fitting example of the shameful culture in the country where anything done with taxpayers' money has to be venerated with useless commission ceremonies just to say, "Hey, see me! I'm using your money to do the absolute least possible!"

These are the same politicians that go months without paying civil servants the measly wages they are paid to begin with, while their own meatier wage packages never fail to light up their fat bank accounts.

The politics of Nigeria is like that of the parlour trickster; distract the spectators with fancy sleights of the hand, and you can get away with murder.

 

For context on the state of the country's health sector, President Buhari has been away on medical leave since May 7.

He has not been holed up in a government health facility in Abuja being taken care of by Dr. Ebuka and nurse Kike. No.

He has not been laying low in a private health facility in Lagos exposed to the portentous voice of Dr. Kabiru. No.

One would think that maybe he's only gone back to his home state of Katsina so his favourite physician, Dr. Abubakar can tend to his health, but no.

The president has been holed up in his supplementary native city of London!

 

For anyone having trouble with geography like I do sometimes, that is over many seas, hills, mountains and millions of jaded Nigerians.

It's hard to make a case for the country's health sector if its president is the medical tourist-in-chief.

"A scarcity of books and equipment has rendered our schools into desolate deserts of ignorance," Abiola said.

Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) has been inactive as a tertiary institution for the better part of the past two years, because of an organ-measuring contest between the Osun and Oyo State governments.

 

As a Nigerian undergraduate in a federal institution, it is wise custom to mentally add an extra year of inevitable action strikes to your stipulated years of learning.

This is the reality of the Nigerian education sector.

It's a painful exercise to even start to talk about the quality of education on offer when backroom issues are not getting in the way.

During my service year, I worked in a school where the textbooks were left to gather dust and literal rust while students in the classroom desperately needed them.

They never had access to them but they adorned the useless library because we have internalised the culture of appearance over substance.

This was obviously the same that Abiola saw fit to desire to correct.

In 1994.

We have not done any better, 24 years later.

With his Hope '93 campaign, Abiola raged against the status quo of which the Nigerian public had already grown weary, declaring, ""Enough is enough of economic mismanagement!"

 

In his campaign for the presidency, President Buhari raged against the same status quo under the umbrella of Change.

 

With the subdued performance of his administration so far, another mild-mannered charlatan will seek the anointing of the Nigerian people and rage against the same in the 2019 presidential elections.

If history is any decent teacher, the Nigerian space is caught in a debilitating time loop that no one can really map a way out of, not with the divisive and selfish manner being displayed by the few who manage to grab onto important positions of power with their grubby little hands.

The country continues to boil with the same issues; economic upheaval, sectarianism, tribalism, political dishonesty, infrastructural immobility, with the bonus credit of terrorism and misguided militancy it has earned itself over the years.

 

Nigeria is a poor student of history, so this cycle is going to keep spinning for a while yet until we get serious as a nation and decide we are ready to get down to the business of actually fixing the problems we have inherited from years of nonchalance and self-righteous delusion.

No one person can accurately predict what the Nigerian fate would be right now had MKO Abiola been able to claim his mandate, but it will always represent a monumental waste of opportunity for the country.

And for now, an irreparable one.

Our mumu never do.



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