Twenty years ago, Nigerians trooped out in their millions, to vote in accordance with their conscience, at an election meant to serve as the culmination of General Ibrahim Babangida’s democratic transition program.
Today as we reflect on that epoch making event, let us recall the collective sacrifices Nigerians made to change our destiny. Many often speak about MKO Abiola as the symbol of June 12, and I shall come back to speak about the man and his vision shortly. But first let us recall that June 12 was a people’s movement, born out of the collective frustration and anger of Nigerian people at the direction our country was going. It was a movement that was given its first breath of life by students across Nigeria who engaged in protests against the lack of jobs in the economy. It was sustained by our activists, our market women, our unions, our journalists, and our progressive politicians.
Perhaps, it would seem self-evident, altogether natural and fitting that MKO would emerge as the symbol of this dynamic, grassroots movement. His decisive win during the elections made him the clear symbol and rallying point for the pro-democracy movement. A people’s man who walked in the corridors of power in Nigeria and around the world, he remained steadfast in defense of his democratic mandate in the face of deceit, betrayal, and treachery from his so-called friends; intimidation, threats and murder of Kudirat, one of his wives, by the military; and finally he paid for his commitment with his own life.
But today is not a day for sorrow. No, not even when the main beneficiaries of his sacrifice fail to honor the ideals for which these true democrats laid down their lives; not even when the national leadership since 1999 has sought to wipe MKO’s name out of our living memory; no, not even when poverty eats more deeply into the minds and bodies of Nigerians than it did in 1993.
Today is the day when true democrats rise up again, and dust off our shoes. Today is the day when we look at one another and say ’20 years later, we have come full circle.’ For on this day, we begin the march for true democracy once again. We begin our second battle for independence. As the progressives across the land come together in a coalition party, we are set for an election not unlike the June 12 election. Our political landscape will soon be set for another democratic election between two main parties, a contest that will force our people to move beyond primordial sentiments towards performance as the means for securing popular support.
Unlike the 1993 election, however, this time, the progressives may find that their daring, their determination, their courage and commitment will be rewarded with victory. So on this day, let us say thank you to those that blazed the trail. Let us look at each other and acknowledge that now the journey continues. May 2015 see blossoming of democracy in Nigeria.
-Hasfat Abiola-Costello is the daughter of the MKO Abiola, the winner of the 1993 presidential election. She writes from Abeokuta.