On Tuesday June 12, it will be the 25th Anniversary of the Presidential election of 1993. Many claimed it was the freest election held in this country. Sadly it was annulled.
To some it was like yesterday. While many will be wondering so soon? I’m told that some lovers of democracy are already planning events to mark the anniversary. I passed through Ojota last week on my way to Lagos Island. I saw a big statue of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola being erected at a site not far from where his late wife, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola nee Adeyemi (1951-1996) was assassinated on June 9, 1996.
With reference to Mr. Max Siollun and reports of human rights practices of the Consulate General of the United America in Lagos, I will attempt to chronicle some of the events that led to the election and the annulment thereafter. Please pardon me for my omission if I have left out some other events.
On January 13 1986, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida established a political bureau with the following as members. S.J. Cookey (Chairman), E.O. Awa, A.D. Yahaya, Haroun Adamu, Ibrahim Halilu, Pascal Bafyau, Oye Oyediran, Tunde Adeniran, Sam E. Oyovbaire, Bala Takaya, O.E. Uya, Sani Zaharadden, Mrs. Hilda Adefarasin, Mrs. R. Abdullahi, Ola Balogun, Edwin Madunagu and Abdullahi Augie (Executive Secretary).
He established the bureau with the following terms of reference: (a) Review Nigeria’s political history and identify the basic problems which have led to our failure in the past and suggest ways of evolving and coping with these problems. (b) Identify a basic philosophy of government which will determine goals and serve as a guide to the activities of government. (c) Collect relevant information and data for the Government as well as identify other political problems that may arise from the debate. (d) Gather, collate and evaluate the contributions of Nigerians to the search for a variable political future and provide guidelines for the attainment of the consensus objectives. (e) Deliberate on other political problems as may be referred to it from time to time.
That was the first signal that General Babangida unlike his predecessor, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, would hand over to an elected government.
In establishing the bureau, he declared “Today the majority of our people must begin the process of altering the course of our history for the better by debating and discussing our way forward. Let the search for a new political order be the starting point for forging that collective consciousness. It is a matter for ever Nigeria. It is a matter that touches on the stability, peace and progress of our nation. I urge you all to participate in earnest in the debate. It is therefore the additional responsibility of the Bureau to sensitise and energise the ordinary people towards the search for this order. I would like to warn that this Administration does not want a regurgitation of the political models of the so-called advanced countries of the world. If this were our desire, we would not have wasted your time, and ours, by inviting you here. Rather, we would simply have turned to the many volumes and various encyclopaedia on these alien constitutions. We cannot, indeed we must not, lift foreign constitution and political models. At this juncture, I wish to make it abundantly clear that the ensuing debate, is not an invitation, open or covert, for partisan politics. It is a collective search for a new political order; it is a call for a country-wide debate in order to illuminate our path towards the search. It is neither a call for political party formation, nor the assertion of claims and pleas for leadership on behalf of the people. It is certainly not a call for post facto wholesale justification for past systems and heir operators both of who have failed us as a nation”.
A member of the bureau, Dr Edwin Madunagu was dismissed from the bureau after he was accused by fellow members of leaking confidential information regarding the bureau’s work. Another member, Mr. Ola Balogun resigned from the bureau for undisclosed reasons.
On March 26 1987, the political bureau submitted its report and recommended that any Nigerian who had not been previously convicted of a criminal offence be allowed to participate in politics in the 1990’s as well as the gradual replacement of the military administration by civilians.
The Armed Forces Ruling Council then set up a nine member committee (including five military officers from the AFRC) headed by Major-General Paul Omu to study the report of the bureau and prepare a white paper on it for the AFRC.
Thereafter General Babangida appointed a member of the bureau, Professor Eme Onuoha Awa (1921-2000) from Amaekpu Ohahia in Imo state as Chairman of the National Electoral Commission. Professor Awa was a Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. On September 4 1987, Local Government election time-table was released. It was scheduled for December 12 1987 while registration was to hold between October 12 and November 1.
On July 11 1987, the white paper on the political bureau was released and a new date of 1992 was given for Army’s handover. Other items in the white paper included the retention of Presidentialism and the rejection of any religion as state religion.
On February 28 1989, Professor Henry Nwobu Nwosu succeeded Professor Awa as Chairman of the Electoral Commission. Professor Nwosu was a former student of Professor Awa at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Under Colonel Robert Akonobi as Military Governor of Anambra state, Professor Nwosu from Ajalli served as Commissioner for Local Government an Chieftaincy affairs and later as Commissioner for Health.
On October 7 1989, General Babangida told the nation that his Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) having considered the reports of the political bureau has decided to establish two grassroots political parties. He declared “Government should establish a grassroots two party system, with headquarters set up for the two new parties in each Local Government Area. NEC, which claimed that the manifesto of all the political associations studied “cluster around the centre of the ideological spectrum, a little to the left and a little to the right”, will use the manifestoes already submitted to synthesise two manifestoes for the two parties and recommend these to the AFRC. NEC will also synthesis a party constitution for the political parties. The draft manifestoes should reflect a party to the right and a party to the left of centre of the political spectrum. Both the manifestoes and the constitutions will be translated into local languages. Government will work to raise political consciousness of the people, stimulate their enthusiasm, using appropriate organs including the Directorate for Social Mobilisation (MAMSER), the educational system, the local government administration approved voluntary agencies. Every qualified member in each Local Government will register with either of the two parties, and obtain a membership card with his or her picture attached. All members will now be equal ‘founders’ of either party. No one, except Government, which is neutral, sponsors the two parties. Party officials will be elected in a stepwise progression from Local Government Area conventions, through state to national delegate convention, strictly on the basis ‘one man one vote’.