June 12 for Africa: A Nigerian Political Story

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According to a study by the Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), out of a total of 49 sub-Saharan African states, at least 20 were involved in some form of armed conflict in 2020. This places African armies at the centre of events and under scrutiny.

Many African armies are to blame for military coups backed by political actors, as happened in Mali, Guinea, and Sudan. This story is about how a military government truncated democracy in Nigeria after free and fair elections were held on June 12, 1993. And how the day became a public holiday in Nigeria.

June 12 commemorates the presidential election held on June 12, 1993, which is widely considered one of the freest and fairest elections in Nigeria’s history.

During this election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a prominent businessman, ran as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and enjoyed significant popular support across ethnic, religious, and regional lines. However, the military regime led by General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the results of the election, thereby preventing Abiola from assuming office as the President of Nigeria.

This annulment sparked widespread protests and civil unrest across the country, leading to a prolonged political crisis. Eventually, General Sani Abacha seized power in a military coup and ruled Nigeria until his death in 1998. Abiola himself was arrested and detained by the military regime, where he remained until his death in 1998.

June 12 cannot be discussed without the proper mention of the military regime that took over after it. Abacha’s regime was brutal, and it enveloped some of the common dangers associated with military rule in Africa, which include:

Suppression of Democracy: Military governments often come to power through forceful means, such as coups d’état, which undermine democratic processes and institutions. They typically suspend or dissolve existing democratic institutions, curtail civil liberties, and suppress political opposition. This leads to a lack of political freedom and stifles the development of democratic governance. The first act of leadership exhibited by General Sani Abacha was the dissolution of all political associations and parties.

Human Rights Abuses: Military governments in Africa have been known to engage in widespread human rights violations. These abuses may include extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, censorship of the media, and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. The absence of civilian oversight and accountability mechanisms often allows military regimes to act with impunity. The rampant killings associated with military rule in Africa are another reason why it should never be allowed to happen anywhere on the continent. The inexplicable deaths of several people during Abacha’s day pushed many into exile from Nigeria.

Economic Mismanagement: Military governments in Africa have been criticised for their poor economic management and misallocation of resources. In some cases, military leaders prioritise military spending at the expense of social development, education, healthcare, and infrastructure projects. This mismanagement can lead to economic stagnation, high levels of corruption, and increased poverty and inequality. Abacha took over power in 1993 and held on to it till his death. Nigeria is still trying to recover the loot that happened during those dark economic years of her history.

Political Instability: Military governments can contribute to political instability and recurrent cycles of coups and counter-coups. The overthrow of one military government often leads to the rise of another, creating a cycle of instability that undermines governance and hinders socio-economic progress. Frequent changes in government disrupt long-term development plans and erode public trust in political leadership. General Aguiyi Ironsi truncated Nigeria’s first republic in 1966, and he was overthrown by other military officers six months later. Major General Buhari overthrew a democratically elected government in 1983 and was later kicked out by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida on August 27, 1985. The coups and counter-coups kept happening from 1966 until 1999. It has been proven that military rule only leads to more political instability.

Lack of Legitimacy: Military governments often lack popular legitimacy as they come to power through undemocratic means. This lack of legitimacy undermines public confidence in government institutions and can lead to social unrest, protests, and resistance movements seeking to restore civilian rule. The absence of credible and accountable leadership hampers the country’s progress and hinders international cooperation and investment. Many died during the unrest that ensued after the June 12 election annulment due to the protests of the pro-democrats and the vengeance of the military government of the day.

Undermining Civilian Institutions: Military governments tend to marginalise or weaken civilian institutions, including the judiciary, civil service, and legislature. By concentrating power in the military, these governments disrupt the checks and balances necessary for good governance. The erosion of civilian institutions impedes the development of an effective and accountable government structure. One of the first casualties of any military rule is the suspension of the constitution and the lawmakers giving way to degrees made by the force of the Army.

International Isolation: Military governments often face international condemnation and isolation due to their undemocratic nature and human rights abuses. This isolation can result in economic sanctions, reduced foreign aid and investment, and limited diplomatic engagement. The lack of international support further hampers the country’s development and limits opportunities for cooperation and partnerships. Nigeria was sanctioned by the United States of America and banned from FIFA activities due to General Abacha’s brutal military rule.

It goes without saying that Nigerians experienced all the above-listed ills associated with military government during the days of the military junta under the late General Sani Abacha.

To mitigate these dangers, it is crucial for African countries to promote and strengthen democratic institutions, uphold the rule of law, foster respect for human rights, and encourage civilian oversight of the military. Building a strong civil society, investing in education and public awareness, and promoting regional cooperation and integration can also contribute to a more stable and democratic Africa.

Before we lose track of what we are talking about, the focus here is June 12, and the day is for all Africans due to its significance to democracy.

The significance of June 12 lies in its recognition as a symbol of democracy, popular will, and the struggle for political freedom in Nigeria. The annulled election and subsequent events galvanised pro-democracy movements and highlighted the desire of Nigerians for democratic governance.

After the return to civilian rule in 1999, subsequent administrations recognised the importance of June 12 and its symbolic value to the Nigerian people. In 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari declared June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day, replacing May 29, which had been the previous date of celebration. This decision was made as a posthumous recognition of Chief MKO Abiola’s victory and in acknowledgment of the significance of June 12 in Nigeria’s democratic history.

By establishing June 12 as a public holiday, Nigeria pays tribute to the ideals of democracy, national unity, and the ongoing struggle for good governance. It serves as a reminder of the importance of free and fair elections, the protection of human rights, and the continuous quest for a more inclusive and democratic society.

Africans deserve to have an enduring democracy without any military intervention. Of course, the ongoing carnage of war in Sudan could have been avoided if the military had left governance to the Democrats.

To amplify the message of June 12 as it relates to the tenets of democracy in Nigeria, Africa, and indeed the world at large, the African Union and the United Nations should consider declaring June 12 as World Democracy Day.

Every part of Africa should be galvanised for political and democratic freedom. The ideals of democracy should be embraced by all Africans. June 12 is Democracy Day. June 12 is for all Africans.



















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