June 12 is one of those important dates that’s impossible to erase from Nigerian history. It’s a date that sticks out. So, why’s June 12 such a big deal in the country?
It’s about an election
June 12th, 1993, was the day Nigeria conducted what’s widely considered by local and international observers as its freest and fairest presidential election.
MKO Abiola won that election
MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was adjudged the winner of the June 12 election as he had won over 58% of the total votes cast before collation was paused. His only opponent in the contest was Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
Babangida annulled the election
Even though Abiola was widely considered the winner of the election, he was never officially crowned the winner. General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government cut Abiola’s victory dance short by annulling the election.
Corruption was used to justify the annulment
Babangida’s decision was unpopular at the time. To justify the annulment, he said more than ₦2.1 billion was spent by presidential candidates to undermine the election. He also accused officials and party agents of electoral fraud. The military government’s reasons for the annulment didn’t fly with Nigerians and the international community.
The annulment ended the Third Republic
The June 12 election was going to cement Nigeria’s return to a democratic system of government. State governors and lawmakers had already been elected and in office before the government annulled the presidential election. Nigeria would’ve returned fully to civil rule on August 27th, 1993, if everything went according to plan.
Babangida stepped down months later
After eight years in office, the June 12 incident increased pressure on Babangida to step down as promised. He handed over power to an interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan, who was tasked with completing Nigeria’s transition to democracy.
Abiola rejected a Vice Presidential appointment
Shonekan named MKO Abiola the vice president of the interim government Babangida handed over to, but he rejected this. The interim government was unpopular and ruled to be illegal by a Lagos State high court.
June 12 paved the way for Abacha
The chaos of the annulment of the June 12 election paved the way for General Sani Abacha’s military coup of November 1993. He overthrew the interim government and ruled Nigeria until his death in 1998.
Abiola died fighting for his June 12 mandate
MKO Abiola protested heavily against the annulment. One year later, on June 11th, 1994, he declared himself president of the country. His declaration prompted the Abacha government to arrest and detain him for four years. He died of a heart attack as he was about to be released a month after Abacha’s death.
June 12 birthed the National Democratic Coalition
The annulment birthed the formation of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which was an influential pressure group of pro-democracy activists who called on Abacha to step down for Abiola to claim his mandate. Abacha’s government blamed the group for a series of attacks that targeted the military. Many civil society groups and trade unions also protested against the Abacha government.
There were martyrs
The annulment of the June 12 election wasn’t well-received by the Nigerian public. Security forces killed protesters while trying to suppress protests against the government. The military government also assassinated prominent people like Kudirat Abiola, MKO’s wife, and Chief Alfred Rewane, a financier of NADECO, over their agitation for June 12.
June 12 didn’t become Democracy Day until recently
Democracy Day used to be celebrated every May 29 since 1999, the year Nigeria eventually returned to civilian rule. President Buhari changed that in 2018 when he made June 12 Nigeria’s new Democracy Day. He also conferred the posthumous title of Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola.
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