June 12 – Today in Nigerian History

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June 12, 1993 – Presidential elections were held in Nigeria on 12 June 1993, the first since the 1983 military coup. The result was a victory for Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, who defeated Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. However, the elections were later annulled by military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, leading to a crisis that ended with Sani Abacha heading a coup later in the year.

General Sani Abacha died in mysterious circumstances on June 8, 1998 with the generally acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 elections, MKO Abiola still in detention. Abacha had been planning to become a civilian president, perhaps for life, and with his death, all Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief and believed the new Head of State, Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar would release MKO and make him president.

Nigerians were waiting for MKO’s release when they woke up sadly to the strange news that an otherwise healthy MKO Abiola had died shortly after meeting with an American delegation in prison on July 8, 1998. That American delegation included Susan Rice who is now America’s National Security Adviser. There were insinuations in some quarters, and still are, that MKO Abiola was poisoned in the course of that meeting.

Autopsy reports at the time indicated Abiola died of natural causes but a man who should perhaps be in the know, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Major al-Mustapha later claimed that MKO Abiola was in fact beaten to death.

Final autopsy reports conducted by international experts were never released. So, on July 7, 1998, chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola became a martyr for democracy at the age of 60. He became the man who refused to take the easy way out of prison but stood resolutely in suffering to reclaim his mandate till he died in mysterious circumstances in prison.

MKO Abiola was howver not the only casualty of the June 12 elections. Before his death in July 1998, many pro-democracy activists were randomly arrested, brutalised, maimed and killed by the despotic Abacha regime. Many notable Nigerians also had to run into exile, with some of them even betrayed by friends and returned to Nigeria to be imprisoned or as was said, ‘disappeared’.

June 12 is thus a day to remember chief MKO Abiola and other democracy martyrs. Abiola may have himself been a frontline businessman and formerly friends with some of the military officers who later snatched his electoral victory from him, but June 12 transcended Abiola’s personal ambitions. It became a popular cause of the Nigerian masses and many of them suffered in many ways to see to the actualization of that mandate that never came.

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