June 12 And The Struggle For A Real Democratic Tradition in Nigeria By Jaye Gaskia,
It is June 2013, and once again it is the anniversary of the June 12 1993 election and its outcome, one that has played a quite significant role in shaping the history of our democracy, and our popular struggles since then. But this is not just another anniversary, it is the twentieth!
Perhaps now after 20 years, those who were part of that struggle can attempt a more rigorous reflection separating myth from reality, fact from fiction, and tales from history.
What made the June 12 election, the annulment of the results of that presidential election, and the political crisis and impasse engendered by the annulment such a significant and pivotal part of our struggle and democratic journey as a nation?
First we must understand the context, which is the apparent contradiction involved in a situation where the outcome of a process rejected and opposed by the popular movement and citizens’ organisations, became the corner stone of the same popular struggle waged by citizens’ organisations going forward.
The transition program of the IBB military dictatorship had become interminable and endless; the deceptive dictator had lied his way through several postponements, thus by the time of the commencement of this particular phase of the endless transition, the general populace, including elements of the ruling elite, had long ceased to trust or believe the dictator; particularly after the series of banning which excluded the leading elites of the political elites from the transition process.
So a two party system was imposed, and after the sanitization of the field, MKO and Tofa emerged the presidential candidates of SDP and NRC respectively. The elections were conducted, the mass movement urged a boycott insisting on its demand for a Sovereign National Conference [SNC]. The results were being announced, MKO was on the way to a huge victory, the regime panicked, and on the strength of a ‘bought’ court order first stopped the announcement of results, and then proceeded to out rightly annul the election.
The annulment of the election result immediately precipitated a political crisis, driven by mass protests organised and coordinated by the mass movement whose goal had always been for the end of military dictatorship and the thorough democratisation of the polity and all aspects of national life.
For the mass movement the annulment was a vindication of its analysis of the inherent deception in the transition program, and the implication was the elongation of the rule of the dictatorship. Thus was the stage set for a monumental epochal and historic popular uprising and revolution of the Nigerian peoples.
After a series of mass protests, the uprising forced IBB to step aside and hand over to an illegal Interim National Government [ING] on August 27th 1993; the ING was rejected and fought by the popular movement until a court declared it illegal in November and its position became no longer tenable having lost both popular and legal legitimacy.
In Lagos, on the day that the court pronounced the ING illegal, a massive procession moved from the court house to MKO’s house in Ikeja; By afternoon, the Ikeja MKO house had become like Gani Fawehinmi Park/Freedom Square during the January Uprising of 2012. The court pronouncement and the mass movement outside the gates of the house caught the custodian of the stolen mandate and the group of ‘progressive’ ruling class elites around him off guard.
The movement came with one demand: Claim your mandate; declare yourself the president; constitute a transitional government; and convene the SNC!
The custodians of the mandate faltered, they prevaricated, and proverbs came tumbling out in rapid succession, all to the effect this demand was difficult to fulfill. A historic opportunity was missed; by June 1994 when the custodians felt confident enough to act and make the Epetedo Declaration; the moment had been lost. The declaration was made not in front of a mass movement mobilised to protect the mandate, but in hiding! This time it was the popular masses who were caught off guard. The holder of the mandate was promptly arrested and sent into detention from which he couldn’t come out until he was murdered four years later.
With the custodians of the mandate prevaricating and faltering after the ING lost its legal legitimacy, and nature abhorring a vacuum, the military struck again, led by that remnant of the IBB regime, left in position within the ING as a praetorian guard! The Abacha dictatorship was inaugurated.
Now it is important to understand the seeming immediate paralysis of the popular mass movement and popular struggles!
The Custodians of the mandate [that is the winner of the mandate and the fractions of the ruling elites cohering around him], who would later on in the course of the dark days of the Abacha dictatorship become organised into NADECO [National Democratic Coalition], had in varying degrees some level of illusion in the coupists; and had some form of believe that the Coup after all that the nation had gone through, was a Pro June 12 Coup, and that its leaders after a reasonable transition period would revalidate the results of the June 12 election and hand over power to the winner.
It is said, and has been whispered ever since that they even had foreknowledge of the coup; certainly this allegation of advance knowledge and being consulted, and that the consultation was handled by the number two person in the emergent regime.
This allegation of some level of complicity in the coup, explained why there was so much prevarication in November 1993 when the moment could have been seized in front of a mobilised masses; it explains further why the custodians of the mandate were represented in the new regime by persons which they had nominated to work with the regime; and it also explains on the mass movement side, why a section of the activist movement urged patience with the new regime. There appeared to have been an understanding and expectation among the custodians that the regime would within the shortest possible time restore the mandate; and among the section of activists, that this restoration of the mandate would also lead to the convening of the SNC. Thus in this believe around an apparent coincidence of interests laid the foundation of the historic compromise and mistake that enabled the dictatorship to consolidate its hold on power, and led it towards the trajectory of brutal repression, particularly after the custodians and the section of activists realised that they had been betrayed, and returned to join the popular movement’s offensive against the regime.
The split of the popular movement led by the Campaign For Democracy [CD] at its convention in Ibadan in February 1994 was directly precipitated by this allegation of complicity, and the mood of expectation it generated. The movement split, the two factions unable to find a consensus ground; those who felt betrayed, staged a walk out, and began their concrete regrouping in 1995 with the formation of the Democratic Alternative [DA]; a process that was consolidated, and reached a climax with the establishment of a new coalition; the United Action For Democracy [UAD] in May 1997.
The renewed struggle waged against the Abacha dictatorship tentatively from 1994, and more vigorously from 1995, gathered steam and from 1997 to 1998 reached its apogee of a near permanent campaign of civil disobedience and dissidence. Every important date was commemorated with mass protests, and the May 1st 1998 workers’ day was the moment that the dam was breached, the levees broke, and the flood of unceasing mass protests unfolded. The regime was caught in a spiral of mass protests and something had to give before the Revolution was consummated.
All fractions of the ruling class was in panic, along with their imperialist backers. A solution was designed. Get rid of the problem. Perhaps if the maximum ruler was killed, this would assuage the popular movement, and a new transition program could commence thus saving the established order from the ravages of a mass revolution. This was tried, and on June 8th 1998 the dictator was killed. But rather than assuage the movement, it simply emboldened the movement, as the movement became more insistent on the restoration of the mandate, establishment of the transitional government and convening of the SNC.
Since by now positions had also hardened among the various factions of the ruling elites [pro and anti June 12]; it became obvious that the only way to get the entire ruling class to move forward on the basis of a common consensus is to also get rid of the winner of the mandate and symbol of the movement. If he was removed from the scene, then there was no longer any mandate to be restored, and a level playing ground could be achieved for all the factions to rally round. Thus was MKO also killed in July 1998.
JUNE 12 STRUGGLE; RESULTS AND PROSPECTS:
So what is the significance of the June 12 struggle to our struggle to remake our country and fully democratise all aspects of our national life?
For this let us look at its character, its outcome, and the struggle that it helped to energise and reinvigorate.
The June 12 election was supposed to be the climax of a long and convoluted transition program by a deceptive military dictatorship. Instead in its annulment it became an end to one regime [IBB], and a beginning of a new regime [ING], but not the one issuing from that election [MKO].
The annulment was meant to prolong the rule of IBB, instead the crisis which emanated from it and the reinvigorated mass protests led to its termination and the stepping aside of IBB.
But even more decisively is the fact that the victorious ticket was a Muslim-Muslim ticket; a ticket that swept the votes across the country irrespective of ethnic, or religious affiliations. In that sense the election marked a new beginning, and the realization of the mandate could have helped to lay afresh the foundation for a new Nigeria, where loyalty is to Nigeria citizenship and not to ethnic or religious origins; but alas we lost an historic opportunity.
In the struggle to revalidate the results of the election and restore the mandate, we also got very close to actually concluding a life transforming revolution. Between August and November 1993 we had three governments [IBB, ING, and Abacha regimes], one replacing the other in quick succession; not even the recent Arab spring was this phenomenon achieved.
But perhaps the most significant lesson for our current situation as a country, that can be drawn from the June 12 struggle, and which was reinforced by the January Uprising of 2012; is the self limiting strategy of the movement, including both of its wings, that is wing represented by sections of the ruling class/political elites who find themselves in temporary dissidence against a particular regime; and the other wing represented by activists and active citizens who work with and lead mass popular movements, that are engaged in a more or less permanent historical struggle with the status quo and system [not just particular regimes].
What does this self limiting strategy consist of? It consist of a theory and practice, a strategy and tactical maneuvers, which while orienting itself on mobilisation of popular anger into popular acts of dissidence, nevertheless is insufficiently trustful of the capacity and capability of the popular masses to make the revolution and be the primary agents of change.
This self limiting strategy is such that it sees weakness [at least political and economic weakness] in the masses it is mobilising, and therefore looks to external agency for change. Thus in the June 12 struggle, because the custodians of the June 12 mandate could not envisage the restoration of the mandate through any other means except the act of a sitting government; they ended up looking up first to the ING and next to the Military, and the Abacha coupists for the authority to restore the mandate.
On the other hand, many activists could also not conceive of the convening of the SNC except through the act of a sitting government compelled by the mass movement to convene it. It was lost on these activists that no sovereign authority would help its opponents to convene a parallel source of sovereign authority to it.
So these activists like the so called progressive sections of the ruling class end up looking outside the movement and outside of the popular masses for the capacity to make the decisive changes needed to consummate the revolution.
So both the custodians of the mandate and a section of activists lacking any confidence in the capacity of the masses, and fearing the repression of existing regimes, went on to perpetuate in the June 12 struggle a certain level of illusion in existing regimes with respect to restoration of the mandate and convening of the SNC.
It is the same challenge that we face today as we seek to deepen our democratic experience. Again a strong illusion in elements of the ruling class as the messiahs of the people is being unwittingly perpetuated.
The tragic mess we are in today as a nation is being attributed to fraction of the ruling class in power since 1999 [the PDP], and not to the entire class [including APC]; the problems are being seen as failures of particular policies, not a systemic failure; and therefore the ground is laid for the perpetuation of the illusion consisting in the fact if only we could exchange one wing [PDP] of the ruling elites for another [APC]; our problems will be solved and the mess cleared up.
The historic lessons of the June 12 struggle, and the January Uprising need not only be learned, but also internalized; for as Saint Just said very long ago; ‘those who half make a revolution, merely dig their own graves’.
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