The June 12 Struggle: An Alternative Narrative: by Jaye Gaskia
We begin with a paraphrased quote from Marx; it goes thus – “The dominant ideas of every society are the ideas of its ruling classes”. Perhaps as a measure of the truism of the essence of this statement, the dominant narrative of the June 12 struggle that is being passed down is the narrative of NADECO!
20 Years after the June 12 1993 elections, the annulment of the result of that presidential election, and the consequent inauguration of the June 12 struggle as the new phase of the Anti-Military and Pro-Democracy struggle, it is perhaps time to restore the full and more complete narrative of that struggle.
Let there be no doubts about it, there were alternative narratives to the NADECO narrative in the June 12 struggle. Yes there was NADECO, a coalition mainly of the ‘progressive wing’ of the ruling class which had cohered around the winner of the June 12 presidential election [MKO], and which because of its role around MKO in the SDP, during the election, and in the immediate aftermath of the annulment, could be collectively referred to as the mandate custodian group.
But there were also the Campaign For Democracy [CD] then led by Beko, with Chima Ubani as Gen Sec; and much later by 1995/97 the United Action For Democracy [UAD] then led by Abgakoba, with Chima as Gen Sec – after the 1994 split from the CD; the Joint Action Congress of Nigeria [JACON] led be Gani; and the students’ movement, including NANS then led by Kura, and Unilag SU led by Sowore!
We may have coordinated regularly with NADECO, but we were not members of NADECO! Although we were all fighting the military and fighting for Democracy, we had different strategic visions, and different modes of operation.
Within the pro-democracy movement it could be said that there were two versions and visions of democracy that were in contention; the liberal [including its social democratic variant] democracy, and the popular [including its socialist workers variant] democracy. And it can be said clearly that while the NADECO narrative represented the Liberal vision; the other narratives between and among them represented the Popular democratic vision and version. This is a very important difference, not a cosmetic one; it is ideological and political.
Let me illustrate the qualitative difference between these competing but also collaborating narratives with a historical occurrence which significantly changed and altered the trajectory and outcome of the June 12 struggle.
After the annulment, a new wave of mass protests began across the country, and this was intensifying daily, so much so that the dictator, IBB was forced to abdicate in late August of 1993 and hand power to a hurriedly put together contraption called the Interim National Government [ING]. The ING suffered from a crisis of legitimacy from the onset, it was not accepted by the mass movement or by the mandate custodian groups. Its legitimacy was challenged in the law courts, and in November a court of competent jurisdiction declared it illegal and unconstitutional.
I can remember the scene from that historic day; from the court premises, a massive crowd of citizens, a crowd that continued to grow in numbers by the minute, left the court premises and headed for MKO’s Ikeja residence.
On arrival at Ikeja, the mass movement had one simple demand which was put to MKO and the custodian group: on the strength of the illegitimacy of the ING, now affirmed by a court, Reclaim your mandate, declare yourself president elect, name an interim cabinet, a transitional government, announce dates to convene the SNC, and call on the international community to recognize your government!
The custodians prevaricated, they stalled, and politely rejected the demand of the mass movement coordinated by the alternative narratives, and dispersed the movement!
Days later, Abacha struck, and overthrew the ING of which he was Defense Minister! How did the contending narratives respond? The mandate custodian group, which was to later become NADECO responded with caution. They somehow had an illusion in the Pro-June 12 character of the coup, perhaps because they had foreknowledge of the coup and were in the know. They sought accommodation with the coup and nominated representatives to serve in the cabinet of the coupists in the expectation that within a few months, Abacha would restore the mandate and hand over to MKO.
Of course Abacha would later betrayed them, neither meeting their expectations, nor honouring any formal or informal agreements he may have made with them!
How did the alternative narratives respond to the coup? They called for and organised mass protests, and inaugurated the Anti-Abacha phase of the pro-democracy struggle, which the betrayed Mandate Custodian Group would come back to join after being betrayed.
They would respond to being betrayed by Abacha by taking the desperate step of making the ill prepared June 1994 Epetedo Declaration of MKO and formalizing the NADECO structures. Essentially the Epetedo Declaration was in content and form the very demand that the organised mass movement had put to the custodians back in November 1993. But by this time, it was made before the media, without the mass movement, without the shield of an aroused mass of citizens on the street. In fact the people were as shocked as the dictator by the declaration. After the declaration was made, with the protective shield of the masses, it was only a matter of time before MKO would be arrested and detained, and virtually all the major actors in the November events would also be harassed, detained, framed, and murdered.
Henceforth the struggle would be waged strenuously and fearlessly on different fronts, in various trenches; increasingly more robustly on the streets inside Nigeria, and on the diplomatic circuit by the exiles.
The rest as they say is now history; we eventually won, a half victory; when by mid 1998 imperialism had to intervene to prevent a radical revolutionary outcome, by taking the two main protagonists [Abacha and MKO] out of the picture, organising their twin murders, and creating what one of NADECO’s leading lights would later on call a ‘Level Playing Field’ from which to resume a less contentious, and therefore less dangerous for Ruling Class interests [both domestic and global], ‘Transition to democracy program’!
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