Friday, June 12, 2009

June 12 Mandate

For many Nigerians, the date June 12 is a reminder of what the country could have been. After being governed by a corrupt and brutally harsh military dictatorship under the auspices of General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigerians were allowed to form political parties and have contested elections. Ibrahim Babaginda became President of the country after a bloodless coup in 1985 that overthrew the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari. Under Babangida's leadership, there was mass repression of the press and public opinion. Babangida is famously known for launching the widely unpopular "Structural Adjustment Programs," as part of economic programs in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund. The program eliminated marketing boards, abolished price controls, led to the privatization of public services, and devalued the currency. The intent of the program was to revitalize the economy, but instead, they had the opposite effect. Babangida's presidency marked some of the most economically challenging times the country had perhaps seen since I believe the Nigerian civil war. Now this might be a stretch, but according to my recollection, times were had for low income and most middle income families. Many social services were cut during Babangida's regime, and abject poverty spread. The dire conditions in the country were popularized in song by local artists, many of whom were repressed or even killed by the government.

In the midst of the corruptions, Moshood Kashimawo Kolawole Abiola, a Nigerian entrepreneur who had some connections to the government ran for the Presidency. Abiola's Presidency was significant because it marked Nigeria's move away from military dictatorship to being democratically governed. Also, Abiola a southern Muslim was the favored candidate in a country that had previously been governed by mostly northern Muslims. In Nigeria, tribalism is a major factor and was all the more so in this election. For many Africans the tribe is exalted above nationality and many will lay down their lives for their tribes before their nation. Because of the high stakes involved, the election held on June 12, 1993 was closely monitored by the international community and was in the opinion of many the fairest and most organized election the country had ever held. As the results were tallied and it was evident that the election would be called in favor of Abiola, the mood in the country changed. Although the atmosphere was a bit tense there was a palpable sense of relief and a belief that with Abiola's inauguration as President, Nigeria would once again regain the economic prowess she once held in the 1960s.

However, the results of the election were annulled by the then sitting president Babangida. The reasons for the annulment still remain unclear but Abiola nonetheless disregarded the supposed annulment and declared himself President. His actions were considered treason and he was taken into custody by armed military henchmen. Abiola was thrown into jail with the condition for his release the renouncement of his claim to the presidency. Despite his imprisonment he refused to renounce his claim, further lengthening his incarceration. His plight and renown garnered international attention, but in spite of pressure from activists across the world the Nigerian government refused to honor the mandate nor release Abiola from prison. In the ensuing drama, Abiola's wife Kudirat Abiola was assassinated for her relentless vocal campaign protesting her husband's imprisonment. Abiola would spend five years in prison, before his suspicious death on July 7, 1998 the supposed day of his release from prison. The details surrounding his death are still clouded in several conspiracy theories but he is alleged to have collapsed while in a meeting with delegates from the United States Department of State.

Had Abiola's mandate been honored what would that have meant for Nigeria? Also, it is interesting to note that the international community and with that I mean the United States government was almost silent in the wake of the annulment of the mandate and Abiola's subsequent imprisonment. It is also quite a coincidence that he died while in a meeting with State Department delegates. Is there more to this story than we know and what if any was the involvement of the United States in thwarting democracy in Nigeria? At the time of these events, George H. Bush was president of the United States of America. Could a reprisal of the Gulf War and his fear over a fuel crisis in the United States have played a role in the events in Nigeria? The United States has intervened with force in other countries with the intent of coercion. Why were they reluctant to act in this case. I am not putting the onus for a stable and democratic Nigeria on the United States, however, the gross inaction seems inconsistent with the character of the United States. Nonetheless, the annulment of Abiola's mandate coincided with Babangida's resignation, a short transitional government and the subsequent presidency of one of the world's worst dictators General Sani Abacha. Thus, Abiola was denied the opportunity to govern and leave is mark, good or bad on the country and all Nigerians were robbed of the opportunity of watching the struggle for a truly democratic Nigeria emerge.

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