Participants at the 19th anniversary of the June 12 presidential election call for concerted efforts to tackle the twin scourge of corruption and poverty
In what has become an annual ritual, Nigerians from all walks of life celebrated the historic June 12 1993 presidential election with unusual panache last week. Instead of the annual practice of calling on the federal government to immortalise Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, acclaimed winner of the election widely believed to be Nigeria’s freest and fairest till date, organisers of the commemorative events adopted a different approach this year. After acknowledging that renaming the University of Lagos, UNILAG, Akoka, now, Moshood Abiola University, MAULAG, after the late democracy icon is a “token effort” to redress the injustice done to him, the core message of the 19th anniversary of June 12 is to seek concerted efforts to address head-on a myriad of issues that have been left unaddressed since the 1993 electoral debacle, especially protracted issues of endemic poverty and corruption.
One of such events that drew large audience is a symposium that took place at the City Hall in Osogbo, capital of Osun State. Although the programme started behind schedule, guests at the event organised by the Amitolu Shittu-led Committee for Democracy and Rights of the People, CDRP, had enough feast of ideas for their time. Declaring the event open, Adegboyega Oyetola, chief of staff to Governor Rauf Aregbesola, described the June 12 election, which was annulled by Ibrahim Babangida’s junta, as “a crucial defining moment in Nigeria’s recent political history.”
The topic of the symposium is, Corruption and the Future of Democracy in Nigeria: Any Hope? After cataloguing series of horrendous crises Nigeria and Nigerians suffered in the hands of successive military regimes that mal-administered the nation in the wake of the painful annulment, Oyetola reminded Nigerians that the democracy the nation enjoys today is traceable to the ultimate sacrifice made by Abiola. Yet, Abiola is still being denied his rightful place in the nation’s political history, even in death, Oyetola lamented.
Speaking at the event, Aregbesola said he is in agreement with the federal government, which renamed UNILAG in honour of Abiola who paid the supreme price while struggling to actualise his popular mandate. He however added that the federal government’s gesture was a “token honour because Abiola’s life was worth more than 10 universities.” The governor also added that the federal government would have to fulfil some conditions before the recognition done to Abiola would be meaningful. First, Aregbesola said the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan should announce Abiola as official winner of the historic election, including according the late politician all the entitlements of the office of president. After this, the governor enjoined President Jonathan to declare June 12 of every year as MKO Abiola Democracy Day, instead of May 29. On his part, Aregbesola promised that he too would ensure that a bill is passed in the state to recognise the day as MKO Abiola Democracy Day. At another June 12 anniversary in Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, former governor, however criticised President Jonathan for renaming UNILAG after the late politician, saying the gesture portrayed Abiola, whose mandate cut across all ethnic and religious boundaries, as a sectional hero.
Delivering his address at the event in Osogbo, Ife Adewumi, chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, OAU chapter, who was the guest lecturer at the event, said Nigerians need to wake from their slumber to tackle the scourge of society-wide corruption if the nation is to free itself from the current economic and political quagmires. After providing a thorough etiology of corruption and poverty, twin evils ferociously ravaging the polity, Adewunmi said Nigerians should learn how to fight for their rights, insisting that things will change for the better only if people begin to ask questions about how the public affairs are being managed. While reminding the people that one of the cardinal programmes that endeared Abiola to many Nigerians was his well-articulated blueprint on how to banish poverty from the land, the guest lecturer insisted that one of the best honours that can be done to the memory of Abiola is to win the war against endemic poverty. Adewumi, who spoke extempore for about two hours without a dull moment, decried the practice among voters who take bribes before casting their votes, saying there exists a strong and positive correlation between corruption and poverty level in any society.
Femi Falana, lawyer and human rights activist, was of similar views. He said the attitude of many Nigerians encourages corruption, adding that because Nigerians are always in a hurry and too docile to hold their leaders accountable. He therefore admonished every Nigerian to join the crusade against corruption. Speaking in the same vein, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State urged all Nigerians to develop the courage to change things that inhibit their collective will and interest. Other highlights of the Osogbo event was the unveiling of a voluminous banner containing the names of great Nigerians and institutions which the CDRP adjudged to have made the country proud during the bloody days of the struggle to de-annul the 1993 presidential election. In the list of credible organisations were TELL magazine, while individuals include Bola Ige, the slain attorney general and minister of justice; Kudirat Abiola, slain wife of late business mogul, among many other names of both the living and the dead, especially politicians, media icons, human rights activists, and academics. But the 19th anniversary was not limited to Osun and Lagos states; similar events were held in four other states – Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, and Ondo – where similar views were canvassed.