The date June 12, will from this year 2018, be remarkably seen in a different light by Nigerians. The reason is not farfetched: President Muhammadu Buhari had recently declared the day as Nigeria’s official Democracy Day.
According to the President, the change in the date from May 29 to June 12 was necessary because it represents a much “more symbolic” day in Nigeria’s democratic history in which “Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will”
Going back into history, that was the day when the 1993 presidential election was conducted by the then National Electoral Commission, NEC. The combatants on the ballot paper were the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola from Ogun state and Bashir Othman Tofa, an indigene of Kano state. Abiola, popularly known as MKO Abiola, was the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, while Tofa was the candidate of the National Republican Convention, NRC.
The turnout by the electorate was reported to have been massive. Results were already trickling in from across the federation. Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the NEC Chairman, had already declared the results of 14 out of the then 30 states plus the Federal Capital Territory when, suddenly, the entire election was annulled by the regime of the former military president, Ibrahim Babaginda.
Chaos erupted following the annulment of what President Buhari described as the “freest, fairest and most peaceful election” in the country since her independence in 1960.
Although the entire election results were not released, the unofficial results archived in the vaults of Nigerian History Channels, have now become public knowledge. The total number of votes cast, according to the unofficial count, was 14,293,396. Abiola won 19 states with a total of 8,341,309 votes (58.36%), while Tofa won 11 states with 5,952,087 votes (41.64%).
Of utmost importance, however, to this piece is the voting pattern for both candidates by Nigerians.
Abiola, the presumed winner of the election, got a significant victory in virtually every geopolitical region. This was irrespective of ethnicity, tribe or faith. Despite picking Babagana Kingibe, a Muslim from Borno state as his running mate, Abiola won four states in the oil-rich South-South region. He also clinched Anambra state and had a close margin against Tofa in other states in the South-East, despite Tofa picking Sylvester Ugoh, an Igbo Christian, as his running mate.
Apart from cruising in the South-West, his own region, the SDP candidate also swooped the North-East and shared the North-West with his NRC opponent. Abiola, surprisingly, won in Tofa’s home state, Kano, as he gained a five percentage point over his rival. His winning streak also comfortably extended to the North-Central.
Nigerians, therefore, kept aside their religious, cultural and social differences aside and voted massively for a candidate, whom they believed had the capacity to govern the country as president. Abiola, apparently, got his mandate from a very broad level of the Nigerian electorate, and he was ready to accept it before it was unceremoniously truncated.
So, if Nigerians across the political, cultural and religious divide could curtail their legitimate or spurious thoughts, worries and doubts, and were united in 1993, why can’t such display of harmony be displayed in this present era?
On a daily basis, the press is awash with stories of several persons, including elder statesmen, politicians and public commentators, stating provoking comments. These incredulous and inciting statements, made by people who should know better, could gravely affect the indivisibility and stability of the country. Older persons and the youth, who have studied History, will recall the adversity that trailed Nigeria as a result of the Civil War.
Nigerians must, therefore, endeavour to ensure that peace we are enjoying in our nascent democracy is retained. This can be achieved by refraining from all forms of actions that can heat the polity, and also respecting the diversity and rights of each person and group. And a perfect example laid down for the citizens to adhere to peace is the recognition of the June 12 election; an electoral process which majority of Nigerians came out en masse to choose their candidate in a peaceful manner, and also spoke in one voice for the actualisation of the mandate when it later turned to a struggle.
President Buhari has begun the recognition of a process and struggle that united Nigerians 20 years ago. We as Nigerians can take a cue from the symbolism of the 1993 election recognition and forge together a strong, indivisible country populated by a proudly tolerant, multicultural and interreligious people, especially as the 2019 general elections approach.