FEATURE ARTICLE

Lekan Akinosho a.k.a Scoro 8Tuesday, August 10, 2010
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Nigeria

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THE ROLE OF HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS IN THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF NIGERIA (PART THREE)

his chapter will focus mainly on the nebulous transition program of the military as well as highlight the contributions of human rights organizations, which came together under the auspices of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), an umbrella political organization, which was used to mobilize the mass of the people in the process of democratization. A mention will also be made of the factors responsible for the success of human rights groups, as well as their problems and limitations. This chapter will equally examine the interventions of other organizations such as the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (NUPENG), and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN), which contributed in no small way to the "June 12" struggle in the enthronement of civilian rule.


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Political Transition Programs and Democratic Struggles

The terms democratic transition and demilitarization are used interchangeably in the Nigerian context. The ready explanation for this is found in the long period of military intervention in the politics of the country. The unmistakable mood of the generality of the people, which suggested an unequivocal rejection of the ruinous military regimes, threw up these terms as the need to challenge the menace became compelling. This section seeks to examine the military regimes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida (August 1985- August 1993), Sanni Abacha (November 1993-June 1998), Abdusallam Abubakar (June 1998- May 1999), and the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan (August 1993- November 1993), and the travails of democratic governance.

When Babangida came to power in a palace coup of August 27, 1985, he promised to correct the human rights abuses of the General Muhammadu Buhari government, and he immediately unbanned labour unions and professional associations that were proscribed by his predecessor. Press restrictions were eased and prominent government critics were brought into the government. He released all the political detainees and a new effort was launched to cultivate the support of the political class, holding aloft the mendacious banner of a promised transition to civil rule. By promising to hand over power to an elected civilian administration, it is arguable that Babangida's government wanted to defuse the most potent source of opposition to the regime. Against this background, the first thing he did was set up a Political Bureau to come up with a blue print for transition to democratic rule. This bureau was composed of: the Directorate for Social Mobilization (MAMSER), the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the National Population Commission (NPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), and the Constituent Assembly (CA), among others. He announced that he would hand over power to an elected civilian government in 1990.

Gen. Babangida left no one in doubt that his would be a very short regime. This action led him to win public support, especially when contrasted with some of the ruthless and repressive policies of the Buhari dictatorship against the civil society. As noted by Remi Aiyede:

Four decrees issued by Buhari military regime were particularly worthy of note because of their import for civil society. These are decree number 2, 4, 13 and 17. The first, (Decree 2), empowered the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters to detain persons for a period of three months without trial for any act prejudicial to state security. The second, (Decree 4), enabled the government to jail journalists for publishing 'false accusations' against public officials. The third, (Decree 13), placed the government above the law by removing all actions of the government from the jurisdiction of the courts. The fourth, (Decree 17), removed the rights of workers in the work place and sought to protect the government against court proceedings by public sectors workers dismissed by the government .

To appreciate the nature and character of the political transition program Babangida embarked on, it is important to start by examining the transition program itself through the mode of operation of the Political Bureau mentioned earlier. "The activities of the Political Bureau and the report are crucial for two main reasons. First, they constitute a very important means through which the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Nigerian people, and acceptable political formula and economic arrangement, were clearly expressed and articulated. Second, they give a measure of the democratic content of the transition exercise, as they afford a juxtaposition between what constitute the legitimate political demands and wishes of the Nigerian people and what were eventually pursued as the political transition programme" .

The Political Bureau was inaugurated on January 13, 1986, against the backdrop of guiding the country towards democratization, which Babangida promised when he took over power. It comprised 17 members, led by Samuel Cookey, who were given the mandate to fashion the blueprint of a new polity for the country. This policy was based on national consensus and acceptability that would lead to political stability and development in Nigeria. The terms of reference of the Political Bureau were:

  1. To review Nigeria's political history and identify the basic problems which have led to its failure in the past and suggest ways of resolving and coping with these problems.

  2. Identify a basic philosophy of government that would determine goals and serve as a guide to the activities of government.

  3. Collect relevant information and data for the government as well as identify other political problems that may arise from the debate.

  4. Gather, collect and evaluate the contributions of Nigerians in the search for a viable political future and provide guidelines for the attainment of the consensus objectives.

  5. Deliberate on other problems as may be referred to it from time to time.

Within a year and three months, the Bureau was able to complete its assignments after consultation and discussions with cross sections of ethnic, labour and other stakeholders in Nigeria. However, the students' body led by NANS was not involved in the consultation as it was not recognized by the government despite the fact that students did not recognize the ban by the government. There was no consultation with the human rights as a group but individually as they were still in the nascent stage. The members submitted their findings to the government on March 1987. Two fundamental issues to be drawn from the recommendations, which became popular among the civil society and stakeholders, include the nature of the Nigerian political economy and the termination date for the military regime of Babangida. On the first, according to the Bureau, there is a relationship between Nigeria's political problems and the character of the state and the economy . It was recommended that the government should adopt a socialist socio- economic system in which the state shall be committed to the nationalization and socialization of the commanding heights of the national economy . On the terminal date, it reported that the transition process should be a didactic one, which should emphasize political learning, institutional adjustments and a reorientation of the political culture at sequential levels of politics and governance, beginning with the local government and ending at the federal level . The terminal date for the transition project was set for 1990. A committee led by General Paul Omu, a retired military officer, was set up to review the report and also the committee recommended 1990 as the terminal date of the military. However, this recommendation was set aside by the government who came out with 1992 as its own terminal date.

Many things started taking shape in the course of this transition. After the setting up of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Professor Eme Awa was appointed the Chairman, only to be sacked on February 28, 1989, and replaced with Professor Humphrey Nwosu. On May 3, 1989, the ban on partisan politics was lifted, and the NEC came out with guidelines for the formation of political parties. Thirteen political associations applied for registration, but only six of them were to be political parties. This recommendation was later overturned by the military regime. The question to ask is: was the decision not to register these parties really the making of the NEC that was supposed to be independent? The answer to this can be found in the announcement of Babangida on October 7, 1989. He made a broadcast to the nation stating that none of the associations would be registered as political parties. Instead, he went ahead to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which had a slightly left of the center ideology, and the National Republican Party (NRC), which had a slightly right of the center ideology, telling prospective politicians to seek membership and registration with either of these two parties . This action was considered very undemocratic by many observers.

The party registration episode shows that the NEC took orders directly from General Babangida. It could not even register the parties that met its own guidelines. Furthermore, the military government also banned old politicians (those who held political offices from 1960 to 1983), from participating in the current political dispensation and according to the regime, "we would not serve our people yesterday's food in glittering new dishes" . The banning of old politicians came with Decree 25, and the argument of the military junta was that it would limit political corruption and money politics. This was a deliberate ploy on the part of the scheming military regime to create disunity among the members of the political class. Babangida knew that it was simply impracticable to exclude the old and more experienced politicians. He had expected this move to heat up the polity, thereby predicating the much-desired elongation of his rule on the bickering among the politicians. He failed, as they were able to outsmart him. Despite their ban, these older politicians continued to play politics by covertly supporting the new breed in both the SDP and NRC.

The politicians, in their bid to send the military back to the barracks, quickly lined up behind the two government-sponsored political parties. However, on December 18, 1991, the ban on the old breed politicians was lifted, as the regime said, it wanted a level playing field where everybody could participate in the political process. This confirmed the suspicion that was rife among the people that the military needed an excuse to scuttle the democratic process. This action could also be interpreted to mean that the government wanted the support of the old breed to achieve its purpose.

From the foregoing, one argues that this was a "teleguided" transition to civilian rule. The regime was certainly interested in parties that should participate in the process, but it also had an idea of who among would succeed, if it ever had the plan to relinquish political power in the first instance. The parties were established as veritable parastatals funded and run by the government. Never in the history of the nation had an imposition been so overtly brazen as under the Babangida military junta. It is inconceivable that any independent-minded politician can emerge from such contraption. How could such parties produce any president that could challenge Gen. Babangida's misdeeds? It was evident that Babangida wanted to be sure that the succeeding regime approximated the wishes of the military. Nobody was left in doubt as to the intention of the government not to allow those perceived as "extremists and trouble makers". On December 20, 1991, Babangida made a statement to the effect that "while we the military did not know who would succeed us, we knew who would succeed us" . This exposed the true nature in the whole charade.

In addition, the government attempted to use the transition program to transform the political class. Babangida repeatedly stressed his commitment to a new kind of politics in Nigeria, one that was more respectful of democratic institutions and deemphasized practices that promoted fraud, ethnic chauvinism and frowned at base material motives.

According to John Lucas,

"[t]he transition program can be interpreted as an extended game between the military and the political class, in which each aspired to displace the other. Barring this outcome, the military hoped to use its interventions in the political program to expand their influence over the political class, while the members of the political class struggled to increase their influence and preserve their independence" .
Furthermore, the kind of democracy Babangida was trying to design for Nigeria was guided by the military to ensure that the status quo of despotic and blatant corrupt arrangement was put in place. The people were effectively excluded from the calculations mainly informed by self-perpetuation and the consuming passion to sustain their base taste nurtured by avarice. This legacy was ultimately bequeathed to the Nigerian people by the military.

Just as the manipulation of the transition was unfolding, Babangida came under severe criticism that he had a hidden agenda. In his response and true to the military style of governance, several military tribunals were constituted, taking the role of civil courts. Decrees meant to suppress and repress agitation were churned out in droves and were meant to deal with special cases that threatened the interests of his regime. In 1990 alone, the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) promulgated 41 draconian laws. The constraints imposed on this work by its scope dictates that we examine four of the decrees: Decrees No 2, and 9 of 1990 and 1991, and 47.

Decree No. 2 was first promulgated in 1984 under the military regime of Buhari and was known as the 'State Security and Detention of Persons'. It gave the regime power to detain anybody considered a threat to national security without trial. Such a person could be held for three months. This decree was used to detain two former leaders of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Gbenga Olawepo and Gbenga Komolafe, the then NANS Public Relations officer, and the Senate Deputy Leader, in the aftermath of the anti SAP protest of 1989. However, on December 1, 1989, the Nigerian Bar Association, led by late Alao Aka Bashorun, challenged the detention and the decree in a Lagos High Court. In his ruling, Justice Odunowo declared that the arrest and detention of the two student leaders by the state security service was illegal and tantamount to the abuse of power by the state. He submitted that Decree 2 was an abuse of due process of law and unjustified under the rule of law, and that the NANS officials should be released. The ruling of the high court did not deter the Babangida regime as several innocent Nigerians continued to be subjected to this law. It was used to detain critics of the governments such as Gani Fawehinmi, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Femi Aborisade, Femi Falana, many human rights activists and students who expressed their views about the (state of the nation), as no contrary opinion was correct except that of the military. Therefore, the government restricted freedom of speech, movement and assembly, and those who dared try to contravene or challenge the military were considered a security threat.

The second Decree was Decree No.2 of 1990 granted immunity to the Head of State, the Chief of General Staff, and State Military Governors, from civil or criminal liability for any action they might take in either their personal or official capacity during their tenure, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria . Third, was Decree No.47 of 1991 that forbade any court from hearing any matter before military tribunals. This was used against General Zamani Lekwot, a retired military officer and others during the civil disturbances that occurred in Kaduna state in 1991. Finally, Decree 47 of 1989, which gave powers to the Minister of Education, Vice-Chancellors, Rectors, and Provosts to expel, rusticate or punish in any manner that might satisfy their whims and caprices, students who were believed to have contravened the provisions of the decree. In addition, a five-year jail term or a fine of fifty thousand naira or both to be imposed on any student who organized or took part in student demonstrations.

As a result, many students in tertiary institutions across Nigeria were expelled . These Decrees ran contrary to what the Babangida regime stated when he first came to power; that his rule was going to be different from that of his predecessor. He promised to correct the human rights abuses witnessed under the Buhari regime, most especially there was a definitive statement made in respect of adherence to the rule of law. The media, which was originally courted by the new regime, became a constant target. "Media houses were shut at will, with magazines or newspapers confisticated, journalists were harassed or detained and draconian decrees were enacted against the press with the aim of inducing 'self -censorship' by the press" .

It must be noted that it was not only the Campaign for Democracy that was critical of Babangida's regime as reflected in the protest, as disaffection also came from his own constituency. On April 22, 1990, some junior officers staged a coup that was led by Major Gideon Orkar. Their argument for the coup was that they were dissatisfied with the regime and the way that Nigeria was drifting which posed great danger for the unity of the country. They called for the balkanization of the country that was being controlled by Hausa-Fulani ethnic group. In the evaluation of the issues the coupists raised, Julius Ihonvbere stated that, "The implication of the Orkar's coup was that the argument of Nigeria's unity as being unchallenged and unchallengeable was in fact challenged and issues of separatism and irredentism came to the fore. This was because the coupists mentioned the historical geo-ethnic domination of Nigeria by a segment of the people as a cardinal reason for their coup" .

The coup was suppressed and the first election held under the transition timetable of Babangida started with the local government elections in 1987, on a non-party basis. This was followed by the one on party basis in 1990, for the local government elections, state legislative elections, and governorship elections. The presidential election followed on June 12, 1993. In 1992, the two political parties, SDP and NRC held their first presidential primaries as the government had decreed that the contest for the party presidential nomination would occur in a series of six primaries in the different zones of the country. These were to be carried out from July to September of 1992. In the intra party elections in which two contending candidates seem to be emerging, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua of the SDP and Adamu Ciroma of the NRC, the presidential primaries were annulled and the government banned all the contestants. The cancellation of the election by the government was due to the avalanche of controversies, protests and criticisms that occurred in the exercise. If we analyze the election that took place, one can see that the politicians where still playing politics of the old way where they wanted to win at all cost. There were accusations of bribery, electoral malpractices and intimidations by the more powerful candidates who colluded with NEC officials to rig the election. Moreover, it shows that the transition programme was suffering from credibility and transparency problem both from the Babangida government and the political players. Even so, in the rescheduled election for new candidates, two presidential flag bearers that were not part of the building of the two political parties emerged: Chief Moshood Abiola for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Tofa for the National Republican Convention (NRC).

In the national election that was held on June 12, 1993, Abiola clearly defeated Tofa in the unofficial results that were released. In the votes, Abiola the SDP presidential candidate won 8,341,309 million votes, scoring a percentage 58.36% and won in nineteen states of the federation including the Federal Capital Terrirory. Tofa the NRC candidate had 5,952,087 million votes, 41.64% and won in eleven states . A day before the election, an organization that was calling for the prolongation of Babangida's regime, Association of Better Nigeria (ABN), which was formed by Senator Arthur Nzeribe, went to court in order to stop the election. The application to stop the conduct of the election was granted by a high court sitting Abuja. However, the National Electoral Commission argued that the court had no jurisdiction over elections and refused to obey the court's injunction. After the voting, another court injunction ordered the NEC not to announce the results until a substantive case concerning the elections was determined. The Babangida government was accused of being the brains behind and sponsor of the activities of the ABN in order to have legitimate grounds to cancel the election through court order. If there was sincerity on the part of the regime, what it should have done was not only to call the ABN to order, but also charge those behind it with sabotage for trying to contrive confusion in the election.

I arugue by all standards, the June 12 presidential election was not only a watershed in the political life of Nigeria, but was the "freest and fairest election in Nigeria" . The victory of Abiola was significant in that it was the first truly national in all respects as he got support from every region and even defeated his opponent Tofa in his home town of Kano. It was the first time that a Southern candidate was able to win the presidential election in the political history of Nigeria. This victory convinced not only the political class and human rights organizations that the military would never surrender power to a civilian government. It became clear that despite the imperfections of the transition programme, Nigerians were going to make a success of the transition and force Babangida to go.

As it will be demonstrated in the following section, the annulment provoked reactions from the civil society who were tired of Babangida's antics. They could not fathom why the Babangida regime used the pretext of court to annul the election that was devoid of rancour. Abiola was not only a friend of the military, but was also a personal friend of Babangida's family. If Babangida were sincere about the transition program, he would have allowed the completion of the process by allowing the declaration of Abiola as the winner of the election. His decision to annul the election confirmed his earlier statement that the military knew those who would not succeed them.

The Intervention of Human Rights Groups in the Process of Democratization

As mentioned earlier, the annulment of the June 12 election provoked reactions from all the segements of the Nigerian society and this agitation was sustained mainly by the human rights organizations. From the very beginning, the human rights organizations had suspected that Babangida's miliatry dictatorship was not sincere about handing over power to a democratically elected civilian regime. The June 12 election annulment, therefore, resulted in the clearest expression of popular resistance to the military led by the Campaign for Democracy (CD). The CD emerged as a democratic alternative against the background of the socio-economic and political malaise that besetted the country that rose to a climax under Gen. Babangida.

As the CD leadership became conscious of the fact that the military was not prepared to relinquish power and that Babangida had a hidden agenda, it became increasingly clear that the demands of the CD required a more pragmatic solution. According to the CD, all patriotic forces, organizations and individuals in Nigeria should be ready to take part in all activities that were being lined up to terminate military dictatorship for all time . The political struggle was made easy for the CD because Nigerians were passing through a remarkable experience in terms of political trauma and excruciating economic pains. The regime's Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) that was aimed at diversifying the economy; reduce Nigeria's dependence on foreign goods; strengthen the currency, and reduce inflation was suffering from the opposite. This made the government to devalue the currency which affected every sector and the most hit was the manufacturing sector that depended on foreign exchange. There was a statement he made on April 1992, in which he said, "Nigeria's economy has defied all logic and it is a miracle that it has not collapsed" . It was easy for Nigerians to appreciate the "hidden agenda" charge, which the CD leveled against Babangida. Many groups such as the students, market organization, artisans, teachers, civil servants etc, therefore, enthusiastically supported the CD in its clarion call for protests and resistance to the military.

In 1993, the CD embarked on a three-day nationwide strike involving mass demonstrations, and rallies among many other actions to mount pressure on the military to validate the election results and swear in Chief Abiola. According to Labour Militant, "There were mass protests from July 7-9, 1993 and democratic forces marked the first day by the burning of the Babangida draconian decrees. This was followed in the next day by the burning of voters cards, while on the last day there were rallies all over the country" . The protests were held all over the country with massive involvement of the civilian populace and there were peaceful rallies, sit-at-home, sloganeering and so on. Many people from all over the country were shot dead or arrested as a result of the protests. Reacting to the killings, CLO in its report said, "Over a hundred persons had been killed, from Lagos to Kwara and Delta States. In Lagos alone, about 65 persons were reported killed. Over 200 persons were wounded and undergoing treatment" .

Nevertheless, Babangida, despite all the happenings in the country remained defiant and wanted to remain in power with the tacit support of some members of the political class. The political class was divided along the party lines. The NRC leadership and some of its supporters supported the annulment and wanted a fresh election. The SDP on the other hand, was divided between the Progressive Solidarity People (PSP) and the Peoples Front (PF), two heavy weight groups that were controlling the party. The PF had the upper hand as it controlled the party structure and machinery with Yar'Adua as its leader. The SDP through the PF was able to convince the NRC to abandon its stance on a fresh election and a compromise was reached on July 7, 1993, for an Interim Government as a way of ushering out Babangida and the military from power.

The CD, therefore, decided to intensify its resistance and a second round of protests were held between August 12 and 14, 1993. However, the CD had learned a valuable lesson from the tragedies of the mass protests of July, and it resolved to minimize causalities with effective communication all over the country . It could be said that the protests organized from July to August brought the country to a standstill and that they were perhaps the biggest and most successful civilian uprising in Nigeria's history. The annulment led to the dwindling credibility of the military and aided the dangerous possibility of direct confrontation between the military and civil society. The military was uncertain of its victory. In this contest, Gen. Babangida had become a political liability to the military. The military was prepared to ditch him in order to prop up its sagging public image dousing the clouding mist of chaos and anarchy in the society.

On August 25, 1993, he decided to "step aside" and constituted an Interim National Government (ING), headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, an industrialist, as his successor. The Nigerian people, however, regarded the ING as a clear extension of military rule since the body was made up of thirty-two members who were largely Government nominees and the apologists of the Babangida regime. It could be argued that the whole essence of the composition of the ING and the appointment of Shonekan was to see if the South Western part of Nigeria could be pacified based on the fact that Shonekan was of Yoruba ethnic group extraction and that he also hailed from the same Abeokuta town in Ogun State, as Abiola.

However, this was a political miscalculation from the regime when one takes into cognizance the political sagacity and consciousness in the Western part of Nigeria. The CD went on to stage another protest for September 29, 1993, to ensure that the ING handed over the reigns of power to Abiola, the legitimate winner of the presidential election. Babaginda's Minister of Defence, General Abacha, who was part and parcel of the decision- making during the eight year rule of Babangida, became Shonekan's Minister of Defence and second- in command. As the struggle for the actualization of the June 12 mandate heated up, there was a legal battle against the formation of the ING. Besides, it was clear that Chief Shonekan could not solve the turbulent political crisis that followed General Babangida's annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

On November 10, 1993, a High Court decision terminated Shonekan's term by declaring that the eighty-four days old ING, put in place by Babangida was an illegal political arrangement. The expectation of most Nigerians was that the judgement of the court would be upheld and the annulled mandate revalidated. The full-blown military dictatorship came about on November 17, 1993, with the emergence of Gen. Abacha as the Head of State and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces, after overthrowing the Interim National Government of Chief Shonekan.

In the beginning, the Abacha regime pretended that it harboured sympathy for the June 12 election, which Chief Abiola had presumably won. Through his second-in -command, General Oladipo Diya, Abacha tried to court the political class and the pro- democracy movement led by the CD by holding meetings on how to resolve the political logjam. The regime even went ahead to appoint some of the sympathisers of June 12 into the cabinet with the tacit support of Chief Abiola who thought that the regime was going to hand over to him based on the promise of justice and fair play.

The next action embarked upon by the Abacha regime constituted a huge setback for democracy in Nigeria. He dismantled all hitherto existing democratic structures in the country including the National Assembly, which was already in place, the State Executives and the Houses of Assembly, the Local Government Executives and Legislature, and the two political parties were all dissolved and banned. Having dissolved all democratic structures in the country, the regime proceeded to promulgate ten new Decrees to legitimize itself and consolidate its hold on power. The first of the three Decrees was Decree No. 107, which restored the 1979 Constitution and granted absolute power to the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), as the highest decision-making body of the regime. Second, Decree No.112 of 1993, the National Electoral Commission (Dissolution) formally dissolved NEC, thus putting what the regime may have hoped would be a permanent seal on the agitation for the realization of the June 12 mandate. Third was Decree 11 that granted the Police Inspector General the power to detain anybody without trial indefinitely. Previously, such powers were vested in the Chief of General Staff.

These Decrees, as Ogaga Ifowodo (a former NANS activist and human rights lawyer) observed, retained all the evils of the Babangida era in arbitrariness, retrospective application and ouster of judicial review . Dipo Irele writes about "collective sadness where we witnessed the banality of evil, as all norms of a decent or an open society were thrown overboard. State power was privatized in the hands of one man. What we had was a cult of personality. There was structural violence unleashed on our people- they were maimed, brutalized and killed. There was attempt to cling to power by every means whatsoever. Political power, which is supposed to be a sort of social fund and which in a well ordered - society is a collective capital to be distributed equally, was privatized and feudalized" . Just like Babangida, Abacha mobilized the political class for the convocation of the state controlled Constitutional Conference (NCCC) as opposed to the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) called by CD. The NCCC was inaugurated on January 13, 1994, comprising 273 elected members and 96 nominated delegates. In June 1995, the Constitutional Conference submitted its draft and recommended among other things, the setting up of the following bodies such as: The Transition Implementation Committee (TIC). This committee was to monitor the implementation of the Transition Program to ensure that the transition did not suffer the fate of General Babangida's transition. The National Electoral Commission (NECON) was to umpire the electoral process. It was also to be monitored by the Transition Implementation Committee .

In reaction to the Constitutional Conference, the CD issued the following statement, "Politically, this regime struck an axe on existing democratic structures and consigned to limbo the June 12 mandate. It hopes to build the same through a proposed Constitutional Conference as opposed to a Sovereign National Conference, which we have always called for and which still remains the rubric of our political campaign" . The CD stated again that, "[a]lthough some people sought to undermine the issue of semantics in the conception of a Constitutional Conference and Sovereign National Conference in carrying others along, but the policy position of the regime, with regard to the subject matter, leaves no one in doubt that the idea of Constitutional Conference of this regime is a political gimmick aimed at consolidating its hold on power" . With the support of the students, market organization, artisans, civil servants etc, the CD began to promote popular consciousness and agitation around the June 12 issue wants again. The regime became very repressive. Abacha started to decimate those who could oppose his government. The unebbing resistance to the regime made it to embark on repression and crackdown on opposition. On February 15, 1994, a press conference organized by the CD on the State of the Nation at NUJ Lighthouse was stopped by the security agents who claimed they were acting on instructions "from above" . Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, the CD Chairman was detained based on this. The government constantly raided the office of the CD and its members were placed on surveillance. During their rallies and protests, they were brutalized, arrested by the police and men of the SSS who came with guns and armoured vehicles and tear gas. On October 1, 1994, Chief Fawehinmi was arrested and detained for 23 days on the account of the formation of National Conscience Party (NCP).

At the same time, a new democratic coalition, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), formed by some politicians from SDP, who were sympathetic to Abiola and the June 12 cause emerged to provide a rallying point for the democratic struggle. From empirical evidence, NADECO was not a fighting force unlike the CD as its activities were based on propaganda and a call on the Abacha regime to de-annul the June 12 election and restore all dismantled political structures . The calculation of NADECO was that if all the democratic structures could forcibly resurface and give impetus to the democratic struggle, it would be easier for the regime to come to terms on the reality on the ground and bow to the demand for democracy. Therefore, it was able to provide the political platform and moral support for Abiola. It is evident that NADECO lacked the political strategy as it consisted of politicians who were opportunistic in nature and wanted to ride on the glory of the CD. Their clear goal was for their own personal power but not the overall interest of the country.

During this period, Chief Abiola wanted a peaceful resolution to his June 12 mandate and had promised his teeming supporters that he would not disappoint them believing that he was going to remain steadfast for the actualization of his mandate. However, in the heat of the CD struggle, Chief Abiola had to travel abroad for three months for safety purposes. This action may be seen as a political miscalculation on the part of Abiola as his absence made the regime to embark on blackmail that he ran away. This also made the June 12 impetus to be low in the absence of the man people were agitating for. These actions made the pro- democracy organizations to accuse him of not being forthcoming in his steps and his associations with Abacha. However, when Chief Abiola came back, he promised to reclaim his mandate and advised the Abacha regime to hand over power to him on or before May 31 1994. This was a welcome development as this energized the pro-democracy organizations and the civil society at large. It was the real impetus and boldness they had been expecting from Abiola as his weakness was trying to be too diplomatic by wanting a dialogue on the June 12 impasse, which is not the language the military understood. Precisely a year after the annulment, which was June 11, 1994, at Epetedo, in Lagos, in front of his teeming supporters, Chief Abiola formally declared himself as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Epetedo declaration, Chief Abiola said:

Exactly a year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.KO. Abiola, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by the President you had yourself selected. These soldier-politicians introduced into your body politic a concept hitherto unknown to our political lexicography; something strangely called the 'annulment' of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful in our Nation….. But mindful of the need to ensure that peace continues to reign in our fragile Federation, I have so far tried to pursue sweet reason and negotiations….Enough is Enough .

Chief Abiola's proclamation was seen as a welcome development giving the necessary momentum to the political struggle. This was regarded as a parallel government that the CD had been calling for and it was hailed by pro-democracy organizations as not only being pragmatic, but also a challenge to the power of the military regime. The consequence of this was that on June 23, 1994, Chief Abiola was later arrested in his house at Ikeja, Lagos, and was flown to Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria where he was charged for treason. The arrest and detention of Chief Abiola led to wide condemnations and further charged the already tensed political atmosphere. Two major labour unions in the oil sector, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), also gave June 12 campaign an impetus that constituted a political assault to the regime through a nationwide strike that paralyzed the whole country for about two months. The strike had a devastating effect on the economy and social life of the country. Fuel shortages took a major toll on the populace as they were forced to stay home unable to commute. The unions demanded the immediate exit of the Abacha military regime. On August 17, 1994, Gen. Abacha dissolved the National Executive Committees of NUPENG and PENGASSAN, and ordered an arrest of their members.

The press also had its taste of the regime repression as premises of Tell, The News magazines, Guardian, Concord and Punch Newspapers were sealed off and proscribed. The regime came out with Decrees 6, 7 and 8 of 1994 to give legal backing to the proscription of the media houses. The News and Tell magazines damned the Decrees and had to go underground to continue their publications. In March 1995, the regime came out with the story of a coup attempt against it, and went on to charge Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, the Chairman of CD, Shehu Sanni, the CD Vice Chairman, Northern zone. Others also charged were four journalists, Ben Obi, the editor of Weekend Classique, Kunle Ajibade, the editor of The News Magazine, George Mbah of the Tell Magazine, and Mrs. Chris Anyanwu, publisher of TSM Magazine, for publishing the coup stories. Others were the former Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, Major General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua and some military officers . However, the detention and the subsequent conviction of Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti did not deter or affect the activities of CD as they continued the struggle for democracy through mass rallies, leafleteering and mobilization of the civil society.

The period of 1995 to 1998 saw a rise in human rights abuses through state terrorism. As reported by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, (CDHR), in its newsletter, "Between April 14 and June 30, a total of sixty-two persons including politicians, environmentalists and the personal physician to detained Chief M.K.O Abiola, Dr. Ore Falomo, were arrested by security agents without warrants. Most of those arrested were purportedly held for state security reasons" . It went to report the attack on pro- democracy and human rights activists.

According to CDHR, "A total of 79 instances of attack against pro-democracy activists were recorded within the period under review. Some of the attacks were in form of arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, prevention from travelling out of the country, seizure of international passports or stoppage of workshops or meetings by security agents" . The regime embarked on mass arrests and attacks on those sympathetic to the cause of June 12 campaigns. There was total insecurity in the country due to the amount of causalities caused by the junta. One of the victims was Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the wife Chief Abiola, who was very vocal and persistent in the quest for democracy and the actualization of her husband's mandate. From the time of Abiola's arrest, Alhaja Abiola courageously called for her husband's release, but was shot dead on June 4, 1996, in Lagos. The insecurity and lack of safety led many pro-democracy activists and some NADECO members to flee the country.

As the country was going through political turmoil, some politicians who were in favour of the Abacha transition programme were directed to form political parties and by the end of 1996, five political parties emerged. Later, in 1998, the five parties adopted Gen. Abacha as their sole presidential candidate in what was described as directive from the government and a bid by Abacha to succeed himself. Towards the end of 1997, Abacha announced yet another coup attempt involving the Chief of General Staff, General Oladipo Diya, Major General Tajudeen Olarenwaju, Minister of Communications, and Major General Abdul Kareem Adisa, Minister of Works and Housing. They were condemned to death along with others. Fortunately, the sentences could not be carried out before General Abacha died. With General Abacha's death on June 8 1998, another military officer, General Abdusalami Abubakar, who was Abacha's Chief of Defense Staff, assumed the headship of the country. A month after this new take-over, the reigns of power, Abiola also died in detention on July 7, 1998.

The pressure from CD and other forces like NADECO forced General Abdulsalami Abubakar to commit himself to handing over to civilians. The first thing he did was to release all political prisoners jailed or under detention including all coup plotters. He dissolved all the five political parties set up by Abacha, went on to cancel the transition program including NECON, and announced a quick transition program. He set up his own Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) to register political parties and conduct fresh elections. INEC registered three political parties: The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Peoples Party (APP), and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). This was done with total transparency without any interference from the Gen. Abubakar's administration unlike the two previous military regimes. He also set up a Committee to review the 1995 Draft Constitution under the Chairmanship of Justice Niki Tobi. This Committee produced the 1999 Constitution. INEC then conducted elections from the local governments to the presidential. On May 29, 1999, thirty-eight years of military rule ended and General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the Head of State between 1976 and 1979, was elected under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.

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