Title: June 12 Election: Campaign for Democracy and the Implosion of the Nigerian Left
Author: Onyeisi Chiemeke
Publisher: Josonia Communications
Place of Publication: Lagos, Nigeria
Number of pages: xviii + 348
Reviewer: Chijioke Uwasomba
After twenty-two years of the criminal cancellation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election ostensibly won by the business mogul, the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola, Onyeisi Chiemeke, a lawyer and former student activist who was part of the de-annulment movement has come out with a book detailing the intrigues and other negative activities that characterized the struggle and made it impossible for the realization of the mandate. It is true that this book is an attempt to reflect on how the Nigerian Left plunged itself into an otherwise bourgeois struggle which consumed it but it goes further to expose some of the secrets bordering on anti-democratic tendencies that were not known to a lot of Nigerians who were genuinely interested in the re-validation campaigns pursued by the June 12 strugglers especially the Campaign for Democracy (CD).
The Campaign for Democracy was formed in Jos, Plateau State, as a coalition of many forces interested in changing the status-quo against the background of the shenanigans of the Babangida dictatorship which kept dribbling Nigerians as manifested in its policies and programmes. The Buhari-Idiagbon regime had terminated the corrupt and lackluster civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983, and imposed all kinds of harsh Decrees on the Nigerian people. Some of the politicians were heralded into detention centres and prisons. In spite of the acclaimed well-meaningness of the regime, the harshness of its laws were so repulsive that Nigerians did not identify with it and Babangida and his cohorts cashed in on these sentiments and overthrew the regime.
Babangida turned out a con man, designing and implementing all kinds of programmes and policies that ended up under-developing the country. His civil-rule-programme collapsed like a pack of cards with his annulment of the June 12 election. The Campaign for Democracy given its emergence at this historical juncture in the affairs of the country took up the gauntlet after a series of exhaustive discussions on how to use the de-annulment campaigns to bring to bear a civilian government that would deepen the democratic process and turn the country around for the happiness of all. CD’s involvement, though very salutary turned out a huge failure occasioned by its own internal contradictions. This is basically the meat that Onyeisi Chiemeke is giving the reader to chew.
The introduction announces the essence of the book: “To tell the story of the CD within the period of 1992 to 1994, with an eye to its formation and disintegration in Ibadan in 1994 and by extension examine the impact of this collapse on the Nigerian Left Movement as the country transited to democracy in 1999” (vii). It goes further to forage into the past and the present in a dialectical process in querying the failure of the CD platform and the larger Left movement in Nigeria.
Chapter one which he entitles as “In the Beginning” explores the global system particularly in the 1980’s and early 1990’s when the so-called gale of democratic struggles swept through the Third World and Africa in particular. It is in this context that we can understand Ibrahim Babangida’s elaborate but dubious transition programme which the then National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) had characterized as a package of fraud and diversion. There is no doubt that Babangida’s regime wasted the resources of the country with its un-ending transition programme allied by the neo-liberal economic agenda, Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). NANS fought those programmes to a standstill in spite of whatever tactical ideological errors it might have made by allying itself with the National Consultative Forum (NCF) which was making a call for a Sovereign National Conference. It is obvious from the accounts of this chapter how Bamidele Opeyemi, the then NANS’ President strategically used the NANS’ platform to arrange a better place for himself politically and materially.
In Chapter two, the author gives an account of how the NCF collapsed after the government of Babangida had stopped the group from holding its conference at the National Theatre Iganmu, Lagos. The author recalls that the stoppage of this conference led the Left elements and some emergent human rights groups into founding the Campaign for Democracy in Jos in 1991.
The author opines that in modern Nigerian history, the Nigerian Left could be divided into three broad historical epochs – the first group belonging to the colonial era transiting to the independence era – the Zikist Movement (Michael Imoudu, Eskor Toyo, etc.); the Left groups from the intelligentia at Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ife, University of Ibadan and University of Nigeria, Nsukka. This generation of the Left suffered a great blow during the Ali Must God Students’ Demonstration in 1978 under General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime as the latter blamed the former for the crisis. The third generation was also bred on campuses with students who belonged to various ideological cells and were inclined to challenge the status-quo with its orthodoxy and the theology of the market as championed by the Bretton Wood institutions. These groups founded the CD in Jos.
Chapter three unveils the roles played by some palace court intellectuals in shoring up the military. Some of these intellectuals tried to invest the Nigerian military with what the latter does not possess. It goes further to dwell on the weakness of the political elite in the march to democratization in Nigeria. This was clearly manifested at every stage of the involvement of the military in the politics of Nigeria. The author asserts that: “By the time Muhammadu Buhari and others (including Abacha and Babangida) came, the politicians were jubilating at the fact that the military had arrived like locusts to eat away the remnants of the green leaves of democracy” (35). These politicians timidly followed the models brought up by the military leaders.
Chapter four talks about the cancellation of the June 1993 election with Babangida’s broadcast of June 23, 1993, claiming that there were irregularities and “reports of election malpractices against party agents, officials of National Electoral Commission (NEC) and also some members of the electorate” (48). The tactics and strategies adopted by the CD and the character and content of the forces behind the CD are examined. It is noted that with all the noise of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), it did not have the capacity to organize a protest: “The first street protest against Abacha was organized by the United Action for Democracy (UAD)” (52). He contends that the import of street action in the success of a revolutionary change should be taken seriously and that the “CD started dying the moment it could no longer control the streets” (53).
In Chapter five, the workings of the CD and its organograms are teased out. CD’s movement to the streets and the leaders of the different zones in Lagos and the reasons for their selection are explained. The success of the CD at its beginnings before it was hijacked confirms the value of the group over that of individualism. It dismisses the claim that individualism is the basis of history.
Chapter six shows that with the success recorded by the CD, some of its leaders became the target of arrests, harassment and detention. People like Femi Falana, Beko Ransom-Kuti and Gani Fawehinmi were attested. The refusal of the Magistrate Court in Wuse, Abuja to give bail to these nationalists who had been detained, made the defence team to join the struggle. The struggle moved to another stage – the sit-at-home when it was discovered that the goons had taken over the streets, killing and maiming people.
Chapter seven shows how apprehensive people were about what would happen on August 27, 1993, the day Babangida was terminally expected to vacate office. Abiola had also boasted that he would keep a date with destiny by ensuring that he assumed the mantle of leadership. This fueled a high sense of fear leading to the exodus of many people especially the easterners to the east. Meanwhile, Abiola who had been advised by his handlers, kept a distance from the CD.
Chapter eight dwells on the repressive nature of the state as more people were arrested and detained. Activists like Chima Ubani, Bamidele Aturu and Niyi Ojo had been arrested.
In Chapter nine, Abacha’s coup is reported to have taken place. At this stage, it had become obvious that Abiola had so much faith in the ruling clique compared to the CD. But the CD kept on with its programme and campaigns and warned Babangida that the mooted interim government was not an option. With the declaration by the Lagos High Court presided over by Dolapo Akinsanya, that the Shonekan regime was illegal, the pressure on the regime had reduced as the CD had lost the street. Abiola is said to have opened up discussion with the military wing and an agreement that the military would be in power for only six months and transferred power to him had been reached. A high ranking leader of the CD started having discussions with Abacha on how to restore Abiola’s mandate and sack Shonekan. Oladipo Diya was the military pointsman who opened up the channel of communication. Beko and his hand-picked loyalists, having been assured of the realization of their agitation for the convocation of the SNC, agreed with the scheme as packaged by Oladipo Diya and Olu Onagoruwa – coup. This action opened up the simmering crisis that had been brewing in the CD for some time. Many members of the expanded leadership of CD were opposed to the schemings of the Beko group to get Abacha to remove the interim government. It should be noted that some of the supporters of Beko were of the Left tendency.
In Chapter ten, the author goes further to show that at the end of November 1993, it had become clear that the CD had been internally damaged owing to the hobnobbing by a section of its leadership with the military. It is surprising that many Left cadres were lying behind Beko and the consequences of this can be felt by everybody today.
In Chapter eleven, we are told that Abacha had broken his promise and meanwhile, CD had become a shadow of itself retreating into the NGO mode. Abacha decided to convoke a National Conference instead of the SNC which CD had worked tirelessly for. The pro-CD list of names to constitute the National Conference Commission submitted by Onagoruwa was completely rejected by Abacha and a completely new 17-man list was announced by Abacha.
Before the meeting of February 5, 1994 which took place in Ibadan, a lot of dangerous water had passed under the bridge. It is this Ibadan meeting that is the focus of chapter twelve. This said meeting further balkanized CD as an organization. Because according to the author, the pro-Beko forces had their way and instead of reprimanding him for his anti-democratic dispositions, he was returned as the chairman of the organization. This led to a work-out by some who went and formed the Democratic Alternative (DA). And with this, CD became a human rights social club.
In Chapter thirteen, with the wilting of the CD and Abiola’s attempt to negotiate his way to power floundering, a new group emerged in 1994 to provide a buffer for Abiola. That group was the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The group was made up of retired army generals, business men and women, labour leaders, especially NUPENG and PENGASSAN, politicians and some persons from human rights groups. At this stage, as earlier noted, CD was no longer the revolutionary, anti-military fighting force for which it had been. And as the inimitable modernist poet, W. B. Yeats had postulated things fell apart and could no longer hold. It is pitiable today that the military in cahoots with its military counterparts has held the country in a state of animation.
Chapter fourteen is a postscript. This chapter is an overview of the idea of bourgeois democracy with all its deceitful trappings. The author sees modern democracy as an illusion sold to the poor that power resides in them: “democracy becomes a curse and the mass democratization and distribution of poverty, for the majority of the people while inversely it becomes the democratization, empowerment and distribution of the riches and wealth of the society …” (209). It is with this background that we appreciate the inability of the June 12 activists to take advantage of the tide “but opportunistically looking for foreign trips in the name of human rights” (212). These activists with the aid of networks provided by imperialism acquired new pervasive cultural values.
The author insists that for democracy to exist, there must be a redefinition and refocusing of the Nigerian productive capacity. This is because, the kind of democracy practiced in neo-colonial countries like Nigeria, has become so corrupt that there is a certain sense of infringement on the people by the callous and mindless leaders.
In this book, Chiemeka gives account of the helplessness of young radical Nigerians of the author’s generation that “interpreted the world correctly and failed to change it” (xvi). The book hits hard not only on the military, but also the Nigerian political class with its lily-livered and opportunistic political dispositions which made it possible for the military to hold sway for that long in Nigeria’s politics. The book represents a Diary of Events with a tone of discourse which gives off the writer as one who is completely disgusted with human rights activists and their campaigns. Incidentally, for many years the other was working for the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) and so is in a better position to ventilate his views about the human rights project in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular.
This book is a frank and undiluted account of the crisis of the Campaign for Democracy and how it lost a golden opportunity to use the June 12 struggle to galvanise Nigerians with a view to changing the country fundamentally, but it allowed all manner of antediluvian tendencies to negate the struggle. The book also harps on the problems of the Nigerian Left which include sectarianism, lime-light seeking, ethnicity and all other I know-it- all-syndrome that have bedraggled the Nigerian Left and made it unattractive in the whole struggle for the emancipation of the Nigerian people from the clutches of imperialism, underdevelopment and anti-democratic tendencies.
The collapse of the Nigerian Left is felt today on the campuses as cultists and other rogue elements have taken over the leadership of the students’ unions leaving in the process maladjusted individuals and complete anomie. The author insists that authentic change only comes from those who correctly understand and appreciate history and its momentum. The change the author talks about has nothing to do with the so-called change mantra of the current APC government for there is no qualitative difference between the PDP and the APC as these platforms are bourgeois vehicles to deceive the people and deepen their miseries. There is no doubt that the increasing influence of “human rightism” truly dealt a big blow to the Nigerian Left.
There is no doubting the fact that the author who is a lawyer is well schooled in the politics and ideology of the Left in all their ramifications. He understands the essence and basis of revolutionary movement as can been seen in the copious references that are found in the work. He was a witness of all the issues that he talks about in the book and participated even as a student in some of the struggles that have defined the Nigerian state, society and the economy.
This book is useful to members of the Left in Nigeria and elsewhere and acts as a guide and a network of ideas for authentic revolutionary theorizing and praxis. It is hoped that this book will chat a new course of action and direction for those who genuinely believe that there are alternative views that must guide the society, especially the decadent and neo-colonial society like Nigeria.
Chijioke Uwasomba, Ph.D, teaches English at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.