Between June 12 and March 28 - by Tayo Ogunbiyi

In the history of every country, certain dates are considered as defining and epoch-making. Such dates often have far-reaching consequences on the socio-political landscape of every country. In the socio-political history of Nigeria, June 12, 1993 and March 28, 2015 will for long remain very crucial dates. Except for some fundamental variations, the story of June 12, 1993 and March 28, 2015 is almost a similar tale. It is a story of the strong resolve of the Nigerian people to chart a new course for their beloved country. It is a story of the determination of the Nigerian people to redefine and reshape the nation’s political scenario.

On both dates, Nigerians, who usually display profound apathy towards the electoral process, defied all odds by trooping out in their millions to elect a president of their choice. There were reports of unprecedented popular participation in the electoral course on both periods. On the two occasions, Nigerians who are usually renowned for their impatience patiently surmounted all technical and natural hurdles to participate at the polls. On March 28, for instance, despite reported cases of failure of the Independent National Election Commission’s newly introduced card reader, in some locations across the country, Nigerians exercised unbelievable tolerance. In some instances, it was reported that some spirited Nigerians put their generating sets, vehicles and other resources on the line in order to make the system work.

It is equally instructive to stress that on both occasions, the Nigerian political scene was dominated by two colossal political parties. In 1993, the defunct National Republican Convention and the Social Democratic Party were the two major political parties that participated in the ensuing political contest between Alhaji Bashir Tofa and the late business mogul, Chief M.K.O. Abiola. In same manner, on March 28, 2015, though about fourteen political parties took part in the presidential election, the real contest was actually between Dr. Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), of the opposition All Progressive Party. It should be placed on record that on these two occasions, with the two vibrant political parties, the political scene was quite exciting and lively. This has led to the clamouring, in some quarters, for the country to adopt the 1993 two party option.

The two presidential elections were equally supervised by two eminent Nigerian scholars. Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, was the head of the National Electoral Commission, the body that conducted the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Prof. Attahiru Jega, the current chairman of the Independent National Election Commission, was the electoral umpire during the Mach 28, 2015 presidential poll. To give the 2015 elections some academic coloration, Jega deployed professors into the electoral fray to act as State Collation Officers. To what extent these two eminent professors succeeded in their respective assignments would continue to be subject of intense discourse and debate among journalists, historians, political scientists and other interested stakeholders.

One other distinct feature of the two elections is that ethnic and tribal considerations were not too prevalent, as it used to be the case, in the voting pattern. On June 12, 1993, Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party had more votes in the northern part of the country than Alhaji Bashir Tofa, his northern challenger from the defunct National Republican Convention. Similarly, during the March 28, 2015, presidential election, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling PDP had more votes than Buhari, his APC challenger, in northern states such as Taraba, Plateau and Nasarawa while he equally posted relatively impressive performances in northern states such as Benue, Zamfara, Kaduna and Sokoto. This is a clear departure from the usual trend where the electorate vote along chiefly ethnic and tribal lines. Though it should be stressed that Jonathan got the bulk of his votes from his native Niger Delta region but this is quite logical as it is only natural for his kinsmen to be at the forefront of his re-election bid.

However, in spite of the obvious fact that the June 12, 1993 and March 28, 2015, presidential elections in share a lot in common, there are some fundamental differences between the two elections. The most obvious one, of course, is that one recorded a stillbirth while the other had a live birth. Despite being adjudged the fairest and freest poll ever in the annals of the country’s political history, military authorities led by Ibrahim Babangida annulled the result of the June 12, 1993, election, thereby ensuring that the winner, Abiola, was unable to claim his mandate. Indeed, the announcement of the results was suspended by the military authorities while Nwosu, the leader of the electoral body, was whisked away from public circulation. The March 28, 2015, presidential poll was, however, different not only because a winner emerged and election conclusive but because, unlike Nwosu who was more or less a villain of the June 12 election, Jega came out of the whole processes a hero of sort.

One other remarkable dissimilarity of the two polls is the varied disposition of the political parties to religious sentiments and concerns. In 1993, the SDP was bold and daring in its conviction that fielding a Muslim-Muslim ticket (Abiola and Kingibe) would not jeopardise its electoral chances. The party went ahead with its conviction and recorded a resounding success at the poll. But for the annulment of the poll’s result, such audacity could have effectively checked religious contemplations in our political scene. Prior to the emergence of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as the vice-presidential candidate (now Vice-President elect) to the APC Presidential candidate (now President-elect), Buhari, speculation was rife that, like the defunct SDP, the APC was toiling with the idea of a Muslim-Muslim ticket. However, that conjecture was later sacrificed on the altar of political expediency or, perhaps, on the stark reality of our peculiar socio-political state of affairs. What could have happened if the APC had displayed the same political effrontery, as the defunct SDP, by going ahead to field a Muslim-Muslim ticket remains a mere object of academic conjecture.

One other major difference between the two polls is that while the annulment of the June 12, 1993, election threw the country into inconceivable chaos that opened a floodgate of sorrow, tears and blood for the nation, the March 28, 2015 election surprisingly ended on a most undreamed of nonviolent note. One of the major highlights of March 28 poll is that, for the first time in the political history of the country, an incumbent President conceded defeat by congratulating his opponent long before the final outcome of the poll was officially announced.

The March 28, 2015, presidential election has come and gone with its resultant drama, might. Perhaps, the successful outcome of the election could help to unravel some of the mysteries associated with the June 12, 1993 election. Could this be the right time to bring back to life the ghost of the June 12, 1993, election? What really happened on June 12? Why was the voice of the people silenced? Would March 28 lead us closer to the truth behind the story of June 12? Time will tell!

- Tayo Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja