6 prominent Nigerians with near-death ordeals over June 12 struggle

The military regime of General Sani Abacha was brutal towards prominent activists.

Some of the Jun 12, 1993 agitators who cheated death. [Facebook/Getty Images/Guardian]

This date commemorates the annulled presidential election, widely regarded as the freest and fairest in Nigeria's history.

The fallout from the annulment led to widespread unrest, political turmoil, and a series of events that brought many individuals perilously close to losing their lives.

Among those who narrowly escaped death during this turbulent period were key political figures, activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens who bravely stood against the military regime.

Their experiences reflect the broader struggle and resilience of the Nigerian people in the face of oppression.

Obasanjo's journey to becoming Nigeria's president in the democratic era after his stint in the second republic can be tied to the historic June 12, 1993 struggle for democracy.

After General Sani Abacha's successful coup in 1993, Obasanjo became a vocal critic of his policies and tyrannic style of governance.

In 1995, Abacha ordered Obasanjo's arrest on charges of plotting a coup against the government, a charge widely regarded as politically motivated and aimed at silencing his opposition.

Obasanjo was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later commuted to 15 years. During his incarceration, he endured harsh conditions and the constant threat of death.

His imprisonment and eventual release in 1998, following the death of Abacha, underscored the intense risks he faced during this tumultuous period as he went on to become Nigeria's second democratically elected president in the fourth republic.

The man whose motion gave room for Nigeria's independence at the London Conference in 1993 was also a victim of the June 12 struggle.

Chief Enahoro, one of the foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activists, was also a strong critic of Abacha's dictatorial regime.

Under Enahoro's leadership, his activism led to the formation of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), a coalition of like-minded activists, with Enahoro serving as its chairman.

He was subjected to constant surveillance, harassment, and threats. The military government viewed him as a major threat due to his influence in the pro-democracy movement. Despite these dangers, Enahoro remained steadfast in his commitment to the cause, continuing to rally support for the reinstatement of the annulled election and establishing a democratic government.

A young Shehu Sani was first detained in July 1993 during General Babangida's regime for advocating the revalidation of the June 12 presidential election results, which the late Chief MKO Abiola won.

He faced charges of sedition at a magistrate court in Kaduna. Under Ernest Shonekan's interim government, Sani was again arrested, detained for two weeks, and charged with sedition.

During Abacha's rule, he was implicated in the 1995 phantom coup and sentenced to life imprisonment, later reduced to 15 years by the Patrick Aziza Special Military Tribunal.

This tribunal also convicted individuals such as Olusegun Obasanjo, Col. Lawan Gwadabe, and a journalist, Chris Anyanwu.

Sani's charges included being an accessory to treason and managing an unlawful society (the Campaign for Democracy). He was held in several prisons, including Kirikiri, Kaduna, Port-Harcourt, Enugu, and Aba.

In May 1995, Anyanwu was arrested after publishing a story about a failed coup against Sani Abacha's government, which she had refused to endorse. She, along with other Nigerian journalists, was accused of being "accessory after the fact of treason."

The lead-up to her arrest dates back to the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential poll by the government of General Ibrahim Babangida.

Anyanwu was one of the few vocal women who critiqued the military juntas with her journalistic piece and civil advocacy against military dictatorship and brutality.

Not until two years later, Anyanwu was arrested and tried secretly by a military court and sentenced to life imprisonment on July 4, 1995.

However, in October 1995, her sentence was reduced to 15 years due to pressure from national and international human rights groups.

Shortly after her imprisonment, Anyanwu was honoured with the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, drawing global attention.

A note that read, "Some women in America are giving you a prize. The world is watching," was passed to her in solitary confinement.

Two years later, the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Anyanwu the CPJ International Press Freedom Award, and in May 1998, she received UNESCO's Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Due to her imprisonment, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka accepted the award on her behalf.

Chief Olu Falae was also one of the pro-democratic figures in the mid-90s who criticised the military and dictatorial rule.

After the June 12, 1993 election was annulled, Falae emerged as a key figure in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which advocated for the return of democracy in Nigeria.

He was imprisoned by Sani Abacha's military government but was freed in June 1998 following Abacha's death.

Following the June 12, 1993 crisis, Kunle Ajibade, a prominent journalist, wrote critically about the military regime.

In 1995, he was arrested and accused of involvement in a failed coup attempt. Initially sentenced to life imprisonment, his sentence was later reduced to 15 years following widespread protests, and he was held in Makurdi prisons.

On June 8, 1998, General Abacha passed away while in office. Subsequently, on July 18 of the same year, Ajibade was released by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

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