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31 years later, Nigeria is still trapped in MKO Abiola's 1993

MKO Abiola described Nigerians as a "demoralised populace" over three decades ago and not much has changed since then.

MKO Abiola raised some issues about Nigeria in his 1993 campaign that are still issues today [Premium Times]

Despite the baffling exclusion of history as a subject in Nigerian classrooms, the events of June 12, 1993 remains in the conscience of the Nigerian people, if only superficially.

The military government of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) had seized power from Major General Muhammadu Buhari's government in a 1985 coup, with claims that it would be a transition government that would hand over to a civilian government by 1990.

Babangida seemed to deliver on this promise when his government established the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in 1987, and legalised the formation of political parties in 1989, enabling the country's two leading political parties, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) to nominate their presidential candidates.

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The SDP nominated a certain Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, while the NRC nominated Bashir Tofa to run against him in the now infamous June 12, 1993 presidential election.

MKO Abiola was adjudged the winner of that election after winning 58% of the total votes cast. An overwhelming majority of national and international observers regarded the election as the country's freest and fairest but Babangida's military regime strongly disagreed, claiming the opposite.

On June 26, 1993, the military Head of State issued a statement annulling the June 12 election. He issued a decree to repeal the Presidential Elections (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provisions) decree and terminated the transition process to democratic governance.

The chaos this catastrophic decision caused eventually led to the overthrow of Chief Ernest Shonekan's interim government by General Sani Abacha in November 1993.

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Abacha's forceful installation of himself as the country's Head of State threw more confusion into Abiola's bid to somehow have his mandate recognised by the Nigerian state.

After a frustrating year, MKO Abiola, backed by the international community, declared himself the "President and Commander-in-Chief" of Nigeria, on June 11, 1994. This declaration prompted the authoritarian Abacha to arrest and detain him on charges of treason against the state.

Abiola would later die in custody under suspicious circumstances on the day he was due to be released on July 7, 1998, four years after his arrest.

For many reasons, MKO Abiola's 1994 declaration speech remains interesting, even after three decades. It was titled Enough is Enough, and in it, the statesman listed a host of reasons he wanted to be the man to change the Nigerian narrative.

It can be argued that his failure to win his mandate has had an impact that Nigerians still experience today, because those narratives he wanted so much to rewrite are still burning issues in the country.

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It would shock only a few to realise that the only thing that has changed in the Nigerian space since that fateful year is the faces of the people at the helm of power.

In a section of his address, Abiola listed a few problems with the military regime that he was hoping to overcome with his democratic government.

"We are tired of the military's repetitive tendency to experiment with our economy: Today, they say, 'no controls.' Tomorrow; they say, 'Full controls.' The day after, they say, 'Fine-tuning.' The next day, they say, 'Devaluation.' A few days later, they say, 'Revalue the same naira upwards again,'" he noted.

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"All we can see are the consequences of this permanent game of military 'about turns': high inflation, a huge budget deficit and an enormous foreign debt repayment burden, dying industries, high unemployment and a demoralised populace."

Remove the word 'military' from the quote, and that statement would be as accurate as if someone said it in 2024.

At the close of business on June 11, the naira traded at ₦1,481 to the dollar. The value of the currency is only a reflection of the unending trauma the Nigerian economy suffers repeatedly, especially due to unhelpful government policies.

Speaking of debt burdens, President Muhammadu Buhari, who left office last year, ballooned Nigeria's debt portfolio from ₦‎12.1 trillion in June 2015 to ₦‎46.3 trillion as of December 2022, escalating worries about repayment plans. The debt has since risen to ₦97.3 trillion, as of December 2023, under the President Bola Tinubu administration which took over from Buhari.

Inflation was also 9% when Buhari took over administration of the country in May 2015, but a cocktail of terrible policies by his government, like the one-year closure of land borders, and other natural factors, like COVID-19, kicked up inflation to 22% in April 2023, his last full month in office. A year into Tinubu's reign, inflation rose to 33.69% in April 2024.

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In 1993, Abiola was concerned about an unstable economy that made a habit out of tormenting the average Nigerian, as well as the disillusioned youth that the government couldn't find enough ways to put to work. Nigeria faces the exact same problems in 2024, with an even more overflowing population.

Abiola said, "Our youths, in particular, can see no hope on the horizon, and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain. Is this the Nigeria we want?"

There's a running gag on Nigerian Twitter that the Nigerian dream is to travel out of the country and never look back. An unsurprisingly high percentage of Nigerian youths would jump at a real chance to depart the country's harsh shores for the uncertainty of foreign lands.

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This is not because they are unpatriotic, it is because the only thing Nigerian patriotism offers you in exchange is scorn — scorn that unrivalled conviction in your country's ability to scale unbelievable heights, only if it would allow itself, is not enough as it continues to be undermined by the powerful, morally-limited and intellectually-selfish ruling class.

The government keeps tripping over itself to commend Nigerians who have succeeded outside of the country's shores, shamelessly unmindful of the fact they are not providing the same platforms for young Nigerians to achieve the same kind of success at home.

The answer to Abiola's question remains no. That was not the Nigeria that Nigerians wanted when he ran his 1993 campaign, and the country should feel ashamed that it's still a relevant question 31 years later.

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Abiola wasn't done in his speech, "We are plagued also by periodic balance of payments crises, which have led to a perennial shortage of essential drugs, that has turned our hospitals and clinics into mortuaries."

It's difficult to make a case for the country's health sector if its immediate former president was a medical tourist-in-chief, and Tinubu has already shown signs of sustaining the culture of foreign medical trips.

"A scarcity of books and equipment has rendered our schools into desolate deserts of ignorance," Abiola added.

As a Nigerian undergraduate in a federal institution, it is wise custom to mentally add an extra year of inevitable action strikes to your expected years of learning. This is the reality of the Nigerian education sector.

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Abiola was concerned about these issues when he campaigned in 1993, and Nigeria has not done much better.

With his Hope '93 campaign, Abiola raged against the status quo which the Nigerian public had already grown weary. His tagline inspired President Tinubu's 'Renewed Hope' tagline for his 2023 election campaign. That copycat act only tells you one thing: nothing has changed.

The Nigerian space is caught in an unhealthy time loop that no one can really map a way out of, not with the divisive and selfish behaviour displayed by the few who manage to grab onto important positions of power with their grubby little hands.

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Nigeria boils with the same cocktail of issues: economic upheaval, sectarianism, political dishonesty, infrastructural immobility, with the bonus icing of escalating insecurity.

No one person can accurately predict what the Nigerian fate would be right now had MKO Abiola been able to claim his mandate, but it will always represent a monumental waste of opportunity for the country.

If there is an accurate word to describe the Nigerian experience in 2024, it would be "demoralised." MKO Abiola used that word in 1993, and the country remains frozen in that time.

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Pulse Editor's Opinion is the opinion of an editor at Pulse. It does not represent the views of the organisation Pulse.

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