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 revalidation campaigns pursued by the June 12 strugglers especially the Campaign for Democracy (CD).
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.
There is no doubt that Babangida’s regime wasted the resources of the country with his un-ending transition programme allied to his neo-liberal economic agenda, Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 Uyi 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 the Dolapo Akinsanya, that the Shonekan regime was illegal, the pressure on the regime had reduced as the CD had lost the street. Abiola was said to have opened up discussion with the military wing and agreement that the military would be in power for only six months and transferred power to him.
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 with the military by a section of its leadership.
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.
In Chapter thirteen, with the wilting of the CD and Abiola 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 retired army generals, business men and women, labour leaders, especially NUPENG and PENGASSAN, politicians and some persons from human right groups.
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).
The author insists that for democracy to exist there must be a redefinition and refocusing of the Nigerian productive capacity. In this book, Chiemeke 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).
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 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.
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 chart 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.
By Chijioke Uwasomba
*Dr. Uwasomba is a Senior Lecturer, Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife Osun State.