President, International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISFPAHRI), Comrade Osmond Ugwu, who was at the frontline during agitations for June 12 annulment, spoke with LAWRENCE NJOKU (Enugu), on the first anniversary of June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria
Today is the 1st anniversary of June 12 as Democracy Day. What does it mean to you?
I would say it is a welcome development. I would say that this particular act of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is one of the most appreciative policies of his government. It is a decision well-taken, because when former President Olusegun Obasanjo came on board and made May 29 as democracy day, simply because it was the day we transited from last military rule to the current civilian dispensation, it left many of us wondering what his reasoning was. It really beats my imagination because there is nothing special about May 29. It was not the first time we were transiting from military to civil rule. There had been other republics that were interrupted by the military regime, and eventually there were transition to civil rule. But when we look at all the variables that played out during Obasanjo’s election, everybody knew they were marred with irregularities and corruption and that couldn’t have justifiably made that election or transition date the democracy day for Nigeria.
So it was a kind of event that really tried to showcase evil, but when we talk about June 12 and the event that led to it, and what played out before, during and after, it should be designated as Democracy Day, because that was the first time, in the annals of history, that Nigerian people witnessed the real democratic exercise in terms of election. The pre-election campaigns were marked with orderliness, no harassment of the opposition and that was the only election we could say that witnessed the highest turnout of voters. It was peaceful, it was in conformity with proper democratic norms and Nigerians voted against party lines, religious inclination, ethnicity and what have you. They voted for objectivity. This was history that generations to come will need to learn from and there is no other way to keep this memory alive except making it a national day.
That election brought the Nigerian masses out on the streets for the revalidation of that election, because it was criminally terminated by the military junta. So, the way Nigerians came out to fight for it against military guns that followed it needs to be remembered. It was the first time in the history of Nigeria that they had the opportunity of witnessing a truly democratic election by the Nigerian people and this they showed through their action after the election.
The event of June 12 showcased the fact that without its
determination, Nigeria dies. To bring June 12 to the front burner is
another way to show the aspirations of having good governance and
democracy where human rights can be fully recognized, nurtured and
consolidated. So bringing Democracy Day to June 12, which was a day
Nigeria witnessed the most peaceful election, most promising governance
is very proper and on that aspect, I thank President Buhari for putting
this history in its proper perspective. So on this first anniversary,
the president needs to do something remarkable to show truly that he
believes in it and not just by word of mouth.
You said the president needed to do something remarkable to show his sincerity of purpose over June 12. What exactly do you want from him?
He is the president and I believe he knows the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. He knows that Nigerians have not felt the impact of democracy despite laying down their lives for its actualization. However, at the stage where he is at the moment, I don’t think he can do more than what he is doing by virtue of his age, position and people that surround him. But if I were him the best I could pursue is to give the Nigerian people credible election. He needs to create enabling environment and detach himself from certain attitudes that have held us down and monitor every process to ensure that it is in conformity with the guidelines and rule of law and that offenders are being treated swiftly without minding whose ox is gored. I believe these are the things Nigerians are looking for. The only way to good governance is by credible election because credible election will enable everybody who has what it takes to campaign without intimidation.
So Buhari should rekindle the hope that time had come for Nigerians to get those things that made them fight for June 12 election and the only way to say this is by instituting credible electoral process. He should remove his personal interest from the electoral process. Buhari is not independent of the corrupt system and once he is part of the corrupt system, he cannot address the problem of election. Any leader who is able to allow the interest of the masses to transcend his personal interest is the person that can give the Nigerian people credible election. It is only credible election that can give Nigerians credible democracy. We don’t have true democracy and there is nothing like dividends of democracy. Dividends of democracy are to me those things that autocracy cannot give. It is incontrovertible that the roads Abacha built were better than those of Buhari, but Abacha remains the most dictatorial leader Nigeria has had in contemporary Africa.
Dividends of democracy means allowing Nigerians exercise their
fundamental rights, allow transparency and accountability to prevail,
allowing the rule of law to prevail, allowing public opinion to
determine policies and decisions of governance. These are dividends of
democracy, but we don’t see them. What gives power and true democracy is
the ability of people to be able to exercise their rights, especially
the rights to freedom of expression.
The potency and vibe with which June 12 agitation was pursued has fizzled away. It doesn’t reflect in the way Nigerians respond to the failings of democracy. Or don’t you think so?
There were things that ignited the June 12 struggle, especially the belief in ‘One Nigeria,’ and the Nigeria where love, unity and justice would rule. There was the general agreement that the military should return to the barracks and leave governance to civilians. Every institution, every right-thinking person, no matter his tribe or religion seriously believed in that. The people saw in MKO Abiola the light that will take the country to an enduring destination and they decided to swim with him. These vibes, however, are no longer there. We are rather seeing the other side of life. You know that nothing happens out of nothing. No one can act beyond the spirit of his knowledge and spirit within him. Prior to that time, we had very strong organizations that believed in the spirit of democracy. There were trade unions, market associations and student unions. At that time, the core values of life were in the people. But today, those organizations that are supposed to fight for free democracy in this country are dead because the leadership has been hijacked.
At that time, there used to be what was called level civic education; people were sent abroad to be trained on core values of trade unionism, core values of democracy based on socialist principles. In Nigeria, trade unions kept empowering their people with knowledge. At the universities, they kept training their people and the students unions kept empowering themselves but these things are no longer there. The leaders of the trade unions are even more corrupt than the politicians of today. June 12 became active because of the support of trade unions. Remember the Petroleum and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria (PENGASEN), the Nigerian Labour Congress and what have you. Everybody worked towards June 12 elections. The leaders who led the trade unions then are no longer there; there are no students’ unions.
I watched the elections held recently and I laughed when I saw leaders of students’ unions moving into government houses to endorse the sham of elections for a fee. I can say that the only democratic platform that is still viable and which has not been sidelined presently is the press. It has remained viable in the entire process of rejuvenating this nation. So those things that made people to fight, the spirit is no longer there, the knowledge is no longer there and the result is the retrogression of the country.
I can say to a reasonable extent that Nigerians have become complacent. What Nigerians lack today are the voices for the voiceless; the masses are like a mob scattered everywhere. In those days, those that made the masses are the democratic agents like the labour unions. The labour unions have the most formidable platforms to be able to galvanize the masses. Nigerians don’t have a platform that can empower them. Workers in those days used to be the leaders of the masses who are cherished by the people, but now there is no longer mass or liberal education. The masses have no identity and that was why some of us came out when the situation was very bad in Enugu and with little effort. I was able to galvanize over 30,000 workers to be able to address injustice at that time.
So, there are no voices and I am appealing to international community, especially democratic partners, to find a way of making Nigerians regain their voices because condition presently is worse than we had during military regime. The level of poverty we have today is worse than what we had during the military regime; the leaders of today have become selfish and self-centred. We have not been able to achieve those things, which made people lose their lives during the June 12 elections struggle. Nigeria and its aspirations died in June 12 elections as Africa died in Biafra.