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What Happened On June 12 in Nigeria

Before 2019, May 29th was celebrated as democracy day in Nigeria. In 2019, the Muhammadu Buhari-led government changed the date to June 12. Henceforth, June 12 every year is democracy day which is a public holiday. 

A lot of millennial in Nigeria would know the reason behind June 12 being selected as democracy day. However, a lot of Gen Z does not. This is why the question, what happened on June 12 in Nigeria is relevant. 

Well, the relevant date here is June 12, 1993. On this date, Nigerians went out to vote democratically for their president. The election was between Chief Moshood K.O Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir .O. Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). 

We’ll be discussing all about that day in this article. 

The Nigerian Government Post Independence 

On 1st October 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation. In 1963, the country became a republic. The Government was being run by Nnamdi Azikiwe as President and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as president. Both individuals died in 1966.

On 15th January 1966, the first military coup in Nigeria happened and the prime minister was assassinated along with a few other notable persons. General Aguyi Ironsi This led to the civil war which lasted from 1967 to 1970. After the civil war, Nigeria went back to military rule. The nation wasn’t democratic as military leaders were executing coups to take over power. The dictatorship was the order of the day. 

The first set of military juntas lasted from 1966 to 1979. In 1979, Nigeria had an election that saw Shehu Shagari elected as President. Power was handed over to the newly elected president by the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo. 

Shehu Shagari didn’t rule for long before he was overthrown by Muhammadu Buhari in a coup in 1983. In 1993, power was handed to Ernest Shonekan as the interim head of state. That same year, the June 12 elections were held which now represents Nigeria’s democracy day. 

June 12, 1993, Elections 

On Saturday, June 12, 1993, the Presidential elections were held. This was the first presidential election since the election that saw Shehu Shagari as president. As mentioned earlier, the presidential election was between Chief Moshood K.O Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir .O. Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). 

Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the then head of state, wanted to transfer power from military to civilian rule. On that day, Nigerians came out in their numbers to vote for their next president. However, the results of the elections were inconclusive. However, MKO Abiola was the winner in the unofficial result of the election. 

The NEC – National Election Commission – did not announce MKO Abiola as the winner of the elections because IBB annulled the elections. According to him, this was due to several electoral irregularities. However, this didn’t sit well with a lot of Nigerians. To them, this was another avenue for the military to deny them democracy. 

The aftermath of the elections saw several protests, riots, and unrest all over Nigeria. There were calls all over Nigeria by civil society groups for the country to be re-democratized. Notably, there were calls for Abiola to receive the mandate as the elected president. 

The stance of the government against that of the people fueled the crisis and insecurity. Citizens of Nigeria were ready to face the military government to make sure they live up to their promise of handing over power to civilian rule. More than 100 persons were said to be killed by Nigerian security forces. The head of state, IBB, was forced to resign. 

After IBB resigned, Sani Abacha took over. His infamous government is still talked about to date. During Abacha’s rule, Abiola was arrested. Abiola declared himself President of Nigeria when he returned to the country in 1994. He had gone to seek international support but, he was arrested for his statement as it was said to be treason. Abiola was apprehended by 200 police vehicles with innumerable police officers.

Upon Abacha’s death, Abdulsalami Abubakar became the de facto President of Nigeria. Abdulsalami took over in 1998 and due to much pressure, elections were arranged. That same year, Abiola was to be released but, he died on the day he was to be free. 

By February 199, Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as president. On May 29, 1999, he was sworn in by law and that day was declared Democracy day until 2019. It was the day Nigeria returned to civil rule and has remained so after many unsuccessful trials. 

Why June 12 is Democracy Day 

The June 12 elections saw more than 14 million Nigerians come out to vote. Everyone wanted Democracy. The elections were annulled but still, Nigerians didn’t relent and challenged the military government. 

A lot of Nigerians lost their life due to the aftermath of the June 12 elections and because they wanted Democracy. Not only did MKO Abiola die, his wife, Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, and Chief Alfred Rewane – renowned businessman said to be killed by Abacha’s men – died too.  

June 12 was made Democracy day by the Buhari government because of all these. Nigeria is a democratic government today, and it’s all because of the June 12 elections and the annulment by IBB. If Nigerians had accepted the annulment and not risen against the government, the military wouldn’t have been pressured to hand over power to civilian rule. 

For as long as Democracy day is celebrated on June 12, Nigerians will always remember how important the day was in the fight for democracy. Furthermore, citizens will remember the patriots who lost their lives while demanding a democratic nation. 

Bottom Line

June 12th used to be Abiola day while May 22nd was Democracy until 2019. This means that Nigerians have always celebrated MKO Abiola who was their president-elect in the June 12th elections. 

It’s only better off that the date is now Democrat day so Nigerians remember how they attained democracy. June 12 remains a historical date for as long as Nigeria and her democracy exists.