Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
It is a sad commentary on Nigeria that history, not just as a subject of academic study, but as a phenomenon, revered in many parts of the world, is derided here or, at best, trivialised. This offers an insight into the inertia which has attended the quest for development in the country.
The other day, a former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Justice Dahiru Saleh, who was an actor in the judicial contrivance that preceded the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election came out to say that he it was who should be held accountable for the annulment of that historic election and not General Ibrahim Babangida who was military president of the country and who indeed publicly announced the annulment of the election.
It would be recalled that against the background of Decree 13 of 1993 which ousted the courts’ jurisdiction with regard to creating impediments to the transition to civil rule programme, Justice Saleh had ordered the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to halt the release of the June 12 results on the grounds that the election ought not to have been held in the first place.
He based his order on the June 11, 1993 night-time ruling of Justice Bassey Ikpeme that suspended the electoral exercise. As he put it inter alia, “…while the political blame game must be on Babangida, he (Babangida) did nothing of the sort to stop him [Abiola] using my court…Anybody not satisfied with what I was doing as Chief Judge could appeal to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, simple. And I have no regrets, none whatsoever. No regrets. I would repeat the same thing now.”
This statement, impunitious in essence and revisionary of historical facts, is an insult to the people of Nigeria. Anyone in search of the cause of national woes needs not look far. It is the height of insolence that a retired chief judge who ought to hide his face in shame for being part of a mesh of conspiracy that threw the country into a five-year political impasse and, over which the country barely escaped disintegration, could come to the public square, dance naked and twitch his nose at the people he caused so much physical and psychological anguish. The claim of singular responsibility, though untrue, tells of the character of some of the people who are custodian of the temple of justice. It simply shows how much integrity deficit there is in the Nigerian judiciary.
History, it is said, has many authors. The one by victors, and of course, the other, which lives in the minds of the victims. But given the peculiar amnesia in the Nigerian environment which is compounded by the discouragement of research in history in the academia, revisionist history in the mould of Saleh’s needs to be countered; otherwise, it would be seen as the gospel truth and further dignified by sundry interpreters.
In the harrowing 1990s, it was obvious to both actors and observers of events in Nigeria that General Babangida was on a self-transmutation route and his transition programme, so convoluted that analysts dubbed it ‘permanent transition’ was leading nowhere. It was simply the strength of the country’s diversity and popular resistance that checkmated Babangida’s self-succession agenda and forced him out of power. Whatever the plots and the number of dramatis personae involved in the annulment saga, Saleh and his breed were mere pawns on a political chessboard, which buck stopped on the table of Babangida who held the reins of power.
How can we forget the trauma of that period? The June 12, 1993 election had represented for Nigeria a life-time opportunity for national unity. The elections defied religious considerations to produce a Muslim president and vice president both men having received an overwhelming mandate of all Nigerians. The annulment of the exercise unleashed unsavoury events that the country is yet to recover from till today.
The transition programme did not only gulp an estimated N40 billion of our national resources, it also led to authoritarian resurgence, cost lives of many Nigerians including Chief MKO Abiola and his wife, Kudirat, Chief Alfred Rewane among others. Besides, many elder statesmen and national icons were forced into exile.
It is quite unfortunate that barely 23 years after, villains, who ought to be regretfully examining their consciences in some penitentiary have the audacity to rewrite our history before the actors, many of whom are still alive. It speaks to the damage that has been done to Nigeria’s history. Certainly, an awakening to the nation’s history in the academia and in the consciousness of all Nigerians is the only answer to such revisionism as Saleh’s.