June 12: Heroes, Martyrs and Beneficiaries of the Struggle


Mike Odiakose

On Sunday June 12, 2022 it was exactly twenty nine years that Nigeria experienced the best election ever conducted in the country from 1960 to date. Only two political parties were allowed to go into the contest as the administration of the then military dictator, General Ibarahim Badamasi Babangida, with military fiat restricted the country to only two political parties; the Social Democratic Party, SDP and the National Republican Convention, NRC. One of the reasons former President Babangida gave for allowing only two political parties in the country was that they want to stop political parties that will promote parochial regional or religious interest, amongst other things. The June 12 presidential contest was between business mogul, late Chief Moshood, Kolawole Olawale (MKO) Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Tofa from Kano state.

The outcome of the election did not come to Nigerians as a surprise as Chief Abiola trounced Tofa, even in Kano state despite the fact that Abiola picked a fellow Muslim, Babagana Kingibe as running mate. Abiola was very popular for his pan-Nigerian disposition and was at home in every state of the federation. Nobody raised eyebrows when Abiola picked a Muslim as running mate because he is never known to be a religious bigot. He went ahead to defeat Tofa even in Christian dominated zones despite the fact that Bashir Tofa of NRC picked a Christian from the South East, Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, as running mate.

On June 12, 1993, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate won the country’s presidential elections with a majority of 58.36% of the total votes cast, winning 20 out of 30 states against Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

Prior to the elections there were speculations that President Babangida had no intention to pack out of Aso Rock Presidential villa despite several assurances to Nigerians by the man that was nicknamed Maradona. This speculation gained currency when controversial businessman cum politician, Chief Arthur Nzeribe went to court on the eve of the poll to stop the June 12 election from being held. He obtained a judgment to that effect. Abiola’s associates swiftly went to court with the late Richard Babatunde Adejumo to secure an order that the election must hold and nobody could stop it. Justice Moshood Olugbami of Lagos High Court granted the request.

The then INEC Chairman, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, served the court judgment eventually the election held and that judgment was what gave Nigerians the confidence to vote in the June 12 election.

After June 12, 1993, Nzeribe did not stop his efforts to scuttle the election. He went back to court in the night of June 13 to procure another judgment that votes should not be counted and that the election should be annulled. Then events unfolded rapidly. Government annulled the election on June 23. Meanwhile INEC has already pasted almost all the results with Chief Abiola in clear lead. The annulment of the election gave rise to the June 12 struggle as Nigerians insisted that they had made their choice and that that choice must be respected. The struggle forced Babangida to step aside and put in place an interim government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan. Pro-June 12 activists then formed the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO and stuck out their neck to defend the mandate given to Abiola.

 While NADECO was leading the struggle, associates advised Abiola to leave the country so that the matter would not endanger his life and he flew to London. His associates went to court and got a judgment that declared Shonekan as an imposter and that he should step aside. The Defence Minister in the Shonekan government who had been left behind by Babangida, General Sani Abacha, took over government and he promised he would hand over government after six months.

Abiola was then persuaded to come back home from London based on Abacha’s promise to hand over power to him after six months. Abiola came back but Abacha reneged on his promise. Abacha refusal to hand over culminated in the famous the Epetedo declaration a year after the historic election, that is, June 12, 1994 when Chief Abiola addressed the nation and declared himself president with the support of the international community. The Epetedo Declaration led to the arrest of Abiola by the military junta and he eventually died in detention on June 8, 1998 while pro-democracy activists were still struggling for the revalidation of his mandate.

Following the return of democratic rule in 1999, governors of the South West zone declared June 12 Democracy Day as against May 29 when the military handed over power to civilians in 1999.  Following pressures from June 12 activists, President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2018 directed that effective 2019 Nigeria’s Democracy Day, marked every May 29 be shifted to June 12 to honour Moshood Abiola, the winner of the 1993 presidential election. Prior to then his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2012 renamed the prestigious University of Lagos after MKO Abiola but unfortunately students of the institution that are beret of Nigerian history kicked against the move.

Since 1999 several heroes of the June 12 struggle have remained unsung while some that worked hand-in-glove with the military have benefited immensely from the supreme price Abiola paid.

Heroes of June 12:

Apart from Chief Abiola himself, some heroes of the struggle include:

Chief Abraham Adesanya was among some of the few Nigerian pro-democracy campaigners who did not flee the country in spite of the personal danger to their lives. As deputy leader of NADECO, he stayed at home and fought against both Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Sani Abacha on the annulment of June 12 even after his NADECO leader, Chief Anthony Enahoro, had been hounded abroad. He was uncompromising and became a thorn to the maximum dictators. A man of progressive political inclination, he had been active from the days of Action Group in the late 1950s and remained so until his death. He narrowly escaped death in the hands of Abacha’s death squad, which shot at him and his driver. He lived to a ripe, old age. He died at 85.

Prof. Omo Omoruyi who was Director-General, Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), had the fortune to be friends to both Abiola and Babangida and often acted as go-between for the two. In fact, it was from him that Abiola got the encouragement to run for president when he wasn’t so sure if Babangida was really serious about relinquishing power or wanted to transform into a democratic president. Omoruyi actually fell out with Babangida for not honouring his word on June 12 and making Abiola president. It soured their relationship for a long time; he was privy to some of the internal wrangling within the military and among the northern establishment about power shift from the north to the south and the consequent denial that Abiola suffered. Omoruyi is believed to have developed the innovative Option A-4 adopted and Open Ballot system for the conduct of June 12 election, as CDS boss, but he is hardly credited for it.

Frank Ovie Kokori as secretary of the powerful oil workers’ union, Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG), took on the military establishment and held it in the jugular. The union called out strikes that paralysed the country and put the military on edge. Kokori would later be imprisoned for long months for his activism. But he was undaunted about his personal travails as he forged on for the actualization of June 12.

Chief Gani Fawehimni did not suffer violent death like Kudirat and Rewane, but his death, which came much later, was diagnosed to be as a result of his long and intermittent incarcerations as a result of agitating for June 12 and the enthronement of democratic ideals in the country. A legal luminary and well-respected writer, and publisher, Fawehimni was first among equals both in the legal profession where he excelled and democratic activism when he gave Babangida and Abacha hard times to restore the rights of Nigerians and to respect their democratic wishes freely expressed through balloting. As many times he was in and out of prisons, so also was he in and out of the courts seeking one form of justice or the other for Nigerians whose rights had been breached by the state. Fawehimni was an icon of the struggle for the enthronement of democratic practice in the country and for which his consistent imprisonment would take a heavy toll on his health years later. He died on September 5, 2009.

Prof. Humphrey Nwosu was the National Electoral Commission (NEC) who conducted the watershed June 12 election. He took over from Prof. Eme Awa when the commission was still called Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) before it was renamed NEC. Nwosu resisted the courts in their flip-flop attempts to scuttle the exercise and courageously went ahead to conduct the election and had started reading out results before his boss, Babangida, ordered him to stop further announcements and consequently annulled the election.

But when he wrote a book, Laying the foundation for Nigeria’s democracy: my account of June 12, 1993 presidential election and its annulment, some 15 years later about what transpired on June 12, he absorbed Babangida of blame and generally failed to say exactly what really happened. Of course, his book was dismissed as obtuse and failing to give accurate account of June 12 annulment from his vantage point as the electoral umpire.

Others include: Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Ayo Opadokun, and former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka also disguised and went on exile. One time local branch president of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Festus Iyayi, lawyer, writer, and activist, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, Campaign for Democracy (CD) activist, Chima Ubani, writer and guerilla journalist, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, journalist and jailed for his work for democracy, Mr. Kunle Ajibade, lawyer, writer, and NADECO chieftain, Fred Agbeyegbe, medical doctor, activist, and Civil Liberties Organisation chieftain, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, lawyer and activist, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, activist, Ayo Obe, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Col. Tanko Umar, former governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, Lt.-Gen. Alani Akinrinade, two-time governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode John Fayemi, former presidential candidate of Action for Democracy (AD) and chairman of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Olu Falaye, and former president of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Paschal Bafyau.

Also on the list of heroes of June 12 are: Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), led then by Dr. Asisi Asobie, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Campaign for Democracy (CD), Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), and National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).

Martyrs of June 12 include:

Alhaja Kudirat Abiola as Abiola’s first wife became a martyr of the June 12 struggle. She was assassinated on June 4, 1996 on the streets of Lagos at Oregun. She was relentless both for the campaign for the release of her husband from prison and the actualization of June 12. But Abacha and his military goons could not stomach her activism. She became a thorn in their flesh as she espoused the ideal of democratic values and stood solidly behind her husband and the Nigerian people who voted for him. She was to pay the supreme price as she fell to the bullets of Abacha’s killers. The story of the struggle for June 12 cannot be written without her active, frontline role in it. Kudirat was unarguably the heroine of June 12.

Chief Alfred Rewane’s progressive politics as financier of democratic ideals came to an abrupt end on October 6, 1996 when he was murdered in his Ikeja, Lagos residence. He was chief financier of NADECO and pro-democracy meetings were regularly held in his house. His long-standing relationship with Chief Obafemi Awolowo established him in the direction of progressive politics even as he was a known businessman and industrialist. But it was in his politics and activism for the realization of June 12 that he would lose his life in a gruesome manner.

“Unmerited” beneficiaries of June 12:

Unarguably, most of the people that were elected into the executive and legislative arm of government at federal and state level in 1999 were people that either stood aloof during the struggle for June 12 or worked with the military to frustrate the revalidation of the outcome of the election. Some of the “unmerited beneficiaries of June 12 struggle are:

Olusegun Obasanjo, a former head of state, also played an active role in the political tragedy that was the annulment of June 12. His infamous comment that Abiola was not the saviour that Nigerians were waiting for emboldened the military to trifle with the wishes of Nigerians on June 12. So that when he became the biggest beneficiary of June 12 as the first democratically elected president in 1999 as a result of the agitations for June 12 and the institution of democracy, it was no surprise. He had been in cohort with those who annulled the election. It was the same military establishment that insisted he succeeded it.

Late Chief Tony Anineh became SDP’s party chairman after Kingibe became Abiola’s running mate. But like Kingibe, he would soon become lukewarm to the struggle for June 12 and turned a strategist for the military government that annulled his party’s victory. However, he would become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the agitation for the return to democratic rule as one of the pillars of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and fondly called ‘Mr. Fix It’ for the party. After the defeat of PDP in 2015, Anineh retired from active politics before he passed away.

Chief Tom Ikimi was the chairman of National Republican Convention (NRC), one of the two political parties Babangida imposed on the political scene. He actively supported the annulment of the election. He would take up appointment in Abacha’s government as Minister of Foreign Affairs. A founding member of All Progressives Congress (APC), he would later dump the party last year for PDP after Adams Oshiomhole emerged the party’s chairman.


“The Epetedo Declaration led to the arrest of Abiola by the military junta and he eventually died in detention on June 8, 1998 while pro-democracy activists were still struggling for the revalidation of his mandate.”