Today marks 25th anniversary of what has been termed the freest and fairest election in
Nigerian history. Nigerians were said to have voted massively in an election that would have seen late MKO Abiola emerge as winner, until it was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida (then Military Head of State).
See Babangida’s full text below
Fellow Nigerians, I address you today with a deep sense of world history and particularly of the history of our great country. In the aftermath of the recently annulled presidential election, I feel, as I believe you yourself feel, a profound sense of disappointment at the outcome of our last efforts at laying the foundation of a viable democratic system of government in Nigeria.
I therefore wish, on behalf of myself and members of the National Defence and Security Council and indeed of my entire administration, to feel with my fellow countrymen and women for the cancellation of the election. It was a rather disappointing experience in the course of carrying through the last election of the transition to civil rule programme. Nigeria has come a long way since this administration assumed power and leadership about eight years ago. In the attempt to grapple with the critical and monumental problems and challenges of national existence and social progress, this administration inaugurated and pursued sound and justifiable policies and programmes of reform. These policies and programmes have touched virtually all aspects of our national life – the economy, political process, social structures, external relations, bureaucracy and even the family system.
This administration has built the foundation that would take Nigerians away from their previous colonially-induced motivations and the encumbrances of colonialism. We have laid the foundation for self-reliant economic development and social justice. We have established a new basis in our country in which economic liberalization would continue to flourish alongside democratic forces and deregulated power structure. In all these, the average Nigerian person has more than ever before this administration imbibed and assimilated the values of hard work, resilience and self-confidence. It is true that in the course of implementing our reform policies and programmes and especially because of the visionary zeal with which we approached the assignment and responded to incidental pressures of governance, we engendered a number of social forces in the country. This is so because we sought to challenge and transform extant social forces which had in the past impeded growth and development of our country.
We also sought to deal with the new forces to which our programmes of action gave rise. Thus in dealing with the dynamics of both the old and new social forces, we ran into certain difficulties. In particular, during the course of handling the interlocking relationships between the old and new political forces and institutions, some problems had arisen leading us into a number of difficulties and thereby necessitating our having to tamper with the rules and regulations laid down in the political programme. As a result, the administration unwittingly attracted enormous public suspicions of its intentions and objectives.
Accordingly, we have experienced certain shortfalls and conflicting responses to the pulls and pushes of governance in the course of policy implementation. I believe that areas of difficulties with the transition programme, especially from the last quarter of 1992 to the recent cancelled presidential election, derived primarily from the shortfalls in implementing the programmes of actions which, though objectively taken, may have caused a deviation from the original framework and structure of the programme.
Fellow Nigerians, it is true that by the cancelled presidential election, we all found the nation at a peculiar bar of history which was neither bargained for, nor was it envisaged in the reform programmes of transition as enunciated in 1986/87. In the circumstance, the administration had no option than to respond appropriately to the unfortunate experience of terminating the presidential election. Our actions are in full conformity with the original objectives of the transition to civil programme. It was also in conformity with the avowed commitment of the administration to advance the cause of national unity, stability, and democracy. In annulling the presidential election, this administration was keenly aware of its promise in November 1992 that it would disengage and institute a return to democracy on August 27, 1993.
We are determined to keep the promise. Since this transition, and indeed any transition, must have an end, I believe that our transition programme should and must come to an end, honestly and honourably. History will bear witness that as an administration we have always striven, in all our policy decisions, to build the foundation of lasting democracy. Lasting democracy is not a temporary show of excitement and manipulation by an over-articulate section of the elite and its captive audience; lasting democracy is a permanent diet to nurture the soul of the whole nation and the political process. Therefore, it is logical, as we have always insisted upon, that lasting democracy must be equated with political stability. Informed by our sad experience of history, we require nothing short of a foundation for lasting democracy.
As an administration, we cannot afford to leave Nigerian into a Third Republic with epileptic convulsions in its democratic health. Nigeria must therefore confront her own reality; she must solve her problems notwithstanding other existing models of democracy in other parts of the world. In my address to the nation in October 1992, when the first presidential primaries were cancelled, I had cause to remind our country men and women that there is nowhere in the world in which the practice of democracy is the same, even if the principles are similar and even for countries sharing the same intellectual tradition and cultural foundation. The history of our country is not the history of any other country in the world which is either practising advanced democracy or struggling to lay the foundation for democracy.
Yet, in spite of the uniqueness and peculiarities of Nigeria, there are certain prerequisites which constitute an irreducible minimum for democracy. Such essential factors include: A. Free and fair elections; B. Uncoerced expression of voters preference in election; C. Respect for electorate as unfettered final arbiter on elections; D. Decorum and fairness on the part of the electoral umpires; E. Absolute respect for the rule of law. Fellow Nigerians, you would recall that it was precisely because the presidential primaries of last year did not meet the basic requirements of free and fair election that the Armed Forces Ruling Council had good reason to cancel those primaries. The recently annulled presidential election was similarly afflicted by these problems. Even before the presidential election, and indeed at the party conventions, we had full knowledge of the bad signals pertaining to the enormous breach of the rules and regulations of democratic elections.
But because we were determined to keep faith with the deadline of 27th August, 1993 for the return to civil rule, we overlooked the reported breaches. Unfortunately, these breaches continued into the presidential election of June 12, 1993, on an even greater proportion. There were allegations of irregularities and other acts of bad conduct leveled against the presidential candidates but NEC went ahead and cleared them. There were proofs as well as documented evidence of widespread use of money during the party primaries as well as the presidential election. These were the same bad conduct for which the party presidential primaries of 1992 were cancelled. Evidence available to government put the total amount of money spent by the presidential candidates at over two billion, one hundred million naira (N2.1 billion). The use of money was again the major source of undermining the electoral process. Both these allegations and evidence were known to the National Defence and Security Council before the holding of the June 12, 1993 election, the National Defence and Security Council overlooked these areas of problems in its determination to fulfill the promise to hand over to an elected president on due date.
Apart from the tremendous negative use of money during the party primaries and presidential election, there were moral issues which were also overlooked by the Defence and National Security Council. There were cases of documented and confirmed conflict of interest between the government and both presidential candidates which would compromise their positions and responsibilities were they to become president. We believe that politics and government are not ends in themselves. Rather, service and effective amelioration of the condition of our people must remain the true purpose of politics. It is true that the presidential election was generally seen to be free, fair and peaceful.
However, there was in fact a huge array of electoral malpractices virtually in all the states of the federation before the actual voting began. There were authenticated reports of the electoral malpractices against party agents, officials of the National Electoral Commission and also some members of the electorate. If all of these were clear violations of the electoral law, there were proofs of manipulations through offer and acceptance of money and other forms of inducement against officials of the National Electoral Commission and members of the electorate. There were also evidence of conflict in the process of authentication and clearance of credentials of the presidential candidates.
Indeed, up to the last few hours of the election, we continued, in our earnest steadfastness with our transition deadline, to overlook vital facts. For example, following the Council’s deliberation which followed the court injunction suspending the election, majority of members of the National Defence and Security Council supported postponement of the election by one week. This was to allow NEC enough time to reach all the voters, especially in the rural areas, about the postponement. But persuaded by NEC that it was capable of relaying the information to the entire electorate within the few hours left before the election, the Council, unfortunately, dropped the idea of shifting the voting day. Now, we know better. The conduct of the election, the behaviour of the candidates and post-election responses continued to elicit signals which the nation can only ignore at its peril.
It is against the foregoing background that the administration became highly concerned when these political conflicts and breaches were carried to the court. It must be acknowledged that the performance of the judiciary on this occasion was less than satisfactory. The judiciary has been the bastion of the hopes and liberties of our citizens. Therefore, when it became clear that the courts had become intimidated and subjected to the manipulation of the political process, and vested interests, then the entire political system was in clear dangers. This administration could not continue to watch the various high courts carry on their long drawn out processes and contradictory decisions while the nation slides into chaos. It was under this circumstance that the National Defence and Security Council decided that it is in the supreme interest of law and order, political stability and peace that the presidential election be annulled.
As an administration, we have had special interest and concern not only for the immediate needs of our society, but also in laying the foundation for generations to come. To continue action on the basis of the June 12, 1993 election, and to proclaim and swear in a president who encouraged a campaign of divide and rule among our ethnic groups would have been detrimental to the survival of the Third Republic. Our need is for peace, stability and continuity of politics in the interest of all our people. Fellow countrymen and women, although the National Electoral Commission and the Centre for Democratic Studies officially invited foreign observers for the presidential election, the administration also considered it, as important as a democratic society, that our activities and electoral conduct must be open not only to the citizenry of our country but also to the rest of the world.
In spite of this commitment, the administration did not and cannot accept that foreign countries should interfere in our internal affairs and undermine our sovereignty. The presidential election was not an exercise imposed on Nigerians by the United Nations or by the wishes of some global policemen of democracy. It was a decision embarked upon independently by the government of our country and for the interest of our country. This is because we believe, just like other countries, that democracy and democratization are primary values which Nigerians should cultivate, sustain and consolidate so as to enhance freedom, liberties and social development of the citizenry. The actions of these foreign countries are most unfortunate and highly regrettable. There is nowhere in the history of our country or indeed of the third world where these countries can be said to love Nigeria or Nigerians any more than the love we have for ourselves and for our country. Neither can they claim to love Nigeria any more than this administration loves our country.
Accordingly, I wish to state that this administration will take necessary action against any interest groups that seek to interfere in our internal affairs. In this vein, I wish to place on record the appreciation of this administration for the patience and understanding of Nigerians, the French, the Germans, the Russians and Irish governments in the current situation. I appeal to our fellow countrymen and women and indeed our foreign detractors that they should cultivate proper understanding and appreciation of the peculiar historic circumstances in the development of our country and the determination not only of this administration but indeed of all Nigerians to resolve the current crises. Fellow Nigerians, the National Security and Defence Council has met several times since the June 12, 1993 election.
The council has fully deliberated not only on our avowed commitment but also to bequeathing to posterity a sound economic and political base in our country and we shall do so with honour. In our deliberations, we have also taken note of several extensive consultations with other members of this administration, with officers and men of the Armed Forces and with well-meaning Nigerian leaders of thought. We are committed to handing over power on 27th August, 1993.
Accordingly, the National Defence and Security Council has decided that, by the end of July 1993, the two political parties, under the supervision of a recomposed National Electoral Commission, will put in place the necessary process for the emergence of two presidential candidates. This shall be conducted according to the rules and regulations governing the election of the president of the country. In this connection, government will, in consultation with the two political parties and National Electoral Commission, agree as to the best and quickest process of conducting the election. In the light of our recent experience and, given the mood of the nation, the National Defence and Security Council has imposed additional conditions as a way of widening and deepening the base of electing the president and sanitizing the electoral process.
Accordingly, the candidates for the coming election must: (1) Not be less than 50 years old; (2) Have not been convicted of any crime; (3) Believe, by act of faith and practice, in the corporate existence of Nigeria; (4) Possess records of personal, corporate and business interests which do not conflict with national interests; (5) Have been registered members of either of the two political parties for at least one year to this election. All those previously banned from participating in the transition process, other than those with criminal records, are hereby unbanned. They can all henceforth participate in the electoral process. This is with a view to enriching the quality of candidature for the election and at the same time tap the leadership resources of our country to the fullest. The decree to this effect will be promulgated.
Fellow Nigerians, I wish to finally acknowledge the tremendous value of your patience and understanding, especially in the face of national provocation. I urge you to keep faith with the commitment of this administration. I enjoin you to keep faith with the unity, peace and stability of our country for this is the only country that you and I can call our own. Nowhere in the world, no matter the prompting and inducements of foreign countries, can Nigerians ever be regarded as first class citizens. Nigeria is the only country that we have. We must therefore renew our hope in Nigeria, and faith and confidence in ourselves for continued growth, development and progress.