Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, has said that it is lamentable that the June 12 democratic struggle has been reduced to an ethnic project “championed by the Yoruba people”.
Mr Soyinka made this known in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES ahead of Wednesday’s commemoration of the June 12 Democracy Day by the Nigerian government.
President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier signed the Public Holidays Act Amendment Bill into law.
The Act, which declared June 12 of every year as public holiday and Democracy Day in Nigeria, amended the Public Holidays Act and removed May 29 of every year as a public holiday.
In a statement titled, ‘Democracy Day Primer (1)’, Mr Soyinka noted that although the government’s decision to acknowledge the date as Nigeria’s democracy day was significant, “civil society groups and others who fought for the June 12 struggle have never gone into recess”.
“Next, I found it equally lamentable that anyone should attempt to reduce the June 12 struggle to that of an ethnic project,” said Mr Soyinka. “It is a depressing travesty of the realities, a denial of the existence of a nation’s collective sense of justice and its tenacity in pursuit of that objective. No one denies that the immediate family of a victim of robbery feels the pangs of dispossession more keenly than others.
“The truth however remains that the entirety of the compound itself was violated, arrogantly and contemptuously dispossessed. In this case, its very aspiration to a unified identity was simply ground underfoot, compelling a return to the starting block, and even several milestones behind! Disenfranchisement is the ultimate stigma for any free people.
“Again, despite official hostility, corporate blackmail and even victimisation of some adherents of that date, a number of state governments but, even more crucially, civil society – with members drawn from across the nation – did not await permission of any power or agency of the centre to gather and celebrate that date, and pay homage to the fallen. The June 12th movement never went into recess, and the current government merely jumped on a bandwagon that was already propelled by the people.”
‘Ethnic context, lamentable’
Mr Soyinka condemned the ethnic context within which the struggle is being situated, recalling an incident wherein a few irredentists attempted to discourage those who fought for the June 12 struggle from diverse backgrounds across Nigeria.
He said: “After the annulment, I recall that, when we tried to mobilise opposition to that sadistic impostor, fanatic voices of ethnic irredentism informed us bluntly, verbally and in print, that the Yoruba should go and solve their problems themselves, since we had let them down in the lead-up to the Biafran War of Secession, and should seek no collaboration from that side of the Niger.
“One recognises, in today’s renewed voices of ethnic denigration, the same chant of a hate chorus, the fanning of divisive embers. It is gratifying therefore – and here we come to some cheering news! – that this tendency has become a source of concern to many of the leaders of that former secessionist state.
“It led to recent counter efforts under themes such as HANDS ACROSS THE NIGER, later followed by HANDS ACROSS THE NATION, encounters that have taken place both within the nation and outside her borders. It is crucial that those laudable initiatives continue in the same spirit of civic responsibility and nationally craved closure.”
The June 12 struggle has its root in the June 12, 1993 election won by the late Moshood Abiola, known popularly as M.K.O. Mr Abiola, who contested on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and had Baba Gana Kingibe as his running mate.
He defeated his rival, Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in that election, widely adjudged the freest ansd fairest election in Nigeria’s history.
However, the election was annulled by the military government of Ibrahim Babangida, which set up an interim government that ushered in Ernest Shonekan and, subsequently, Sani Abacha.
Mr Abiola died in 1998, shortly after Mr Abacha died, after years of pro-democracy resistance that led to the death of numerous activists. Others, including journalists and writers like Mr Soyinka, were hounded by Mr Abacha’s junta and many were forced to go on exile.
In his statement Tuesday, Mr Soyinka noted that those who partook in the struggle would appreciate its recognition better, adding that many activists underwent horrible experiences and others paid the supreme price.
“For all those who were actively involved,” Mr Soyinka said, “no matter how tangentially, in the events that flowed from the annulment of June 12, 1993 – largely of blood and lamentations- the restoration of that date to a slot among the milestones of nation building will evoke, side by side with a sense of elation, a mood of sobriety and reflection, especially when one recollects how many productive projects were derailed, how many lives destroyed, how many underwent torture and remain traumatised by that experience, how many paid the supreme price.
“Many have witnessed death at close quarters, survived, but remain severely damaged. I shall leave others to comment on how little appears to have been learnt from that monstrosity of democratic subversion. What is undeniable is that the wiles of opportunists, cynics, saboteurs and beneficiaries from the sacrifices of others, continue to haunt the nation. Hopefully also, it does haunt them spasmodically, those who thought to bury the message of that date and its faithful evocations.
“Amnesia, the much-craved refuge of the battle weary, the ravaged psyche, or simply weak-minded, is not always to be despised. Where deliberately cultivated, even propagated however, it amounts to further cruelty against the violated.
“Forgiveness is a different matter. In most theologies, and even for non-believers, it is ranked among the loftiest attributes of humanity. For those of us who confess our inadequacy in that respect, we can only implore those who violate, contribute to, or profit from the mutilation of the very humanity of others, not to aggravate our mortal weakness by continuation of their past perfidy in any form. The orphan cries are still with us, so are the scars and trauma of survivors. Many remain impaired – physically and psychologically – for life.”
The social critic said he would not participate in this year’s June 12 celebrations. He said “it is part of his training exercises for withdrawing from public space, a resolution that began over five years ago”.
“That absence applies, not to the official celebration alone – of which I have never been a part anyway – but to the annual ritual by civic groups, a ritual of both tribute and defiance that has been unflaggingly observed till now,” he said.
“However, regarding the earlier Abuja ceremony that signaled the state’s reversion to June 12 as the most truthful expression of a people’s democratic will, I did attend, even at the cost of breaking a journey on the way to Brazil.
“That event, for some of us, represented closure – at least substantially. It was a reunion of sorts, a cauterisation of many internal, invisible, and yet suppurating wounds, and private thanksgiving – for some of us – that the only route that appeared left for the recovery of a people’s dignity was abruptly, and ‘providentially’ closed by the timely demise of a singular human perversion.
“The nation was saved the anguish of the unknown. That sense of relief, on its own, is worth celebrating. The anonymous ones who acted on behalf of ‘providence’ remain unacknowledged, but we still owe them our gratitude,” Mr Soyinka added.