BY MONTAGE AFRICA MEDIA
The history of June 12 goes back to the early 90s, 1993 precisely when the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida announced the result of an election that was generally perceived as the most credible and fairest of all in the nation’s history, an election that produced Chief Moshood Kashimowo Olawale Abiola as the undeclared winner of the presidential race.
Considering the event surrounding June 12 and its historic significance , were you surprised, a year ago when suddenly there was some recognition for June 12, it was declared as democracy day.
Ambassador Babagana: in a way yes, I was surprised more by the timing of it than that it happened. I was actually on that last Hajj in Saudi Arabia when the announcement was made I was not surprised that it was made because I knew that president Buhari felt strongly about June 12. In the aftermath of the annulment, one of the architects of the annulment, former president Obansanjo tried to get elders statesmen, former presidents and so on I think African leadership for more something.
The heads and the organizations to see how the problems arising from the aftermath of the annulment could be addressed and I think President Buhari did attend the inaugural meeting once and I understood that when he saw the direction of the meeting, he decided not to attend again and every time the issue of the annulment came up over the years his position was very clear, it was very firm that the elections were free, they were fair and that there was a clear winner and that the annulment was unjustified. So every opportunity for help to right the wrong so to speak, I wasn’t surprised that he did so because it is in his character to try and do justice however belated and under whatever circumstance.
—-Did you really abandoned the course?
Ambassador Babagana: you know, June 12 was the creation of all Nigerian I really think it will not be fair to history and to the millions of Nigerians who participated in the political process very unique political process that culminated on June 12. All Nigerians were architects of June 12. Like all the endeavors, collective endeavors there is always a leader and one can never diminish the role pf chief Abiola in the final stages of this long political journey to democracy in giving the leadership in being the heir and the symbol of that struggle for democracy. I think we are now going to celebrate first of all, june12 being a democracy day we are celebrating. It is an opportunity to recall all the positive take always of the June 12 experience what it represented and how we can learn lessons for the future I do not think that it is an occasion for culmination of who betrayed who, who abandoned what, you know who process leading up to June 12 with the unique experience in the Nigeria political journey towards democracy, the fact of June 12 ,. The election that took place on that date were unique we have had many election before that but the election of June 12 was unique. The annulment of the election was unique in the life of all of us reaction was required I do not think in will have the time to go through who played what role or who did what on this occasion all am saying is let’s celebrate ex-Nigerians let imbibe whatever lesion everybody imbibes and we move on.
—-Why have you never spoken out specifically about June 12 the issues around it and what?
Ambassador Babagana: indeed I’ve never, this is the first time that am addressing the issue, I was, sometimes be immersed. I was saddened perhaps sometimes I was not surprised at all the comments that people were making about June 12 the claims and authorship pf June 12 those who stood on June 12 and so on I know every details of what happened and there is no way that one could tell the truth about June 12 without perhaps diminishing some people roles without taking away from the significant and the solemnity of that date and I just, I have actually recorded by recollections of those days and those event and I hope that I will have the opportunity to have my recording one day is on video not audio recording. But, so fistic to say now there are so many ways of pursuing a goal, to me the immediate goal was to make sure the annulment did not stand, that I have a very strong feeling about and don’t forget from the annulment to the enthronement of the international government those 84 days or so 82, and during those days we all work together to make to make sure that the ING [the international government] did not stand and it did not stand. After then we all had our reflections collectively and individually as to the way forward and we moved on.
—-You had a Muslim Muslim ticket for the presidency and that not in any way affect the voting pattern.
Ambassador Babagana: indeed and this is one of the regrettable phenomenal to observe for example, today in many ways religion has now taken a center stage as one of our major front line in our political actions, let me go back, you know June 12 was a combination of political process, the so called transmission process of President Babangida he created the two parties, The National Republican Convention and The Social Democratic Party and in fact not only did he create them but he gave them their constitutions and their manifestos.
—-Which is to refer to now as A little to the Right A little to the Left?
Ambassador Babagana: now I should say that in the SDP in particular, but to some extent NRSC too will try to make something out of that construction in SDP, We try to give ideological content to what is called A little to the Left. We work on the basis of a vision for society, what kind of society we want to see, and what kind of governance under democratic basis. This exercise was not or parties and so on all Nigerian had their Ideas.
Of how we should be governed how the economy should be organized how society should be run. In this debt that went on, there was no question on religon or tribe or reason involved at all. In fact it was the most trolley adifing addressing the issues not the persons than those of us who work together worked as a bound of brothers and sisters. We enjoyed each other’s company, we enjoyed the debt and we enjoyed the challenges.
I recall we will be on the campaign and we will be on television, radio whatever arguing against the idea of the other part up till in the evening Chief Tommy came in, who was my opposite in number of the National Republican of Convention and I will get in touch sometimes. We would invite each other for dinner sometimes, we will just go out sit down, have tea and discuss broad national issues with now this is something that I miss and the most important and dangerous is this religion diverse which a few who have no idea, no personal experience of where we are coming from who now find themselves on the pulpit of the church or the mosque who are hitting up the politics, who has brought obvious motive issues of religious and tribute Northerns, Southerns, Fulani, non – Fulani, Yorubas. Whatever, these were issues that have no relevance in the political process up to June 12 and it is a pity we have not learnt that lesson.
—-How did you feel when it became obvious that at some point during the struggle for the actualization of June 12 that certain people (Nigerians) and some of them highly placed began to introduce acidic coloration into the struggle?
Ambassador: Was it some Nigerians, I think by the time the regime of President Babangida annulled the elections and saw the reaction, then obviously they have to try some kind of counter response and part of their strategy was to isolate the struggle for June 12 and the outcry against the annulment as a tribute. The thing is that, it is the Yorubas who are the agitators and the rest of the Nigerians didn’t concern them. Of course, that was rubbish. Unfortunately, they were successful in having enough spokesmen in the East and in the North to perpetrate, make that June 12 was a Yoruba affair, I guess it is the strategy which under the circumstances they could usebut it was false and it didn’t hold. It wasn’t Nigerian people who introduced ethnicity, it was the regime of Babangida in trying to justify their actions that introduced the ethnically prospective to the strike.
—-The SDP and NRC were the two parties and of course, you started the first chairman of the SDP and later became running mate to Chief Abiola. Of course, elections were held and those parties were also annulled but there are people who say today perhaps it is best to have a two-party system and if that experiment had been allowed to flourish, today we would have something aching to a standard two-party system as against where you have over ninety political parties in the last election. Seventy plus contesting for the last presidency. What do you think about that?
Ambassador: I think that the two-party system worked well and I wished the systems were allowed to mature. President Babangida could have after annulling the actual presidential elections, it wasn’t Babangida it was Gen. Sani Abacha could have allowed the parties to survive and they could continue trying to see if they could reorganize fresh elections or whatever but if they kept the party systems going, we would have mature into a level like we have in America where although they do have the garage parties, the mushroom parties but they have actually two political parties but of course that couldn’t be done. It wasn’t the intention of Abacha, the elections or whatever so the parties had to be sacrificed but eventually, even now gradually the politics is rehabilitating into two major political parties. I hope this process could be consolidated and it is within that framework that we would have greater unity of purpose, it is within that framework that perhaps some of our front lines be diminished whether it is religion or tribe or region whatever, I hope that the zoning practice which both parties do and which is assumed to be a normal thing but is not really a legal basis, I hope but it will eventually be jettisoned because we need to get to a place in Nigeria where we look for who is best to deliver not where he comes from, who will get there but we need nurture the evolution of what will inevitably end up as to major political parties.
—-one issue has to do with the process of elections, the other has to do with whoever superintends over the elections. In this case, the Independent Electoral Commission and where we talk of the process, option A for only your time, people look at it and say yes, it is something that produced leaders without all what we see now, but others say no, that is archaic, it is pedestrian in this day and age to have people lined up in front of furtherance of the candidates, I mean it is 2019 they say. Do you think it makes sense to abduct an option like that giving the state of violence, ballot box snatching and all kinds of things we see?
Ambassador: We have to ask a question; what is the purpose of elections? Elections are meant to throw up the people, the candidates that the people want to lead them. We want that to be done transparently, we want this to be done freely and then the next question is, what is the best way of ensuring that in a complicated and complex country like Nigeria, people have been talking about the electronic voting even the countries that invented the electronic voting do not use it for their own elections. So there are many methods used for elections and in some countries they take weeks for elections to be called. In India just recently they just finished their elections it took weeks.so really there is no particular merit in any particular form of throwing up who the people wants as their leaders.it is what will work for any given society. In Nigeria as believed the option A4 is the best option and it has nothing to do with being primitive or not even those who invented the technology to enable E-voting and not using it and that doesn’t mean they are not advanced. I hope that we will get back to option A4. You know one of the beauties of option A4 it takes place in a particular polling unit so everybody knows everybody, but it is a very small unit. The only know what is happening in the unit and they know the truth of their strength of the various contenders and parties in that unit.so if a particular person polls the highest number of votes there is no surprise, there will be no crises but the people in that unit only know what is happening in that unit, but they wouldn’t know what happened in the hundreds of thousands of unit across the country so they will not even then conclude on, our person lost, but they have the results of their units and the party agent will collect the result, sent to their headquarters the police, this as well as all the security agencies and the headquarters will have it, so, there is so many layers of verification but there is no way in Abuja that INEC will sit down and change the results that’s the beauty of June 12, 1993. We all knew the result and the only way as supposed the regime of Babagida could have, to me it was the way they did the annully but they couldn’t have gone on, concluded and announced different result from that which was obtained. Yes and for option A4, there is nothing uncivilized about it. What is important is the objectives of election throw up the genuine and authentic winner of election.
—-What about the election supervisor? Body here we see that politicians and electoral bodies are always at logger heads when you win it is free and fair, it is fantastic when you lose on the electoral bodies perhaps it is plan to the script of the government in power on the position.
Ambassador Babagana: well, that’s again in a way of responding to that problem. The election empire is a facilitator of the progress in the first place and it says it has the right to announce result. Nobody can announce it and it’s working within a legal frame work which politicians and voters don’t necessarily understand. All these will be eliminated if they are just here as facilitators, they provide the logistics and so on and piled the figures which everybody has after an option A4 process, they will be no problem on who side the electoral empire takes the electoral process majorly back to the people, the control of it, option A4 give control of the process to the people at the polling unit level not at the Abuja level.
—-You have rightly been commonly described as an elder and you have been in government, you have been a Detective Rep, you have served in minister of Foreign Affairs you have had all the ministerial portfolios and some point in time you were sectary to the government of the federation in Yar’Aduwa days, so in Nigeria an important country to administer?
Ambassador Babagana: No, I think Nigerians are the easiest people to administer. All Nigerian youth want from their leaders’ one communication; they want their leaders to identify with them, with their aspirations, with their struggles and so on. Nigerians are patient people. There is no country on earth, I believe that an survive a we do with the kind of challenges we have been facing over time, we are patient people, we tolerate people and we are fair minded people, We know, you know, what is possible and what is not possible. We know what is right and what is wrong, all we want is for our leaders to adopt the attitude of “Do as I do” not as I say. If they see that the leader themselves are suffering, the leaders are also struggling just as they are and they are facing the same issues, the same problems, Nigerians are very easy to administer, in fact very helpful. They can even help the government you know, to better administer the country once they are carried on board. Our people need to be connected with, they need to be communicated to and then we are very nice people.
—-But some time you describe yourself as a retired politician and people wondered isn’t there such a thing in this past actually retired from politic may not be as active as they used to be? Are you really retired from politics?
Ambassador Babagana: Politics is in every body’s blood. When I say I am a retired politician, I mean I am no longer seeking an elective office. Of course I have my views, my aspirations, my wishes for Nigeria and for Nigerians and I cannot just be aloof from the political process so to speak. No, I am not climbing for any office. I operate with other people you know, to bring about the kind of society that we wish.
—-Regarding June 12, what will you say is your greatest satisfaction or if you like dissatisfaction of the whole process, the years of, as some will say various administration living in denial and eventual recognition and the conferment of honors on some those who were key actors.
Ambassador Babagana: the conferment of honors and so on are just consequential, it is very appreciative but not very important. Some of us labored for, we worked to bring about June 12. It required a lot of planning, a lot of strategizing, a lot of hastens and campaigns which took us almost every local government in this country and connected with people, we communicated with people, we saw people’s reactions to us and orchestrating all these, and culminating on election day, and coming out victorious forget about the technicities of official manners but we were victorious. That was wonderful, it was a wonderful journey, wonderful experience and I cherished it all my life. My regret frankly is that we were not able to actualize it to go through with it. You see many people didn’t know chief Abiola well. They had some ideas of chief Abiola as a rich man, in politics here and there, he was in the NPN and so on, but they didn’t know the man chief Abiola and what he stood for. I knew him well, I knew him before we join forces in politics and we worked together for the election and thereafter, but it is Nigeria lost that we never had a president Abiola in power. He had great passion, great ideas, and great vision for this country and for the people, he had aspiration. Drawing his own background of so to speak from Kano from grass to grace, that I regret,
I regret for my country, I regret for my people that we would not be where we are if he was given the chance to shape the trajectory for Nigeria’s future. I regret but we move on.
—-Back in 1972, you were head of current affairs and then you featured in the then Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) so we described you at the start of this program as a media practitioner. The Nigerian media and the evolution of democracy, what state or what position has the media been in? Have they been an asset to this democracy or as some people now say beginning to be the vehicles of division that we are seeing but assess the Nigeria media as regards to democracy.
Amb. Babagana: The Nigerian media of those days were unique, we had both the print and the electronic media were met by people if they were not in the media could be somewhere else equally. So the government officials, the entrepreneurials, the media people were all interchangeable, anyone of them could be doing the other’s job and also it was not long after the independence, after the civil war and so on, there were some kind of collective consciousness about the national interest and about values and ethics, what is ethical and what is not. I came into broadcasting from the university I taught. I was teaching at the university, I resigned from teaching and went into broadcasting and from there, I went into the foreign service. As I said, if you take my own trajectory as an example, one person can do any of those things and there was no issue. We had the internal you know, the expression. D-notice like in the UK, government can issue Dnotice to the media and say this story there is D-notice on it and everybody respects it and they don’t use it at all but here, we don’t have formal D-notice system but we had internal discipline to issue ourselves D-notice. These days, anything goes but I am sorry, the fear of the media is the beginning of wisdom but I have gone beyond the stage of gathering to people’s egos and so on. The standards are not as they should be, they write beautifully, I love reading columns in newspapers for example or watching insightful programs like yours but generally speaking, the quality of the practitioners and the quality of the output could be improved and I know some publishers could use their publications as a vehicle to blackmail people either to part with their money or to take certain positions and so on. There are some lot of regulation that needs to be done and the exposure that needs to be made about the media and stream line it, make it really respectful so that when the media say something or write something, people can take it to the bank and can say yes, it is the proper state of the run not just because they claim it but because they are actually the guardians of freedom of democracy and watchdogs over government and holding government to account which I doubt if I can qualify in the presence of these days in those terms. MAM