It’s indeed remarkable that June 12 has at last been declared Democracy Day.
The epochal struggle for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria was not entirely a male affair as some chauvinistic commentators would have us believe.
Bashorun MKO Abiola who won the June 12 1993 election was of course a man, but the heroine by his side was his dogged wife, Kudirat, who paid the supreme prize for the cause.
Kudirant Olayinka Abiola was only 44 years old when she was gunned down on June 4, 1996 in Lagos by General Sani Abacha’s goons for keeping up the fight to actualize the mandate given to her husband. It’s a mark of Kudirat’s international clout that 44th Street in New York was renamed after her, as well as Second Avenue that houses the Nigerian Mission in America. Nigeria House in New York stands today at the Kudirat Abiola Corner.
Another heroine of June 12 happens to be the daughter of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, famously known simply as Hafsat. She has been in the forefront of immortalizing her slain mother by setting up the Kudirat Institute for Nigerian Democracy (KIND). Hafsat Olaronke Abiola may look fragile to the ordinary eyes but she has fire and steel embedded in her warm soul.
The former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Senator Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, is a living testimony as a redoubtable woman of June 12. She was a solid female presence in all NADECO affairs, bringing to bear on the struggle her doggedness and never-say-die spirit.
As the president of the preeminent human rights group in Nigeria, the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Ayo Obe was in the forefront of the June 12 struggle. She was in the forefront of the 5-million-man march initiated by Chima Ubani and Olisa Agbakoba in Lagos to counter Abacha’s 2-million-man march in Abuja.
Senator Chris Anyanwu was the publisher of The Sunday Magazine (TSM) who was jailed for coup-plotting by the Abacha regime, but her real crime was that she stood up to be counted in the struggle to entrench democracy in the country. She walked the talk and was as ever ready to pay the price, any price. She served her sentence with her head held high, and no commentator on the June 12 struggle can deny irrepressible Chris Anyanwu her frontline role. She has since served as a distinguished Senator.
Oby Ezekwesili, through her role in Transaparency International, was a solid bulwark for the June 12 struggle. She did not give Abacha any repite, condemning his regime time and again. She had to slip out of the country into exile when the threats to her life became rampant. She acquitted herself well as “Madam Due Process” and a minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The galvanizing of the civil society groups was undertaken under the leading charge of Glory Kilanko. A no-nonsense activist, she matched the men grit-for-grit without giving any breathing space to the Abacha regime. She led the lines in all the demonstrations and was the firebrand in the centre of the 5-million-man march for democracy in Lagos.
Campaign for Democracy (CD) played an outstanding role in the June 12 struggle, and one indefatigable lady called Joe Okei-Odumakin shone like a million stars in the fight to ensure that the light of June 12 never dipped.
Ngozi Iwere remains a self-effacing activist who used her commitment to just social causes to good effect in the June 12 struggle. Her role in the conscientization of the Nigerian masses cannot be overlooked.
Alhaja Suliat Adedeji, an Ibadan-based business woman, was murdered in cold blood on June 14, 1996, in circumstances that showed that the goons could not live with her dogged support of the democratic struggle.
Late Chief Bola Ige’s wife, Atinuke, solidly backed her husband in the June 12 epic battle. She shared company with such Amazons as Prof Jadesola Akande.
People generally forget that the court ruling that gave fillip to the June 12 struggle was delivered by a woman. Justice Dolapo Akinsanya on November 10, 1993 put the death knell on the lame-duck regime of Chief Ernest Shonekan when she delivered her landmark judgment.
Women of June 12 deserve recognition in Nigeria’s march to nationhood. The martyrs such as Kudirat Abiola and Suliat Adedeji who paid the supreme sacrifice for the liberation of Nigeria must not die in vain.
The general rule in the country has always been to make everything look like an all-male-club forgetting that the womenfolk had most times played heroic roles while the men served as quislings.
Of course the governance of the country has been totally dominated by the men, and what a bloody mess they have made of providing leadership!
There is no doubt in my mind that the women cannot fall into the pits of infamy that past Nigerian Heads of State and Presidents wallowed in.
A female Abacha is, for instance, unimaginable!
June 12 remains the quintessential struggle for the enthronement of democracy in this long-suffering country, and we cannot do requite justice to the cause if a significant group in the movement, the women, cannot be paid due recognition.
It is toward the righting of this wrong that I today, on Democracy Day, doff my old hat to the dogged women of June 12.