The 1993 Nigerian presidential election took place on the 12th of June 1993, being the first presidential election since the 1983 military coup. This election is regarded as the freest and fairest election in the country’s political history. The election ushered in the present dispensation of democracy in Nigeria. The presidential candidates during the 1993 presidential election were: Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Abiola was a Yoruba businessman, publisher, and aristocrat of the Yoruba Egba clan. Tofa, on the other hand, was an oil trader and an industrialist from Kano state.

MKO Abiola 1993 presidential election
Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola

Majority of people loved and supported Abiola and his running mate, Baba Gana Kinigbe not minding the fact that were both Muslims. The people saw Abiola as their Messiah, a man who has come to rescue them from the shackles of military rule.  The people believed that Abiola would not steal public funds as he was already wealth owning thriving businesses spanning Telecommunications, agriculture, media and oil sector. Chief Abiola was also the richest Blackman of his time with an estimated net worth of five billion dollars. During campaign, Abiola toured the country in his own private jet.

Abiola’s campaign theme was Hope’93 with a subtheme; Farewell to Poverty.

Campaign poster 1993 presidential election
Abiola’s Camapign Poster

His campaign theme made people support him more as they felt he would renew their hope and of course put an end to poverty.  Before the election, Abiola had been providing financial assistance in the construction of schools, mosques, churches and also water projects in 24 states of Nigeria. Abiola also gave out money willingly and freely to people whether young or old. A man full of these tremendous qualities won’t be a bad choice if he becomes the president.

MKO Election Jingle

The option A4 system otherwise known as open ballot system was to be used during the election as suggested by the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) chairman Professor Henry Nwosu. The option A4 meant that voters would queue up indicating the candidate of their choice and cast their vote. The system minimizes the incidences of election rigging and other fraudulent electoral related practices. This was the first time this system was used in Nigeria, which made people regard the 1993 presidential election as the fairest and freest. There were also minimal reports of violence despite a massive turnout. The 1993 presidential election has one of the largest percentage of registered voters in Nigerian history.

On the day of the election, people ignored their ethnicity, religion and trooped out in numbers to go and elect “their man”, and even went from one house to another persuading those who were at home to go and vote. Few hours into the voting exercise, Abiola was already leading in the Southwest, South-south, and even in the Northwest, he was confidently thrashing his opponent Bashir Tofa in his home state. When the results were released, Abiola had secured an overwhelming victory over his opponent with 8.3 million votes and 58.36% of the total vote count as opposed to Bashir Tofa’s 5.9 million votes and 41.64% total vote count.

Voters put their ballot in the NEC (National Electoral Commission) box at the polling station, on June 12, 1993, during Nigeria's first presidential election after 10 years of military rule. (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS ROJON/AFP/Getty Images)
Voters put their ballot in the NEC (National Electoral Commission) box at the polling station, on June 12, 1993, during Nigeria’s first presidential election after 10 years of military rule. (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS ROJON/AFP/Getty Images)

Abiola won the election, the people were joyous, there was dancing in the streets, finally, “our man” won.

1993 presidential election
Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida

  However, things started going wrong, the unthinkable had happened, Abiola’s overwhelming victory was snatched away when the then Head of State; Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida annulled the election claiming that:

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.

there was in fact a huge array of electoral malpractices virtually in all the states of the federation before the actual voting began.

“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.

“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”

The head of state also mentioned that foreign countries interfered in the election. In his words:

“The administration did not and cannot accept that foreign countries should interfere in our internal affairs and undermine our sovereignty.

“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”.

Of course no one believed Babangida’s reason for annulling the election and this led to various unrest across the country, different groups took to the streets and waged war against the military head of state. Babangida could no longer stand the heat, which made him announce that he would be stepping aside on August 27 1993 and an Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan was named.

1993 presidential election ernest shonekan
Chief Ernest Shonekan

Shonekan ruled only for three months before General Sani Abacha sent him packing on November 17 1993.

1993 general election
General Sani Abacha

On the 11th of June 1994, at Epetedo Lagos, Abiola declared himself as the president of the country based on the June 12 1993 presidential election result. In his speech he said;

People of Nigeria, exactly one year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by the President you had yourselves elected. These soldier-politicians introduced into our body politic, a concept hitherto unknown to our political lexicography, something strangely called the “annulment” of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful ever held in our nation. Today, people of Nigeria, I join you all in saying, “Enough is Enough!” We have endured 24 years of military rule in our 34 years of independence.

Military rule has led to our nation fighting a civil war with itself. Military rule has destabilized our nation today as not before in its history. Military rule has impoverished our people and introduced a dreadful trade in drugs which has made our country’s name an anathema in many parts of the world. Enough of military rule. We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone.

Enough of square pegs in round holes. We are tired of then military repetitive tendency to experiment with our economy: Today, they say “no controls.” Tomorrow; they say “Full controls”. The day after, they say “Fine tuning”.

Our youths, in particular, can see no hope on the horizon, and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain. Is this the Nigeria we want?

As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief. The National Assembly is hereby reconvened. All dismissed governors are reinstated. No one can give you power. It is yours. Take it! From this day, show to the world that anyone who takes the people of Nigeria for fools is deceiving himself and will have the people to answer to. God bless you all. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long live the Government of National Unity.

On June 24, 1994, Abiola was arrested and jailed for treason.

1993 Presidential election
Moshood Abiola when he was arrested on June 24, 1994

With Abiola in jail, Abacha’s strike force dealt with anyone or any group asking for the restoration of Abacha’s mandate, several pro-democracy activists were jailed, some fled for their dear lives. Abiola’s wife, Mrs. Kudirat Abiola was also assassinated on June 4, 1996 because she stepped forward with the conviction that the military’s action amounted to violation of fundamental rights of Nigerians to elect their government, and this inspired new level of activism in Nigeria’s pro-democracy movement as students, market women, human rights community to fight for the struggle of democracy.

1993 presidential election- Kudirat Abiola
Mrs Kudirat Abiola

On June 8, 1998, the news of the death of General Sani Abacha was announced. Upon this announcement, people trooped out in numbers, dancing on the streets to celebrate the death of Man; General Sani Abacha. Unfortunately, on July 7 1998, which happened to be the day Abiola was to be released, he died. The official autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, but Abacha’s chief security officer, Al-Mustapha has alleged that Moshood Abiola was in fact beaten to death. Another autopsy was produced by a group of international coroners, but it was never publicly released.

Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola’s memory is celebrated in Nigeria and internationally, June 12 remains a public holiday in Nigeria beginning from June 12, 2019, replacing the former May 29 as democracy day (a recent change by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration). Remembrance events are arranged across Nigeria, MKO Abiola Stadium Abeokuta, and Moshood Abiola Polytechnic Abeokuta were named in his honor. A statue was also erected in his honor.

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