June 12…Heroes, Heroine Of The People’s Struggle

June 13, 2013

The ‘June 12’ battle was not for men of frail will. On the battle field were great fighters who dared the military. These democratic forces were scattered at home and abroad. Many lost their lives and property. When the fight became hotter, some developed cold feet, betrayed the cause and deserted the battle. However, many also endured the heat and fought to the end during the delicate period. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the heroes and martyrs of the titanic struggle, whose persistent agitations heralded the restoration of civil rule in 1999.



The symbol of the struggle for democracy was the late Chief Moshood Abiola, the billionaire businessman, who wanted to use power to abolish poverty in Nigeria. Before he joined the race, he had established himself as a friend of top military brass and philanthropist. Apparently, the ruling military class underrated him as a presidential material, until it was too late. His credential was highly intimidating. Largely perceived as the liberator of the people from the military cage, Abiola received massive support, beating his rival, National Republican Convention (NRC)’s Bashir Tofa in his native Kano State. He pulled 8,341,309 votes, representing 58.36 percent of total votes. When former Military President Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election, there was sporadic protest. Up to now, the ghost of the cruel annulment still hunts the retired General. Abiola declared himself President-elect at Epetedo, Lagos Island. He was later arrested and detained by the Abacha regime. He fought on until he die in detention under Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, who succeeded Abacha.

Kudirat Abiola

The late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was one of the numerous wives of the SDP presidential flag bearer. The annulment forced Kudirat into the pro-democracy movement. She developed a steely determination that dared military bullets. When her husband was in solitary confinement for claiming his presidential mandate, Kudirat confronted the military dictators. Her leadership motivated other pro-democracy groups to spring up and seek the actualisation of the election. In 1994, when the struggle got to a head, Kudirat was actively involved in sustaining the oil workers strike, which succeeded in crippling the nation’s economy and weakened the military government Kudirat had frictions with courts over her stance before her eventual release on bail. Despite this harassment, she continued her campaign. She and the late Chief Alfred Rewane funded the pro-democracy activities which unsettled the military. When protesters were detained, she would promptly visit police stations to secure their release. Kudirat knew that she was operating in an atmosphere of danger. She was planning to process her visa to leave the shores of Nigeria before she was killed. On June 4, 1996, a few days to the third anniversary of the June 12 election, Kudirat was shot dead by assassins in Oregun, Lagos State.


Prof. Soyinka, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and implacable critic, is the first black African to bag the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. The former university don was one of the brains behind Radio Kudirat. Other frontline activists behind the opposition radio were Enahoro and Dr.Kayode Fayemi, who made broadcasts leaking plans by the soldiers to wipe out freedom fighters from Nigeria. It was the radio that alerted people to the plot to assassinate Ajasin and Adesanya. The Nobel Laureate was not new to prison walls through his activism. In 1994, Soyinka lived in exile in the US and France after leaving Nigeria. When the June 12 election was annulled, Soyinka played a key role in pressurising Abacha to rescind his decision. With his influence, he mounted a strong international campaign against Abacha’s dictatorial regime. In 1997 he was tried in absentia with other opposition members for a phony charge of bomb attacks against army. The Abacha regime sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. He still lives to tell the tale. With Soyinka at the Radio Kudirat was the activist, Dr. Fayemi, who is now Ekiti State governor. His role in the struggle is well documented in his book Out of Shadows.


Chief Adekunle Ajasin, former governor of Ondo State, doubled as Afenifere and NADECO leader. He was a principled fighter and moral voice who offered inspiration to the democratic forces. Already an old man, Ajasin, despite the threat to his health and safety, never wavered. The Owo politician had objected to the participation of progressives in Abacha government, but Abiola, in his naivety, prevailed on him to give his consent. His bedroom was invaded by former Governor Ibe Onyearu-gbulem, who had the mandate from Abacha to make Ondo State uncomfortable for the NADECO forces. In August 1995, he took ill and on his return from his foreign medical trip, he renewed his quest for the revalidation of the June 12 mandate. In June 1995, he was arrested by the military alongside others for holding a meeting, but was released 24 hours later. Eventually, he passed on when the battle was still hot.


During the dark days, the late Pa Alfred Rewane used his pen and money to fight the military to a standstill. He was a pillar of financial support for all NADECO and many human rights activities. His motive was the de-annulment of the June 12 election. He also personally campaigned against official graft in high places, lack of accountability and gross violation of human rights by the military. But in October 6, 1995, he was murdered in curious circumstances which elicited wide outcry.


The elder statesman, lawyer and former senator, Chief Abraham Adesanya became the leader of Afenifere after the death of Ajasin. His Personal Assistant was Rev. Tunji Adebiyi. Adesanya’s compatriots in the group who also fought the military were Chiefs Ganiyu Dawodu, Bola Ige, Lam Adesina, Ayo Adebanjo, Olaniwun Ajayi, Solanke Onasanya, Femi Okunrounmu, Olabiyi Durojaye, and Cornelius Adebayo. Some of them suffered bruises. Rev. Adebiyi was bearing a letter from NADECO leaders in Lagos to Ajasin at Owo when he was arrested at 10 pm at Maryland by the police. Persistent pleas by Mrs. Kudirat Abiola secured his release. Adesina was captured by soldiers during a protest at Ibadan as “prisoner of war”. Durojaye, Adebanjo and Dawodu were detained. Assassins were also trailing Aremo Segun Osoba. He escaped been hit by bullets by whiskers. Death came calling in January, 1997, but Adesanya also miraculously escaped assassin’s bullets. He remained undaunted to the end. Under his leadership, Afenifere intensified the battle for promoting the virtues of minority rights, equality, federalism and nationalism.


The late Chief Anthony Enahoro, nationalist and elder statesman was, no doubt, one of Nigeria’s foremost pro-democracy activists. He was the chairman of NADECO’s Steering Committee. In 1995, he was detained for almost three months without any charge by Abacha. Before he escaped abroad, he was a torn in the flesh of the military. He also chaired the Movement for National Reformation (MNR) and the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO). Enahoro was actually the leader of NADECO abroad.

Fawehinmi (SAN)

The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi was an outstanding lawyer and world-acclaimed human rights crusader. He was an advocate of de-annulment. For daring the military, he was detained for a long period by the military government. He provided legal, moral and financial support for freedom fighters. He was a target of liquidation by the military.


Among those who offered intellectual support for NADECO activities were Prof. Akinyemi, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Segun Gbadegesin, Ropo Sekoni, Ade Banjo and Adebayo Williams. They wrote numerous incisive articles denouncing the annulment, military rule and rights violation. They were targets of attacks by the military. They fled the country to continue the onslaught abroad. Banjo had purchased 3,000 riffles to launch a guerrilla war against Abacha. He was caught and detained before he escaped to Ghana. If the asylum proposed by Prof. Akinyemi had been accepted, Abiola may not have been killed. But the chief rejected the asylum, saying that the President-elect of the most populous nation in Africa could not be seeking asylum in American Embassy.


The oil workers strike rattled the late Gen. Abacha. The credit goes to Chief Frank Kokori, a fearless Labour leader and former Secretary-General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). In 1994, the pro-democracy activist led the oil workers to a sustained strike over the annulment of the June 12, election, leading to the paralysis of the social and economic lives of the nation, to the embarrassment of Abacha’s junta. He was arrested on August 20, same year by the security operatives and was moved round different prisons, mostly in the northern part of the country. The incarceration, however, did not stop his activism.


An American diplomat, who served as United States Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Nigeria between 1993 and 1997, Walter Carrington lent support to the fight for democracy in Nigeria. He stood resolutely with pro-democracy activists during the pro-June 12 agitation. He condemned Babangida for annulling the election widely adjudged free and fair. He expressed great concern over the abuse of human rights and the steady descent of Nigeria into a police state under the military. His remarks were weighty and they influenced America to mount pressure on military to vacate power.


Ayo Adebanjo

Chief Ayo Adebanjo is a fearless politician who does not hide his principled views, no matter whose oz is gorged. He was staunch member of NADECO who has played opposition politics for many decades. Despite the threat to his life and property, he was resolute in the fight for the restoration of Abiola’s mandate. It was ironic, because Abiola and his leader, Awolowo, never politically opposed to one another. Since he passed on, Adebanjo has been calling for the immortalisation of Abiola.



Former Minister of Housing and Environment, the late Dr. Dosunmu, was a close associate of Abiola from the NPN days. He was involved in the activities of NADECO from the scratch. He and Olufemi Lanlehin were instructed by their group, Primose, which later became Lagos Justice Forum, to attend the inaugural meeting of the group in Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo’s Ikeja residence. He was a signatory to the memorandum submitted by Afenifere at the formative stage of the association. Dosunmu, Prince Ademola Adeniji-Adele, Tokunbo Afikuyomi, Omotilewa Aro-Lambo, Senator Ajayi from Ekiti, Hon. Adesina from Abeokuta, and Sikiru Shitta-Bey were also involved in the presidential declaration arrangement at Epetedo, Lagos Island.


Ayo Opadokun was the General Secretary of the Afenifere and NADECO. He fought the military for democracy to flourish in Nigeria. For five years, he was in detention. By the time he was released, he had become a poor man. It is painful to him that, after the restoration of the civil rule, charlatans, military apologists and collaborators became the beneficiaries of the battle in 1999.


The Cicero of Esa-Oke, the late Chief Bola Ige, had shunned the IBB transition programme, following Awo’s admonition to his followers to learn to dine with the devil with a long spoon. However, the entry of the late Chief Bola Ige, after the expiration of ‘siddon look’ period, inspired the pro-democracy agitators to fight on. He was a leading fighter under NADECO and Afenifere, where he was deputy leader. Ige had a caustic tongue, which he used to bite the Abacha regime. It was he who described the five political parties of that period as five fingers of a leprous hand. he was detained at Epe.


Olawale Osun is a former Chief Whip of the House of Representatives. When the IBB regime cancelled the election, he was among the legislators who denounced the criminal act. He was one of the few people that planned the ‘Epetedo Declaration’ for Abiola. When Opadokun was seized by the military, he became NADECO secretary. He was later released, after which he fled abroad to continue the fight. He wrote his book, ‘Clapping with one hand’, in detention.


Ebitu Ukiwe, a retired Navy Commodore and Chief of General Staff from 1985 to 1986, was one of the notable actors in the pro-democracy struggle in the beginning. Most Nigerians believe that Ukiwe lost his post due to his principled nature. Knowing that Ukiwe could not pushed around, Babangida replaced him with Augustus Aikhomu. However, Ukiwe reduced his participation when his life was on line.

Ndubuisi Kanu

The former governor of Imo and Lagos states joined the democracy groups in retirement and was in the forefront of the agitation for the actualization of the mandate. Abacha was particularly worried at his involvement in the agitation to halt his inglorious rule. He once told him to deck his khaki and face him with his gun, instead of joining forces with civilians to rubbish him. When he persisted in his NADECO activities, his businesses were crippled by the military. His private residence was searched by security agents. He was accused of planning to importing arms and ammunitions.

Clement Nwankwo

Among the organisations that formed NADECO was the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) led by the irrepressible advocate of human rights and good governance, Nwankwo. He shared that virtue of consistency and bravery with Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who were prominent NADECO chieftains. A fierce speaker and prolific writer, Nwankwo was never afraid of detention camps.


Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, a former SDP presidential aspirant, founded the Oodua Peoples Congress to press for the de-annulment of the election. He was one of the founding fathers of NADECO. He was detained for a long time by the military for fighting the cause.

Balarabe Musa

The former governor of Kaduna State refused to join the bandwagon of tribal egoists. He believed that June 12 offered a redemptive option to the country in its quest for legitimate leadership. To him, the annulment was a national calamity and the struggle was not a sectional affair as wrongly projected by military spin doctors. On few occasions too, prominent northern leaders, including the late Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, spoke forcefully against Babangida regime for foisting an avoidable crisis on the country.


As military governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Umar (rtd), Admiral Ndubusi Kanu (rtd), had shown the tendency of a radical. The political scientist was of the view that the military had overstayed in power to the detriment of the masses. Col. Abubakar Umar Dangiwa (rtd) spoke forcefully in defense of the Abiola. To him, the symbol was not the main issue, but the seizure of the nation’s collective passport for a genuine flight to the horizon of democratic progress.

Bola Tinubu

In the Third Republic, he was a senator. In the Upper Chamber, he was the rallying point for senators seeking an end to military rule. He challenged IBB to a duel. When the military leader annulled the poll, he demanded for explanations. Tinubu dared the military, urging the masses to resist the brutal act. He was briefly detained and released. After escaping abroad, he became one of the leaders and financial pillars of NADECO abroad.



These were NADECO members based in Ondo State. Prominent among the members of the group were Chief Segun Adegoke, a lawyer and Awoist and the late Adebayo Adefarati.



The former Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Finance Minister was very active in Afenifere and NADECO. He was one of the ardent supporters of Abiola during the battle for the revalidation of the annulled results. Other Afenifere leaders who were active during the struggle included Senator Ayo Fasanmi, who resigned from the Constitutional Conference Commission set up by Abacha, Chief Supo Sonibare, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Baba Omojola, Chief Rafiu Jafojo, Chief S.K. Babalola, and Rev. Tunji Adebiyi. Before they joined Abacha government, the duo of Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Chief Ebenezer Babatope were also at the forefront of the clamour for the de-annulment of the june 12, 1993 election.


A disciple of Awo and former federal legislator, the late Alhaji Lam Adesina was always opposed to military rule. He had used his column to spite the soldiers of fortune who milked the country dry. For participating in the anti-military demonstrations at Ibadan, Oyo State capital, Adesina was ‘captured’ by the Military Administrator, Col. Usman, as a prisoner of war. He languished in detention.


The activist-cleric, Rt. Rev. Bolanle Gbonigi, was nicknamed the ‘NADECO Bishop’ because of his principled position on June 12. He decried the injustice from the pulpit and offered moral and spiritual support to the pro-democracy agitators.


Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd) was one of the leaders of NADECO abroad, who committed enormous time, energy and resources to the struggle for justice. His private residence at Ikeja was torched by suspected government agents. The same tribulation befell his compatriot, Dr, Amos Akingba, a former university don. He was harassed by the military. His residence was also attacked in Lagos.

Dan Sulaiman

A gallant soldier, Sulaiman, a former Minister of Communications, joined the democratic forces in decrying the annulment and incarceration of the symbol of the struggle.

Labour, right groups and media

Human rights leaders-Dr Beko Ransom-Kuti, his brother, Prof. Olikoye Ransom-Kuti, Femi Falana, Femi Aborisade, Chima Ubani, Joe Igbokwe, Olisa Agbakoba, Ayo Obe, Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah, Ebun Adegoruwa, Clement Nwankwo, Felix Tuodolo, Debo Adeniran, Ima Niboro, Akinola Orisagbemi, who was Personal Assistant to Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, Innocent Chukwuma, Bunmi Aborisade, and numerous activists under the banners of the Nigeria Bar Association, Nigeria Medical Association, Nigeria Labour Congress, NUJ, PENGASSAN, NUPENG, Lagos Justice Forum, and NANS made invaluable contributions to the struggle.

Last modified: June 13, 2013

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