Dateline: June 12 1993
The day had finally come. The buildup had been exciting with all the radio and TV jingles, discussions, debates culminating in a high level of expectation. Nigeria seemed to finally be on the move as the deceitful Head of State had been cornered. The failings of the last democracy were pushed into the recesses of memories, although not forgotten, as a new start beckoned. The two party system also made it easier to decide where to pitch ones’ tent. It was either NRC or SDP. It was Abiola or Tofa. There was a clear favorite as the businessman, philanthropist politician had become a rallying point. Bashir Tofa was no competition for him but the process of an election had to be played out.
It was the first election I was eligible to vote in. I had registered to vote and play my part in securing the future of my country and her future generations. I remembered “supporting” UPN and Awolowo in the previous election and being upset I wasn’t allowed to vote, wondering if the votes of my friends and I could have help Awolowo oust Shagari and his NPN. The reports of rigging in the 1983 election opened my eyes to cheating on a scale my young mind hadn’t heard of before. The reports of corruption prior to the election had given me more than a peek into man’s injustice to his fellow men. The Buhari coup had been welcome to halt the rot; the War Against Indiscipline had been confusing in that why did we have to be forced to do the right thing; the execution of drug pushers was conflicting as it seemed right to curb the crime, but probably not with such extreme measures, especially done publicly. The Babangida coup was surprising as I gained an insight into man’s quest for power as I was maturing. I learnt more about corruption as the Evil Genius established his reign. But thankfully there were still more than a few good men and quality opposition leaders in Nigeria and integrity persisted in many places, as the maradona was tackled until he knew he couldn’t keep up the charade of dangling the carrot of a promised election in our faces any longer.
Unfortunately I would not be voting on that day. Fate had contrived to put this house officer (newly graduated doctor) on call on June 12 1993. So I woke up early and set out to provide emergency services for those who would need it. Thankfully my jalopy started with the first kick and I smiled to myself as I thought of battery charger, a self-acclaimed political analyst. I was sure he would be the first in line at his polling station. It was 7.30am when I set out and the roads were deserted. My Fiat was the only car on the Third Mainland Bridge which kind of eerie, more so because I scared he might develop a fault and there’d be no one to help me, like there had been on at least three previous occasions.
Thankfully we made it to General Hospital Lagos without incident. After taking over from the previous day’s call team, mine sat and waited. I was in the surgery department then, and we were anticipating a tough day given the possibility of violence arising from the elections. Extra sutures and bandages were in place, blood in the blood bank, medication in the pharmacy and doctors in the emergency room. We waited. We waited. We waited. But no one came. No emergency drove in. Occasionally we listened to the radio and television to get news on the elections and heard of a peaceful ongoing process. The screen showed optimistic Nigerians casting their votes jovially in a well-organized election process. Abiola and Tofa were also shown casting their votes. MKO flashed those teeth and gave the characteristic two hand wave to give me goose pimples. The Nigerian messiah was here.
The sun went down and about 8pm an emergency came in. A taxi driver who had run into a fallen road sign on Eko bridge. He was in a bad way but we were more than ready with loads of equipment, hands and energy to handle him. He was quickly resuscitated and stabilized. He lived. It felt like he was Nigeria and we were the new Nigerians, ready to work together at National revival. The freest and fairest election ever in Nigeria had just been concluded. We were on the verge of a new dawn. We were united and ready to move forward. June 12 1993 was Day One of the journey.
What a journey it turned out to be. Like a man who refused to ask for directions, we seem to be going round in circles. This makes one wonder what would have happened if June 12 had been allowed to stand.