By Nkem Ekeopara
June 12 is now officially Democracy Day in Nigeria. It’s a day Nigerians remember the annulment of an election in which Nigerians buried their differences to elect two Musilims as their president and vice president on June 12,1993. The winner of the election Chief MKO Abiola is a Yoruba from Ogun State; South-western Nigeria. Baba Gana Kingibe, who was his opponent in the primary, was his running mate. Kingibe is a Kanuri from Borno State, Northeast of Nigeria. They ran on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP). They contested against the National Republican Party whose presidential candidate was Bashir Tofa, an Hausa-Fulani from Kano, North-western part of Nigeria. Tofa’s running mate Sylvester Ugo is an Igbo from South-eastern Nigeria. Yet, Nigerians did not pander to the primordial factors that had held them down for too long.
Notwithstanding this progressive march, the election was annulled by the then self-styled military president, General Ibrahim B. Babangida under whom Professor Humphrey Nwosu used his creative option A4 to conduct what international observers adjudged the freest election ever in Nigeria.
Presently, Babangida is saying that the fear of being killed by certain persons and groups made him to annul the election. This makes one wonder the kind of soldier he was when we know that a soldier’s duty is to die at his post, especially in pursuit of noble causes. If Babaginda wasn’t afraid to die during the unjust war Nigeria waged against Biafra why should he be afraid to uphold the will of the people? One of the persons that Babangida named as those that threatened to shoot him and the President-elect Chief Abiola is David Mark. David Mark a retired Brigadier-General had since become a two-term Senate President of Nigeria’s Legislative Arm, thus benefitting from the torture and imprisonment that Ubani and others went through in the fight for a democratic Nigeria. Some pro-democracy activists even paid the supreme sacrifice.
If a hierarchy of those, who made June 12 historic, is to be objectively drawn, Ubani Chima will be among the first three. Ubani was born on March 22, 1963, in present day Abia State, South-eastern Nigeria to a Seventh Day Adventist pastor. He lived his life fighting for the downtrodden. Courageous, charismatic, highly intelligent and a matchless mobilizer, Chima started full activism at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) when he was elected the President of the Students Union of the University 1986-1987. As the Students Union President, he provided radical leadership that kept the University authorities on their toes in meeting students’ welfare. When in 1986 some students were killed at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Ubani Chima led UNN students to protest the killings, and to demand the removal of the then Vice-Chancellor of ABU, Prof. Ango Abdullahi.
Also, he was in the forefront of the fight for the restoration of students’ unionism after the dictatorship of Ibrahim Babangida banned students’ unionism. This was done, using a clindestine body called the Association of Patriotic Students (APS). For his role in the restoration of students’ unionism, he was expelled from the university together with nine other activists, and a tribunal was set up by the Federal Military Government of Babaginda to try them.
However, on the day the tribunal was to sit in Enugu, owing largely to Ubani Chima’s popularity, the students mobilized and occupied the venue of the sitting thus, preventing the activists from being tried, and eventually they were recalled to complete their programs. It should be recalled that Aka Bashorun was onground to offer free representation to the accused..
Ubani Chima was a very brilliant and hardworking student. He narrowly missed graduating with a First Class. Nonetheless, his Second Class Upper in his discipline, Crop Science, was good enough to attract the interest of the high-paying and career-fulfilling Ibadan-based International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA).He was offered the position of a researcher by IITA. Ubani Chima turned down the offer. Rather, he moved to Lagos, and joined the flagship human rights organization in Nigeria, the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) as a researcher. If all Ubani Chima craved for was good life, he would not have turned down the offer by IITA. And today, predictably, he would have become a scientist of global renown if he had joined IITA. But he chose to serve humanity through activism, and he did a good job of it!
His role in making June 12 historic cannot be overemphsised. In 1993, Ubani clobbered together many human rights groups into Campaign for Democracy (CD), and became its Secretary-General. The CD well-organised and sustained protests compelled Babangida to ‘step aside’ after he annulled the June 12 1993 Presidential election presumably won by Chief MKO Abiola as earlier observed.
Also, Ubani Chima joined Ogoni-born writer and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and others to campaign against oil companies in the Niger Delta damaging their environment.
In February 1994, Ubani co-documented the prison experience of children and women in Nigerian prisons. However, this report didn’t see the light of the day as his house and office were raided by security agents, and the report was seized.
Luckily, the security goons whose primary order was to capture Ubani failed in their first raid. He went into hiding, but was arrested and imprisoned in 1995. Amnesty International declared him a political prisoner, and took up his case. In 1996, he was released. He travelled to Britain for medical treatment. On return to Nigeria, Ubani was actively involved in the transition program following the death of General Sani Abacha. But he was greatly disappointed when the transition yielded Olusegun Obasanjo as President in 1999. He criticized Obasanjo for running a corrupt government, and one that had no respect for human rights.
In July 2000, Ubani wrote his name into law books as his long campaign against in a decree that allowed state security agents to detain people indefinitely was abrogated. Ubani Chima was campaigner against extra-judicial killings by the Nigerian police, and the use of capital punishment.
Also, he was the Secretary-General of Democratic Alternative and in 2003, he became the Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organization. As Executive Director of CLO, he was part of a national coalition of Labour Movement and Civil Society that organized a nationwide protest against the hike in fuel price by Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime in 2005.
Eventfully, he died in an auto-crash along Maiduguri-Potiskum Road on his way back to Abuja after addressing a rally in Maiduguri with Adams Oshimole the then President of Nigeria Labour Congress.
Aside from the degree in Crop Science from UNN in 1988, Ubani Chima took an MA in Mass Communication at Leicester University in 2002. In spite of being so eminently qualified, he did not deploy his qualifications and competences to acquiring material things.
If Ubani Chima were to be alive, he would have galvanized the civil society to challenge the anomalies going on in Nigeria as governance, today. This docility among the civil society would not have persisted. Sadly when he died on September 21, 2005 at age 42, he left nothing for his wife, Ochuwa, and their four children.
The Lagos State Government in appreciation of his pro-democracy credentials gave the family a 3-bedroom apartment. Ubani Chima’s wife chose to live in dignity and not on hand-outs after he died. So, she decided to use the apartment as collateral to borrow money from a bank for her business.
Unfortunately, she was involved in an accident that kept her in the hospital for seven months. The accident coupled with the depreciation of naira made it difficult for her to repay the loan. Now, the bank wants to take over the apartment. So, Ubani Chima’s family as I write is at the verge of losing their shelter, one of the basic necessities of life.
And the traumatic loss of a father affected the health of the children. This has added to the burden being borne by the widow, Ochuwa. They need help! And they need it fast so that they don’t lose their home.