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OBITUARY: Bashir Tofa, MKO Abiola’s opponent who rejected declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day

OBITUARY: Bashir Tofa, MKO Abiola’s opponent who rejected declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day
January 03
12:54 2022

There is that epochal moment — a landmark happening that defines a person’s life. Some people are the main characters when this significant moment happens. However, some are outshined by a bigger star in this all-important moment. Bashir Tofa happened to be one in the latter group of individuals who have been relegated to the supporting cast in their own story.

When his death was announced on the balmy morning of January 3, 2022, most headlines had Moshood Abiola and the annulled June 12, 1993, presidential election alongside his name. Yet Tofa, who died at 74, is beyond just another “opponent” in Nigerian politics but a businessman and industrialist. He was chairman of International Petro-Energy Company (IPEC) and Abba Othman and Sons Limited, and one of the prominent voices against the violence in the northern part of the country.

BACKGROUND AND POLITICAL JOURNEY

Tofa was born on June 20, 1947, in Kano, where he had his primary education at Shahuci Junior Primary and City Senior Primary School. From 1962 to 1966, he continued his education at Provincial College in the same city.

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Upon completing his secondary education, Tofa was employed at the Royal Exchange Insurance company, where he worked from 1967 to 1968. He then proceeded to the City of London College for further studies.

It was in 1976 Tofa began his political journey after he was elected the councillor of Dawakin Tofa LGA in Kano. After a year of stewardship at the local government level, he climbed up the political ladder and was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly.

He joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and quickly became the party’s national financial secretary.

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Following the collapse of the NPN at the end of the second republic, Tofa joined the National Republican Convention (NRC) in 1990.

JUNE 12 ELECTION

During the build-up to the 1993 election, Tofa was relatively unknown in other parts of the country except for his base in Kano. Despite the Social Democratic Party (SDP) choosing Abiola, who was popular across the country, Tofa inexplicably was selected NRC candidate ahead of more popular aspirants.

As the votes started rolling in at polling stations across the country on Election Day, Abiola was racing to an early lead that seemed insurmountable. There were reports that Tofa almost conceded the election. He had told his associates to wait for more results to be declared so that the pattern would be clearer. Suddenly, his tune changed as he demanded an outright cancellation of the election.

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Ibrahim Babangida, then head of state, reportedly bowed to pressure and annulled the election, plunging the country into chaos.

In 2013, 20 years after that saga, Tofa spoke in a manner suggesting that he did not agree that Abiola actually won. Addressing reporters in Kano, he said: “Events of June 12 are fiction. Those still celebrating the dead issue have nothing to do with their time. It is for those who don’t have anything to offer this country to move forward that can still be talking about June 12 presidential election.

“If you have learnt any lesson out of it good, if you have not, keep quiet, let this country make progress, but for one to still be talking about something that occurred 20 years ago is a colossal waste of time.”

REJECTED DECLARATION OF JUNE 12 AS DEMOCRACY DAY

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In 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari declared June 12 as the new date for the celebration of Nigeria’s Democracy Day, while conferring Abiola with a posthumous Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) honour. The federal government, in a statement signed by the president, described Abiola as “the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993, cancelled elections”.

A few days after the declaration, Tofa called for the “reconsideration” of the decision, describing it as a product of “sentiment and politics”.

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“Whatever may be the prevailing sentiment and politics in Abuja, the idea that June 12 should be the new Democracy Day is also a matter that deserves serious reconsideration,” he had said.

KICKED AGAINST ZONING THE PRESIDENCY

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Tofa was one of the few people who spoke against the zoning of the presidency among the regions of the country. The former presidential candidate once described it as “a very divisive and myopic formula” and “utterly undemocratic and unfair to qualified people who have ambitions to lead their country”.

“I have never supported the rotational presidency for the simple fact it is an idea that will never promote unity amongst Nigerians. It is a very divisive and myopic formula. What Nigeria needs is a Nigerian President, not a sectional or zonal President, who is there simply because he/she is from a particular zone or region of the country,” he said.

“For zones to be clamouring for presidency as a do or die affair during each election cycle, is certainly one major factor for the utter disunity we experience in these difficult times. Rotational presidency is utterly undemocratic and unfair to qualified people who have ambitions to lead their country but won’t be availed with the opportunity because they are from the wrong zone at that material time. The shouts of ‘it must be our turn’ from one or two zones, and ‘no, it is not’, are the consequence of a rotational presidency, which are very inimical to the unity of this country.”

THE ABUJA ROUNTABLE

Tofa, alongside Attahiru Jega, former INEC chairman, and other northern leaders, created a non-partisan organisation tagged ‘Abuja Roundtable’, which was to lead engagement with the federal government on the rising security challenges facing the region.

Family sources said Tofa died at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) in the early hours of Monday after a brief illness.

He was said to have been at the intensive care unit (ICU) at the hospital for days but was recovering. He eventually succumbed to the illness.

He was buried according to Islamic rites on Monday. Funeral prayers were held at his residence in Gandun Albasa, Kano. Bashir Aliyu, imam of Al Furqan mosque, led the prayers. Aminu Ado Bayero, Emir of Kano; Sule Y Hamma and HA Akilu were in attendance.

May Allah grant him Aljannah Firdaus.

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