All nations have days in their national calendars freighted with meaning good or bad. Many of these are known by some name associated with a date, but others are named for the date itself. In the US, the Fourth of July and 9/11 are examples of the latter. Nigeria only has one such date: June 12.
June 12 is June 12 1993, the date on which Nigeria held what was widely considered its fairest presidential election. The winner of the election was Chief M.K.O. Abiola, a populist millionaire. Not long afterward, to massive outcry from the people, the result of the election was annulled and Chief Abiola was arrested by the head of the ruling junta, General Babangida. Chief Abiola was later to die in prison, poisoned, many believe.
June 12 was the beginning of special horrors for the Nigerian people, first under General Babangida, then under his more brutal successor, General Abacha. Political struggle organized itself under the mandate of June 12, around what was won and then lost on that day. The force of June 12 has faded now—Nigeria has enjoyed some eleven years of unsteady democracy—but the date remains badged with pain.
For his ability to deceive, Nigerians bitterly gave Babangida the nickname “Maradona,” and the mild irony of the name struck me today, as I sat among Nigerians during a noble sporting loss.