On June 12 as Democracy Day

by Jude Obuseh
Moshood Abiola

The formal recognition of “June 12” as the new date for the celebration (I prefer marking) of “Democracy Day” in Nigeria, and the bestowment of the country’s highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR), on late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the shimmering symbol of unarguably the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s political history, by the Buhari-led administration, has sent shock waves across the country’s political kaleidoscope, eliciting mixed reactions from across the different spectrums of the society, with some hailing it as a long overdue initiative, while others have been more skeptical of the timing and true intentions of the pronouncement, especially as it is coming in the run-in to the 2019 General Elections.

Mr. President’s move took political pundits unawares, considering the fact that he had not been known to be publicly sympathetic to the cause for the actualization of June 12, both during the stalemate and afterwards. He had in fact served prominently in the government of General Sani Abacha, and had recently commended the administration of the late military strongman, who formally apprehended and put Chief Abiola in the Gulag where he subsequently died, consequent to his own death.

On June 12, 1993, after nine bloody years of Jackboot dictatorship, the administration of the incumbent military strongman, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda (IBB for short), as part of his “Transition to Civil Rule Programme”, organized an election umpired by the Professor Humphrey Nwosu-led National Electoral Commission, NEC, using a new electoral formula know as Option A4. At the end of polling, which was contested by the candidates of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief MKO Abiola, and Bashir Othman Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), the Candidate of the SDP, in a two party electoral arrangement, Moshood Abiola, received over 8 million of the total votes cast, winning in 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

The NRC candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, received over 6 million votes and won in 10 states only. Over 14 million people voted. Abiola won in Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, and Yobe states, and the Federal Capital Territory. Tofa won in Abia, Adamawa, Bauchi, Enugu, Imo, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Niger, Rivers and Sokoto States. Abiola’s victory was comprehensive as he won almost 60% of the total votes cast. Only in two states (Kebbi and Sokoto) did Abiola fail to obtain at least one-third of the votes. Abiola even defeated Tofa in Tofa’s home state of Kano. His victory was unprecedented as the voting pattern cut across the countries several primordial – ethnic, religious and geographical – lines.

However, trouble reared its monstrous head when the IBB-led government, for no apparent reason annulled an election that had been certified free and fair by both local and international observers, consequently setting off a political stalemate that pushed the Nigerian federation to the precipice of Balkanization, culminating in IBB’s “stepping aside” in the heat of the resultant crisis. Quite remarkably, the installation of a makeshift Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Sani Abacha’s palace take-over of power, and General Abdul Salam Abubakar’s short stint in office, consequent to Abacha’s untimely demise, which culminated in the transition to the current civilian dispensation – which have so far been presided over by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, late Umaru Musa Ya’Adua, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, and the incumbent, General Muhammadu Buhari Rtd – have not undermined the significance of June 12 as a major landmark in Nigeria’s political history. The phantom of June 12 has simply refused to wither away.
PMB’s gesture, despite the sprinkling of doubts being expressed in some quarters, deserves the unreserved commendations of Nigerians. If not for anything else since he assumed office, his magnanimity in assuaging the collective desire of all acolytes of democracy in Nigeria is a step in the right direction. For having the will to do what his predecessors shied away from doing, Mr. President has won himself some new fans, whether his critics want to accept it or not. It is instructive to note that during their stints in office, Presidents OBJ, despite being of the same Egba extraction with Chief Abiola, Ya’Adua, and Jonathan, ignored several entreaties by well meaning Nigerians to redress the injustices associated with the annulment of the June 12 polls. That is why PMB’s move should be hailed as not only unprecedented, but of historical significance.

However, methinks the gesture is not comprehensive enough. Recognizing June 12 as Democracy day should go pari passu with formally announcing the results of the election, declaring Abiola the winner, swearing him into office posthumously, and proceeding to pay to his family all the outstanding emoluments – salaries pension – he would have earned in and out of office. This is the only way to give flesh to Mr. President’s pronouncement, and convince Nigerians that it is not a political gimmick, as is being suggested by the opposition and other skeptical segments of the society – especially in the light of the several conflicts bedeviling his administration both within and outside the All Progressive Congress (APC) – meant to shore up his support base in the South-West prelude to the 2019 polls. By acknowledging that the June 12 Election was free and fair, and that Abiola truly won the election, Mr. President should proceed to do the needful.

Again, I am of the opinion that recognition should also be given to other actors – living or dead – who played hugely significant roles in the conduct of the election, and subsequent struggle for its actualization, some of who unfortunately lost their lives in the process. Towards this end, the likes of Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the electoral umpire who oversaw the fluid execution of the electoral timetable, culminating in its resounding success, the late Kudirat Abiola, wife of the presumed winner of the election, late pa late Alfred Rewane, and other unsung heroes of democracy who sacrificed their lives that Nigerians may be free from Jackboot rule, should be included in the list of those to be honoured with national awards. If a Babagana Kingibe who betrayed the mandate vociferously given to him and Abiola by the electorate to treacherously serve in the same government that imprisoned Abiola could be awarded a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), the true champions of the struggle for the actualization of that mandate should also be deservedly recognized, sentiments aside.

Also, the chief actors – both military and civilian – who conspired to steal the people’s mandate, as expressed at the June 12 polls, should be brought to justice, through all legal means possible. The annulment, apart from being a treasonable crime in itself, also resulted in the death of several Nigerian citizens who were bold enough to stand up for their rights against an impassive oligarchy that was bent on having its say and way. In the same determined manner he has so far waged the war on corruption since assuming office PMB should leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the chief perpetrators of the dastardly June 12 disaster are made to answer for their gross indiscretions against Nigerians. This is the only way to assuage the pains of Nigerians who have been waiting for the day the country would produce a leader who would have the guts to do what PMB has done, and bring closure to one of the saddest chapters in the country’s political history. This is not a utopia, as some would like to call it, but a possible objective Mr. President should pursue with all vigor.

Now, we come to the issue of what becomes of May 29, the date legally recognized by an Act of Parliament – Public Holidays Act, 2004 – as the official date for the celebration of Democracy Day? How will this recent pronouncement by the Presidency affect the official handover date, as May 29 was the date the military-championed Transition to Civil Rule Programme arrow headed by General Abdul Salam Abubakar, ended with the official handing over of the reins of governance to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who had been elected President at a general polls conducted earlier? Will the official handing over date be extended by two weeks? How will this be done when the National Assembly feels slighted by what it terms the “president’s unilateral declaration of the change of Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 without amendment of the subsisting law”? The Supreme Court, the third arm of government, should step in at this stage to play its interpretative role by explaining the letters of the law as concerns who has final say in fixing and altering the dates for public holidays in Nigeria to avoid an embarrassing constitutional crisis now and in the future.

At last, justice has been served! The struggle for June 12, Nigeria’s most democratic election, has been vindicated! Most Nigerians are happy with the Mr. President’s move, despite a sprinkling of doubts, that the most significant date in their struggle for the enthronement of popular rule in their country has been recognized. Mr. President has done well, but it remains to be seen how firmly he goes ahead to consolidate on this brave and much anticipated initiative. God bless Nigeria!

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