Mixed reactions trail Nigeria’s June 12 inaugural Democracy Day celebration

As Buhari renames national stadium after MKO Abiola
• Presidents of Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, 8 others in attendance
• As Gowon, Obasanjo, Jonathan, other former Nigerian leaders shun event
• Buhari has indirectly recognizes MKO as ex-President – Osoba
• Why we cannot have another MKO in Nigeria – Abiola’s son
• Abiola will be happy in his grave! – says former aide
• June 12 not Abiola affair alone, recognize others too – Falana
• Don’t stop at only renaming stadium, renovate it too – Sen. Sani
• Upgrading citizens’ living standard best way to celebrate – Bauchi gov
• Not enough to declare June 12 democracy day, Nigerians are hungry – Atiku

Former Nigerian heads of state and presidents were absent yesterday at the Eagle Square venue of the 2019 Democracy Day celebrations in Abuja.

Former democratically elected leaders, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, were among those absent, while former military leaders Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar were also absent.

President Muhammadu Buhari (also one time military Head of State) had earlier declared June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy Day in recognition of the place of late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO) in Nigeria’s democratic history.

Abiola is believed to have won the June 12 1993 presidential election, widely adjudged Nigeria’s freest election in history, but annulled by Ibrahim Babangida who was then the country’s self styled military president.

It would be recalled that upon Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, May 29 was adopted as Democracy Day as it was the day Obasanjo (also one time military Head of State) took over the reins of power from the then military Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who succeeded the late General Sani Abacha and superintended a one year transition program that ushered in another civilian rule after its truncation on December 31, 1983 by the trio of Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, and some other military top brass of the era, including the same Abdulsalam Abubakar.

Thus, in the past 19 years, the country had marked May 29 as Democracy Day, and marked it on June 12, 2019 for the first time after President Buhari signed the law to commemorate the 1993 Presidential Election considered to be the freest and most credible poll in Nigeria, which the late MKO Abiola won as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) against Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

Notwithstanding the absence of the former country’s leaders however, no fewer than 11 African leaders attended the ceremonies for the maiden celebration of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, among them President Idris Deby of Republic of Chad; President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania; President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President George Weah of Liberia; President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo and President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana.

Others were President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe; President Macky Sall of Senegal; President Adama Barrow of The Gambia and President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic as well as the Prime Minister of Uganda, Ruhakana Rugunda.

On arrival at the Eagle Square, President Buhari went round to have a handshake with each of the leaders and representatives of other world leaders represented at the ceremony.

The inaugural celebration had also in attendance numerous pro-June 12 supporters, and other dignitaries, which included the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and wife, Dolapo, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

Also, as a mark of honour for Abiola, President Buhari re-named the Abuja National Stadium “MKO Abiola National Stadium.” This is in addition to having posthumously honoured him in 2018 with the highest national award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), bestowed on only sitting and past presidents of Nigeria.

Buhari indirectly recognises MKO as ex-president – Osoba

Former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba, has said that the recognition of June 12 as National Democracy Day by President Muhammad Buhari indirectly recognised MKO Abiola as a past president of Nigeria.

He said that the Day was significant as past presidents from 1999 had refused to recognise the day or Abiola’s sacrifices for Nigeria’s democracy, and added that the late Abiola, who refused to surrender his mandate, suffered and died in the struggle for democracy for the country.

“We are grateful to President Muhammad Buhari who recognises the significance of June 12, which significance is the full price paid by Abiola that is making us enjoy democracy, which is 20 years old now,” he said.

Why we cannot have another MKO in Nigeria – Kola Abiola

First son of MKO, Kola Abiola, has expressed that Nigeria is not likely to have another person with the clout of his late father, saying the caliber of MKO only comes once in a generation.

Speaking on what went down before, during and after the June 12 elections, Kola explained that some of the people that surrounded his late father were with him from what they could get from him, explaining further that his father would have withstood the pressure of not appointing politicians if he had been sworn-in as president.

“When you come in with a monument, whatever you do at that point, you would be given the benefit of doubt. It is when you start messing up that you will be criticized. Because then, for the mere fact that MKO won that election, prices of goods were dropping.

“The dollar was crashing and things were looking good. It was not because he did anything, it was just the psyche of Nigerians who believed that they had participated in electing a government that they truly wanted and that was it,” Kola said.

Abiola will be happy in grave, says ex-aide

Chief Olu Akerele, who was the personal assistant to Abiola, said that naming the National Stadium after Abiola by President Buhari is commendable, adding that the action will make the late politician happy in his grave.

Akerele said that no other Head of State had honoured the late billionaire like President Buhari, and explained that Abiola was a lover of sports, adding that the national stadium remained the best sporting monument to bear the name of the sport-loving late politician.

He said it would be wrong for the late Pillar of Sports in Africa to die without a sporting centre named after him in the country despite his contributions to the growth of sports in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.

“Naming the National Stadium after MKO Abiola is commendable. Apart from MKO’S legendary philanthropy, another area where he excelled was in the sporting arena which earned him the title of Pillar of Sports in Africa.

“President Buhari has truly proved himself as real ‘Daniel come to judgment’ by rewriting the historical roles played by MKO in almost all areas of national development which some misguided former military officers tried to rubbish in the past 25 years!

“I’m sure that Abiola is happy and will be smiling in his grave now. He has not laboured in vain and his death has also not been without notice. President Buhari remains a hero we should encourage so that he would do more,” he said.

Don’t stop at only renaming stadium, renovate it too – Senator Shehu Sani

Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna has urged President Buhari to go a step further by renovating the National Stadium after it was renamed after Abiola.

“Renaming the National Stadium Abuja after Chief MKO Abiola is a great honour and commendable. Abiola was a pillar of sports, he deserves it; this should also be an opportunity to renovate and refurbish the arena that has remained for so long in decrepit state,” he advised.

June 12 not Abiola affair alone, recognize others too – Falana

Human Rights activist, Femi Falana, (SAN) has urged the Federal Government to recognise other heroes of June 12 struggle from other parts of the country, maintaining that the struggle was neither an Abiola affair alone, nor that of NADECO and Afenifere.

He said the federal government has conferred national honours and recognition on chief MKO Abiola as well as chief Gani Fawehinmi for the June 12 struggle but failed to recognise other heroes from other parts of the country.

Falana gave the statement while being guest on Channels Televisions Democracy Day edition of Sunrise Daily. According to him, civil society organizations, the progressive trade unions and other patriotic groups had joined to fight a dictatorial government that usurped the democracy then, hence, they should be recognised too.

“My advice to the government, beyond recognising chief MKO Abiola, beyond the national honour, well deserved, conferred on him, as well as chief Gani Fawehinmi, we must also identify other heroes of that struggle from all over the country. This was not a NADECO and Afenifere affair.

“The beauty of those who are coming from the civil society who have found themselves either in the executive or the legislature is to ensure that those ideals are actualised and implemented in Government, that is why June 12 is so significant,” he said.

Falana added that after the said elections on June 12, candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Bashir Tofa, was under pressure to go to the tribunal but he refused and instead, congratulated Abiola for his victory, prompting patriotic Nigerians to rise up against dictatorship.

“The point has been made abundantly clear, after that election, Bashir Tofa, the other candidate congratulated his opponent and that is what is done in any civilised society; he was under pressure to go to the tribunal but he said no.

“From that moment, the civil society came in; the progressive trade unions came in and made the country ungovernable for the dictators.

“They were waging the struggle when some of us were captured and taken to jail houses, they made it ungovernable for the military dictators to have their way, and at the end we won the battle for the restoration,” Falana said.

Upgrading citizens’ living standard is the best way to celebrate – Bauchi governor

In a related development, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi state said the best way his administration would celebrate Democracy Day is to upgrade the living standard of citizens of the state.

Mohammed stated this in Bauchi in a message to the people to commemorate 2019 Democracy day in the state, and said it will be done through the provision of critical infrastructure, ensuring sound education, stimulating agricultural growth and qualitative healthcare for Bauchi state citizens.

Mohammed described the ‘June 12 Democracy Day’ as “unique and significant in a special way in recognition of M.K.O. Abiola, the democratically elected president in 1993 general elections,” while praising the heroism and dynamism of late politician for his exemplary contribution to the evolution of democracy in Nigeria.

It’s not enough to declare June 12 a democracy day, Nigerians are hungry – Atiku

Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 presidential election which Buhari won, says it is not enough to declare June 12 as Democracy Day as many Nigerians are hungry, maintaining that it demands something bigger than “merely declaring it a Democracy Day.”

“It is not enough to declare June 12 a work-free day when a disproportionate number of citizens are not sure of where their next meal will come from and when the sanctity of their lives is not guarantee; It is not enough to declare June 12 a work-free day when freedom of the press, and of speech, fundamentals of democracy is being assailed,” Atiku said.

He stated that June 12 remained a threshold in Nigeria’s national life, urging the people, to do a soul-searching, and said that the significance of the celebration of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election is a reminder of Nigeria’s history to becoming a democratic country.

“On this day 26 years ago, Nigeria voted for democracy against the jackboot notion of oppressive totalitarianism.

“The collective decision by Nigerians to elect democracy on that day was not to aggrandise the political elite or to replace military dictatorship with civilian autocracy. No! The choice of democracy was to restore power to the people,” he said.

Atiku cited disrespect for the rule of law and disregard of court orders on issues that border on fundamental human rights as some of the challenges which ought to be addressed, adding that as a “compatriot who stood shoulder-to-shoulder” with MKO Abiola whom he described as the icon of the June 12 struggle, he knew first-hand that the choice of ‘HOPE’ as Abiola’s campaign slogan wasn’t “merely a populist tokenism.”

He said Abiola did not mean to deceive Nigerians with a hope he could not deliver upon.

“Today, the minimum requirement for any June 12 convert is to demand of them wherever they may be – either in government or in private lives – to deliver on the promises they made to the people,” he said.

“June 12 is about the political leadership having the focus to retool the Nigerian economy. It is about having the skills to create wealth and jobs for the teeming mass of unemployed. It is not about the inclination for shared pains; it is about shared prosperity.

“As we celebrate yet another episode of the June 12 struggle, the desire for hope is more preponderant today much as it was 26 years ago. So, for all true lovers of democracy, let us keep the hope alive,” he stated.

Meanwhile, a public opinion poll conducted in June 2018 by NOIPolls (a leading research and relevant data on public opinion polling services in West Africa) has highlighted mixed reactions trailing President Buhari’s declaration of June 12th as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day. The poll revealed that fifty-six percent of Nigerians (56 percent) say they are in support of the President’s declaration; while 44 percent say they are not in support.

The poll further probed respondents to better appreciate the reasons behind the mixed level of support towards the declaration, and the responses throw more light on the issue. On the part of 56 percent of respondents in support of the declaration, 50 percent of them were of the opinion that Late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12th 1993 election, deserves the honour.

This was followed by 20 percent who affirmed their support for the declaration because they believe the June 12th 1993 election was the freest and fairest election Nigeria has ever had, since independence in 1960. In addition, 16 percent were of the opinion that President Buhari’s declaration was done in response to the yearnings and request of Nigerians; and 14 percent perceived the declaration as a progressive decision taken by the administration of President Buhari.

On the other hand, amongst 44 percent of respondents who were NOT in support, the majority (40 percent) were of the opinion that the declaration was not done in good faith; but is a mere political game targeted at gaining support for 2019 elections. This was followed by 35 percent of such respondents who thought that Nigerians are already used to having May 29 as Democracy Day and there was no need for a new date.

In addition, 15 percent stated that President Buhari’s government should focus on more important issues facing the country, such as insecurity, poor infrastructure and the harsh impact of the economy on Nigerians. And finally, 10 percent of respondents stated that the president did not follow due process in declaring June 12 as the new Democracy Day in Nigeria. They argued that he should have first sent the decision to the National Assembly for their ratification, before proclamation.

Be that as it may, in highlighting the mixed reactions that trailed the declaration of June 12th as the new Democracy Day by President Buhari, the poll concluded on the one hand that some social commentators and pundits have termed the action a political masterstroke and progressive action; while on the contrary, others have passed it off as a mere political strategy to boost support for 2019 elections.

Nevertheless, what the poll clearly showed was that at least 56 percent of Nigerians applaud and commend the decision by President Buhari to recognize the significance of June 12th 1993 and honour the memory of Late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the election.

For the 12 June 1993 presidential elections, Abiola emerged winner in what was declared Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election by national and international observers, with Abiola even winning in his Northern opponent’s home state of Kano. He also won at the national capital, Abuja, the military polling stations, and over two-thirds of Nigerian states.

He was able to secure a national mandate freely and fairly, unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. However, when the election was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida, it caused a political crisis which led to General Sani Abacha, then heading the Nigerian Army to seized power in November of that year.

And on June 11, 1994 Abiola declared himself the lawful President of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos island, an area mainly populated by (Yoruba) Lagos indigenes, after returning from a trip to win the support of the international community for his mandate.

After declaring himself president he was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of General Abacha, who sent 200 Police vehicles to bring him into custody, and detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement with a Qur’an, Bible, and fourteen guards as companions.

During that time, Pope John Paul II, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and human rights activists from all over the world lobbied the Nigerian government for his release him. But the sole condition attached to his release was that he renounces his mandate, something that he refused to do, although the military government offered to compensate him and refund his extensive election expenses.

Death

Abiola died in suspicious circumstances one month after the death of General Abacha, on the day that he was due to be released, 7 July 1998. While the official autopsy stated that he died of natural causes, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza al-Mustapha alleged that Abiola was in fact beaten to death. And the final autopsy report, which was produced by a group of international coroners, has never been publicly released.

As recounted at the time in a BBC interview with special envoy Thomas R. Pickering, an American delegation which included Susan Rice visited Abiola; during their meeting with him he fell ill with what was presumed to be a heart attack which caused his death.

Written by Ishaku Yohanna
Editor, Voice of Liberty

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