Abiola, Fawehinmi Families Accept National Honour, Thank Buhari

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  •  Senate seeks release of June 12 election results, payment of entitlements to MKO, Kingibe
  •  House debates legality of making June 12 Democracy Day, Falana faults Belgore
  •   President orders AGF to gazette decisions

Omololu Ogunmade, Deji Elumoye, James Emejo in Abuja, Tobi Soniyi and Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos  

The families of the late Chief MKO Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) have decided to accept the posthumous national honours to be conferred on them by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 12, the new date set aside for the celebration of Democracy Day in the country.

In honour of the late Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Buhari on Wednesday had declared that the nation’s Democracy Day would henceforth hold on June 12 of every year as against the current arrangement where the day is celebrated on May 29.

The president, in addition, conferred the national honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), the highest national award exclusively reserved for presidents and heads of states in the country, on Abiola.

He also said that the late Chief Fawehinmi, renowned lawyer and human rights crusader, who was at the forefront of the battle for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate, would be conferred with the second highest honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) posthumously.

Abiola’s running mate in the election, Baba Gana Kingibe, would also be conferred with GCON on June 12, said the president.

In announcing June 12 as the new Democracy Day, Buhari said he reached the decision after due consultations.

The June 12, 1993 presidential election was cancelled by the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida on June 23, 1993, for no tangible reason, forcing Abiola to fight for the actualisation of his mandate.

However, Babangida’s successor, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, detained Abiola until his (Abacha) death on June 8, 1998.

Abiola died under suspicious circumstances while in custody on July 7, 1998, just as negotiations were ongoing between leaders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and the successive military regime led by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar for his release.

According to Buhari, June 12 was the day Nigerians freely exercised their democratic rights and voted for Abiola.

Expressing their gratitude to the president for immortalising Abiola, the family said Thursday that the posthumous conferment of GCFR on him (Abiola) was the only befitting recognition for his fight for democracy in Nigeria.

In a letter to Buhari written by the scion of the Abiola family, Kola Abiola, he expressed the family’s appreciation to the president.

The letter, which was made available to THISDAY by Kola, said: “On behalf of the wives, children and grandchildren of late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, I am writing to formally express our sincere appreciation ‎to you for conferring him with the National Honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) and designating June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria going forward.

“Your Excellency, as I wrote in my letter to you on June 12, 2016, in our minds, the award was the only befitting recognition of the importance of Chief Abiola’s fight for democracy for Nigeria which culminated in four years ‎in incarceration/solitary confinement and decimation of his business and financial interests, before the ultimate sacrifice, being his life on July 7, 1998 at the age of 60.

“Your Excellency, your decision to also designate June 12 as Democracy Day rights the wrong done to all the nation-builders and heroes that produced the democratic credentials on which the Nigerian polity now thrives. 

“We are profoundly grateful to the people from ‎all corners of Nigeria that worked tirelessly to ensure the most free and fair elections in our nation’s history in 1993, fought valiantly for the Hope ‘93 mandate given to Bashorun Abiola by the Nigerian people and died trying to protect the mandate.

“Mr. President, I thank you earnestly for heeding our plea where others before you did not, whilst conveying the assurances of my highest esteem.”

 

Hafsat Waxes Lyrical

 

Similarly, Abiola’s daughter, Mrs. Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Thursday commended the federal government for the recognition accorded her father. 

For Hafast, this honour came barely 24 hours after she was appointed executive president of Women in Africa (WIA) initiative, a network of women across Africa and the world with strong ties with companies and organisations, especially in Europe and dedicated to economic development. 

While bashing former President Olusegun Obasanjo for practically ignoring the legacies of Abiola, she said: “The struggle to actualise the #June12 mandate was MKO’s opportunity to show how much he loved and believed in Nigerians and Nigeria. I am simply glad that his commitment held through all the difficulties. He has played his part. We must do no less.”

She also wrote a poem which she shared via Twitter to chronicle the journey she tagged: “Twenty-five Years after June 12: Our Long Wait for Justice is Ending.”

She wrote: “I had expected that the handover from military rule to democracy would be held on the 12th of June. That would have signalled the completion of a circle that began with a dream deferred. That became one fulfilled but I waited in vain.

“The handover was set for May 29, a date pulled out of thin air, signifying nothing. Then I thought that the chief beneficiary would ask the country to observe a minute of silence in memory of MKO, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane, Umaru Yar’Adua, Bagauda Kaltho, the thousands of students, the tens of journalists, traders and politicians who lost their lives fighting to actualise an unjustly annulled election.

“Again, I waited in vain for he started his inauguration speech and nothing was said.

“The first four years passed and it became clear that the goal was to erase the name of the man whose sacrifice paved the way for our democracy. Those four years set the tone.

“And I got tired of waiting, as it slowly became clear that to wait was to wait in vain.

“I stopped expecting my country to do the right thing by my father and instead began to understand why Nigeria struggles to find patriots among its leaders.

“Until when President Muhammadu Buhari gave an executive order to declare that June 12 was Nigeria’s Democracy Day; to confer on MKO the title of GCFR, an honour reserved for presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“To confer on Gani Fawehinmi, the dogged fighter for justice, and my father’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the title of GCON, the second highest in the land.

“And in one day, demonstrated to my bruised heart that integrity, fairness, honour were alive and well in a country for which both my parents had sacrificed their lives.

“There are no words that can capture the depth of my gratitude nor the breadth of my joy. I thank God that I am alive to witness this day.

“May we live to witness many more days when justice triumphs over injustice, when sacrifice and service win over arrogance and fraud, and when the blood of our heroes reach from across time to boldly claim the reward that their actions wrought.

“May the sacrifices of our past heroes and heroines never be in vain.”

 

Fawehinmi Family Accepts Award

 

Just like the Abiolas, the family of late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Thursday thanked the federal government for its decision to give their patriarch a national award.

Fawehinmi, a fiery activist and an uncompromising believer in the rule of law and democratic governance, was arrested, incarcerated and charged to court several times by successive military regimes.

He died at the age of 71 on September 5, 2009 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer.

During his illness, he rejected the national honour, Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) – in protest of the many years of misrule since Nigeria’s independence.

However, Thursday, the first son of the late lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi, expressed the family’s gratitude in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.

Mohammed said the family accepted the honour bestowed on his late father and thanked Buhari for the recognition.

“We thank the federal government for the honour, we appreciate it and we accept it.

“We also thank the government for recognising the June 12 struggle. We thank the president for the honour,” he said.

Mohammed added that his late father deserved the honour, having fought hard for justice and democracy while he was alive.

He dismissed the perception in some quarters that his father would have rejected the award if he was alive.

Mohammed said his father rejected the OFR national honour because it was undeserving.

“My father would not have rejected this award. He rejected the OFR award given to him because it was not deserving,” he said.

 

June 12 Election Results

 

Also joining the bandwagon on the recognition accorded Abiola and others, the Senate Thursday mandated the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to announce the final results of the June 12, 1993 presidential election so that it can be on record that MKO Abiola won the poll. 

INEC is the successor agency of National Electoral Commission (NEC) which was chaired in 1993 by Professor Humphrey Nwosu and conducted the presidential election held on Saturday, June 12, 1993 between the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Abiola, and that of National Republican Convention (NRC), Alhaji Ibrahim Tofa.

The election adjudged globally as a free and fair election was believed to have been won by Abiola.

In a four-point resolution reached after a lengthy debate of the president’s declaration making June 12 the new Democracy Day, the Senate said with the recognition of Abiola and Kingibe as former President and ex-Vice-President of Nigeria respectively, all their entitlements should be paid forthwith.

It also implored the federal government to not only recognise Kingibe as former vice-president but to declare June 12 a public holiday.

The Senate, however, stressed that May 29, 2019 remains the inauguration date of a new government in the country.

Senate President Bukola Saraki who read the resolutions of the Senate in his earlier contribution, said the recognition of the place of Abiola in the nation’s history by Buhari was long overdue.

According to him, the country has not given Abiola the recognition he rightly deserved in the last 25 years “but this should not douse our thoughts of the good intentions of the latest move of government”. 

Senator Lanre Tejuosho (Ogun Central), who opened discussions on the June 12 issue, came under Order 43 to say that Buhari’s proclamation of June 12 as Democracy Day signalled the beginning of reconciliation between the government and the people and by extension between executive and the legislature.

Contributing, Senator Biodun Olujinmi (Ekiti South) while supporting the position of Tejuosho, however, suggested that INEC must be made to announce the June 12 election results and declare Abiola as winner.

She said once that is done “there should be reparation and what Abiola is entitled to as president should be given to his family while Kingibe should be recognised as former vice-president”.

On his part, Senate Leader Ahmad Lawan said Buhari meant well by his action on June 12, noting that date was significant in the history of the politics of Nigeria.

Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu also supported the declaration of the June 12, 1993 election result “so as to be on record that MKO Abiola won at the polls”.

He, however, advised government to address other injustices like environmental degradation and incessant killings across the country.

He quoted Section 135(2b) of the Constitution to justify the inauguration of a new government in the country, saying May 29 remains the inauguration date.

Also contributing, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) said Abiola deserved more honours but emphasised that “whatever government wants to do must be done in accordance with the law as Nigeria is governed by the Constitution and extant rules”.

On his part, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) advised the Executive to forward an amendment to the National Honours Award List to the National Assembly “so as to quickly amend it to accommodate the likes of Abiola”.

He also proposed that December 31 should be recognised as “Democracy Destruction Day as that was the date in 1983 that Buhari toppled the democratic government of President Shehu Shagari”. 

This generated some uproar among other senators before Senator Barawu Jubrin (Kano North) called Abaribe to order.

In the House of Representatives, however, the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day by the president created divisions among members of the lower legislative chamber during plenary session Thursday.

The commotion followed a motion moved by Hon. Wale Raji (APC, Lagos) on the declaration of June 12 as the Democracy Day by the president.

The motion sought to commend Buhari for recognising June 12 as the Democracy Day in Nigeria. It further urged the president to direct the INEC to release the full result of the June 12, 1999 presidential election and declare Abiola president-elect posthumously, with a view to resolving all issues relating to the election and completing the history of June 12, 1993 presidential election in the country. 

He said the 1993 presidential election was generally acknowledged to be peaceful with large a turnout of voters and was adjudged by the international observer groups as the freest, fairest and most credible in the democratic history of the country.

 Raji, however, expressed concern that in spite of the commendable integrity of the election, it was annulled by the military government of Gen. Babangida, while the country was thrown into a serious political turmoil, leading to another military era which lasted till 1999.

He further was also worried that the since 1999, successive governments at the federal level had failed to acknowledge and celebrate June 12 as the real Democracy Day and rather continued to celebrate May 29 as Democracy Day. 

Speaking in support of the motion, Hon. Kayode Oladele (APC, Ogun) described June 12, 1993 as a watershed in the electoral history of the country, noting that the annulment was the genesis of the political crisis that bedevilled the country for four years.

He further commended Buhari for recognising the day at last, pointing out that the day remained a binding point for Nigerians.

 Hon. Chris Azubogu (PDP, Anambra) also supported the motion and demanded that the electoral umpire during the June 12 elections, Dr. Humphrey Nwosu, should also be honoured for his role in the 1993 election saga.

In his intervention, Hon. Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau) said the principal schedule of the Constitution would have to be amended to formally change May 29 to June 12 as the new day for celebration of democracy.

He said there was no need to cause INEC to release the controversial election results but advised anyone interested to simply apply to the relevant agencies under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to access the results.

At this point, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, drew members’ attention to the fact that there was a court injunction against the release of the June 12 results, which was never appealed.

Nonetheless, Hon. Rotimi Agunsoye commended the president for the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day, stressing that the development showed that the country was moving towards the right direction with the fear of God.

Hon. Mojeed Alabi (APC, Osun) described Buhari’s declaration as “a handshake across the Niger”, adding that he deserved commendation.

He said that until now, Osun was the only state in the federation to have declared June 12 a public holiday.

He, however, objected to the prayer to declare Abiola president-elect, when there was already a sitting president, warning that it could create some legal issues. 

 Instead, he said the results of the election could be released for public records.

Also, contributing to the debate, the Chief Whip, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano), who claimed to have been arrested during the June 12, 1993 election crisis, commended the singular action of the president on the issue and appealed to members not to see the June 12 as a subject of contention.

Similarly, Hon. Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) said the day symbolised positive things for the country if the people were willing to work together. 

He said no one should challenge the effort to honour Abiola, adding that all those who played a role during the struggle should be equally honoured. 

But the debate took a dramatic twist when Hon. Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta), though commending Buhari’s action on June 12, he accused him of usurping the powers of the National Assembly to declare a public holiday.

Citing the Constitution, he argued that declaration of a public holiday is supported by an Act of parliament and not through public declaration.

However, his argument was countered by Dogara who also read the relevant sections of the Principal Schedule of the Constitution which confers the president with the powers to appoint any day as public holiday. 

With that, Ossai reluctantly submitted to the speaker, saying he had been properly guided, but stressed that Buhari’s action might have been good but his intention was wrong.

“But how do you prove his intention,” Dogara queried, directing Ossai to take his seat.

Also speaking against the motion, Hon. Adams Jagaban (PDP, Kaduna) accused the president of usurping the power of the returning officer to make a proclamation on June 12.

 According to him, the returning officer at the time did not announce or declare Abiola the winner of the election.

But Dogara pointed out that Buhari only referred to Abiola as the “presumed winner” and not otherwise.

At this point, Hon. Ahman Pategi (APC, Kwara) said May 29 was an Act of parliament and remained the Democracy Day, adding that the president cannot alter the day by mere declaration.

Hon. Raphael Igbokwe (APC, Imo) also raised the need to address the seeming conflict in the Public Holidays Act, which is a subsidiary legislation to Principal Schedule of the Constitution.

By this time, the House had turned rowdy as members’ arguments filled the chamber, leading to a situation whereby the speaker had to hit the gavel repeatedly to restore order.

After consultation with some principal officers and other ranking members, Dogara managed to calm frayed nerves and restored sanity in the chamber.

He said the House should always ensure that it does things properly and not force the public to interpret its actions.

He ackowledged that the Principal Schedule of the Constitution had already set aside May 29 as Democracy Day while there was a conflicting presidential proclamation on the same issue.

He said the matter would be referred to the appropriate committee for proper guidance to enable the House take a “decision that assures the people that we are serious”.

Dogara subsequently referred the matter to the House Committee on Justice.

 

Falana Faults Belgore

 

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer and activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has faulted the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Alfa Belgore, who had questioned the legality of the conferment of the posthumous national honours on Abiola and Fawehinmi.

Immediately Buhari made the announcement honouring both men, Belgore, who was the chairman of the 2016 National Honours Awards List, warned that the National Honour Act supporting the conferment of national awards on deserving individuals does not provide for posthumous awards.

Belgore argued that posthumous awards could only be conferred on fallen military personnel who had died in the discharge of their duties for the Nigerian nation.

However, Falana said Belgore, in taking the position, did not refer to any section of the National Honours Act, or any law that was violated by Buhari.

According to him, “The Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, was reported to have questioned the legality of the decision of President Buhari to confer posthumous awards on Chief M KO Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN).

“Curiously, his Lordship did not refer to any section of the National Honours Act or any other law that has been violated by the president. In like manner, some persons have alleged that the June 12 holiday declared by the president is illegal on the grounds that the approval of the National Assembly was not sought and obtained. 

“With profound respect to the Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, the National Honours Act has not prohibited or restricted the powers of the president to confer national honours on deserving Nigerian citizens, dead or alive.

“No doubt, Paragraph 2 of the Honours Warrant made pursuant to the National Honours Act provides that ‘a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an Order when he receives from the president in person, at an investiture held for the purpose…’

“But Paragraph 3 thereof has given the president the unqualified discretion ‘to dispense with the requirement of Paragraph 2 in such manner as may be specified in the direction’.

“Therefore, since the national awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi cannot be received by them in person the president may permit their family members to receive same on their behalf.”

Falana also argued that Section 2(1) of the Public Holidays Act stipulates that in addition to the holidays mentioned in the Schedule to the Act, the president may appoint a special day to be kept as a public holiday either throughout Nigeria or in any part thereof.

“It is crystal clear that the president is not required by law to seek and obtain the approval of the National Assembly before declaring a public holiday in the country. 

“In view of the combined effect of the National Honours Act and the Public Holidays Act, the legal validity of the well deserved awards and the historic holiday has not been impugned in any manner whatsoever,” Falana said. 

But even as the debate raged over the legality or otherwise of the awards and shift in date for the Democracy Day celebrations, the president Thursday directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Shehu Malami (SAN), to take immediate steps to gazette the Presidential Order awarding the nation’s highest and second honours to Abiola and two others respectively.

The order will be published in the Federal Gazette as announced Thursday by President Buhari:

• Chief MKO Abiola – Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (Posthumous)

• Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe – Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger

• Chief Gani Fawehinmi – Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (Posthumous)

Buhari also directed that this should be done so that the awards slated for June 12 could progress as planned.