Mixed reactions Thursday trailed the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day in the country by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday and his posthumous national honour on Chief MKO Abiola.
Abiola was presumed to have won the 1992 June 12 presidential elections under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) where he ran against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
The declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and the award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) by President Buhari has elicited concerns and shock ahead of the 2019 general election.
The move by the Buhariâ€™s government is seen as a strategy to appease Yoruba voters who were at the forefront of the June 12 struggle.
While a human rights activist, Femi Falana, stated that the conferment of the post-humous award on the late Abiola and the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, have validated the integrity of the free and fair election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida military government, former Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati, described the presidentâ€™s gesture as a ploy by the present government to revive its dying popularity.
Falana said the declarations have put an end to the hypocrisy of May 29 which was proclaimed by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime as democracy day.
â€œBy also conferring the post humous award of Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) on Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the federal government has officially endorsed his enormous contributions to the titanic battle against military dictatorship and promotion of human rights in Nigeria.
â€œIn addition to the historic gesture, the government should proceed to adopt Abiolaâ€™s programme of welfare to poverty and respect the human rights of all Nigerians which Fawehinmi championed and defended in his life time,â€ he said.
Falana said in particular, the federal government should mark the first national democracy day on June 12, 2018 with the release of all citizens who are being detained illegally all over the country and immediate compliance with all valid and subsisting court orders.
But Abati stated that the presidentâ€™s gesture came because long before now, his government had wanted to review its strategy of engagement with the public, as it hoped to move from blame-passing, propaganda, in-fighting and enemy-seeking approach to a more legacy-driven, result-oriented mode.
â€œWhen a government is losing popularity and goodwill, it then hopes to change the narrative. That is precisely what the Buhari government has done with the masterstroke of a special focus on June 12 and Abiola at a time when virtually everyone from the Catholic Church, the opposition, prominent political figures, the media and estranged members of the APC are carrying placards against the government.
â€œWhen you change the narrative, what you do is to divert attention from the prevailing negative discourse; you find something else for the people to talk about in the hope that this will give the government a breather, and allow it to get back on traction and restore some goodwill,â€ Abati said.
While stating that whoever suggested the June 12 and Abiola move to President Buhari was quite smart, he said the move should change the narrative for a few weeks, except there was another accident on the security or political scene.
Sâ€™West Voters Too Sophisticated, Canâ€™t be Bought, Afenifere Tells Buhari
Following the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and the award of national honours on the late Chief MKO Abiola by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Yoruba apex socio-political group, Afenifere, yesterday said the people of the South-west cannot be bought over by governmentâ€™s cheap political gesture.
Speaking on the position of the Yoruba socio-political group on the declaration, spokesman of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said South-west voters would not be swayed by Buhariâ€™s antics.
He said: â€œWe accept the declaration of June 12 as a public holiday and Democracy Day. Itâ€™s what we have asked for over the years. Even though, we are not unmindful that we are in a political season where all kinds of gimmicks will be in the air to woo various constituencies. Thereâ€™s no wrong in doing something that is right, that is the right decision, that is the right decision to be taken.
â€œHowever, June 12 as Democracy Day has thrown a real challenge to the government because Democracy Day is not just about a day we remember, it should be a daily life experience.
â€œAnd from Ekiti, July 14 to February next year general election, that will be an acid test for this administration, for us to know whether thatâ€™s lip service to June 12 or genuine commitment to democracy, depending on, if those elections are able to conform with the spirit of June 12, which is free, fair, peaceful and elections with integrity. That is the challenge the government has thrown to itself.
â€œThe South-west voters are too sophisticated to be bought over by such a cheap gesture. The enlightenment here is higher, people can separate issues. Yes, Abiola has been honoured, but the people of the South-west will know that the spirit of June 12 is different, and that itâ€™s about harmony.â€
â€˜Put MKOâ€™s Portrait on Nigerian Currency Noteâ€™
A Director of Information, Hope â€™93, MKO Abiola Campaign Organisation, Mr. Obafemi Oredein, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure a denomination of a national currency carries the portrait of the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief MKO Abiola.
Oredein, in a statement Thursday, commended President Buhari for officially acknowledging that Chief Abiola won the June 12, 1993 presidential election and posthumously conferring him with the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
The former Editor of Sunday Sketch said although it took 25 years after Abiola won the election for the national recognition to come, it was better late than never.
You Erred by Changing Democracy Day, Group Tells Buhari
Voters Rights International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has condemned the change of date of Nigerian democracy day from May 29 to June 12 by President Muhammadu Buhari.
A lawyer, who is the President of the group, Mr. Jezie Ekejiuba, who spoke to journalists, threatened a legal action against the federal government for what he called unilateral annulment of May 29 Democracy Day.
He said Buhari has no powers in any law to so do without recourse to the National Assembly.
While commending the role the late MKO Abiola played in the entrenchment of democracy in the countryâ€™s polity, Ekejiuba said the rights things must be done.
He described Buhariâ€™s annulment of May 29 Democracy Day as illegal and undemocratic.
Iâ€™ll Declare Abiola Former President of Nigeria, Says APC Presidential Aspirant
A 36-year-old presidential aspirant on the platform of All Progressive Congress (APC), Alhaji Adamu Garba, has declared that he will declare MKO Abiola as the former President of Nigeria if given the mandate to serve the country come 2019.
Garba made the disclosure yesterday when he addressed the press at the Kano NUJ Secretariat over his presidential ambition.
The aspirant said: â€œI will like to use this opportunity to commend President Muhammadu Buhari for recognising Abiola by declaring June 12 as the new Democracy Day. I will however go further than that by identifying him as the former President of Nigeria.
â€œWe cannot run away from our past if we must enjoy the future. Our past and fallen heroes deserve adequate recognition I will declare Saro Wiwa also as a nationalist.â€
He said Abiola would continue to be remembered in the political landscape of the country as someone who has proven his mettle as a politician with impeccable qualities of leadership.