June 12: Buhari Has Soothed Some National Wounds, Says Akinyemi

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  •  South-west states declare Tuesday public holiday
  •   Tofa protests Abiola’s recognition
  •   Democracy Day: DPC warns against tenure elongation

Abimbola Akosile and Funke Olaode in Lagos, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, and Femi Ogbonnikan in Abeokuta

Former external affairs minister and member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for awarding the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, late Chief Moshood Abiola, the highest national honour usually conferred on the country’s presidents. Akinyemi urged Buhari to honour other prominent Nigerians who were involved in the struggle to actualise the June 12 mandate. He said the honour bestowed on Abiola was one in many steps towards the healing of hurting national wounds.

Akinyemi made the assertions in a statement he issued Saturday.

That was as the six South-west states – Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti, and Ogun – declared Tuesday, June 12, as a public holiday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which Abiola was poised to win before it was annulled by then military president Ibrahim Babangida.

All the six South-west states had been observing June 12 as work-free day. But on Wednesday, the federal government joined, as President Muhammadu Buhari announced the change of the country’s Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 in honour of Abiola. Buhari also posthumously conferred the country’s highest national honour of GCFR on Abiola, implying his recognition as former President, and honoured his then running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, with GCON and recognised him as former Vice President. Buhari awarded the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, one of the staunchest June 12 activists, a GCON.

Recognition of June 12 and Abiola as national political symbols had been popularly demanded by Nigerians, though many have accused Buhari of angling for the strategic votes of Abiola’s native South-west with the latest honours.

But the candidate of the National Republican Convention in the June 1993 presidential poll, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, opposed the decision of the federal government to recognise Abiola, who was the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, as winner of the election. In a statement yesterday, Tofa said while he never begrudged the president for honouring Abiola, who he described as his “late friend”, he doubted if the move was “based on fair play and law.”

Akinyemi stated, “As a member of NADECO in its heyday, when it was most dangerous to be a member, June 6 marked the fulfilment of dreams, and the achievement of visions. On that day, President Muhammadu Buhari recognised the validity of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, declared Chief MKO Abiola as the winner of that election, conferred national honours on MKO Abiola, his running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the human rights activist Gani Fawehinmi, and declared June 12 Democracy Day.

“I recognised how momentous that decision was and I not only welcome the decision, I thank President Buhari for the decision. President Buhari has addressed some of the wounds inflicted on this nation and applied healing balm on these wounds. Only those who lost family members, those imprisoned and detained or who had family members imprisoned and detained, those tortured and those driven into exile had felt the need for some measure of closure. That closure was achieved on January 6 by the executive order issued by President Buhari.”

Akinyemi, who was deputy chairman of the 2014 National Conference, however, appealed to Buhari to remember other Nigerians, like Dan Suleiman, Ndubuisi Kanu, Frank Kokori, John Odigie-Oyegun, Dr. Akingba, and Bagauda Kaltho, who played active role in the June 12 struggle.

The former NADECO leader added, “The declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day is a victory for all Nigerians and not just for those who voted for MKO Abiola. The voting pattern on June 12, 1993 sealed the cleavages that have bedevilled Nigeria since the unification by Lugard.

“The annulment of the election results reopened and deepened those cleavages. I recognise and accept that the June 6 Presidential Executive Order has applied some balm on these cleavages and, therefore, should be welcomed as a national rather than a sectional victory.”

Recalling how touchy the June 12 issue was when it was debated during the 2014 national conference, Akinyemi stated, “The courage of the president in tackling this issue should be acknowledged. As the deputy chairman of the 2014 National Conference, I recall that when the issue of June 12 was raised, it almost tore the conference apart. I also recall that the issue of June 12 had been raised in different sessions of the National Assembly without resolution.

“That it took President Buhari to resolve this issue is a manifestation of what social scientists call the Nixon-China syndrome. It took a rabid anti-communist like Richard Nixon to extend diplomatic relations to China without the fear of being labelled a communist. It has taken a Buhari, who nobody can accuse of pandering to the South and who is trusted by the North, to do justice to June 12.”

Akinyemi dismissed the disputes in some quarters about the legality of the posthumous award to Abiola, explaining that former President Shehu Shagari had awarded a national honour posthumously to Chief Israel Adebajo, which his son collected on his behalf.

Lagos Declares June 12 Public Holiday

Lagos State Government on Saturday declared Tuesday, June 12, as public holiday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the annulled 1993 presidential election, which was widely adjudged as the freest and fairest in the country’s history. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, in a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Tunji Bello, said the significance of the June 12, 1993 elections would always be a reference point in the state’s quest to entrench true democracy.

Ambode commended President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring June as the new Democracy Day, saying the singular act would forever ensure that Abiola and other martyrs of democracy who laid down their lives in the struggle to entrench good governance did not do so vain.

The statement read, “On behalf of all Lagosians, we want to commend and applaud Mr President, Muhammadu Buhari for deeming it fit, finally, against all odds from all other past presidents that 25 years after, we are able to now celebrate our own Democracy Day and also declare that the real winner of 1993, June 12 presidential election was actually our own MKO Abiola.

“No matter how long you try to hide history, history will always reveal itself with a true platform. So, we know that is one very important singular step as we go forward to build an enduring democracy. And for all democrats in this country, we are excited that we are moving in the right direction.

“It also affirms that Nigeria can get it right if we begin to put things in the right perspective and work for the general good of the greater number of people. That is the true essence of democracy.

“For us in Lagos, June 12 is not just a day to remember, it is a rallying point for those of us in service that we must continuously strive to entrench true democracy and good governance, which is what Chief MKO Abiola totally exemplified.”

Tofa Protests

Meanwhile, the candidate of the National Republican Convention in the June 1993 presidential poll, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, has objected to the decision of the federal government to recognise Abiola, who was the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, as winner of the election. Tofa, in a statement yesterday, advised the federal government to reconsider its position, saying conferment of national honour on anyone should be beyond some cold political calculations.

The candidate of the now defunct NRC was defeated by Abiola in the election.

Tofa stated, “Following the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to honour my late friend, Alhaji Mashood K. Abiola (may Allah grant him peace) and officially recognise him as the winner of the inconclusive 12 June 1993 presidential election in which I was a candidate, I have been inundated by calls from friends, well-wishers, former political associates and journalists.

“While some worry about the brazen one-sidedness of this curious presidential action, especially given the list of invitees to Tuesday’s event at the Villa supposedly to mark ‘Democracy Day’, there are also those who canvass that I be so honoured with a similar award of GCFR, if the motive indeed was noble and meant to serve the end of justice.

“As much as I appreciate the goodwill, in this circumstance, however, I have to say that I would not accept it as it is, even if given.

“While I do not begrudge the president, his power to bestow favour on whomsoever he pleases, it is also important, especially for history, for all actions from the highest authority in the country to be based on fair play and law.

“Needless to say, being one of the two presidential candidates in that election does not in any way define me or my achievements in life; it was not even the most important one.”

Tofa said, “Whatever may be the prevailing sentiment and politics in Abuja, the idea that June 12 should be the new Democracy Day is also a matter that deserves serious reconsideration. Such decisions should be beyond some political cold calculations.”

DPC Warns Against Tenure Elongation

Democratic Peoples Congress has cautioned against using the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day as ploy to extend the tenure of the Buhari administration. DPC accused the Buhari government of employing divide-and-rule tactics in a desperate effort to perpetuate himself in office, insisting that May 29, 2019 handover remains sacrosanct.

The federal government has yet to conclude the legal process of synchronising the Democracy Day, which it changed from May 29 to June 12, and the handover date, which has been May 29 since 1999.

A statement issued at the weekend by PDC’s National Chairman, Mr. Olusegun Peters, said, “DPC warns against any attempt to elongate the tenure of elected public office holders a day longer than May, 2019. That day is sacrosanct for handover to newly elected leaders.”

The party alleged that the change in date was “a desperate attempt by a government that has failed to fulfil its campaign promises to the masses to alter the nation’s political structure in exchange for re-election. There should be limit to politicisation of critical democratic structures in Nigeria, like the handover date to a new government, which May 29 symbolises.

“President Buhari cannot unilaterally change the goal post in the middle of a democratic contest because it has dawned on him that he will be defeated in the 2019 presidential polls due to poor performance.

“DPC does not oppose any honour President Buhari accords to the late Chief Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida so long he does not tamper, alter or destroy the nation’s political structure in a desperate bid to remain in power or favour a section of the country.

“It is obvious that Chief Abiola, Ambassador Babangida Kingibe, Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and thousands of Nigerians resisted the military dictatorship, fought for the validation of June 12 presidential polls and democracy and, eventually, forced the military to handover to democratically elected leaders on May 29, 1999, which former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared Democracy Day in 2000.

“President Buhari should also honour other Nigerians who played key roles in the actualisation of democratic governance in Nigeria and provide dividends of democracy to the long-suffering compatriots and not carnage, as obtainable today. This is the only way we will build sustainable democracy in Nigeria.”

In a related development, the Ogun State chapter of All Progressives Congress said the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day had demonstrated that the party was sincere and willing to right the wrong of the past. A statement on Friday by the state publicity secretary, Chief Wole Elegbede, said, “The annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, which was adjudged as the freest and most peaceful in the history of Nigeria, cannot easily be forgotten. It would remain a symbolic day for democracy in Nigeria. That was the day that the electoral wish of Nigerians was thrown overboard by the military as Chief M.K.O. Abiola was headed to victory in the presidential election. Since 1999 that Nigeria returned to democratic rule, successive governments have been called upon by Nigerians to honour the memory of Chief Abiola and other fallen pro-democracy heroes by declaring June 12 as our Democracy day to no avail.

“The pronouncement by President Buhari changing the Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 demonstrates that the APC government listens to the people and respects their yearning.”