The conferment of national honour on Abiola in addition to the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day is decision well made

The conferment of the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola, and the official recognition of the June 12, 1993 presidential election he won belongs to a higher level of statesmanship for which President Muahmmadu Buhari deserves commendation. It is also most fitting that Professor Humphrey Nwosu is at last getting due recognition with his invitation to Tuesday’s event in Abuja. The intellectual resourcefulness and sagacity of Nwosu, who engineered the voting system that helped produce that memorable electoral outcome, deserves acknowledgement.

However, we hope this marks the beginning of giving national honours strictly on merit to inspire the present and the coming generations to individual greatness and greater service to the country. Over the years, we have queried the parameters for coming up with the list for national honours. In many instances, some of those that were honoured have continued to rankle, raising a rather critical question: Do some of the people that have received the honours represent the kind of people we would, in all honesty, project for the coming generation of Nigerians as worthy of emulation?

While remembering our heroes past and rewarding those who are making (or have made) significant contributions to our nation is a noble ideal, the criteria for coming up with a shortlist ought to be better than just putting the names of those who have held or are holding public offices. If, as it is the case, anybody who has ever ruled the country in the past (whether as a civilian or a military man) deserved to be recognised and rewarded with the honour of GCFR and their deputies with that of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), are we then to assume that they have made a success of the nation given Nigeria’s huge resources and the missed opportunities?

Meanwhile, there are other tangential issues arising from the recognition of June 12 by President Buhari that are important to stress in a period such as this in the nation. Much as we all need to salute the belated acknowledgment of the sacrifice which the late Abiola had to make for the cause of democracy, the president needs to be encouraged to define his own legacies to align not only with his governance and immediate stewardship but also in tandem with the mood of a nation that is dire need of healing. June 12, strictly interpreted, was more than the date of an election. On that day also, Nigerians defied faith, ethnicity and nativism to speak with one undivided voice on the choice of national leadership.

Ironically, these are also the overarching challenges of the Buhari’s presidency that, in the estimation of many Nigerians, has become very divisive. But in appropriately commemorating June 12, the president has vicariously raised the standard by which his legacy will be judged. The essence of the Abiola appeal lay not just in his philanthropic sweep across the nation but more in the progressive bent of his mind and his inclination to libertarian thought and trends. A Baptist school boy who was a Moslem, a street kid who rose to the pinnacle of the boardroom and a multi-millionaire who found time to commune with the poor were combinations that appealed to the widest spectrum of Nigerians.

Unarguably, our nation is bleeding from old and new injuries. At no other time has the feeling of hurt in several parts of the nation been this pronounced than now. Ordinarily, then, the recognition of Abiola and June 12 ought to be part of a national healing process. We therefore urge President Buhari to break free from the prejudices of his handlers and reassert his own authentic nationalism as a statesman. This is the time to look again at the South-east and the Middle belt where old and new collective injuries have joined to heighten the sense of alienation.

As has been demonstrated by the public acclaim of the Abiola/June 12 gesture, the passage of time neither heals collective wound nor does it diminish courageous restitution.

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June 12, strictly interpreted, was more than the date of an election. On that day, Nigerians defied faith, ethnicity and nativism to speak with one undivided voice on the choice of national leadership