June 12: Buhari’s Greek Gift to the South-west

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President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to honour Chief MKO Abiola and other fallen heroes of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election is viewed with cynicism, writes Tobi Soniyi

As the debate over whether it is legal or right to posthumously confer the national honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic on the late acclaimed winner of ‎the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola and others rages on, President Muhammadu Buhari is pressing on with an elaborate plan to make the conferment a big national event to the chagrin of the opposition.

‎Buhari had on Wednesday declared that the nation’s Democracy Day would, henceforth, hold on June 12 of every year as against the current arrangement where the ceremony holds on May 29.
The president also conferred the GCFR national honour on Abiola who was widely believed to have won the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election.

GCFR is the nation’s highest national honour.

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

Apart from Abiola, Buhari said he would also honour his running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, and the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, with the second highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Niger.

He said their investiture would take place on June 12.
The statement read, “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29, as Democracy Day. That was the date when, for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government. The first time this happened was on October 21, 1979.

“But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12, 1993 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even the October 1.
“June 12, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our independence.
“The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process.
“Accordingly, after due consultations, the Federal, Government has decided that henceforth, June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day.
“Therefore, the government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 cancelled elections.
“His running mate as Vice President, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.
“Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualisation of the June 12 elections and indeed for democracy in general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, is to be awarded the GCON.
“The investiture will take place on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, a date which in future years will replace May 29 as a National Public Holiday in celebration of Nigeria’s Democracy Day.”

The move, no doubt is a masterstroke especially in the south-west where the president’s poor performance i‎n managing the economy and his insensitivity to killings in the middle belt have left him isolated from those who supported him in 2015. The president knew that he was going to record a poor showing and then decided to turn the table by playing on the emotion of the people in the south-west.
Whether you agree with the president or not, it is only the ignorant that will downplay the importance and the likely effect of the gesture. People want political power to promote their interest. Now that someone who has the power is using it to promote your interest, why stopping him?
However, whether this will be enough to win back those who ‎have already dumped the president is yet to be seen. But there is no denying the fact that the gesture is a moral booster. Is it a game changer? It is too early to determine. For one, conferring GCFR on Abiola isn’t going to put food on the people’s table. The president will have to do more.

A Missed Opportunity for the PDP
No other political party has the opportunity to redress the injustice created by the annulment of the June 12 presidential election than the ‎Peoples Democratic Party. Sadly, it failed to take advantage.
The party ruled for sixteen years and chose to make May 29 the day to mark the return of democracy to Nigeria. It also ignored the feelings of the families who lost loved ones to the struggle to actualize the annulled election.

Perhaps, critics had forgotten that, ‎in one of his last ditch efforts to woo the South-west, Dr Goodluck Jonathan as president announced that University of Lagos had been renamed Moshood Abiola University. But because the half-hearted gesture was not done with sincerity of purpose, it fell ‎through. Perhaps, Jonathan forgot that University of Lagos was established by an act of parliament and that he would therefore need to send an amendment bill to the National Assembly to change the name.
May be, if Jonathan had done what Buhari just did, he might have succeeded in swaying mo‎re voters in the south-west to his side. Just may be.

If voters in the south-west reciprocate the president’s gesture by voting for him, why should that be of concern to anyone? ‎The PDP had all the opportunity to assuage the feelings of the pro-June 12 people, not just in the south-west but across the country.
Buhari is merely taking advantage of PDP’s strategic error. Not long ago, the PDP insulted the south-west when it carefully edged the zone out of the race for the party’s national chairmanship. Those now crying foul were ecstatic in their jubilation then. Among other arguments, the party justified its decision to elect Uche Secondus as its national chairman on the ground that the PDP enjoyed a robust support in the south-south. The argument goes, why electing someone from the south-west as your chairman when most of the states in the zone are not under the control of the PDP?

Now that Buhari has read through the PDP’s script and chosen to pitch his tent with the south-west, those who argued that it was safer to elect a south-south person‎ as the chairman of PDP must have seen the implication of their short-sightedness. Those condemning the south-west for embracing Buhari because of the June 12 recognition are not being sincere in their assessment either. They expect the south-west to embrace the PDP that didn’t deem the people of the zone good enough to lead the party to warm up to PDP?

‎‎If the president turns around the economy today and stops the killings in the middle belt, many voters will reward him with another term. That will not be a bad thing.

A Welcome Development
The Abiola family said that the conferment of GCFR on Abiola was the only befitting recognition of his fight for democracy in Nigeria.
In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari written by the scion of the Abiola’s family, Kola Abiola, he expressed the family appreciation to the president.

The letter read: “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 designing 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 4 years ‎in incarceration/solitary confinement and decimation of his usiness and financial interests, before the ultimate sarifice, 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 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.”

‎Chief Mile Ozekhome, SAN was even more philosophical when he said: “I knew the time would come. When the gestation period is over for a pregnant woman, she must surely deliver. It does not matter how – whether through normal delivery or caesarian operation. June was all along like the pregnant woman.”

The learned silk‎ recalled that ‎on June 12, 2014, he moved a motion at the National Conference that not only should June 12 be declared a national holiday and the real democracy day, but that Chief M.K.O. Abiola and all the souls of the faithful departed of those who gallantly lost their lives fighting for the realization of June 12, be remembered and immortalized.
He also demanded a minute’s silence for those heroes.

Ozekhome, not a fan of the president, commended him for the initiative. He, rightly in our view, reasons that honouring Abiola and declaring June 12 democracy day should not be seen as a partisan issue.
‎He said: “To me, it is not the right argument that PMB did it for political reasons. Yes, he may very well have done it to shore up his battered political image and fast dwindling democratic credentials. But, the inescapable fact is that he has done the right thing for which history will remember him. This is the more reason, I believe the argument should now go, why he should retire quietly to his Daura home, having done one great thing for which he would be remembered.

“When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo wrote his scathing letter to PMB in December, 2017, I applauded the letter for the import of its correct contents, even though I am not a fan of OBJ. I argued then that we should listen to the message and not look at the messenger. In the same vein here, we should look at the historical significance of PMB’s political masterstroke on the June 12 brouhaha; and not him as a person, or the ulterior motives for which he did it. I applaud him for this singular act that breathed fresh exhilarating oxygen into his tack luster performance.”

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Would Abiola and Fawehinmi Have Accepted the Awards?

The argument on whether Abiola and Fawehinmi would have accepted the award given the prevailing atmosphere where those who killed others are not held‎ to account, ‎ has become no issue since their families are willing to accept.

Nevertheless, Ozekhome’s insight into this remains very apt‎‎. According to him, the answer is a categorical “no”. Like many others, the senior advocate said he was ‎convinced MKO and Fawehinmi‎ would have out rightly rejected the national honours if they were alive.

He recalled that ‎ o‎n 14th December, 2008, barely 9 months before his death, Fawehinmi‎ outrightly rejected the national ‎honour of OFR (Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), bestowed on him by the then President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. In rejecting the ‎honour and giving his reasons, Gani said,inter alia:
“’Today I am seventy years and 8 months old. I am struck down by lung cancer for which I have been receiving medical treatment outside my country because my country Nigeria has one of the poorest medical services in the world but one of the richest countries in the world in terms of revenue.’”

‎Ozekhome concluded that nothing had changed between now and 2008 when Fawehinmi rejected the award. “Even PMB has himself been receiving medical treatment in London, outside Nigeria”, he added.

In rejecting the award, Ozekhome further quoted Fawehinmi as saying:‎ “’Whether now or in the life beyond, how can I wake up in the morning and look at the insignia of‎ honour bestowed on me under a government that persecutes…Nuhu Ribadu?’ (Whom he believed did a great job on the anti-corruption fight).’
‎On whether, Abiola would have accepted the award, Ozekhome he also would have rejected it. He said: “As regards the matyr of democracy, Chief MKO Abiola, who paid the supreme price in his quest for genuine redemptive ‎messiahnism, he would also have rejected the GCFR given him, except certain things were first done.
‎”Recall that Abiola had rejected his bail which was burdened with unacceptable conditionalities. If Abiola were alive, he would demand that before he accepts the GCFR honour (reserved only for presidents and Heads of State, the presidential elections in which he clearly emerged the winner in the freest, fairest and most credible elections ever held in Nigeria, should first be declared by the present INEC which succeeded Professor Humphrey Nwosu’s National Electoral Commission (NEC), which had conducted the election. He would insist that he be first formally pronounced “President, Commander-In-Chief, Federal Republic of Nigeria”, before accepting same. He would insist that his campaign slogan of “farewell to poverty” be accomplished.”

Buhari, Abiola and Sani Abacha
Not too long ago, Buhari praised the late military Head of State, Sani Abacha for doing a good job and indirectly castigated former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Many have asked, what has changed between now and then. Abacha did not annul the June 12 election but he detained Abiola for demanding that he be sworn in as president. Abiola eventually lost his life under suspicious circumstance. When critically examine against the backdrop of the enthusiasm with which Buhari often praises Abacha, it is easier to see why a segment of the society view the president’s new found love for June 12 and Abiola a deceit. However, this is a dilemma the president’s handlers can easily explain away because this is Nigeria where no one stands for anything. Nigerian politicians are lacking in principle. They easily abandon the political party upon which they are elected and shamelessly cross to another party. That explains why Buhari can praise Abacha today and celebrate his victims tomorrow. The president is merely playing a survival game just like any other Nigerian politician will do. This has clearly shown that the president is not different from the politicians he condemns everyday. He is simply not the change agent Nigerians crave for.

A Basis to Hold Buhari Accountable
‎The conclusion reached by Ozekhome is very instructive.
According to him, the argument of what reasons actuated PMB in declaring June 12 our democracy day, and giving post-humous awards to Abiola and Gani, does not arise at all.
He continues: “If anything, the very acts themselves form the very prong and catalyst to hold PMB strictly accountable to the ideas, philosophy, and democratic credentials and convictions that drove these two great sons of Nigeria, nay, Africa.

“These include socio justice, egalitarianism, respect for human rights, observance of the rule of law and due process, treatment of all Nigerians equally, wholesome and non-selective fight of corruption, good, transparent and accountable governance, respect for the will of the people through a fair, just, credible and respectable electoral process, etc.

“In endorsing and applauding PMB for this historic feat, let me add that he must carry out the necessary legal, constitutional and legislative requirements to bring this to fruition. For now, the pronouncement remains in the realm of executive fiat. PMB should also go ahead, with the necessary political will, to immediately restructure the lopsided Nigerian federation, remove the glaring nepotic and cronystic imbalances and enthrone true, fiscal federalism. He should also ensure that the June, 1993 presidential election results are officially declared and Abiola formally pronounced the winner, and therefore president of Nigeria. His name, undoubtedly, will be inscribed in gold in Nigeria, whether or not he goes ahead to contest the 2019 presidential election. To me, he should not, even though it is his constitutional right to do so. He should play the Nelson Mandela card. God bless Nigeria.”

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That explains why Buhari can praise Abacha today and celebrate his victims tomorrow. The president is merely playing a survival game just like any other Nigerian politician will do

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Buhari is merely taking advantage of PDP’s strategic error. Not long ago, the PDP insulted the south-west when it carefully edged the zone out of the race for the party’s national chairmanship