A Tale of Two Significant Dates

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MKO Abiola

Victor Ogunje, John Shiklam and Hammed Shittu write that the significance of May 29 and June 12 in Nigeria’s political history cannot be misunderstood, as each date carries its robust character

The botched June 12, 1993 presidential election has become one of the most epochal political events in Nigeria. The event has vestiges that are difficult to erase, owing to its relevance and significance.

June 12 was the day the country assumedly had the freest and fairest election that produced, Chief MKO Abiola as winner. Incidentally, Abiola was neither declared winner nor sworn in by military oligarchy which annulled the election for inexplicable reasons.

Since the annulment and the eventual demise of the presumed winner of the poll, agitation was intensified on different fronts to ensure that the martyr of the struggle was remembered.

Some pundits have consistently opined that June 12 should be recognised as Democracy Day. Governors from the South-west under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) took the lead by declaring June 12 as Democracy Day instead of May 29.

Some said that Abiola, one of the major casualties and others who fell to military bullets should be immortalized.

The first time the June 12 was accorded recognition on a national platform was under President Goodluck Jonathan when he sought to name the University of Lagos after the late politician (Abiola).

As lofty as this step was, some activists conspiring with their allies in the political circle shot it down, describing the action as too provincial to compensate for Abiola’s life and struggles.

Most vociferous among the critics of the Jonathan gesture was the fiery Lagos Lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN). In his submission, Falana argued that immortalizing Abiola with a monument located within the South-west, where the late businessman came from would make him look like a sectional and regional leader, rather than national.

In fact, President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence on making June 12 the Democracy Day and time for him to perform ceremony inaugurating him into his office for his second term, had attracted wide applause.

With the new arrangement, June 12 becomes a Public Holiday to celebrate the ethos of democracy, replacing May 29, which previously held that status.

Because of the enthusiasm and ecstasy the action elicited across the regions, political divides and religious inclinations, people tended to pay less attentions to the constitutionality of the action.

As exhilarating and worthwhile as Buhari’s approach to end the June 12 brouhaha is, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) believes that he was only playing to the gallery by circumventing the constitution to earn political relevance.

On June 6, 2018, the federal government declared June 12 as the new Democracy Day.
Before the declaration, the senate had passed the Public Holiday Act Amendment Bill to recognize June 12 as the country’s Democracy Day.

Though a few lawmakers protested the change in date of Democracy Day, it was however, approved after majority of the lawmakers supported passage of the bill.

President Buhari has since assented to the bill, thus giving legal muscle to it. Despite the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, May 29, which hitherto was celebrated as Democracy Day, still remains the day for the swearing-in of the elected president and state governors.

Expectedly, mixed reactions have continued to trail the federal government’s decision to switch Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12.

Speaking on the legal implication of the change in the date to celebrate democracy day, the Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ado Ekiti Branch, Mr.  Samuel Falade, clarified that while the handing over formalities took place on May 29, June 12 would only be ceremonial.

According to Falade, President Buhari breached no law by changing the date since both the Upper and the Lower Chambers of the National Assembly had endorsed the proposal.

He said, “Since the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed the Bill seeking to change the date into law, there is no infraction.

“But if the president had done contrary to that, there will be issues, because May 29 was made through the Act of Parliament and it will take another parliamentary action to shift the date and to also validate and legalize the new date.”

Aligning with the position that due process had been followed former, NBA Chairman, Ikere Ekiti Branch, Mr. Bunmi Olugbade, maintained that President Buhari had not breached the statute since he was in concurrence with the National Assembly on the matter.

He said there would have been a breach if the President had unilaterally shifted the inauguration date to June 12 without the input of the National Assembly.

The former NBA boss averred that going by this arrangement, the handing over was done on May 29 while the ceremony will be performed on June 12, which he said was in line with the law.

“Going by the constitution, any national day that would attract proclamation of holidays should be made by an Act of Parliament.

“Since the June 12 would now require the federal government declaring public holiday, then both the executive and the legislature must play their roles.

“Don’t forget that President Buhari began the process in 2018 and he said the proposal will take effect from 2919.

“Just recently, the two chambers of the National Assembly adopted the day as Democracy Day, which signaled that both the legislature and executive are in concurrence.

“President Buhari had satisfied the provisions of the law and due process had been complied with,” he said.

The chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the move to honour Abiola as a step in the right direction.

“Abiola is regarded as our political Messiah. He is honoured for his role of being in the vanguard of the struggle for the emergence of the current political dispensation. You know what it cost for a person to have the country to have democracy.

“This is not about political party, but about what you can do, you have to give honour to whoever deserves.”

For his part, the Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Anthony Sani applauded the recognition of June12 as Democracy Day.

”I do not understand the basis of the controversies on the current status of May 29 for inauguration in the year of elections and the current status of June 12 as Democracy Day,” he said.

According to him, no national event had threatened the corporate existence of Nigeria and inspired mistrust among Nigerians-after the civil war- like the annulment of the election conducted on June 12, 1993.

“And if the recognition of the (presumed) winner and commemoration of June 12 would bring about some level of national healing and contribute to strengthening the unity of the nation, then there can be no cavil with the significance of legalization of the day in honor of the winner and commemoration of same,” Sani said.

He explained  that since the tenure of the President and governors end on  May 29, by the constitutional provision, “there is no way the swearing-in of the President could be shifted to June 12, since doing so would mean the president will exceed his constitutionally allowed four year tenure.“

Continuing he said, “That is why the swearing-in and inauguration must take place on May 29. June 12th is now a National Day as enacted by the NASS and will be celebrated as such.

“The decision to shift the ceremony meant for the inauguration to June 12 is that of the government and does not affect the legal status of both  May 29 inauguration as and when due and that of  June 12 of every year as Democracy Day.”

Also speaking, a Kaduna-based legal luminary, Maxwell Kyon, said the whole concept of having separate inauguration and Democracy Day is an unnecessary duplication and waste of time and resources.

He said, “It is very strange for us to have a day as Democracy Day and another day for swearing in.
”I think this is unnecessary duplicity. I know that a lot of people have emotional attachment to June 12. It makes a lot of sense because Nigerians tend to agree that for the first time in our history, we came out as one on June 12, 1993, and voted in an election that we believed was the freest, fairest and most credible election in the country.”

He said in spite of the fact that the military annulled the election, people still feel some level of attachment to it.

”My take is this; of course it will be a bid problematic for us to have a situation where a President is sworn in on May 29, while we wait for June 12. If we feel that there is a fundamental need for us to have a complete change in terms of the day, the President is sworn-in or what day should be Democracy Day, we should be able to decide on a day that both events could be held. Instead of swearing-in the President on May 29 and celebrating Democracy on June 12. This is unnecessary.

”If the consensus is that June 12, considering its place in our history, it is more apt to be our Democracy Day, we could simply amend the constitution and select a day that we swear in the President and celebrate Democracy Day at the same time.

I think that will make more sense than for us to have swearing in on May 29 and celebrating Democracy Day on June 12. This is highly unnecessary,” Kyon said.
Also reacting on the issue, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Danjuma Sarki,,said  despite the importance June 12in the political history of the country, May 29, was the actual Democracy Day.
“If you look at it critically, May 29, was actually the day which our democracy in Nigeria came to be.  So on that basis, you could say May 29, is actually the Democracy Day because that is the day our democracy gained ground,” he said.

He added, “June 12, for me, was the struggle for Nigeria to return to democracy. The struggle originated from the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, where free, fair and credible election was conducted, but the mandate was annulled by the military.

”Significantly, you can say May 29 is Democracy Day not June 12. For the government to relegate May 29 and uplift June 12 above it, I think that is not a fair decision. I acknowledge that June 12 also very important in our political history, but I suggest that they should look for another name for it other than making it as Democracy Day. Whichever angle you look at it, Abiola deserves to be honoured.’’
 

Conversely, an Ilorin-based lawyer, Mr. Salman Jawondo said it would have been illegal to swear in Mr. President on June 12 instead of May 29, as according to him, the President would definitely exceed his tenure of four years by 13 days.

 

He said, “the tenure of four years of Mr. President ended on May 29 and it was right to swear him in on that day for second term in line with the legal and constitutional provision of the law and not on June 12.

 

“May 29 is a real Democracy Day, while June 12 is a day of election that was won by late Chief M. K. O Abiola, but was annulled by the military president, General Ibrahim Babangida.

 

“The two dates are different from each other and should not be misconstrued. I believe that Mr. President should initiate a bill to amend the new date for the swearing so that it can conform with the laws of the nation.’’

 

Another lawyer, Mr. Segun Olawoyin corroborated Jawondo,  decrying that having official activities on both dates was capable of causing a constitutional breach in the country. He said, “It was right to swear in President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29 and not on June 12 because he signed on May 29 to become president of Nigeria and this is a contract he must abide with it.”

 

Also commenting on the issue, a stalwart of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Hon. Kayode-Oyin Zubair said, “May 29 ab initio is not our Democracy Day but a day when a military junta under intense pressure decided to yield to the yearnings of Nigerians by transferring power to democratically elected representatives.”

 

“I think systematically and gradually too Nigerians will be weaned from military hang over. May 29 has no significant place in our democracy, other than being a day we transited from a military junta to a democratically elected government.

 

“However, we can’t have two democracy days, because of that, we can continue to observe May 29 as a public holiday to remind us that we were once ruled by the barrack boys.

 

“In every sense June 12 is significant and historic – the election held on that day is still the freest and most credible in the annals of this country. It is not just about the undeclared winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election believed widely to be Chief M. K. O. Abiola but our collective resolve as a people to be ruled by our own representatives.

 

“The constitution handed to us by the military is full of inconsistencies that are due for review to meet modern day realities. The constitution must reflect what Nigerians really want.”

 

“The president can find appropriate name for what the military bequeathed Nigerians after many years of sojourn in power.

 

Another APC faithful in Kwara North Senatorial District, Alhaji Mohammad Kudu Muhammad also weighed in on the matter, advising Nigerians against mixing up the issue of May 29 inauguration day with June 12  Democracy Day.

 

He said, “President Muhammadu Buhari in his pragmatic approach to issues has only hearkened and acted to aspirations and callings of generality of Nigerian that June 12 being a watershed in our democracy should not be swept under the carpet.

 

“This is because it means well for our nation’s political and democratic life. Therefore, that is why the president has recognized it so. This means that this year inauguration of elected leaders was done on May 29 and the main ceremony will be on June 12.

 

“Should everything be shifted to June 12, it would mean a lacuna would be created. This should not happen so as not to create constitutional problems.  The inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari was done on May 29 but the actual celebration will be on June 12.’’

However, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan derided the President Muhammadu  Buhari Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) for thinking
that moving major events of its planned Presidential inauguration from May 29 to June 12, the Democracy Day, can confer any form of legitimacy to the outcome of the alleged rigged 2019 Presidential election.

According to Ologbodiyan, “It is clear that the Buhari Presidency and the APC, being tormented by  the guilt of violating our electoral processes, can no longer boldly approach the oath book on May 29, due to the burden of illegitimacy and now seeks refuge in the sanctity of June 12, our Democracy Day. The Buhari Presidency and the APC from our recent history have demonstrated that they totally averse to democracy. They should therefore steer clear of our Democracy Day, having violated all our democratic ethos in manipulating the Presidential elections and upturning the mandate of the people; the same injustice which Chief MKO
Abiola, the symbol of June 12, fought and died for.”

The PDP spokesman said his party rejects this absurd desperation by the Buhari  Presidency and the APC to overshadow the import of our Democracy Day and stifle the quest by Nigerians to vent their anger against the democratic violations of the APC administration in the last four years.

QUICK FACTS:

*On June 6, 2018, the federal government declared June 12 as the new Democracy Day.
Before the declaration, the senate had passed the Public Holiday Act Amendment Bill to recognize June 12 as the country’s Democracy Day

* Though a few lawmakers protested the change in date of Democracy Day, it was however, approved after majority of the lawmakers supported passage of the bill

*The botched June 12, 1993 presidential election has become one of the most epochal political events in Nigeria

*June 12 was the day the country assumedly had the freest and fairest election that produced, Chief MKO Abiola as winner. Incidentally, Abiola was neither declared winner nor sworn in by military oligarchy which annulled the election for inexplicable reasons

*Some pundits have consistently opined that June 12 should be recognised as Democracy Day. Governors from the South-west under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) took the lead by declaring June 12 as Democracy Day instead of May 29

*The first time the June 12 was accorded recognition on a national platform was under President Goodluck Jonathan when he sought to name the University of Lagos after the late politician (Abiola)

*As lofty as this step was, some activists conspiring with their allies in the political circle shot it down, describing the action as too provincial to compensate for Abiola’s life and struggles

*With the new arrangement, June 12 becomes a Public Holiday to celebrate the ethos of democracy, replacing May 29, which previously held that status