JUNE 12: As Nigeria Proclaims New Democracy Day…

The late Chief MKO Abiola

Shola Oyeyipo writes that average Nigerians will continue to live in a state of despair, if hope, which was the slogan for the June 12, 1993 election, is not rekindled

Given the importance of June 12, the annulled 1993 presidential election, acclaimed to be the freest and fairest in her history and indeed Africa, and also considering the fact that the presumed winner of that election, the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola eventually paid the ultimate price trying to reclaim his mandate, and the fact that it was what paved the way for 20 years uninterrupted governance in the country, it may not be out of place to commemorate such a date.

Thus, following the alteration of Nigeria’s calendar of holidays and events, instead of May 29, from last week Tuesday henceforth, June 12 marks Nigeria’s Democracy Day celebration. This was done to honour Abiola, who was the symbol, albeit one of the heroes of the June 12 Struggle.

Therefore, as expected, President Muhammadu Buhari, his team in the federal executive council and heads of other arms of government converged on the Eagle Square, Abuja and watched well-choreographed renditions of march-passes by members of the Armed Forces. Cultural groups also performed masterpiece dances.
The colourful event was well attended by top government functionaries, members of the diplomatic community, traditional rulers, captains of industries and several others from other walks of life. They share banter and handshakes elegantly.

Usually, such events always come with speeches by prominent figures. The president would mount the podium with litany of achievements and roll out fresh promises. But the question has always been, how have all these events and speeches impacted the lives of the common men across Nigeria? There is no denying the fact that in the build-up to the election that ushered in the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidency in 2015, President Buhari enjoyed huge goodwill, but the party couldn’t boast of same level of goodwill during the 2019 election.

But in spite of that the ruling party returned for a second term. When President Buhari was sworn-in on May 29 for his second term, quite a number of people expected him to make some strong statements, but he didn’t. His handlers said he would make his speech last Tuesday during the June 12 Democracy Day celebration.

In his 74-bullet point address, President touched on virtually every aspects of Nigeria’s national life, but there were not much cogent propositions to solving some of the major problems confronting the poor people who are daily being tormented by violent criminals in most parts of the north. His speech, as always been, was rather aspirational and not inspirational.

Ponder this: “I and Nigerians collectively must give adequate thanks to our Armed Forces, Police and other law enforcing agencies for working round the clock to protect us by putting themselves in harm’s way and defending our values and protecting our future.”

But his further clarification that “Terrorism and insecurity are worldwide phenomena,” and that “even the best policed countries are experiencing increasing incidences of unrest and are finding things hard to cope,” will not calm the frayed nerves of those feeling the pang of the rampaging killer bandits across the country.

There would hardly be any gainsaying that Nigeria and her citizens are some of the most terrorized people around the world. Lives are being lost in droves in the hands of blood-sucking criminals in the country, and a lot of people are helplessly waiting to be victims of another probable attack.

Many well-to-do travelers through the Kaduna-Abuja highway and other parts of the north have now opted to go on the journey by trains. They have abandoned the roads for fear of notorious kidnap syndicates roaming the roads for their next victims without counter-attacks by the security agencies.

Also, in the South-west, there are now parts of Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo States that people are constantly warned to be wary of plying because of the fear of Fulani kidnappers or bandits as the case may be.

The Nigerian leader was not oblivious of the fact that Nigerians want to live in peace and harmony with their fellow Nigerians and that they desire opportunity to better themselves in a safe environment, but he would have done better by making a clear statement and actions on the farmer-herdsmen clashes that have left many Nigerians dead and which is still ongoing.

According to President Buhari: “Most of the instances of inter-communal and inter-religious strife and violence were and are still as a result of sponsorship or incitements by ethnic, political or religious leaders hoping to benefit by exploiting our divisions and fault lines, thereby weakening our country.”
But rather than make such lame and ineffectual statements, more so as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, relying on intelligence, those behind such crimes should be apprehended and brought to book in a manner that shows there is a government in place.

It is simply unfair to underscore the problem confronting a people and leave the matter open-ended. Strong solutions must be proferred and they must be implemented to the letter in the interest of all.

The president boasted that he had the privilege of free education from primary school to Staff College to War College and has continued to enjoy taxpayers’ monies, but would the 10.5 million out of school children in Nigerian ever enjoy similar benefit?
What succor is there for poor parents, who are paying school fees through their noses? Or is the miserable N10,000 tradermoni the best a people-oriented government could do? A project that was no less a scam – a glorified vote-buying strategy, which has since stopped immediately after the elections.
Curiously, President Buhari scored his government high. He was also optimistic that with some projections, the Nigerian economy stood a good chance of getting better.

“When we came to office in 2015 after a decade of struggle we identified three cardinal and existential challenges our country faced and made them our campaign focus, namely security, economy and fighting corruption. None but the most partisan will dispute that in the last four years we have made solid progress in addressing these challenges.
“When I took the oath of office on May 29, 2015, insecurity reigned. Apart from occupying 18 local governments in the North-east, Boko Haram could at will attack any city including the Federal Capital Territory, could threaten any institution including bombing the United Nations building and Police Headquarters in Abuja.

“Admittedly, some of the challenges still remain in kidnappings and banditry in some rural areas. The great difference between 2015 and today is that we are meeting these challenges with much greater support to the security forces in terms of money, equipment and improved local intelligence. We are meeting these challenges with superior strategy, firepower and resolve,” he stated.

Nigerians can however hang on to some promises the president made. For instance, he said: “With leadership and a sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.

“Following the 60 per cent drop in oil prices between 2015 and 2016, through monetary and fiscal measures, we stimulated economic growth, curbed inflation and shored up our external reserves. We now have witnessed eight quarters of positive growth in the economy and our GDP is expected to grow by 2.7 per cent this year. Furthermore, our external reserves had risen to $45 billion, enough to finance over nine months of current import commitments.

“This administration is laying the foundation and taking bold steps in transforming our country and liberating our people from the shackles of poverty. Over the next four years, we are committed to assembling a strong team of Nigerians, and allies, to implement our transformative plans and proposals.
“We will see significant focus, resource and, where necessary reform, in tertiary and technical education to reposition Nigeria’s workforce for the modern technological age.

“The principal thrust of this new Administration is to consolidate on the achievements of the last four years, correct the lapses inevitable in all human endeavors and tackle the new challenges the country is faced with and chart a bold plan for transforming Nigeria.”
That bold plan for transforming Nigeria is perhaps what Nigerians wanted to hear during the June 12 celebration.

Asked to evaluate the president’s speech, the National Publicity Secretary, Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “I have looked at the speech, there is nothing in it. I have read the speech, there is nothing in it. Nothing in it!
“It is with usual empty promises – talking about software when you don’t have hardware. We are saying that there is no country, yet, you are talking about building a nation out of Nigeria. What is a nation?”

To really understand how a majority of Nigerians feel about the Tuesday event, it is ideal for the president to follow some of the commentaries by Nigerians while the event lasted. For example, some Nigerians who chatted on the NTA Youtube livestream channel during the programme gave President Buhari kudos and knocks.

Commending the president’s initiative at honouring Abiola, Osayi Ugiagbe said: “Buhari will always be remembered for the honour just like Abiola now. PMB! He beat the likes of Babagida, Obasanjo the beneficiary of June 12 and others with this June 12 Democracy Day.

But in his opinion, Tony Gabriel feels someone “should advise him (Buhari) to unite Nigeria. There is so much hate, nepotism, division, violence, killings, tribalism and religious intolerance and so on. He has promoted nepotism enough. It is time for unity.”

Paul Carlos noted that “no UK, America, European Union delegates for Nigeria Democracy Day – something not right in Nigeria.”
While Oluwagbemiga Olabode Ladegbuye bemoaned that “Nigeria is blessed with (these) different tribes, we must come together as brothers and sisters instead of acting like kids as if trying to break the cup you were drinking from.”

Joseph Ebong noted that “Ridiculous! Nigeria is a joke. Only people who haven’t had opportunity of living in a true democratic country will be celebrating the current charade in Nigeria as democracy. This is painful. Can’t this man understand that it is not about him?”
Eunice Sanmi said: “I still don’t understand why the president of Nigeria has not come out to publicly condemn the act of the herdsmen killings.”
Kay Kobe asked what the future of 120 million youth without job was? Trouble is coming for all Nigerian political leaders, you like it or not.
Ön his part, Osaoghe Enikarodion was miffed that “there is nothing the common citizens benefit from Nigeria government,” and was particularly concerned that “Fulani are everywhere destroying farmland in the South-south.”

Aminu Tukur was only bothered about the long speech and some of the unnecessary details, saying “Some speech writers; why stress us with all the extra details?”
There is widespread poverty. There is no denying that. Nigeria now ranks as the poverty capital of the world. That is documented. It is almost unbelievable, because Nigeria that is blessed with abundant human and natural resources has been unable to make the best of it.

For many Nigerians, who are full of hope that Nigeria’s potential will ultimately make it rank among its peers, the electoral system has been the greatest disaster. You can hardly elect public officials in a rancor-free environment. The electoral system is characterised by imperfections that make it impossible for peoples’ wish to materialise during elections.

This administration must go beyond rhetoric. Concise action plans designed to change the Nigerian narrative must be rolled out and they must be implemented instead of unending promises that usually come with mere celebration. The true spirit of June 12 must be rekindled. Nigerians need to be emancipated from their current state of despair.