THE ESSENCE OF DEMOCRACY DAY

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Late MKO Abiola

President Buhari’s government must be all-inclusive

By upholding June 12 as Democracy Day, President Muhammadu Buhari has demonstrated that the passage of time does not diminish courageous restitution. But on a day such as this, it is also important for him to begin to reflect on his stewardship and the legacy he intends to bequeath by 2023. He should understand that he is as much the president of those who voted for him as he is for those who did not. Most importantly, this is an opportunity for the president to lay to rest the growing impression that he is a sectional leader. He must now belong to all Nigerians while ensuring that we all belong to one indivisible nation.

If on June 12, 1993 Nigerians trooped out to vote without minding ethnic or religious differences, questions must be asked, especially on a day such as this, why we have become so divided along those lines. Is it possible for Nigeria to vote for a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket under the current atmosphere of mutual recriminations and suspicions?

The essence of June 12 should not be lost on the president who begin to define his legacies to align not only with his governance and immediate stewardship but also in tandem with the mood of a nation that is in dire need of healing. The significance of June 12 derives from the fact that on that day, 27 years ago, Nigerians defied faith, ethnicity and nativism to speak with one undivided voice on the choice of national leadership. The summary of the June 12 challenge for the nation and in particular, the Buhari administration, is to embrace the spirit of inclusiveness and justice for all Nigerians. These values transcend pomp and mere symbolism.

The appeal of the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola—the man who symbolises the day—was not just in his philanthropic sweep across the nation. A Baptist school boy who happened to be a Muslim, 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 the Nigerian electorate in that historic election. Although Nigerians cast their ballots without any hitches, the result was annulled before it could be officially declared by the military government headed by General Ibrahim Babangida. This was despite the fact that most Nigerians knew the late Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) had won. The struggle that followed led to the death of many pro-democracy activists, especially under the late General Sani Abacha. His death and that of Abiola, a month apart, in 1998 ushered in the current democracy on 29 May 1999.

To honour the memory of Abiola and the sacrifices he made, President Buhari has proclaimed June 12 Democracy Day in Nigeria, as opposed to May 29. Last year, he assented to the Public Holiday Amendment Bill to confer official recognition for June 12 as the Democracy Day. We commend President Buhari for his decision on June 12. But we urge him to imbibe the spirit of reconciliation to heal other wounds. 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 more pronounced than now. Ordinarily, then, the recognition of Abiola and June 12 ought to be part of a national healing process.

As we reiterated last year, President Buhari will do well to break free from old prejudices and reassert his authentic nationalism as a statesman. This is the time to look again at the South-east where old and new collective injuries have joined to heighten the sense of alienation.

We wish all Nigerians Happy Democracy Day!