President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday demonstrated great statesmanship and courage by honouring the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election and martyr of Nigerian democracy, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, with a posthumous Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). It is the nation’s highest honour exclusively reserved for Nigeria’s presidents.
The president also announced that Democracy Day hitherto celebrated on May 29 every year will henceforth be marked on June 12 in honour of the late philanthropist and business mogul. Similarly, his running mate in the election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, and iconic pro-democracy activist, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, would be conferred with the second highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) respectively. The investiture of these honours will take place on June 12, 2018 in Abuja. In announcing the honour, the president said: “June 12, 1993 was a day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since our independence. The fact that the then military government did not uphold the outcome of that election does not detract from the democratic credentials of that process.”
We commend the president for taking a bold, wise and courageous decision to honour the late politician who fought and paid the supreme sacrifice for our nascent democracy. The issue of declaring June 12 our Democracy Day and acknowledging the man, who was coasting home to victory in that symbolic election, has been on the cards for a very long time, but no Nigerian president has mustered the political will and courage to do so.
We recall that prominent Nigerians, including the former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, had earlier called on the Federal Government to honour Chief M.K.O Abiola, the adjudged winner of the June 12 election. Buhari’s action is a victory for democracy and all Nigerians.
By this singular act, President Buhari has, indeed, written his name in gold as a true democrat, astute politician and eminent statesman. He has also shown that he is conscious of the nation’s political history. By bringing back June 12 and the memory of the main actors of the struggle, history will be kind to him.
He has also corrected the injustice done to the winner of that election. Without mincing words, June 12 is very important and symbolic in our democratic march as a nation. Nothing can erase it or wish it away.
It is a reminder to all Nigerians of the day we set aside our ethnic, religious and other differences and voted for candidates of our choice in a free, fair and credible election. On that day, Nigerians spoke with one voice and stoutly defended it with their blood. Many Nigerians, including the heroic wife of Abiola, Kudirat died in the process of actualising the June 12 election.
Many businesses were also ruined and properties destroyed on account of the June 12 struggle.
Without Bashorun Abiola’s altruistic political struggle over his June 12 mandate, the military would still be riding roughshod over Nigerians. There is no doubt that June 12 represents a watershed in the political history of the country. It is a day Nigerians rejected military dictatorship and tyranny and accepted democracy as a preferred form of government.
If people like the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola did not pay the price, there would have been no democracy to celebrate in Nigeria. Those who read politics into the honour done to Abiola and others surely missed the point. The significance of the honour, we believe, far outweighs its politics, no matter what anyone contends.
While we laud the president for those he has honoured, we also wish to remind him to honour the man who superintended over the annulled election and ensured that it was free, fair and credible, at great risk to his life, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu. Since that election was generally adjudged to be the most credible, so far in our country, the organiser of that historic presidential poll ought to be recognised because he deserves such an honour. Therefore, honouring the electoral umpire is not out of place. The president should also immortalise all those that lost their lives in the June 12 struggle. That is perhaps the best way an appreciative nation can demonstrate that they did not die in vain.
Beyond the symbolism of honouring the winner of the June 12 election and declaring the day our Democracy Day, the government and its electoral agency must ensure that the forthcoming 2019 general election is as free, fair and credible as the June 12 election. That should be the best way to honour the memory of the winner of the June 12 election. For democracy to thrive and endure in our shores, Nigerians must be allowed to choose their leaders in a free, fair and credible poll. Their votes must be made to count.