■ Yoruba watching events closely –Senator Okurounmu
■ Igbo demand honour for Prof. Nwosu
■ Analysts receive gesture with mixed feelings
Omoniyi Salaudeen; Onyedika Agbedo
The dust raised by last Wednesday’s declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day is still reverberating in the air. Hitherto, successive administrations since 1999 had designated May 29 as public holiday to mark the return of the country to democratic rule after many years of junta administrations.
But President Muhammadu Buhari, in a dramatic turn of event, last week, declared June 12 as a public holiday, beginning from next year and also awarded the highest honour of the land posthumously to the presumed winner of the botched presidential election, the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, his running mate, Babagana Kingibe, as well as the late human rights activist, Gani Fawehinmi (SAN).
There is no gainsaying that this is a dream come true for pro-democracy activists who had vehemently fought the military to submission. Over the years, in their strident opposition to May 29, which was officially adopted by the previous governments as Democracy Day, they have sustained the clamour for recognition of the historic importance of the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to be the freest, fairest and most transparent election ever in the annals of Nigeria’s political history.
However, coming at a time when electioneering for the 2019 election is already building up, some opinion leaders are too quick to dismiss the gesture as a desperate move to hoodwink the Southwest to support the re-election bid of President Buhari. A former chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the 2015 national Confab, Senator Femi Okurounmu, speaking with Sunday Sun, described the declaration as a smart move to deceive the Yoruba people of Southwest.
His words: “I have a lot of respect for the intelligence of the people of Southwest. They are not fools, they are not easily deceived. Although they were deceived successfully three years ago by the propaganda of the change mantra, they are no longer going to be fooled this time around. Only a fool can be deceived two times in succession. Having being fooled in 2015, I am sure they are not going to be fooled this time around.
“They know that Buhari is very desperate for re-election; they know that he is aware that he has lost support of the Southwest and that he is looking for every possible way to win back the support of the region. He wants to treat the people of Southwest like they treat their slaves. We are not animals, we are intelligent human beings, we have seen through him. So, he cannot bribe us, he cannot deceive us by this bait that he is throwing at us to swallow. He wants us to follow him again in 2019; that is not going to happen.”
He pointed out that Buhari is an unrepentant tribalist, who can no longer be trusted with power.
“Of course, we appreciate the fact that he has declared June 12 as Democracy Day, we also appreciate the fact that he has given posthumous award of the highest honour in the land to Chief MKO Abiola (GCFR), we equally appreciate the honour he has given to Gani Fawehinmi (SAN). But all that notwithstanding, we know that he is a tribalist, he is a Fulani hegemonist, he is a jihadist, and he is nepotic in his approach. His main agenda is to overrun the whole of Nigeria and allow Fulani to takeover. He allows the Fulani to kill us, to terrify us so as to intimidate us and allow them to take over the whole of Nigeria. That is his agenda. So, he cannot bribe us with his posthumous award and think we are going to fall cheaply for that. It is not going to happen,” he declared.
Okurounmu further maintained that the declaration was inconsistent with Buhari’s stand on the annulled election having participated in the government of the late General Sani Abacha, one of the state actors who truncated the mandate of Abiola.
“He has never at any time shown sympathy for MKO Abiola. He participated in the Abacha regime, and had no time expressed sympathy for Abiola. Since 2003 when he has been campaigning and running for presidency, at no time had he expressed sympathy for Abiola until this past week. Did he ever say a word about the June 12? Did he just all of a sudden wake up and see a vision that he should go and declare June 12 as Democracy Day? This is just a gimmick to win votes in the Southwest. And he is taking us for a ride. We are not fools; he is not going to get our votes. We appreciate what he has done, but that is not going to make us give him our votes,” he promised.
Also speaking, a renowned university teacher and political analyst, Dr Umar Ardo, said that the president’s action was morally and legally wrong.
“There’re two issues wrong with this move. That is, legal and moral. Legally, the president has no powers to confer National Honours on anyone without the deliberation and advice of the National Council of States. The Third Schedule of the Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) at Section 6(a) iii confers on the NCS the powers to advise the president on the award of national honours. The fact is that the NCS didn’t meet to deliberate and advise on this so-called investiture.
“Secondly, the National Public Holidays Act has listed May 29, as a National Holiday being the country’s Democracy Day. This means that the president can only change the Democracy Day if the Act is duly amended. And to the best of my knowledge this Act has not been amended. Therefore, the president’s pronouncement is unlawful and of no moment. The only thing is that his action has but further affirmed the president as a no-respecter of due process of law and constitutionalism.
“On the moral side, the president cannot honour Babagana Kingibe on the basis of June 12 because Kingibe had abandoned Chief Abiola and the June 12 mandate when he joined his kinsman, General Abacha, and took a ministerial appointment in that regime. It’s morally repugnant to now honour him for such an unsalutary act.
“Besides, June 12 had never featured in Buhari’s politics. He worked with Abacha who incarcerated Abiola and denied the actualization of the mandate and he never raised the issue of June 12. In his campaigns in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, June 12 was never in Buhari’s political lexicon. For three years as president, he never uttered the phrase June 12. Even last week when he addressed the nation on May 29, June 12 was not mentioned. So, how come all of a sudden, like a bolt out of the blue, June 12 became the new political darling of the president?” he queried.
According to him, the move has suggested that “President Buhari has realized that he has lost the support of the Nigerian people, particularly in the Southwest, and so he was tricked into making this palliative in the vein hope of regaining support to his fledging presidency.”
With the pronouncement, he said, Buhari “is now at opened war with IBB who annulled the June 12 election and Obasanjo who is the main beneficiary of the resolution of the June 12 imbroglio, as he is made to believe that with this move he would regain his support in the Southwest at the same time rubbish the two former presidents.”
Indeed, the founder and Presidential Candidate of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, believes that Buhari’s action may just be mere high-wired politics.
Though Okorie said that Abiola deserves the honour that was done to him, the president may have used it to curry political favour or achieve an end.
“In politics, Buhari has followed the footsteps of Donald Trump of America who has been busy dismantling the legacies of Barack Obama.
“May 29 as Democracy Day is Olusegun Obasanjo’s legacy that Buhari has chosen to dismantle; that is the political angle to it, but beyond that it will encourage people who have taken risks for our democracy; Abiola made a sacrifice for our democracy because he was made offers then, which he rejected and rather died for it. So, it is a good thing even for those who had died that history will one day be kind to them. It is kudos to Buhari, good politics he has played,” Okorie said.
Also another public affairs analyst, Mr Jide Ojo, told Sunday Sun that the president’s decision has ensured justice for the June 12 struggle and also passes as a political masterstroke to secure the votes of the Southwest in 2019.
I look at it as justice for the June 12 struggle, as well as a plot to curry the favour of the Southwest, I think in both light. You know politicians are very smart people; they think ahead much more than many others. What the handlers of the president have done, and I won’t be surprised if it’s one of the political leaders from the Southwest that sold that idea to him, is like, ‘your political opponents, when they were in power, never did anything about June 12.
So, why don’t you do something so that you can gain acceptability from the Southwest.’ I see it in that light in the sense that I’m not convinced that as a former military head of state, President Buhari believes in the spirit and letter of June 12.
But political expediency has made him to take that decision, which I see as a political masterstroke. Former President Obasanjo was in power for eight years. He is from the Southwest; he is from the same hometown as Abiola, but he never did anything about June 12. Now, there is an open confrontation between Buhari and Obasanjo and Buhari needed to do something to woo Southwest voters. And he knew that there had been this pending issue about June 12, which had more or less been regionalized because hitherto, it was only the four states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Osun that recognised June 12 as their Democracy Day and declared a public holiday to observe it. Now, this masterstroke has nationalised the issue of June 12.
It may not be far from the truth that this was done to undermine the popularity of Obasanjo and Babangida, both of whom had openly condemned the Buhari administration and advised him not to re-contest in 2019.
Asked if the decision would not inflame the furry of the two former leaders against the president, Ojo retorted: “For me they don’t have as much influence as the person who is on the saddle now. What further furry would they want to vent? Obasanjo has written several letters; he has said all manner of unprintable things about this administration. Babangida has also written an open letter to the president even though he denied it. But we all know that Kassim Afegbua could not have written that letter without the tacit approval of IBB. That said, I don’t want to pay much attention to that. But the fact that June 12 signifies a watershed in Nigeria’s political history makes it very imperative for us to recognise that day for whatever it is. A lot of lives were lost in that struggle; a lot of property were destroyed to validate that struggle. And for 25 years the issue has refused to die and other parts of Nigeria, particularly the North, have come to realise that South westerners were using it as a political weapon to discredit subsequent administrations. So, it’s now good that a northerner has recognised that.
If Obasanjo had done it, he would have been possibly accused of clannishness. But as God would have it, Obasanjo and Abiola were not best of friends even when Abiola was alive. So, the significance of June 12 whether it happened to a South Westerner, South Southerner, South Easterner of Northerner, cannot be wished away. It is a justified recognition to have June 12 as our new Democracy Day.”
He, however, noted that the recognition has cast a moral burden on the Buhari administration ahead of the 2019 elections.
His words: “What they have done by declaring June 12 as the new Democracy Day is to say that they believe in the spirit of June 12. If you read the statement issued by the president, in one of the paragraphs, he said that June 12 was the freest, fairest and most peaceful election in the political history of Nigeria. So, beyond the recognition and national honour, the spirit of June 12 demands that we do everything to ensure that going forward, our elections are of international standards that will be adjudged as free, fair and credible.
And that should start from July 14 in Ekiti State and September 22 in Osun State before we talk of 2019. That is when we will know that the APC and indeed President Buhari did not do this out of hypocrisy or mischief, but actually believe in the spirit of June 12.”