Nigerians and friends of the nation, from all walks of life, on June 12, 2019, converged on the Eagles Square, Abuja. The gathering included foreign leaders, top government officials led by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was the first time Nigeria would commemorate Democracy Day on June 12. Hitherto, the country has been marking Democracy on May 29 of every year, being the day the military administration of General Abdusalami Abubakar (rtd), handed over to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself military leader between February 1976 and October 1, 1979.
June 12, on the other hand, has to do with June 12, 1993 when Nigeria held what was believed to be its freest and fairest presidential election. The election, though annulled by the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), was believed to have been won by the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Bashorun MKO Abiola.
Buhari had on December 6, 2018, said the decision to honour Abiola and to declare June 12 Democracy Day followed years of clamour by activists, statesmen, groups as well as the family, associates, and friends of the late businessman and politician:
“We cannot rewind the past but we can at least assuage our feelings, recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and ease the future for the sanctity of free elections.
“Nigerians will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.
“Our action today is to bury the negative side of June 12 – side of ill-feelings, hate, frustration and agony. What we are doing today is celebrating the positive side of June 12.”
Forty-eight hours to the celebration of the maiden Democracy Day, Buhari signed the Public Holiday Amendment Bill into law. It allows public holiday to be declared on June 12 every year, while May 29 will no longer be public holiday.
On the day of the event, a contingent of the National Troupe thrilled guests to cultural dances and displays. The troupe from the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture entertained guests with dances from the East, West and North. The troupe presented dances from the Yoruba, Ijaw, Igbo and Fulani, cultures.
The Armed Forces also presented an excellent parade that elicited applauses from the audience. It was followed by military musical display, silent drills and cultural troupe performance by Guards Brigade troops and National Cultural Ensembles. The Democracy Day event marked the end of a weeklong event.
World leaders in attendance included President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania; President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; President George Weah of Liberia; President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo and President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana.
Others were President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe; President of Senegal,Macky Sall; Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda; President Adama Barrow of The Gambia and President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger Republic.
The audience comprised of President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the Acting Chief Justice, Justice Tanko Mohammed.
The President said, “As we all know, correcting injustice is a pre-requisite for peace and unity. Today, I propose the re-naming of the Abuja National Stadium. Henceforth it will be called Moshood Abiola National Stadium.”
At a dinner and gala night later, Buhari unveiled the photo-book, “Being Buhari”, covering the last four years of his administration. Bayo Omoboriowo, President’s personal photographer, said the intention of the book “is to chronicle the experience, the journey of President Buhari in the last four year.
“As a photographer, one of the things I have learnt is to ensure that these images created are preserved. Much more than being preserved is to ensure that even as you use the image as a means of communication, history is preserved. My children should be able to look back at these images and understand what happened between 2015-2019.”