•Kingibe, Dickson, Balarabe, Hafsat, others speak
Willy Eya; Tunde Thomas; Vincent Kalu; Desmond Mgbo, Kano; Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari’s pronouncement of June 12 as Democracy Day has remained a major talking point since its announcement with prominent Nigerians saying that the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election, late MKO Abiola has eventually had the last laugh even in his grave.
But the development came even as the Presidency has clarified that June 12 is not a public holiday after all. It said through its twitter handle, Government of Nigeria @AsoRock, that the declaration of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day does not make it a public holiday.
It tweeted, “NOTICE: There have been questions regarding whether or not there will be a FEDERAL public holiday on June 12, 2018.
“The answer is NO. Presidential order says June 12 “in future years will replace May 29th as a National Public Holiday in celebration of Nigeria Democracy Day.” The presidency said the clarification was in response to questions raised by the public. On Wednesday, President Buhari made the pronouncement and bestowed the highest national honours, the Grand Commander of the FederalRepublic(GCFR) post-humousy on Abiola as the presumed winner of the controversial election.
The President had declared June 12 as the new Democracy Day, calling it “a date which in future years will replace May 29 as a national public holiday in celebration of Nigeria Democracy Day.” On Thursday, Buhari had further directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to take immediate steps to publish the Presidential Order in the Federal Gazette.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement said, Buhari directed that this should be done so that the awards slated for June 12, 2018 can go on as planned.
The pronouncement by President Buhari has become a major issue of public discourse as many said it was long overdue and faulted past leaders for failing to recognise June 12 as Democracy day.
But one of the main actors of the June 12 poll and running mate to Abiola, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe said Federal Government’s declaration of the day as Democracy Day was a great honour.
He commended President Buhari for the announcement that national honours would be conferred on Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the election, himself and late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN). Kingibe, currently in Saudi Arabia for ‘Lesser Hajj’, however, declined further comment on the issues.
He was quoted to have said on telephone that he preferred to concentrate on his religious rites for now. “I really appreciate this. I will love to express my feelings, but right now, I am in Makkah praying to make peace with my Maker. There will be time enough to share worldly thoughts with friends,” the former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) said.
In his reaction, the Bayelsa State governor, Henry Seriake Dickson commended President Buhari for immortalising Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election with the highest award of GCFR.
He said though the award was belated, the gesture will partly address the wrongs of the past and strengthen the nation’s democracy. The governor urged Buhari to declare Abiola as a President that was never sworn in and urgently sponsor an executive bill to the National Assembly in order to legitimise it and back it up by an Act of Parliament, when passed into law.
He said declaring June 12 as Democracy Day, giving national honour to Abiola’s running mate, Kingibe as well as, giving posthumous national awards to Abiola and the late legal luminary, Chief Gani Fawehinmi were in order. Governor Dickson however, called on the President to show the same political will and patriotism in the critical issue of restructuring the nation. The governor also urged Buhari to honour the then Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Professor Humphrey Nwosu with a national award for his uncommon courage and commitment to the conduct of transparent elections in June, 1993, stressing that, what is good for the goose is also saucy for the gander.
For the former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Nigeria is in the mess she finds herself today because Abiola did not become the president. He urged President Buhari to set up a high powered commission of inquiry of international standing to find out among others who were responsible for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, how they organised the annulment and what are its consequences.
He said: “He knows these people who are not happy about this decision, and they are not going to allow it like that, they are going to do something to put him to shame. What can he do again to those who were responsible for it so that it will never happen again?
The annulment of the election, if not for the grace of God in this country, it would have destroyed the nation.” The former governor said the first step President Buhari should take is to make sure that corruption does not fight him back like it did when he was the military head of state. But elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai waved off Buhari’s proclamation of June 12, and the national honours conferred on Abiola, as exercises that came “a little bit late and offered too little.”
He told Saturday Sun at his residence in Kano that, “the only thing I would say is that what has happened is very little and came rather too late. But the English people say that it is better late than never”.
According to him, “if we analyse the content of the announcement, there is nothing substantive to take out from it given that there has been a Democracy Day since the time of Obasanjo and therefore, it is not a new thing that Buhari did. What Buhari did is to change the dates for this celebration from May 29th to June 12th.
“What he did, on the face of it, looks big but very insignificant compared to the issue of value …What is the significance of the announcement if it would not be supported by the actualisation of June 12th? What is the value? So many Nigerians, including myself, had been awarded with national honorus?”, he said. He insisted that in order to give significant value to the recent proclamation, President Buhari should instruct the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to collate the results of the election of and announce the winner
“We know that Chief MKO Abiola is no longer alive, but luckily our constitution has taken care of that by upholding that where the president, for one reason or the other is unable to assume the position, his running mate would be the beneficiary. Kingibe is alive and can be recognised as the beneficiary in the absence of Abiola”, he stated.
Legal practitioner and one of the leading aspirant for the All Progressives Congress,(APC) governorship ticket in Oyo State, Chief Michael Adeniyi Akintola, (SAN) has applauded Buhari over the development. Applauding what he called the bold initiative of the Federal Government, Chief Akintola said the action would heal the wounds of 25 years.
The APC chieftain further noted that according recognition to Abiola was capable of fostering unity and peace among Nigerians whose psyche were bruised by the annulment of the most peaceful election in the nation’s history. “ We also wish to congratulate our foresighted, and pragmatic president and Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, who though being a retired military officer has proved that really the hood doesn’t make a monk. He said: ” He has with the stroke of the pen, healed the wounds of 25 years and fostered love and unity amongst the teeming populace of this great country, whose psyche and emotions were badly bruised by the dastardly act of annulment of the freest election in black Africa. I say, thank you and congratulations Mr. President, the real Mai Gaskiya. “
Former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers(NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori said Abiola would be very happy wherever he is today, adding that Abiola would be glad that at long last, he has been recognised and the honour due to him as the main hero of the June 12 struggle finally given to him even though post-humously.
He said: “If Abiola could see what is happening now, he would be having the last laugh over Obasajo, Babangida, Abdulsalami, Yar’adua, and Jonathan who were all former leaders who had all the opportunity to give him the honour which Buhari has now given to him.
“MKO Abiola would also be ashamed of OBJ,IBB and other former leaders who failed to do the needful over the injustice done to him through the annulment of June 12,1993 presidential election which he clearly won.
Also in his reaction, founder of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Fredrick Fasehun said Abiola’s will be having a feeling of disappointment and that of betrayal. He said: “He will feel betrayed by those who he felt were close to him but who later stabbed him in the back, and by this I’m referring to people like Obasanjo and Babangida who many Nigerians know are close to MKO Abiola but who later betrayed him. “There is no golden place for people like Obasanjo, Babangida, and others who played inglorious roles in the June 12 saga. History will never be kind to them. Obasanjo and Babangida were very selfish but thank God that today MKO Abiola has triumphed over them through the honour accorded him by President Buhari.”
A chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Senator Olabiyi Durojaye said Abiola would feel relieved that at long last that justice had been done. He said that Abiola would feel that with this honour done him by Buhari that his death has not been in vain as he has now been recognised as the true symbol of Nigeria’s democracy. “For those who fail to honour Abiola when they were in power,and had all the opportunity to do so but failed to do so, let’s leave them for history and posterity to judge”, he said.
For retired Major General Ola Ishola Williams, the honour done Abiola is not enough to close the June 12 saga. He recommended that a commission of enquiry should be set up to investigate the roles played by different individuals in the annulment, saying that individuals involved should be held accountable no matter their ages now and the rank they held in the Army by the time they retired.
The aim of that, he said, is to serve as a deterrent in future. “I resigned from the Army as a protest against the annulment on November 24,1993. My passport was also seized by Gen. Abacha for over 3 years. So I believe Nigerians should know the actors behind the annulment, I mean our past leaders who were involved should be named and also should be given the appropriate punishment”, he said.
Another NADECO chieftain, Chief Ralph Obioha said no matter how long one tries to bury the truth or the right of somebody, that it is only a matter of time before it springs out and flourish. He said Abiola should also applaud the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari for recognising him because he made a great contribution to the development of the country’s democracy. “Those of us who were in that struggle for its actualisation, are really elated by Buhari’s action”, he said. Human rights activist and daughter of the June 12, 1993 winner, Hafsat Abiola Costello said she had expected that the handover from military rule to democracy would be held on June 12 as that would have signalled the completion of a circle that began with a dream deferred.
She regretted that the handover was set for May 29, a date pulled out of thin air, signifying nothing. Sounding poetic, she said: “Then I thought that the chief beneficiary would ask the country to observe a minute of silence, in memory of MKO, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane, Shehu Yar’Adua, Bagauda Kaltho, the thousands of students, the tens of journalists, traders and politicians who lost their lives fighting to actualise an unjustly annulled election. Again, I waited in vain for he started his inauguration speech…
And nothing was said. “The first four years passed and it became clear that the goal was to erase the name of the man whose sacrifice paved the way for our democracy.
Those four years set the tone. And I got tired of waiting. As it slowly became clear that to wait was to wait in vain. I stopped expecting my country to do the right thing by my father and instead began to understand why Nigeria struggles to find patriots among its leaders.
“To confer on MKO the title of GCFR, an honour reserved for presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; To confer on Gani Fawehinmi, the dogged fighter for justice, and my father’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the title of GCON, the second highest in the land; And in one day, demonstrated to my bruised heart that integrity, fairness, honour were alive and well in a country for which both my parents had sacrificed their lives.”
Former Director of Information, Hope `93 M.K.O. Abiola Campaign Organisation, Obafemi Oredein said though it has taken 25 years to recognise the winner of the historic presidential election of June 12, 1993, it is better late than never. He commended Buhari for officially acknowledging that Abiola won the election. “President Buhari should ensure that a denomination of the national currency, the naira, bears the portrait of Chief Abiola in addition to the posthumous award of the nation`s highest honour, the GCFR. Chief Abiola deserves both in recognition of the supreme sacrifice he paid for the restoration of democracy in Nigeria”, he said.