JUNE 12 was a watershed in Nigeria’s political wilderness. It was the day Nigerians that had been yearning for nationhood found their voice. They unanimously voted for Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, as President and Commander-in -Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Male and female. Christians and Muslims. Agnosists and atheists. Politicians and non-politicians. From North, South, East and West, Abiola won. Even in military and police barracks. He even defeated his opponent, Bashir Othman Tofa, in his Albassa Gyadi-Gyadi ward in Kano State.
But, IBB’s military junta, aided by political, military, civilian and judiciary collaborators (remember the midnight judgement of late Justice Ita Ikpeme?), annulled the freest, fairest and most respected election ever held in Nigeria till date. It was most mindless, unconscionable and atrocious. The will of the Nigerian people, which ignored the fact that Abiola and Kingibe ran on a Muslim-Muslim ticket, was outrageously annulled. The national turmoil, blood-letting, demonstrations, resistance, etc, that followed, were unprecedented. I was one of those fully involved on a daily basis, in the trenches, on the streets, at Yaba/Tejuosho bus stop, Ikeja, Mushin, Igando, Iyana-Ipaja, Ojota arenas and Ikorodu roads. I suffered detentions and indignities. We were led by fearless and courageous Gani Fawehinmi. NADECO was unrelenting. Many Nigerians were killed; many maimed and jailed; yet many exiled. Some of us stayed back and fought on, like the Trojans. Never mind the perverse and highly compromised list of the few people (politically partisan) that were invited to Aso Villa, to mark the last June 12 awards. Most of the unsung heroes were deliberately left out. But, thank God, Joe Igbokwe’s epic chronicle of a book, “Heroes of Democracy”, written nearly 20 years ago, captured us all. Like late M.K.O. Abiola would say, you cannot cover the sun with your palm. From CLO (which I co-founded), to UDD (which I solely founded) to JACON, I fought for June 12. So, for over two decades, I clamoured for revalidation of June 12 (not May 29), as Nigeria’s true Democracy Day.
I knew the time would, therefore, come. When the gestation period is over for a pregnant woman, she must surely deliver. It does not matter how – whether through normal delivery or caesarean operation. June 12 was all along like the pregnant woman. She was bound to be delivered. I took the battle for recognition of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day to the National Conference of 2014, made up of about 392 great Nigerians, drawn from all spheres and strata of the Nigerian nation.
The following is a rehash of the events on pages 185 and 186 of my latest book, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee”:
“JUNE 12 MY CONTRIBUTION TO THE JUNE 12 DEBATE AT THE 2014 NATIONAL CONFERENCE.
On Thursday, the 12th of June, 2014, Hon. Orok Duke had moved a motion at the plenary session, for acknowledgment of the heroic struggles of late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, that culminated in his murder.
Delegates one after another commented on the importance of June 12. In my contribution, I informed plenary that, without June 12, there would not have been May 29. I argued that June 12 was more important and momentous in the history of Nigeria and deserves full-blown recognition.
It was my argument that Chief M.K.O. Abiola, in his patriotic sense of redemptive messianism, paid the ultimate, supreme price, by sacrificing himself for democracy. For this, he is Nigeria’s true hero of democracy, and nothing must be done to diminish his importance.
I further argued that, under successive brutal military regimes, I was a victim, suffering about 11 detentions. Some of us were killed, some maimed, many detained, imprisoned while some others were forcefully exiled. It is, therefore, surprising to see some delegates not desiring to give June 12, its rightful place in history.
Indeed, I urged the Chairman to declare one minute of silence for Chief M.K.O. Abiola, and all the faithful departed who were killed during June 12, 1993, crises, whether they be from the North, South, East or West.
I urged that June 12 is not just important, but constitutes the watershed of Nigeria’s democracy and that it should not be trivalised. “Some people paid the supreme price for us to enjoy the democracy that some politicians are messing up today, I concluded. The Conference chairman ordered a minute silence for all victims of June 12, as suggested by me.”
Buhari’s declaration of June 12 is historic
I, therefore, thank President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy Day and honouring Chief M.K.O. Abiola, and my late mentor, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, with the highest and second highest honours in Nigeria.
To me, it is not the right argument that PMB did it for political reasons. Yes, he may very well have done it to shore up his battered political image and fast dwindling democratic credentials. But, the inescapable fact is that he has done the right thing for which history will remember him. This is the more reason I believe the argument should now proceed, why he should retire quietly to his Daura home, having done one great thing for which he would be remembered.
When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo wrote his scathing letter to PMB early this year, I applauded the letter for the import of its correct contents, even though I am not a fan of OBJ. I argued then that we should listen to the message and not look at the messenger. In the same vein here, we should look at the historical significance of PMB’s political masterstroke on the June 12 brouhaha, and not him as a person, or the ulterior motives for which he did it. I applaud him for this singular act that breathed fresh exhilarating oxygen into his lackluster performance.
Was the conferment of posthumous national honours on late Abiola and Gani legally grounded?
Buckets of ink have so far been poured, and tons of lachrymal effusion exerted on whether Buhari could legally confer posthumous awards on late iconic Abiola and Gani. My answer is a loud “yes”. The opponents of the award readily cite section 3 of the National Honours Act. It provides:
“3. Mode of appointment to Orders, etc.
(1) The President shall by notice in the Federal Gazette signify his intention of appointing a person to a particular rank of an Order.
(2) Subject to the next following paragraph of this article , a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an Order when he receives from the President in person, at an investiture held for the purpose-
(a) the insignia appropriate for that rank; and
(b) an instrument under the hand of the President and the public seal of the Federation declaring him to be appointed to that rank.”
To these opponents, the phrase, “in person” in section 3 (2), simply means that for a person to be qualified to receive the award, he must be physically present to receive it. It cannot therefore be conferred in absentia, they argue. Respected jurist, Hon Justice Belgore, Chief Justice of Nigeria (2006 – 2007), and Chairman of the National Honours Committee, erroneously fall into this category. I respectfully disagree with them.
An honour is an honour. It could be conferred on a living person. When such opportunity does not avail him, he can be honoured posthumously. Streets are still being named and statues being built after Martin Luther King Jr, Murtala Mohammed, Nelson Mandela, Zik of Africa, Awolowo, Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, etc., many, many years after their demise. This is post-humous.
This logic against post-humous awards defies cases of persons, who though alive, are bedridden, or too incapacitated for them to appear physically to receive the awards. Should they by reason of this alone be denied of their due reward? I think not.
Happily, the above argument has been torpedoed by the clear provisions of section 3(3) of the same Act, which provides:
“if in the case of any person it appears to the president expedient to dispense with the requirements of paragraph 2 of this section, he may direct that that person shall be appointed to the rank in question in such a manner as may be specified in the directions.’’
“In such a manner as may be specified in the direction’’ has given the President wide discretionary powers, amplitude and plenitude, to confer awards on all persons, as he shall deem fit, whether such persons be present, or absent, alive or dead.
In any event, in statutory interpretation, courts lean to that which would not create absurdity. Thus, in NNPC V. ZARIA & ANOR (2014) LPELR-22362 (CA), it was held that:
“The law recognizes that where reliance on literal interpretation of wordings will lead to absurdity, a court is permitted to depart from that principle of interpretation’’ Per Abiriu, JCA (P.68, Paras. B-C).
Also, in ORAEGBUNAM V. CHUKWUKA & ORS (2019) LPELR-4796 (CA), it was held that:
“It is the general principles of rules of interpretation that where words are clear and unequivocal, they should be given their natural, ordinary or grammatical meaning. My view is that there is a rider to that, in that if given the words in the statutes their natural or grammatical meaning will lead to absurdity or injustice, resort could be made to internal aid within the statutes or external aid outside it in order to resolve the ambiguity to avoid doing injustice. See MOBIL OIL NIG. V. R.B.R (1997) 3 SC 53: ORJI V. FRN (2007) 13NWLR (PT 1050) 55. I am fortified in this view by the remarks of Onu, JSC in OJUKWU V. OBASANJO (2004) 40 WRN: Where the learned jurist had this to say at page 106: “thus where literal interpretation of word or words will result in an ambiguity or injustice, it will be the duty of the court to consider the enactment as a whole with a view to ascertain whether the language of the enactment is capable of any other fair interpretation or whether it may not be desirable to put a secondary meaning on such a language or even to adopt a construction which is not quite strictly grammatical.” See also PDP V. NEC (1999) 11 NWLR (PT 626)200 At 242, Per Sanusi, JCA (P.39, paras. A-E).
Consequently, I humbly submit that the more plausible interpretation to be given to section 3 of the National Honours Act is that PMB could confer honours posthumously on Abiola and Gani.
(To be continued)
Thought for the week
Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on. (Thurgood Marshall).