When I read the cheering news that President Muhammadu Buhari had revisited the June 12, 1993, election, declared Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as the winner of the election, June 12 as Democracy Day and honoured him with GCFR, my immediate reaction was that I wished Hon. Justice M.A. Akanbi, former president, Court of Appeal, and Hon. Justice Abubakar Bashir Wali of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna, were alive today to witness the dramatic event, affirm, confirm and celebrate my prophetic statement when the Court of Appeal was arrogantly disarmed by the military government from entertaining on merit the appeal I filed challenging the annulment.
To ensure that justice was done and that nobody could reach any of the three justices of the Court of Appeal that would seat on the appeal, it was the incorruptible Justice Akanbi who empanelled 10 justices from different divisions of the courts of appeal in the country to study the records of appeal. He did not disclose to any of them the names of the three justices that would hear the appeal, having regard to the sensitive and national importance of the case. On the hearing date, Justice Akanbi selected three of the 10 justices to be led by Hon. Justice Wali to hear the appeal. I led a team of over 30 lawyers for Abiola, while Philip Umeadi, SAN, and others represented General Ibrahim Babangida and the military government.
On the morning of that fateful day, the court was filled to capacity. When the case was mentioned, Umeadi objected to the jurisdiction of the court on the grounds that there was no “LIS” before the court as the military government had annulled the election and ousted court’s jurisdiction to entertain the case. In reply, I submitted that the court could not take cognizance of his oral assertion that the election was annulled. I argued that the application was premature. The court agreed with me. Consequently, Umeadi asked for a short adjournment to enable the government to produce a gazette. His application was granted and the case was stood down. He later tendered a gazette. As there was no legal basis to oppose its admission in court, the court, which was disarmed by the almighty military government, had no alternative but to accept it. The large crowd hissed and murmured. However, before I took my seat, I made the following prophetic statement, which in large measure has come true today: “Your Lordships, this is a sad day for the judiciary in this country. We are at the beginning of a journey, the end of which nobody knows.”
Indeed, we are not yet at the end of the journey. The pronouncement of President Buhari declaring June 12 as Democracy Day is a good step in the right direction but does not ipso facto amount to return of true democracy, which we need in Nigeria for which MKO Abiola and others made huge sacrifices. I, however, see it as an important milestone in our march to attain true democracy. The government is advised to follow up the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day with restructuring the country, which admittedly is a country of nations put together by white men in 1884 in Berlin for commercial purposes only. It is a country of nations, which is in dire need of a true federation as envisaged by our forefathers before independence, through which we can become one nation. The current constitution, which was bequeathed to us by the military, must be replaced with a true people’s constitution that will promote the ideals of the country’s founding fathers.
This country needs courageous and purposeful men like Hon. Justice M.A. Akanbi. I suggest that he should also be honoured by President Buhari for the exemplary noble role he played before the court was disarmed through issuance of a gazette ousting the decision of the court to entertain the appeal brought by Abiola.
Finally, we are still on that journey, which began with the nullification of the election of Abiola on June 12, 1993. Nobody knows when we shall get to the end of the journey. We do not know how long the journey may take. But there are steps that we must take to get there. Political leaders must be dedicated to good governance, to the tenets of democracy. They must rededicate themselves to all that will serve the interest of our country for generations to come. Government must fashion a way of instituting true federalism, the focus must be on bringing about a nation. To honour those who have sacrificed, we must also strive to bring about the actualisation of the ideals for which they so greatly sacrificed. Nigerians, the government and the governed alike, must, as a whole, take a cue from the words of late President Lincoln of the United States, who, at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg in honour of thousands who had laid down their lives during the American Civil War, uttered the following famous words: “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that nation might live.
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract … It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
• Babalola is founder and chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti