Gen Ishola Williams (Rtd), former Chairman, Transparency International (TI), Nigeria chapter, says Nigeria must take the celebration of June 12 as the country’s Democracy Day beyond the Federal Government’s proclamation of a public holiday in honour of the struggle the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election stood for and died for. He spoke on June 12 Democracy Day in this interview.
Today is being observed as Democracy Day in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s proclamation on June 6, 2018 that June 12 and no longer May 29 be celebrated as Democracy Day. The action was to commemorate and acknowledge the sacrifices made by Chief MKO Abiola in the country’s democratic process. What are your thoughts as the first June 12 Democracy Day is celebrated?
Well, we commend the Federal Government for recognising June 12 as Democracy Day and honouring the struggle and sacrifices made by Chief MKO Abiola. Chief Abiola contested and won the June 12, 1993 presidential election considered to be the freest and fairest in the history of the country. We all know how Chief MKO Abiola struggled for democracy, what the man Abiola stood for and how he impacted on democracy and the lives of Nigerians. Abiola was loved by every Nigerian, so I believe it is commendable that the Federal Government declared June 12 as the Democracy Day in honour of Chief Abiola.
However, beyond what the Federal Government has done, we must also ask what the family of MKO Abiola has done to honour him? Why have they not set up a foundation in his honour? We all know of the Ford Foundation in America and what it is doing. Why hasn’t Abiola’s family also set up such a foundation to honour his struggles and beliefs in democracy? If it is an issue of money, the foundation can be set up and people will contribute to it. Such a foundation is necessary to teach youths the ideals that Chief MKO Abiola stood for.
The Federal Government has reintroduced the teaching of history in schools, but what kind of history is being taught about MKO Abiola and what June 12 represents? How many youths today know the history of June 12, who Chief MKO Abiola is and what he stood for and died for? These are some of the things an MKO Abiola Foundation will teach if there was one. The celebration of June 12 as Democracy Day has to go beyond the proclamation. We must begin to ask ourselves what kind of democracy we are practising in Nigeria? Are we practising those things MKO Abiola fought for and died for or are we just practising a democracy where the politicians don’t believe in free and fair election? The celebration of June 12 as Democracy Day has to go beyond just celebrating a public holiday.
As it were, the Federal Government acknowledged MKO Abiola as winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, proclaimed June 12 as Democracy Day to honour his sacrifices, but it failed to recognise MKO Abiola as a former president. Was the government just trying to whip up favourable public sentiments?
No, MKO Abiola cannot be recognised as a former president of Nigeria. There was an election and even though there was enough evidence to show that Chief MKO Abiola was leading in the poll, the final result of that election was not announced because the military government of Gen Ibrahim Babangida suspended the announcement of the election result even though the National Electoral Commission (NEC), as the electoral commission was then known, had all the results before they were ordered to stop the announcement.
The chairman of the electoral commission, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu later published all the results to show that Abiola won. You must also remember that the election was annulled by the military government of Gen Ibrahim Babangida, so the June 12 presidential election was inconclusive. Again, even if the result of the election was announced and Chief MKO Abiola declared the winner, he was not sworn-in. He cannot be recognised as president based on just winning that election. The constitution of Nigeria is clear that after you win an election, you must also take the oath of office before you will be recognised as the president. Abiola did not take the oath of office even though he has been recognised as the winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election. He therefore cannot be recognised as a former president.
Going forward, what advice can you give on how to strengthen democracy in Nigeria?
Strengthening Nigeria’s democracy is a duty all of us as citizens must participate in. We must also ask ourselves what kind of democracy we are practising in Nigeria? Are we practising democracy in a situation where every month you go to Abuja to share money? What kind of democracy are you practising where the state governors have become the gatekeepers? You cannot get anything today if you don’t know the governor. Look at the local governments, nothing is happening there because the governors have made themselves the gatekeepers and that is why they are jittery over this Executive Order 10.