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President Muhammadu Buhari in a surprise move Wednesday declared June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy and also announced Nigeria’s highest honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, to the late businessman Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, winner of the election held on same date in 1993.
The election, adjudged to be the freest and fairest up till that year, in Nigeria’s history was annulled by the military junta headed by Ibrahim Babangida, plunging Nigeria into a five-year political crisis. Abiola died in 1998 and General Sani Abacha, who was one of the beneficiaries of the annulment, died some weeks before him.
President Buhari said Abiola’s running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe will also be honoured with Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, the second highest honour. And so will Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the indefatigable lawyer and senior advocate who campaigned for the actualisation of June 12 up till Abiola’s death in 1998. The event will hold on June 12.
From 2019, June 12 will now replace 29 May, the day the military handed over to civilians in 1999 as Nigeria’s democracy day. And it means that the rest of Nigeria will join states in the South West to celebrate the day.
South West Nigeria since 1999 has been observing June 12 as Democracy Day but failed to convince their son, former President Olusegun Obasanjo to accord the date national recognition, when he ruled from 1999-2007
President Buhari said he decided to honour Abiola and the immortal date after consultations with Nigerians.
“In the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12, 1993 was and is far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29, or even October 1”, President Buhari said.
In a statement signed by Buhari, he said: “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day. That was the date when for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government.
“The first time this happened was on October 21st, 1979. But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12th, 1993, was far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29th or even the October 1.
“June 12 th, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our Independence.
“The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military Government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process.
“Accordingly, after due consultations, the Federal Government has decided that henceforth, June 12th will be celebrated as Democracy Day. Therefore, government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land,
GCFR, to late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12th 1993 cancelled elections.
“His running mate as Vice President, Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.
“Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualization of the June 12 elections and indeed for Democracy in general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN is to be awarded the GCON.
“The investiture will take place on Tuesday June 12, 2018, a date which in future years will replace May 29 as a National Public Holiday in celebration of Nigeria Democracy Day.’’
In his reaction, the Delta state Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ifeanyi Osuoza dismissed it as desperation on the part of President Buhari, and a cloak to portray himself as a democrat when he is not, especially with his abhorrence of respect for court orders.
Osuoza who described the unfolding Buhari drama as a Greek gift stated: “Dear President Muhammadu Buhari,
“Democracy isn’t about a day or date; it is about rights and subscribing to the rule of law. Your failure to respect the rule of law makes void each and everyone of your attempt to make yourself look like a democrat.
“Declaring June 12 as Democracy Day after not mentioning MKO Abiola during your address on 29th May is playing cheap politics. You further gave credence to the fact that naming June 12 Democracy Day is a matter of political expediency when you honored Kingibe who betrayed Abiola by serving in Abacha’s government.
“Were Gani Fawehinmi to be alive he would reject your offer. I will be shocked if his family accepts this your Greek Gift. Gani stood for the respect of the rule of law, fair play and equity; values you disregard. How can Gani accept honor from a President who does not obey court orders. A President who has locked up Zak Zakky and his wife without trial?
“Mr President, if you really desire to be seen as a democrat then respect court orders. Promote equity, fair play and justice.”