Mixed reactions has trailed President
Muhammadu Buhari’s decision that the nation’s
Democracy Day will, henceforth, hold on June 12
of every year as against the current arrangement
where the ceremony holds on May 29.
Buhari also resolved to honour the winner of the annulled June 12,
1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola, with the highest
national honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic.
The President disclosed these in a statement he personally signed
and made available to journalists.
He said he reached the decisions after due consultations. Apart
from Abiola, Buhari said he would also honour his running mate,
Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, and the late human rights activist, Chief
Gani Fawehinmi, with the second highest national honour, the
Grand Commander of the Niger.
He said their investiture would take place on June 12.
The statement read, “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 21, 1979.
“But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration,
June 12, 1993 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian
context than May 29 or even the October 1.
“June 12, 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 12 will be celebrated as Democracy
“Therefore, the government has decided to award posthumously
the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to the late Chief MKO Abiola,
the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 cancelled elections.
“His running mate as Vice President, Ambassador Babagana
Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.
“Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the
actualisation of the June 12 elections and indeed for democracy in
general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, is to be awarded the
“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’s Democracy Day.”
The late Abiola died in detention while struggling to actualise his
mandate as contained in the annulled election.
Afenifere hails decision
The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, hailed the declaration
of June 12 as a national Democracy Day, noting that this was
what it had been clamouring for over the years.
The group urged the Federal Government to go a step further by
recognising the late Abiola as a former elected President of
Afenifere’s spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, stated that the
government should demonstrate that its decision was not a
political gimmick by ensuring that “the spirit of June 12 prevails”
in the forthcoming elections.
He added, “Though the GCON is the highest honour in the land, we
want Abiola to be formally recognised as a former elected
President of Nigeria.
“It is true that this decision is coming on the heels of another
election in February 2019, the true test to demonstrate this is not
a gimmick is to allow the spirit of June 12 to prevail in February in
terms of free and fair elections where people can freely elect their
leaders like it happened on June 12.”
Asked if he believed the decision was meant to buy popular
political support, Odumakin noted, “That’s why I said another
election season is here and promises and decisions made in an
election year are subject to different interpretations, but, like I said,
we accept it.”
Buhari’s move commendable – Okurounmu
In his reaction, Senator Femi Okurounmu, a former Secretary-
General of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, said the
move by the President was highly commendable.
Okurounmu, who represented Ogun-Central Senatorial District from
1999 to 2003, said the move had also put former President
Olusegun Obasanjo to shame.
The Afenifere chieftain said all pleas to Obasanjo to honour MKO
Abiola and declare June 12 a public holiday during his eight-year
tenure were ignored.
He, however, said the Yoruba people should not be carried away
by Buhari’s announcement given its timing, which is barely eight
months to the Presidential election.
Okurounmu said, “It is a commendable act, and we appreciate him
for that. Recognising the late MKO as the real winner of that
election is long overdue. For us, June 12 had always been the
authentic Democracy Day. May 29 was an insult to the Yoruba
people. It was a mockery of the Yoruba.
“We appreciate him for honouring Abiola but we must not fall into
any trap. Buhari is desperate for Yoruba votes. He knows he has
lost the South-West and that is why he is doing this. This was
how he lured us in 2015 with the help of Bola Tinubu. We must
not fall a second time.
We are grateful to President Buhari – Ogun
In a statement signed on Wednesday night by the Secretary to the
Ogun State Government, Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa, the state said, “We
are grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari for this recognition of
an illustrious son of Ogun State and an icon of our democratic
struggle, Chief MKO Abiola.
“President Buhari has shown with this action that he is a man that
believes in justice and giving to every person his or her dues.
“Although this posthumous award may appear to some people to
have come late, we thank the President. We urge all lovers of
democracy and goodwill to continue to support the ideals for
which Chief MKO Abiola lived and died for.”
Action smacks of desperation, hypocrisy – PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party, however, said the national honour
to be conferred on Abiola by Buhari smacked of hypocrisy and
political desperation ahead of the 2019 presidential election.
PDP said that President Buhari’s action merely sought to use the
name and person of Abiola to gain a political capital and was not
out of genuine reverence and recognition for him.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Wednesday and signed by its
National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, the party
recalled that President Buhari, who was serving in the military
administration of General Sani Abacha during the travails of Abiola,
did not associate either by words or actions with the late winner
of June 12 election.
Ologbondiyan further stated that history did not record President
Buhari as sympathetic to the Abiola’s family when his wife, Kudirat,
was gruesomely murdered by the agents of a government which
President Buhari served.
He said, “It is, therefore, a sign of political desperation for
President Buhari to seek to use Chief Abiola’s name as a tool to
sway Nigerians in less than 12 months to an election where he
(President Buhari) is seeking a second term.
“It is also shocking that the respectable grave of Abiola can be
dishonoured by granting a posthumous award on him along with
someone who denounced the June 12 mandate and preferred the
company of his (Abiola’s) traducers.
“Even those who now masquerade as change agents were
opposed to the naming of the University of Lagos after Chief
“If President Buhari genuinely wants to honour Chief Abiola, he
should do so by ending all anti-democratic proclivities of his
administration and allow for the rule of law and respect for our
“The PDP, therefore, urges President Buhari to shed his desperate
actions in his quest to win the 2019 presidential election as
Nigerians can no longer be deceived by such antics.”
Honour long overdue – Akelere
The late MKO’s former personal assistant, Lisa Olu Akerele, has
described the honour done the late politician as “a welcome
development long overdue.”
He stated, “Mr Kola Abiola, myself and other well-meaning
individuals have been campaigning underground for years for this
honour to be done.
“The good thing is that it has taken a former soldier like President
Muhammadu Buhari to right the wrong done by a misguided
soldier like Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.”
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