BY an executive order, President Muhammadu Buhari, Wednesday, proclaimed June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. With same stroke, he cancelled out May 29, which since 2000 has been celebrated as such. May 29 was declared Democracy Day by Olusegun Obasanjo upon swearing-in as President on May 29, 1999.
The Southwest zone, and many pro-democracy elements across Nigeria, especially those who stood up against the military and demanded a return to civil rule, had insisted that June 12, and not May 29, ought to be recognized as Democracy Day.
For these persons, June 12 was a precursor to May 29 as it marked the turning point in Nigeria’s quest for democratic leadership based on the popular electoral ill of the people.
General Ibrahim Babangida, as military president, had annulled an election held on the date, which result, though not fully released, indicated massive victory of Chief Moshood Abiola and his running mate, Babagana Kingibe.
They both ran on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of two political parties created by the military junta of General Babangida. The other was National Republican Convention (NRC).
Efforts to give life to the outcome of the election claimed the lifeof Chief Abiola and later, that of his wife, Kudirat, under the watch of General Sani Abacha, who took over reins of power from Babangida to become Nigeria’s most brutal dictator ever known to history, who also had Buhari as an acolyte and Executive Chairman on the most sectional interventionist agency created by a Nigerian government, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
Demand that June 1 be declared democracy day or MKO Abiola Day, peaked under president Obasanjo’s reign. He refused. In defiance but in exercise of their democratic rights, southwest states shifted the celebration of May 29 to June 1 and had observed same since 2001.
Therefore, for the Southwest geopolitical zone and all pro-democracy elements, June 12 holds more significance than May 29.
Effort to have Abiola immortalized by the Goodluck Jonathan administration by renaming University of Lagos after him was vehemently rejected by most Nigerians. They insisted that a national monument in the country’s federal capital ought to be renamed instead.
Therefore, Buhari’s action, which came with recognition as Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), Nigeria’s highest national honour, alongside a Grand Commander of the Order of Nigeria (GCON) for Kingibe, came as an answer to a 20 year old demand.
The President also, similarly, honoured Nigeria’s icon of the human right struggle, Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN, who died fighting for constitutionalism in Nigeria.
The political space has been awash with acceptance of the honour done Abiola and Fawehinmi. Not many are however, saying any kind words for same on Kingibe. Kingibe was seen to have betrayed the struggle to validate the June 12 mandate when he quickly jumped ship and joined the Abacha junta, abandoning the joint ticket with Abiola.
Not a few have kind words for him. Upon Abiola’s demise, Kingibe was expected to be the face of the revalidation struggle. But when the chips were down, he was found within government corridors seemingly laughing on Abiola’s grave.
Though many laud Buhari for the executive pronouncements, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, has denounced it as illegal and of no consequence whatsoever.
Belgore, a 2016 chairman of the National Honours and Awards committee, said such national honour cannot be bestowed posthumously as stipulated by the Honours Act. He argued that only soldiers who died in battle for fatherland could be bestowed with posthumous medal of honour, and not politicians.
For Belgore, what is being seen as Buhari’s master political stroke in winning southwest to his side for the 2019 general elections is a wasted maneuver. Despite this, the voices praising Buhari for the recognition drown out Belgore’s voice.
But there are many who feel that Buhari failed to complete the journey.
So many Nigerians feel that for the honour on Abiola to be complete, Buhari should as well declare him winner of the June 12 general elections and as a consequence, Nigeria’s elected president with all privileges associated with the office.
Those making this call argue that Abiola was clearly winner of the election held on June 12 and as such, though not sworn-in on account of the annulment, ought to be recognized as Nigeria’sPresident and listed in Nigeria’s leadership history roll as such.
Can Honour On Abiola Sway Southwest Votes in 2019?
Many believe that with the honour on Abiola and Fawehinmi, Buhari has scored a bargain in southwest for 2019. While some believe that he has gifted Southwest what their own son, Obasanjo, refused to give them from Abuja, many believe that same is a very cheap point to score in the southwest though it recognizes the sacrifice made by Abiola, and the Yoruba, towards reshaping Nigeria’s political destiny.
However, for 2019 and going forward, what the southwest had zeroed its mind on is not specifically an honour for Abiola and Fawehinmi, but on the restructuring of Nigeria to enthrone regionalism, state police and true fiscal federalism.
Southwest leaders, have at different fora, demanded the restructuring of Nigeria to allow the geopolitical zones form nucleus of a new political structure that recognizes regions as federating unit as well as decentralize the police system such that states can create their own policing systems while also working to grow their economies using l resources available to them.
These demands have been on the regions table as part of its basic demands for the progress of Nigeria that it becomes doubtful if the honour on Abiola and Fawehinmi will force it to drop same especially as even Buhari had publicly shown his aversion to restructuring.
His deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, had also dismissed the demand for the restructuring of Nigeria, indicating that those who ask for same were merely looking for a hold on a meal ticket. But for many Southwest leaders, the future of a united progressive Nigeria depends on restructuring.
But most significantly, though Southwest has benefitted immensely from Buhari’s cabinet structure, the region has remained politically fractious under the Buhari administration mainly due to the treatment meted out, by Buhari and the party leadership, to Bola Tinubu, who was instrumental to swaying southwest votes for Buhari in 2015.
It is doubtful such will happen again as people of the region have seen the attention paid by the President to nepotism and his favourable disposition to the north in projects funding.
Southwest people still believe that Tinubu was unfairly treatedby Buhari.
Kingibe: Honour Well Deserved?
There are also views that the honour on Abiola was an alibi by Buhari to gift Babagana Kingibe, a most desired national honour for his role in the making of the Buhari presidency.
Kingibe is one of Buhari’s closest confidants. Buhari consulted with him regularly prior to the constitution of his government in May 2015. Kingibe is an arrow head of his policies and was once touted to become the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, a positon he was fired from by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Kingibe was also named in the investigations into the management of strategic intelligence funds said to have been warehoused at Ikoyi Towers, in Lagos. He was reported to have been engaged by the Federal government and given funds to lobby for Nigeria’s cherished position at the African Union assembly in January 2017. Nigeria failed to secure chairmanship of the commission it pushed for using Kingibe.
Kingibe remains the unseen hand in Buhari’s presidency and from his base in Bauchi, works things for the government. It is believed also, that Buhari may have used the opportunity to gift him a national honour despite the negative perceptions about him as having betrayed the June 12 mandate.
There are concerns in some quarters however that Buhari’s executive declaration stands a chance of being nullified and reversed if he does not return as president, after the 2019 elections. This is especially so, if a new president does not support the proclamation, given that the first celebration of June 12 as Democracy Day is to be marked next year.
By Femi Qudus…
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