Action not borne out of reverence and recognition for Abiola–PDP
The federal government has declared June 12 as Democracy Day and conferred the highest honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the acclaimed winner of the June 12 presidential election, late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
The honour is exclusively conferred on presidents and former presidents.
President Muhammadu Buhari who disclosed this in a statement he personally signed directed that the nation’s Democracy Day which hitherto held on May 29 will, henceforth, hold on June 12 of every year.
“For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29th, 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 1st,” said the president.
The president also said Abiola’s running mate in that ill-fated election, Babagana Kingibe, as well as the arrowhead in the struggle to revalidate the annulled election, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi is to be conferred with the second highest honour of the Grand Commander of the Niger, 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’s Democracy Day,” he said
The full statement reads: “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 Day.
“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 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’s Democracy Day.”
Meanwhile, there have been reactions to the government’s pronouncement with the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, hailing the declaration of June 12 as a national Democracy Day.
Spokesman for Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said in a statement that the group had been clamouring for the decision over the years and urged the government to ensure that the spirit of June 12 prevails in the 2019 general elections.
Besides, the group urged the federal government to go a step further by recognising the late Abiola as a former elected president of Nigeria.
“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,” said Odumakin.
More so, former secretary general of the group, Senator Femi Okurounmu, said the move had put former President Olusegun Obasanjo to shame.
He said all pleas to Obasanjo to honour MKO Abiola and declare June 12 a public holiday during his eight-year tenure were ignored.
Nevertheless, Okurounmu 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.
“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,” he added.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode who took to his twitter handle wrote: “I commend @MBuhari for announcing June 12th as our new Democracy Day. This is long overdue and I am pleasantly surprised. I also commend him for honoring Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12th 1993 presidential election, with the posthumus award of GCON.This is great news!”
Similarly, former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Nuhu Ribadu tweeted: “Beyond celebration of democracy, this is a celebration of struggle and sacrifice for the collective good. Thank you, President
And a public affairs commentator, Mr. Gimba Kakanda reacted thus: “Gani Fawehinmi to receive posthumous honour alongside Abiola and Kingibe on June 12, our new Democracy Day as announced by the federal government today. This is a commendable recognition.”
However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the national honour to be conferred on Abiola by Buhari smacked of hypocrisy and political desperation ahead of the 2019 presidential election.
In a statement issued in Abuja and signed by the party’s publicity secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, the party said the government’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.
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.
“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 Abiola.
“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 constitution.”
“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,” he said.