The Executive Order from President Muhammadu Buhari last Wednesday, declaring June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day and the award of the highest national honours in the land, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), to the presumed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief M.K.O Abiola and Grand Commander of the order of the Niger (GCON), to Babagana Kingibe, Abiola’s vice presidential candidate and late human rights activist, Gani Fawehinmi, have continued to raise dust from different sections of Nigeria. OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU, TOPE FAYEHUN (Akure) and JOSHUA DADA (Osogbo) examine the issues.
The Presidential Order last week, which declared June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day and also recognised the hero of the June 12, 1993 struggle, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, with conferment of the highest award in the land, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, reserved exclusively for Nigerian Heads of State and Presidents, have been greeted with both knocks and kudos from various segments of the society.
The order also confers on Babagana Kingibe, Abiola’s vice presidential candidate and late Gani Fawehinmi, a fiery lawyer and human rights activist the national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger.
But that feat, which many have referred to the June 12 Trophy, can be likened to Diego Amando Maradonna’s ‘hand of God’ goal that put paid to England’s quest for a second World Cup medal at the quarterfinals of the tournament in 1986.
Recall that Argentina and Britain had been at each other’s jugular over the Falkland Islands, leading to a needless war, which Argentina could not win, but it got its own pound of flesh on that memorable day, when with dexterity, she sent England packing from the World Cup.
In like manner, Buhari’s June 12 goal that landed the June 12 Trophy at his feet has set so many tongues wagging.
While Buhari has done what many beneficiaries of the democracy late Abiola made the supreme sacrifice for, including Abiola’s kinsmen, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Ernest Shonekan, many had vilified the President, ascribing his recognition of June 12 and its heroes to political machinations.
In an amazing sermon delivered on September 11, 2016, Pastor Tunde Bakare warned on the divine need to honor and recognise the late Abiola. Today, the sermon is fulfilled. Congratulations, Nigerians!’”
Surprisingly, it took 25 solid years for those agitating that June 12 be recognized as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, instead of May 29, when in 1999, General Abdusalam Abubakar, handed over power to Obasanjo, after his second coming as civilian President, to see their agitation come to fruition.
Apart from the recognition of June 12 as the nation’s Democracy Day, the President also honoured some of the principal actors among whom are the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP and the presumed winners of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Bashorun Abiola, who would henceforth be addressed with the highest title in the land, GCFR and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who also bagged the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON. Late legal giant and human rights activist, who was one of the leading lights of the struggle for the actualization of the June 12 mandate, Chief Gani Fawehinmi also bagged the GCON award, albeit posthumously.
As earlier postulated, while many have condemned President Buhari for doing justice to the June 12 struggle, saying that he did what he did to gain the support of the South West ahead of the 2019 general elections, many others have praised and commended the President for righting the wrong of a quarter of a century.
Perhaps the first to react to the presidential gesture was former Chief Justice of Nigeria between 2006 and 2007, Alfa Belgore, who said the presidential order was illegal.
Belgore averred that national honours could not be awarded posthumously, much less the GCFR, which is the highest honour in the land.
He was quoted as saying, “It is not done, it is for people living. The only thing they could do is to name a place after him, but national honours award, no.”
The former CJN also said that he was not consulted by the Buhari administration before the decision was taken, adding that under the 1964 National Honours Act, only soldiers or other servicemen qualified to be awarded posthumous medals for bravery.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Abdul Mahmud, commended the President for his decision. He said that the President’s action “was absolutely legal,” because the National Honours Act gave the president discretionary powers to honour the dead.
He said, “The position of the former CJN, Belgore is wrong, and his assertion is incorrect.”
But the National Honours Act is silent on whether the national honours could be bestowed on a dead citizen of Nigeria or not.
The Act said that a fallen member of the armed forces could be posthumously awarded a medal for “pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice in the presence of the enemy, or for devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy,” but it was silent on the award of national honours, which are civilian honours and are different from medals for members of the armed forces.
The National Honours Act stipulated that: a) “the President shall, by notice in the Federal Gazette, signify his intention of appointing a person to a particular rank of an Order; b) subject to the next following paragraph of this article, a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an Order when he receives from the President in person, at an investiture held for the purpose – (i) the insignia appropriate for that rank; and (ii) an instrument under the hand of the President and the public seal of the Federation declaring him to be appointed to that rank; c) if in the case of any person it appears to the President expedient to dispense with the requirements of paragraph (2) of this article, he may direct that that person shall be appointed to the rank in question in such a manner as may be specified in the direction.”
The apparent legal lacuna, created by the non-specifics of the relevant sections of the Act has created individual interpretations of the Presidential Order by different categories of people.
For example, Liborous Oshoma, a legal analyst and public commentator said although the Act is silent on posthumous award of the honours, he added that sub-section 3, which said that the president could exercise discretion by awarding it to someone who is not president has rendered his action valid.
He said, “A section said the person receiving the award must be present, then the following section said the president may confer the honour on someone even if the person is not president, as long as the president deemed the awardee appropriate for such honour.
The Lagos-based lawyer, Oshoma, also welcomed the development, describing it as long overdue.
Yet another lawyer, also from Lagos, Lilian Eronini, opined that President Buhari has flouted the law in conferring the national honours posthumously.
She said, “Even though it is important to honour the memory of Abiola, the way the president went about it is illegal.
“Of course, we know the president did this to get votes from the Southwest people who are very passionate about June 12.”
In his reaction, the Osun State governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, applauded President Buhari for recognising June 12 as Democracy Day.
Aregbesola commended the President for mustering the courage to take this historic step 25 years after the freest and fairest presidential election ever held in the history of Nigeria
He said, “President Buhari has secured for himself an incomparable position in history for surmounting the courage to take this historic step of recognising June 13 as ‘Democracy Day’ and honouring Chief Moshood Abiola posthumously.
“June 12, 1993 was the day democracy was born in Nigeria. It was the day Nigerians negated all the social and political constructs that had been thought would make national unity impossible and democratic governance impossible, but Nigerians in their heterogeneity overwhelmingly voted for a candidate whose very essence was in defiance of religious, ethnic and regional categorisation.
“It is most regrettable that the election was annulled and Chief Abiola clamped in illegal detention where he later died.
“Successive administrations had suppressed the significance of June 12 and resisted every admonition to recognise the date and honour Chief Abiola.”
The Osun governor also stated that before the President pronounced June 12 as democracy day, his administration has always accorded the date a pride of place by setting it aside since his administration came into being
Aligning with Aregbesola, the senator representing Osun East senatorial district, Senator Babajide Omoworare, also applauded the President over his declaration and described it as commendable and a long-awaited succor for those whose sacrifices gave birth to this democratic dispensation.
Omoworare congratulated Nigerians and other progressive-minded people across the world who have been agitating for the declaration of June 12 as National Day.
He added, “The history of our nation and it’s democratic record will be incomplete without mentioning June 12 and the heroic sacrifices of the people who took to the trenches and those who paid the ultimate price.
“We can not forget in a jiffy the jackboot dictatorship, killings and assassination attempts on pro democracy leaders, several detention and hardship meted out to the people and the attendant economic hardship endured while the struggle to reclaim the June 12 mandate lasted.”
He further explained that declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria has been long anticipated and expected, adding, “The gesture of President Buhari is an opportunity missed by various successive governments to write their names in gold by responding to the yearnings of majority who have historical and sentimental attachment to the date as the day Nigerians were denied opportunity to have a taste of good governance and desired development.”
Also a gubernatorial aspirant under the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Osun, Oluomo Sunday Akere, described the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria as a move to correct the ills bedeviling the country for more than 25 years now.
He said that the aspirations of the electorate who gave the late politician their mandate and stood firmly by it, as well as that of few political elites and human right movements who fought doggedly to ensure that the memory of the election was never swept into the dustbin of history have been realised with the pronouncements of the President.
“I commend the courage of the President to have declared June 12 as the authentic Democracy Day, especially when some forces did not want the mandate to be recognised for God knows reasons.
“I have also subscribed to the morality, not the legality, of the decision as a Nigerian and a democrat. To this end, I call on Nigerians to support Mr. President considering that we have been clamouring for recognition of June 12 as a public holiday.”
Another gubernatorial aspirant in the state, Engr. Adeyemi Oriolowo, described the president’s gesture as very significant, because it has invariably actualised the pains of the people as demonstrated in the clamour for the recognition of the day.
He, therefore, urged Nigerians to not only applaud the president but support his administration diligently.
A student union leader, Sunday Olabisi, however advocated legal proceeding against the architects of the annulment of the election generally believed to be the fairest, freest and most credible in the history of Nigeria.
He added that if those who perpetrated what he called the “evil that claimed many lives” are allowed to walk our streets unprobed, it will amount to injustice.
Alhaja Sherifat Ali however opined that some other people, who made so much sacrifice for June 12 also deserved to be on the list of those who deserve honour.
In this category, according to her are trade unionist and human rights activist, Frank Kokori, the chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission, NEC, who conducted the election, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu.
Earlier, daughter of the late politician, acclaimed to be the winner of the annulled election, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, hailed the President for the declaration of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, adding that the gesture has proved that integrity, fairness and honour are still alive.
Abiola-Costello said that “no words can capture the depth of my gratitude nor the breadth of my joy,” adding that she had waited in vain for many years and had lost hope that her father would be honoured by Nigeria.
Abiola-Costello, the president of Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, KIND, said, “I had expected that the handover from military rule to democracy would be held on the 12th of June. That would have signalled the completion of a circle that began with a dream deferred.
“But I waited in vain. The hand over was set for May 29, a date pulled out of thin air, signifying nothing.
“Then I thought that the chief beneficiary would ask the country to observe a minute of silence, in memory of MKO, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane, Umaru Yar’Adua, Bagauda Kaltho, the thousands of students, the tens of journalists, traders and politicians who lost their lives fighting to actualise an unjustly annulled election.
“Again, I waited in vain for he started his inauguration speech…and nothing was said. The first four years passed and it became clear that the goal was to erase the name of the man whose sacrifice paved the way for our democracy.
“Those four years set the tone. And I got tired of waiting. As it slowly became clear that to wait was to wait in vain.
“May we live to witness many more days when justice triumphs over injustice, when sacrifice and service win over arrogance and fraud, and when the blood of our heroes reach from across time to boldly claim the reward that their actions wrought.
“I stopped expecting my country to do the right thing by my father and instead began to understand why Nigeria struggles to find patriots among its leaders. Until today.
“Today when President Buhari gave an executive order to declare that June 12 was Nigeria’s Democracy Day. To confer on MKO the title of GCFR, an honour reserved for presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“To confer on Gani Fawehinmi, the dogged fighter for justice, and my father’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the title of GCON, the second highest honour in the land.
“And in one day, it got demonstrated to my bruised heart that integrity, fairness, honour were alive and well in a country for which both my parents had sacrificed their lives.
“There are no words that can capture the depth of my gratitude nor the breadth of my joy. I thank God that I am alive to witness this day.”
Expectedly, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which had the opportunity for 16 years to do what seemed right and failed to do it is in the fore front of those condemning Buhari’s action.
In a statement by its publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP alleged that the President’s action was meant to seek to use the name and person of Abiola to gain cheap political gain and not out of genuine reverence and recognition for him.
Describing last week Wednesday’s announcement by President Buhari as a sign of political desperation, the opposition party recalled that the president never associated, either by words or actions, with Abiola when he was alive or in death.
Noting that the President was not also sympathetic to the Abiola family when Chief Abiola’s wife, Kudirat, was “gruesomely” murdered by the agents of a government he served, the PDP 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 twelve 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 to 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 University of Lagos after Chief Abiola. If the president genuinely wants to honour 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.”
For pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, the development was seen as a relief. Speaking through its secretary, Basorun Sehinde Arogbofa, Afenifere noted that “it is good to remember that some people paid the sacrifice for this democracy with the June 12, 1993 election and it was not a bad idea that June 12 should be democracy day because of these heroes.”
He however added that President Buhari has been doing a few things of late which to Afenifere, should have been done earlier, thereby making the group to believe that the decisions have political under tones.
He added, “The issue of ‘not too young to run’ that came up earlier, and the bill which was signed by President Buhari. When he signed the bill, he tried to dashed the hope of these young people not to contest in the next 2019 election, whatever he might have in mind about that is placed on the altar of the coming election.
“Again the recent posthumous awards, good as they may be, to us in Afenifere, they are good but they are not the issues now. It is good also to give the protagonists, Abiola, Kingibe and Fawehinmi national honours, but how do we convert this to good governance? That’s the issue he needs to address, because all these things cannot put food on the table of the common man.
“Giving honours and awards cannot make road better, they cannot give us better security, they can give jobs to our teeming unemployed graduates and solve issues in the society, no they can’t.”
He also asked the President to summon up courage and start implementing the ideals for which these heroes of democracy died for “that we can say we are now injecting a lot of seriousness into governance. Let the President summon the courage to open the report of 2014 Confab and implement some of the recommendations that tallied with what these people stood for.”
The Campaign for Democracy, CD, also applauded the President for the good gesture, saying the group had been agitating for this development since the death of Abiola.
In a statement signed by its his secretary, Ifianyi Odili, the CD however opined that the awards are incomplete if the name of Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti was not included, as he was one of the toughest fighter who led Nigerians in the struggle for revalidation of June 12 election.
It said, “This act of PMB is highly commendable, however, he should not see the awards as a ploy to arm twist and cajole Nigerians, particularly from Yoruba extraction into falingn into another contraption of winning their heart in 2019 presidential election.
“The only prerequisite for winning the election is to give Nigerians good governance, end incessant killings going on around the country, restore the hope and confidence people have lost in our nationhood. Obey court orders, and immediate eradication of executive rascality before the rule of law. Because the only prerequisite for an interrupted democracy in whichever form is good governance.”
But the executive order has only sparked row in the National Assembly with the lawmakers divided on the appropriateness of the President’s declaration.
In the House of Representatives, while some lawmakers commended the President for honouring some actors who participated in the struggle, others argued that the President lacked the powers to declare a public holiday without recourse to the National Assembly.
In the Senate, majority of the senators hailed the president’s announcement, but however insisted that May 29 will continue to be the hand-over date for Presidents of Nigeria.
At the upper chamber, after a long deliberation on the development, there was agreement that an alteration of the handover date will require a constitutional amendment.
Firing the first shot was Senator Lanre Tejuosho, Ogun-APC, who commended President Buhari for the announcements, while urging him to also reconcile with the legislature.
Having come under order 43 of the Senate standing order, the matter was not open for discussion. But in swift response, Senator Biodun Olujimi, Ekiti-PDP, cited order 42 and 52 and re-opened the issue to allow contributions. She commended the President for the move but wants him to do more in legalising the gesture.
She said, “For once, I want to thank the President of Nigeria. I want to say he has done well. This is one time that the President has given a thought to what Moshood Abiola and his family went through to fight for this democracy that we enjoy today.
“Going further, there are issues to be addressed so that we can be confident that this is not a Greek gift.”
She prayed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to announce the result of the June 12, 1983 election officially, grant entitlements to the winners, recognise Kingibe as a former vice president and the executive declare June 12 a public holiday.
Enate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, called on his colleagues to continue “to support the government to further entrench democracy”’
But Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the gesture comes with legal issues which the President must address.
He said, “They are now saying June 12 is now Democracy Day, proposing that in 2019, the President will now be sworn in on the 12th of June. This is illegally impossible.
“A president shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years he took the oath of office. The implication is that 29th of May remains the date the President will be inaugurated and take oath of office. If they are moving from May 29 to June 12, it means we have to amend this constitution.
“Otherwise, we will be extending tenure of a president beyond what the constitution contemplates. We have to advise the President properly so that we won’t enter a jam next year. We cannot extend it to June 12 without amending the Constitution.”
<ore rowdiness was however introduced to the plenary when Dino Melaye, Kogi-APC, declared that the late politician, Abiola was not a Nigerian and cannot be granted such honour.
Melaye said, “I am a democrat, I believe very sincerely that Chief Abiola deserve even more than the President have pronounced, because he is a true patriot, philanthropist and should be sole decorated. But Mr. President, we are governed in the country by the constitution and extant laws. No matter how beautiful a situation is, the law of the land remains the law of the land.”
Reading a section of chapter 43 of the National Honours Act which he believed buttresses his point, Melaye said, “Subsection 2 of the Act says a person shall be eligible for appointment to any rank or holder unless he is a citizen of Nigeria.
“A dead man is not a citizen of the Federal republic of Nigeria. We should not be emotional about this. The law remains the law.”
He also argued that the Act provides that such honour be conferred on the recipient in person and since Abiola is dead, he cannot receive the award; a similar claim to that made by a former CJN, Belgore.
He added that the constitution must be altered to make Buhari’s decision hold.
The Senate adopted five prayers including that the result of the June 12, 1993 election must be announced, all allowances and entitlement be paid to Abiola as a former president and Kingibe as a former vice president, Kingibe be recognised as former vice president and that June 12 be declared public holiday.
The lawmakers also resolved that May 29 remains the day for inauguration of Presidents of Nigeria as June 12 date will mean tenure elongation which is against the constitution.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his comment urged his colleagues to look away from the imperfections and first commend the president for the decision.
He said, “We need to be guided. I think the whole essence of this discussion was to recognise the fact that Chief Abiola, his contributions, what he had been through, his tribulations.
“For many years, it was long overdue. The good intention is what we should recognise. There might be imperfections in how it was implemented but let us for today take the good intention.
“The other issues, I’m not saying they are wrong or right. Whether the award is right, the process, constitutional amendment to recognize Kingibes’ position as Vice President, the process of making June 12 a public holiday.
“In the spirit of all those imperfections, we should not allow that to cloud what Chief Abiola is.”
Whether the suspicion expressed by some people that it was meant to garner votes from a section of the country or it was indeed politically motivated and swaying minds is the objective, will be true or not, events that will be unfolding in the subsequent weeks will provide infallible answers to the posers.
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