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26 Years After, June 12 Becomes Democracy Day

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Although May 29, 2019, marks the 20th anniversary of uninterrupted democratic governance in Nigeria, June 12 of every year will henceforth be celebrated as national Democracy Day,Although May 29, 2019, marks the 20th anniversary of uninterrupted democratic governance in Nigeria, June 12 of every year will henceforth be celebrated as national Democracy Day, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO in this piece traces the historical background of June 12 in this piece traces the historical background of June 12

The former military administration of Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), following successful elections handed over political power to civilian leaders on May 29 1999. This ushered in the 4th Republic, and for this reason,  May 29 was included in Nigeria’s national holidays and celebrated as national Democracy Day.

However, in 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that June 12 would henceforth be recognised and celebrated as national Democracy Day. This announcement was immediately followed by an amendment to the National Public Holiday’s Act by the National Assembly, which was eventually passed and assented to by the President last Monday.

Having realised the very sensitive date of June 12 in Nigeria’s political history, the President noted that in view of Nigerians, June 12 was and is far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29, or even October 1.

The presidential election of June 12 1993, contested by late Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola under the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) was adjudged to be the freest in the history of Nigeria by local and international observers. Yet the election was annulled.

While an official result was not announced by the then National Electoral Commission  (NEC) Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, election records showed that MKO Abiola, as he was fondly called, was leading the election after winning the majority votes in 19 states compared to Tofa who had 11 states.

NEC, as it was then called, declared the results in only 14 states before the regime of former military president, Ibrahim Babaginda annulled the exercise.

The unofficial results showed that Tofa got a total of 5,952,087 (41.64 percent) of votes nationwide while Abiola, scored 8,341,309 (58.36 percent). Just before the election results were to be announced, the election was annulled.

The military President claimed that the election was marred with irregularities and massive financial inducement.

“These were the same bad conduct for which the party presidential primaries of 1992 were cancelled. Evidence available to government put the total amount of money spent by the presidential candidates at over two billion, one hundred million naira (N2.1 billion). The use of money was again the major source of undermining the electoral process.

“Both these allegations and evidence were known to the National Defense and Security Council before the holding of the June 12, 1993 election, the National Defense and Security Council overlooked these areas of problems in its determination to fulfill the promise to hand over to an elected president on due date, 27th August 1993.”

Following the annulment, there was nationwide protests which led to deaths, injuries and incarceration of hundreds of Nigerians.

Although, Gen. Babangida did not hand-over to the democratically elected government, he kept to the August 27 date as he handed over to an Interim National Government (ING) headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.

One year later, MKO Abiola, after waiting endlessly for the announcement of his victory, declared himself president and delivered a speech on June 11, 1994 in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island.

“People of Nigeria, exactly one year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by the President you had yourselves elected.

“These soldier-politicians introduced into our body politic, a concept hitherto unknown to our political lexicography, something strangely called the “annulment” of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful ever held in our nation.

“I hereby invoke the mandate bestowed upon me by my victory in the said election, to call on all members of the Armed Forces and the Police, the Civil and Public Services throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to obey only the Government of National Unity that is headed by me, your only elected President. My Government of National Unity is the only legitimate, constituted authority in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Sequel to Abiola’s “Epetedo Proclamation” Abiola was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of military President General Sani Abacha.

Consequent upon Abiola’s arrest and detention, thousands of Nigerians flooded the street of Lagos and Abuja to demand his release and the announcement of the election result, which Abiola was adjudged to have won.

At the fore front of the struggle was Abiola’s second wife Alhaja Kudirat Abiola who was assassinated in Lagos in 1996 after declaring public support for her husband. Abiola mysteriously died on July 7, 1998, the day he was to be released sparking a national protest.

Since the return to democracy in 1999, June 12 has since been set aside to commemorate the fight for democracy led by Abiola, however, the celebration of the day was only restricted to the six South-western states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti, until 2018, when President Muhammadu Buhari recognised Abiola as President-elected and declared that the national Democracy Day would hence forth be celebrated on June 12, starting from 2019.

Abiola was also conferred with the nation’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR. The honour is exclusively conferred only on presidents and former presidents.  Abiola’s running mate in that election, Babagana Kingibe, was to be conferred with the second highest honour of the Grand Commander of the Niger, GCON.

Nigeria’s foremost pro-democracy activist, Gani Fawehinmi was also conferred with the National Honour of GCON.

President Buhari on the 6th of June 2018, in a press statement personally signed by him noted that; “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 12, 1993 was and is far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29, or even October 1.”

Consequently, the President on Monday June 11 at the Presidential Villa, signed the Public Holidays Act Amendment Bill into law.

This amends the Public Holidays Act which now removes May 29 of every year as a public holiday and now makes it June 12, democracy as a public holiday in Nigeria henceforth. By this Act, May 29 is no more a Public Holiday.

Although there was an attempt by  former President Goodluck Jonathan to immortalise late MKO Abiola in 2012 by renaming the University of Lagos after him, the plan was shelved following public outcry. Jonathan disclosed this during a nationwide broadcast to mark the year’s democracy day celebration.

The President said that renaming the University is in appreciation and honour of the contribution of late MKO Abiola the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

“The Federal Government has decided that late Chief MKO Abiola should be honoured. In honour of Chief MKO Abiola, the University of Lagos is renamed the Moshood Abiola University,” Jonathan said.

However, notable Nigerians and pro-democracy groups condemned the move, describing it as an attempt to reduce late MKO Abiola to an ethnic champion.

A former minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh in his reaction accused former President Goodluck Jonathan of reducing the late MKO Abiola to an “ethnic champion.”

According to him, Jonathan reduced MKO Abiola by renaming the University of Lagos (UNILAG), which is located in the South-West after him.

Momoh said this while commending President Muhammadu Buhari for renaming the National Stadium, Abuja after Abiola.

He added that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was begged to name the stadium after Abiola when it was built in 2003 but he refused.

“I congratulate Nigerians and all of us who have always believed that Abiola was entitled to be remembered and renaming the National Stadium Abuja after him as Moshood Abiola National Stadium is a befitting monument to his memory. The stadium was built during the tenure of Obasanjo in 2003.

“So, it was inevitable that renaming UNILAG after Abiola will be interpreted as portraying Abiola as an ethnic champion, when as a matter of fact; Abiola won a national or presidential election in which all Nigerians voted. He even defeated Bashir Tofa his opponent in his polling booth.”

Interestingly, as part of the maiden June 12 Democracy Day celebrations, President Muhammadu Buhari, granted the wish of prince Momoh and others as he announced the change of the name of the National Stadium, Abuja, to MKO Abiola Stadium.

Buhari made this pronouncement during his speech at the Democracy Day celebration on Wednesday at the Eagle Square, Abuja.

This will be the first successful attempt by the federal government to immortalise the late democrat.

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