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June 12, Democracy Day And Matters Arising



President Muhammadu Buhari had, in 2018, announced June 12 as the new Democracy Day in honour of the late Chief Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Prior to that pronouncement, May 29 was celebrated officially by the country as Democracy Day, marking the day the military handed over to a democratically elected civilian government in 1999 after years of military interregnum.

We recall that on that day, in 1993, Nigerians across the nation voted overwhelmingly for Chief Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) against Bashir Uthman Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

One striking evidence of late Abiola’s nationwide acceptance was the fact that he defeated Tofa in Kano, his home state. Even more significant was that his was a Muslim-Muslim ticket with Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe as his running mate. However, General Ibrahim Babangida, then military president, on behalf of the regime, announced the annulment of the election adjudged to be the freest and fairest in the history of the country.

The regime consequently formed an Interim National Government (ING) comprising representatives of the NRC, the SDP, and leading military officers with Ernest Shonekan as the head. The annulment of the election sparked protests and riots in parts of the country, especially the South West. In a desperate bid to reclaim his mandate, Chief Abiola on June 11, 1994 declared himself president and was swiftly arrested on charges of treason by the regime of General Sani Abacha that succeeded the ING. On July 7, 1998 Abiola died, presumably, of cardiac arrest.

This newspaper also recalls that President Buhari, after announcing June 12 as the new Democracy Day, went further to sign the Public Holiday Amendment Bill into law, recognising June 12 as Democracy Day and a public holiday, while outlawing May 29 as a public holiday.

Furthermore, the president, last year, renamed the National Stadium, Abuja MKO Abiola Stadium in honour of his contributions to the growth and development of sports in the country. Nigeria’s democracy has been evolving since 1999. But it needs emphasising that while Nigeria has not reached its promised land, the country is better off than the period prior to 1999. In our considered opinion, Nigerians are yet to enjoy and experience enough of the dividends of democracy in the past 21 years.

To make it worse, in our view, politicians have exacerbated the fault lines of ethnicity and religion. Insecurity has been rife as more Nigerians keep dying from the menace of terrorists and bandits. According to reports, since the current insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram insurgents have killed over 50,000 persons and displaced no fewer than 2.3 million from their homes.

The Global Terrorism Index had in 2018 also named militant herdsmen as fourth deadliest terror group in the world. Only Boko Haram, ISIS, and al-Shabab were deemed deadlier. So, Nigeria boasts of two of five deadliest terror groups in the world. Recently, bandits and kidnappers have held the nation by the jugular.

This year alone, these rascals have killed more than 200 persons in the North West. However, it is gratifying to note that President Buhari is putting in place measures to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions by signing Executive Order 10 granting financial autonomy to states’ legislature and judiciary. Therefore, as the nation celebrates the second year of June 12 as Democracy Day, we use the opportunity to encourage the president to continue to strengthen similar institutions that make democracy the best system of government in the world.

Similarly, we urge President Buhari to pursue, relentlessly, the execution of the Executive Order 19 which is intended to strengthen the arms of government at the state level just as we bring to his attention the urgency of signing into an Act the electoral bill proposing electronic voting in the country. In our view, electronic voting has the capacity and capability to reduce incidences of thuggery and rigging during elections. Nigerians should be able to confidently elect their leaders without undue stress.

While we accept that Nigeria’s democracy is work in progress, it is important to point out some shortcomings that are threatening to stymie its growth and development. Most Nigerians note with regret that in the last 21 years, elections in the country have assumed a do-or-die dimension due to the shenanigans of politicians who ought to know better.

The resort to underhand tactics of thuggery, brigandage, violence, ballot snatching and killings during elections, have tended to blight the beauty of this system of governance. It is our submission also that the proposal for the establishment of state police should be quickly executed as the police in other democracies play key roles in keeping the ship of democracy afloat.