The Presidency’s declaration of June 12 as the new Democracy Day filled even the fiercest rival of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, Femi-Fani Kayode,  with praises, responding to the announcement as a “great news”

In a Press release signed by President Buhari, the Federal Government is declaring the new date in honour of Chief Moshood K. Abiola, “the presumed winner of the June 12 1993 canceled Elections.”

It also announced the conferment of  a posthumous Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) honour on Chief Abiola, while Babagan Kigibe; Abiola’s running mate and Chief Gani Fawehimi; a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Human Rights Activist will be awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) respectively.

“June 12th, 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 12th will be celebrated as Democracy Day.”

Reacting to the Press release, FFK tweeted that the award is “long overdue” and was “pleasantly surprised” receiving the news.

“I commend @MBuhari for announcing June 12th as our new Democracy Day.  I also commend him for honoring Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12th 1993 Presidential Election, with the posthumous award of GCON. This is great news!”

June 12 holiday in the South-Western States

Prior to the official declaration, South-Western States were already commemorating June 12 with a Public Holiday, which is always marked with a host of events.

In Ogun State, the hometown of Chief MKO Abiola, there is an annual “Democracy Walk” usually led by the State Governor, followed by special prayers, speeches and stage play.

In 2017, the June 12 holiday in Osun State saw Civil Societies embarking on a rally, chanting Democracy songs.

Oyo State also described the day as  “a watershed in the history of the Country, its significance in the Nation’s democratic journey, having broken all ethnic and religious barriers”.

While Ekiti and Lagos State declared the day “to further strengthen our collective belief”, it further agreed that the day “would continue to remain relevant in the Nation’s Democratic history” respectively.

Ondo State also announced then that a lecture title “June 12: A celebration of courage and resilience”, was part of the lined up activities of the day.

Politically Mixed Feelings

The President’s declaration, despite wide reception, was however described in some quarters as an election strategy to win the South-West region come 2019.

According to the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), President Buhari’s declaration was a “political capital and not out of genuine reverence and recognition for him.”

In a Statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbodinyan, Buhari did not associate himself with Chief Abiola during his lifetime and when MKO was in Prison, he (Buhari) was not sympathetic towards Chief Abiola’s family even as Kudirat Abiola was murdered by the Military Government which Buhari was a cabinet member.

“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.

“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.”

Reno Omokri; in agreement with PDP, said President Buhari is only trying to appear in the good books of the South-West as elections draw nearer.

“President Buhari is a joke. In desperation for the Southwest vote, he has declared June 12, Democracy Day and given MKO Abiola a post humous GCFR. What hypocrisy! This was a man who served Abacha while Abacha jailed Abiola. This was a man who praised Abacha, Abiola’s jailer!”

Commending the move, Femi Falana (SAN) affirmed that the new date “validated the integrity of the fair and free election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta”.

He urged President Buhari’s Government to adopt Chief Abiola’s poverty alleviation programme in his honour.

“By recognizing June 12 as Democracy Day the Federal Government has put an end to the hypocrisy of May 29 which was proclaimed by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime.  By confering the post humous award of National Award of Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) on Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN the Federal Government has officially endorsed his enormous contributions to the titanic battle against military dictatorship and promotion of human rights in Nigeria.

“In addition to the historic gesture the Federal Government should proceed to adopt Chief Abiola’s programme of welfare to poverty and respect the human rights of all Nigerians which Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) championed and defended in his life time.”

He also advised that the Government genuinely mark the 2018 Democracy day by releasing all citizens, detained illegally and with immediate compliance with all valid and subsisting Court orders. Falana did not need to mention names. One of such illegally detained persons is his client. Shia leader Ibraheem Alzazayki who has been in detention for over 2 years despite repeated Court order that the Federal Government release him.

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Unable to contain her Joy, President of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) and daughter to Chief Abiola, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, said President Buhari’s announcement “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.”

“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.

“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, Bal Kaltho, the thousands of students, the tens of journalists, traders and politicians who lost their lives fighting to actualise an unjustly annulled election.”

The Abiola family later wrote a former letter thanking the President for the gesture.

An Award underserved?

In the euphoric celebration of the new Democracy Day, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore, claimed that the conferment of Nigeria’s highest National honour on Chief Abiola is illegal as National Honour cannot be awarded posthumously.

In an interview with Premium Times, Belgore; the CJN between 2006 to 2007, said the only thing that can be done is “to name a place after him, but National honours award, no.”

“It is not done. It is for people living.”

He iterated that only members of the armed forces are awarded posthumous medals, according to 1974 National Honours Act.

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Belgore’s claim has caused an uproar as lawyers express divergent views on whether a dead man can be awarded or not.

What the Law says

According to the Act, under Honours Warrant, Section 2 states that Eligibility for appointment to Orders:

“(I) Subject to paragraph (2) of this article, a person shall not be eligible for appointment to any rank of an Order unless he is a citizen of Nigeria. (2) A person other than a citizen of Nigeria shall be eligible for appointment as the honorary holder of any rank of an Order; and appointments made in pursuance of this paragraph shall be disregarded for the purposes of paragraph (3) of the foregoing article.”

Section 3 talks about the Mode of Appointment.

(I) The President shall by notice in the Federal Gazette signify his intention of appointing a person to a particular rank of an Order.

(2) 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.

– (a) the insignia appropriate for that rank; and

(b) an instrument under the hand of the President and the public seal of the Federation declaring him to be appointed to that rank.

(3) 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.

While the Act specifically stated in Sub-section 2, that the awardee would receive it in person, it can be deduced from Sub-section 3 that the President may also honour “any person” who he deems fit to receive such honours.

According to Liborous Oshoma, legal analyst and public Commentator,  the sub-section 3 that allows the President to exercise his discretion in awarding someone who is not present renders Belgore’s argument futile.

“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 June 12 annulled Election

In 1991, General Ibrahim Babangida legalized the formation of Political parties for both legislative elections to a bicameral National Assembly and a Presidential election slated to be held the following year.

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Two parties were formed; the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).

The election results showed SDP, winning majority of the seats in both Houses of the National Assembly.

The first round of the Presidential primaries between SPD’s Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and NRC’s Olu Falae was however canceled due to irregularities and IBB called for a meeting, in which each party chose new candidates.

Chief Abiola was picked by SDP and Bashir Tofa was made NRC’s candidate. The election was held in 1993, but the result was withheld by the then Military Head of State, IBB.

However, in some States, Chief Abiola was unofficially announced the winner, having won 19 of the 30 States.

In 2017, IBB, in his defense, said he was compelled to annul the elections due to security threats to the enthronement of a democratic Government at that time.

He said his regime had decided that it would be the last administration that would ascend the seat of power through coup, adding that it would make no sense to install a Democratic Government that would be truncated within another six months.

“June 12 was accepted by Nigerians as the best of elections in Nigeria. It was free and fair. But unfortunately, we cancelled that election. I used the word unfortunately, for the first time.

“We were in Government at the time and we knew the possible consequences of handing over to a Democratic Government.

“We did well that we wanted ours to be the last military coup deta’t. To be honest with you, the situation was not ripe to hand over at the time. Forget about the wrong things that happened in politics.”

After IBB came Abacha who did not release Abiola. Upon Abacha’s death Abiola was expected to be President but the issue of how arose. Reports indicate that he refused to give up his mandate while others said he would have considered it had he been released.

As the government prepared to release him, he died in the same circumstances as Abacha, while in a meeting with US delegation, including a former envoy who works for the CIA.

Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to a democratically elected government as Former military leader Olusegun Obasanjo beat Olu Falaye to become President on May 29, 1999. Mr. Obasanjo declared the day he came to power Democracy Day and failed to honour what was almost a consensus that June 12 was indeed Democracy Day. After him came Musa Yar’adua who did not do his complete term but his death ushered in Goodluck Jonathan who attempted and failed to name the University of Lagos after Mr. Abiola.

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