Reactions have trailed the Federal Government declaration Wednesday of June 12 every year as Democracy Day and conferment of a posthumous highest national award (GCFR) on the presumed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola.
Also to be honoured are Abiola’s Vice, Baba Gana Kingibe and late Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday declared that June 12 will henceforth be celebrated as Democracy Day.
Chief Abiola died in prison on July 17, 1998, trying to actualise the mandate freely given to him by Nigerians.
Reacting to declaration and conferment, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode commended President Buhari for his action.
He hailed the announcement, saying that the development was a historic and symbolic moment in the nation’s political trajectory.
“This is a welcome development. It is a historic moment in our nation, and I join other Nigerians to commend President Buhari on this announcement.
“By this move, he has done what previous administrations failed to do.
“This not only shows that the president is a man of history and character but also eloquently confirms that the heroes of democracy did not die in vain after all,” Ambode said in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Habib Aruna.
Also, Balarabe Musa, National Chairman of Peoples Redemption Party and former Governor of old Kaduna State, said Buhari’s action had given Nigerians renewed hope.
“President Buhari’s action with regards to declaration of June 12 as democracy day and award of the highest honour to late Chief MKO Abiola are relevant, just, courageous and patriotic.
““The actions give hope that President Buhari can do the right thing and correct wrongs before it is too late for him and for the nation,” Musa said.
The pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, urged Nigerians to take the Federal Government’s declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and the posthumous award, with a pinch of salt
The group said although it accepted the recognition of Abiola and June 12 by the All Progressives Congress Federal Government, there is a need to test the motives and true intentions of the government with the coming elections in Ekiti, Osun and next year’s presidential elections.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said President Buhari’s administration has made history by conferring the posthumous national award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Chief Abiola for his huge contribution to the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria.
He said by declaring June 12 Democracy Day, the Federal Government has officially validated the integrity of the fair and free election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta.
“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 conferring the posthumous 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,” said Falana in a statement.
According to Falana, 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 championed and defended in his life time.
“In particular, the Federal Government should mark the first national democracy day on June 12, 2018, with the release of all citizens who are being detained illegally all over the country and immediate compliance with all valid and subsisting court orders.
“Furthermore, Mrs Kudirat Abiola, who was brutally assassinated while defending the June 12 mandate and others who equally paid the supreme sacrifice in defence of democracy and rule of law deserve to be honoured posthumously,” he added.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), meanwhile, dscribed the Presidential action as smacking of hypocrisy and political desperation.
It said President Buhari’s action merely sought to use the name and person of Abiola to gain a political capital and not out of genuine reverence and recognition for him.
The PDP spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan said 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 presumed winner of June 12 election.
Ologbondiyan said history did not record President Buha as sympathetic to the Abiola’s family when his wife, Kudirat, was gruesomely murdered by the agents of the Abacha government.
He 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 12 months to an election where he, (President Buhari) is seeking a second term.
Two-time Governor of Ogun State Aremo Olusegun Osoba said: “I am very happy and highly elated. It is a major thing to accept Abiola as the president of Nigeria that was not sworn in. The honour of GCFR is reserved for presidents. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was the best president we never had, got it also without being president. I salute the President for the honour given to Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe. The GCON is always given to vice presidents.
“The acceptance of June 12 as the Democracy Day is in recognition of the supreme price that Abiola paid. It has elevated Abiola to the status of an international figure like Martin Luther King, who fought for justice and liberation in the United States.”
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, former NADECO chieftain, who was at the Frontline to actualise June 12 said: “It is a welcome development, but belated. It does not put food on the table now. He should go and restructure the country. What he has done now is a palliative. It cannot erase the problem in the country.”
Former Second Republic Specail Adviser, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, said it is ironic that President Buhari who did not at any point speak against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election would suddenly declare it as the freest and fairest in Nigerian democratic history.
Yakasai described what President Buhari did as “his power of incumbency to seek for support of the electorate
“The implication of his action today is that the election was free, fair and credible and therefore the annulment of the election was unjustifiable and illegal. Since he has gone to the extent of rewarding the late Abiola and his running mate for not being allowed to enjoy their mandate, it is an open admission that the annulment was illegal.
“The honest thing Buhari could have done was to revalidate the result of that election, by asking the electoral commission to officially announce the result and declare the winner. The fact that Abiola is dead does not make any difference, because his running mate is still alive.
“So, the election can still be made valid and since Abiola is not alive, his running mate can take over the reins of government, having been declared the winner of that election. Therefore, Buhari should have handed over power to Babagana Kingibe, who was the running mate of Abiola.”
Afenifere leader Pa Rueben Fasoranti said: “It is a welcome development. But, it is too late. The president ought to have done it before. Abiola deserves it. It is a welcome news.
Second Republic Senator Ayo Fasanmi thanked the president for immortalizing Abiola, urging the political class to emulate the symbol of June 12.
Fasanmi said: “The election of June 12, 1993 was the fairest election ever. Abiola won convincely. But, Babangida did not allow it to materialise. Democracy was murdered by Babangida. Democracy was crucified through the annulment of June 12, 19993 poll. Therefore, what the president has done is a right step in the right direction.
“On June 12, 1993, it was a Muslim/Muslim ticket. It was a clean and clear election. It is better to make June 12 the ‘Democracy Day;’ the day democracy was murdered. Things were orderly when I was in the House of Representatives in the First Republic and when I was in the Senate in the Second Republic. Some people have made the Federal Republic of Nigeria to a Republic of corruption. This is what Buhari is trying to end. I support Buhari’s decision to honour Abiola.”
The National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, said President Buhari’s action is nothing but high wire politics.
He said: “I must tell you that this is high wire politics. Our president is waxing stronger politically. It has been a long time that many discerning Nigerians, including my humble self, had thought that the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, who died to uphold democracy should be honoured. He had opportunity to sellout; he had the opportunity to avoid the discomfort of incarceration, if only he could renounce the mandate. He did not yield to that rather he defended the mandate.
“I want to say June 12 will be an appropriate day to mark democracy. That argument has been put up for a long time. If by this time, President Buhari has decided to do the right thing, he should be commended. Though I said it was high wired politics, but it is politics in the right direction. It is politics that is induced in political savvy, it is a welcome development. There is nothing sacrosanct about May 29. It was the creation of Obasanjo and because of Obasanjo’s hostilities the man acted this way.”