Nigeria is marking the first celebration of Democracy Day on June 12 today, and the Federal Government is marking the day with a ceremony at the Eagle Square in the nation’s capital.
The ceremony, which will feature a colorful parade, will be attended by President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, leaders of the National Assembly, foreign leaders and diplomats.
Today’s Democracy Day has the added significance of marking 20 years after the return to civil rule in Nigeria.
For 18 years, starting in the year 2000, Nigeria celebrated Democracy Day on May 29, which was the day the military handed power back to civilians in 1999 after almost 16 years in power.
However, in June 2018 after the Federal Government posthumously honoured the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993, Presidential election, with the title of GCFR, the process to make June 12 Democracy Day started.
That process was concluded on Monday, June 10 when President Buhari signed the Public Holiday (Amendment) Bill into law.
The new law accommodates June 12 as a public holiday in Nigeria, replacing May 29, which will now only be marked as a handover/inauguration of new governments in the country.
Ahead of the national Convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) holding in Abuja this weekend, Abdulmumin Abiola, son of late MKO Abiola has joined the race for the ticket of the party’s National Youth Leader.
Abdulmumin Abiola told journalists on Wednesday that he decided to join the race because of his believe in the ruling APC.
Abdulmumin says he believes that he has what it takes to give the youths the much needed direction to move the nation forward and has always been working hard to bridge the gap for youths to contribute their quota to national development.
He, however stressed that he does not have any godfather and his recent joining of the political race has nothing to do with the recent recognition of his late father, by President Buhari.
His aim is to make his mark and this decision comes after wide consultations.
“God is my godfather but my late father gives me so much of inspiration. I also have people who are beneficiaries of my late father’s kindness that could rally round and extend hands of fellowship to me,” Abdul said.
Although he didn’t mention any name, most Nigerians believe Soyinka was referring to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha (retd.), who detained Abiola for years until his death in 1998 when he attempted to reclaim his mandate as president.
He said, “l will like to make a request. Mr President, since we are honouring heroes of democracy today, l will like to request that you manage to stop creating confusion in the minds of Nigerians. It is not possible to honour MKO Abiola in one breadth and admire his tormentor in another breadth.”
Earlier, at the ceremony, President Buhari formally conferred a posthumous national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola, the highest award in the land.
He had also honoured Abiola’s running mate in the election, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, and late respected human rights activist, Gani Fawahinmi, with the national award of Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON).
The President had also tendered an apology to the Abiola family and others who lost their loved ones to the June 12 struggle.
On his part, Professor Soyinka noted that while he accepts President’s Buhari’s apology on behalf of Nigerians, he should stop confusing the people about his loyalty.
He said, “Most of what l wanted to say have been actually knocked off my mouth by one singular gesture – the presidential apology. It is a dimension which l did not expect from today’s ceremony.”
“Loyalty is all very well but loyalty can become perverse if that loyalty is retained to an individual who if he were alive today would be before the International Court of Crimes against humanity,” the Nobel laureate added.
He further accused the said tormentor of breaking the laws of the country and international laws, as well as committing crimes against humanity.
Hall Of Shame
Soyinka recalled a private conversation he once had with President Buhari during which he raised the issue of honouring “a notorious corrupt ruler” by one of the most important avenues (major roads) in the nation’s capital.
He stated that the response he got from the President was not too satisfactory, stressing that the martyrs of the June 12 struggle and Nigeria’s philanthropists should be honoured in place of corrupt persons.
In this regard, the professor asked the government to “Inaugurate our Hall of Shame, so that as we have our Hall of Heroes, on the one hand, we can also have our Hall of Shame as a lesson to the future generation.”
He added: “l do not agree that this is closure to the events of June 12.
“There are far too many traumatised individuals walking around the streets, pauperised individuals as a result of the policies and attitudes of one of the most brutal dictators, in fact, the most brutal dictator that this country has ever known.”
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday formally conferred a posthumous national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election.
The President also honoured Abiola’s running mate in the election, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, and late respected human rights activist, Gani Fawahinmi, with the national award of Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON).
He said, “On behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of late MKO Abiola, who got the highest vote [in the election], and to those that lost their loved ones in the course of the June 12 struggle.”
Also present at the event were Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, Professor Wole Soyinka, as well as former Governor Bola Tinubu, among other dignitaries.
See highpoints of the event in the pictures below;
The decision and this event is not meant to be and is not an attempt to open old wounds but to put right a national wrong. Nigerians of their own free will voted for Late Chief MKO Abiola and Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, the Presidential flag bearer and running mate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 1993 elections.
The Government of the day inexplicably cancelled the elections when it was clear who were going to be the winners.
We cannot rewind the past, but we can at least assuage our feelings; recognize that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and in the future for the sanctity of free elections. Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.
This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.
Our decision to recognize and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering wound caused by the annulment of the June 12th elections. I earnestly invite all Nigerians across all our national divide to accept it in good faith.
Our action today is to bury the negative side of June 12, the side of ill-feelings, hate, frustrations and agony. What we are doing is celebrating and appreciating the positive side of June 12. The June 12, which restate democracy and freedom.
The June 12 that overcome our various divides and the June 12 that produced unity and national cohesion. This is the June 12 we are celebrating today, and we will nurture it to our next generation.
Accordingly, on behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of Late MKO Abiola, who got the highest votes and to those that lost their loved ones in the cause of June 12 struggle.
At this juncture, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like everybody present to stand and observe a minute silence in honour of the memory of Chief MKO Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi and indeed all those who lost their lives in the struggle of June 12, 1993.
Thank you all and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial district, Mr Shehu Sani, has asked that all those who betrayed the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola in the June 12, 1993 presidential election should apologise to his family, as well as Nigerians.
Mr Sani who made an appearance on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Tuesday, said this in reaction to President Buhari’s apology.
Earlier on the same day, the President had apologised to the family of the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election, Chief Abiola, at the special investiture and national honours awards held in honour of him and other heroes of the nation.
He tendered the apology on behalf of Nigerians and everyone involved in the struggle for democracy, after the election was annulled.
While Mr Shehu appreciated the move, he called on all those involved in the annulment of the election to also apologise.
“The president’s apology is on behalf of the whole country. Not just to the family, but to everyone who voted for Abiola.
“But there is also the need for those who had a hand in that annulment to also apologise and also, the political class that betrayed Abiola, because right now the issue is at the front burner but we know very well that in the last 25 years, there were people who ate and drank with Abiola and at the end of the day, ended up betraying him”.
Speaking further, he explained that the award was not a surprise to him as he had always known President Buhari to be a supporter June 12 mandate.
“It didn’t come to me as a surprise because from all I know from history, President Muhammadu Buhari, as far back as 1994, has always been a supporter of the restoration of the June 12 mandate.
“But what happened today with the investiture and also the apology, is an appreciation of the struggle, the sacrifice and the service of Nigerians who laid down their lives and liberty in the struggle for freedom and restoration of MKO’s mandate,” he said.
When asked if the President’s actions had political undertones, Sani said, “Yes, there are political motives to that when you have such events taking place only few months to the next election.
“But as Nigerians, as people who fought and struggled, we will take the gift and reject the political motive attached to it”.
Also, when asked if the president’s actions were an indication that he had officially become a democratic convert, considering his military background, the senator explained that an award from a government was not enough to declare him a convert to democracy.
He said, “there are principles, standards and indices to which a Democrat should conform itself to”.
The Lagos State Government on Tuesday, unveiled a statue of the late politician, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, as part of activities to mark the June 12 celebrations.
The date which has remained synonymous with Abiola, following his efforts in the fight for Nigeria’s freedom and democracy, has been celebrated annually across states in the country for the past 25 years.
Described as the freest and fairest election in the nation’s history, this year’s celebration of the day was, however, symbolic.
President Muhammadu Buhari officially conferred an award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election – MKO – while also honouring other heroes of Nigeria’s democratic struggle.
Across some states, the day was marked as a public holiday in memory of Mr Abiola.
In Lagos state, a lecture as well as the unveiling of the statue which is situated at the Ojota area of Lagos, were one of the highlights of the celebration.
Among those present were the Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, his wife, Bolanle, wife of late Chief M.K.O Abiola, Dr Doyinsola Abiola; Chairman, June 12 Coalition, Comrade Linus Okoroji; and Deputy Governor, Dr (Mrs) Oluranti Adebule.
Others were former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Otunba Femi Pedro and children of the late businessman.
President Muhammadu Buhari has apologised to the family of the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, for his travails after the election.
The president gave the apology in Abuja on Tuesday after conferring the title, Grand Commander Of the Federal Republic on Abiola.
“On behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of late MKO Abiola, who got the highest vote [in the election], and to those that lost their loved ones in the course of the June 12 struggle,” President Buhari said before getting guests to observe a minute’s silence in honour of those who died.
The decision to honour MKO Abiola and to declare June 12 Democracy Day followed years of clamour by the activists, statesmen, groups as well as the family, associates, and friends of the late businessman and politician.
And President Buhari believes it is important for Nigerians to accept the decision “in good faith” and help the nation move forward.
“We cannot rewind the past but we can at least assuage our feelings, recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and ease the future for the sanctity of free elections,” he said.
“Nigerians will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.”
According to the President by moving past the negatives of the struggle, Nigerians would be able to fully benefit from June 12.
“Our action today is to bury the negative side of June 12 – side of ill-feelings, hate, frustration, and agony. What we are doing today is celebrating the positive side of June 12,” he said.
On June 6, 2018, President Buhari declared June 12 Nigeria’s new Democracy Day and announced that Abiola, and his running mate Babagana Kingibe, as well as human rights activist Gani Fawehinmi, would be honoured along with other heroes of democracy.
Although some have questioned the motive behind the move, the President rejected the claim.
“The decision at this event is not mean to be, and is not, an attempt to open old wounds but to put right a national wrong,” he said.
Nigerians, of their own free will, voted for Chief MKO Abiola, and Babagana Kingibe – the presidential flag bearer and running mate of the Social Democratic Party in the 1993 elections.”
He accused the government of the day of cancelling the elections when it was clear who was going to be the winners.
Although the 1993 general elections received widespread acclaim and have been adjudged as the freest and fairest elections in Nigeria’s history, military Head of State at the time, General Ibrahim Babangida annulled it.
But Chief Abiola who contested under the Social Democratic Party and held a massive lead at the polls before the annulment insisted on his mandate and that the outcome of the election be upheld.
As a result of his fight for justice, military President General Sani Abacha jailed him in 1994 after he declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria.
Despite calls in Nigeria and abroad for his release he was not released from prison and died incarcerated on July 7, 1998.
Hafsat Abiola-Costello, daughter of late Chief Moshood Abiola, has applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for recognising her father and for changing Nigeria’s Democracy Day to June 12.
Speaking on Tuesday, during the Special National Honours Investiture held in commemoration of the Democracy Day in Abuja, Abiola-Costello said Buhari’s gesture has awakened many heroes of Nigeria’s struggle, and a new army for the fight for Democracy to prevail.
“By recognising June 12, you have awakened so many heroes and heroines of Nigeria’s struggle who have shown (because they stood firm on June 12) that money cannot buy them. You have called up your own new army for the defence of this country.
“President Muhammadu Buhari, this fight will not take you as it has taken MKO but let us fight and bring about the conclusion of MKO’s struggle that the Nigerian people should be the ones in full control of this country,” she said.
Abiola-Costello, who is also the daughter of late Kudirat Abiola in an emotion-laden voice recalled how her father was endeared to Nigeria. She recalled how her father prepared to deliver his inauguration speech, which he sadly, never lived to deliver.
“My mom told me of how he will stand in front of the mirror, preparing how will speak to Nigerians in his inauguration speech. The results were coming in and he thought he was going to be able to deliver it (his inauguration speech). I will start, ‘Fellow Nigerians…’ But he never really go that Fellow Nigerians and he will start again. He kept struggling to think of what to say to the people of Nigeria.
“All MKO wanted to say to the people of Nigeria and all MKO ever did say to the people of Nigeria is ‘I love you, the people of Nigeria, I believe in you, the people of Nigeria.”
Abiola-Costello proudly added in her speech that MKO was a man of the people, no matter the tribe. “He was born Yoruba but he loved Hausa people, Kanuri people, Efik people, Igbo people. He loved all. You just needed to be a Nigerian and MKO was your man. There were so many things he did to show this, that was why the people of Nigeria.”
The first son of late MKO Abiola, Kola also at the event praised President Buhari for remembering and honouring the Abiola family. According to him, the honour has strengthened the foundation of Nigeria’s Democracy.
A national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day, in honour of the late Moshood Abiola, is a renewal of Nigeria’s hope for a better nation.
He said this while giving an address at the official conferment ceremony of the award of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the late politician on Tuesday.
According to him, regardless of what people say, the President should be rest assured that he made a good move and always has his support.
“You made a promise that you will be committed to transparency, rule of law and bring about compliance with the constitutional democracy, you’ve done it now.
“Yes, the authors, writers, columnists will come up with all sorts of analysis about why you did it, yes you did it.
“The creed of the campaign of the man whom you honoured principally, was hope.
“Thank you for bringing hope back to Nigerians. Farewell to poverty,” Tinubu said.
On the 2019 general elections, the APC chieftain said the president has kept his key campaign promises to Nigerians and should be given another chance to do more.
He also assured the president of his support all the way.
“It’s not a question of a second term, you deserve it. We’re going to work for it, no annulment of it, we are going to win with you,” he said.
Other speakers at the event included the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and daughter of the late politician, Hafsat Abiola-Costello.