13 June 2012

Nigeria: June 12 Still Reverberates Across the Land, 19 Years After

It is a tribute to the validity of that day, that 19 years after, the June 12, 1993 presidential election still retains its relevance, even after the country has experienced 13 unbroken years of democratic rule.

Yesterday, politicians, especially those who have anchored their ideology on progressivism, once again, gathered at various fora across the nation to celebrate the date.

This year's commemoration seems to have been predicated on a defined theme, which focused on either the recent national honour bestowed on the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola by the Federal Government, or demands for an even greater honour by the Federal Government.

President Goodluck Jonathan, had on May 29, during his Democracy Day broadcast, announced that the University of Lagos (UNILAG) had been re-named Moshood Abiola Univeristy, Lagos, in honour of his contribution to the democratic struggle in Nigeria.

But the Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, and some other pro-democracy activists, at different fora, urged the Federal Government to officially recognise Abiola as a former president of the country and confer on him, the highest honour in the land befitting of a president.

The governor argued: "To have continued with this perennial silence on the democratic feat that Abiola wrought through his sheer bravery and belief in Nigeria would show to the whole world that we are an ungrateful nation. But for Abiola and his bravery in choosing to die, rather than allow his mandate to be exchanged for the biblical mesh of pottage, we would perhaps still be in the bondage of military rule and crying out for democratic salvage."

Also at a forum organised by the Voters Assembly (VOTAS) in Ibadan, pro-democracy activists held the view that Abiola had not been appreciated enough by the government and insisted on his recognition as a president-elect as well as the conferment of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on him.

But aside the clamour to formally accord the late Abiola the status of a former president, some political leaders like former Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, former Lagos State governor, Mr. Bola Tinubu, and his successor in office, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, have not only called for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to unravel the mystery behind the annulment of the election, but also urged the government to establish a national monument in honour of the late politician.

According to Musa, who chaired the event, the latter-day declaration of the chairman of defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC), Professor Humphrey Nwosu, that Abiola won the June 12 election as well as the recent decision of Jonathan to rename UNILAG after him has made the annual commemoration of June 12 anniversary even more justifiable.

Also speaking, Tinubu argued that Nigeria had largely derailed from the practice of true democracy as he condemned the amendment to the constitution in a way that restricts the contest of elections in court to only 180 days. "If anyone says that we have democracy now, maybe in 1999 when we started, I would say yes. But now, we do not have democracy, justice and freedom. The danger is here.

"We had the rule of law until a few years ago when the National Assembly amended the constitution and took our right away through the back door. We were able to retrieve stolen mandates in Osun, Ekiti and Edo. But immediately they noticed it, they went ahead to amend the constitution to limit the rights of Nigerians to fair hearing to 180 days," he alleged.

In Ogun State, the celebration kicked off with a 'Democratic Walk' led by the state governor, Senator Ibikunke Amosun, from the Government house through the late Abiola's House and terminated at the MKO Abiola Stadium. At Abiola's house, the head of the family, Alhaji Bashiru Abiola, lamented that despite the acknowledgement of late Abiola's electoral victory at the said election, the Federal Government had neglected the family. He however appreciated the visit of the governor, to which Amosun promised the family a better deal henceforth.

As a show of his disapproval of military rule, Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, yesterday canvassed for the removal of names of the former military heads of state from the Council of State meeting. He argued that they were not qualified to be part of the meeting.

Speaking at a lecture to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 election organised by civil society coalition groups in Osun State, Falana said it was unconstitutional and illegal to allow former military heads of state to be part of Council of State meeting.

Governor Rauf Aregbesola also joined the clamour for the Federal Government to declare June 12 MKO Abiola Day to honour him. Aregbesola disclosed that Osun State had declared the day MKO Abiola Day. He promised that a bill would soon be sent to the House of Assembly in order to back the declaration with the force of law.

According to Aregbesola, "No one can pay the price Abiola paid for us to have the democracy that we have now. He paid for this democracy with his money, name and his life. The complete result of that election must be released and Abiola declared president instead of referring to him as the presumed winner of June 12 presidential election.

But exultant as the progressives were, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) believed the celebrations, especially as anchored by the ACN governors was misplaced. PDP in the South-west described the celebration of June 12 by Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governors as a blatant and shameless display of hypocrisy.

PDP Zonal Publicity Secretary, Hon. Kayode Babade, said in a statement that "rolling out drums and wasting public funds on media exaltation and ugly lectures in the name of June 12 cannot cover the hatred the ACN has for MKO Abiola's family, legacies and ideals."

The statement read: "Today, they are celebrating June 12. They have declared a public holiday. They are making beautiful speeches. Yet, these same people were the ones, who protested the loudest when University of Lagos was renamed Moshood Abiola University, Lagos.

"They were the ones, who denied MKO Abiola's son a House of Representatives ticket in Ogun State. Yet they say they love MKO Abiola, and we ask, what have they done for MKO Abiola's family, legacies and ideals since they assumed office? Is June 12 about denial of rights to vie for party tickets? Would there have been a June 12 for them to celebrate if MKO Abiola had been denied the rights to participate in an open primary election as the ACN did to his (Abiola) son?"

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