President Goodluck Jonathan Wednesday described June 12, the day in which a presidential election, widely adjudged as the best in Nigeria's annals, was annulled 20 years ago, as an outstanding day in the nation's history that should be acknowledged.
Jonathan made the observation while inaugurating the Police Service Commission (PSC), chaired by a former Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Mike Okiro, at the State House, Abuja.
Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of the annulment of the election that was widely believed to have been won by the late businessman turned politician, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.
As part of activities to mark the day, symposia and rallies were held in Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun, Osun and Ondo States where participants harped on the need to strengthen the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria, which the struggle for the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election results helped to achieve. The day was also declared as public holiday in the states.
Some of the speakers at the symposia urged the federal government to immortalise Abiola while others expressed concern about the state of the nation, 14 years after the events of June 12, 1993 precipitated the crisis that culminated in the rebirth of democracy in 1999.
According to the president, the struggle has, in ways he did not mention, affected the political landscape of the country and the trajectory of its conduct of the affairs of state.
He said: "June 12 is a unique day. It is a date that has changed the political history of this country in one way or the other. We appreciate what happened on this day. I think it is a unique date."
He added that although some states had declared June 12 as a public holiday to celebrate the important event, "but at the centre, it has not been formally recognised as a public holiday".
At an occasion to mark the day in Lagos, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), frowned on the decision of the federal government to ground an aircraft, which had on board his Edo and Rivers States' counterparts, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole and Mr. Chibuike Amaechi.
He also condemned the political intrigues that played out after the election of the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF), describing it as a contest of numbers in which 16 votes have become superior to 19 votes in the most perplexing logic.
He also faulted the decision of Jonathan to rename the University of Lagos (UNILAG) after the late Abiola.
He said the decision was designed "to mock his memories as the name of the institution was changed to MKO's name without changing the law".
While speaking at the anniversary, Action Congress of Nigeria's (ACN) national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, lamented the state of the country's democratic institutions, 14 years after transition from military regime.
He said: "We are here to assess our progress. Our 14 years of democratic rule coincide with 20 years of June 12. We have made progress, though it is very slow. When Abiola won the June 12, 1993 election, we thought we had put electoral fraud behind us; 20 years after, we are still grappling with it.
"INEC has not witnessed any serious structural change, but vast results of fraud that forced progressives to go to court. The court exposed the fraud and gave back the people their mandate, especially in the South-west and Edo State. Elections in the 21st century are made to reflect the technology of today."
Tinubu, who was represented by CODER's National Coordinator, Chief Ayo Opadokun, commended prominent arrowheads of the June 12 struggle among whom he named Dr. Ransome Kuti and Bagauda Kalto of blessed memories.
At another occasion in Lagos to mark the day, the Jonathan administration came under heavy criticisms over the state of the nation.
Human rights activists and members of the civil society, at the event organised by the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), demanded that steps should be taken to ensure a posthumous declaration of the late Abiola as a former president.
President of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, who made the case for the posthumous declaration of Abiola as a former president, also demanded that the election be de-annulled.
Earlier, the running mate to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) presidential candidate in the 2011 general election, Pastor Tunde Bakare, said the annulment of the June 12 election shook the nation, adding that since then, the country has witnessed many changes - for better and for worse.
Another speaker and a former Governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, faulted the Jonathan administration's anti-graft drive.
He also lamented the rate of unemployment in the country, adding that present and past governments have not been serious about job creation.
"They only talk about job creation but they have all refused to do anything about it.
"People should be able to come out of schools and get employment. This current government is not working towards bringing about a change because it has refused to bring corrupt people to book. Starting a project is not a problem, but completing such a project," Kalu added.
However, Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, defended the government against the accusations hurled at it.
He said though the nation might not have moved as fast as it should, it had made significant progress, especially under Jonathan.
In Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital and the late Abiola's hometown, the Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, described the June 12, 1993 presidential election as a watershed.
He said the election was adjudged internationally as the "freest and fairest election to have ever been conducted in Nigeria".
The governor, as part of activities to mark the day, led other dignitaries, including the late Abiola's daughter, Mrs. Hafsat Abiola-Costello, to participate in the 2013 Democracy Walk.
Amosun, according to a statement by his media aide, Funmi Mrs. Wakama, said Nigerians across ethnic and religious divides turned out in millions to vote for the late Abiola with the hope of heralding a new nation.
"Muslims, Christians, women and youths above the age of 18 all over the country cast their votes for Chief Abiola in a peaceful, free and fair atmosphere. That election marked a watershed in the history of Nigeria," the governor said.
Amosun noted that the current civil rule was a product of the sacrifice made by people like Abiola and urged Nigerians to work towards entrenching democratic norms in the country.
He also called on the federal government to declare June 12 a national holiday and immortalise the late Abiola.
Amosun's counterpart in Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, however cautioned that the June 12 celebration should not be a regional affair but a pan-Nigerian celebration because of the significance of the day and what it represents in Nigeria's history.
Mimiko made the call in his remarks at a symposium, titled "Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects", organised by the Ondo State Government to commemorate the day.
He said: "June 12 is a pan-Nigerian mandate. It is not about Abiola or Yoruba race. It is about the collective desire of Nigerians from various walks of life and political divides to say no to military dictatorship.
"It was a day when all Nigerians came together, forgot about sentiments, be it ethnic or religious, and came together to act as one. We must therefore impress it on the federal government to make June 12 celebration a national event."
The governor advocated a conference on federalism so that all Nigerians could discuss the crisis facing the Nigerian nation, saying some of the proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution are anti-federalism.
At the celebration in Ekiti State, the Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, seized the occasion of a rally organised to mark the day, to announce his intention to seek a second term ticket in 2014.
Addressing the crowd at Oluyemi Kayode Stadium, Ado Ekiti, that had gathered for the celebration, Fayemi said: "I am ready to accept as ever to offer myself for your service; I am ready to accept your wish to offer myself for more hard work even more than what we have done already. I am heeding the calls that I have been receiving since December last year, the work has just started."
According to him, June 12 is remarkable because it was a game changer and a paradigm shift that broke the mould clearly and decisively on such a scale that it became necessary to revise assumptions and stereotypes about the electorate.
In Osun State, Governor Rauf Aregbesola urged the federal government to make public details of events that led to the death of Abiola.
Aregbesola, at a symposium in Osogbo, organised by the state government in collaboration with civil society organisations to mark the 20th anniversary of the June 12 annulment, said the federal government owed Nigerians details about the death of Abiola.
In his speech entitled "June 12 and the national question", the governor stressed that the crises that emanated from the June 12 election annulment brought to the fore the fundamental political cracks in Nigeria's polity.
He said Nigerians and the world deserved full knowledge of all that transpired in the corridors of power during the military era and how Abiola lost his life in detention.
Also speaking at the event, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Walter Carrington, said: "Mr Aregbesola needs to be thanked for remembering what too many states seem too willing to forget. It seems that only four others stand with Osun today in declaring this 20th anniversary of June 12 a public holiday."