In honour of the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the federal government Wednesday in Abuja declared June 12 of every year Democracy Day.
With the declaration, June 12 will now replace May 29 for Democracy Day celebrations in commemoration of Nigeria's return to democratic governance in 1999 after 13 years of military rule.
In a statement personally signed by President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday night, the president said the federal government had equally posthumously awarded the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) to Abiola, who died in 1998 in the federal government's custody.
The June 12, 1993 presidential election was cancelled by the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida on June 23, 1993, for no tangible reason, forcing Abiola to fight for the actualisation of his mandate.
However, Babangida's successor, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, detained Abiola until his (Abacha) death on June 8, 1998.
Abiola died under suspicious circumstances while in custody on July 7, 1998, just as negotiations were ongoing between leaders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and the successive military regime led by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar for his release.
According to Buhari, June 12 was the day Nigerians freely exercised their democratic rights and voted for Abiola.
He also said it was the day Nigerians and his administration believe was more symbolic of democratic governance than May 29.
According to him, June 12 was undisputedly the day Nigeria held the freest, fairest and the most peaceful election in Nigeria's history since independence.
Buhari said after due consultations, June 12 would henceforth replace May 29 for the celebration and commemoration of democracy.
He also said Abiola's running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe, would be conferred with the second highest honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
In the same vein, he said the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the renowned lawyer and human rights crusader, who was at the forefront of the battle for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate, would also be conferred with the GCON award posthumously.
The investiture, he said, would take place next week on June 12.
"For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day. That was the date when for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government.
"The first time this happened was on October 21, 1979. But in the views of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12, 1993, was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even October 1.
"June 12, 1993, was the date when Nigerians in millions exercised their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since our independence.
"The fact that the outcome of the 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 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day.
"Therefore, the government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12th, 1993 cancelled elections.
"His running mate as vice-president, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe is also to be invested with a GCON. Further, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualisation of the June 12th election and indeed for democracy in general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) is to be awarded a posthumous GCON.
"The commemoration and investiture will take place on Tuesday, June 12th, a date which in future years will replace May 29 as national public holiday celebration of Nigeria's Democracy Day," Buhari said in the statement.
Reacting to the posthumous recognition accorded Abiola and the conferment of the highest national award of GCFR, normally conferred solely on Nigerian heads of state, the government of Ogun State Wednesday expressed its profound gratitude to Buhari for conferring the highest posthumous award of the land on "an illustrious son of the state, late Chief Moshood Abiola".
In a statement issued Wednesday night by the Secretary to the Ogun State Government, Taiwo Adeoluwa, the state government said Buhari had shown that he is a man that believes in justice.
The statement read: "We are grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari for this recognition of an illustrious son of Ogun State and an icon of our democratic struggle, Chief MKO Abiola.
"President Buhari has shown with this action that he is a man that believes in justice and giving to every person his or her dues.
"Although this posthumous award may appear to some people to have come late, we thank the president. We urge all lovers of democracy and goodwill to continue to support the ideals for which Chief MKO Abiola lived and died for.
"For us in Ogun State, we shall not forget Bashorun MKO Abiola."
Similarly, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, hailed the announcement by the president declaring June 12 as the new Democracy Day in honour of the late presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Abiola.
The governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Habib Aruna, lauded the president, 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 does not only show 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.
However, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the national honour to be conferred on Abiola smacked of hypocrisy and political desperation ahead of 2019 presidential election.
It declared that Buhari's action "merely sought to use the name and person of Abiola to gain political capital" and was not out of genuine reverence and recognition for him.
A statement by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, recalled that Buhari who served in the military administration of Gen. Sani Abacha, during the travails of Abiola, never associated either by word or action with the presumed winner of the June 12 election.
It further stated that history never recorded Buhari as being sympathetic to the "Abiola family when his wife, Kudirat, was gruesomely murdered by the agents of a government, which President Buhari served".
"It is, therefore, a sign of political desperation for President Buhari to seek to use Abiola's name as a tool to sway Nigerians in less than twelve months to an election, where he, President Buhari, is seeking a second term.
"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.
"Even those who now masquerade as change agents were opposed to the naming of the University of Lagos after Abiola.
"If President Buhari genuinely wants to honour 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.
"The PDP therefore urges President Buhari to shed his desperate actions in his quest to win the 2019 presidential election as Nigerians can no longer be deceived by such antics," he said.