President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola won the 1993 presidential elections but was denied the office by the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.Coming eight days (May 29) after the country celebrated Democracy Day, Buhari announced, yesterday, that the anniversary would henceforth be marked on June 12 in honour of the late philanthropist.
Babangida annulled the results of the election widely believed to have been free and fair. Abiola died while struggling to actualise the mandate.Buhari said Abiola would be conferred with the nation's highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), reserved exclusively for Nigeria's presidents.His running mate in the election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, would be conferred with the second highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON) alongside Nigeria's foremost pro-democracy activist, the late Gani Fawehinmi.
In a statement, last night, Buhari said: "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 view 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 day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since our Independence. The fact that the then military government did not uphold the outcome of that election 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, government has decided to award, posthumously, the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 cancelled elections. His running mate as vice president, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON. Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualisation of the June 12 elections and indeed for democracy in general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi is to be awarded the GCON.
"The investiture will take place on Tuesday June 12, 2018, a date which in future years will replace May 29 as a national public holiday in celebration of Nigeria's Democracy Day."
Reacting, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, spokesman for Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, said: "Even though we understand that election season is near and the government is doing everything possible to woo the people to its side, the fact President Buhari was humble enough to declare June 12 as Democracy Day is a welcome development."
The Leader of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, said: "I think Abiola deserves more than this." Asked about the timeliness, he said: "This one is too late. Buhari is only trying to please Nigerians because he knew his popularity has waned, as the next general election is approaching."On the other hand, what is Buhari looking at in the last three years since he became president, considering the fact that Abiola died almost 20 years ago, and we have also been shouting that he (Abiola) should be honoured."
President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Shettima Yerima, said the government's proclamation is victory for all who participated in the pro-democracy struggle. He, however, questioned the essence, calling on the administration to sit up.He added: "Mere declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day is not enough. Abiola should be declared president posthumously and all necessary entitlements given to his family."
The Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yoruba land, Otunba Gani Adams, noted: "This is one of the best decisions President Buhari has taken since he came to power three years ago. But one more thing we demand from him before the 2019 general election is the restructuring of Nigeria to true federalism. If Mr. President can be bold enough to do this, his name would be written in gold in the nation's history."
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: "It is 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 (Buhari) is seeking a second term."It is shocking that the respectable grave of Abiola can be dishonoured by granting a posthumous award to him along with someone who denounced the June 12 mandate and preferred the company of his (Abiola's) traducers.
"If President Buhari genuinely wants to honour Chief 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."