The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said the national honour proposed to be conferred on late Moshood Abiola, by President Muhammadu Buhari, reeks of hypocrisy and political desperation ahead of 2019 presidential election.
The announcement was made on Wednesday night in honour of Mr Abiola, who won the annulled presidential election of June 12, 1993. Mr Abiola was arrested in 1994 while struggling to claim his mandate from military dictators at the time. He died in custody in July 1998.
Kudirat Abiola, one of the late politician's wife, was amongst those who died in the struggle for implementation of his mandate by the military. She was killed in a suspected assassination in 1996 in by suspected elements of Mr Abacha's junta in Lagos.
The military junta led by Sani Abacha accused Mr Abiola of declaring himself president, a move it saw as treasonable felony and kept him in perpetual custody until his death, which came a month after Mr Abacha himself died of suspected cardiac arrest.
PDP, in a statement by its publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, alleged that the president's action merely seeks to use the name and person of Abiola to gain political capital and not out of genuine reverence and recognition for him.
The opposition party says it sees Wednesday's announcement as shocking as it recalled the president never associated, either by words or actions, with Mr Abiola. It said Mr Buhari was not also sympathetic to the Abiola family when Mr Abiola's wife, Kudirat, was "gruesomely" murdered by the agents of a government which Mr Buhari served.
"It is therefore 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 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.
The party claims "Even those who now masquerade as change agents were opposed to the naming of University of Lagos after Chief Abiola.
The party said if the president 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".
In their reactions, pro-democracy campaigners on Wednesday welcomed the Buhari administration's declaration of June 12 as Nigeria's new Democracy Day.
"This is a well-received development," said Yinka Odumakin of the Campaign for Democracy. "President Buhari has affirmed our longstanding believe that June 12 is Nigeria's Democracy Day."
Mr Odumakin said even though the timing of the announcement was suspect, Nigerians should see its substance.
"It is another election season where political moves and gimmicks would be in the air," Mr Odumakin said. "But the declaration of June 12 is what we are really happy about as a victory for the country."
Mr Buhari also pledged to award Ngeria's highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, on Mr Abiola. He also announced the award of the second-highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, on Gani Fawehinmi, a pro-democracy campaigner, rights activist and legal practitioner. Mr Fawehinmi passed on in 2009 at 71. The same GCON honour was also announced for Mr Abiola's running mate in 1994, Babagana Kingibe, now a key ally of President Buhari.
Also welcoming the development was Joe Okei-Odumakin, a rights activist.
Mrs Okei-Odumakin, wife of Yinka Odumakin, said today's victory was appropriate for democracy as well as Mr Abiola, whom she said paid the supreme sacrifice for the freedom of all.
"The decision is accepted because we have been asking for the past 24 years," Mrs Okei-Odumakin said. "Since 1999 when May 29 was declared Democracy Day, we have been kicking against it."
Today's decision, which she said is "highly noted and accepted", would be even better appreciated if Mr Buhari could declare Mr Abiola a former president.
Although Mr Abiola won the election, he was never sworn in as president or so formally declared.
"We want a posthumous declaration" of Mr. Abiola "as a former president of Nigeria and we want his portrait to be lined amongst past presidents of Nigeria," Mrs Okei-Odumakin demanded.
Several presidents since the turn of civil rule in 1999 have failed to declare June 12 Democracy Day despite frantic and regular agitations, neither did they confer Mr Abiola with the GCFR, which, although might not be an affirmation of his status as a former president, puts him in the same category of all presidents in Nigeria's history.
The GCFR is received strictly for presidents, and Mr Abiola would be the first individual to be admitted into the tiny club of the holders. The GCON that was awarded to Mr Fawehinmi, however, is not that restricted.
Although it is seen as largely reserved for vice presidents, the honour had previously been conferred on private individuals, including Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga, two of Nigeria's most-prominent businessmen alive.
Mrs Okei-Odumakin said the real test for Mr Buhari's democratic credentials would be in 2019 when he would have to preside over an election in which he would be a contestant.
"Conducting a free, fair election is the best way to entrench democracy and immortalise" Mr Abiola, she added.
Ebenezer Babatope, a politician, said he welcomed the declaration of Mr Abiola as a posthumous holder of GFCR, but said the timing was "suspicious".
In his take, Mike Igini, a rights activist and serving electoral commissioner, said his happiness could not be over-emphasised.
"This is one of the days I feel so elated," he said. "That an injustice that has been going on for so long was finally put to rest by the president today."
"Those who made May 29 as their Democracy Day have been put to shame," Mr Igini said. "We have long condemned the celebration of Democracy Day on May 29."
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo proclaimed May 29 as Nigeria's Democracy Day to the consternation of June 12 activists, and rebuffed all demands for him to rescind the decision in favour of June 12.
Mr Igini said June 12 marked a watershed in Nigeria's history and should not have been a subject of prolonged struggle to be dedicated the Democracy Day.
"We had a Muslim-Muslim ticket that people overwhelmingly voted in," Mr Igini said. "The religion, tribal and other fault lines that had long torn us apart were resolved in that election."
"Sadly, the military aborted that victory for democracy and I was detained with Ebun Adegboruwa and the late Bamidele Aturu in Benin over our struggle."
"We thank God that everything is not in vain. I congratulate Nigerians," he said.
He also demanded a posthumous designation of Mr Abiola as a former president and national monuments named after him.
"Either the National Stadium in Abuja or that in Lagos should be named after M.K.O. Abiola," he said. "We thank the president for doing what those who came before him failed woefully to do."