In a landmark decision, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday proclaimed June 12 as the country's Democracy Day to be celebrated as a public holiday from next year in commemoration of the momentous June 12, 1993 Presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola.
Chief Abiola is also to be post-humously honoured with the nation's highest award, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR conferred on all Presidents/Heads of State. Besides, Buhari also announced that late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi will also be awarded the country's second highest award of the Grand Commander of the Niger, GCON in honour of his role towards actualising the June 12 presidential election.
Abiola's running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe will also get a GCON award.
The development, in an unprecedented press statement personally signed by President Buhari was circulated on Twitter on the President's twitter handle and retweeted by Special Assistant on Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
The announcements were immediately welcomed across the polity.
In the special press statement, Buhari said:
"For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29th, 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 1st, 1979.
"But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12th, 1993, was far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29th or even the October 1st.
"June 12th, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our Independence. The fact that the outcome of that 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 12th will be celebrated as Democracy Day. Therefore, Government has decided to award post-humously the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to 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. Furthermore, 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 GCON posthumously.
"The commemoration and investiture will take place on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, a date which in future years will replace May 29th as a National Public Holiday in celebration of Nigeria Democracy Day."
The announcement was received with much excitement across the country yesterday from friends and family of the late Abiola.
I'm happy with this -- Hafsat
His daughter, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, said:
"I am very satisfied with this news, and I can't explain how happy I am. This has just validated the victory of my father. He didn't just fight for democracy alone; he fought for Nigeria. May 29 was never the Democracy Day; it's June 12. And President Buhari has just shown that he is an honourable man. This development has brought to life the significance of June 12. I am really appreciative of him for honouring my father because this is the kind of recognition he truly deserves."
Welcoming the decision, Abike Dabiri-Erewa said that President Buhari has shown himself to be inclined to the desires of Nigerians and has done the right thing.
We've waited for this--Mohammed Fawehinmi
"It is a welcome development. This is what we have been waiting for over the years. Good Nigerians have made several calls for Chief M K O Abiola to be recognised as a Nigerian President. For this government to have done this, it is a welcome gesture.
It is a good news that M K O Abiola is going to be awarded GCFR honour and Babagana Kingibe to be awarded GCON, It is clear that Abiola was elected the president of this country, the mere fact that he was not sworn in does not mean he was not elected. This has vindicated Abiola.
"For my father's honour, we thank the government for that. We know he deserved it. We are happy for that."
A welcome development, but... -- Adebanjo
Reacting, Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo said: "It is a welcome development. We have always told them that, (and) he now realises this. We have told them that without June 12 there is no Democracy Day. June 12 is Democracy Day, but May 29 is Civilian Day. I want to urge him to restructure Nigeria because all he is doing are palliatives."
Belated, but welcome--Falae
Also reacting, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Chief Olu Falae described the decision as "belated but welcome."
A positive development--Babatope
A former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said: "That is very good. It is a positive development, and every right-thinking democrat should support that. The timing may be wrong, but it is a good development that should be hailed."
Senator Jonathan Zwingina, Director-General of Abiola's Hope 93 Campaign Organisation, said:
I commend the declaration even though it came a bit late, but better late than never. Some of us had consistently fought for the date to be recognised in history on account of the centralisation of that date to our nation's democracy.
It is a befitting recognition, and I also commend the fact that the President personally signed the press statement which is the first time it has been done.
It's commendable--Balarabe Musa
A former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa commended the President's action saying "recognising June 12 as a Democracy Day, is proper. In the context of Nigeria, June 12 signifies Democracy Day in the first place because it was a day that Nigerians set aside their differences and united the country for progress."
The Ogun State government, Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Gani Adams, and former General Secretary of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union, NUPENG, Chief Frank Kokori, yesterday commened President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring June 12 as the nation's Democracy Day.
We're grateful to Buhari--Ogun govt
Commending the President, the Ogun State government said Buhari has shown that he is a man that believes in justice.
In a statement by the Secretary to the Ogun State Government, Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa, the government said:.
The statement reads: "We are grateful to President Mohammadu Buhari for this recognition of an illustrious son of Ogun State and an icon of our democratic struggle, Chief M. K. O 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 top some people to have come late, we thank the President."
A welcome development--Aare Adams
Reacting, the Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land, Aare Gani Adams commended the president, saying "The decision of Mr. President to honour Chief MKO Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi is a good gift given to Nigerians in the month of ramadam. The President has showed us the spirit of honesty and truth and with this development; the President has solved 90 per cent of the problem of Nigeria. What will endear the President to progressive minded people in Nigeria is for him to restructure Nigeria; he does this, his name will be written in gold and the international community will respect him. This decision is shock to all of us. His decision to honour Gani Fawehinmi, who mentored me in activism, is a step in the right direction. I thank Mr. President for this decision, it is a welcome development but we expect him to restructure Nigeria before the 2019 general elections."
My happiest day -- Kokori
A former General Secretary of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union, NUPENG, Chief Frank Kokori, said: "This is my happiest day because we have been fighting for it for many years. We thought Obasanjo would have done it but he did not do it. May 29 is a charade. I am happy that this country is beginning to recognise the contributions of the heroes of democracy.
My union was the arrowhead of the struggle. I appreciate that Gani Fewehimi who was not a politician was recognised. This shows that nobody can play God. God is God. That is what we are seeing now. I am so surprised and happy that this is coming from a man like Buhari. We in the civil society appreciate him."