President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday, on behalf of the country, tendered a passionate apology to the Abiola family and those who lost their loved ones during the June 12 struggle.
He warned that Nigerians will not longer tolerate such perversion of justice as witnessed in the June 12 debacle in which an election was annulled and the winner denied victory.
The president who spoke during the commemoration and investiture of the heroes of June 12, 1993 at the presidential villa urged those present at the event to observe a minute silence in honour of the late Chief MKO Abiola, the late Chief Fawehinmi and all those who lost their lives in the June 12 struggle.
"Accordingly, on behalf of the federal government, I tender the nation's apology to the family of the Late MKO Abiola, who got the highest votes, and to those that lost their loved ones in the course of June 12 struggle", Buhari stated.
He expressed delight that he was one presiding over the Commemoration and Investiture marking the formal official recognition of June 12 as National Democracy Day by the federal government.
According to him, the decision and yesterday's event was not meant to be an attempt to open old wounds but to put right a national wrong.
He recalled that Nigerians, out of their own free will, voted for the Late MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, the Presidential flag bearer and running mate respectively, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 1993 elections, even as he regretted that the government of the day inexplicably cancelled the elections when it was clear who were going to be the winners.
Warning against a recurrence of such injustice, the president said, "We cannot rewind the past but we can at least assuage our feelings, recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and in the future for the sanctity of free elections. Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.
"This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.
"Our decision to recognise and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering wound caused by the annulment of the June 12th elections. I earnestly invite all Nigerians across our entire national divide to accept it in good faith".
Buhari further explained that federal government's action is targeted at burying the negative side of June 12, including the ill feelings, hate, frustrations and agony it had caused.
"What we are doing is celebrating and appreciating the positive side of June 12. The June 12, which restate democracy and freedom; the June 12 that overcome our various divides and the June 12 that produced unity and national cohesion. This is the June 12 we are celebrating today and we will nurture it to our next generation", he added.
On his part, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, disclosed that President Buhari has approved that more Nigerians should be conferred with national honours for their contributions to democracy.
He however did not disclose the identities of the awardees, saying, "Further announcement on this will be made shortly".
Meanwhile, former military President, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, has cited health reasons for his inability to attend the ceremony yesterday, while former President, Olusegun Obasanjo said he was in Norway for an official assignment.
Nasarawa, Kogi Govs Hail PMB
Meanwhile, Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello and his Nasarawa State counterpart, Tanko Al-Makura yesterday haile President Buhari for honouring the June 12 heroes, saying the occasion was uncommon and unprecedented in the country's history.
Al-Makura said yesterday's investiture was an occasion that has openly exemplified the president's gesture and commitment towards democracy, fairness and the rule of law.
He said, " I believe this gesture will go a long way in consolidating the unity and national cohesion of this country because this single gesture has proved to all people in this country that Mr President means well for every Nigerian, whether living or dead.
"I think Nigerians should take a cue from this and commit themselves to the tenets of democracy, fairness and the rule of law. Once we have that I believe this county will be a country all of us will be proud of".
On his part, Governor Bello of Kogi State said, "It is a historic day, it is a wonderful day. June 12 is God's day for us that believe in democracy and it is a day that God has made for every Nigerian to celebrate the great sacrifices that people like Chief MKO Abiola, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and others have really sacrificed for this country.
"I say a big thank you to the father of the country for making the dreams of every democrat in this country come true. June 12 is for the whole county and Mr President has given a masterstroke in this particular declaration of June 12 as democracy day".
PMB's Apology Touched Our Hearts - Hafsat Abiola
In her remarks, daughter of the late MKO, Hafsat Abiola, said the recognition of her father came from unexpected quarters, noting that the president's apology melted her heart.
She said, "Who would have ever believed, given the relationship that you had with Chief MKO Abiola, that you would be the instrument God will use to honour this man and to bring recognition and healing to the country.
"You apologised to my family and it touched my heart. You know that I also lost my mother in this struggle. So, that apology meant so much. Let me use this opportunity, on behalf of Chief MKO Abiola because I know what he would have done, to apologise to you, to apologise to your family, anything that he might have done to harm you and to harm your family".
On his part, the first son of MKO, Kola Abiola, said, "Mr President, on behalf of the MKO Abiola family, we accept both the award and the apology. We will like to thank you for the great honour you have done our family.
"We thank you for taking the decisive measures to strengthen our democracy and guarantee our future by reconciling our past. Thank you very much sir. Generations to come will honour you for this. May the souls of our dearly departed Rest In Peace. God bless the federal republic of Nigeria".
Also speaking, the first son of the late Gani Fawehinmi, Muhammed Fawehinmi, who received the GCON award on behalf of his late father, noted that President Buhari is the first sensitive and reasonable head of state that has listened to Nigerians and acted accordingly.
Noting that June 12 is the foundation of democracy in the country, he added that the recognition of Chief MKO Abiola as president-elect and not as presumed winner was a masterstroke.
He said, "These people stood their ground, sacrificed all they had for this country and I thank AGIS that their sacrifices have not been in vain.
"Today is symbolic because it shows the entrenchment of unity of all citizens of this country regardless of your tribe, ethnic background, religious beliefs because we are all Nigerians".
He appealed to politicians to appreciate all and sundry as Nigerians, saying, "Chief MKO won Hope '93 but he was not allowed to govern; President Buhari won and we thank God he was allowed to govern.
"We urged all Nigerians to support this man, to stop bickering and trivialities, religion and ethnic background. If you lose take it that way", he added.
On his part, leader of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, said President Buhari winning a second term is already a settled matter.
He praised Buhari for his courageous determination to issuing the executive order to recognise heroes of the June 12 struggle.
Tinubu said, "Nigeria, it's fair that we have chosen democracy as the form of government. We are totally committed to democracy. It has been furthered and strengthened today. The love of our nation to search previous regimes and correct the errors of the past shows you are a great leader. We thank you".
He thanked former Senate President, Iyiocha Ayu and Senator Abu Ibrahim and others for the roles played in 1993 and thereafter.
Thanking the president, he said, "We formed a partnership of very strong democratic principles and you are living up to it. You made a promise that you will be committed to transparency and rule of law and you have done it.
"I know some of the ex-presidents because of June 12, who threatened to throw me out of the helicopter. But you remained resolute to put Nigeria back on self-discovery, great determination and fidelity with democratic principles. Thank you Mr President. Thank you for bringing back hope to Nigeria.
"Farewell to poverty. It is the struggle of Africa to banish poverty and you are investing in education, which is a great weapon against poverty. You are feeding our children; we are no longer paying for darkness. Thank you Mr President. It is not a question of second term; you deserve it. We are going to work for it; no annulment on it; you are going to win it".
In his remarks, Abiola's running mate, Babagana Kingibe, who received the GCON award, commended the president for the courage in recognising June 12.
"The decision came to you naturally because you are a principled politician who refuses to be swayed by the expediency of the moments", he told the president.
Kingibe recalled that Abiola was a man of great wit and persuasive powers, full of energy and a great philanthropist that was truly committed to improving the lot of the poor masses.
On his part, former Senate president, Iyorchia Ayu, told President Buhari that the perception was that he was unforgiving but his June 12 gesture has showed that the president has "a large heart."
He admonished him not to regard the opposition as his enemies, noting that the president's real enemies were the people he has surrounded himself with who "turns everybody into your enemy."
In his remarks, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka said he was taken off guard by Buhari 's apology, saying it was a dimension he didn't expect.
He explained: "It is a beginning. l do not agree that this is closure to the event of June 12. There are far too many traumatised individuals walking around the streets, pauperised individuals walking around as a result of the policies and attitudes of one of the most brutal dictator; in fact, the most brutal dictators that this country has ever known".
He pointed out that closure will come by responding to those traumatised individuals or victims of "unspeakable tortures, some of whom were compelled to watch even their beloved ones being tortured on behalf of a man who was determined not just to demonise, to dominate his environment, but also to dehumanize that environment.
"So that we do not forget the nameless, the unsung heroes and heroines of that struggle, a number of names have already been listed but l will like to include one of the pioneers, the instigators of the physical confrontations with that dictator, Comrade Ola Oni, who mobilised a number of people and fought the goons and slaves and surrogates of that dictator in that auspiciously named stadium in Ibadan, Liberty Stadium.
"But above all, l want us always to remember that individual who we are principally celebrating today; the man who reappeared and represented himself, who did not understand the word surrender, saying 'my name is Moshood Kashimawo Abiola; l am back to reclaim my mandate".
Also speaking, Chief Frank Kokori said Buhari was the least person expected to honour Abiola, saying it was a confirmation that Buhari has a great soul.
He said, "If this is coming 25 years later, it means one day your country will remember you because some of us felt when we came out of Abacha's gulag and we were not recognized. I just felt what sort of country is this.
"Like my personal experience as one of the most famous prisoner of conscience in the world, I saw that my country did not even appreciate the four years I spent in one of the worst cells in the world. And we did all these for our country and the country did not recognise us.
"So, now we are happy and we are very grateful to our President, the least president we expected who should have done this, Muhammadu Buhari".
The late Fawehinmi's wife, Ganiyat, said, "I was a bit disturbed. Every time the security will come, turn our house upside down; even his office was broken into. They took away many files during IBB regime and they were not returned till date.
"So, I just thanked God that I am alive to witness today and I know that my husband will turn in the grave for this June 12 that is being actualised because he really fought and died for it.
"I believe God has a purpose for it, I believe that is how God wants it because you can't run a race ahead of God. So, God has a purpose of actualising it today, which is exactly 25 years after Hope '93 when Abiola wanted to be the president."