June 12, the date in the nation's history when the acclaimed freest and fairest election was conducted in 1993, is now the National Democracy Day.
With an expressed endorsement yesterday by the Senate of a bill earlier passed by the House of Representatives to that effect, June 12 has become fully immortalised, after about 26 years of agitation for the date to be accorded this recognition.
Consequently, the National Holiday Act has been amended to move Nigeria's Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12. However, May 29 remains sacrosanct as the date when one administration will hand over to a succeeding one in compliance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution regarding the tenure of administrations in the country.
The amendment is in concurrence with the House of Representatives' approval earlier in December 2018. The adoption was sequel to a report by the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, for the Senate to concur with the House.
The three clauses of the amendment bill were passed by the Committee of the Whole when the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, put them to voice vote.
The legislation is now billed for transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
Buhari had in June 2018 declared that the Democracy Day would henceforth hold on June 12 of every year. He made the declaration as the Federal Government honoured the acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, with a posthumous conferment on him of the highest national award, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCON).
Buhari had also conferred on Abiola's running mate in the election, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, and foremost human rights lawyer, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger award, which is the second highest national honour.
Originally, the bill, which was jointly sponsored to the House of Representatives by Edward Pwajok and Kayode Oladele, sought to bring the National Holiday Act in tandem with the current realities and exigencies of the modern times.
When he introduced the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives last year, Pwajok had explained that before 1979, there were separate acts regulating public holidays in the country.
He recalled that in 1975, a law was made to repeal all state laws on public holidays and to streamline the process of declaring holidays for the federation.
According to him, by law, the president may declare any day as a public holiday by public notice or act through the Minister of Internal Affairs.
He noted that in 2000, the National Assembly amended the schedule to add May 29 as Democracy Day. He however said that May 29 would be celebrated every fourth year when there is an inauguration of a new president while June 12 would be celebrated as Democracy Day every year.
The Secretary-General of the Lower Niger Congress (LNC) and one of the prominent agitators for the actualisation of the June 12 presidential poll, Mr. Tony Nnadi, expressed mixed reactions over the development.
He told The Guardian on the telephone yesterday that what the lawmakers did by recognising June 12 as Democracy Day was still within acceptance. According to him, the implication of the decision is that a mild ceremony would be held on May 29 for the swearing in of the president while the real ceremony of Democracy Day will come up on June 12.
He, however, was not sure of the need to amend the constitution to change Democracy Day to June 12. "Democracy Day is just a title," he noted.
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the National Conference, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, said he did not know whether May 29 was stipulated in the 1999 Constitution as Democracy Day or that former President Olusegun Obasanjo deliberately picked it as the day he would be sworn into office in 1999.
"Be that as it may, it appears the Buhari government is just playing politics with the recognition of June 12 just to appease some gullible politicians in South West.
"If the president is serious in the first instance, he would have sent a bill to make June 12 the Democracy Day to the National Assembly immediately after the Abuja fanfare where he invited many activists to recongnise June 12."
The Spokesman of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said it was a welcome development, but he expressed worry that "everything in Nigeria's democratic system today does not replicate the true spirit of June 12."
According to him, "If this government truly believes in June 12, the last presidential election wouldn't have been allowed to stand because it did not reflect the true wishes of Nigerians as June 12 truly did."
Also yesterday, the Senate confirmed the renewal of the appointment of Mr. Godwin Emefiele as the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for a second term of five years.
This followed a unanimous endorsement of the report of the Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions on the appointment of Emefiele as the CBN governor.
The chairman of the committee, Rafiu Adebayo, who presented the report, said the members took their time to screen the nominee accordingly.
"The nominee made his presentation which covered his experience in banking even before becoming the CBN governor.
"On assumption of office in the apex bank, he brought a number of initiatives which positively impacted on the Nigerian economy and boosted the revenue generation through promotion and ensuring adherence to accessibility and transparency of government finances," Adebayo said.
He noted that in the process Emefiele was able to liquidate ailing financial institutions, bridge not too sound financial institutions and maintained stable interest rate and effective management of the nation's foreign exchange regime.
Adebayo said that at the end of the screening the committee came out with the following findings:
- That the nominee has more than 32 years of banking experience, understands the diverse nature of the economy and has displayed profound knowledge of the continuous existence of the economy stability;
- That he has performed creditably well in his first tenure which resulted in the exit of the nation out of recession; and
- That going by the nominee's character, banking experience, vast economic knowledge and performance in his first tenure, he is qualified for the position of the CBN governor for another tenure for which he has been nominated by the president.
The panel chairman said that based on the findings, the committee recommended that the Senate should approve the renewal of Emefiele's appointment.
The Senate President Bukola Saraki, thereafter, congratulated the CBN governor on his reappointment for another tenure and urged him to use the second term to improve the economy.
Meanwhile, Emefiele has filed a preliminary objection challenging a suit seeking to bar the screening and confirmation of his re-appointment by the Senate.
In the suit, George Uboh under the auspices of the Incorporated Trustees of George Uboh Whistleblowers Network (GUWN) is praying the Federal High Court, Abuja to prevent the Senate from taking any steps to screen and confirm Emefiele's re-appointment pending the hearing and determination of the case in which it alleges that $2.5 billion disappeared on Emefiele's watch.
In his reaction, Emefiele, through his consortium of lawyers, dismissed all the allegations as utter falsehood, frivolous, baseless and an exercise in bad faith.
He said Uboh's case "was predicated on mere suspicion and fabricated allegations, incapable of invoking the court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit."
No date has been fixed for hearing of the matter.