Victor Ogunje writes that participants at a recent conclave in Ado Ekiti to celebrate June 12 came to an understanding that the Democracy Day needs to be transformed to a more beneficial rallying point for Nigerians.
The giant strides taken by President Muhammadu Buhari to honour the late Chief Moshood Abiola, presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election have been widely applauded. Buhari made a marked difference where his predecessors in office failed. Though former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and Goodluck Jonathan had the same privilege of idolizing Abiola since 1999, none of these perceived beneficiaries of Abiola's supreme sacrifice deemed it necessary to erect a fitting memorial to his name.
In doing this, Buhari applied a three-pronged approach to confer posthumous honour on the man fondly called the martyr of Nigeria's democracy. One, he bestowed the highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic on him. Two, he named the National Stadium Abuja after him. Three, he declared the June 12 Democracy Day, instead of May 29.
Notable Pro-democracy groups, particularly the arrowhead of the fight against the annulment of the election, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), commended the gesture with a caveat that more needs to be done.
It was on this premise that notable Nigerians and activists converged on Ado Ekiti on Friday, June 14 to ruminate on how to covert the honour bestowed on Abiola to gains, for Nigerians not to view Buhari's action from the prism of politics, rather than a broad spectrum of promoting unity ad democracy in Nigeria.
Leading the discussion was Governor Kayode Fayemi, who operated the guerilla broadcast station, Radio Kudirat that constituted a torn in the flesh of the Gen. Sani Abacha-led regime during that pulsating era.
The Ekiti governor was supported by a former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Alani Akinrinade, former Editor of Diet Magazine, Niran Malaolu, a NADECO chieftain, Hon. Wale Oshun, former Executive Editor, Tell Magazine, Mr. Dare Babarinsa and Dr. Femi Orebe.
Other discussants were, Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon Funminiyi Afuye, Professor Bolaji Aluko, General Secretary, Afenifere Renewal Group, Chief Ayo Afolabi and others who participated in the Pro-democracy struggle during the dark days of military rule, particularly against the annulment of the June 12, which has been adjudged freest and fairest presidential election in the country.
It was a general consensus at the elaborate public discourse tagged: 'June 12: Lighting the Candle of Democracy ' that it was imperative for government to take the issue of honouring Abiola beyond politics, by entrenching good governance that would checkmate crime, insecurity, unemployment, poverty and other social vices in the country. They opined that this remains the best way to keep alive Abola's hope for a rejuvenated country.
Speaking more pointedly, Akinrinade advised President Muhammadu Buhari to make June 12, the new Democracy Day to become also the day for inauguration of the President, governors and other political office holders in the country.
He was of the opinion that having another rival day like May 29 in place will reduce the purity of June 12 and its significance to the nation.
Akinrinade also described the Fulanisation and Islamisation theory raised against Buhari, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a misdirected venom, which has been settled by the honour bestowed on the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll, Chief Moshood Abiola.
Akinrinade applauded Buhari for branding June 12 as Democracy Day, but insisted that it should also be the day for inauguration of elected executive office holders to add glamour to it.
The war veteran added, "President Buhari was one of the first retired generals to stand up for June 12, but they became disappointed at a time because of the inordinate ambition of our people here in Yorubaland, so they became scared until they were told that not all Yorubas are treacherous. What he did was not for MKO Abiola, but for the growth of our democracy."
On the poser raised by Obasanjo that Buhari was allegedly plotting to Fulanise and Islamise Nigeria, Akinrinade said, "Don't let us have the intention that President Buhari will Fulanise us. I have always believed that a criminal is a criminal, whether you are a Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, when you commit offence, you must be treated as a criminal. It is not good to link every Fulani man to Buhari."
Akinrinade appealed to Buhari to cooperate with the governors on the issue of insecurity, saying, "We can't have peace when our people are being kidnapped and money taken from them".
Governor Fayemi, in his contribution, said the annulment of the June12, 1993 presidential poll and the honour conferred on the presumed winner of the election, Chief Abiola shows that the country needs a strong and virile political institutions.
The governor described many of those who fought over the annulment of June 12 as committed patriots, who made the sacrifice in the interest of democracy and not for the late Abiola.
"Some of those saying the June 12 was not worth dying for were poor students of history and not abreast of the war waged by people to restore democracy to the country. Over 70 percent of our close to 200 million population did not have first-hand information about June 12, so those of us who knew what transpired must acknowledge the struggle. One thing is clear, there won't be May 29 without June 12 and that was why President Buhari decided to honour the late Abiola. The honour was not just about the man, but about Nigerians who voted for Chief MKO Abiola.
"Some of us in the radical fold believed Chief Abiola was a military collaborator, who used his money to fund coups. He was a capitalist but a populist on the other hand, because of his strong philanthropic gestures. The man represented Nigeria in all its ramifications and he understood all the contradictions, so there are lessons to be learnt, especially with the way President Buhari decided to honour this man, who died for democracy. That is why we have to strengthen this democracy, we are not yet where we are supposed to be," Fayemi stated.
He added that the war they waged against military was not solely about Abiola's botched victory, but about giving Nigerians a government that can defend their rights through participatory governance.
One of those who felt a dose of incarceration under Abaçha time as the leader of NADECO, Hon. Wale Oshun, said the country will have nothing to gain from June 12, if the government fails to set up strong institutions that will drive democracy in Nigeria and reposition the country for quality governance.
Going down memory lane, Oshun recounted how many of those who fought against military were killed and some hounded out of the country, saying the return of democracy in 1999 gave them a reprieve.
Oshun specifically lauded Abiola and his slain wife, Kudirat, for defending democracy with their blood. He said history will never forget them as patriots, who shed their blood for Nigeria to return to civil rule.
"We knew what people like Chief Gani Fawehinmi and many heroes, who lost their lives and those of us living played an important role to ensure this democracy came into being.
"For Abiola's death not to be in vain, there must be good governance in Nigeria. He died for democracy, because it is a government of the people and once we have got democracy, our people must feel the benefits," he said.
Though, many honours have deservedly been bestowed on Abiola, there is a need for concerted efforts that is driven by a well-designed template of activities. These undertakings must be spear-headed by government at all levels. This will immediately transform the gesture from a presumed nominal political catalogue to a more beneficial rallying point to Nigerians. Only then will many elevate their notion of June 12 Democracy Day from being a populist deed by the Federal Government to a bastion of hope and development that connects every Nigerian.