Troubled here and there President Muhammadu Buhari shook the political landscape on Wednesday evening with his decision to bestow the nation’s highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR on Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the undisputed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. The action by Buhari, a man who had not before now publicly recognized June 12 as a valiant or villainous value could reset his political agenda.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Ever since sometime in 1991 when the defunct National Electoral Commission, NEC announced it as the date for the last election to terminate the Ibrahim Babangida military regime, June 12 became the cynosure of Nigeria’s democracy stakeholders.
The election conducted on June 12, 1993 turned out to be the most credible election conducted in the history of Nigeria. It also presented a symbol that shames today’s ethnic and religious inhibitions. The winning ticket in that two party election, Chief Moshood Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe were both Muslims. Christians looked aside from that consideration to vote for Abiola and Kingibe.
Just as it came, it went away as the Babangida administration for yet unrevealed reasons annulled the results which pointed at the emergence of Abiola as the winner.
The result of the annulment led to the agitation that unsettled the succeeding two regimes, Ernest Shonekan and Sanni Abacha. The Abdulsalami Abubakar regime which succeeded Abacha’s was at the verge of releasing Abiola when the popular politician died yet under unclear circumstances.
Once President Olusegun Obasanjo was inaugurated, the agitation for him to declare June 12 as a public holiday or as the country’s Democracy Day filled the air. Obasanjo, a contemporary of Abiola from the same ethnic Egba stock, however, looked the other way and rather institutionalized May 29, the day the military exited the stage as the country’s Democracy Day.
Succeeding administrations including Umaru Yar`Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari until last Wednesday also looked aside until the unprecedented press statement issued by the president.
It was the first press statement to be personally signed by President Buhari.
The action was shocking given the fact that Buhari had until Wednesday not been known to say a word in support or against June 12. His body language indeed showed that he would have even been against it, especially given his recent commendations of Abacha, who stole Abiola’s mandate. Even more, Buhari served the Abacha regime prominently.
So it is not shocking as some now allege that it was a political masterstroke by Buhari to win the support of the country’s democracy enthusiasts. The decision came at a time when the administration was bruising from fights in several fronts both within and outside the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
Whether the commendation the move has garnered for the president will translate to political success in 2019 is yet another action that is bound to be lace with other actions that the president does between now and the election.
What happens to May 29?
May 29 is positioned in the Public Holidays Act, 2004 as a public holiday and has been observed as such since 2000. It was as such not surprising that some members of the House of Representatives were peeved yesterday with the president’s unilateral declaration of the change of the Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 without amendment of the law.
However, May 29 remains a signature post of the country’s transition from military rule, being the day in 1999 when the last military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to the first president of the Fourth Republic, Obasanjo.
The change of date is bound to give fire to arguments in some quarters that the handover date be shifted from May 29 which some describe as a nebulous date in history to October 1, the date of Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
If Buhari had been looking for an opportunity to reconnect with Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the opportunity of honouring Abiola gave him such. The tie between both men flows to 1984 when Fawehinmi spurned the boycott order of the military tribunals as ordered by the National Bar Association, NBA.
However, some have said that narrowing down Fawehinmi’s activism to the struggle for the actualization of the June 12 Mandate would be condescending given his glorious strides in the agitation for human rights across the country.
Babagana Kingibe, GCON
The decision to honour Kingibe has been laced with much controversy. While some have welcomed it, others have spoken strongly against it given his apparent decision to walk away from the mandate and serve the administration that imprisoned Abiola.
Speaking on the TVC programme, Umar Ardo, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP particularly flayed the award to Kingibe. He said:
“I am against giving GCON to Kingibe. What the president did is illogical. He gave Abiola award because he, Abiola stood by his mandate. Kingibe abandoned it. The whole June 12 was created by the Buhari cabal of which everyone knows that Kingibe is a central part of.
“Abiola was an individual symbol of June 12. Babagana kingibe abandoned Abiola and joined those that fought Abiola.,” he said.
What of Kudirat?
Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the late Abiola was the symbol of the struggle in the country and inevitably turned into a human rights heroine. She was assassinated along the former Oregun Road by agents of the Abacha regime on June 4, 1996 days before the June 12 anniversary.
The first recognition to her was by the civil rights community which renamed the Radio Democracy to Kudirat Radio immediately after her death. Following the advent of civil rule, the Bola Tinubu administration in Lagos renamed the road where she was killed as Kudirat Abiola Way.
Has Buhari burnt his fingers in the North?
The decision to honour Abiola is bound to resonate well in many sections of the country. However, among those where the decision to annul the election subsequently became popular, the decision may not be easily welcomed given that it has been turned into a national holiday.
In the critical section of the elite North where Buhari is not very popular, the decision is bound to resonate negatively. It could be seen as an act of desperation to win the Southwest vote.
Ardo, while speaking on the TVC programme morning programme criticized the president for trying to make political capital out of the misfortune of Abiola as he drew attention to the fact that Buhari had never before shown interest in the agitation for June 12.
According to him the script to honour Abiola was created by the cabal with the intention of winning political capital in the face of what he described as the president’s failure to deliver on his promises.
“As it is a political palliative it will not work, we have gone beyond that,” he said.
What of the SouthEast?
It is not surprising that an ethnic dimension to balance what is generally seen as a political palliative would spring. The Igbo are asking that they should also benefit through the recognition of Prof. Henry Nwosu, the chairman of the National Electoral Commission, NEC on the claim that he conducted the freest and fairest election in the history of the country.