PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari recently came out publicly to announce the decision of his government to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day and awarded the principal figure of June 12, Bashorun MKO Abiola, the highest national honour, declaring that the day would henceforth be remembered and celebrated as Democracy Day. June 12 was indeed gladly celebrated as Democracy Day , undoubtedly the most significant and remarkable change in Nigeria’s political evolution. It is worth noting that President Buhari’s declaration of the day as Democracy Day is indisputably a triumph of light over darkness which by his singular action, portrays him as a man of great character and truly remarkable President of the moment who should be commended. To have also conferred the highest national honour on Chief Abiola also represents a courageous reversal of the years of injustices in not recognising him as the winner of the June 12, 1993 election. The award and declaration did not come as a dash to Nigerians; it is a product of historically tough and consistent ideological struggle built on a strong foundation and which the President courageously gave expression 26 years after the annulment.
Since 1993, compatriots who believed in June 12 as against the mischievous and inappropriate designation of May 29 as Democracy Day by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo saw June 12 as a watershed which cannot easily be wished away and have continued to remember the day annually without retreat and without surrender. The military regime of Ibrahim Babangida tried to wish the day away, it could not, before power was transmitted to the Shonekan administration, which was also forced to yield position to the Abacha/Diya interregnum before Chief Obasanjo took over power in 1999. Chief Obasanjo made May 29 Democracy Day, disregarding the fact that without June 12, 1993, there would have been no May 29, 1999. Chief Obasanjo’s adoption of May 29 as Democracy Day was a scheme to rubbish the significance of June 12 and all its inherent principles. The displacement of May 29 is therefore a good pointer that we are gradually transiting to a democratic order, all other things being equal. Joyfully, too, the imperatives for June 12 as a Democracy Day reside in the fact that notwithstanding all the antics of the former leaders to dump the celebration of the day as being significant, it continues to redound. This is because never in the history of elections in Nigeria had the electorate spoken in unison about who they wanted as their leader. Only on June 12, 1993 did Nigeria jettison the choice and pairing of a president and his or her deputy on the basis of religion. It was the first time that Nigerians voted for a Muslim/Muslim ticket, Basorun Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe being both Muslims.
Indeed, the day marked a watershed: ethnicity became less important in choosing a candidate because Bashorun Abiola, a Yoruba man, became the toast of most Nigerians from across the country, in an election in which he beat his opponent even in his Tofa village in Kano State. It was a day that marked a new history of power transition from a military regime to a civilian administration and from the northern oligarchy to the South, a feat that political infidels did not allow to be seen through, regrettably. Another significant reason for June 12 as Democracy Day lies in the fact that Bashorun Abiola made the highest sacrifice to sustain democracy in Nigeria: he lost his wife, paid the supreme price, lost his businesses and failed to climb the seat of power that he won. The declaration of the day as democracy day, and the posthumous recognition and accolades showered on M.K.O Abiola are therefore well deserved.
Sadly, however, politicians who benefited from Abiola’s sacrifice are not celebrating the man of courage today. Most of them who have occupied and are still in political office seldom remember the day and those who actually were in the forefront of the struggle, let alone assisting those who became victims in the aftermath of the annulment. As Nigerians begin to celebrate June 12 as Democracy Day, governments all over the country must introduce new political measures to strengthen the electorate to imbibe the new spirit of participation in choosing their preferred leaders based on the highlighted principles inherent in the June 12 election. They must eschew religious bigotry, exhibit the spirit of unity, always register and vote without monetary inducement; monitor the electoral body to check its claims of independence; ensure that it publishes the registered voting units throughout the country and the names of its officials on its website, the news- papers and the electronic media for ease of accessibility.
As a mark of honour, the president should go beyond the planned “historical exhibition in arts, pictures and immersive environment”, secondary schools exhibition/panel commissioning” and follow up merriments for those who annulled June 12. It should instead take a serious look at the best way the day should be celebrated by using it to deliver State of the Nation address. It should report government’s major activities on the fight against corruption, insecurity and what is being done to secure a strong economy, giving explanations on recorded successes and shortfalls from programmes and policy implementation. The Democracy Day should also provide a forum for “People’s Rally” in all the states of the federation for the people to express their support, commend or condemn government programmes and seek change through their resolutions, given that June 12 as a democracy day was secured through years of mass rallies, peaceful agitation and protests. President Buhari should strengthen democracy by introducing electoral and constitutional reforms that will make the appointment of the INEC chairman an exercise involving major stakeholders, in which the incumbent president is denied the power to single handedly appoint electoral commissioners and chairman.
Security agencies assigned with electoral duties must be diligent in ensuring a violent-free atmosphere for accreditation and election, use their initiatives to protect electoral materials and the human rights of voters during and after the elections. Election stakeholders, namely the political parties, party candidates, INEC, security agencies and the electorate must adhere to the guidelines, rules and regulations set out for free, fair, free from fear and legitimate elections. Posthumous conferment of the rank of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola is a recognition of his undeclared victory, hence his photographs must be pasted on the walls and offices of governments nationwide. One notable stadium has been named after him to complete the honour packages. Finally, national honours should be further bestowed on other democrats and political activists who waged strident struggle to get June 12 annulment reversed and later to be recognised or died in the process. I.e.compatriots like Abiola’s wife, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Alex Ibru, Beko Ransome Kuti, Alao Aka Bashorun, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Comrade Ubani, Pa Anthony Enahoro etc.
- Erubami is president, Nigeria Voters Assembly