June 12: As Ekiti lights candles of democracy

KEHINDE OYETIMI writes on the relevance of the June 12 commemoration held on Friday last week in Ado-Ekiti with the theme, June 12: Lighting the Candles of Democracy.


Last week Friday, June 14, the Great Eagle Hall, Ikere Road, Ado-Ekiti, hosted dignitaries and the larger populace from within the South-West geopolitical zone when the Dr Kayode Fayemi-led Ekiti State government commemorated June 12, 1993 presidential election which the late business mogul and politician, MKO Abiola won. The election has repeatedly been adjudged the country’s freest and fairest election.  The events that led to the annulment of the results of the election, the eventual death of Abiola, coupled with the deaths of many Nigerians in the crises that erupted in various parts of the country, have gone down to represent the darkest moment in the nation’s history.

Since the return to the nation’s current democratic dispensation, there were attempts by particularly South-West states to recognise June 12 as an important aspect of the nation’s history. This aspiration eventually got the desired result when last year, President MuhammaduBuhari moved the country’s Democracy Day celebration from May 29 to June 12. The first celebration therefore was greeted with much pomp this year when a national holiday was observed in recognition of the Abiola mandate.

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It was not surprising when Governor Fayemi and people of Ekiti lighted the candles in commemoration of the historic day. At the event, with the theme: June 12: Lighting the candles of democracy, it was a gathering of all who loved democracy and remembered with nostalgia the events that culminated into what is generally referred to as the June 12 struggle.

Opening the floor was the state’s cultural troupe under the distinguished leadership of the Director-General of the state’s Council of Art and Culture, Ambassador Wale Ojo-Lanre. The venue of the event had in attendance market women, artisans, farmers, Agbekoya, elite groups, civil societies, among many others.

In his welcome remarks, DrFayemi spoke extensively on the spirit behind the June 12 struggle, highlighting the import of the day. He argued that it has become quite important to prioritise the tenets of democracy in the country, just as he praised President MuhammaduBuhari for giving due to all the key players in the struggle of June 12.

According to the governor, “June 12 has refused to die. There are days that stand out in the annals of history because of their import. In Nigeria, June 12, 1993, clings to our national memory. President Buhari decided to acknowledge history, June 12. There won’t have been May 29, if not for June 12. Recently President MuhammaduBuhari returned history to be taught in our schools. A generation has arisen that does not know nor reckon with what June 12 is. Seventeen per cent of our population is under 30 and so does not know what June 12, 1993, stands for.

“It was the epic courage of the common man, who made June 12 possible. Abiola represented Nigeria in its entire ramification. He was a capitalist on one hand and a populist on the other. He understood all the contradictions of Nigeria. There are two days that are very important to us in Ekiti: March 6 which is Chief ObafemiAwolowo’s birthday and June 12. History is the pathway to our future. Nation building is the work of generations. We must stress the importance of this democracy.”

Fayemi called on all to understand the spirit and significance of June 12, just as he insisted that the recognition of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day transcends the ambition of one man: Abiola, rather it captures the aspiration of a nation. He, therefore, opined that deepening the ethos of democracy would be in the interest of all.

In his chairman’s opening remarks, a former Chief of Defence Staff, General Alani Akinrinade (retd) poured encomiums on the state governor, noting that “Ekiti has never been found wanting when it comes to standing up for its leaders.” He commended the efforts of President Buhari in giving June 12 its pride of place in Nigeria’s history.

According to him, “We must know what we have and appreciate our governor who today is the chairman of the governors’ forum. Ekiti has never been found wanting when it comes to helping to stand up for their leaders. I thank General Buhari. He is one of the retired generals who stood up for June 12.”

While going down memory lane, Akinrinade lauded many that stood up for June 12 and paid the supreme price with their lives. He went further to ask that June 12 should be recognized as inauguration day of newly elected political office holders in the country as against May 29. He called for an improvement in the unity of Yorubas, saying that it was in the interest of all.

He equally berated those who were popularizing the ‘fulanisation’ and ‘islamisation’ allegation against President Buhari. Akinrinade appealed to Buhari to cooperate with the governors on the issue of security, saying there cannot be meaningful growth and development when people are being killed or kidnapped.

“It was the betrayal and distrust which we did not know that killed it. Many Yoruba were accused of inordinate ambition. We must not see Buhari as one who wants to Fulanise us. A criminal is a criminal, irrespective of their tribe. We must support the state government so that we can defend our people so that there will be peace. All the blood that was shed and the efforts made to bring democracy paid off. I will push that June 12 should be inauguration day for new political office holders. I am looking forward that better things will happen in this second term. And of course, I want all the Yoruba to be united for growth.”

Others who harped on the need for strong and potent political institutions in Nigeria at the event were: the Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Honourable Funminiyi Afuye and the former Editor of defunct Diet newspaper, Mr Niran Malaolu. The discussants included: Professor Bolaji Aluko; general secretary, Afenifere Renewal Group, Chief Ayo Afolabi; national chairman of the group, Honourable Olawale Osun, Dr Femi Orebe, Dare Babarinsa, among others.

For the Ekiti Speaker, Afuye, Nigerians owed President Buhari gratitude, considering the road that led to the recognition of June 12. He advised the public to disregard what he termed misleading rumours of the ‘fulanisation’ agenda of President Buhari. “There are two ironies in the June 12 struggle. Abiola was generous and he stood his ground. The second irony is that a person who has been accused of fulanising Nigeria has given recognition to June 12. We should thank Abiola for June 12. We should thank President Buhari for the recognition,” he said.

Professor Aluko, in his address, recalled that while his father served the Abacha junta, he fought against it. He added that it has become quite significant to note that it was President Buhari, not former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who gave Abiola and June 12 the needed recognition due them.

According to him, “My father was serving in Abacha’s government while I was fighting against it. It was June 12 that united Governor Fayemi, General Akinrinade and I. I used the resources at my disposal at the university where I was working as a lecturer. The fact that June 12 is being celebrated by a Buhari and not Obasanjo is important to us. It has not been about Abiola but democracy. I am happy to serve under Kayode Fayemi and we will take Ekiti to the next level based on June 12.”

For Malaolu, the need to further entrench the unity of the Yoruba race should not be jettisoned. “Ekiti has been in the forefront of fighting for the unity of the Yoruba nation and of course, Nigeria. The Yoruba people in the olden days were not poor. We should not lose the courage to fight. Odua must rise,” he advised.

On his part, Afolabi expressed satisfaction that it was delightful that many of those who were at the forefront of the June 12 course were present at the event. He advised that it has become important that the gains of June 12 struggle should not be forgotten but should be leveraged upon.

According to him, “Many of those who were at the forefront of the fight for June 12, 1993 are here today. The Afenifere Renewal Group started in the home of an Ekiti man, Governor Fayemi. We started the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) commission in his house. Abiola gave us June 12 but he was not really the issue but it was what the people wanted. We remember many people today. We should leverage on the gains of the June 12 struggle.”

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