By Ayo Kehinde
In a deft political move to outsmart political opponents and retain his fast sliding grip on the Southwest geo-political zone whose votes determined his victory in the 2015 poll, following power play that has reduced political allies to foes in the axis, President Muhammadu Buhari in a surprise move Wednesday, canceled May 29 as Democracy Day and replaced it with June 12.
That day in 1993, the late business mogul and candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, won the Presidential election under a two-party system foisted on Nigeria by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. The result from the poll considered the freest and fairest in the country’s political history was later annulled by the same military government under pretext of national security.
Relentlessly, pro-democracy groups have called on successive governments to make a symbolic gesture to democratisation by declaring June 12, Democracy Day. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo snubbed the idea. Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan toyed with it and succumbed to a hostile opposition from the north.
Buhari also announced Nigeria’s highest honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, to Abiola, who was later to die in 1998 in prison while his running mate Babagana Kingibe would be conferred with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, the second highest honour alongside Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the indefatigable lawyer and senior advocate who was one of the fearless champions for the actualisation of June 12 up till Abiola’s death in 1998.
The conferment will hold on June 12. June 12 had hitherto been celebrated by some states in the southwest and pro-democracy groups and rights activists, meaning that with this formal recognition, the day would be celebrated nationwide.
In a statement signed by himself, Buhari said “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day. That was the date when for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government.
“The first time this happened was on October 21st, 1979. But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12th, 1993, was far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29th or even the October 1.
“June 12 th, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our Independence.
“The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military Government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process.
“Accordingly, after due consultations, the Federal Government has decided that henceforth, June 12th will be celebrated as Democracy Day. Therefore, government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land,
GCFR, to late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12th 1993 cancelled elections.
“His running mate as Vice President, Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.
“Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualization of the June 12 elections and indeed for Democracy in general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, is to be awarded the GCON.
“The investiture will take place on Tuesday June 12, 2018, a date which in future years will replace May 29 as a National Public Holiday in celebration of Nigeria Democracy Day.’’