The Senate, passed a resolution demanding the immediate declaration of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election result by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The resolution was a fall-out of Wednesday’s pronouncement by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he designated June 12 as Democracy Day and bestowed the highest national honours, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) post-humously, on the presumed winner, Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
In the election, the late Abiola was coasting home to victory following the declaration of over two-third of the result when General Ibrahim Babangida, then military president who conducted the election, abruptly annulled it, eliciting wild protest.
But in a move which caught many people by surprise, Buhari in a statement he personally signed, resurrected the poll when he declared that going forward, June 12 would be observed as the country’s Democracy Day, to commemorate the annulment of the election said to be the freest and fairest in the nation’s political history.
Apart from Abiola, President Buhari also honoured the late Gani Fawehinmi, legal icon and pro-democracy gadfly who passed in 2001 at the age of 71 and Abiola’s running mate in the poll, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe with the Grand Commander of Nigeria (GCON).
At plenary yesterday, lawmakers had a heated debate over the designation of June 12 as Democracy Day instead of May 29.
At the end of the session, the lawmakers arrived at some resolution among which was that INEC should announce results of the election, pay entitlements and salaries of Abiola and that of his his running mate.
“The Federal Government should declare June 12 a public holiday in Nigeria,” the resolution announced by Saraki said.
But to avert what it called a potential constitutional crisis following the declaration of June 12 as a national public holiday, the Senate passed a resolution that May 29 of every four years remain the day elected public officers would be sworn in.
According to Biodun Olujimi, who moved the motion: “To be sure that this is not a Greek gift, we need to put this in a better perspective. The result of that election was never announced. We are using this opportunity to call on INEC to declare him as president. Government is a continuum. Let Abiola be declared as president so that he can enjoy all the good things. He still has families and they need to benefit from it.
“As for Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, let us also accord him the same respect as vice president of Nigeria. He needs to enjoy the goods of his office now while he is still alive.”
In his remarks, Saraki urged his colleagues to ignore some errors in the proclamation made by President Buhari.
“The reason for this motion is what we should recognise. There may have been errors, but for today, let us just focus on the man of Abiola. I am not saying the other issues are right or wrong,” he said.
But citing Section 135 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremandu, said with
President Buhari’s declaration, May 29 of every four years, which has been set aside to swear in elected public officers, might be jeopardised.
“There are legal issues involved. The provisions of Section 135 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) are clear. The implication is that the president will be sworn in on the 29th of May, 2019.”
The issue also re-echoed in the House of Representatives following a motion moved by Wale Raji (APC, Lagos) in which he urged the House to commend the president for honouring Abiola and to mandate INEC to declare the full results of the June 12 , 1993 presidential election.
The motion generated heated debate and led to a rowdy session.
According to Kayode Oladele, the annulment of June 12, 1993 election was the beginning of the crisis in Nigeria.
“Had it not happened, we would not have been where we are today because Nigerians spoke without any iota of doubt that this is what we want,” he said.
But Chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privilege, Ossai Nicholas wondered why the president’s declaration came two weeks after the country observed Democracy Day on May 29. To him, the act is good, but the intention is wrong.
Edward Pwajok argued that although the Public Holidays Act empowers the president to fix a public holiday, May 29 has already be listed in the Act as Democracy Day. He stated that only an amendment to the Act could alter it.
At a point the House became rowdy, with lawmakers, who were in support of the president’s action, chanting, “MKO is our man o.”
When normalcy returned after about 35 minutes, Speaker Yakubu Dogara said in as much as the House would continue to celebrate democracy, it must ensure that whatever it does is done properly.
“There is a Schedule in the Act which lists Democracy Day as May 29. So, the issue to be resolved is to look at the presidential declaration and compare with the section of the act that states that May 29 is the Democracy Day. So, I will freeze the motion and refer the matter to the Committees on Justice and Rules and Business.”
Meanwhile, President Buhari has directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to take immediate steps to publish the Presidential Order in the Federal Gazette as follows: Chief MKO Abiola – Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (posthumous). Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe (Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger) and Chief Gani Fawehinmi – Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (posthumous).
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement said, Buhari directed that this should be done so that the awards slated for June 12 could go on as planned.
Expectedly, varied reactions have trailed the recognition of June 12 as a national Democracy Day and the award of GCFR on Abiola.
Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, in a statement by his Media Adviser, Sola Fasure, said Buhari has secured for himself an incomparable position in history for summoning the courage to take this historic step of recognising June 12 as Democracy Day and honouring Chief Abiola posthumously.
“June 12, 1993, was the day democracy was born in Nigeria. It was the day Nigerians negated all the social and political constructs that had been thought would make national unity impossible and democratic governance impossible, but Nigerians in their heterogeneity overwhelmingly voted for a candidate whose very essence was in defiance of religious, ethnic and regional categorisation,” he said.
While Prof. Ango Abdullahi, spokesman of Northern Elders Forum former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) said the president’s gesture is a plot meant to rally support ahead of next year’s presidential election, former minister of Health, Prof. ABC Nwosu, founding member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hailed the action as a bold and significant step taken to right the wrong of the past.
According to Abdullahi, though the conferment of a national honour on the late Abiola and other progressives was a welcome development, the action is politically motivated.
“Abiola deserves it long ago but the question is why is somebody just waking up now? It is a political gimmick to rally support for him (Buhari) towards 2019 election.”
However, Nwosu, said Buhari took a bold step that should be commended by Nigerians. He submitted that June 12 weighs higher in terms of relevance to the country’s democracy than May 29.
Reacting, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Niyi Akintola said the conferment of GCFR on the late Abiola was long overdue.
Akintola who spoke yesterday with Daily Sun said: “ It is a good development that is long overdue, even when it is coming from an unexpected quarters. It is really sad that previous administration under former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan could not immortalise Chief M.K.O Abiola. The truth is that you cannot wish away June 12 because without it, there will no democracy in the country today. By this action, Buhari has proven that he is a statesman who understand the feelings and yearnings of the people and I commend him for his action.”
But the Action Democratic Party (ADP) described the conferment GCFR) as a ‘Greek gift’, geared towards scoring cheap political points.
Chairman of ADP, Yabaji Sani, who spoke during the one year anniversary of the party said the action was meant to patronise a particular section of the country.
“I think we must go beyond playing politics with the future of the country. I am not saying personalities should not be honoured. We need to honour them so that others will emulate them. But it should be done in a proper way for us to know that it is altruistic reasons and not for twisted political reasons,” he said.