As Nigeria prepares to formally mark June 12 as the Democracy Day, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday assented to a bill nullifying May 29 previously set aside as a public holiday for the celebration.
The Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, told State House correspondents immediately after the signing that Buhari assented to the Public Holiday Amendment Bill to confer official recognition for June 12 as the Democracy Day.
“May 29th will only be handover date and working day. By the Act amended and signed by Mr. President, May 29 is no more a public holiday. June 12 is now a public holiday and the country’s Democracy Day,” he said.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Federal Government to go the whole hog in honouring the late Chief Moshood Abiola as the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Regional groups and prominent stakeholders in the nation’s political space said the late Abiola should be declared president posthumously and all privileges awarded accordingly.
The officials of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) led by their chairman, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), National Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin and former President of the Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, asked the Federal Government to go beyond the celebration of June 12 as the Democracy Day and public holiday. They want the late Abiola to be officially declared the winner of the historic election adjudged to be the country’s fairest since independence.
The election was annulled by the then military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), who later admitted that he was under pressure from unnamed forces in the hierarchy of military leadership to do so.
“We have welcomed the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day as a belated official admission of the importance of the June 12 event in our national life,” Afenifere scribe Odumakin told The Guardian. “It is also a reward for tenacity as believers in June 12 did not allow the matter to come to a closure until it was given its due. For standing firm and dropping his life in the battle, the place of Abiola in history has also been partly recognised.
“But it is not a complete task yet until Abiola is recognised posthumously as Nigeria’s former president with all the privileges attached. Even when the above is done, Abiola is not coming to assume his mandate and all would be symbolic,” Odumakin said.
“The greatest honour to do him, therefore, is to declare June 12 Abiola day and imbibe the free and fair spirit of June 12 in our electoral conduct. It would amount to a mockery of June if we continue to use a democratic event to celebrate rigged elections.”
Uwazurike, a lawyer and former leader of the pan-Igbo group, Aka Ikenga, said: “Granted that Buhari needed to win over the Yoruba voters, common sense should have been applied by the government in the outcome of its activities. June 12 without declaring Abiola as president-elect is merely massaging a surgical case.”
Addressing a press conference in Lagos to mark the 25th anniversary of June 12 yesterday, leaders of NADECO, including Kanu; National Secretary, Ayo Opadokun; chieftain of APC, Dr. Amos Akingba; Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd); and Mr. Fred Agbeyegbe, rejected any attempt by the incumbent government to falsely present Abiola as a regional hero or icon.
The coalition also urged that the late Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, the heroine of June 12 struggle, be given national honour for her martyrdom in the quest for revalidating her husband’s mandate and for the restoration of democratic governance.
In the text presented by Opadokun, the coalition also demanded Nigeria should be returned to true federalism based on the 1960 Independence Constitution.
“NADECO has urged President Buhari and the ruling APC to go beyond merely recognising June 12 as Democracy Day but to also formerly inaugurate post- humously Bashorun MKO Abiola as president.”
The coalition said it believed that by restoring the concurrent list of items of the 1960 Independence Constitution to the states along with the concomitant resources to execute those responsibilities, genuine development could be better pursued throughout Nigeria.
“The 1960 Independence Constitution upon which Nigeria secured its independence based on several negotiations should be the working paper for the consideration, discussion and resolution of a representative assembly mainly of the ethnic nationalities which were the building blocks upon which Nigeria was constructed,” Opadokun said.
The coalition also said Buhari should take an immediate and bold decision to invite credible ethnic leaders elected through their cultural modalities of choosing representation, not composed of government nominees, to dialogue.
“Further delay in summoning this gathering of ethnic nationalities on equal number of representatives is dangerous and provocative to those who have had to bear the brunt and agony of underserved mistreatment by ‘pretending owners’, thereby further endangering this unworkable Nigerian project.”
The coalition also condemned the current inefficient security architecture, which it claimed had resulted in various acts of criminality, including kidnapping, forceful displacement of natives from their land through elimination and subjugation by unlicensed armed herdsmen thereby making farmers to restrain themselves from going to their farmland, as well as cattle rustling in the process by aggrieved land owners in many parts of Nigeria without any impactful state intervention must be halted immediately.
Mr. Tunde Rahman, the media adviser to the National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, said the issue of declaring Abiola president posthumously was at the discretion of the Federal Government.
He said since the government had conferred the highest honour on Abiola, “it is also at its discretion to take further action.”
Similarly, a founding member of the APC, Chief Segun Osoba, described the call as “unnecessary.”
He said: “We don’t need that anymore, having given him GCFR, which is only conferred on presidents; it is automatically a recognition, otherwise, it would be an exercise in futility. Abiola is gone. Are we going to swear him in or who are we going to hang the symbol of office to? The acceptance and awarding the GCFR to him is a recognition that he passed through and was a president of this nation.”