President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday directed that the nation’s Democracy Day will, henceforth, hold on June 12 of every year as against the current arrangement where the ceremony holds on May 29.
Buhari also resolved to honour the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola, with the highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic.
The President disclosed these in a statement he personally signed and made available to journalists.
He said he reached the decisions after due consultations.
Apart from Abiola, Buhari said he would also honour his running mate, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, and the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, with the second highest national honour, the Grand Commander of the Niger.
He said their investiture would take place on June 12.
The statement read, “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 21, 1979.
“But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12, 1993 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even the October 1.
“June 12, 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 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day.
“Therefore, the government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 cancelled elections.
“His running mate as Vice President, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.
“Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualisation 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’s Democracy Day.”
The late Abiola died in detention while struggling to actualise his mandate as contained in the annulled election.
Afenifere hails decision
The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, hailed the declaration of June 12 as a national Democracy Day, noting that this was what it had been clamouring for over the years.
The group urged the Federal Government to go a step further by recognising the late Abiola as a former elected President of Nigeria.
Afenifere’s spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, stated that the government should demonstrate that its decision was not a political gimmick by ensuring that “the spirit of June 12 prevails” in the forthcoming elections.
He added, “Though the GCON is the highest honour in the land, we want Abiola to be formally recognised as a former elected President of Nigeria.
“It is true that this decision is coming on the heels of another election in February 2019, the true test to demonstrate this is not a gimmick is to allow the spirit of June 12 to prevail in February in terms of free and fair elections where people can freely elect their leaders like it happened on June 12.”
Asked if he believed the decision was meant to buy popular political support, Odumakin noted, “That’s why I said another election season is here and promises and decisions made in an election year are subject to different interpretations, but, like I said, we accept it.”
Buhari’s move commendable – Okurounmu
In his reaction, Senator Femi Okurounmu, a former Secretary-General of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, said the move by the President was highly commendable.
Okurounmu, who represented Ogun-Central Senatorial District from 1999 to 2003, said the move had also put former President Olusegun Obasanjo to shame.
The Afenifere chieftain said all pleas to Obasanjo to honour MKO Abiola and declare June 12 a public holiday during his eight-year tenure were ignored.
He, however, said the Yoruba people should not be carried away by Buhari’s announcement given its timing, which is barely eight months to the Presidential election.
Okurounmu said, “It is a commendable act, and we appreciate him for that. Recognising the late MKO as the real winner of that election is long overdue. For us, June 12 had always been the authentic Democracy Day. May 29 was an insult to the Yoruba people. It was a mockery of the Yoruba.
“We appreciate him for honouring Abiola but we must not fall into any trap. Buhari is desperate for Yoruba votes. He knows he has lost the South-West and that is why he is doing this. This was how he lured us in 2015 with the help of Bola Tinubu. We must not fall a second time.
We are grateful to President Buhari – Ogun
In a statement signed on Wednesday night by the Secretary to the Ogun State Government, Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa, the state said, “We are grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari for this recognition of an illustrious son of Ogun State and an icon of our democratic struggle, Chief MKO Abiola.
“President Buhari has shown with this action that he is a man that believes in justice and giving to every person his or her dues.
“Although this posthumous award may appear to some people to have come late, we thank the President. We urge all lovers of democracy and goodwill to continue to support the ideals for which Chief MKO Abiola lived and died for.”