The best thing to have happened to Nigeria in her 19 years of democratic dispensation is the proclamation of June 12 as a public holiday by President Muhammadu Buhari, to commemorate Chief MKO Abiola for the supreme price he and many other Nigerians paid in the struggle to entrench democracy and civil rule as a norm in our country.
The election that was generally acclaimed to be the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s contemporary history was annulled by the military regime. With nostalgia, one recalls that this particular election survived all the barriers of our fault lines as a nation. The dimension of the conspiracy against the June 12, 1993 presidential election was greater than the self-styled evil genius, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, whose military regime “arrested” the result and thereby created a political impasse unprecedented in our political history.
Therefore, the declaration is highly commendable not only because it has come as a response to the yearnings of a majority of Nigerians but also because it is a monumental step to heal the wounds of injustice and historical perfidy inflicted on the Nigerian masses. Successive administrations since 1999 would never touch the June 12 debacle with the longest stick, for reasons best known to them. Not even a minute silence was ever observed to honour the martyrs of the struggle! Most appalling and disgusting was the unmerited recognition that was accorded the man who received the stolen mandate, Chief Ernest Shonekan, freely given by Nigerians to Chief Abiola by accommodating him in the National Council of State, despite a valid court ruling declaring his administration illegal!
June 12With this declaration, President Buhari has scored another point to prove himself as a true born-again democrat; one with with a sense of justice to correct the perverted history of Nigeria’s Republics by recognising the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. By this deft political move, Buhari has removed the odious tag of “ill-fated” usually associated with Nigeria’s Third Republic by scholars of politics and history.
Ipso facto, it has sent the right signals to the conspirators against the historic (June 12, 1993) election that it is time for them to repent in the interest of national integration. They should seek the face of God for their perfidious act rather than clutch at the straws of legal or constitutional technicalities to discount the value of President Buhari’s landmark decision. The President’s declaration has also laid to rest the notion by some people who tried to reduce the horizon of the June 12 election to only a South-West affair despite the overwhelming evidence of its national significance.
In this regard, it would not be out of place to advise President Buhari to change the national holiday from “Democracy Day” to MKO Abiola Day, to be in accord with international best practices. In the US, for instance, Columbus Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day are celebrated. The first is to honour the man who “discovered” America while the latter was to celebrate the civil rights activist against racism. In addition, Mandela Day is celebrated in South Africa and is concurrently recognised by the United Nations in honour of Nelson Mandela’s struggle against apartheid. The Muslim and Christian world celebrate the birthday of the two Holy Prophets in recognition of their contributions to the development of religion. I submit that gazetting Democracy Day as MKO Abiola Day in our statutes is more symbolic than inscribing his name on any of our currency or naming a university after him. By this, we would have complied with the strand in our National Anthem that ‘The Labour of Our Heroes Past Shall Never Be in Vain’, thereby inculcating the spirit of patriotism in Nigerians, especially the not-too-young-to-run generation!
Also, this is a step towards getting the Nigerian State on the right path to greatness. There cannot be peace in the absence of justice while development takes flight in a society without peace. President Buhari should move a step further to earn the additional glory of being the Nigerian leader to restructure the polity. Advocacy for restructuring has become a recurring decimal as a by-product of “June 12” annulment. It is time to sum up the political will and patriotism to address it.
- Abdul-Rahoof Ibn Bello is of the Department of Political Science, National Open University of Nigeria. [email protected]