Twenty-two years after the late Chief Moshood Abiola won the historic June 12, 1993 presidential election the man who paid the supreme price by dying as a martyr for democracy remains largely unsung. In the light of the popular yearning to give the country a new direction, what are the ways to properly recognize the late businessman and politician, Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI, asks.
Are Nigerians likely to witness a change of attitude from the Federal Government with regards to the recognition of June 12 as a unique day in the political history of the country? Would President Muhammadu Buhari honour the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the alleged financier of the coup that sent him packing 30 years ago? These are some of the questions that may agitate the minds of some discerning Nigerians, as the country marks the 22nd anniversary of the historic presidential election of June 12, 1993, when Nigerians waved aside ethnic and religious differences to vote for the late Chief MKO Abiola in the electoral contest that was annulled by the military led by the then Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, popularly known as IBB.
A United States-based Nigerian and legal practitioner, Mr. Owolabi Alaba, said if Buhari does that, he would be seen as the change that Nigerians all over the world can believe in. He said: “It would be like Mandela forgiving the apartheid regime in South Africa. If he did, Buhari will be more popular in the Southwest than any politician. It is the right thing to do. June 12 is the day Gen. Babangida fought against Nigerians and lost and had to step aside.”
Two years ago, the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration attempted to immortalize Abiola by announcing the renaming of the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University. But, in what must go down as one of the greatest ironies of Nigerian history, what should have marked the highpoint of nearly two decades of democratic struggle for the recognition of one of the most iconic symbols of Nigeria’s democratic journey was received with mixed feelings by many who had looked forward to such recognition.
Given the fact that the March 28 presidential election is widely regarded as a re-enactment of the June 12 magic and also because many of those in the vanguard for the struggle for the official recognition of June 12 and Abiola’s contribution to the present democracy are part of the new administration, the time may be auspicious to immortalize the widely acclaimed winner of the June 12 election. Like June 12, two major parties dominated the March 28 presidential election. As witnessed during the March 28 presidential election, the current de facto two-party system reduced ethnic coloration and religious sentiment, as the de jure two-party system of 1993 did.
Against this background, what would be the appropriate way to immortalize the late Abiola? One of the most recurring suggestions is that June 12 should replace May 29 as the Democracy Day. For instance, Alaba echoed that when he said: “If June 12 is confirmed at the Democracy Day, IBB will constantly remember the evil he committed with the death of Abiola. If Buhari rises above the anger and his treatment by the manipulative government of IBB and recognizes the contribution of M.K.O Abiola to the fruits of democracy he enjoys today, he would be seen as the change that Nigerians all over the world can believe in.”
For years now, seven states have declared June 12 as public holiday to accord due recognition to the 1993 presidential election. The states are: Lagos, Edo, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, and Oyo. What these states have in common is that they are states governed by governors under the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the three major political parties that metamorphosed into the All Progressives Congress (APC) about two years ago.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which until May 29, 2015 had been the ruling party at the centre since 1999, had turned deaf ears to entreaties that June 12 should replace May 29 as Democracy Day. Now that the APC has become the ruling party at the federal level, is it likely to declare June 12 a national public holiday and a day to celebrate democracy?
Beyond that, there are many other fundamental suggestions. The founding Secretary-General of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and the Convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER), Mr. Ayo Opadokun, is of the view that through the collaborative efforts of the executive and the legislature, one or two concrete steps should be taken to give the late businessman and politician a posthumous national honour and award. He said: “That is after they must have officially pronounced him as the winner of that election. They can now go to the next level of immortalising his name. For instance, there should be institution where the role of Abiola will be sufficiently crystallised.”
Civil society activist and President Nigeria Voters Assembly (VOTAS), Mashood Erubami, agrees. He said process of immortalisation of the late Chief Abiola should start from his recognition as a winner in that election by the Buhari administration because his election victory was a re-incarnation of the principle of oneness of Nigerians witnessed during the June 12, 1993 election.
In the spirit of reconciliation, Erubami wants the Buhari administration to organize a special posthumous installation ceremony where the late Abiola would be officially recognized as a former President of Nigeria. This posthumous ceremony, he said, should be organized in conjunction with the family of the late Abiola and members of the human rights and pro-democracy community that fought gallantly for the de-annulment of that election and it should be witnessed by governors of the states that constitute the Southwest and other guests from across the nation. He added that it is imperative for the event to be telecast live on television and radio.
Erubami added: “This should be followed by the inclusion of his names and photographs in the list of former Heads of State. This is because the election of President Buhari on March 28 came with big joy that the ruling political tormentors were not power drunk and driven by their unethical credentials to annul the election, it should therefore open the door for the execution of all the good tidings resident in the June 12, 1993 presidential election as it were.”
Senator Shehu Sanni, who represents Kaduna Central at the upper legislative chamber, said he will use the Senate platform to ensure that a presidential library in Abuja and a monument in the National Assembly are named after the late Chief Abiola. He said the late Abiola remains the hero of freedom and democracy and that he helped to lay the foundation for the current democratic dispensation. He added: “Without the sacrifice made by Abiola there would be no democracy in this country today. All political office holders are beneficiaries of Abiola’s sacrifice. The success of March 28 presidential elections will be better attributed to the sacrifice made by Abiola. He lived at a time when human sacrifice was very rare. It was resistance against the annulment of June 12 that gave Nigerians the inspiration to resist dictatorship and call for positive change. Buhari was one of the few northerners who called for the revalidation of Abiola’s mandate in the heat of the struggle.”
Erubami believes the best way to immortalise Chief MKO Abiola in the context of the new change mantra under President Buhari is to ensure that the principles inherent in June 12 presidential election manifest in the changes to be driven by the APC. He said until the late Abiola is immortalised, the nation will continue to grope in the dark in search of democracy “because he is the rightful symbol of democracy who taught Nigerians that politics and democracy is worth living and dying for.”
He noted that the best legacy of June 12 is the principle of oneness it introduced into Nigerian politics. He said: “The acclaimed winner of the June 12 election defeated his opponent Bashir Tofa in all constituencies across the nation, including his home constituency in Tofa Village. It was the first election in the history of Nigeria that a pair of Muslim/ Muslim Candidate from a party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) became acceptable without consideration by Nigerian electorate for race, religion and sex.
“For the first time the election represented a transition for many years of power from the North to the South and from the military to a civilian administration in the most peaceful and fair manner. Against the permutations of the military oligarchy that permitted the transition, they never believed that the election can be globally and locally adjudged as the fairest, freest and most legitimate, having been won through the popular votes of the people.”
The activist said the attempt to rename the University of Lagos after Abiola without legal backup by former President Jonathan was a mere smokescreen. He wants the new administration of President Buhari to renew efforts to assert the renaming the university, as well as the National Stadium in Abuja after him. In addition, “the suggested Centre for Democratic Studies whenever it is established and wherever it is located should also be named after him to demonstrate we have learnt from the lessons inherent in June 12,” he added.
In addition, the VOTAS President said Democracy Day must be changed from May 29 to June 12 and that the day must be declared as public holiday, to honour Abiola, just as Americans remember and appreciate Martins Luther King.
He lamented that Abiola lost his mandate, his life, his businesses and his loving wife, noting that no family in Nigeria ever lost so much for the entrenchment of democracy. He added that the posthumous award should be accompanied with cash donation and government commitment to join hands with the Abiola family to resuscitate his business empire. Erubami also wants other patriots like the late Pa Adekunle Ajasin, the late Pa Alfred Rewane, the late Pa Anthony Enahoro, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, the late Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti, the late Comrade Ola Oni, the late Comrade Chima Ubani, the late Baba Omojola to also be immortalised on the day of the posthumous award, as people who have worked and died for democracy , good living and livelihood for humanity.
But, given that President Muhammadu has so many challenges on his hands at the moment, Barrister Niyi Akintola noted that it might be too early to expect him to tackle the issue of immortalization of Abiola right now. He said: “His focus would be how to build a united nation, how to ensure that there is peace and security in the land, how to curb corruption and how to combat the lingering economic crisis in Nigeria at the moment; the country is in serious trouble now over the issue of economy. As we speak, the pounds sterling is N240 and that would have multiplier effect on our economy because we are not producing anything; whatever you import you are going to pay more in naira.”
Nevertheless, he said many areas can be exploited to immortalize Abiola, because he touched many lives in different fields of human endeavour. His words: “There is the area of sports, where he was widely acknowledged as the pillar of sports in Africa. If the National Stadium in Lagos or the one in Abuja is named after him that would not be too much.
“Former President Goodluck Jonathan got it wrong he tried to play to the gallery by attempting to rename the University of Lagos after him. He never appreciated the fact that the Yoruba are a different kettle of fish altogether. I read a statement credited to the former President, saying he doesn’t understand the Yoruba. Apparently, he doesn’t understand the psyche of the average Yoruba man; the average Yoruba man believes that you must have justice before you can be talking of peace.
“Jonathan actually wanted to reap where he did not sow. Irrespective of the fact that the late MKO Abiola was our son, we don’t believe that a national institution like the University of Lagos should be named after him. In fact, the University of Lagos was the very institution he (Abiola) himself attended; he was not the founder. Jonathan would have been applauded if he had named the National Stadium in Abuja after Abiola. There are many national institutions Abiola contributed so much in building that would have attracted the attention of any visionary leader in immortalizing the late Abiola.
For instance, Akintola said one of the democratic institutions like the National Assembly complex or the Court of Appeal complex could be named after him. He said Abiola was instrumental to bringing about the democracy that Nigerians are enjoying today. He said: “It was the struggle for the restoration of June 12 that gave birth to the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO); it was the struggle by NADECO that brought about the present democracy. So, one of the democratic institutions like the National Assembly complex could be named after him. The Court of Appeal complex could also be named after him; this is a man that went to court to challenge the annulment of his election. We had conflicting court judgments during this era. It was through the late Abiola’s efforts that the Interim Nation Government (ING) was declared illegal.”
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