The celebration of the country’s Democracy Day was climaxed with a speech by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday at the Eagle Square, Abuja.
Amidst world leaders and Nigerians from all spheres, the President capped the celebration with the renaming of the Abuja National Stadium after the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
The president said correcting injustice was a pre-requisite for peace and unity.
“As part of the process of healing and reconciliation, I approved the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day and invested the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe with National Honours, as I did with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
“The purpose was to partially atone for the previous damage done in annulling the Presidential elections of that year. Today, I propose the re-naming of the Abuja National Stadium. Henceforth it will be called Moshood Abiola National Stadium,” he said.
Sequel to the President’s speech, Daily Trust on Sunday spoke with a cross section of activists who participated in the struggle for the actualization of June 12.
Joe Igbokwe, the Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the All Progressive Congress (APC) was among the social activists who were at the frontline of reclaiming June 12 Presidential election mandate of late MKO Abiola. He said Abiola lost heavily to the June 12 struggle.
Recalling the days of the struggle, Igbokwe said: “The man (MKO Abiola) who won the election and his family became the worst losers. He lost the mandate given to him by 14 million Nigerians. He lost his life, wife and his businesses. Concord Newspapers and Magazine went down. Concord Airlines went down; Abiola Bookshops went down, Abiola Farms, Abiola Bakery, ITT, Real Estate and a host of other companies died with him. His wives and numerous children were left almost with nothing in the last 26 years. The center could no longer hold in the family. They lived with the pains of losing everything their father had. They suffered neglect and relegation. The world crashed on them. It was worse.”
On the new democracy day Igbokwe noted that for more than 20 years, governments came and went but none remembered the sacrifices Abiola made and the grave injustice meted out to him and his family.
“President Buhari deserves a trillion thanks for being the instrument God is using mightily to wipe away tears from the eyes of the abused and deprived Nigerians. We thank him for working so hard to immortalize Chief MKO Abiola and June 12 historic event. We thank him for officially making June 12 the real democracy day in Nigeria. To President Buhari, it is time to go the whole hog by making the result of June 12, 1993 official. Declare Chief MKO Abiola the winner and from today let Abiola’s family get all the benefits due to former Heads of State. Nigeria loses nothing by so doing rather there will be unspeakable joy, full of glories in the land. Name Monuments after him get a committee to compute what Chief Abiola and the family lost in terms of everything and the Federal Government should pick the bill”, he said.
The Chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group and former Chief of Whip of the House of Representatives, Wale Osun described the recognition of June 12 by President Muhammadu Buhari as laudable.
Recalling his role in the struggle, Ogun said: “I was the Chief Whip then in the House of Representatives and we commenced the struggle from within the National Assembly. In fact, IBB was determined to get the House’s nod to stay beyond the August 27, 1993 which he had set to leave at that time. And he wanted a resolution from the National Assembly asking him to stay. So, the struggle started from ensuring that such a resolution was never passed in the House.
“I was a victim in a way because I spent sometimes in Ikoyi prison. The whole of 1995 from May, I was in Ikoyi prison. I was probably released because of the pressure from the Commonwealth Secretary in the United Kingdom who had earlier challenged that they were the ones encouraging General Babangida in committing various acts of illegalities that were perpetrated. I think they mounted the pressure to force my release,” he said.
He, however, said the country still has to be structured to make democratization process much more efficient, much more effective while the Federal Government should focus more on the governance rather than politics.
An Ibadan based human rights lawyer, Femi Aborisade described June recognition as a welcome development, saying it would remain tokenistic if the programme upon which June 12 was predicated.
Recalling the role he played in the June 12 struggle, Aborisade said: “I was part of the mass movement from the beginning and I must say very frankly, many of us were opposed to the military transition programme. But on the basis that the June 12 presidential election was acclaimed to be fairest in the history of this country, the pro-democracy movements saw that as an opportunity to push the military out of power, it is on that basis that we got involved.
In February 1996, three of us were arrested – the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana and I. We were campaigning and mobilizing Nigerians against the local government election that was going to be organized on a non-party basis. That was to keep on the pressure on the actualization of June 12. We were not released until December that year. We were kept out of circulation in that year for 10 months.”
On agitations by some people that President Buhari should declare the results of June 12 he said: “The result is already known. If the government does so, it’s a formal declaration. The measure which government has taken is in recognition of the fact that he won the election. So, if there is no official acceptance that he won the election, June 12 would not have been declared Democracy Day as well as public holiday.”
Journalist and former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Ogun State, Dr Niran Malaolu the June 12 debacle arose because certain people in this nation had power and believed they were God.
“I thank the Federal Government for recognizing June 12 as Democracy Day, but there would be no dividends of democracy until we are totally free. Until there is no more insecurity, until there is job for everybody, until they have made local government areas to function. The reason we have all these problems today is because local governments are not functioning,” he said.
The President of the Nigeria Voters Assembly (VOTAS) and Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Ethics in Development (CHRED), Comrade Mashood Erubami, told Daily Trust on Sunday that June 12 was more than an election experience.
“I sincerely played the role of an activist and pro-democracy change agent who remains committed to deliberative democracy, credible elections like June 12 election which was free and fair. Free from fear and legitimate from what the late Chief MKO Abiola was seen to have won on the popular votes of the people and also the entrenchment of legislature that was truly a key institution of government from which the genuine aspirations of the people can be expressed,” he said.
On the lessons of June 12, he said: “One, it teaches that what is worth living for is worth dying for. Also that however long we suffer injustice, justice will prevail one day. That Nigerian can live in peace and in unity if the runners of our country will stop playing on ethnic and religious bigotry as rejected by the people on June 12, 19993. There is also the lesson that the law of karma starts from this life and thereafter. Most of those who participated in the annulment of June 12 are either living dead or lying at home for their nefarious actions against the date.”
He describe the renaming of the Abuja national stadium after the late Chief Abiola as the greatest icing on the cake of the June 12 recognition, and a further genuine gesture from President Muhammadu Buhari that the hope of securing justice from all angles of governance is foreseeable.