June 12 2019, was a happy day in Nigeria as the country celebrated democracy, more so as this was the first time that the nation would be celebrating its democracy on that date.
The country had earlier celebrated democracy on the 29th of May every year, as that was the date that the Military Administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over the baton of power to the democratically elected government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
June 12 was chosen as the new date by President Muhammadu Buhari to celebrate democracy in honour of the late MKO Abiola, who is widely thought to have come out victorious in the 1993 Presidential elections. Abiola had become an icon for democracy in the country following his imprisonment after he stood up to defend his mandate. Abiola would later die in prison.
However, the President has come under fire in some quarters for these actions as some have said that he was only being hypocritical as his actions during his first four years as President was not in tandem with the ideals of the struggle to give democracy a lifeline in 1993.
Let us consider how some powerful Nigerians seemingly with their words and actions exposed the hypocrisy of the President in his recent “show of respect” to MKO Abiola.
Atiku’s June 12 Speech
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 elections is one of the notable Nigerians who have come out to point out out some of the shortcomings of the President during his first four years in office.
Atiku had pointed out that the President has not been a good democrat as he had on a number of occasions, disrespected the rule of law while brazenly disregarding court orders. The cases of former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, and comes to mind.
The Presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar has said that it is not enough to declare June 12 as Democracy Day when the government of the day was disrespectful to the rule of law and had wantonly disregarded a number of court orders.
“June 12 is at the soul of our democratic struggle; a threshold in our national life.
“Suffice it to state that the idea of June 12 is not merely to declare it as a Democracy Day – much as celebratory and commendable it might seem.
“The idea behind the event of June 12, 1993, embodies something much bigger than that. It was a threshold moment in our national life that demands of us as Democrats to do a soul searching and ask the salient question of all time: how better off are Nigerians?
“It is not enough to declare June 12 a Democracy Day when the government of the day is disrespectful of the rule of law and wantonly disregards court orders on issues that border on fundamental human rights,” Atiku said.
Atiku further went on to explain the true importance and significance of the June 12 date, saying that, the 1993 election held on that date showed that Nigerians preferred true democracy as against a “jackboot notion of oppressive totalitarianism”.
Atiku as well stated that declaring June 12 as a public holiday was not appropriate as a huge number of Nigerian workers do not even have what to eat since Nigeria was listed as the poverty capital of the world, according to a report by the World Poverty Clock in 2018.
Another point which Atiku had raised and that had been on the front burner in recent times, touched on the moves made by the government to allegedly curtail press freedom as top media houses AIT and Ray Power were shut down recently by the NBC, albeit temporarily.
“It is not enough to declare June 12 a work-free day when freedom of the press, and of speech, fundamentals of democracy is being assailed, he said.
Atiku had condemned the shutdown of the media houses when it occurred, stating that it was an affront on press freedom in the country.
Looking at this assertion critically, Atiku may just have been right with his submission. This was because the late Chief MKO Abiola was sent to prison by General Sani Abacha for daring to speak up in a bid to reclaim his mandate. Abiola had his freedom of speech scuttled by the Military government.
Also, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria was placed on a suspension by President Buhari, a move which many had condemned saying that it was a direct attack on the Judicial arm of government which was not in tandem with the tenets of democracy. Onnoghen was later convicted by the CCT and sacked from his position as CJN by the tribunal. This touches on the fact that the fundamentals of democracy have been assailed as stated by Atiku, a clear case of what happened during the June 12 saga.
Atiku further pointed out that MKO Abiola with his HOPE campaign slogan did not set out to deceive Nigerians as he was sure to deliver, urging the current administration to deliver on its electoral promises.
“As a compatriot who stood shoulder to shoulder with the icon of the June 12 struggle, Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory, I know first-hand that the choice of HOPE as his campaign slogan wasn’t merely a populist tokenism.
“ He didn’t mean to deceive Nigerians with a hope he could not deliver upon. And, today, the minimum requirement for any June 12 convert is to demand of them wherever they may be – either in government or in private lives – to deliver on the promises they made to the people,” he said.
Former Heads of State and Presidents Shun Event
Meanwhile, it made the rounds in the media that all the former Presidents and Heads of State in the country were not in attendance at the June 12 Democracy Day event.
This may not be unconnected to the fact that some were of the opinion that the 2019 Presidential elections were flawed.
Some of the former Heads of State and Presidents had also openly given their support to the Presidential candidate of the PDP during the elections but he eventually lost out to Buhari.
Former President Obasanjo had said that the government should stop intimidating Atiku and his family members due to the fact that he is contesting the victory of Buhari at the tribunal. He said that Buhari did the same three times even when he did not have a basis for doing so.
In like manner, former President Goodluck Jonathan has shown his support for Atiku’s case at the Presidential Election Tribunal as he recently stated why Atiku had a right to contest the outcome of the general elections.
Wole Soyinka’s Criticism of Buhari
Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka had also criticised the President for praising former Head of State, General Sani Abacha even after declaring June 12 as the new democracy day.
President Buhari has been known to defend the government of Abacha on numerous occasions. It is public knowledge that it was Abacha who imprisoned Abiola for standing up for his right as the winner of the 2019 elections.
Soyinka had himself snubbed the June 12 celebration by choice, condemning the conduct of the 2019 elections.
All these and more goes to show that the President may not have been sincere in his move to honour Chief MKO Abiola, but may have done so for certain interests and to appease certain political players in the country.
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