President Muhammadu Buhari in a surprise move Wednesday declared June 12 Nigeria’s Democracy Day and also awarded Nigeria’s highest honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, to the late businessman Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, winner of the election held on same date in 1993.
The election, adjudged to be the freest and fairest up till that year, in Nigeria’s history was annulled by the military junta headed by Ibrahim Babangida, plunging Nigeria into a five-year political crisis. Abiola died in 1998 and General Sani Abacha, who was one of the beneficiaries of the annulment, died some weeks before him.
President Buhari said Abiola’s running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe will also be honoured with Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, the second highest honour. And so will Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the indefatigable lawyer and senior advocate who campaigned for the actualisation of June 12 up till Abiola’s death in 1998. The event will hold on June 12.
From 2019, June 12 will now replace 29 May, the day the military handed over to civilians in 1999 as Nigeria’s democracy day. And it means that the rest of Nigeria will join states in the South West to celebrate the day.
South West Nigeria since 1999 has been observing June 12 as Democracy Day but failed to convince their son, former President Olusegun Obasanjo to accord the date national recognition, when he ruled from 1999-2007
President Buhari said he decided to honour Abiola and the immortal date after consultations with Nigerians.
“In the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12, 1993 was and is far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29, or even October 1”, President Buhari said.
In a statement signed by Buhari, he said: “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 1st, 1979. But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12th, 1993, was far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29th or even the October 1.
“June 12th, 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 detract from the democratic credentials of that process.
“Accordingly, after due consultations, the Federal Government has decided that henceforth, June 12th will be celebrated as Democracy Day. Therefore, government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land,
GCFR, to late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12th 1993 cancelled elections.
“His running mate as Vice President, Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.
“Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualization 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 Democracy Day.’’
However, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore said the award of Nigeria’s highest national honour to late Moshood Abiola is illegal.
Speaking with Premium Times, Belgore, CJN from 2006-2007, said the national honours cannot be awarded posthumously, much less the GCFR, which is the highest honour in the land.
“The only thing they could do is to name a place after him, but national honours award, no,” he added.
Mr Belgore, chairman of the 2016 national honours committee, also said he “was not consulted” by the Buhari administration before the decision was taken.
Mr Belgore said under the 1963 National Honours Act, only soldiers or other servicemen could be awarded posthumous medals for their bravery.
President Buhari on Wednesday evening named Mr Abiola, winner of 1993 presidential election that was annulled by former dictator Ibrahim Babangida, a holder of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, 20 years after his death in 1998.