After about 25 years in the public space in Nigeria as a major political issue, not many people expected anything radically different from the trend of discussion concerning the epic presidential election of 1993 and its fallouts which have, infact, been heavily tampered by the passage of time. However, President Muhammadu Buhari got the country into a frenzy with a profound and far-reaching statement on Wednesday, June 6, 2018 that altered the tone of discussion in the subject matter.
In a statement he personally released to the public, President Buhari said: “In the view of Nigerians, as shared by the administration, June 12, 1993, was and is far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29, or even October 1”. He therefore went on to disclose that: “I am delighted to announce that, after due consultations, the federal government had decided that henceforth, June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day”.
While by the presidential proclamation, the president supplanted May 29, inaugurated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 and celebrated as Democracy Day since then, he also (un)officially declared the late M.K.O Abiola as winner of the 1993 presidential contest and only fell short of proclaiming him as former head of state with the posthumous award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR.
As expected, Nigerians from all walks of life have since not stopped talking. While some have hailed the action of the president on the matter, others have queried his sincerity of purpose. Those who give thumbs up to the president commend him for summoning the courage to bring closure to an issue that has haunted the nation and dogged every political development for about two and a half decades. They see him as one who means well for political development as well as the entrenchment of democracy in the country.
However, those who hold a contrary opinion accuse the president of playing to the gallery and motivated by desire to reap electoral benefits more than any other consideration. To buttress their position they question the democratic credentials of the president and quickly point out the fact that no notable statement of condemnation of the pervertion of the people’s will and the injustice meted out to the people’s choice is traceable to him in all these years. Indeed, there are those who have expressed differing opinions on June 12 as Democracy Day and the post humous conferment of GCFR on Chief Abiola.
Public affairs analyst, Fola Ojo was more excited by the honour done the late politician, praising President Buhari for doing what was just and condemning his predecessors for not being able to rise to the occasion when they had the opportunity.
According to him, “History records it on this day what others couldn’t do, Buhari has done. What Abiola’s kinsman, President Olusegun Obasanjo hated to do, Buhari has done. What Umaru Yar’Adua couldn’t do, this president had done. What Goodluck Jonathan attempted to do and was resisted by the powers that be, this retired General from Daura has done. He has done what is right and just”.
Mr Ojo however acknowledged that those who do not agree with the president were well within their rights and have their good reasons for their position, adding that Buhari was no longer a soldier and therefore should be permitted to play politics, being a politician now.
“Politicians play politics. That’s their craft. Buhari is a politician, not an Imam and no longer a soldier. He must play politics. What is important to many is that he just did what is honourable with the honour conferred on Abiola”, he said.
On his part, the opponent of Chief M.K.O Abiola and candidate of the National Republican Convention, NRC, in the famous 1993 presidential election, Alhaji Basir Tofa says he is neither impressed nor excited by the proclamations of President Buhari.
Expressing reservations on the president’s move, Alhaji Tofa is reported to have said: “While I do not begrudge the president his power to bestow favour on whomsoever he pleases, it is also important, especially for history, for all actions from the highest authority in the country to be based on fair play and law”.
On the adoption of June 12 as the new date to celebrate democracy in Nigeria, the retired politician said: “whatever may be the prevailing sentiment and politics in Abuja, the idea that June 12 should be the new Democracy Day is also a matter that deserves serious reconsideration. Such decisions should be beyond some political cold calculations”.
Speaking with The Tide in Port Harcourt on the subject matter and the position of President Muhammadu Buhari in advancing democracy in the country with his declaration, a university lecturer, Dr Emmanuel Wonah and a public affairs commentator, Andy Akpotiveh expressed the view that the president needs to do a lot more to be taken seriously by Nigerians with regard to his efforts at advancing the frontiers of democracy as he would love to be seen to be doing.
While acknowledging that the president’s pronouncements on June 12 and late Abiola were a “master stroke” and advice well heeded to, Akpotiveh said they were grossly in sufficient to elevate President Buhari to the pedestal of a champion of democracy.
“Nobody can say that by doing this alone, Buhari has suddenly transmitted from what he is to being a champion of democracy. Indeed, he took good advice given the fact that he attempted to write the bad in history and to rewrite it for people to understand that there was humongous injustice that was done to the people of Nigeria and the family of Abiola and to the active democratic players of the time,” he said, adding: “the fact that he listened to those people indeed is the reason why I say that it’s a master stroke”.
However, Mr Akpotiveh noted that it was regrettable that there were huge gaps left by the president in his transformation process to being a democratic leader. According to him, “all of the things that are the appurtenances of democratic practice everywhere else in the world, I don’t think that the current president has tried to highlight those things in his administration”.
“For me, the day I will say that the current president is now a leading, touching democratic person is the day he begins to respect everything about democracy; he begins to respect freedom to associate, freedom to speak; he begins to respect people’s interest; he begins to respect court judgements; he begins to respect all the institutions of democracy. When I see President Buhari demonstrate these things, then I can say that indeed he is a changed person. But for just what he has done, it is not sufficient for anybody who is rational, anybody who is thinking, anybody who was around in 1993 to say that Buhari is now a democratic person,” he argued.
Speaking in the same vein, Dr Emmanuel Wonah, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Administrative Studies, University of Port Harcourt, said he didn’t see any remarkable correlation between Nigeria’s democratic aspirations and the pronouncements regarding a shift in date for the commemoration of democracy.
“I don’t think that has any remarkable impact on the fact that we want to be democratic as a people, he said, insisting that “the fact that you shifted Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 doesn’t make the difference.
According to Dr Wonah, what was important and desirable was the strengthening of democratic institutions and the entrenchment of democratic culture that will ensure responsive and responsible governance and a vibrant and stable polity that will engender economic growth and development to the people.
“What is important to us as a people is that we should begin to see how we can strengthen democratic institutions and imbibe democratic culture and demonstrate same at every facet of the Nigerian society,” he emphasised.
Describing the president’s move as mere window dressing, the university teacher said the starting point of testing the sincerity of President Buhari’s claim to democratic ideals will be his approach to and actual performance in ensuring free, fair and credible general elections in 2019. He said that is the only way for the president to validate everything June 12 stands for in Nigeria and to demonstrate beyond words to the world that he has indeed taken off the democratic block.
“First of all, we want to see that come 2019, Nigeria should have another free, fair and credible elections. That will give him (Buhari) kudos that during his administration we had this kind of election. That is the starting point for us to say “well, election under your watch was free and fair. That for me, is very important,” he said.
The first time June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day in Nigeria will be in 2019, a few months after another general elections and just days after the inauguration of a democratic administration. The burden President Muhammadu Buhari bears as a result of his recent declaration concerning June 12, is to re-enact the 1993 experience and make it stand for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians. Anything less will make a mockery of all that has been said and done.