June 12 Democracy Day: What’s the fate of May 29?

This year makes it exactly 26 years that the June 12 presidential election, which was adjudged the most credible poll in Nigeria, was annulled by former military president Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd.). In this report, TOPE SUNDAY and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU take a look at the honour bestowed on the acclaimed winner of the election, the late Chief MKO Abiola, by President Muhammadu Buhari and the controversies trailing the declaration of the Day as the nation’s new Democracy Day as well as the fate of May 29 which, hitherto, was observed as such.

Exactly 26 years after the supposed mandate given to the late Moshood Olawale Abiola (MKO) was stolen away from him by the military junta led by General Ibrahim Babangida, President Muhammadu Buhari aside from announcing June 12 as the new Democracy Day, is ready to walk the talk. To this end, by Wednesday, June 12, 2019, barely four days from today, the day will be officially celebrated as the new democracy day in Nigeria.

The June 12 history

On June 12, 1993, after many years of military rule in Nigeria, an election was conducted, and the late MKO Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Torfa, were the two contestants in the poll, which was adjudged the best, freest and fairest in the annals of the Nigeria’s political history. While the former was the presidential candidate of the Social Democracy Party (SDP), the latter was of the National Republican Convention (NRC).  The election, according to the available results, was won by MKO, but was annulled by Gen. Babangida.

Explaining why it was annulled, Babangida said, “We did well that we wanted ours to be the last military coup d’état. To be honest with you, the situation was not ripe to hand over at the time.  

“Forget about the wrong things that happened in politics. The issue of security of the nation was a threat and we would have considered ourselves to have failed if six months after hand-over, there was another coup. I went through coup d’état and I survived it. We knew that there would be another coup d’état.

“But not many people believed what we said. They could have allowed me to go away and then they (coup plotters) would regroup and stage another coup. This is how coups are staged – one man will always come to complain. And he will try to convince you about his complaints. When there are two things, you have an option – this or that or nothing. We tried to regulate the number of political parties. We knew what to do.”

MKO’s declaration, detention, death and PMB’ honour

Surprisingly, MKO Abiola declared himself winner in his June 11 popular Epetedo Declaration, when he said: “Our patience has come to an end. As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief. The National Assembly is hereby reconvened. All dismissed governors are reinstated.

“The state assemblies are reconstituted, as are all local government councils. I urge them to adopt a bi-partisan approach to all the issues that come before them. At the national level, a bi-partisan approach will be our guiding principle. I call upon the usurper, General Sani Abacha, to announce his resignation forthwith, together with the rest of his illegal ruling council.”

Consequently, he was arrested, detained and eventually died on July 7, 1998. Since his death, many Nigerians have continued to agitate for the declaration of June 12 as the Nigeria’s Democracy Day to honour him. All that fell on deaf ears, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo, MKO’s kinsman, declared May 29 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. Notably, May 29 from 1999 to 2019 was marked as Democracy Day.

However, President Muhammadu Buhari, on June 12, 2018, honoured the late MKO with the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) and also declared June 12 as the Democracy Day.

President Buhari had said, “June 12th, 1993, was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since our Independence.”

The Senate sometime in May 2019 passed the Public Holiday Act Amendment Bill to recognise June 12 as the new Democracy Day. The passage followed the adoption of a report by Senator Ahmad Lawan, the majority leader, for the Senate to concur with the House.  

One year after declaration, PMB walking the talk

The promise made by President Buhari was in May, this year, reechoed by the immediate past Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, when he said the president’s inauguration for a second term on May 29, 2019, would be low-key.

This, he said, was to celebrate the June 12 as the new Democracy Day in Nigeria. President Buhari further demonstrated his commitment to the observation of the new Democracy Day as he declined to make any speech on May 29, when he was officially sworn in for the second term, the action which was greeted with wider criticisms.

The ex-information minister while briefing the media on the June 12 chosen date as new Democracy Day, said, “Since the first observance of June 12 as Democracy Day falls into an election year, and as a measure to sustain June 12 as Democracy Day, the celebration of the inauguration and the advancement of democracy in the country will now take place on June 12.”

Also, the federal government in display of its readiness to have a hitch-free Democracy Day celebration on June 12, said all is now set for the Day.  

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, who inspected the facilities at Eagle Square, Abuja, the venue of the celebration, Thursday, expressed satisfaction with the level of the preparations for the June 12 Democracy Day.  

“Preparation is going on very well and we are confident that we will be able to put a befitting Democracy Day. It is going to be interplay of our culture, military parade and eventually, the climax will be the new Democracy Day broadcast by the president.  I believe that Nigerians are expectant and they will not be disappointed,” he said.  

The controversy, the status of May 29

Surprisingly, despite the declaration by the President Buhari and the acknowledgement by the national assembly through the Public Holiday Act Amendment Bill to recognise June 12 as the new Democracy Day, Nigerians and even the federal government were thrown into confusion as to what to do on May 29 and June 12.

In preparation for this year’s May 29, and in an attempt to enlighten the public and defend the government, the former information minister, Lai, said, “On the issue of public holiday, I believe that 29th May is public holiday. Of course, June 12, you can see the National Assembly; the National Assembly has also proclaimed it a national holiday.”

He added, “Activities leading to the inauguration of Mr President officially kick off today (May 13) with this media conference and will be followed on Tuesday by the commencement of a three-day National Youth Entrepreneurship Empowerment Summit.”

To some Nigerians, the president had not breached any law, while to others, he had committed a very grievous political error.

For the former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ikere- Ekiti Branch, Mr. Bunmi Olugbade, Buhari had not breached the statutes since he was in concurrence with the National Assembly on the matter, arguing that there would have been a breach if the president had unilaterally shifted the inauguration date to June 12 without the input of the National Assembly.

The former NBA boss averred that going by the arrangement, the handing over was done on May 29, while the ceremony will be performed on June 12, which he said was in line with the law.

“Going by the constitution, any national day that would attract proclamation of holidays should be made by an Act of Parliament. Since the June 12 would now require the federal government declaring public holiday, then both the executive and the legislature must play their roles.

“Don’t forget that President Buhari began the process in 2018, and he said the proposal will take effect from 2019. Just recently, the two chambers of the National Assembly adopted the day as Democracy Day, which signaled that both the legislature and executive are in concurrence. President Buhari had satisfied the provisions of the law and due process had been complied with,” he said.

Aligning with Olugbade’s position, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Barrister Adetunji Adeyeye, said it is the right step in the right direction by the APC government.

Adeyeye, who also contested to represent AMAC/Bwari constituency Federal Constituency in the 2019 general elections, said the development will assuage many Nigerians who feel aggrieved about the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by MKO Abiola by the Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babandiga military government.

He said, “Recognising June 12 as the new Democracy Day is indeed epochal and therapeutic for our political journey and history. It gives a fair sense of justice to the death of our heroes of democracy, like late Chief MKO Abiola, his wife Kudirat and a host of others.

“This open acknowledgment of June 12 by the government of President Buhari is commendable and forms part of the right steps necessary for a robust national dialogue for unity, reconciliation and determination of our political destiny as a nation going forward. Moreover, it is critical in addressing the injustices and angst of the stolen mandate and the total disenfranchisement of Nigerians at the freest and fairest election to date in Nigeria.”

But Kaduna-based lawyer, Maxwell Kyon, sees the whole concept of having separate inauguration and Democracy Day as an unnecessary duplication and waste of time and resources.

He said: “It is very strange for us to have a day as Democracy Day and another day for swearing in. I think this is unnecessary duplicity. I know that a lot of people have emotional attachment to June 12. It makes a lot of sense because Nigerians tend to agree that for the first time in our history, we came out as one on June 12, 1993, and voted in an election that we believed was the freest, fairest and most credible election in the country.

“My take is this; of course, it will be a bit problematic for us to have a situation where a president is sworn in on May 29, while we wait for June 12. If we feel that there is a fundamental need for us to have a complete change in terms of the day, the President is sworn-in or what day should be Democracy Day, we should be able to decide on a day that both events could be held; instead of swearing in the president on May 29 and celebrating Democracy on June 12. This is unnecessary.

“If the consensus is that June 12, considering its place in our history, it is more apt to be our Democracy Day, we could simply amend the constitution and select a day that we swear in the President and celebrate Democracy Day at the same time. I think that will make more sense than for us to have swearing in on May 29 and celebrating Democracy Day on June 12. This is highly unnecessary.”

Name Abiola president, Kudirat First Lady – Odumakin

The president of Women Arise for Change Initiative, Joe Okei-Odumakin,  has asked the federal government to honour the late Moshood Kashmawo Abiola (MKO) as a former president and name late Kudirat Abiola as an ex-first lady.

Odumakin, who made the demand at the remembrance of the late Kudirat who was allegedly assassinated 23 years ago, insisted that Kudirat must be recognised for her struggle to make Nigeria a better place.

Okei-Odumakin also asked for a conclusive trial of those arrested in connection with the murder of Kudirat and bemoaned the level of insecurity in the country.

“The Nigerian government should posthumously declare Chief MKO Abiola as a past president, with his portrait hung everywhere and all his entitlements paid.

They should gazette the result of the June 12 election; all that must be done in ensuring the Nigeria MKO Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, and several others died for. Their death should not be in vain,” she said.

However, an Abuja-based lawyer, Barrister Wasiu Ajiboye, said both the May 29 and June 12 have been gazetted as national holidays, stating that any law gazetted is binding on all Nigerians.

Ajiboye, who is a former aspirant for the Offa/Oyun/Ifelodun federal constituency, argued that the May 29 should be jettisoned as the hand-over for the June 12, which is now the Democracy Day in Nigeria.

“As it stands, both the May 29 and June 12 have been gazetted as public holidays in Nigeria. We have state and federal laws and in the case of Lagos state, June 12 had been long ago gazetted as one of the public holidays being observed in the state.

“In Nigeria now, we have many holidays and the latest is the declaration of the June 12 as the Democracy Day and the date will be also declared as holiday. In my opinion, since the May 29 is the swearing in and handing over date in Nigeria and June is the new Democracy Day, I will recommend that May 29 be jettisoned in order to reduce the number of the holidays we have in Nigeria.”

Constitutional lawyer explains

In a remark, a constitutional lawyer, Barrister Ralph Agam, said May 29 remains the inauguration date, while June 12 will now be marked as Democracy Day.

He said, “June 12 is Democracy Day, it is a day set aside to commemorate the return of the nation to democracy. It is to recognise some people’s contribution towards entrenching democracy. As it is now 29th of May is the date of inauguration, it is no longer Democracy Day. So, it is the Democracy Day, as proclaimed by the government, which the law gives the federal government the power to proclaim.  

“I don’t see any wrong about that; it is just the economic aspect of it because we are shutting down the nation to mark these two days. It would have been for one day if these two things are celebrated in one day. But government in its wisdom and because of the agitation of the people decided that, let now proclaimed June 12 as Democracy Day, while May 29 remains as inauguration day.”

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