Today, June 12, 2020, is being observed all over the country as Democracy Day. It is the third commemoration of the day, declared by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018. The day has supplanted May 29 as the Democracy Day to mark the handing over of the reins of power to a democratically elected government on May 29, 1999.
In the view of Nigerians, as shared by the Buhari administration, June 12, 1993 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even October 1.
It is also a public holiday. Its recognition has markeda watershed in the nation’s political peregrinations. The June 12 Presidential Election held in 1993 was adjudged Nigeria’s fairest and freest democratic endeavourand has remained a reference point for a quarter of a century.
Sadly though, the exercise was declared inconclusive and eventually annulled by the military junta on whimsical and unconvincing grounds. It has also gone down in history as the most vicious rape of democratic process… a progression that was devoid of the usual violence from the electioneering stage to the point of releasing results. In recognising the day on May 29, 2018, the federal government tendered a public apologyto the family ofChief MoshoodKashimawoAbiola (popularly referred to as MKO), the presumed winner of that election. That went a long way to assuage the anger of Nigerians, who, for once, demonstrated that they could rise above ethnic, religious and regional sentiments to vote for credible candidates of their choice.
Indeed, the Nigerian electorate made the nation proud by buryingtheir primordial differences and uniting to queue behind a Muslim-Muslim ticket as the president and vice-president. It was a democratic process at its best but was rubbished by some anti-democratic forces within and outside the military system.Consequently, it has not been well with the country in subsequent elections till this moment.
The conferment of the country’s highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic(GCFR) on the late Chief Abiola as well as the award of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger(GCON), Nigeria’s second highest honour to his running mate in that election, Ambassador BabaganaKingibe, were also seen as the soothing balm on the wounds that had festered for more than25 years.
That the federal government equally deemed it fit to accord due recognition and honour to human rights activists like the late legal giant, Chief GaniFawehinmi, and Femi Falana among others clearly demonstrated government’s sincerity and well-thought-out intention to realign the nation on a truly democratic path, restore and build confidence in democratic institutions especially those charged with electoral processes.
It demonstrated the political will to champion the supremacy of the rule of law, freedom of choice and association and the right of the voters to freely elect whosoever they deem capable and eminently qualified to pilot the affairs of the state and deliver the dividends of democracy guided by the principles of fair play, equity and justice.
Worthy of note is this quotation by Mr. President: “June 12, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in their millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful election since our independence. The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process”.
Be that as it may, Nigerians would wish that the federal government applied the sameverve, foresight, courage, determination and commitment in tackling other disturbing security and socio-economic challenges confronting the nation. After all, the primary responsibility of the government is to ensure adequate protection of lives and properties of its citizens, create and facilitate an environment conducive for socio-economic activities which are a sine qua non for growth and development of the nation.
Today, Nigerians don’t feel safe anymore even in the comfort of their homes. Armed bandits, kidnappers, unknown gunmen masquerading as herdsmen, centrifugal forces rooting for the break-up of the country, unemployment, starvation and poverty have all conspired to make life meaningless to the average Nigerian, so much that the commemoration of this historic day retreats into insignificance coupled with the protest threats from different quarters.
Twenty-two years of uninterrupted democratic rule ought to be celebrated with fanfares rather than tinging it with protest of any form in the true spirit of June 12, and most especially when viewed against the backdrop of decades of military adventurism the nation had had to pass through from 1966 when the first civilian government was violently overthrown.
Keeping democracy on its tracks underpins the belief in many quarters that the worst civilian government is better than the best military regime. But this should not be an excuse for the political class to take the masses for granted. The nation could fare better given the abundant resources at its disposal. Unfortunately, our riches are cornered by a tiny clique of rapacious and corruption-resistant criminals.
To all intents and purposes, June 12 remains a coup de grace on all anti-June 12 forces. The celebration of the day also willserve as a constant reminder, even on an annual basis, to ensure that we continue to re-enact its spirit by enthroning free and fair elections, devoid of violence, rigging as well as ethnic and regional and religious sentiments.And as succinctly put by political watchers, the injustice done to June 12 would continue to haunt our democratic endeavours so long as the will of the majority of the people is subverted.