I was in church yesterday when the man sitting next to me passed me his phone.
“Later,” I said.
I had come in late and wanted to pay attention to the pastor.
But he insisted.
“Read joor, shebi you be journalist,” he said.
I took it and squinted at the too bright screen. It was a Sahara Reporter story – Buhari had declared June 12 Democracy day.
I thought it was a joke.
I reached in my pocket and pulled out my phone. The news was all over; it was already on sabinews and Thisislagos.ng
President Buhari had not only declared June 12 the “real” democracy day, he had also decided to award Nigeria’s highest honour, a GCFR, reserved only for presidents, to Chief MKO Abiola, acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 election. That election has been universally acknowledged as the “freest and fairest” in Nigeria’s history but it was ironically annnuled by General Ibrahim Babaginda. That singular action by Babangida dislocated our democracy and foisted General Sani Abacha on us.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who stepped into the breach following Abacha’s death was the one who returned the country to democracy and he was also the one who decalred May 29, the date President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as Democracy day.
Since that auspicious day in 1999, Nigeria has celebrated May 29 as Democracy day and that day has been observed as a public holiday.
But for 19 long years, Nigerian democrats have been insistent in their call for MKO Abiola to be recognised as president and for June 12 to be designated a public holiday and the TRUE DEMOCRACY DAY. That call went unheeded under Obasanjo who incidentally is Abiola’s kinsman. It was ignored under Yar’ Adua and also under Goodluck Jonathan and even under Buhari until yesterday.
The President in a move worthy of a general and war tactician, sprung a surprise on the nation with the release of a 236 word press statement.
The statement which was issued under the Presidents Banner opened with – “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29th, 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.”
It then went on to say that “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 October 1.
June 12th 1993 was the day Nigerians in [sic] 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 distract from the democratic credentials of the process.”
President Buhari then went ahead in the next pargraph to change the political history of Nigeria. “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.”
The statement went on to announce that Abiola’s running mate, Baba Gana Kingigbe and fiery lawyer Gani Fawehinmi would be awarded GCON.
In closing, the statement said: “The commemoration and investiture will take place on Tuesday June 12th 2018, a date which in future years will replace May 29th as a National public Holiday in celebration of Nigeria’s Democracy Day.”
President Buhari’s honour for Abiola must be seen in the context of what it truly is; presidential recognition for a man who was denied his due and who the political elite has conspired over 19 years to keep in the dust bin of history.
Abiola has settled in his well deserved place in the rarefied heights of Nigerian leaders. The award of a GCFR, reserved only for presidents, is a tacit recognition of Abiola as president.
But as we congratulate President Buhari on this deft political and PR move, we must not forget that the true champion of Abiola’s rehabilitation is Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Hate him or love him, Tinubu was the first political leader to honour MKO Abiola’s legacy. Buhari has just made national, what Tinubu as AC leader and Lagos state Governor, had instituted in the South West.
This does not, however, detract from what Buhari has done. With a short one page letter, Buhari has played an ace. He has told OBJ and IBB to shut up. OBJ will need to write many more books to ccounter Buhari’s gift to the South West which is akin to calling a child a bastard in his father’s house.
Buhari’s body language has borne an amazing fruit. No one saw it coming. What he has done is pull in the South West by recognising and immortalising not one, but two of their sons, something Obasanjo from the South west and Jonathan from the South South faiiled to do.
Is this a political move targeted at the 2019? Yes of course it is. Politics is “war”. Is that not why ndigbo call it ndoro-ndoro ochichi (struggle for power). And all is fair in love and war.
And why is it coming now, 3 years into his administration and 9 days after we celebrated Democracy Day on May 29. Well, the answer is simple; why not now? OBJ and Yar’ Adua and Jonathan had 16 whole years and they never thought about it. Move over, please!
This announcement has however thrown up a few questions; can the commemoration and investiture go ahead if it poses constitutional challenges? Will June 12, 2018 be declared a public holiday or do we wait till next year and finally, will the winner of the 2019 election (cough, cough) be sworn in on May 29 or June 12, 2019?
Finally, I am not sure who advised Buhari to do this, but whoever it is deserves some accolades. That was a deft and devastating PR. President Buhari also deserves accolades for heeding that counsel. Buhari is resurgent. The news is now all about him.
Justice Belgore, reports say, has questioned the legality of conferring posthumous awards. That will be for the constitutional lawyers to debate and decide on. Maybe, this might even lead to an amendment but what is important is that the conversation is all about Buhari again and it is ALL good news. That is the aim of PR. The job of his handlers is now to Engage and Contain the fall out.
Mr President, I have a quick request. Bring back Leah Sharibu and rein in the murderous Fulani herdsmen and you may just have one more extra vote come 2019.
MKO is our man oooooooooooooooooo.