It is no longer in the realm of gossips or rumour the letter conveying the approval of Mr President to posthumously honour the acclaimed winner of the June 12 election with the highest honour of the land exclusively reserved for the occupants of the office of the President of the Federal republic of Nigeria.
We commend Mr. President’s attempt for the unprecedented action to re write some of the wrongs in our political journey towards building an enduring democracy in Nigeria.
Like always government actions tends to generated controversies and great debate and this is not an exception.
We are therefore going to examine the implications of the President’s decision of declaring June 12th as the new democracy day for Nigeria and the honour done to Alhaji M.K.O Abiola the acclaimed winner of the June 12th Presidential elections?
The countervailing forces are pushing all hypothesis on the merit and the demerit of the President actions.
To begin with the National Assembly in a rowdy session introduced to the debate the legality of the President’s action.
At the House of Representatives, Honourable Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau) drew lawmakers’ attention to the Public Holidays Act, which declares May 29th as Democracy Day. He queried that for Buhari’s proclamation to take effect, the Act would have to be amended.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Pwajok explained that a contestant has to be declared winner by the National Returning Officer before he can be referred to as president-elect.
He noted that there was a court order prohibiting the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) from releasing the result, stressing that this would, first, have to be set aside or overruled by a higher court. Contributing to the debate
Hon. Nicholas Osai (PDP, Delta) challenged the declaration, condemning it as yet another usurpation of legislative powers by the executive arm of government.
He argued that a mere declaration by a president is incapable of changing an Act of parliament. Due process must be followed through an amendment of the Public Holidays Act.
Hon.Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) agreed with Osai, also posited that, the country must be ruled by law and not by persons or groups. He said though Buhari had good intentions, the declaration has to be guided by law. This, according to him, would forestall future challenges to the honour done Abiola.
In dousing the seeming uproar on the floor of House, the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara restored order and forwarded the motion to the Committees on Justice, and Rules and Business, mandating them to look into the matter and make recommendations before the House arrives at a decision.
In the red chamber however the embattled Senator Dino Melaye, had also insisted the Act provides that only Nigerian citizens could be eligible, arguing that since Abiola is dead, he is not a Nigerian in the context of the Act.
He buttressed his opinion by quoting the act which states that;
“(I) Subject to paragraph (2) of this article, a person shall not be eligible for appointment to any rank of an Order unless he is a citizen of Nigeria.
(2) A person other than a citizen of Nigeria shall be eligible for appointment as the honorary holder of any rank of an Order; and appointments made in pursuance of this paragraph shall be disregarded for the purposes of paragraph (3) of the foregoing article.”
Meanwhile, in continuation of its deliberations, on the saga, the Senate urged Buhari to pay the family of the late M.K.O. Abiola all the entitlements due a former president and commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It also asked Mr. President to mandate INEC to announce the suspended results of the election.
The resolutions followed adopted Order 42 and 52 raised by Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti).
“Mr. President, my distinguished colleagues. I want to thank Mr. President (Buhari) for the feat he scored yesterday by posthumously honouring the late M.K.O. Abiola for winning the annulled 1993 presidential election. To make good his intentions, I would implore him to ensure the release and declaration of the annulled presidential results by INEC,” said Olujimi.
She added: “Also, Abiola’s family should be paid reparations and all other entitlements due him as a former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, who was Abiola’s running mate, should be recognised, henceforth, as former vice president of Nigeria and paid his accompanying entitlements.”
A massive request that has the tendencies of triggering some ripple effects on the whole exercise.
The Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, however, submitted that a posthumous award is a constitutional matter and called for a legitimising amendment.
Senate President Bukola Saraki firmed up the resolutions, saying: “We all agree, as a country, that the recognition of June 12 has been long overdue one way or the other, (given) the contribution of Chief M.K.O. Abiola and events of the June 12 election. We commend that action and we hope it will go a long way in reconciliation and broadening the unity of the country.”
From then on the debate was taken over by the legal luminaries, arguing for and against based on law.
Abubakar Sani, Abuja, based lawyer commented that legally, it might be wrong under the National Honours Act for the president to give such an award to a dead Nigerian, when the Act provides that the honour should be for serving or past heads of states.
He stressed that the decision is more political than legal. “Abiola was never sworn in. Yes, he was presumed to have won the election, but he didn’t serve. So, going by that, one may say that he doesn’t deserve it.
“But it is. uncharitable for anyone to say he should not be given the honour because Abiola and his wife paid a huge price for our democracy. It is very understandable that the motivation is more political than legal,” said Sani.
He, however, added no one can successfully challenge it in court, even if the decision was taken illegally.
The former secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Afam Osuigwe, re-echoed the point on mounting a valid legal challenge. He said the court would want to know what the litigant has lost personally. “It would want to know the locus standi of the person challenging it. The court usually uses this issue to knock people off.”
The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore, had reportedly described the award as illegal. Citing section 2 (1) and (2) of the Honours Warrant of the National Honours Act 1963, which borders on eligibility for appointment to Orders,
The politicians were not also left out in their contribution to the debate.
Junaid Mohammed, a Second Republic lawmaker, lambasted President Muhammadu Buhari for declaring June 12 as the new Democracy Day and posthumously awarding Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
Mohammed maintained that Buhari’s recognition of Abiola at a time elections were close was “deceitful”. The former lawmaker speaking to Daily Post, stressed that Buhari’s “sinister antics” was aimed at amassing votes from the South West in 2019.
The fierce critic of the current administration said Buhari should be, “ashamed of himself” for waiting till 2018 before correcting a past “injustice.”
He called the whole process “deceitful politics, Buhari is doing that in anticipation of the forth coming election in 2019 but those who know him like I do will tell you that he has never respected or admired Abiola. So doing this now shows that he is so desperate and is prepared to do anything deceitful and dishonourable to motivate votes.
For him “Buhari has no other arithmetic because the bulk of the votes Abiola got did not come from the South West, they came from the North and the East, so he thinks this action is the master’s stroke that will win him the election but he is mistaken. “Nigerians are smart enough to see through this deceitful antics,
Buhari was one of those against Abiola. To confirm this deceit, he took a traitor of Abiola, Babangana Kingibe to honour him too.
“I don’t understand why anybody who was familiar with that election will honour Abiola and Kingibe, who is a traitor never known to be loyal to anybody than himself.
“As we speak, Kingibe is an employee of the Presidency and he is part of the cabal, so this is sinister because 2019 is around the corner.
“Buhari has been in power since 2015, he didn’t remember to rectify an injustice but only now that elections are coming that he remembered to do so, he should be ashamed of himself.”
Recall that Buhari, in a statement issued yesterday, had declared Abiola as the winner of the annulled June 12 election and replacing May 29 with June 12 as new Democracy Day.
Buhari had argued that June 12, 1993, the date of the election considered to be the fairest in Nigeria’s history, “was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even October 1.”
Politicians that spoke on the matter included the former Vice President Atiku and Balarabe Musa but were more amiable to decision of the President for varying reasons.
For Atiku who is in contention for the office of the President has to be circumspect not anger the South West as he may need their votes come 2019.
Atiku wrote in his twitter account “I rejoice with the Abiola family over the recognition bestowed on its late patriarch, Chief MKO Abiola; my friend & political ally & acclaimed winner of June 12 1993 elections, better known as June 12.
“The symbolic honor done his memory & the struggle he died for is commendable.”
The former Governor of the old Kaduna State Balarabe Musa added by saying that “President Buhari’s action with regards to declaration of June 12 as democracy day and award of the highest honour to late Chief MKO Abiola are relevant, just, courageous and patriotic.
“The actions give hope that President Buhari can do the right thing and correct wrongs before it’s too late for him and for the nation.’’
In summing up the whole arguments the Anthony General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami said “the declaration of June 12 as a public holiday was a mere statement of desire by President Muhammadu Buhari,
He made the clarification after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, while answering questions from reporters whether Buhari’s declaration contravened the Public Holiday Act.
Malami said: “As it relates to public holidays, there is truly a Public Holiday Act. The Act can be amended and the process of amendment has been put in place. When the Act has been fully amended, the declaration of the President will come into effect. It is a declaration of intention, a declaration of desire and that will eventually be given effect with the amendment of the existing law.”
This is consistent with argument advanced ealier by legal luminaries and this was perhaps the reason why June 12th was not celebrated as public holiday.
The Abiola family were relished in their praise for Mr. President this was aptly captured in the advertisement by the Abiola’s children praising Buhari’s actio. Hafsat Abiola-Costello, the founder, Initiative for Democracy, said she lacked words to express her “depth of gratitude” and thanked God she is “alive to witness this day.”Rinsola Abiola, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) board of trustees chided former President Olusegun Obasanjo by saying. “What did he do to acknowledge it all, despite being a direct beneficiary of that struggle?” she asked, adding: “The fact that some people refuse to acknowledge the truth does not mean others won’t do the right thing.”
On her part, Wura Abiola, Managing Director of Management Transformation Limited, said: “You can kill the dreamer but not the dream. Dearest Daddy, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola GCFR! Wonderful to finally be able to write this, 20 years on! Thank you President Buhari.”
The salient pertinent questions being avoided in the ensuing debate by the Public Affairs Commentators and the Politicians themselves because of the exigencies of the times are;
1. Was the President action meant to appease the vociferous group in the south west and its media that had continued to push the June 12th agenda
2. Was it to cement the new found support the President “enjoys” in the South West?
3. Was it for national reconciliation?
4. Was it an election strategy?
5. Was the June 12th truly the most freest election in the history of the Nigeria State not an agenda package by the dominant South West media to keep the agenda alive?
6. Was the decision by Mr. President to declare June 12th democracy day consistent with the aspirations, desire and wish of the majority of Nigerians?
7. Was the President right in giving the acclaimed winner the highest national honour exclusively reserved for Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
8. Was the President taking his pound of flesh against the Military hegemony for betraying him at all times when he needed their support most?
These are some of the issues this discourse is going to put in the public domain in the light of the polar views being expressed by Nigerians on this important national issue.
Three paradigms howver emerged in the ensuing debate;
1. The group that stressed that the decision is more political than legal, argued that the President did so because he wanted to secure his votes in the south west. This position was however debunked by the pro political apologist because they held the opinion that Abiola got most of his votes from the North and South east and the Presidents tactics will therefore fail.
2. Those arguing from the legal point view have however identified the lacuna in process early. They noted the Executive did not consult widely and it therefore failed by rushing to press with its decisions in declaring a new democracy date for the country which is matter under legislative order and rule of law.
The truism of this position resulted in the AGF to come out and beat a retreat by saying that;
“It is a declaration of intention, a declaration of desire and that will eventually be given effect with the amendment of the existing law.”
3. The third paradigm revolves around the argument that there are actors who were active participants in the June 12th debacle but were not recognised by the state. Chief among them were public officers more especially the INEC chairman of that time and others like Mrs Kudirat Abiola who paid the supreme sacrifice but were not considered. To this group the state action has not gone the whole hog.
It for these reasons we feel the issues regarding the June 12th conundrum is not finally settled.
We pray that the right things would now be done so that the whole matter will form part of our genuine political history.