June 12: The Layers of Buhari’s Declaration, By Dele Agekameh
Slowly, the country is moving in the right direction. The forces of change have been diverse and sometimes unexpected, but the important thing is that negative forces are canceling out each other, to the benefit of the people. When justice begins to be seen as an attainable right, then there will be many more champions like late Abiola.
The life of Chief M.K.O Abiola was exemplary. He was a true Nigerian success story and an inspiration to many at home and abroad. His ability to connect with people of diverse backgrounds was perhaps his greatest strength and this worked to his advantage in many ways. Even now, in death, his uniting touch is still being felt by Nigerians, most recently in light of the momentous declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari. The sad note that sullied Abiola’s list of achievements may have finally been redressed by the declaration of June 12, the day Abiola won and lost his presidential mandate, as the new public holiday to celebrate democracy in Nigeria.
While the development is welcome all over the country and seen as a crown on the efforts of the Abiola family to gain official recognition of M.K.O Abiola’s victory at the polls many years ago, the political angle to the declaration is laced with suspicion of ulterior motives by the Buhari administration. All possible implications of the declaration are important at this time in the country, if for no other reason than to understand the thinking and motives of an important player in the next elections, for good or bad, and the possible consequences.
Many will be quick to claim the declaration as a victory for all Yorubas. Indeed, the reactions from some top Yoruba personalities already show this leaning. Interestingly, Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, while accepting the declaration, was cautious in its celebration by calling the president’s motives to question. Many other groups believe there are no other aspects to the declaration than the political motive of winning South-West votes. The mixed reactions are an accurate portrayal of the volatile mood of the country in this election season, and the president’s timing with the declaration adds in no small way to the suspicions of his motives from many quarters.
In any case, whichever way one leans on the issue of the declaration, the deed has been done and it is a wholly positive outcome. It is however not a Yoruba or South-West victory, but a victory for Nigerian freedom and democracy. The pain of the annulment of the June 12 elections was felt country wide, not just on the day but for many years under the harsh rule of General Sani Abacha. The people’s access to liberty and an open society was truncated for reasons that most Nigerians will never understand.
It is immensely satisfying that Abiola’s status in the democratic history of the country is now being recognised and Nigerians should not let any other issue connected with the declaration dilute the importance and symbolism of this long over-due recognition.
Over time, the scar of June 12 outgrew mere anger and accusations against the government of the day on June 12, 1993, as it metamorphosed into a yearning for free and fair elections and the true right of the people to choose their leaders. Some will say that the date became bigger than the man Abiola himself. This is why the declaration of June 12 as democracy day is appropriate, as the date has come to represent the continuous struggle for people’s right at the polls, and its symbolism is now, at least, assured in the annals of Nigerian politics.
While the symbolism of June 12 has rightly been acknowledged, it is very unlikely that there is no political angle to the declaration. Like many have said before, everything a politician does is political. The camp of people that are of the opinion that there may be possible political benefits of the declaration in the South-West zone may not be far from the truth. There is now a sense that Bola Tinubu’s hold over the South-West may be wavering and his support for Buhari alone may not deliver the region for the president in the coming elections. In-fighting in the All Progressives Congress (APC) also creates the impression that the president cannot rely squarely on the strength of the party to ensure victory next year. The question is, if the June 12 declaration is a gesture to pacify the South-West as some say, what then is/will be the Northern or South-Eastern pacification plan? Surely the president must be aiming to collect votes in every region. If one were to believe this theory of pure political motive, then there is yet more intrigue in the horizon.
Also likely, on the political spectrum, is the retaliation angle. General Ibrahim Babangida and former President Olusegun Obasanjo have come out publicly to speak against the Buhari administration and any second term ambitions of the president. Their public criticism resonated with people in all parts of the country and the present administration scrambled to address their remarks, especially the not so subtle condemnation by Obasanjo. The embarrassment suffered from the perceived betrayal of members of the ‘caucus of generals’ may have warranted repercussions that may already be in the works. The declaration of June 12 as the new democracy day casts a bad light on both men in many ways.
For General Babangida, the declaration is a condemnation of his government’s decision in 1993, with the consequential stigma of being labeled an anti-democracy icon. For Obasanjo, his pedigree in South-West politics has been dealt a great blow after failing to honour Abiola in his two terms as president. The two past leaders have now been essentially branded enemies of democracy. In Obasanjo’s case also, some see it as a personal blow. Obasanjo has always been suspected of nursing enmity towards Abiola, his tribesman and former schoolmate.
Although it has come at a time when the security forces and government agencies serve with an unusually heavy hand, the current situation merely strengthens the ideals that June 12 represents and underscores the need for the people’s will to shine forth in the midst of oppression.
Obasanjo was deputy editor, while Abiola was editor of “The Trumpeter”, the school magazine of Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta, which they both attended. Their kinship did not stop the rumours that Obasanjo was never in support of Abiola during his lifetime and even worked to suppress any state recognition of his struggles after his death. The Narcissist Obasanjo carries on like one who is only content in the centre of all things and cannot bear to be second favourite in anything, which may have been his issue with the better loved Abiola.
The late Abiola was a champion of the people who deployed his means liberally in promoting worthy causes and contributing to the lives of others. Although he was a Muslim, he contributed to the building of churches and mosques across Nigeria and was accepted by all Nigerians. Abiola held chieftaincy titles in 68 communities across the country. He was equally accepted abroad, receiving international recognition during his lifetime and after his death. Like Gani Fawehinmi, fellow posthumous honoree, he was a crusader for freedom and rights of people, and he gave his life to stand for these ideals when he could have taken the coward’s way out.
It is immensely satisfying that Abiola’s status in the democratic history of the country is now being recognised and Nigerians should not let any other issue connected with the declaration dilute the importance and symbolism of this long over-due recognition. Oftentimes in life, victory is achieved when it is most unexpected and the victory for democracy and freedom that June 12 symbolises can never be extinguished. Although it has come at a time when the security forces and government agencies serve with an unusually heavy hand, the current situation merely strengthens the ideals that June 12 represents and underscores the need for the people’s will to shine forth in the midst of oppression.
Slowly, the country is moving in the right direction. The forces of change have been diverse and sometimes unexpected, but the important thing is that negative forces are canceling out each other, to the benefit of the people. When justice begins to be seen as an attainable right, then there will be many more champions like late Abiola. Henceforth, democracy day will be a celebration of unity and possibilities in a free society and June 12 will become a symbol of the future and not the past. May God bless Nigeria.
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