On Democracy Day, eminent citizens task Buhari on better Nigeria

• Soyinka, Agbakoba, Opadokun, Odumakin, others seek electoral reforms, good governance

Fraudulent. Not well-thought-out. Greek gift. Action smacks of desperation, hypocrisy. It’s for cheap political gains.These and more were some of the words and phrases that trailed Presdent Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of June 12 as the nation’s new Democracy Day when he made the pronouncement on June 6, last year.

President Buhari had said that his administration shared the view of most Nigerians that June 12th rather than May 29th or even October 1st was far more symbolic of democracy.

In a sequel this year, the president had taken the honour for the late Chief Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the annulled June1993 election, and his family, a notch higher. He moved the fanfare and speeches that ought to have accompanied his inauguration on May 29 to today as part of activities for the first-ever commemoration of June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. And the nation is in joyous mood.

However, as the nation celebrates its symbol of democracy today, eminent Nigerians have tasked President Buhari on the need to use the occasion to reflect on the survival of Nigeria with a view to entrenching the numerous ideals of the late Abiola and indeed, the June 12 mandate.

Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, human rights activist and former President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Chief Ayo Opadokun, and the National Publicity Secretary of Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, among others, said it was imperative for Buhari to make major policy statements on and how to address key problematic issues confronting the nation.

They listed some of the issues to include electoral reforms, restructuring of the country, good governance, transparency and accountability, lack of functional infrastructure and security of lives and property. Other issues highlighted for the president’s attention include the high rate of unemployment, poor electricity supply and respect for the rule of law.

For instance, Soyinka, reflecting on the last general elections, in an article, ‘A Democracy Day Primer,’ noted that today’s celebration of Democracy Day comes up against a background of its most shameful disavowal: the 2019 elections, which was still under judicial contestation.

Referring to the election as an event that would be more accurately described “as an exercise in body count rather than ballot count,” Soyinka said the polls merely “reflected a pattern of savagery and abandonment of human sensibilities that have eaten away the sheerest sense of community in the country.”

The Nobel laureate said that a day dedicated to democracy would be “frivolous unless directed at the recognition of the telling, prevailing features of the last exercise (elections), which throw in question the free, hopefully educated exertion of human choice.”

He added: “It brings us back to numerous considerations of what constitutes, as the democratic base of any human grouping, their rights and limitations, both of which are involved in the guarantee of a healthy societal survival.”Soyinka stressed that Democracy Day deserved truthful confrontation with the socio-political conditions that Nigerians had brought into being to plague themselves.

“D-Day should not pass shrouded under sentiment. It should not be celebrated with groundless recriminations. It calls on hard-core values, yet remains open to mature and logical adjustments, deploying the rigorous blade of truth to cut through overgrown, self-proliferating brambles of deception, especially at the hands of past rulers. If the present demons of nation being are confronted, with brutal frankness where necessary, there is a chance that we may assist even this aspiring generation to sweep past the past, and target a far more salutary celebration in the coming year, that much touted magic number 20/20,” he said.

Agbakoba said he expected President Buhari to use the opportunity of June 12 to make major policy statements to constructively address some national issues.“It’s simply impossible that Nigeria continues to run with the centre very strong. We need to start the process that simply devolves power to the states or regions because there is a question mark on which are the federating units. Whether it is the 36 states or the six or eight regions, what is critical is that we need to unbundle the powers of the Federal Government,” he said.

Afenifere’s spokesperson, Odumakin, stated that the government should demonstrate that its decision was not a political gimmick by ensuring that the spirit of June 12 signposts all its actions going forward.“The spirit of June 12 is about free and fair elections. We have just finished an election. Was its conduct in the spirit of June 12? June 12 is about ethnic and religious harmony, and the integration of Nigeria. Today, Nigeria is much more divided than we were before 2014 with Fulani herdsmen killing people all over the place. These are in the negation of the virtues of June 12.”