Gowon, Obasanjo, other ex-leaders absent from June 12 celebration

It was meant to be the celebration of a democratic milestone witnessed by people of the home country and leaders of other nations. But yesterday’s Democracy Day left many observers puzzled as none of Nigeria’s former leaders attended.

Although the names of Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida and Yakubu Gowon were included in copies of the programme shared to guests at the Eagle Square Abuja venue of the event, nobody caught a glimpse of any of the past leaders.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo were however joined on the occasion by top government officials, and foreign leaders: President of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz; President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame; President of Liberia, George Weah; President of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso; and President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.

Others included: President of Senegal, Macky Sall; Prime Minister of Uganda, Ruhakana Rugunda; President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow; President of Niger Republic, Mahamadou Issoufou; President of Guinea-Bissau, José Mário Gómes Vaz; and President of Benin Republic, Patrice Talon.

“With the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, my father’s vision has been fulfilled, even after death,” said Abdulmumini Abiola, son of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was nullified by the Ibrahim Babangida government.

Following two decades of heated debates and agitations on the significance of June 12 to Nigeria’s politics and history, Buhari on Monday finally signed a bill recognising the former as Democracy Day.

“It is important we understand that Nigeria belongs to all of us or none of us at all,” Abdulmumini told participants during the celebration in Ogun State yesterday.

“Today is a historic day. The actualisation of the long battle and campaign for June 12 as Democracy Day has finally come to fruition. The event of June 12 marked the freest and fairest elections held in Nigeria at the time.

“The decision by General Ibrahim Babaginda to annul the election was a surprise to both my family and the Nigerian people because my dad and Babaginda were close friends. But I was so proud that Chief M.K.O. Abiola was able to stand for what he believed to be true,” said Abdulmumini.

He added that his father died a happy man, having fought for the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria.

But former vice president and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the February 23, 2019 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, condemned the Federal Government’s “June 12 hypocrisy”.

In a signed statement yesterday, Atiku noted: “It is not enough to declare June 12 Democracy Day when the government of the day is disrespectful of the rule of law and wantonly disregards court orders on issues that border on fundamental human rights. It is not enough to declare June 12 a work-free day when the ordinary people of Nigeria still don’t have the freedom to find a better life from the suffocating grip of poverty, when Nigeria is now the global headquarters of extreme poverty.

“It is not enough to declare June 12 a work-free day when a disproportionate number of citizens are not sure of where their next meal will come from and when the sanctity of their lives is not guaranteed. It is not enough to declare June 12 a work-free day when freedom of the press and of speech, fundamentals of democracy, are being assailed.”

He said further: “It is not acceptable that an administration which had an opportunity of four years to deliver the promise of change to Nigerians (not only reneged on that promise, but propelled the country into a near-comatose state) will lay claims to being a true friend of the June 12 struggle.

“To be a lover of June 12 is to believe in the common good of the people. June 12 is about the political leadership having the focus to retool the Nigerian economy. It is about having the skills to create wealth and jobs for the teeming mass of unemployed. It is not about the inclination for shared pains; it is about shared prosperity.”

The PDP also urged “all compatriots to use the occasion to reflect and redouble their efforts in the collective quest for the re-entrenchment of true democracy and its tenets of the rule of law, freedom, tolerance, dialogue, peaceful co-existence, justice and the sanctity of our electoral process.”

In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said: “It is a national tragedy that our Democracy Day is being celebrated under the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration that has desecrated all our democratic values and despoiled our electoral processes just to have itself in office.”

The party said the Buhari presidency and the APC could not celebrate Democracy Day “when they are still overburdened by the guilt of their questionable presidential electoral victory.”

It urged Nigerians to note “how President Buhari’s address clearly shows a disregard for the tenets of democracy as he (Mr. President) had no clear commitments or assurances on fundamental issues of constitutionality, rule of law, separation of power, justice, fairness, free speech and rights of citizens, which are the hallmarks of democracy.”

The statement continued: “Mr. President also had no regrets for the manipulations, infractions and violence that characterised the 2019 general elections, under his watch, for which the nation now has an unprecedented 766 election petitions, including the highly manipulated presidential election.

“President Buhari did not express any form of remorse for the barefaced constitutional violations, assault on institutions of democracy, particularly the legislature and the judiciary; human rights violations, assault on the media and the general siege mentality in the polity under his watch.

“It is disheartening that the same electoral manipulation, violations and injustices for which the icon of June 12 Democracy Day, Chief M.K.O. Abiola died, have brazenly taken centre stage under the APC misrule.

“Today, just like on June 12, 1993, our citizens are despondent, particularly over the rigging of the February 23, 2019 presidential election as their quest for a people-oriented and inherently democratic leadership to move our nation forward was frustrated, consequent upon which our party and our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, are seeking justice.”

In his speech at the event however Buhari stated reasons why Nigerians must hope for better times under his government. “With leadership and a sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years,” he promised.

He said his government has been mapping out policies, measures and laws to maintain the country’s unity and place its people on the path to prosperity.

“This task is by no means unattainable. China has done it. India has done it. Indonesia has done it. Nigeria can do it. These are all countries characterised by huge burdens of population. China and Indonesia succeeded under authoritarian regimes. India succeeded in a democratic setting. We can do it,” Buhari affirmed.

The president further vowed to assemble a team of competent Nigerians to help his government implement its transformative plans for the next four years.

The disclosure is coming more than two weeks after his May 29 inauguration. Recall that it took the president over six months to assemble a cabinet during his first four years.

“We will accelerate investments in primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare programmes, interventions and infrastructure as well as upgrade our medical personnel to stem the flight of our best trained people,” he said.

“In my first term, we put Nigeria back on its feet. We are working again despite a difficult environment in oil on which we depend too much for our exports. We encountered huge resistance from vested interests who do not want change, but change has come, we now must move to the next level.

“What we require is the will to get our acts together. And our strength is in our people – our youth, our culture, our resilience, our ability to succeed despite the odds.

“A huge responsibility therefore rests on this and succeeding administrations to develop, harness and fulfil our enormous potential into a force to be reckoned with globally.”

Buhari warned that his government “will crack down on those who incite ordinary innocent people to violence and unrest. We will ensure that such actions are met with the strong arm of the law.”

He also announced the renaming of the Abuja National Stadium after the late Abiola. According to him, “Correcting injustice is a pre-requisite for peace and unity. As part of the process of healing and reconciliation, I approved the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day and invested the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe with National Honours, as I did with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. The purpose was to partially atone for the previous damage done in annulling the presidential elections of that year.

“Today, I propose the renaming of the Abuja National Stadium. Henceforth it will be called Moshood Abiola National Stadium.”