Critics tackle Buhari over June 12 honor for Abiola

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• Akinyemi: Opposition to declaration can’t stand
• Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ogun declare public holiday
• Abiola’s daughter: FG’s action politically, morally correct

The controversy sparked by President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of June 12 as Nigeria’s authentic Democracy Day, continued yesterday with the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in that election Alhaji Bashir Tofa objecting to the decision of the federal government.

He asked government to reconsider its position on the matter and claimed that conferment of national honour on anyone should be beyond some cold political calculations.

A former Foreign Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, dismissed as untenable and a red herring, questions over the legality of the national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) which Buhari plans to confer posthumously on the late Chief M.K.O.Abiola, the winner of the election.

Akinyemi, a chieftain of the pro-democracy group –the national Democratic Coalition (NADECO) -in its heyday, said there is no basis for such opposition to the conferment of the honour as there is already some precedence.

Tofa , who placed second behind Abiola, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the election, said although he had been inundated with calls on why he was not listed for honour, it was not the most important thing to him.

He spoke in a statement, saying: “Following the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to honour my late friend, Alhaji Mashood K. Abiola (may Allah grant him peace) and officially recognise him as the winner of the inconclusive 12th June 1993 presidential election in which I was a candidate, I have been inundated by calls from friends, well-wishers, former political associates and journalists.

“While some worry about the brazen one-sidedness of this curious presidential action, especially given the list of invitees to Tuesday’s event at the Villa supposedly to mark ‘Democracy Day’, there are also those who canvass that I be so honoured with a similar award of GCFR, if the motive indeed was noble and meant to serve the end of justice.

“As much as I appreciate the goodwill, in this circumstance, however, I have to say that I would not accept it as it is, even if given.

“While I do not begrudge the President his power to bestow favour on whomsoever he pleases, it is also important, especially for history, for all actions from the highest authority in the country to be based on fair play and law.

“Needless to say, being one of the two presidential candidates in that election does not in any way define me or my achievements in life; it was not even the most important one.”

“However, as I have reiterated many times in the past, I am grateful to the numerous Nigerians from across the length and breadth of the country who made enormous sacrifices in the National Republican Convention (NRC) as well as the millions of our citizens who voted for both the late Abiola and myself in that historic election.

“Much more importantly, I am most grateful to Almighty God for the several honours He has bestowed on me; all of which have enriched my life.

“As for my friend, M. K. O. Abiola, what he needs most is our sincere prayers for Allah’s mercy and the gift of Paradise for him. While some of us cherish his memory as a departed friend and compatriot, there are many who will continue to exploit it and to glory in it for their own benefits.

“For those who may have forgotten or never knew, the late Abiola was a close personal friend of mine, a relationship dating back to the Second Republic when I was the National Financial Secretary of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and he was the Ogun State Chairman of the party. So, I do not in any way begrudge him the post-humous honour, even when I insist that the right thing must be done at all times.

“Meanwhile, whatever may be the prevailing sentiment and politics in Abuja, the idea that June 12 should be the new Democracy Day is also a matter that deserves serious reconsideration. Such decisions should be beyond some political cold calculations.

“Finally, like all, I am also travelling on the path prepared for me by God Almighty. He controls my destiny and I pray He will continue to favour and to guide me. All power belongs to Him alone. He gives it to whom He pleases and He has power over all things, including every ambition.”

Why opposition to declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day can’t stand –Akinyemi

Akinyemi, in a statement in Lagos, advocated what he called a Dennington approach “where determination is based on the need to achieve justice.”

He was reacting to federal government’s decision to honour Abiola, his running mate in the much acclaimed June 12, 1993 presidential election, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, and the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.

He hailed Buhari for recognizing the validity of the election.

He said: “As a member of NADECO in its heydays when it was most dangerous to be a member, June 6 marked the fulfilment of dreams, and the achievement of visions.

“On that day, President Mohammed Buhari recognised the validity of the June 12 1993 Presidential elections, declared Chief MKO Abiola as the winner of that election, conferred national honours on MKO Abiola, his running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the human rights activist Gani Fawehinmi and declared June 12 democracy day.

“I recognise how momentous that decision was and I not only welcome the decision, I thank President Buhari for the decision,

“President Buhari has addressed some of the wounds inflicted on this nation and applied healing balm on these wounds.

“Only those who lost family members, those imprisoned and detained or who had family members imprisoned and detained, those tortured and those driven into exile had felt the need for some measure of closure. That closure was achieved on January 6 by the executive order issued by President Buhari.”

He appealed to President to remember other Nigerians who “also played active roles in the struggle.”

These, according to him, include Dan Suleiman, Ndubisi Kanu, Frank Kokori, John Oyegun, Dr. Akingba, Bagauda Kaltho.

He said they all deserve national honours in future exercises.

Continuing, Akinyemi said: “the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day is a victory for all Nigerians and not just for those who voted for MKO Abiola.

“The voting pattern on June 12 1993 sealed the cleavages that have bedevilled Nigeria since the unification by Lugard.

“The annulment of the election results reopened and deepened those cleavages. I recognise and accept that the June 6 Presidential Executive Order has applied some balm on these cleavages and therefore should be welcomed as a national rather than a sectional victory.

“The courage of the President in tackling this issue should be acknowledged.

“As the Deputy Chairman of the 2014 National Conference, I recall that when the issue of June 12 was raised, it almost tore the Conference apart.

“I also recall that the issue of June 12 had been raised in different sessions of the National Assembly without resolution. That it took President Buhari to resolve this issue is a manifestation of what social scientists call the Nixon-China syndrome.

“It took a rabid anti-communist like Richard Nixon to extend diplomatic relations to China without the fear of being labelled a communist. It has taken a Buhari, who nobody can accuse of pandering to the South and who is trusted by the North to do justice to June 12.

“The legality of the executive order which has been raised is not tenable and is a red herring. First is the issue of precedence. President Shagari awarded a national honour posthumously to Chief Israel Adebajo and his son collected it on his behalf.

“Secondly, the award cannot be subject to strict legal interpretation. I would rather suggest a Dennington approach where determination is based on the need to achieve justice. MKO Abiola was elected in 1993 when he was still alive and remained alive for six more years.

“That is when he earned the GCFR. Acts of illegality prevented him from being decorated with it. Those acts of illegality have just been annulled.

The spirit of June 12 is national. Let us build on it. Thank you, President Buhari for taking the first of the many steps you will need to take to heal the wounds that afflict us.”

ACF gives kudos to Buhari

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) however applauded the President for the move.

National Publicity Secretary of the forum, Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim Biu told The Nation that the President’s decision is apt, arguing that June 12 is truly more relevant to Nigeria’s democracy than May 29.

One time Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Professor Ango Abdullahi does not agree with him.

For him, Buhari’s action is nothing short of political opportunism, and the planned honour for Abiola belated, while a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Soni Ajala warned against muddling “the politics of the issue of the posthumous award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) with the core legal issue of the politics of the award.”

Another senior advocate, Mr. Femi Falana, said the president’s action is in order.

One of the late Chief Abiola’s daughter, Rinsola, said justice has been done at last.

“What the president has done is what justice demands. It is politically correct. And it is morally alright too,” Rinsola, an aide to House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara, told The Nation.

Biu said: “The decision of Mr. President is a good development that would put to rest any ill feeling generated by the annulment of elections of June 12, 1993.

“Besides putting aside the feelings, June 12 is more relevant to democracy than May 29, considering the likely victory of Chief M K O Abiola and Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe in the June 12, 1993 election considered by many Nigerians to have been the most free, fair, credible and peaceful ever held.”

Asked about those linking the President’s decision to 2019 general elections, the ACF chieftain said: “people can criticize anything they like, but the honour done to MKO and others, is well deserved.

“The posthumous award of GCFR to late Chief Abiola, and GCON to Amb. Kingibe would certainly heal the wounds inflicted by the annulment, including the posthumous GCON for the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, for his tireless fight for human rights and actualization of the June 12 election of 1993.

“So, this as far as we are concerned is good for the democracy and also for the unity of Nigeria.”

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