On the evening of June 6 when President Muhammadu Buhari issued an executive order recognising June 12 as the new Democracy Day, and the decision to honour the hero of the June 12 struggle, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola alongside his running mate, Babagana Kingibe with the award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) and Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) respectively, the announcement was greeted with applause across the country for the Federal government.
However, this development did not come without suspicions in certain quarters. While there are insinuations that the announcement was a deliberate attempt to take a swipe at two former heads of state, General Ibrahim Babaginda (who annulled the election at the time) and former President Olusegun Obasanjo (who reportedly disregarded calls by the Southwest to declare the results during his term in office), these men, both of whom he currently has a running battle with, over their public opposition to his decision to run for a second term, so much that Obasanjo even accused the Buhari-led government of plans to frame him up in a bid to silence him.
Some others see it as the early phase of a line of strategies gradually unveiled by the President to garner political capital in the Southwest ahead of the official launch of his second term bid.
Fast forward to June 12, 2018
At the much-anticipated and well-attended ceremony which was televised nationwide, a number of speakers aired their views in their respective goodwill messages, but the President took the nation by storm a second time when he tendered a national apology to the Abiola family over the annulment of the election and the struggles their patriarch went through in the bid to actualise his mandate, which he never got unfortunately. It was a soul-touching moment for the Abiolas, at least from the reaction of visibly-emotional Hafsat Abiola-Costello who in turn offered her father’s posthumous apology for whatever harm, he must have done to the President’s family.
President Buhari must have heaved a sigh of relief seeing how the entire event played out, considering the heavy criticisms he has received from majority of Nigerians lately.
Most shocking at the event however was the speech made by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka who started off by describing the presidential apology as a dimension which he did not expect from the ceremony. He commended Buhari for his apologies to Abiola’s family and the families of those who lost their loved ones in the struggle, but urged the president to stop confusing Nigerians by showing loyalty to Abiola’s tormentor.
“It is not possible to honour MKO Abiola in one breadth and admire his tormentor in another breadth. Loyalty is all very well but loyalty can become perverse if that loyalty is retained to an individual who if he were alive today would be before the International Court of Crimes against Humanity.
“The one who broke the laws of Nigeria, international laws, pauperised this nation, it is confusing if professional loyalty is carried so far as to be accorded such an individual,” he said.
Soyinka’s description apparently fit the Late General Sani Abacha, but the issue of unwarranted loyalty as he rightly identified is one of the major take aways from the event.
It indeed suggests how much politicking may be mixed with the decision to honour the late politician and business mogul, and what perhaps makes it difficult to separate political motives from this action of the President is the fact that Buhari is not known to have participated in any struggle related to the June 12 elections since 1993, neither has he made any public statement since his entrance into politics in 2002, or in his Democracy Day broadcasts for the past three years about June 12 or Abiola.
He has rather maintained a strong stance about the incorruptible nature of the former military dictator, General Sani Abacha, under whose administration he served as Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), regardless of reports that his (Abacha’s) family stole a total of £5 billion from the nation’s coffers and Abacha’s ranking by Transparency International as the 4th most corrupt leader in global history.
Not many Nigerians may have forgotten that the Buhari-led administration which is yet to confer national honour on any Nigerian since it’s inauguration in May 2015, chose to start such gesture with a controversial issue (at least to the Northern section of the country) as that of MKO Abiola.
Soyinka further reiterated at the ceremony that he had earlier raised concerns in a private meeting with the President, over how his administration could lay claim to fighting corruption and do things opposed to same values, but he got unsatisfactory answers.
“We had a private conversation some time ago and l remember one of the things which l mentioned to you. l said you are fighting corruption, how come that a notorious dictator, corrupt ruler, is honoured by one of the most important avenues in the capital of Abuja, whereas, individuals like the martyrs of the struggle, philanthropists have not been honoured?”
He went on to make some recommendations on the way forward; by aligning himself with the thoughts of the National Assembly that the results of the June 12 polls be formally announced and Abiola declared as the winner. Other suggestions that a national monument like the Abuja National Stadium be named after him and most importantly, that the event itself be seen as the beginning and not the closure to the event of June 12, until all the victims of the struggle have been honoured.
“All that is left for me is to plead so that we do not forget the nameless, the unsung heroes and heroines of that struggle,” Soyinka added. A plea we believe has been heard judging from the words of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who said the President had granted approval for more persons involved in the June 12 struggle to be so honoured on a later date.
Although Soyinka is known for his fearless stance on issues, including those related to the Buhari administration, this public spat, especially on a day that ought to be strictly for accolades and assurances, speaks much of the good he did for Nigeria by casting our minds off whatever distractions could have held us back from reading between the lines.
As we therefore await Buhari’s actions towards inaugurating a Hall of Shame as a lesson for future generations as proposed by the Nobel Laureate, and another day of honour for the other actors in the struggle, it is pertinent to state clearly that while the President has done well by honouring the martyr of June 12 and the rights activist, Gani Fawenhimi, who played a great role in the struggle just like many others unsung, Nigerians (and the Southwest in particular) must not be caught off guard as the election approaches.
The Buhari administration has a first-hand knowledge of what it takes to remove an incumbent government and so, more shocking announcements are likely to come as the polls draw close.
This, Nigerians must take seriously so as to differentiate between policies and programmes backed up by good intention and those geared at gaining or perhaps, regaining the people’s confidence on the eve of a referendum on the term of an incumbent administration.