After living in denial for almost two decades by reason of obduracy resulting from a complex medley of ego trip and cowardice, the Federal Government, through President Muhammadu Buhari, finally made peace with history recently when it announced that henceforth, the anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election would be recognised as the country’s Democracy Day. Not only that, the winner of the election which is indubitably Nigeria’s freest and fairest to date, Chief MKO Abiola, was posthumously awarded the highest honour in the land, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), while his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe, and the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), were given the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) award.
Hitherto, May 29 had been celebrated as Democracy Day simply because it was the day in which the Fourth Republic was inaugurated after the military interregnum of 1983-1999. But a cursory look at the country’s political history would reveal that the democracy inaugurated then was a culmination of a struggle that dated back to the annulment of the June 12 1993 election believed to have been won by the late Chief Abiola. As expected, the announcement shocked Nigerians who had already become quite inured to the various travesties dotting the country’s historical landscape and which presumably had made them to give up on the possibility of any form of restitution. So cynical have the people become that the announcement was greeted with a mixture of suspicion and excitement.
For the cynical section of the populace, the final recognition granted June 12 was touted as a deft political move by the president to lure voters from the South-West and others into supporting his bid for a second term of office, thus putting a question mark on the sincerity of his motive. But since it is difficult to establish motives and June 12 is a historical fact, such views can only remain conjectures while the restitution done by its validation will remain commendable for many reasons. A reconciliation with history, for instance, could be what is needed as the national catharsis which the Truth Commission headed by the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration could not achieve. It is futile and reproachful to deny history or pretend that certain historical events did not happen, as epitomised by the disavowal of June 12. President Muhammadu Buhari’s courage in confronting it head on is therefore a commendable act of gallantry.
Honouring Abiola was a restitution which the direct beneficiaries of the June 12 saga consistently denied and disavowed without qualms. For reasons ranging from ego trip to cowardice, they demurred from validating or even recognising its relevance as the bulwark of the current democratic experience and it is somehow significant that the restitution was effected by those who arguably were complicit in the commission of the historical blunder. It will be a continuous blunder to fail to recognise these sublime facts in the name of cynicism or what some aggrieved commentators choose to call “political sophistication.” The truth is that the final recognition of June 12, though long overdue, is still a salutary gesture, especially coming from the least expected quarters.
It will, for instance, be futile and hopeless to build a nation from the diverse nationalities in the country if the wrong deeds against them are continuously swept under the carpet, as was done in the case of the June 12 saga. The recognition and validation of June 12 is therefore a step in the right direction, regardless of the motives behind it. However, the recognition and validation of June 12 can only just be the beginning of a progressive process, as the country remains structurally and politically skewed, with all sorts of imbalances dotting the polity. After reconciling with history in the particular matter of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the president owes it a duty to history and posterity to ensure that the events and national questions leading to the annulment are never replicated. Only a deliberate and sincere programme of restructuring can ensure this.
All the ethnic nationalities in the country must be made to believe that they are in a fair union with others and none of them should feel oppressed or marginalised. And the establishment should deliberately cultivate their trust and confidence in the contrived union of a plural society that Nigeria represents. The way to start is to dust up the 2014 National Conference report or, at the very least, adopt the Nasir el-Rufai committee report on restructuring without delay. Only these steps can demonstrate the genuineness of President Buhari’s motives. He needs to show that beyond being a political carrot, the recognition and validation of June 12 was for nation building.