Nigeria has a new national democracy day, June 12, as the country formally honoured Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 election with the day; naming the national stadium in the country’s capital, Abuja after him.
In a bid to boost national reconciliation and healing, President Muhammadu Buhari, at a colourful national parade to celebrate his re-election in Abuja on Tuesday, said it was a move aimed at “correcting injustice” by previous Nigerian governments.
“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.” Buhari said.
“Today, I propose the re-naming of the Abuja National Stadium. Henceforth it will be called Moshood Abiola National Stadium,” President Buhari told a packed audience which had several African leaders and representatives from the global community in attendance. Many applauded the move.
Abiola had been elected 26 years ago but the military junta led by General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the result of the election via an orchestrated court order once it became obvious that then presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was coasting home to victory.
“From this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief…I call upon the usurper, General Sani Abacha, to announce his resignation forthwith, together with the rest of his illegal ruling council,” Abiola had said on June 10, 1994 while declaring himself president. “We are prepared to enter into negotiations with them to work out the mechanics for a smooth transfer of power,” Abiola concluded.
General Sani Abacha, another military head of state who had, through a palace coup, succeeded Babangida’s Interim National Government headed by Ernest Shonekan denounced the self-declaration and went on to incarcerate Abiola for declaring himself president.
Both Abacha and Abiola would die in 1998 thereby entrenching a new dispensation of democracy that began in 1999 and remains unbroken for twenty years now. A first for the country since its independence from Britain in 1960.
Buhari had since 2018 offered a formal apology from the Nigerian government to the family of the late Abiola after hosting them at the presidential villa in Abuja, honouring the deceased posthumously and sent in a bill to the National Assembly to formalize June 12 as a national holiday. He assented to the bill on Monday.
Nigerians were enthusiastic about the renaming of the national stadium and other efforts taken by the government to bring a closure to the June 12 fiasco.
“June 12 is at the soul of our democratic struggle, a threshold in our national life.” Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice President and Buhari’s major opponent in the February 2019 presidential polls said in a statement to mark the day.
In a tweet later, Atiku said “Nigeria voted for democracy against the jackboot notion of oppressive totalitarianism (on June 12).” Atiku almost became a Vice Presidential candidate to the late Abiola in 1992. He is currently challenging the results of the 2019 polls in court.
“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.’” Buhari concluded in his address to Nigerians at the maiden June 12 National Democracy Day celebration.