In a landmark decision, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday proclaimed June 12 as the country’s Democracy Day to be celebrated as a public holiday from next year in commemoration of the momentous June 12, 1993 Presidential election won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, Popularly known as Chief M.K.O Abiola.
Chief Abiola is also to be post-humously honoured with the nation’s highest award, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) conferred on all Presidents/Heads of state.
In the special press statement, Buhari said: “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29th as Democracy Day. That was the date when for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government. The first time this happened was on October 1st, 1979. But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12th, 1993 was far more symbolic of Democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29th or even the October 1st. Accordingly, after due consultations, the Federal Government has decided that henceforth, June 12th will be celebrated as Democracy Day”.
Here are some of the important facts you should know about June 12.
- The date is celebrated in honour of an annulled presidential election in June 12, 1993. Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola ran for the presidency in 1993, and is widely regarded as the presumed winner of the inconclusive election since no official final results were announced till date.
- The election was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida, because of alleged evidence that they were corrupt and unfair, a development that ushered in a political crisis that led to General Sani Abacha seizing power later that year.
- In 1994, Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island, an area mainly dominated by Lagos Indigenes after he returned from a trip to solicit the support of the international community for his mandate. After declaring himself president, he was declared wanted, accused of treason and arrested on the orders of then military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, who sent 200 police vehicles to bring him into custody.
- Moshood Abiola was detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement with a Bible, Qur’an, and fourteen guards as companions.
- Nigerian Pastor T.B. Joshua is said to have predicted the annulment of Abiola’s win and warned him against contesting.
- Abiola’s involvement in politics started at a young age. He was 19-years-old when he joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1979.
- For the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, Abiola’s running mate was Baba Gana Kingibe. He overwhelmingly defeated his rival, Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
- Abiola died on July 7, 1998 on the day he was due to be released from incarceration under suspicious circumstances, shortly after the death of General Abacha. The official autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, but Abacha’s chief security officer, Major General Al-Mustapha alleged that he was beaten to death.
- K.O Abiola used a ‘Hope’ campaign which President Barrack Obama also used. Many people may have paid attention to the word ‘Hope’ being used to convey a message of possibility during Obama’s 2008 election in America, but 15 years before then in Africa’s most populous nation, M.K.O Abiola became a rallying figure for many Nigerians with his ‘Hope’ campaign.
- Chief M.K.O Abiola’s memory is celebrated in Nigeria and internationally. M.K.O Abiola Stadium, Lagos, was named in his honour.
- The election was declared Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election by national and international observers, with Abiola even winning in his Northern opponent’s home state. June 12 is thus a day to remember Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as well as other democracy martyrs.
Femi Falana, a Human Rights Lawyer, commended President Muhammadu Buhari and added that the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day was an end to the hypocrisy of celebrating it on May 29. According to him, it “validated the integrity of the fair and free election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta”. He said that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has made history by conferring and granting the post humous national award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Chief M. K. O. Abiola, who was the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election for his huge contribution to the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria.
By Mercy Kukah