June 12: Abiola’s rival Tofa kicks as ACF backs Buhari


• Akinyemi: Opposition to declaration can’t stand
• It’s political opportunism says Ango Abdullahi
• 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.”

Honour for MKO is belated –Ango Abdullahi

Professor Abdullahi in his own opinion said: “If the President’s declaration is intended to honour Chief MKO Abiola, I think, it is belated.

“So, I consider it to be political opportunism. If there is any Democracy Day Nigerians should worry about, it should be 1st of October, which marks our Independence Day.

“So, I think it is political opportunism because it is belated. If not, why didn’t Obasanjo do it, why didn’t Yar’Adua do it or even Jonathan?

“We have had three regimes since MKO’s death and nobody had the right thinking cap to remember the man? Or to honour him or remember the circumstances of his death until now? That is why I said it is first of all belated and in my own thinking a political opportunism,” he said.

Speaking on the declaration of  June 12 as Democracy Day, Professor Abdullahi  said, even May 29 ought not to be Nigeria’s democracy day.

His words:”why was May 29 Democracy Day in the first place? It was a creation of Obasanjo. Because that was the day power was handed over to him.

“But, must that be Democracy Day, when we already have October 1st? But, because Nigerians always like to go on holiday, that is why they accepted Obasanjo’s May 29, which as far as I am concerned is the marking of his own history in the political development of Nigeria.”

Ajala: FG must first resolve existing legal hurdles, reverse the annulment

In a separate interview, Dr Ajala said: “Much as all patriotic Nigerians applaud Mr. President, for the bold step of recognising the supreme sacrifice of Chief MKO Abiola as the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, there are landmine legal puzzles that cannot even be cured by administrative publication in the Federal Government Gazette by the Attorney General of the Federation as directed by President Buhari.

“I seriously share the sentiments expressed by Senator Ike Ekweremadu on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, June 7, 2018 when he attempted to sensitize the hallowed chambers on the complex legal issues intertwined in the gesture of Mr. President in bestowing posthumous award of GCFR on Chief MKO Abiola and the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day.

“Lest we forget, the presidential election conducted by the National Electoral Commission under the leadership of Professor Humphrey Nwosu on June 12, 1993 was annulled by a decree, duly promulgated by the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) presided over by the Military President Ibrahim Babaginda on June 26, 1993. This historical legal instrument is very well to the knowledge of the presidency of today as it is  an open secret that the presidency of the day has one of the finest minds in the legal firmament of contemporary Nigeria.

“Therefore, the unsettling question to dispassionate legal analysts  of the web of legal issues thrown up by the gesture of President Buhari in bestowing posthumous award of GCFR on Chief MKO Abiola and the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day is thus; ‘Can something be placed on nothing and it’ll be expected to stand?”

It’s validation of the integrity of the election -Falana

Human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN) said: “By declaring June 12 Democracy Day, the federal government has officially validated the integrity of the fair and free election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta.

“By recognising June 12 as Democracy Day, the federal government has put an end to the hypocrisy of May 29, which was proclaimed by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime.

“By conferring the post-humous award of national award of Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) the federal government has officially endorsed his enormous contributions to the titanic battle against military dictatorship and promotion of human rights in Nigeria.

“In addition to the historic gesture, the federal government should proceed to adopt Abiola’s Programme of Welfare to Poverty and respect the human rights of all Nigerian people, which Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN defended in his life time.

“In particular, the federal government should mark the first national Democracy Day on June 12, 2018 with the release of all citizens being detained illegally all over the country and immediate compliance with all valid and subsisting court orders.”

On legality of the national honours, Falana said: “The Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria was reported to have questioned the legality of the decision of President Buhari to confer posthumous awards on Chief M. K. O. Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN.

“Curiously, his lordship did not refer to any section of the National Honours Act or any other law that has been violated by the President. In like manner, some persons have alleged that the June 12 holiday declared by the President is illegal on the grounds that the approval of the National Assembly was not sought and obtained.

“With profound respect to the Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, the National Honours Act has not prohibited or restricted the powers of the President to confer national honours on deserving Nigerian citizens, dead or alive.

“No doubt, paragraph 2 of the Honours Warrant made pursuant to the National Honours Act provides that “a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an Order when he receives from the President in person, at an investiture held for the purpose…”

“But paragraph 3 thereof has given the President the unqualified discretion “to dispense with the requirement of paragraph 2 in such manner as may be specified in the direction.”

“Therefore, since the national awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi cannot be received by them in person the President may permit their family members to receive same on their behalf.

“Furthermore, section 2 (1) of the Public Holidays Act stipulates that in addition to the holidays mentioned in the Schedule to the Act, the President may appoint a special day to be kept as a public holiday either throughout Nigeria or in any part thereof.

“It is crystal clear that the President is not required by law to seek and obtain the approval of the National Assembly before declaring a public holiday in the country.”

“In view of the combined effect of the National Honours Act and the Public Holidays Act the legal validity of the well deserved awards and the historic holiday has not been impugned in any manner whatsoever.”

A lecturer in the Department of Law University of Lagos (UNILAG), Mr.Wahab Shittu, is in agreement with Falana on the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and conferment of Post-Humous honours on Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi, saying: “both actions are legal because the Honour Acts and Holiday Acts say the President has the prerogative to declare any day as public holiday and give national honours to whoever he deems fit.

“The honourees can also send representations to receive the awards on their behalves. The declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day is a result of popular clamour over the years. It is consistent with people’s yearnings and agitation for years.

“We all know Abiola made huge sacrifices for the democracy we all enjoy today and is a fitting awardee. I think we should all commend the administration for taking the measures, which are clearly in order.”

On whether the moves could have been politically-motivated, he said: “Whatever motivation is inconsequential and immaterial because people will always read motives to whatever action one takes.

“What is important is to find it the actions were in response to public agitations and in the interest of all. Once that has been proven, whatever motivation people want to read into it is immaterial.”

Buhari’s action is polically, morally correct, says Rinsola Abiola

Rinsola Abiola  hailed Buhari for doing the right thing at long last.

“It’s not just a political matter, it’s a moral issue,” she said.

She added: “my father laid down his life for the freedom of this country and her citizens and what the president has done is what justice demands. It is politically correct.

“And it is morally alright too. We are happy that he has been recognised at last for laying down his life for democracy in Nigeria.

“It’s going to be 20 years since daddy passed away in July; two whole decades. This is coming really late but better late than never.

“The fact that some people refused to acknowledge the truth doesn’t mean others won’t do the right thing. For whatever reason you think it is, it took 20 years and others could have done this but they didn’t.”  (The Nation)

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