Stories by Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Today the celebration of June 12 by pro democracy groups and activists willÂ assume a new dimension . This is because, seventeen years after the cancellation of June 12 1993 presidential election believed to be won by MKO Abiola and twelve years after his martyrdom , there was anÂ official recognition ofÂ the sacrifice made by pro democracy groupsÂ for democracy .
To many pro democracy activists and Nigerians, this is a deviation from what used to obtain in the past when no government acknowledged late ChiefÂ Moshood Abiola asÂ the symbol of modern day democracy in Nigeria.
Indeed, the story of democracy would never be told at any time in Nigeriaâ€™s historyÂ without the mention of June 12 and Chief MKO Abiola whose blood and that of his wife, Kudirat alongside many otherÂ Nigerians was shed before the military could be chased back to the barracks and for civil rule to become a permanent feature in Nigeriaâ€™s politicalÂ scenery since 1999.
It was a tortuousÂ journey to the present democracy and it all began with the annulment of June 12 1993 presidential election by the then military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida.
President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s recent recognition through his nation-wide broadcast on Radio and Television during his May 29Â Democracy Day message to Nigerians that indeed, Chief MKO Abiola paid the price forÂ the freedom Nigerians are enjoying today went aÂ long way.
The president had eulogisedÂ Abiola and the pro democracy individuals who madeÂ the supreme sacrifice thatÂ endedÂ Â military rule and paved the way for democracy. The President said duringÂ his broadcast ,Â â€œIt is in this spirit that we remember the great sacrifices made by Nigerian patriots, some of whom paid the supreme price.
We salute the illustrious memories of the M. K. O. Abiolas, the Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Aduas, the Alfred Rewanes and the Gani Fawehinmis, whose sacrifice for democracy have paved way for the enthronement ofÂ democracy. This should compelÂ us to take our democratic enterprise more seriously and with greater vigilance.
â€œWe must work to ensure that by the supreme sacrifice ofÂ these great heroes, it should no longer be necessary for the tree ofÂ freedom to be watered by the blood of yet more martyrs.â€
President Jonathan then pledged that his administration wouldÂ take it as a challengeÂ to conduct credible elections in which every voter will only be entitled to a vote and every vote will count. He furtherÂ advised Nigerians to develop a democratic culture in which the will of the people will be treated as sacred and be immunedÂ to subversion by anti-democratic elements, sayingÂ the consummation of the process of electoral reform is a collective task that must be done this year.
ReiteratingÂ the supremacy of the constitution, he reminded that , â€œthe supremacy of the constitution should always be defended by all regardless of divergence of interests. Opposing views should always be tolerated and the culture of unfettered national debates should be reinvigorated as we collectively seek solutions to our problems.â€
Today marks a new day for victims of June 12 some of whom lost their lives, their businesses and their freedom in the struggle. The recognition of the sacrifice made by certain individuals and groups to facilitateÂ democracy goes a long way to pacify wounded hearts. Pro democracy activists today sound more cheerful despite the shortcomings of democracy, sayingÂ their struggle was not in vain.
Although some of the victims like Pa Abraham Adesanya have died, those who are still alive like: Frank Kokori who was jailed; John Oyegun who went to exile; Chief Ayo Adebanjo who was also jailed; Chief Olu Falae who though was part of the system of that annulment butÂ laterÂ joined the struggle and was jailed areÂ cheerfully saying that they did not suffer in vain even though it is still a long way to genuine democracy.
Today, pro democracy groups celebrate the real Democracy Day, acknowledging that June 12 1993 election would continue to be the rallying point in Nigeriaâ€™s democratic experiment as long as the issue of electoral reforms and free and fair elections remain illusive. Abiola, in a long time to come will continue to beÂ a symbol of democracy and rule of law. Nigeria still owesÂ the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola an immense debt of gratitude.
It was his dogged commitment to the principles of democracy, justice and the rule of law even at the cost of his life that created the basis for the benefits we are enjoying today.
June 12 remains a symbolÂ that Nigerians can vote freely and conduct a free and fair election devoid of rigging, violence and all manner of manipulation. June 12 buries ethnic jingoism, religious bigotry, tribal sentiments and enhancesÂ the unity ofÂ Nigeria and the fact that a Yoruba or Igbo man can win an election in the North and defeat a Northern opponent in his own domain as portrayed by MKO Abiola of Social Democratic Party, SDP, and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of National Republican Convention on June 12 1993.
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