By Mohammed Adamu
IN his controversial book The Accidental Public Servant, Nasir El -Rufai narrated how the 12th of June (or June 12 to be precise) was deliberately avoided as hand-over date by the military interregnum of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, even though the writer said, a sequence of calendar searches by that government for a convenient hand-over date, had fortuitously, even if inadvertently, fallen right on ‘June 12’. But El-Rufai said that because the date was some kind of “bad karma” for the military that had arbitrarily annulled Nigeria’s freest and fairest election which held on that date, the idea that Abdulsalami should hand over on that date was rejected.
And in its place El-Rufai said May 29th was haphazardly chosen, a desolate date with no political history or democratic antecedent other than what El-Rufai himself insinuated in the book, that its choice was motivated by a malevolent conspiracy at the highest level to deny recognition for June 12 or to avoid immortalising the man, MKO who was martyred to nourish the very democratic tree that was about to bloom. And then they said also that the same May 29th henceforth would be our ‘Democracy Day’-by so doing honouring a day in which an event not any more momentous than when General Obasanjo handed over to a democratically-elected Shagari, took place.
And you wondered, if the date that General Obasanjo handed over to Shagari was not historic enough to make our ‘Democracy Day’, why should that in which General Abdulsalami was to hand over to a democratically-elected Obasanjo, suddenly be, -and to think that in this case even to the detriment of worthier dates like ‘June 12’ in which Nigeria’s ‘freest and fairest election’ held, or ‘June 8’ in which the winner of that election’ was assassinated?
El-Rufai said that soon after the coming of Abdulsalami, cogent reasons were advanced for discarding late Abacha’s ‘self-succession’ programme which had an October 1998 date for its presidential election, and at which Abacha himself was to have been a ‘sole candidate’. And with that therefore, El-Rufai said, “cancelling all previously scheduled elections” under Abacha to commence a fresh transition programme, became a fait accompli. Besides the new transition programme he said required brand new parties that “would need some time to form, hold congresses, primaries and conventions followed by national elections with enough room for any potential post election litigation to take its course”. Only then, El-Rufai said “could power be handed over by the military junta”.
Thus, considering these practical exigencies, El-Rufai said that all “elections had to be postponed until February 1999”, -a resolution which extended by one month Abdulsalami’s earlier wish “to be out of power by the first of January”. And so now the middle of April –barely two months from the presidential election- was fixed as hand-over date; but which again Ibrahim Aliyu, the Chairman of Programme Implementation and Monitoring Committee, PIMCO, said would be insufficient for “post-election litigation and adjudication”.
El-Rufai said that the lot then fell on him to go “see the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais”, to be advised on “how much time… would be adequate… for all post-election litigations to run their course”. He said that Uwais after “a step-by-step-analysis of civil procedures likely to be complied with”, suggested “the end of April to the middle of May”.
When he took Uwais’ advice back to PIMCO, El-Rufai said “we added four weeks from mid-May and we landed on Saturday, the 12th of June as the hand-over date”. And although he said the First Lady “weighed in on Justice Uwais’ recommended time-line with her husband to get his quick buy-in”, El-Rufai, without saying whether Abdulsalami accepted the recommendation or not, tactfully proceeded to say “so we moved two weeks backward to the 29th of May, which has remained our ‘Democracy Day’ and a national holiday ever since”.
Thus, El-Rufai’s book, has not come clean enough on who was or were responsible for the rejection of June 12 or for the acceptance of May 29 as hand-over date or as ‘Democracy Day’ for the country. Whereas he did not categorically say Abdulsalami objected to their recommendation of ‘June 12’, he did not also categorically say the man had accepted it.
Falana’s scape goat
But radical Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Femi Falana, has alleged that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, was responsible for the celebration of May 29 instead of June 12 as ‘Democracy Day’. Said the human rights lawyer in an interview with Sahara Reporters: “No one has ever made a case for the celebration of May 29 as Democracy Day. It was meant” he said “to spite those who celebrate June 12 by the Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration.”
Yet in fairness to Obasanjo, and if El-Rufai’s account is anything to go by, how could an “administration” (OBJ’s) even before it came into office, be guilty of an act or omission committed long before its birth? Obasanjo, just smarting from detention and still being rehabilitated, allegedly by ‘special interests’ to contest for president, could not have been in a position then to manipulate the choice of a hand-over date or the date to be celebrated as ‘Democracy Day’. Both of these, as El-Rufai suggested in his book were strictly the prerogative of Abdulsalami and his wife, Fati?.
But could Obasanjo as President for eight years have done something to reverse the non recognition of June 12 and, by so doing to immortalise MKO? Absolutely yes! So then why did Obasanjo not bother to recognise June 12, or to immortalise MKO? Maybe because like Yar’adua and Jonathan who came after him, he did not think it was necessary. Yes Jonathan had attempted to politik with it by renaming UNILAG, MAU (Moshood Abiola University)! But to have to kill an intellectual product, namely ‘UNILAG’, that has taken 50 years to ferment into an international brand, was not my idea of recognising June 12 or immortalising a hero like MKO.
The late Chief MKO did not only win the freest and fairest election, his feat symbolised the struggle to end military dictatorship and to install democracy in Nigeria. MKO built bridges across ethnic, regional, religious and political divides. He was not only a lover of press freedom, he was a veritable exponent of press freedom; he was not only an idealist of the fight against poverty, MKO’s charitable disposition was in fact the epitome of philanthropy; he was not only a sports enthusiast but a practical continental pillar of sports; not only a passionate afro-centric himself but MKO was a lone ‘buffalo soldier’ in the demand for reparation for the 200 years of slavery visited on the black race. MKO was more African than he was a Nigerian. And the pride should have been gladly ours, Nigerians, to show that he was our hero after all. A day should have been set aside to commemorate him; not a university’s hard-earned name mangled to mock the man!
For a man whose martyrdom watered the tree of the democracy that we enjoy today, true recognition consist only in declaring him President-elect posthumously –which will only be reaffirming that which he was, baring the annulment- and then also reversing May 29 to June 12 –which again will not be gratuitous because it will merely recognise the inimitability of that pan-Nigerian electoral victory. Only then will the anger of the democratic gods be assuaged, and the unsettled spirit of the late MKO properly reposed.
Falana could not have put it better when he said “No serious democratic country in the world ever sets aside a day to mark the exit of military dictators. Holidays are declared to mark significant events and individuals who have contributed positively to the development of societies”.
In commemorating June 12 last year I wrote ‘ODE TO MKO: A PARODY OF SHAKESPEARE’, and in which I said “the army of exigency (Abdulsalami’s) had become the army of mischief. Avoiding remembrance of ‘June 12’ or recognition given to the 8th of July. And they came up with a barren May 29 which they claim is our ‘Democracy Day’. Meaning that between the ‘fig’, the ‘olive’ and the tree of ‘vine’, they chose the accursed tree of Jesus that bore no fruits”. And I asked rhetorically “What hath this ‘day’ (May 29) deserved? What hath it done that it, in golden letters should be set…?”
Because “If the tree may be known by the fruit, as the fruit by the tree, June 12 (not May 29) is our democracy day”.
Re: How patriotic is the whistle blower?
Online:– “The decadence in our society is alarming and has taken a very dangerous dimension. We must change our ways of conducting our affairs to the best way, else we continue to wallow in a state of uncertainty”.
–Abba Bukar Abba Masta.
Online:- “When a society is this ‘infested’… what are the ways out or solutions? That is what I think ‘we’… the privileged ‘few’ (commentators) and the discerning should come up with… because certainly ‘only we can change our situation’. So, please, MOHAMMED ADAMU has indeed x-rayed the Nigeria of today; how can we get or cobble the Nigeria of tomorrow… that we ALL will be proud of and happy to be in”.
Online:- “You can write it, debate it, on different mediums with high sounding diction; shout on rooftops or use a megaphone to cry out hoarse on the streets; very few take more than a fleeting glance or glossed interest. That is the society we find ourselves. So much religion without the genuine fear of God. We preach morals in every sermon, but we are impoverished of virtue. It’s a rat race. We compete silently at everything; the houses we live in, what part of town, the schools our children attend, which countries we travel to on holidays, dominate both our secular and spiritual lives. Those who can afford it –nobody cares if it is their legitimate or illegitimate incomes- they flaunt it anyway!
Those who desire same but live a normal life, within their normal budgets are mocked by the society either directly or indirectly taunting you to work hard. Question the source of wealth of any of those thieves and criminals you’ll be shouted down for envy and jealousy. I sincerely don’t know who isn’t caught up in the morass of our national existence. This is the gory picture and the tragedy of our story as a people.”
–Thomas Brown Usman Wamba