By Rotimi Fasan
BY declaring June 12 rather than the self-serving May 29 Democracy Day, President Muhammadu Buhari made a deft move that is the political equivalent of killing two birds ( if not more) with a stone. First, he succeeded in putting right an historic wrong. Second, he was able to silence two of his most stolid critics in recent times, one of them a dogged and inveterate critic that has more or less perfected the art of criticizing every one of his successors, once he perceives his influence either rightly or wrongly as diminishing.
I speak here of no other persons than Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida. But who does not recognize the Buhari move for all it is worth as a political move? Show me that individual who does not see this move as also self-serving and political and you would have seen a fool. Just as it is also a fool who cannot distinguish between their left and right hand, a self-destructive soul that sees no difference between a child and its bath water- only such a blind-as-a-yam individual would dismiss the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and the conferment of the award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, on Moshood Abiola, as totally unworthy.
Only such critics, barring others straining to cover their opposition in legal veneer, would see something wrong here. The point for me is clear: this latest announcement by Buhari is the right one without prejudice to the motivation for it or the right of Nigerians to vote in the way and manner their conscience leads them to in the next presidential election. The problem with most of us is that we are always too disgusted with those we disagree with as to see anything good with or in them.
Once we’ve made our mind to criticize them we are thereafter incapable of assessing any thing about them without the confusion that comes with passion. We engage in the blinding madness that sees those we have labeled enemy as representing nothing but evil. It was that same confusion that led some of us Nigerians hurling insults and curses at those who felt the Goodluck Jonathan administration had outlived its usefulness and should rightly be sent out of office.
Blinded by rage or ethnic prejudice or, indeed, both some of our compatriots would not give Muhammadu Buhari the opportunity to serve or show himself not capable of executing his new office. Right from the first day and unlike others who would rather reserve judgment until the new administration has had its chance, they launched their attack and could just not say a word without pouring ethnic slurs and curses on President Buhari, his ethnic stock and others perceived as his supporters. Everyone was guilty by association.
Let’s be clear about one thing: a so-called political action is neither by its very nature or definition wrong. What may be wrong is its objective, or the timing of it as is being remarked about what Buhari has done. The point is that President Muhammadu Buhari need not have waited until the eve of another presidential election and at a time when disaffected Nigerians, most of whom had high hopes in his administration, have come to the conclusion that the only way to correct the glaring failures of his administration which he has refused to address for most of the time he has been president, is to put an end to his presidency by voting his party out of power.
Many Nigerians did not think the president had to wait until Olusegun Obasanjo, an avid supporter of his emergence in 2015 had started going round the country in a move aimed at sending Buhari out of office to declare June 12 Democracy Day and confer recognition on Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi. Nor should this announcement have waited these three years during which Bola Tinubu, the main bulwark of the coalition that produced Buhari, had become estranged and is now being courted together with the South-west to repeat the magic of 2015- Buhari need not have waited until he has lost the confidence of his supporters to announce his recognition of Abiola’s contribution.
But then better late than never. What’s more, Buhari is not the only one who’s had the opportunity to make this gesture but failed to do it. Obasanjo who is generally seen as the main beneficiary of the June 12 debacle had all of eight years to have made this move but failed signally to seize the opportunity. Not for once did he mention the name of Moshood Abiola or June 12, either officially or otherwise during his presidency or since then. Such was his disdain.
Would Obasanjo’s recognition of Abiola have been less political than Buhari’s recognition? And how should we classify Goodluck Jonathan’s gesture at recognizing Abiola with the renaming of the University of Lagos- an attempt that was rightly scorned by Nigerians for being so puny and inappropriate. Was that less political than what Buhari has now done? We must learn to give credit to whom it is due irrespective of their flaws. Should Saul’s attack on the Gospel, to use a biblical example, deny him his place as a Christian? Every leader must first learn to do the right thing by their people and where they want to be political, let it be for the right cause.
There is no leader so bad that nothing could count in their favour. Abacha with all his wicked failures left us with a Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, which, although, unevenly employed then and now, continues to serve Nigerians. Abiola himself was as flawed a character as the most human of us. He had his failures. But should this blind us to his great sacrifice? Or the sacrifice of his late wife, Kudirat Abiola, and all others in the vanguard of our struggle for democracy and freedom?
In years to come when we look back at this time Buhari’s recognition of June 12 which goes beyond Abiola as its symbol may yet be his greatest contribution to the advancement of political freedom and unity among Nigerians. The recognition does not mean he is no longer accountable for the failures of his administration. But it adds to his tally as a contributor to our democratic advancement and march to nationhood. This may be an appropriate time as any for Muhammadu Buhari or any other Nigerian leader so minded after him to look back to our history, specifically the Civil War, and make an appropriate gesture of recognition for those permanently scarred by the legacy of that political irruption that has left our land charred and stalled our advancement to nationhood. This at all time should be our goal: unity borne of justice.