By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria, announced on Wednesday, that June 12 will now be “Democracy Day.” He went further to award posthumous honours to the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 elections, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, with the GCFR, the highest political honour in the land, and his running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the second highest honours, the GCON. To top the gravy, he also honored the late Gani Fawehinmi with the GCON too.
Quick as the announcement came, there were various reactions. Not unexpectedly, many from the Southwest of Nigeria, particularly the partisans of the APC, began to call Buhari the “new progressive.” Mr. Ahmed Tinubu in fact did gush so much that he came short of describing Buhari as the greatest democrat of Nigeria’s modern history.
This is not unexpected, because Buhari’s gesture fits into the logical interest of the APC partisans of Southwestern Nigeria. And I shall return to this. But the president’s gesture was quickly called into question – the legality of it: first from the senate, came a flurry of tongue-in-cheek statements. If you want to honour Abiola, and right the wrongs of history, the senators said, well go all the way: declare the full result, and declare Abiola president, and swear his ghost in as president of Nigeria. Of course, the implication of this would certainly mean that folks like Ernest Shonekan, even though I still think so, with or without this very act, can no longer be considered a former Head of state. And indeed he was not. Abacha would thus have to be tried also in absentia for treason, for usurping the mandate of the people, and stripped of all his privileges as a Head of state, Posthumous. All the ghosts of 1993 would have to be resurrected. There were also the legal side of the issue raised by President Buhari’s executive declaration.
The first was raised very quickly by the Deputy President of the Senate, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, who very clearly noted that it would take an Act of the National Assembly to change the public holiday, from May 29 to June 12, which would also mean, an extention of Buhari’s time in office. Besides, aside from the fact that the constitution does not provide for posthumous honours, there is that important part that the constitution requires the National council of state to advise and agree to the conferment of National honours, and for the president’s declaration to stand, it would require an entirely new Act of the National Assembly to change that bit of legislation or rule. This position was duly, and quickly echoed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, the honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, who came only short of calling the president’s posthumous awards, “asinine.”
The short of all these is that Buhari’s declaration is, at best, a wish list, rather than an effective and legal declaration. There already is a slew of legal challenges currently being rolled out to prevent this, once again, potential overreach of the president’s who clearly does not seem to have any regard for constitutionalism, or for the rule of law that limits his powers as president. One stands with those who question the legality, and appropriateness of the president’s declaration of honours for Abiola, and the changing of the meaning of “June 12.”
It is without doubt an emotional issue for many in the South west of Nigeria, and for lots of the supporters of the late Bashorun Abiola. I need to say for the records that I was neither a supporter nor have I actually really been part of the “Abiola-groupie.” I did not vote on June 12 – neither for Abiola nor for Bashir Tofa. I did not believe that either of them would make a great president. In fact, I was sceptical, and dissatisfied with the highly manipulated process that threw up both of them as presidential candidates.
However, I also knew that once I gave up my right to vote, I had to live with the result, and Nigerians who chose to vote, voted for Abiola, and as the results began to come in, it was clear that he was the choice of Nigerians. That had to count for something. My defence of the Abiola mandate as both a citizen and a newspaper columnist was thus a matter of principle, and remains so. A great injustice was done, and it is imperative that this be acknowledged and corrected, and I still believe this ought to be done. But this very act by Buhari does not correct it. It raises a different set questions and a slew of problems. First, Abiola was never the president of Nigeria. He may have been elected, but the process was inconclusive. He was neither sworn in as president, nor did he take the traditional oath of allegiance to Nigeria in order to be president. He died in defence of his mandate, and this of course, must be taken into full historical account.
But to award him the GCFR is an extreme form of indiscretion, and it will be unmitigated lie, subject to another reversal and review by another process. To in fact award his running mate Babagana Kingibe the GCON is not only vexatious, but it is akin to putting the plumes of the Ozo on madness.
We must remember that Mr. Babagana Kingibe very clearly disavowed his own mandate, and benefited from the cancellation of the result when he accepted to be General Abacha’s Foreign Minister who led a great international onslaught to discredit both Abiola and the mandate that Abiola represented, and for which Abiola was killed.
Kingibe cannot have his breads buttered on both sides. He made his choice and took a stand behind Abacha, and cannot be rewarded for obloquy! So, what honours has been conferred to the man who stood right beside Abiola as he made his Epetedo declaration, while Kingibe was busy negotiating his own “commie” from Abacha? What shall we say of Kudirat, that lioness felled by that regime under whom Kingibe served with pleasure? This award calls Mr. Buhari’s impartiality to question, for two reasons: first is that Kingibe is a very senior inner member of his government, and two is that the Tinubu faction of the APC, are pushing for this lawlessness, simply to distract people in the Southwest, particularly the ethnic Yoruba for whom this issue is deeply emotional, but who also are now utterly aware, and disappointed with the incompetence, and failures of Buhari, and the sidelining of what has often been called the “Yoruba interest” for his own narrow ethnic agenda in the last three years of his presidency.
This award is like throwing corn to cockerels, and expecting them to fight over it, while the hand that shapes the gift, also harvests the wider field of crop. And indeed, as the poet Okigbo’s lament at the end of “Limits,” does suggest, “for the far removed” there will be wailing if the Yoruba succumb to this Greek gift; this charity offered with the left hand, by Nigeria’s increasingly reprobate “pot-bellied watchers.” Bashorun Abiola must be honored appropriately, but not with empty posthumous honours, whose greater beneficiary is a living Judas, now turned hero of the republic. If Buhari wishes to honour Abiola, I suggest that he names the National Hospital in Abuja, the “Moshood Abiola Memorial National Hospital,” in recognition of Abiola’s great philanthropy towards such causes too. And a proper plaque placed there to indicate that he was denied his right to be president of Nigeria.
That would be more honorable; much more appropriate. This is the honor the National Assembly itself must propose. Not the GCFR – Abiola was never the Commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, for instance. It would be a lie. And MKO would have disavowed it as he rejected every lure to get him to reject and disavow his mandate. Abiola should not be buried under such a lie. That man will stir in his grave for this clearly insulting, left-handed charity to his memory.