By Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA—President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to recognise Chief Moshood Abiola’s position in the evolution of the country’s democracy rebounded in the two chambers of the National Assembly yesterday with legislators applauding his decision but questioning his procedure.
In the Senate where the legislative body called on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to declare the full results of June 12, 1993, election and the Federal Government to pay full entitlements of former president and vice-president to Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe respectively, differences in perception led to a tumult.
The uproar erupted after Senator Enyinnanya Abaribe called for December 31, 1983 to be declared as Democracy Destruction Day in an apparent reference to the day in 1983 when the military government of President Shehu Shagari was ousted, and Buhari ushered in as military head of state.
In the House of Representatives, the debate on a motion to recognise Abiola was shelved after the House descended into a near riot, following opposition raised to the award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, to Abiola.
Resolution moved for benefits due Abiola to be paid
The resolution for Abiola and Kingibe to receive the benefits due to former holders of the office was upon a motion moved by Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South).
Noting that it was a remarkable event in the nation’s history, she said:
“For once, I want to thank the President of Nigeria. I want to say he has done well. This is one time that the President has given a thought to what Abiola and his family went through to fight for this democracy that we enjoy today.
“Going further, there are issues to be addressed so that we can be confident that this is not a Greek gift and this is the time for the result to be properly announced by INEC because government is a continuum and declare President Abiola as a president. In his contribution, Senator Lanre Tejuosho said:”
President Muhammadu Buhari now proclaiming that June 12 will now be our Democracy Day instead of May 29 which is a child of June 12; I believe Mr. President needs further encouragement to continue this reconciliation that he started yesterday. What he has started took us 25 years to achieve. So I believe this Senate should acknowledge this major feat. He urged the President to take his reconciliation further by mending fences with the National Assembly.
Leader of the Senate, Senator Ahmed Lawan in his contribution said “Buhari has shown clearly what a democracy is. The parliament should continue to support the government to entrench democracy further,” the Senate leader said as he urged his colleagues not to be partisan in their assertions.
“For the first time, Nigerians elected candidates based on their credibility only. Somebody from Kano who contested against Abiola was defeated in Kano. That is the kind of sentiment Nigerians should always have.
Address other injustices, Ekweremadu tells Buhari
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, in his contribution urged the President to go further to address other forms of injustice in the country. He also advised that the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day should not lead anyone to misconstrue the fact that the handover date remains May 29.
He said: “I support the proposal by Senator Olujimi that the results of the June 12 election need to be declared because it is a mere perception that MKO Abiola won the election. INEC has to announce the figures and let it be on record that Abiola was President and Kingibe was Vice President. It is good for us to have that record.
“However, there are two legal issues involved. The provisions of Section 135(2)(b) of our Constitution on the tenure of the president, because they are now saying that June 12 is now the Democracy Day deposing that, that means that in 2019, the President will be sworn-in on the 12th of June.
“This is legally impossible because the law says that subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person shall hold the office of the President until (a) when his successor in office takes the oath of that office; (b) he dies whilst holding that office; (c) the date when his resignation from office takes effect; or (d) he otherwise ceases to hold office in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.
“Section 135 (2) says: ‘Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this Section, the President shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years commencing from the date, when (a) in the case of a person first elected as President under this Constitution, he took Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office; and (b) in any other case, the person last elected to that under this Constitution took the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office or would, but for his death, have taken such oaths’.
Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) in his view said the conferment of honours according to the National Honours Act stipulates that it would only be on living persons, not on dead persons. Melaye’s contribution was greeted with uproar, forcing Senate President Bukola Saraki who was presiding to intervene.
“I think the whole point of discussion was to recognise the fact that Chief MKO Abiola’s contributions, his travails for many years was long overdue. The good intention is what we should recognise. There might be an imperfection in how it was implemented but let us for today take the good intentions.
“The other issues, I am not saying they are wrong or right. In the spirit of all those imperfections, we should not allow that to cloud the fact that Chief MKO….. and let us leave it as a fact of what Chief MKO represents to all of us”.
Senator Abaribe in his contribution called for an amendment of the Honours Act to make it proper.
“I support what Senator Olujimi and also what the Deputy Senate President had said, insisting that there may have to be an amendment of the constitution,” he said.
“I also want to add that it would also be necessary for the executive to quickly bring to the National Assembly, an amendment to the honours act which states that there cannot be a post-humous award. Now that they have jumped the gun to do post-humous award, it would be necessary for us to amend that act quickly.
“Finally, I want to also propose another day since we are now moving in the right direction, I want to propose that we also designate 31st December, 1983 as Democracy Destruction Day because that was the day that this same president did a coup.”
At that point, the Senate turned rowdy.
Commotion in House of Reps
The House of Representatives was thrown into commotion when Rep. Nicholas Ossai, PDP, Delta State, said Buhari’s decision to announce the new public holiday on Wednesday rather than on May 29 was “with bad intent.”
He also said that only the National Assembly was empowered to set new dates for public holidays.
“Public holidays are derived from an act of the National Assembly and not by executive declaration,” the lawmaker said. “This honour is to be given to the president or former presidents who are still alive.
“Two weeks ago, we celebrated our great feat as a nation on our Democracy Day. The executive never thought it wise to declare it on that day. What is the difference between now and one week ago? It is an act of discrimination.
“What happens to the public funds used in celebrating Democracy Day weeks ago? They must be accounted for. Why didn’t the President announce it on that day?” he asked. His assertion raised commotion as several members shouted on him to sit down.
Some of the other lawmakers who also spoke on the issue said there is the need to ensure that the rule of law was abided with regarding the matter, while others spoke in favour of the President’s decision. The debate led to another noisy session which continued for more than twenty minutes.
After the noise subsided, Speaker Yakubu Dogara who presided said the Public Holidays Act gives room for the president to fix public holidays.
“The National Assembly has exercised its powers as provided in the constitution by enacting that act,” he said, adding: “But section 2(2) gives the president powers to declare a new date for public holidays.”
Toby Okechukwu, from Enugu state, said while Buhari’s decision was commendable, he said lawmakers must ensure the president acted “within the framework of the law.”
“We must make sure that we set the correct actions to ensure it is sustainable and it is registered for what it is. We must ensure the rule of law is abided by,” he said.
Kayode Oladele, from Ogun state, said Buhari’s decision was in order and that it will always be remembered.
“That (annulment of the 1993 election result) was the beginning of the crisis in Nigeria. Had it not happened, we would not have been where we are today because Nigerians spoke without any iota of doubt that this is what we want,” he said.
Some of the lawmakers also argued that while the Public Holidays Act empowers the president to fix a new public holiday, the act defines May 29 as date for celebration of Democracy Day.
It was as such the view of some that the Public Holidays Act should be amended to give legality to the commemoration of June 12 as Democracy Day.
Following the dissenting views, Dogara said the matter will be suspended and referred to the House Committee on Rules and Businesses to sort out the issues and report back to the lawmakers.
“There is a schedule in the act which leaves Democracy Day as May 29. So the issue to be resolved is to look at the presidential declaration and compare with the section of the act that states that June 12 is the Democracy Day. So I will freeze the motion, and refer the matter to the committee on rules,” the speaker declared.