By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—But for a display of unusual discretion by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the bill seeking to confer legal status on June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day would have been killed at yesterday’s plenary.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had, in May, conferred a posthumous award on Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola, the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election upon which the new Democracy Day is being proposed for May 29.
Members were divided on a plea to pass the bill for second reading.
Entitled A bill for an Act to Amend the Public Holidays Act, Cap. P40 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, to Bring the Act in Tandem with Current Realities and Exigencies of the Modern Times and to Declare June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria and for Related Matters, the bill was sponsored by Edward Gyang Pwajok and Kayode Oladele.
Those who spoke against the bill questioned the rationale behind the proposal and the presidential pronouncement that brought it about, saying it had political connotations.
They queried the significance of the day, asking if the handover ceremony constitutionally done on May 29 of every four years would be shifted.
Similarly, those who spoke in favour of the bill said the annulment of an election described as the fairest could only be redone by pronouncing the day the real democracy day, applauding President Buhari for that singular recognition.
When subjected to voice vote, the chambers roared with a thunderous “nay,” clearly out-voicing those that chorused “yea.”
Then followed an eerie silence with all attention shifting to Dogara to know how he would handle the situation.
Apparently applying tact and finesse, the Speaker echoed “the ayes have it.”
He was later to justify the ruling on the plank of national unity and cohesion, having earlier appealed to the members to consider the mood of the country.
“I ruled in the favour of national unity and cohesion,” he said.
Leading the debate on the motion earlier, a co-sponsor of the bill, Pwajok, APC, from Plateau State, said the bill, when passed into law, would restore the core tenets of democracy in the country, urging his colleagues to support it.
Also speaking, the Deputy Speaker of the House, Yusuf Lasun (APC, Osun State), recalled that June 12, 1993 presidential election marked a watershed in the electoral development of Nigeria.
Other supporters included Aminu Suleiman(APC, Kano) and Muhammed Monguno(APC Borno State).
On the flipside of the debate, lawmakers, mainly members of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, spoke against the amendment of the Public Holiday Act, saying the presidential pronouncement had trappings of politics.
Those against it included Jones Onyeriri(PDP, Imo State), Sergius Ogun(PDP Edo), and Kingsley Chinda(PDP River).
Aliyu Madaki(PDP Kano), while contributing to the debate, read Section 2 of the Public Holiday Act, saying the House would be prompting a constitutional crisis by passing the bill.
For Betty Apiafi(PDP Rivers), the bill would make sense to her only when coup plotters and sponsors make restitution.
The bill was eventually referred to the committee of the whole for further legislative inputs.