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Storm over past Heads of State absence at Democracy Day celebration

• I was not invited — Obasanjo
•Their judgment of Buhari not favourable – Balarabe Musa
•Ex-leaders’ absence not surprising – Ikokwu
•What Buhari did is crass opportunism – Afegbua
•Their absence should bother no-one – Jamiu Abiola

By Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Dirisu Yakubu, Chris Onuoha & Yinka Ajayi

THREE days after the June 12 celebration of Democracy Day, the absence of all living past Nigerian Presidents and Heads of State at the colourful event, held at Eagle Square, Abuja, is still raising dust in the polity.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari salutes during an inspection of guards on parade to mark Democracy Day in Abuja, on June 12, 2019. – Nigeria celebrates the Day of Democracy on June 12, commemorating the country’s first free elections, on June 12, 1993, after a decade of military rule. (Photo AFP)

Meanwhile, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said he was not invited.

When contacted, Media Aide to the former President, Mr. Kehinde Akinyemi, said his boss did not get the invitation to attend the event.

Asked if Obasanjo needed to be invited, he said: “The former President did not get the invitation.   I did not say that he was not invited but he did not get the invitation to attend the event. The invitation might have been lost in transit. What I can say is that Baba did not get the invitation”.

A host of eminent Nigerians and those, who played roles in the struggle to validate the June 12, 1993, presidential election won by the late business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola, were divided, yesterday, on the absence of the leaders.

Among those, who spoke on the issue were former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa; former chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, Chief Guy Ikokwu; human rights activist, Joseph Evah; National President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, AYCF, Alhaji Shettima Yerima; former Education Minister, Professor Tunde Adeniran;   Chief Sunbo Onitiri; former spokesperson to General Ibrahim Babangida, retd, Mr. Kazeem Afegbua; and Abiola’s son, Mr. Jamiu Abiola.

All the leaders

Apart from General Yakubu Gowon, retd, all the leaders were also absent at the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term on May 29, 2019.

The living past leaders are General Babangida; Chief Ernest Shonekan; General Abdulsalami Abubakar, retd; General Olusegun Obasanjo; and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

Apart from Gowon, other leaders benefitted from June 12.

General Babangida annulled the election, a move that gave rise to the June 12 struggle for the restoration of Abiola’s presumed mandate.

When Babangida stepped aside on August 26, 1993, he handed over to Chief Ernest Shonekan as the Head of Interim National Government, ING. Shonekan hails from Ogun State as Abiola. He was pushed aside by late General Sani Abacha three months later.

Abacha’s death on June 8, 1998, paved the way for General Abubakar, who conducted elections and handed over, 11 months later, to General Obasanjo, who also hails from Ogun State.

Immortalise Abiola

Obasanjo was in power for eight years and throughout the period, he ignored calls to immortalise Abiola or recognise June 12 as a national holiday.

His successor, Dr. Jonathan, tried to immortalise Abiola by naming the University of Lagos after him, but the move was aborted by mass protests in Lagos and litigation by concerned stakeholders.

While a host of foreign leaders besieged Nigeria to celebrate democracy day with President Buhari, the absence of Nigeria’s former leaders was visible raising a number of questions.

Why did they all stay away from the first observance of June 12 as Democracy Day?

Their judgment of Buhari not favourable – Balarabe Musa

Speaking on the issue, Alhaji Balarabe Musa said: ‘”The former leaders’ judgment of President Buhari is not favourable. That is why they didn’t want to be associated with him on June 12. Regarding the President’s statement on June 12, my view is that it was not inspiring. there is nothing for Nigerians to rely on and hope for the better. There is a lot of superficiality in the statement. Even the achievements he listed are controversial.’

We don’t have democracy yet – Ikokwu

Chief Ikokwu said the absence of the leaders was not surprising because people were celebrating non-existing democracy.

He said: ‘’It is not that the leaders did not believe in June 12. It is not a question of democracy, we don’t have democracy in Nigeria. What are we celebrating? Do you have a democracy when the Deputy Senate President would kneel down to greet the President? If you analysed the situation carefully, you will know that Nigeria is utterly dysfunctional.”

What Buhari did is crass opportunism – Afegbua

In like manner, Afegbua said: ‘’What President Buhari did is called crass opportunism. If he believed so much in June 12, why did he take up an appointment with a man who finally nailed the June 12 coffin? In order to whip up sentiments of the South-West, he promised to recognise June 12 to garner votes in the 2019 general election. Naming Abuja Stadium after late MKO Abiola does not address the issue of June 12. There is already a stadium in Abeokuta, Ogun State, named after him. This one is not novel. If truly he wants to honour the man, who represented the June 12 struggle, he ought to have recognised the day as MKO Abiola Day.   If he wants it to remain an enduring date of national importance, he should name the Aso Villa, MKO Abiola Villa or June 12 Villa.

MKO Abiola Day

“There are so many contradictions about the entire June 12 struggle and the lessons that we ought to learn. June 12 talks about credible election. It talks about unity and cohesion. Today, we have 1,689 litigations in an election conducted under a government that professes integrity. This is the first time that we have witnessed this level of electoral fraud.

[READ ALSO] JUNE 12: Activists, others laud Buhari, to honour MKO Abiola as President-elect

‘’The level of hunger and poverty today is second to none. How many of those June 12 protagonists were truly sincere in the struggle? Even those who used it as a meal ticket in their political trajectory, now talk about June 12, as if they believed so much in MKO Abiola. Did you not see the outright rejection of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s initiative to name UNILAG after late MKO Abiola? If those modern day converts were so sure in their heart of hearts that they believe in June 12, why did they vehemently oppose the naming of UNILAG after a man they so cherish?

‘’It is all crass political opportunism and double standard.’’

Past leaders’ absence doesn’t mean much – Adeniran

However,   Adeniran played down the absence of the former Heads of State, urging   Nigerians not to see their absence as an unpatriotic act.

His words:   “Their absence doesn’t mean much.  They have the right to determine their priorities.   If  the June 12 election was not annulled, Nigeria’s growth would not have been stunted.

“It is widely believed across the country as well as in the outside world that Nigeria would have made real progress in critical areas of development if Abiola was allowed to lead the country.

“In the annals of our nation’s political history, the date has come to symbolise the most epochal national event. It was a historic day when Nigeria truly existed as a nation. The momentous event of that day was, perhaps, one of Nigeria’s finest moments. Notwithstanding his Muslim-Muslim ticket with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, they were massively voted for by the Nigerians.

Struggle against the military

“The decision of the Buhari  administration to declare June 12 as the nation’s new Democracy Day in honour of the role of MKO Abiola elicited excitement for true patriots and genuine democrats, especially the  front line actors in the struggle against the military. There is no gainsaying that the singular action of that declaration will ever remain one of President Buhari’s enduring legacies.   We must consolidate the democracy that Abiola and other martyrs laboured and died for to make significant meaning in the life of the average Nigerian.”

They didn’t buy into the June 12 idea, vision, mandate — Onitiri

On his part,   Onitiri, who got a counter court order  delivered by Justice Moshood Olugbami of the Lagos High Court that enabled the National Electoral Commission, NEC, to conduct the June 12, 1993, presidential election, said: ‘’The answer is simple. They did not buy into the idea and vision of the June 12 mandate.   You don’t expect people, who hijacked power to celebrate the recognition of what they fought against. That to me could be a reason for their absence at the venue.

They are not democrats.

“It is a   pity that despite 20 years of our  uninterrupted Democracy, we have nothing to celebrate. Our leaders have not lived up to expectation. Nigerians are even worse off. Our people are yet to enjoy dividends of democracy.’’

Former leaders did the right thing – Yerima

Also speaking, Yerima said: ‘’Ordinarily, I wouldn’t want to bother myself about that but I am pro-June 12.   I was one of the foot soldiers at the time of the struggle. This is part of what we have been yearning for and finally, it has come to pass. I just hope and pray that the government of the day did what they did in good faith.   I do not think the matter was tabled before the National Council of State. I am not aware that the matter was presented to the body. I think it was as a result of pressure from the South-West.

“Almost all of the former leaders are ex-generals and you can agree that even the constitution we operate today was a product of decrees and some of us have reservations about the constitution itself.

“What they did was right because you cannot call them all sorts of names despite all they did to hold the country together and expect them to celebrate with you.

‘’That stadium they are talking about is more or less a grazing field. The abandoned property was built by a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, government, by President Obasanjo. If he wants to name something after a hero like MKO Abiola, he should look for something reasonable.   The same elements, who opposed, instigated UNILAG students against Jonathan’s government naming UNILAG after Abiola, are the same people jubilating today’’

Evah said:   “These are old men. I think their absence can be attributed to old age or other engagements.   I believe they must have communicated with the Presidency on why they were absent.’’

I don’t think their action was deliberate — Jamiu Abiola

However, Jamiu Abiola said: ‘’I don’t know why the former Heads of State were absent but I would like to assume it was not deliberate. Democracy Day has come to stay and I am sure that it is going to be celebrated by everyone in this country, including the former Heads of State. This kind of gesture by President Buhari can transform a nation. By endorsing June 12, the President is indirectly tackling poverty and hunger because this will encourage more Nigerians to be patriotic.’’


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