The people of the Gbagura area in Abeokuta, Ogun State, where Abiola hails from, have demanded June 12 become the future date for inauguration of new governments.
The town’s traditional ruler, the Agura of Gbagura, Oba Halidu Olaoko, the Sobekun II, made the request during a press conference in his palace yesterday.
“We see this (honouring of Abiola) as victory of truth over injustice. And as the people of Gbagura and Ogun State, we are extremely glad that Mr. President has finally done what is just and fair with the posthumous award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the late Abiola and the declaration of June 12 as the proper Democracy Day and a public holiday in Nigeria,” the ruler said through Chief Adio Baiyewun.
“We passionately request the National Assembly to take a second look at President Muhammadu Buhari’s proposal on June 12 and demand proper actualisation and immortalisation of the date and Abiola.
There is need to support Mr. President to replace the hitherto public holiday of May 29 and celebration as well as the handover day with June 12, since the date marks a watershed in Nigeria’s political history,” he added.
Buhari had surprised Nigerians when he announced last week that the late Chief Moshood Abiola won the June 12, 1993 presidential election and would therefore receive, today, the country’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
Former President Ibrahim Babangida had annulled the poll, adjudged the most credible in the nation’s history and widely believed to have been won by the late philanthropist.
But the commemoration has divided opinions among Nigerians. Chief Chekwas Okorie, National Chairman of the United Peoples Party, said: “The proclamation and the award is an act of courage, justice and patriotism.”
He said: “We do not agree with those who advance the argument that Buhari was merely playing politics with such a monumental act.
In 25 years, a number of administrations were persuaded. There were even public protests for June 12 to be given special recognition and the late Chief M.K.O Abiola properly honoured.
“By our own assessment, it was those that paid deaf ears to such a legitimate demand that played politics with the incidence of June 12, because they thought that it was politically correct to distance their administrations from it.”
Okorie also urged government to honour the then electoral chairman, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, for risking his life to uphold the sanctity of the election.
Comrade Sunny Ofehe, activist and Founder/Executive Director of Netherlands-based non-governmental organisation, Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC), said Buhari’s gesture was long overdue.
“We must give so much credit to the president for taking this bold step. This action is most significant, because it came from a president who was a former Military Head of State and from the northern part of Nigeria,” said Ofehe, regretting why former President Olusegun Obasanjo failed to take the pivotal decision.
For Chief Solomon Edebiri, the pronouncement is the best thing the Buhari administration has ever achieved since its inception.
An active member of the Zikist movement, who later worked with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the defunct Action Group, Edebiri said: “Buhari has listened to what people have been saying. There have been agitations here and there over this issue.
I have refused personally to acknowledge May 29 as Democracy Day. I have never celebrated it.
I have never given holiday to my workers on that day, because I did not regard that day as authentic.
“Buhari has done meets the yearnings and aspirations of the vast majority of Nigerians who were present, who knew what happened and who appreciated the sacrifices made by Nigerians for the actualisation of June 12, after it had been destroyed by the military people who were in power at the time.
So, it is a very god decision and it has come at the very good time in our political history.”
Former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba, also commended the move, having adopted the day even while he was in office.
“If I did it in my state and the president has found it fit to do the same for the entire nation, I should thank God that I am alive to see this. I accept it wholeheartedly.
The family (Abiola’s) has accepted it. And if they did, why should I kick against what those who are the immediate family of the late business mogul embraced. I am a political family of Abiola, so I have no choice but to accept it,” he said.
Activist and political economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, recalled the price he paid for his June 12 convictions. Having been “beaten by armed policemen on the streets of Lagos” and having “survived two assassination attempts,” he concluded: “Truth is like smoke; it eventually finds its way out.”
But the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) greeted today’s event with criticism.
“It is not that MASSOB and the people of Biafra are not happy about the fact that Abiola is acknowledged; it is the cheap attempt to use his supreme sacrifice to score some unearned political points and corner subtle political favours for the caliphate,” the group said.
In a statement, MASSOB noted: “Buhari has been president for three years. He has celebrated the May 29 Democracy Days four times. At no time did he deem it fit to even acknowledge Abiola as a hero of Nigeria’s democratic experience.
“Now, a year to another general election, days after honouring and observing the only Democracy Day he truly believes in, and possibly his very last as President – he wants to grant a gift to the Oduduwa people with some posthumous award for their hero. MASSOB believes that millions of Oduduwa people cannot be fooled.”
Meanwhile, the Lagos State government, at the International Archives Day organised by the state’s Records and Archives Bureau, yesterday, called for the release of details on Abiola’s final moments.
According to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Kehinde Bamigbetan, the facts are “overripe for public consumption.”
The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) also appealed to Buhari to include its former General Secretary, the late Frank Kokori, and former President, the late Wariebi Agamene, in the list of persons to be honoured.
It added: “We further urge Mr. President to summon the courage and political will to nip in the bud the high prevalence of insecurity in the land and ensure that the welfare of Nigerian workers is safeguarded.
There must also be sincere commitment in the promotion of policies that will attract foreign direct investment, and enabling environment to foster development that can reduce poverty and crime.”