IT MUST HAVE BEEN CAREFULLY ARTICULATED by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, to attempt to placate his fast declining popularity in the South-West and in his party the APC. In the larger political framework, Nigerian populace is increasingly getting discontent with his leadership. Posthumously recognizing Late Mashood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, known as [M.K.O Abiola] as the winner of the aborted June 12, 1993, presidential election, and investiture as Grand Commander of The Federal Republic, GCFR, is not unconnected with his ambition for re-election in 2019.
Press statement, personally signed by Buhari and made public, Wednesday, June 6, said: “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have celebrated May 29th as Democracy Day. That was the date when for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government. The first time this happened was on October 21st, 1979”.
“But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this Administration, June 12th 1993, was far more symbolic of Democracy in Nigerian contest, than May 29th, or even the October 1st. June 12th 1993, was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly, the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our Independence. The fact that the outcome of the election was not upheld by the military government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process”.
President Buhari said “after due consultations” his government decided that June 12, replaced May 29, as Democracy Day and celebrated annually in Nigeria. The government also, posthumously, honoured Abiola with Grand Commander of The Federal Republic, GCFR, the highest award in the country, preserved for presidents and heads of state of governments.
Abiola’s vice president, Baba Gana Kingibe was honoured with Grand Commander of The Order of The Niger, GCON, while eminent jurist and human rights activists Late Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, was posthumously honoured with Grand Commander of The Order of The Niger, GCON, for his fight for the actualization of Abiola’s June 12, mandate. President Buhari fixed Tuesday, June 12, 2018, for the awards.
Buhari’s gesture to MKO Abiola, posthumously, 25 years after the annulment of the presidential election by then military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, June 12, 1993, is a huge spite on previous presidents and head of states in Nigeria. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the immediate and foremost beneficiary of the annulled election, for eight years in office as president of Nigeria, passively treated June 12, as insignificant.
President Goodluck Jonathan, May 29, 2012, attempted to honour MKO Abiola by naming University of Lagos after him, as MKO Abiola University. The students and lecturers of the university staged two days protest to denounce President Jonathan’s gesture. The protests led to barricade of Third Mainland Bridge, the major link between Lagos Mainland and the Island — the city’s business center and Victoria Islands.
Political meaning was implied to Goodluck Jonathan’s gesture. The alumni planned to stop the president through court process, if he went ahead with the plan to re-name the institution.
In response to the protests, Jonathan’s government through Labaran Maku, Minister of Information said: “For those of us who have been part of this country for long and who have been adults that lived through the history of Nigeria, particularly in the last two decades if there is any figure that symbolizes sacrifice of self for this nation, it is Abiola”.
Maku added: “There is no event in the political history of our country that touches the hearts of quite a significant number of citizens like the June 12 Presidential election”. Maku further stated that “any nation that does not honour those who clearly stand out and make a sacrifice as a role model cannot appeal to the best in its own traditions for citizens to follow.”
While the decision has generated mixed reactions from section of Nigerians, MKO Abiola’s family members and close political associates applauded the decision. They described it as most deserving and overdue, considering Abiola’s contributions to the growth of education and scholarship in the country during his lifetime.
Abdul Abiola, son of the late politician, according to agency report said: “We are shocked by the reactions trailing this development. My late father believed so much in education. He donated money to universities across the nation. Naming a university after him was a well-deserved honour. He should still be given more honours. We see nothing political in this. We are happy about it and we are yet to understand the rationale behind people going up in arms over this.”
Save Nigeria Group, SNG, was not impressed with the decision of government. It said MKO Abiola deserves one of the highest honour in the land. Speaking for the Group, Yinka Odumakin said: “While acknowledging the place of Abiola in the political history of Nigeria, we would want the highest possible honour for him.”
He added: “We, however, deplore the renaming of the University of Lagos after him. We restate our demand that Abiola must be given a befitting honour for the sacrifices he made for democracy in Nigeria in a decent and worthy manner.” He described the renaming of the university established by law through presidential fiat as “abuse of power”.
Olu Akerele, Special Assistant to MKO Abiola, described the naming of University of Lagos after him as “mere tokenism and not far reaching enough”. He said the activities of Abiola transcend South-West where he came from. Naming of UNILAG after him seemed to limit recognition of Abiola to Yoruba-speaking areas of the country. He wished that the Eagle Square, Abuja, University of Abuja or the National Stadium, Abuja, would be more elated.
Akerele scoffed Olusegun Obasanjo, the direct beneficiary of Abiola’s sacrifice, for refusing to acknowledge the late politician’s contributions to democracy. His words: “With Jonathan’s tokenism, Abiola’s ideas have outlived Obasanjo’s wickedness and self-centeredness”.
Itse Sagay, acknowledged President Jonathan’s attempt to immortalize late MKO Abiola, but faulted the choice of UNILAG. He said: “The president should be praised for his effort to immortalize Abiola. It was done out of good intention, but he chose the wrong institution. Unilag is too well established and has its own individual personality, which will be difficult to overshadow”.
Sagay said President Jonathan could have named one of the nine federal universities being constructed by the government in honour of Abiola. According to him, this would have been less contentious, since new universities, unlike UNILAG, are yet to be given names nor have any identity of their own.
President Jonathan withdrew his government decision to rename University of Lagos after MKO Abiola when opposition to the exercise became vicious and enormous.
Political analysts believe President Buhari’s gesture to M.K.O. Abiola is commendable, but see it more as strategic means Buhari intends to use to reach out to the South-West for the 2019, general election. Obasajo is already galvanizing mass and fierce opposition against Buhari’s re-election for second term.
APC Chieftain, Bola Tinubu’s uneasy silence in the face of the party’s leadership obvious disregard for his person and political stature, as well as mass discontent in the country, resulting from herdsmen unending bloodletting and economic hardship, Buhari may be employing other means to get to the electorates in the South-West without inhibition.
But what impact re-designating Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 would create for President Buhari re-election in 2019 remains to be seen.