1st June, 2012
So long as the present democratic experience lasts, so long would the controversy over whether 29 May or 12 June is the appropriate day for Nigeria to be tag Democracy Day.
The history of Nigeria’s present democratic dispensation would be incomplete without tracing it to the 12 June, 1993 presidential election under the military regime of military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
The 12 June, 1993 presidential election, was contested in by the late business mogul, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, on the platform of the Social democratic Party, SDP, while Alhaji Ibrahim Tofa was the National Republican Convention, NRC, candidate.
Early results of the historic election put Abiola in the lead. But mid-way into the release of the election results, the military junta headed by Babangida stopped further release of the results and, a few days later, annulled what has come to be known the world over as the freest and fairest election in Nigeria.
Following an unprecedented outcry and protests against the annulment of the election by Nigerians and civil society groups, Babangida hurriedly ‘stepped aside’ on 27 August, 1993 and handed over power to a hurriedly concocted Interim National Government, ING, headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Attempts by civil society groups, spearheaded by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to revalidate the results of the 12 June, 1993 election were rebuffed by the late General Sani Abacha, who became the Head of State after sacking the Shonekan-led ING.
Abacha went ahead to arrest and detain the acclaimed winner of that election, Abiola for declaring himself the winner of that election and unleashed a reign of terror on the country, sending many leaders of NADECO to their graves while other members of the coalition were forced into exile.
The death of Abacha on 8 June, 1998 threw up General Abdulsalami Abubakar as Head of State, who immediately began a transition programme, to the disappointment of many, who had thought that he would revalidate the Abiola mandate. The transition programme led to the emergence of democratic rule on 29 May, 1999, when the winner of the presidential election, former military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, was sworn in as president.
A year later in 2000, as part of activities marking his first year in office, Obasanjo declared 29 May as Democracy Day and made it a public holiday.
But Obasanjo came under flaks, especially from the Alliance for Democracy, AD, governors, who were in control of the South-West states between 1999 and 2003 and who were NADECO front runners.
They accused Obasanjo of deliberately failing to recognise the 12 June, 1993 election, which they believed paved the way for democratic governance in the country as well as according its acclaimed winner, Abiola, his rightful place in history.
As far as the governors, late Adebayo Adefarati of Ondo State, Niyi Adebayo of Ekiti State, Bisi Akande of Osun State, Lam Adesina of Oyo State, Olusegun Osoba of Ogun State and Bola Tinubu of Lagos State were concerned, 12 June and not May 29 should have been the authentic Democracy Day.
Therefore, every year, while the Federal Government celebrated Democracy Day on 29 May, the AD governors, in collaboration with civil society organisations celebrated 12 June as Democracy Day in their domains.
The day had remained not only a day to celebrate democracy, but also a day set aside to remember Abiola.
Apart from Lagos State, which has since 1999 remained steadfast in the celebration of 12 June as Democracy Day, other states stopped the celebration from 2003, when the states fell to the PDP in what has come to be known as ‘Hurricane Obasanjo’, which swept through the South-West.
To the proponents of 29 May, the Federal Government, it was the day Obasanjo took office as civilian president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria and so it is a day to commemorate the return to civilian rule after almost 16 years of military dictatorship.
But to antagonists of 29 May, 12 June is actually the day the Nigerian nation was liberated from the shackles of religious and ethnic bigotry, as the election of Abiola cut across religious and ethnic consideration.
To Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the declaration of 29 May as Democracy Day is a “political insult” on Nigerians. He expressed regret that what the Federal Government is doing is promoting a day which reminds Nigerians of various denials and atrocities committed against them.
Soyinka said the true Democracy Day was 12 June, “despite all attempts, symbolic or hyperactive, to rewrite that history,” saying that on that day, Nigerians came out first and foremost to vote the military out and not primarily to vote in Abiola.
The chairman of Elections Monitoring Group, Comrade Moshood Erubami, said no matter what anybody says, 12 June remains the nation’s true Democracy Day, adding: “May 29 is not Democracy Day because it has no political significance but June 12 is the appropriate day.
“First, it was a day that the military after many years of rule transferred power to the civilian; a day that power was transferred from the North to the South to the extent that Abiola even won in his opponent’s ward; a day that Nigerians resolved to live together, a day that Christians supported and voted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket,” he noted.
The Publicity Secretary of the ACN in Lagos State, Joe Igbokwe, said there should be no controversy about which day should be regarded as Democracy Day.
He said: “June 12 is definitely the day that we can describe as Democracy Day in Nigeria. What is May 29?