BETWEEN MAY 29 AND JUNE 12
May 29 and June 12 represent two different perspectives in Nigeria’s checkered journey to democracy. One was glorious, while the other one was despicable. One represents a success, while the other one signifies a failure. May 29 is the celebration of the rebirth of democracy in Nigeria, while June 12 is the mourning of the truncation of democracy in the country.
The military administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar gave hope to democracy when it handed over power to a democratically elected civilian government on May 29, 1999, while the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida wanted to destroy democracy when it annulled the Presidential election held on June 12, 1993. These two events were part of our historical development. One was positive, while the other one was negative.
When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as democratically elected President on May 29, 1999, he proclaimed that day “Democracy Day”, which is to be marked as a public holiday every year throughout the country. The date will equally serve as handover day between an incoming and an outgoing administrations.
For 18 long years, May 29 was observed in the country as “Democracy Day”, until the eve of the 2019 general elections when President Muhammadu Buhari remembered that something had happened on June 12, and that he must honour that day. He then decided to replace May 29 with June 12 as new “Democracy Day”.
On the surface, Buhari’s decision was patriotic, aimed at honouring Chief MKO Abiola who allegedly won the June 12, 1993 Presidential election that was annulled by the military. But in reality we all knew that the action was aimed dealing with both Ibrahim Babangida, whose regime annulled the June 12 election, and Olusegun Obasanjo, who proclaimed May 29 as Democracy Day. The two men were now political enemies of Muhammadu Buhari.
June 12 was also aimed at curling the favour of the South West zone of the country, who were very vocal about it, because of their son, Abiola.
Be that as it may, the questions on the lips of many Nigerians at that time were, what was going to happen to May 29? Will the day be outrightly jettisoned, and the handover date shifted to June 12 as the new Democracy Day? They did not immediately answer our questions.
A few days ago, the President Buhari administration provided the answers, when it acknowledged that both May 29 and June 12 would serve as public holidays, but explained that the events of May 29 would be low key, while the main activities would be on June 12.
Many people did not understand what they meant, until on May 29, 2019, when every attention was focused at the Eagle Square in Abuja, (which since 1999 is venue for the handing and taking over ceremonies), for the second term inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, expecting what the President was going to tell them as his new area of focus, only to be surprised when the man left the venue without uttering a word.
What they only saw were the taking of the oaths of office, the lowering and the hoisting of old and new flags, symbolizing the end and beginning of first and second tenures respectively, as well as the elaborate military parades, as if we are in a military regime.
Many people were disappointed. They were flabagerstered. Why wouldn’t our President tell us how far he had fared in the past four years with the mandate we gave to him, his achievements, failures, challenges and what have you? Why wouldn’t the man share with us his visions or plans for the future, with the new mandate we have just given him, or why wouldn’t he simply tell us “thank you” for voting for him and standing with him? Indeed, what President Buhari did was unprecedented in the history of democracy all over the world. It had never happened anywhere.
They now tell us that the man was going to talk to us on June 12. But we still could not link up June 12 with May 29 or the present political dispensation. It was not June 12 that brought the current democratic governance. June 12 was a failure, while May 29 was a success, and they told us to be celebrating failure rather than success!
Those who made the current democracy possible were those who caused the death of General Sani Abacha. They are the people to be celebrated, and not MKO Abiola. Abiola played no role on May 29.
Our position is that if Abacha did not die, Abdulsalami Abubakar would not have taken over as Head of State, and he would not have handed over political power to a democratically elected government on May 29, 1999.
As most people knew, Abacha was prepared to keep Abiola in prison in perpetuity. He was not ready to listen to anybody about Abiola’s release. People from high and low came and pleaded with him for the man to be released, but he refused. The international community talked and cried, but Abacha did not listen to them. Even the Pope came, pleading for Abiola to be released, but Abacha bluntly refused.
Abacha was also out to implement his transition to civil rule programme his own peculiar way. He was set to put off his khaki and put on “agbada”, as some of those who have been ruling us since 1999 have done, and transmute into a civilian President. Nigerians were drumming it into his ear. Remember Daniel Kanu and his “One Million March”, etc? Already, all the five political parties he established (“the five leprous fingers in one hand”, apologies, to the late Chief Bola Ige), had adopted him as their sole Presidential Candidate. So, if he did not die, he would have become our civilian President, even for life.
While we acknowledge the fact that Abiola died in prison fighting for the actualization of his “mandate”, we also acknowledge that in the long history of our political development, some other prisoners of conscience equally paid the supreme sacrifice, including those who bagged long jail sentences in the aftermath of December 1983 military coup, the Professor Ambrose Allis, the Bisi Onabanjos, etc.
In the same vein, while we still do not see any link between June 12 and May 29, we also find it curious that the same man who truncated democracy in 1983, now celebrates the truncation of democracy in 2019, giving June 12 preference over May 29, the truncation of democracy, preference over the enthronement of democracy!