The Senate on Thursday called on the executive arm to declare the winners of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, as president and vice president-elect, respectively.
While throwing its weight behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to formally recognise the late Abiola and his running mate, Kingibe, as winners of the annulled 1993 presidential poll, the upper legislative chamber also urged the president to pay all outstanding salaries and allowances due to them.
June 12 election is considered one of the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history. It is believed to have been won by Abiola and his running mate, Kingibe.
The military administration of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida annulled the election before final results were officially announced.
MKO Abiola was eventually jailed by the administration of General Sani Abacha while seeking to actualise his mandate. He died in Abuja prison on July 7, 1998.
The decision of the Senate came on the heels of President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement on Wednesday recognising the late Chief Abiola and Ambassador Kingibe as winners of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
President Buhari also declared June 12 the date on which the presidential election was held, as the new Democracy Day.
The declaration included the conferment of the national honours of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola and Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (CGON) on Ambassador Kingibe.
Consequently, the Senate also resolved to direct the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to, as a matter of necessity, declare the results of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
It, however, insisted that May 29 remained sacrosanct as the day newly-elected officers from a general election would be inaugurated.
The resolutions followed the consideration and adoption of a motion under matters of urgent public importance moved by Biodun Olujimi from Ekiti State.
She had drawn attention to the need for the Senate to give legislative backing to the presidential declaration.
Debating the motion, the lawmaker said: “For once, I want to thank the president of Nigeria. I want to say he has done well.
“This is one time that the president has given a thought to what Abiola and his family went through to fight for this democracy that we enjoy today.
“Going further, there are issues to be addressed so that we can be confident that this is not a Greek gift.
“This is the time for the result to be properly announced by INEC because government is a continuum, and declare ‘President’ Abiola as a president.
“Entitlements be granted to winners. Babagana Kingibe should be recognised as vice president, June 12 should be declared a public holiday.
“All recommendations must be brought to parliament for legislative action.”
Lanre Tejuosho added, “President Muhammadu Buhari now proclaiming that June 12 will now be our Democracy Day instead of May 29, which is a child of June 12, I believe Mr. President needs further encouragement to continue this reconciliation that he started yesterday.
“What he has started took us 25 years to achieve. So, I believe this Senate should acknowledge this major feat.”
He further urged President Buhari to also reconcile with the legislature with a view to straightening any legal questions that may arise from the declaration.
Similarly, Senate leader, Ahmad Lawan, commended President Buhari for showing the true spirit of democracy.
He said: “President Buhari has clearly shown what a democracy is. The parliament should continue to support the government to further entrench democracy.”
Lawan, who urged his colleagues not to be partisan, further argued that, “For the first time, Nigerians elected candidates based on their credibility only. Somebody from Kano who contested against Abiola was defeated in Kano. That is the kind of sentiment Nigerians should always have.”
Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President, also commended the president for recognising the injustice done to Abiola and other democrats who sacrificed their lives to make June 12 a day to remember.
“The president should address other injustices in the country,” he said, whilst reiterating that the results of the annulled election be announced.
Ekweremadu, however, pointed out some issues emanating from the presidential action.
He said, “There are two legal issues. I want to raise the second one. Section 135 (2) on the tenure of president.
“They are saying June 12 is now Democracy Day; it cannot mean that the tenure of the president would go beyond May 29, which our constitution recognised.
“It, therefore, presupposes that in 2019, the president will now be sworn in on the 12th of June.
“This is legally impossible. A president shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years he took the oath of office.
“The implication is that 29th of May remains the date the president will be inaugurated and take the oath of office.
“If they are moving from May 29 to June 12, it means we have to amend this constitution.
“Otherwise, we will be extending the tenure of a president beyond what the constitution contemplates.
“We have to advise the president, properly situate it so that we won’t enter a jam next year. We cannot extend it to June 12 without extending the constitution.”
Also kicking against the post-hummus award of GCFR on MKO Abiola was Senator Dino Melaye from Kogi State who cited sections of the National Merit Award Act.
“Such an honour cannot be conferred on a dead person, because the person must be personally received by the president,” he said.
His point of order was noted by Senate President Bukola Saraki who insisted that the significance of Abiola’s contributions to democracy shouldn’t be overshadowed by issues of legality.
Saraki said, “The whole point of this discussion is to recognise Chief MKO Abiola and his contributions to democracy which, in our opinions, is a well-deserved recognition.
“We should be seen to uphold the recognition of democratic icons such as Chief Abiola, irrespective of the imperfections that may have been noticed.
“The manner of implementation isn’t what this debate is about, because it’s a known fact that Abiola and Kingibe were the winners of the June 12 election.”
The only additional prayer as moved by Ekweremadu that May 29 remained the inauguration day for elected officers was adopted as part of the resolutions.
Reps In Rowdy Session Over June 12
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday were divided over the declaration of June 12 as National Democracy Day.
The division followed a motion by Wale Raji (APC-Lagos) brought under ‘Urgent Matter of National Importance’ on the need to commend Buhari for the June 12 Democracy Day initiative, at the plenary.
Moving the motion, Raji called on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to release the result of the 1993 election and declare Moshood Abiola, President-elect.
Raji said that the 1993 presidential election was widely acclaimed as the freest, fairest and most credible election in the nation’s history.
He lamented that the result of the election was, however, annulled by the then military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
Accordingly him, since the return of democracy in 1999, successive governments had failed to recognise June 12 as National Democracy Day.
He urged the House to commend Buhari for the courageous step, adding that it was a sign that he listened to the voice of the people.
Also, Chris Azubogu (PDP-Anambra) commended the mover of the motion, saying that it was a worthy initiative.
He, however, drew the attention of the House to the exclusion of the electoral umpire, Humphrey Nwosu, who conducted the election, from the list of those honoured.
Azubogu said that Nwosu was a key actor in the June 12 election and risked his life to conduct a free and fair election.
He said that Nwosu should be given due recognition for the role he played in the election as it would encourage future umpires of the electoral process to be free and fair.
In his contribution, Edward Pwajok (APC-Plateau) drew the attention of the House to the Public Holidays Act which stated that May 29 should be recognised as National Democracy Day.
Pwajok said that for the declaration of the president to take effect, the Public Holidays Act had to be amended.
He said that for a contestant to be referred to as president-elect, he had to be declared winner of the election by the National Returning Officer.
Pwajok, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), also said that there was a court order prohibiting INEC from releasing the result.
He explained that until the court’s decision was stepped down by the same court or a higher court, the decision remained.
In his contributions, Mojeed Alabi (APC-Osun) said that there would have been no May 29, 1999 without June 12, 1993.
He said that prior to the presidential declaration, only Osun recognised June 12 as Democracy Day.
Alabi commended Buhari and urged the House to support the motion.
A rowdy session, however, erupted in the chamber when Nicholas Ossai (PDP-Delta) challenged the presidential declaration.
He said that the usurpation of the powers of the legislature by the executive was becoming too rampant.
Ossai argued that an Act of Parliament could not be changed by a presidential declaration and that if June 12 must stand, it should follow due process of amendment of the Public Holidays Act.
Members roared in loud voices apparently trying to shut him up while others waved at him to sit down.
Supporting him, Toby Okechukwu (PDP-Enugu) said that the country must be ruled by law and not by persons or groups.
He said though the intention of the president was good, the declaration needed to be guided by the law, explaining that it was necessary so that nobody would in the future challenge the honour to Abiola.
At that, the rowdiness in the chamber became intense and members left their seats to engage one another in loud altercations.
This lasted for over 20 minutes and when the Speaker of the house, Yakubu Dogara, restored order, he referred the motion to the Committees on Justice and Rules and Business for further consultation.
He mandated the committees to look into the matter and make recommendations to the House before a decision would be taken.
Buhari Directs AGF To Gazette MKO Abiola, Kingibe’s Names
Ahead of the June 12 date slated to officially honour Chief MKO Abiola posthumously, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to begin the process of gazetting the names of all the awardees.
Among the names to be gazetted following the declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day include Chief MKO Abiola as Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (posthumous), Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe as Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger and Chief Gani Fawehinmi as Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (posthumous).
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, conveyed the information in a statement made available to State House correspondents on Thursday.
The statement reads, “Following his declaration yesterday (Wednesday) that henceforth, June 12 be observed as Democracy Day in Nigeria and that some heroes of democracy be given national honours, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam Shehu Malami, to take immediate steps to publish the presidential order in the federal gazette.
“The president directed that this should be done so that the awards slated for June 12, 2018 can go on as planned.”
Recall that for the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day.
May 29 was symbolic in Nigeria since 1999 as it marked the date an elected civilian administration took over from a military government.
Buhari had taken Nigerians by surprise on Wednesday, after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting when he reviewed the date for Democracy Day pegging it on June 12.
Buhari in the statement he personally signed said, “But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12, 1993 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even the October 1.
“June 12, 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 that election was not upheld by the then military government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process.
“Accordingly, after due consultations, the Federal, Government has decided that henceforth, June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day.
“Therefore, the government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 cancelled elections.
“His running mate as Vice President, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON.
“Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualisation of the June 12 election and indeed for democracy in general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, is to be awarded the GCON.
“The investiture will take place on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, a date which in future years will replace May 29 as a National Public Holiday in celebration of Nigeria’s Democracy Day.”
Since Wednesday, the development has elicited diverse reactions from Nigerians.
MKO Abiola died in mysterious circumstances while still in detention struggling to actualise his mandate as the duly elected president in 1993.
Osun Declares June 12 Public Holiday
In the meantime, Osun State government has declared June 12 a public holiday.
In a statement by Adebisi Obawale, the Commissioner for Home Affairs, the government said the holiday was in line with the established policy of Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s administration to observe June 12 as Democracy Day every year.
Aregbesola’s administration has since inception observed June 12 as Democracy Day in remembrance of the 1993 presidential election which was adjudged the freest and the fairest in the history of Nigeria.
The statement noted that Governor Aregbesola had had a strong conviction that “June 12, 1993, was the day democracy was born in Nigeria and had been annually addressing the day as such since 2011.”
The government further noted that Aregbesola’s stance on June 12 as Democracy Day has been justified by President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of the day as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, against May 29, and honouring the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Moshood Abiola, with a posthumous award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
The state government of Osun commended President Muhammadu Buhari on the step he had taken to honour June 12 and key players of the 1993 presidential election 25 years after.