June 12 as Democracy Day
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, on June 6, 2018, declared June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day. Thither to, it was May 29. The latter was set aside by government at the outset of the current Fourth Republic of Nigeria’s democracy which began in May 29, 1999.
BEFORE President Buhari’s declaration, May 29, 1999 which was the day the military handed over power to a democratically elected government after 15 years of military rule was commemorated with all memories of the struggle for civil rule in the country. Another date that contended for attention as democracy day was October 1, which apart from being Nigeria’s Independence Day or liberation day from British colonial rule in 1960 has equally been for democratic and political landmark events in Nigeria. For example, it was that day that the military handed over to an elected President Shehu Shagari to mark the beginning of the Third Republic in 1979.
Hence, the reason for preference of any of the dates to others as Nigeria’s democracy Day is yet to be understood by many Nigerians. The most logical argument for May 29 is that it is a sign of return to people’s rule after long quest. It also underscores the day that the military, under General Abdusalami Abubakar was pressured to leave the scene. This is because as at then, it was obvious that Nigerians were dissatisfied and impatient with military rule following the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election which was adjudged by a good number of Nigerians as “free and fair.”
THE latter factor links May 29 to June 12
The result of the annulled June 12 election in which the presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), M.K.O Abiola was in advanced stage of being declared winner until the then Military President Ibrahim Babangida announced annulment, sowed the seed of quest to what led to May 29,1999. The wave of attendant activism among Nigerians divided the nation into North and South, progressives and conservatives, military and non-military, among others.
ISSUES around June 12 also bear narratives that touch many Nigerians’ hearts. Many Nigerians, then, teamed up with National Democratic Coalition (NADECCO) and a lot of protests ensued which made the military to step aside and set up an interim National Government (ING), headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan in attempt to pacify Nigerians.
The INC served for six months before the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Sani Abacha took over and became the Head of State. The agitation for return of civilian rule and actualisation of June 12 continued. Abiola was later arrested and put under house arrest. Negotiations for his release continued until the news of his sudden death broke. |Chief Abiola’s wife, Kudirat, also died in the struggle, among others killed during strike actions that mounted call for deannulment of June 12 poll’s result and restoration of Abiola’s mandate. Gen. Abacha also died mysteriously same month with Abiola’s and the agitations continued till Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and continued a six-month time-table to return for civilian government and eventually handed over to Obasanjo on May 29, 1999, which until last year, has been celebrated as Nigeria’s Democracy Day.
IN AS much as there has not been much following on May 29 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, real logic throws up the question: Can June 12 fit properly and thematically as the Democracy Day?
GOING by the generally accepted meaning of democracy- “government of the people, by the people for the people,” June 12 may not have all requisite properness of a democracy day because in the first place, the process that led to June 12 cannot be said to be democratic or fair as its election was flawed and mangled. This is so because of a plethora of democratic misadventure that preceeded it. About 25 political associations that wanted to transmute to political parties were banned and many politicians that wanted to contest the presidency that year were also banned. Such a process where many politicians, political groups were banned from participating in an election may not be called a proper democratic process.
AGAIN, given that political parties or political associations should be free will, freely-joined, freely-formed and free-to-be-parted-with bodies where people of like minds rally, the military formed and funded the two parties- Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).
IF TRUTH be told, even the Option A4 used in the conduct of the election which is an arrangement where people are behind the persons they support is not an ideal procedure to ensure free and fair election. This is because one may find it difficult not to be behind his employer or landlord, for example. So it wasn’t fair either. The electoral process was also incomplete and inconclusive as nobody was declared winner because of annulment.
LOOKING at May 29 and June 12 ordinarily, May 29 is a day of handover while June 12 is a day of election. None of them captures a total picture of democracy but a day people were opportune to make their choices through the polls. June 12 tends to represent the people’s wishes. More so, June 12 has a name factor that rallies Nigeria’s progressives and conservatives, the military and non-military, among others.
AS A matter of fact, the strength of June 12 lies in the aftermath of the annulment of election where the people’s opinion were expressed. It is about the right of Nigerians to freely choose their leaders which is still observed in Nigeria today, though sometimes, with breach.