At the Special National Honours Investiture of Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola with the award of GCFR, and Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe and Chief Gani Fawehinmi with GCON, at the Old Banquet Hall, Presidential Villa, Abuja, today, speaker after speaker let emotions run high as they relived an event that happened a quarter-century ago.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is taking credit for the epochal event, tendered apology on behalf of the country to the family of the late Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election that was annulled by the then military government of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
On June 6, this year, the president had declared that June 12 would henceforth be marked as Democracy Day in Nigeria.
Some of the pro-June 12 activists invited to the investiture ceremony spoke. They included Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Bola Tinubu, Ameh Ebute, Fidelis Tapgun, Agunwa Anakwe and Iyorchia Ayu. Extracts:
Buhari: “The government (of Ibrahim Babangida) inexplicably cancelled the election when it was clear who the winner was… Nigerians will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.”
Hafsat Abiola: “You [Buhari] have called up your own new army for the defence of this country… this fight will not take you as it has taken MKO but let us fight and bring about the conclusion of MKO’s struggle that the Nigerian people should be the ones in full control of this country.”
Wole Soyinka: “You cannot honour Abiola in one breath and admire his tormentor in another breath.”
Mohammed Fawehinmi: “I know he would have taken it. I know my father more than anybody. There are two reasons why he would have taken it: one, because June 12 was actualised; two, because MKO Abiola was recognised as president-elect.”
Frank Kokori: “We thought people like Obasanjo should have done that for us long time ago. There was so much pressure. Muhammadu Buhari, we least expected it. So in doing it for us, he has a great soul and we appreciate it.”
Ayu: “In a military setting, opposition is seen as the enemy – you shoot. But in a democracy, opposition is not an enemy. You don’t shoot.”
Falana: “Some people are calling for announcement of the results [of the June 12 election]. The president has done it already.”
The speakers also paid tributes to pro-June 12 activists as well as thousands of protesters and those fleeing on account of the June 12 crisis that have died . The late activists include Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Chime Ubani, Kudirat Abiola, Tony Enahoro, Alfred Rewane and Wale Oni.