Introduction: President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of June 12 as the new Democracy Day and the recognition and award conferred on the adjudged
President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of June 12 as the new Democracy Day and the recognition and award conferred on the adjudged winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Alhaji Moshood Kashimawo Abiola has been describes as a political masterstroke, a feat that was not achieved by past presidents since 1999, not even by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was the direct beneficiary of the June 12 struggle.
The declaration by President Buhari has largely attracted favourable reactions from Nigerians, especially from the human rights community. They say that the recognition and honour of the late Bashorun Abiola was long over due and has cast a dark cloud over the polity since the beginning of the current democratic dispensation.
A lot of people have said that beyond recognizing the late Alhaji Moshood Abiola as the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, the Federal Government should go ahead and announce the results of the election. The National Assembly has since passed a resolution requesting INEC to publish the result.
While a large segment of Nigerians welcomed the recognition and the conferment of the honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Moshood Abiola, some people have however inferred that the declaration of June 12 as the new Democracy Day by President Buhari was a tactics by the Federal Government to change a perceived negative narrative.
This school of thought opines that the Buhari-led Federal Government was in desperate need to change its strategic engagement with the Nigerian people in order to move away from what has been the buck-passing, blame game narrative to a more legacy-driven and result oriented narrative.
They say the Federal Government needed to substitute the prevailing negative discourse of herders-farmers clash with something positive and nationalistic. This would give the Federal Government a breather and allow it connect positively with the people.
The politics of June 12 and Chief M.K.O. Abiola has been a recurring decimal in the debate about how best to remember that struggle that led to the exist of the military on the 29th of May 1999 and the role played by pro-democracy coalition. Has this proclamation by Buhari given recognition to the role played by the pro-democracy movement?
What about the rest of people who were also involved in the struggle? Shouldn’t the award be extended to veterans who fought and labored for the actualization of June 12? Those who fought as a result of the annulment of June 12 and sustained the struggle which gave birth to this democracy. Shouldn’t NUPENG, PENGASON and ASUU that were proscribed by Abacha and veteran labour leaders like Chief Frank Kokori, Agamene and a host of them who were all incarcerated be honoured too?
Other questions to ask are the legal and political issues involved in this declaration. What are the political issues and the strategy adopted by the Federal Government and how is government going to manage this strategy?
These were the questions Barr. Naabulobari Naazigha-lue answered in a phone in radio programme “View Point” on Rhythm 93.7 fm in Port Harcourt last Saturday. It was anchored by Segun Owolabi.
Barr. Naazigha-lue was the Rivers State Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that spearheaded the June 12 struggle. He is currently the Rivers State Chairman of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers. Excerpts:
What is the strategy behind recognizing June 12 and Moshood Abiola? Is it a good one in times like this?
Let me start by saying that when good things are done, the timing should not be the issue. Let me start by congratulating President Muhammadu Buhari for recognizing June 12 as the Democracy Day in Nigeria. I was among the persons at the forefront that fought for the actualization of the June 12, 1993. At the time, I was the Rivers State Assistant Secretary of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, Nigeria’s foremost human rights movement.
Although the Ogoni people did not vote on that day, I was in Ogoni on that day but remarkably, 8.5 million Nigerians voted for Alhaji Moshood Abiola and 5.3 million Nigerians voted for Alhaji Bashir Tofa and that election was a watershed in the political history of this country. It was adjudged the fairest and the freest election that ever held in the history of this country. In fact, even the person who purportedly annulled that election, then President Badamasi Babangida, acknowledged that fact that majority of persons around the globe also acknowledged the election as such.
For President Buhari to have recognized that fact, no matter how late it is, for the mere fact that several other presidents did not do it and Buhari had done it, we must commend him, most especially those of us in the human rights community.
A lot of people feel that there are others in the human rights community who also fought for this same thing you are talking about. How come they are not recognized as well? Am talking about the likes of Chief Alfred Rewane, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Abraham Adesanya, Wole Soyonka, Balarebe Musa, Frank Kokori, Abubakar Umar, Beko Ransome-Kuti and others. Some of them lost their lives.
I don’t think that there is anybody that was at the forefront of the actualization of June 12 as a mandate who will not appreciate the fact that June 12 has been declared a national holiday. All the persons you have mentioned and many more, were icons, they were stars at the forefront of the actualization of June 12 and they definitely would be remembered by Nigerians at the appropriate time.
As a member of the human rights community, seeing what has been done right now as it concerns June 12, would you say that this would spur you on? Would give this give the human rights community the needed voice to even fight the more?
Exactly so, in fact, you would notice that for me as a person, since my friend Barr. Ken Atsuete was murdered in cold blood in Port Harcourt, about August 20016, this is the very first time that my voice would be heard. I personally took a holiday to honour the memory of my fallen comrade but as I am here, several other comrades are elsewhere to acknowledge the fact that the recognition of June 12 is a remarkable event in the history of this country.
A lot of people could even say, well has this really assuaged the pains of pro-democracy activists in Nigeria?
We cannot turn back the hand of the clock. We cannot bring Alhaji Moshood Abiola back to life. But the mere fact that Moshood Abiola is today acknowledged to have won that election. The National Assembly has ordered INEC to ensure that the results of that election are announced, even as the results from the Units, Wards, LGAs and the States are known to Nigerians. INEC will now announce the results officially. To recognize Alhaji Moshood Abiola and confer on him the honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, an honour reserved mainly for present and past Heads of State and foreign dignitaries is to accord him that status.
It is true that President Muhammadu Buhari will be remembered as the president who successfully placed a proper historical assent on June 12 and MKO Abiola’s contribution to the restoration of democracy in Nigeria. But would you really say that this president would also be recognized as one president who recognized the struggle of the human rights activists like you?
Well, I would say, yes and no. For an example, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, a body in which I am the Rivers State Chairman was formed in 1984, months after General Muhammadu Buhari took over power from the civil administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and incarcerated majority of the former rights activists and pro-democracy activists around the country. The National Association of Democratic Lawyers was formed for purposes of fighting for constitutionalism, the rule of law and democracy in all its tenets. You would recall that there were draconian decrees that were promulgated under the Buhari-Idiagbon regime of 1984-85 and so we fought vehemently to ensure that those draconian decrees did not survive in a civilized society like ours. Today, Buhari has shed his military toga and is seen as a democrat. We cannot judge him by his past, we must always remember that unfortunate past but we must not allow that past to condition our mindset about every action that the president takes.
Buhari is now an elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he did not take power by force unlike what he did in December 1983 when he came to power by force. Today, as an elected president, he has hearkened to the yearnings of millions of Nigerians, some of whom died in the struggle for the actualization of June 12 and he has proclaimed June 12 as the proper Democracy Day in Nigeria and as national holiday from next year 2019.
You have said that it is better late than never, you have also said that the move by President Muhammadu Buhari is a masterstroke and it is one that has been applauded by a lot of people. Let us look at the real motive behind it. Is the motive political or a genuine interest in enthroning human rights?
Well, I definitely would not say that it is political. I am not a member of the PDP or the APC or any of the political parties, I cannot speak for these parties. However, there is the perception that the action of President Buhari in giving recognition to June 12 is political for the mere reason that Buhari has lost steam in the south-west and the Tinubu-Buhari alliance is trying to ensure that the feelings of the people of the area are assuaged by this recognition of June 12. That by proclaiming Abiola as an icon of democracy and as a hero, this could possibly secure the votes of the south-west for Buhari in the 2019 presidential election.
Be that as it may, the mere fact that he has done it, even if he does it days to the 2019 elections, I and majority of the human rights community would applaud the president. What a man does is what is important and not when. Sometimes the timing may be wrong, but if there is a vote on this issue, I think that majority of Nigerians would applaud the president for recognizing June 12 and honouring Abiola.
You are also a lawyer, let us look at the pronouncements made by President Buhari concerning the June 12, particularly the legality of the pronouncements. The decision to honour Chief Moshood M.K.O. Abiola and Chief Gani Fawahinmi posthumously and Alhaji Babagana Gingibe with the Grand Commander of Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR) and the Grand Commander of the order of Nigeria (GCON). A lot of people have said it is a good move but the legality of it is the issue. Looking at the relevant laws in the National Honours Act no 5 0f 1964, section 32, it says that “subject to the next following paragraph of this article, a person shall be appointed to be in a particular rank of an order when he receives from the President in person at an investiture held for the purpose…” The key word here is “when he receives in person” so let us look at the legality.
The legality is this, if you look at that law you just cited, nothing precludes the president from conferring the honours posthumously. If the legal draftsmen or the National Assembly had intended so, they would have expressly stated that. What is not expressly stated in the law, cannot be possibly excluded.
In law even when a person is dead, that person’s estate survives the person. The estate is seen as a legal personality before the courts. The estate of Moshood Abiola survives him, the estate is a juristic person and is known to law. There is nowhere in our laws that says the honour cannot be conferred posthumously.
There are issues of procedure and process. There should be a National Honours Committee whose responsibility it is to give such recognition and approval. I am not too sure that there was such a committee before the president made his pronouncement. Don’t you think that negates the principles of the human rights community itself?
Not exactly so, because if you look at the 1999 constitution, it empowers the president to confer national honours, the constitution does not say that it is subject to the approval of any National Hounours Committee. In fact, the president can confer honours on sportsmen and sportswomen which is not subject to any committee. The president can even honour a foreign dignitary.
A lot of people are saying that if really the president is interested in the agitation by human rights activists, the president should go a step further. There are also other human rights activists that demand recognition. If indeed President Buhari is interested in the issue of human rights, how come the president is not extending the honour to Ken Saro Wiwa?
Yes, exactly so. Every human life is sacred, every human life is equal before God but let the truth be told, even in heaven there is hierarchy, so it is on earth. Some persons asked why Ken Saro Wiwa has not been honoured. I was a participant observer in all the processes that led to the June 12 debacle. I participated in it fully. I struggled for the actualization of June 12 and am here today authoritatively speak on it.
Ken Saro Wiwa during the 1993 elections said Ogoni was not going to vote. There were several Ogoni personalities like the late Chief Edward Kobani that were solidly behid Moshood Abiola. But the fundamental issue was that Moshood Abiola was going to swear by the Nigerian Constitution that would further marginalize Ogoni people on the strength of which Ogoni did not vote. On June 12, I was personally at Bodo City, where we ensured that the boycott was total because I was an active member of Ogoni Students Union that is an affiliate to MOSOP. But that does not detract from the fact that at least majority of voters, voted for Abiola in June 12.
The issue is that, if Moshood Abiola were allowed to take office in August 1993 when Babangida left office, definitely the Ogoni issues would have been addresses by him. Abiola was well conversant with the issues of Ogoni. The fact that the election was totally boycotted by Ogoni and we did not participate in it, we wouldn’t have been part of the election that brought him into office but that did not detract from the fact also that he recognizes Ogoni as a component part of Nigeria. So the issues that were x-rayed in the Ogoni Bill of Rights would have been addressed by Moshood Abiola.
On the issue of the recognition of Ken Saro Wiwa, let me ask a rhetoric question: How many members does Ogoni have in the National assembly? We have an Ogoni Senator and three members of the Federal House of Representatives. Why have they not been ably to table before the National Assembly a bill calling for the recognition of Ken Saro Wiwa? This is a challenge. The Ogoni people want Saro Wiwa’s name decriminalized. The Ogoni 9 and the Ogoni 4 ought to be recognized nationally as heroes. It is my opinion that these people in the course of time would be recognized. Everybody cannot be recognized in one day.
Kudirat Abiola was there, so were Rewane, Enahoro, several of them are now dead and if we insist that these people must all be recognized before Moshood Abiola is recognized, that would be missing the point. It is a fallacy because the president cannot recognize everybody in one day.
Let me tell you this, on the 5th, 6th and 7th of July 1993 in Lagos, the agent of state security butchered over 50 persons that were protesting the annulment of the June 12 presidential election. Those were human beings like Abiola but we cannot now say that these 50 persons should be homoured first before Moshood Abiola. In fact, the honour given to Abiola, is a general honour to those that fought for June 12 because there is a symbol in every struggle. Now we are mentioning Ken Saro Wiwa, do people remember that people died even before Ken Saro Wiwa? There is always a symbol of the struggle and Saro Wiwa even acknowledged the fact that he was the symbol of the Ogoni struggle.
In America a cenotaph was erected for all those that died in the 9/11 terrorist attack. We can do the same here. We can reserve towers in their honour in the Federal Capital in memory of all the fallen heroes of June 12. There could even be flowers in a reserved place in Abuja in memory of all fallen comrades that died in June 12.
If you look at the June 12 struggle, the aspiration and the struggle of human rights activists, would you say that in the international community, President Muhammadu Buhari may have scored a point particularly in the light of current happenings in Nigeria?
Well, to the extent that over 5 million persons also voted for Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), there could be people who would be opposed to the recognition of June 12 by President Buhari.
Even in the international community, there are already ripples over that action. The Association of Democratic lawyers is going to court to ensure that all the entitlements of Moshood Abiola are paid to him.
Let me remind you that the law says that there was never an Interim National Government. That is what the Nigerian law says. It therefore followed that if there was never an Interim National Government, then Moshood Abiola would have been in office from August 26th 1993- August 26th 1997.
Abiola was never declared the winner and was never pronounced and never took an oath of office. Because what symbolizes that you truly are in office is you taking an oath of office.
That is correct. You must take an oath of office to have been sworn in as president but don’t forget that Moshood Abiola declared himself as president of the federal republic of Nigeria after the results of the election was known. This was before he was arrested. In law even if he were not sworn in, there cannot be a vacuum. If Babangida left office on the 25th of August 1993, he was pulled out of the army in the morning of the 26th of August 1993 and then Moshood Abiola ought to have been sworn in as president of Nigeria. But Babangida put in place an Interim National Government which the court says is never recognized by law. The law is clear that for any government to exist, there is always an appointing authority. Buhari was appointed by the Nigerian people through their votes, the Supreme Military council appointed Ibrahim Babangida, the Queen of England appointed Balewa and Zik. From Lord Lugard, there has always been an appointing authority. You cannot have a government without an appointing authority whether democratically or otherwise. The question now is: Who appointed Shonekan?
Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida was purported to have appointed Shonekan as the Head of the Interim National Government. Now Babangida had no powers to have done so because on the morning of the 26th of August 1993, Babangida was pulled out of the army and so he cannot appoint that day.
The Association of Democratic Lawyers are therefore heading to court for some of these issues to be x-trayed, it would also elevate our laws and enrich our jurisprudence. Because if there was no appointing authority for Shonekan, he was never recognized. During the Shonekan government that never existed in law because there was no appointing authority, General Abacha was the Secretary of Defence in that purported Interim National Government and we were made to know that Shonekan resigned on a date and the National Defence and Security Council appointed Abacha to be head and so he took over and proclaimed himself Head of State.
In any case if Abiola had been sworn in August 1993, it follows that Abiola would have been in office till August 26, 1997.
Another point in law that you may consider is the issue of national holidays. There are aspects of the law that makes it almost difficult for the president to singlehandedly issue a change in national holidays. Don’t you think that the move by the president without resorting to the National Assembly could be another issue here?
Look at it this way: We have the Treasury Single Account as a policy of government but tomorrow it may be backed by a law. The policy of government cannot be elevated to a law but can be elevated to a law when it has passed through the legal processes. Let us not be in a hurry. President Buhari can declare a public holiday and it is left for the National Assembly to say no.
Section 2:1 of the public holiday act cap 40 gives the power to the president to appoint any day as public holiday. It does not grant him the power to unilaterally substitute a day with another as he has done with May 29th and June 12th. The schedule to this act, as it is, recognizes May 29th as Democracy Day and not June 12th. That means that the public holiday act will still have to be amended appropriately.
That is exactly what I am saying. There are legal processes for the enactment of laws and for the passage of bills into law. Like you have you said, the president can proclaim a day, a national holiday, the substitution is another matter. The president has said that this year’s June 12 is not going to be a public holiday for the mere fact that it is not yet enshrined or giving the backing of the law but that proclamation has been made and before June 12, 2019, the legal processes would have been concluded. Laws are not cast in stone, they can be changed and in changing the laws, the processes are always between the Executive and the Legislature. I know that the presidency is not sleeping, they would do the needful to take this things before the National Assembly.
Since the running mate to Abiola, Ambassador Babagana Gingibe is still alive, is he going to be given full recognition as a former Vice President of Nigeria? What is going to happen to Babangida that annulled that election? Will the law catch up with him?
This question is left for the Nigerian people to decide. In saner societies, like Israel, former Prime Ministers have been put on trial. Babangida is not above our laws but the same persons that are asking these questions would shout fowl if Babangida is put on trial. Babangida can be arrested and put on trial in the same way people are calling for arrest of former Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo. There is no former president that is above arrest and trail. The law is no respecter of persons. It therefore left for the Nigerian people if they so desire.
You said that the Association of Democratic Lawyers is going to court. What are the demands that you would be making in Court?
Alhaji Moshood Abiola has been honoured with the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic which invariably recognizes the fact that he was an elected president. Alhaji Babagana Kingibe has been given the honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, recognizing the fact that he was former elected Vice President of Nigeria. They are therefore entitled to the full benefits of office. We are going to court to insist that all these are paid to them. In fact, there were National Assembly members and other elected members that are entitled to the full remuneration for four years. We want to know what the court will say about it.
Don’t you think that this may create more problems beyond the intention of the president in honouring Abiola?
I completely disagree. If Chief Gani Fewehimi had kept quiet when he was alive and even now if Femi Falana SAN keeps quiet because their actions would create problems, Nigerian law, Nigerian jurisprudence would have been worst for it. We would have still been in the stone ages of the law. Gani Fawehimi revolutionized the profession with the publication of the Nigerian Law Reports.
Former President Jonathan wanted to honour Abiola but that move was resisted. Why?
Former President Jonathan wanted to rename University of Lagos after Abiola and the civil rights community led by Prof. Wole Soyinka rejected it because that should have consigned the June 12 issue to the south-west and made Abiola appear as a Yoruba man. No doubt that Abiola was a Yoruba man by birth but he was national figure, a detribalized Nigerian. Abiola was a Muslim that built churches for Christians and built Mosques for Muslims. He sponsored sportsmen all over the country. To name Unilag after Abiola was therefore to reduce his status. You rather name the national stadium or the Eagle square after him which are national symbols. June 12 was not a Yoruba affair but a national one.#