Soyinka, Ambode, Others Urge Buhari To Immortalise Abiola
THIRTEEN years on, Nobel Prize Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode and other human rights activists as well as politicians have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to immortalise the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola.
At different fora in Lagos to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the annulment of the result of the election by then military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, they called on the Federal government to declare June 12 as Democracy Day, rather than May 29 currently being celebrated in the country, saying it “remains the true Democracy Day.”
Abiola died mysteriously in detention in 1998 during the struggle to reclaim his mandate. Speaking to a packed audience at the Lagos Television (LTV) Blue Roof Ground in Agidingbi, Lagos, Ambode noted that the June 12 date would forever remain unique on the calender, describing it as a date that has assumed a life of its own. He said it was a day when Nigerians trooped out to the polling booths to reclaim their rights and privileges as a people.
His words: “June 12 symbolises the patriotic and nationalistic spirit in all Nigerians. On June 12, we showed that irrespective of class or political sympathy, we would always join hands to respect our national values.”
Ambode said although the peoples’ hope was dashed with the annulled election, “June 12 stands as the real Democracy Day which was sanctioned by the blood of martyrs who laid down their lives for this democracy.” He added: “We shall not forget them; they will always be with us.
As we continue to march on and sustain democratic governance, we would enhance and empower the well-being of our people. “The outcome of this year’s general elections has proven that the lessons of June 12, 1993 have been fruitful.
I urge you all to take some time and reflect on the democratic journey that we have commenced for the benefit of all of us. “Should we abdicate our responsibilities and allow personal interest and agenda to truncate our journey? We owe it as a duty to immortalise the memories of our fallen compatriots and deepen our democracy to sustain us as a people of destiny.”
Oyebode, who was the chairman on the occasion, said the day was a celebration of die-hard spirit of Abiola, his wife, Kudirat, and hundreds of Nigerians killed in protest against the annulment of the “freest and fairest election ever held in the country.” Oyebode said it was sad and almost inconceivable that politicians and the military decided to make May 29 Democracy Day.
“It must be said that without June 12, 1993, we would never have had May 29, 1999. We know that even as enemies of democracy try to thwart the idea, the sacrifice of MKO Abiola and of Nigerians who took to the streets, should never be forgotten,” he said.
Oyebode said it was unfortunate that the June 12 watershed has been ethnicised, with some states in the Southwest marking it as a holiday, while others remain unbothered.
He said it was also amazing that Nigeria named monuments in Abuja and Stadium in Kano after the leader of the military junta, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, while Abiola has not been immortalised as so deserved.
“Abiola remains a hero, even as June 12 has conscientised Nigerians that no power or effort can stop the will of the people united. MKO Abiola is the precursor of the ‘change’ we have today, given his idea of ‘farewell to poverty.’ “To continue to ethnicise such date is a disservice to Nigeria.
I think the time is now ripe for Nigerians to demonstrate their commitment to democracy and truly declare June 12 as a national holiday,” he said.
Apparently in agreement with earlier speakers, human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the onus was on the federal government to immortalise the true heroes of Nigeria’s democracy.
Falana said: “This day must be a national day and be declared a national holiday.” He appealed to Lagos State to further champion the cause of deepening democracy by ensuring that living heroes and heroines of the June 12 struggle are not forgotten.
Mr. Dele Alake, who was the editor of defunct Concord Newspapers and right-hand man of the late Abiola, in his lecture, said June 12 was a day Nigerians were rebirthed as a true nation-state, adding that the annulment was the biggest damage ever done to the country.
He saluted the courage of activists such as Frank Kokori, Ayo Opadokun, Alfred Rewane, Amos Akingba, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Odion Akhaine and Segun Mayegun, among others, who were also present at the event.
At the event organised by the June 12 Movement, in conjunction with Change of Nigeria Network, at Abiola’s residence in Lagos, a handful of Abiola’s friends and relatives were on hand to pay tribute to him and his struggle. Soyinka, who was billed to speak as the Guest Speaker, sent in apologies at the middle of the event.
In a speech he sent, which was read aloud, Soyinka said June 12 remains the true Democracy Day, adding that in spite of what some of the beneficiaries of the struggle it represents have done to erase the day from memory, the day has come to stay.
Immediate past Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, urged the federal government and Buhari to declare June 12 as Democracy Day, adding without the events of June 12, 1993, today’s democrats would not have had any democratic space to walk in. He also urged Buhari to name a national monument after Abiola.
Organiser of the event and Chairman of June 12 Movement, Mr. Wale Okunniyi, tasked Buhari to recognise Abiola posthumously as a president of Nigeria and grants him the respect that goes with the office. Okunniyi also called on Buhari to appoint any of Abiola’s children into a key position in his cabinet as part of efforts to remember the symbol of June 12.
Those present at the event included the Director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Ishaq Akintola; wife of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Ganiat; Chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Tony Okoroji; Chairman of Change Agents of Nigeria, Mr. Kayode Salako; among others.