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5 reasons some Nigerians believe Obasanjo is anti-June 12

Obasanjo's failure to acknowledge the June 12 election or honour MKO Abiola during his presidency gave credence to theories about his feelings towards the late martyr.

Democracy Day: Why some Nigerians believe Obasanjo is anti-June 12

31 years ago, it was a beautiful Saturday morning, Nigerians went to the polls with hope in their hearts and joy on their faces to elect a new president who would return the country to civil rule after years of military dictatorships.

Then-military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, had finally bowed to pressure and agreed to conduct the election after several postponements, which saw him dribble Nigerians for years to earn himself a comparison with Argentinian football maestro, Diego Maradona.

The election, deemed the most peacefully conducted in the history of Nigeria to date, pitted MKO's Social Democratic Party (SDP) against the National Republican Convention (NRC)'s candidate, Bashir Othman Tofa.

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With results from 14 out of 30 states announced by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Chairman, Humphrey Nwosu, the late businessman had attained an unassailable lead and was destined to be returned elected.

However, Babangida annulled the election after a series of court injunctions targeted at scuttling the process.

This was the beginning of the June 12 struggle, which later paved the way for the emergence of Obasanjo as president in 1999.

To say the retired military general was the biggest beneficiary of the June 12 struggle would be an understatement, which makes it unbelievable that he failed to acknowledge the historical event or the symbol of the struggle.

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Here are five reasons Obasanjo was termed as anti-June 12 struggle.

At the peak of the struggle for the actualisation of the June 12 election, Obasanjo infamously told the world that MKO Abiola was not the messiah Nigerians were hoping for.

The statement was widely perceived as an endorsement of the Sani Abacha military government's action to keep the business mogul in detention, even though Obasanjo had been critical of the military junta.

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The remark drew the ire of many pro-democracy advocates. It was frowned upon, particularly by the people of the South-West and, more specifically Ogun State descendants, which happened to be Obasanjo and Abiola's home state.

The two men were contemporaries, having crossed paths at the famous Baptist Boys High School (BBHS), Abeokuta, where Abiola was the editor of the school magazine The Trumpeter, while Obasanjo was deputy editor.

Therefore, it was expected that the Owu general would not only boldly back a democratic cause but should also support the sectarian interests. His refusal to support Abiola angered many Yorubas, and Obasanjo's property in Yorubaland was attacked.

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After he was declared winner of the presidential election in 1999, the transitional military government led by Abdulsalami Abubakar allegedly allowed Obasanjo to choose his swearing-in date, which would mark the country’s return to democratic rule after 16 years.

This provided the Ota farmer with a lifetime opportunity to recognise the election mandate of Abiola and etch June 12 in the annals of the Nigerian political calendar. However, to the surprise of many Nigerians, Obasanjo opted for May 29.

To many, the decision further reinforced his alleged inveterate hatred for Abiola.

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After Obasanjo chose May 29 for his swearing-in, he was later persuaded to declare June 12 as Nigeria's Democracy Day to immortalise the late symbol of democracy in Nigeria.

Again, the elder statesman refused to yield to persuasions throughout his eight years in office between 1999 and 2007.

Meanwhile, on June 6, 2018, then-President Muhammadu Buhari conferred a posthumous national award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on MKO Abiola. By so doing, the former president recognised the late politician as the winner of the 1993 election.

Buhari also announced the shifting of Nigeria’s Democracy Day celebration from May 29 to June 12, effective 2019 and apologised to the Abiola family on behalf of Nigerians over the trauma they were made to go through over the years.

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The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere and other pro-June 12 organisations and activists, including incumbent President Bola Tinubu, appealed to Obasanjo throughout his presidency to declare June 12 a national public holiday to which the latter refused.

The Obasanjo government also fought the Lagos State government in 2000 when then-governor Tinubu declared June 12 of every year as a public holiday in the state.

The then-Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Kanu Agabi, faulted the Lagos government, contending that the power to declare public holiday rests solely on the shoulder of the president.

“The power to declare a public holiday can only be vested in the president because it is an executive function. It is not a judicial function, it is not a legislative function; it is an executive function..." Agabi argued on May 30, 2000.

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Despite the pushback, Lagos continued to honour the June 12 holiday and was later joined by other South-West states until it became a national holiday in 2019.

Another theory that supports the claim that Obasanjo was anti-June 12 struggle was his refusal to comment on, mention, reference, or acknowledge the June 12 struggle or Abiola's name at any public function in his eight years in office.

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