President Buhari scored a deft political move on June 6, 2018 when he announced that the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election,

It was a masterstroke from the APC led federal government.

Buhari said: “June 12, 1993 was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our independence. The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military government does not distract from the democratic credentials of that process.

“Therefore, government has decided to award posthumously the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12th 1993 cancelled elections. His running mate as Vice President, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON".

The president also honoured Chief Gani Fawehinmi—“tireless fighter for human rights and the actualization of the June 12th elections and indeed for democracy in general”--with a posthumous GCON award.

Buhari has beaten past governments on this one

Buhari’s pronouncements are even more heartwarming because for 19 years, the political elite (save for those in the Southwest) carried on as though June 12 never happened.

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the first beneficiary of the June 12 struggle, refused to mention Abiola or the date the nation’s mandate was heartlessly stolen.

For 8 years as civilian president, Obasanjo never acknowledged the relevance of June 12 or the supreme price Abiola paid for the actualization of the June 12 mandate.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which governed Nigeria for 16 years, treated June 12 with disdain and silence. It was as though the mere mention of June 12 made members of the PDP cringe. How they hated it!

For some members of the political class in the fourth republic, June 12 was a date they didn’t want to hear or acknowledge. They would rather bury their heads in the sand.  Administration after administration passed up the opportunity to commemorate June 12 or drum up its significance.

The facts from June 12

Yet facts will remain stubborn. On June 12, 1993, Nigerians voted across ethnic and religious lines to elect MKO Abiola their president.

When the National Electoral Commission (NEC) headed by Prof Humphrey Nwosu, began rolling out the results on June 15, 1993, Abiola was winning the election with 60 percent of the votes declared in 14 States.

Abiola’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) was thrashing Bashir Tofa’s National Republican Convention (NRC) across the country. Only in two States, Kebbi and Sokoto, did Abiola fail to obtain at least one third of the votes cast.

Abiola was comprehensively winning the 1993 election in 19 of the nation's 30 States, including in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja. He was a popular politician who ran an infectious and viral campaign. It also helped that Abiola was a philanthropist.

On June 16, 1993, the Abuja High Court ordered Humphrey Nwosu and his NEC to suspend further announcement of the results.

Days later, then military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) anulled the election.

IBB steps aside

With the polity becoming too hot for him to handle after the annulment, IBB announced he was “stepping aside” on August 26, 1993. The departing military despot installed Chief Ernest Shonekan to head an interim government whose sole mandate was to midwife Nigeria’s transition to democratic rule.

However, a certain General Sani Abacha had other ideas. On November 17, 1993, Abacha sacked Shonekan and announced himself president. Abacha ruled Nigeria with an iron fist until death came calling on June 8, 1998.

All along, Abiola was languishing in jail for declaring himself president on June 11, 1994 in Epetedo, Lagos. The military government of the day considered that declaration treasonable.

Abiola died in suspicious circumstances on July 7, 1998--the day he was supposed to be released from prison; after a visit from an American delegation led by then Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice.

Reports in the local media suggest Abiola died after sipping from a cup of tea handed him by Rice.

For instance, the Digital Journal writes that: “Susan Rice and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, led a US delegation to visit the Nigerian president-elect. Abiola suffered a fatal heart attack during the meeting. The information was later leaked that Rice had served him tea during the meeting and that he developed cardiac symptoms and died within minutes of taking the tea.

“According to the Punch, the American delegation met him at 3 p.m.; he died between 3:20 and 3:40 p.m. after taking the tea that Rice served him”.

Long overdue

The federal government's honour of Abiola and recognition of June 12 may have been long in coming, but it’s better late than never, as they say.

MKO Abiola’s mandate wasn’t only mindlessly stolen from him and from millions of Nigerians, he died while refusing to renounce said mandate. Abacha’s then Chief Security Officer (CSO) Hamza Al-Mustaphasays Abiola was beaten and tortured in detention. He was told to give it all up, at gun point. But he didn’t. He was traumatised in Abacha's gulag, but he remained unbowed.

With Abiola in detention, his wife Kudirat Abiola was gunned down in Lagos by Abacha’s goons. Pro-democracy campaigners were hounded across the country and most fled into exile. June 12 protests and peaceful marches were quelled with bullets and teargas canisters; and thousands of people fled Lagos to the hinterlands of the Southeast and South South. The military junta did everything to kill the June 12 spirit and dream.

There are those who hold the view that Buhari’s declaration was politically motivated and aimed at currying favour from the Southwest ahead of the 2019 vote. Whatever his motives, Buhari got this one spot on. At least, he’s honoured a man and a watershed date past governments didn’t even want to be associated with. If anything, we should be hailing the president’s inner circle and political advisers for even thinking this one up. For once, they deserve some accolades. And if the Southwest is appeased by this move and rewards Buhari with more votes in 2019, why should anyone blame them?

Nigeria’s democracy day shouldn’t be the one the military foisted on us (May 29), it should be the one where millions poured out to vote for one man, relegating their religious and ethnic inclinations to the background—for once.

So long, May 29. Long live June 12.