Wednesday, 31st May 2023

‘Emulate Abiola, save Nigeria’s democracy’ 

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Abuja), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Gbenga Salau, Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Godwin Ijediogor, Monday Osayande (Asaba) and Tina Agosi Todo (Calabar)
13 June 2022   |   4:30 am
Yesterday marked the 29th commemoration of Nigeria’s freest and fairest election and fourth celebration of Democracy Day since President Muhammadu Buhari moved it from earlier date of May 29 in honour of the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola.

Alhaja Aminat Irawo (left); Prof. Pat Utomi; Secretary to Lagos State Government, Mrs. Folashade Jaji; Comrade Olawale Okunniyi; wife of the late MKO Abiola, Bisi; Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi; Senator Shehu Sani;<br />Human Rights Activists, Chief Mike Ozekhome and others at the yearly June 12 Democracy Day celebration in honour of M.K.O Abiola in Lagos… yesterday. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

• Afenifere, Soyinka, Adams bemoan state of economy, governance 23 years after democracy
• Sanwo-Olu: Sacrifices of June 12 responsible for today’s democracy
• Implement Abiola’s manifesto, family tells FG
• PDP tasks Buhari, APC on promotion of civil rule
• Yakassai: Nigeria needs to sit up, catch up with Malaysia, Indonesia

Yesterday marked the 29th commemoration of Nigeria’s freest and fairest election and fourth celebration of Democracy Day since President Muhammadu Buhari moved it from earlier date of May 29 in honour of the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola.

In commemoration of June 12, notable Nigerians, including Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Senator Shehu Sani, Peter Obi and Mike Ozekhome have emphasised the need to make democracy work for all, urging leaders to discard divisive tendencies for the progress of the country.

They spoke at the yearly June 12 memorial tagged: ‘Lessons from Hope ’93 and June 12 Elections as safeguards for the future of democracy in Nigeria.’

Soyinka, who was represented by Prof. Pat Utomi, said the type of democracy Nigeria is operating is not working and is unattractive to citizens.

He said Nigerians have the duty to repair democracy and make it work, not caring about ethnicity, religion and tribe.

Soyinka added: “For us to build real democracy, we need an alternative from what exists in the current political class. Nigerians must not continue to allow themselves to be divided by their oppressors.”

On his part, Sani stated that the foundation that was laid by President Buhari in recognising Abiola is something that needs to be built upon by whoever will emerge as the president next year.
He lamented that the country was besieged by terrorists, who have made life unbearable for people and which signposts a failure of leadership.
Obi hailed Abiola for his sacrifice for Nigeria, while urging Nigerians to reflect on their vision of a better country.
“It is time to reflect and examine our lives as Nigerians and ask ourselves questions; what did he (Abiola) sacrifice for, where are we today? We don’t end up with the best, we end up with the least, I am just here in remembrance and using this occasion to call all of us who are still practitioners in politics to let us commit ourselves to the people,” Obi said.

Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere and Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land, Iba Gani Adams, yesterday, bemoaned the state of things in the country 23 years after attaining democratic governance.

The duo in separate statements made available to The Guardian lamented that the country seems to have been in a reverse gear since 1999.

National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Comrade Jare Ajayi, expressed regret that Nigeria is far worse now than it was at the inception of the fourth republic.

He attributed this to poor leadership, debased political class, enthronement of corruption, little respect for the rule of law and disregard for institutions established to ensure the smooth running of the society.

The group noted that President Buhari’s Democracy Day speech, on Sunday, painted the picture of all things being relatively smooth, whereas, the opposite is the case.

“For instance, he stated that he is ‘living with the grief and worry of all victims and prisoners of terrorism and kidnapping, and that his government was working hard to contain and address these challenges.’ How effective government’s efforts have been could be seen in the unprecedented fatal attack of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State last week Sunday and the killing of 32 and kidnapping of over 40 a few days after in Kaduna State.

“Indeed, it looks as if the more the country sinks, especially, in security and socio-economic milieu, the more we get assurances from the government. Assurances that are far from the reality.”

Suggesting solutions, Afenifere said: “For the sinking boat to be rescued, for democracy to be beneficial to the people, for the increasing insecurity to be stemmed, government should do the following among others: Immediately allow states that so desire, to establish their own police force; combat corruption decisively with a view to plugging leaking holes of government purses and energise the economy; equip security agencies and boost the morale of security personnel; decentralise electricity generation, transmission and distribution; encourage establishment of industries and modern agricultural practices with a view to combating unemployment, fight hunger and reduce crimes; and prune down most of the items on the Exclusive Legislative List.”

Adams said with the present situation in the country, Nigeria’s democracy is yet to fulfill the expected dreams of the late Abiola. Speaking in Ikeja, Lagos, at the commemoration of June 12, he said Abiola ‘s victory at the 1993 polls came with lots of sacrifices.

“The June 12 story was truly phenomenal in nature. It was a story that reflected the will of the people to take their destinies in their own hands. It was a victory that knew no tribe or religion. The presumed winner and my predecessor, Aare Abiola, became the symbol of the historic victory that ushered in this democracy.

“The annulment of that election was a sad reminder of those years in the struggle. It was a battle between justice and injustice. It was that very struggle that led to the formation of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in 1994.”

The guest lecturer, Prof. Ayo Olukotun of the Department of Political Science, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, restated the need for regionalism, insisting that Nigeria’s problem can only be solved when all the regions that make up the country are allowed to develop at their own pace.

“What we have now is feeding bottle federalism. And with this, Nigeria has undertaken a race to the bottom.

Therefore, if the memory of Abiola was truly honoured, we would have progressed from this journey. The late Abiola in his lifetime had a clear idea of what Nigerians wanted. Had he not been martyred, Nigeria would have turned out to be the country we will all be proud of. Therefore, until Nigeria returns to the fundamental reason for which the country was established, the country’s dreams might be a mirage,” Olutokun said.

THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has equally charged President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to take practical steps to promote democracy and its benefits in Nigeria. In a statement signed by its national publicity secretary, Debo Ologunagba, the PDP, yesterday, noted that “APC administration has arrogantly continued to violate and trample on the substance, value and quintessence of June 12 Democracy Day; the democratic principles of Constitutional Order, freedom, justice, fairness and equity as well as the much-desired national cohesion and tolerance, which Abiola personified and died for.”

According to the PDP, “June 12 embodies the struggle by Nigerians against corrupt, suppressive and dictatorial forces; against lawless, insensitive, anti-people and terrorism-promoting regime, against injustice, high-handedness, recklessness and incurable impunity.”

The opposition party urged Nigerians to use the occasion of the June 12 Democracy Day to reaffirm their determination to vote out the anti-democratic, inhumane, lawless and rudderless APC in the 2023 general elections.

The party also called on President Buhari to go beyond his usual rhetoric and take practical steps to guarantee the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections in 2023.

LAGOS State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has also said that the democracy being enjoyed today in Nigeria has been built upon the immense sacrifice that June 12 represented and still represents.

In a statement to mark June 12 anniversary, Sanwo-Olu noted that Lagos was the epicentre of the national protests and the activism that followed the annulment of the election. “Lagosians trooped out in large numbers, young and old, male and female, to make their voices heard, to stand up to the forces that wanted to deny the democratic rights of Nigerians to choose their president.

“Abiola lived and worked in Lagos. His business empire was headquartered here as well. Lagos gave the world the famous Epetedo Declaration, which was Abiola’s final public appearance. He was also arrested here in Lagos.

“Indeed, many of the leading names of the June 12 struggle were Lagosians, regardless of where they traced their ethnic or family origins. A lot of the blood that was shed, was shed in Lagos. Kudirat Abiola, Alfred Rewane and Sola Omatsola were shot and killed in Lagos by murderous enemies of true democracy. Many others were forced underground, living in disguise and running from safe-house to safe-house across the city.”

Sanwo-Olu said Nigerians have seen democracy at work, though it is not perfect, but no democracy is. He added that there are still gaps to be closed, and processes to be improved upon, but there is no doubt that the journey started over two decades ago is fully on course and maturing.”

ELDER statesman, Malam Tanko Yakassai, has insisted that the return to democratic rule is worth celebrating by Nigerians. In a chat with The Guardian, he said more needs to be done by those entrusted with leadership of the country to deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians.

He said: “This is the beginning. We haven’t been able to match our siblings like Korea and Indonesia in terms of dividends to Nigerians and infrastructural development. More needs to be done because we are terribly lagging behind. The good thing is that we have got rid of the dark days of the military regimes. At least it is worth celebrating.

“It’s a commemoration of an event and to remind us of the importance of our history. People should learn that why it is important is because it was a struggle for the termination of military rule in Nigeria. The objective has been achieved.

“We are now in a full democracy. For the first time, we have the candidates of major political parties without any military background. We now have a fully entrenched democracy in the country. I appeal to politicians to ensure that this experiment is given all the support to achieve the objective of a lasting democracy in our country.”

Osita Okechukwu, APC chieftain and the Director General Voice of Nigeria (VON), said: “June 12 1993 is a watershed in our liberal democracy, which bade goodbye to the military, birthed the zoning convention of rotation of president from North to South and created the material conditions for multiparty system and free, fair and transparent elections, which has strengthened our democratic institutions. For this, one salutes Abiola and all the fallen heroes for paying the ultimate and supreme price for democracy.

THE family of MKO Abiola, yesterday, called on the Federal Government to implement the late politician’s manifesto to give succour to less privileged Nigerians. Head of Abiola family, Murtala Abiola, made the call while speaking with newsmen during the annual prayer session for the winner of the 1993 presidential election held at the family compound of Gbagura, Abeokuta, Ogun State, as part of activities to mark June 12.

The family head told newsmen that Abiola’s ‘Farewell to Poverty’ manifesto offered a solution on how to provide succour to students, unemployed and aged Nigerians. According to him, there was provision for allowances to students and the unemployed, as part of moves to eliminate poverty in the country.

He said: “Nigeria’s money belongs to all Nigerians, whether Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba and everyone must benefit from it.

“As a senior citizen, if I leave Nigeria tonight and I get to the United States, they will take me to an old peoples’ home. They will take care of me medically and feeding Even if I die and nobody claims my body, they will take care of the funeral.

All these programmes should be made accessible in Nigeria. We all travel abroad and see what is obtainable there, but when we return home, we find it difficult to replicate it.

“All the funds end up in their (referring to the political class) pockets. The money will finish, and he, who is keeping the money, will finish.”

A professor of International Law and Global Politics, Prof. Jehu Onyekwere Nnaji, has said that democracy in Nigeria was still lopsided due to its homogeneous nature, saying that 23 years after, a few individuals largely determine the fate of the populace.

Also, the Enugu State governorship candidate of Accord Party in the 2023 general elections, Dr. John Nwobodo, has said Nigeria’s 23 years of democracy was still far from achieving expectations of the people of the country.

Speaking to The Guardian in Enugu, Nnaji, who was a governorship aspirant of the PDP, insisted that the democratic aberration was so intricate that the political future of the citizenry was inextricably linked and determined by the whims and caprices of the few individuals.

Looking at the various institutions in the country, he said they had not shown stronger signs of growth despite a prodigious amount of money injected into the system.

He continued: “Despite the fact that the newly amended Electoral Act 2022 allows for direct, indirect and consensus candidacies, no political party sought to use direct primaries as that would wrest power from the hands of those who impose candidates of their choice. This is not in tandem with good democratic ideals and not in consonance with the import of democracy.

“Democracy stems from a loose amalgam of two Greek words namely ‘Demos and Kratos’, where Demos means the people and Kratos means rule, which when merged will simply mean ‘People’s Rule’.”

IN the South-South geopolitical zone, Delta North candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Delta North senatorial district, Prince Ned Nwoko, unequivocally stated: “Nigeria is currently in a state of anarchy and hopelessness; hence nothing is working today in a democratic country of ours.

“What we have on ground are certainly not the definitions of democracy, as the two processes – elections and the applications of resources to the people – have been jeopardised and traumatised.”

For Delta State Labour Party (LP) Chairman, Mr. Tony Ezeagwu, democracy is blossoming, though the country was yet to get it completely right, because of the kind of leadership enthroned in the country over the years.

“I’m sure that some day, Nigeria will get it right, because to some extent, democracy has been stabilized, except that the right people are not in the right places.”

Presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Prince Adewole Adebayo, lamented that democracy is off course, but quickly added that it could be made right and set on course next year “if both ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP are voted out, without allowing any of their stray members masquerading as alternatives or Third Force.”

The Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Calabar, Rt. Rev. Nneoyi Egbe, said Nigeria is worsening off on many fronts in the last 23 years of democracy. He said the country has been building stronger individuals rather than building institutions.

According to him, democratic rule has been on course, but not democracy in practice, adding, however, that recent development has shown that Nigerians are becoming enlightened and gradually moving towards salvaging the nation.

Egbe, who stressed the need to deliberately drive a vision that would make sure that institutions are bigger than individuals by doing the right thing, called on Nigerians to do the right thing by getting their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) ready to vote and be part of the counting process.