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A nation in contempt of history

By Dara Akinyosoye
13 June 2019   |   4:10 am
President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated for a second term in office on May 29, 2019 after contesting and winning in presidential ballot of February 2019. The day Mr. President was inaugurated for a second term in office is of particular significance in Nigeria’s history not for any other peculiar reason but because on the same…

A handout image released by the Nigerian Presidential Press Services on May 29, 2019 shows Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari waving from a car as he arrives to his inauguration ceremony in Abuja. Buhari was sworn in for a second term in office on May 29, 2019, vowing once more to tackle crippling security threats and root out corruption in Africa’s key economy. Buhari was re-elected with 56 percent of the vote in Africa’s most-populous nation — and top oil producer — after a delayed poll that angered voters. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was also sworn into office. Sunday Aghaeze / Nigerian Presidential Press Services / AFP

President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated for a second term in office on May 29, 2019 after contesting and winning in presidential ballot of February 2019.

The day Mr. President was inaugurated for a second term in office is of particular significance in Nigeria’s history not for any other peculiar reason but because on the same day in 1999 the Nigerian military had a change of heart, decided to withdraw from politics to face the task of defending the territorial integrity of the nation, which is the primary reason for its existence.

In subsequent years, the Obasanjo administration made May 29 Democracy Day. It did not matter then that many Nigerians justifiably felt that June 12 should have been the day to celebrate democracy.

That date on calendar June 12 was preferred as Democracy Day because back on the day in 1993 Nigeria held an unprecedented peaceful election and overwhelmingly voted for a candidate, across ethnic lines. That election is adjudged as the most free and fair in our history to date.

Curiously, the election was later annulled by the military in circumstances yet to be fully explained to the nation, but the date June 12 has become a milestone in our search for true democracy and inclusive politics because it somehow shows the true character of our people.

The 1993 election showed the ethnic fault-lines so often bandied as bane of our national development is not cast in stones, that we are indeed capable of matching to the same beat and heeding the voice of the better Angels of our souls.

It was a pleasant surprise when the Buhari Administration announced it was reversing the Obasanjo promulgated May 29 as Democracy Day and has been moved to June 12 in recognition of the momentous elections of 1993.

The Buhari Initiative had me thinking of how far we have come with our democracy. It also elicit questions on if that act alone had absolved the country from the ghost of the 1993 missteps, especially on if we have paid the due recognition to those who championed cause of democracy in the immediate post-annulment as the military exercised unaccountable power.

In raising the questions, I do not seek to explore the depth of the current democracy or on the growing gaps between its promises and our present realities.

I am just inclined to reflect on how we have been able to remember the past as we nurture this democratic process made possible by the toil, and blood, of bygone heroes like Gani Fawehinmi, Alfred Rewane, Beko Ransome Kuti, Anthony Enahoro and M.K.O Abiola. It was disappointing looking across the seats in Abuja on May 29 as Muhammadu Buhari was taking another oath of office.

I wondered why the press was only concerned about the absence of most of the past Nigerian rulers at the event, but I was concerned by the absence of many living harbingers of the current democratic process like Alani Akinrinade, Balarabe Musa, Ebitu Ukiwe, Shehu Dangiwa Umar. It is also doubtful the sacrifices they made often cross our minds.

Abraham Lincoln’s described democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people in his 1862 Gettysburg address. The war time American president basically assumed that democracy is a system by which the general populace, of voting age, select those who are to represent their interests in government and that those so selected are to work for the general benefit and interest of the people. It is contestable we are yet at the stage where government works for the people, but we could have also accord recognition to those that made the prospects feasible.

How can we forget our soldier rulers who ruled by the gun yesterday and were not shy to turn the gun against the people just to remain in power? How can we forget the battles for return to a democratic dispensation with one military dictator and another since the 1966 ‘junior officers’ coup”?

I am yet to celebrate my 24th birthday so I neither not witnessed much of the history and military rule first-hand. Most people in my generation also do not have a recollection of military rule. Most in my generation actually care less about the significance of the democratic system we have today and much of the ignorance of my generation is due to the apathy of the parents and especially to government to history.

I shudder to think that while the other nations we copy teach the past to their kids and have rich curriculum on history in their schools our government made conscious efforts to ban history from our classrooms. No wonder many in my generation know nothing about the contemporary events, not even the history of the military rule and the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections.

My parents made me to read up about Nigerian history and watch documentaries on past events rather than relying on folklore and oral narrations and I found many narrations on our past are driven by other things apart from genuine efforts to tell history.

Before my self-excursions into history books, I remember a classmate back in my secondary school who often rendered accounts on the Nigerian Civil War that depicted Yoruba as cowards and serial betrayers. I later found that the peddled stories on the war and the silly notion on a whole race as cowards were mere inventions unsubstantiated by facts. The poor boy might have picked his folklore from home. I suspect he may still be in the business of peddling the folklore as history because our educational curriculum did afford the opportunity to my generation to learnt history in school.

It is not surprising most of my generation must have watched the swearing in moments in Abuja on May 29, 2019 without being able to connect with the past. But it could have been placed in better historical perspectives if it was not just a shallow event, if the living heroes of democracy, those who participated in driving back the military to the barracks featured in the event and the press chronicled their contributions. We need to use such occasions to tell our story and stop showcasing them only as aesthetically pleasing events.

Take this as a call from the younger generation to power. It should ensure the youths who constitute majority of the population are properly taught the history of our nation. My generation needs better understanding of the obstacles our nation had faced on its journey here, it is only then can we can credibly begin to think of a better Nigeria.

Akinyosoye, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.