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June 12: Every life matters

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
14 June 2018   |   3:52 am
After the elaborate ceremony of apology and award of honours, it is now time to come to terms with the fact that the greatest tribute has not been paid to the victims of the truncation of the nation’s democratic watershed on June 12, 1993.

President Muhammadu Buhari

After the elaborate ceremony of apology and award of honours, it is now time to come to terms with the fact that the greatest tribute has not been paid to the victims of the truncation of the nation’s democratic watershed on June 12, 1993.

Clearly, there has been in the past 25 years a persistent clamour for restitution for the victims. Every June 12 has witnessed calls for the closure of the sad political trajectory in the nation’s life. President Muhammadu Buhari has apparently heeded these calls. But sadly, Buhari’s action has rather shown the poor premium we place on life in the country.

The erection of gargantuan statues in the memory of those who were unjustly killed is not the best way to apologise to their families. It is not even an apology to the bereaved. After all, a despot can send his goons to wipe away the family of a perceived political enemy and deliberately leave one member alive. The despot would now not only apologise to the only surviving member of the family but be magnanimous to him as a way of diverting attention from his culpability. Nor is it the declaration of a holiday to commemorate the day the victim suffered the mortal blow.

But the greatest tribute we can pay those who have been unjustly killed is to protect the living against suffering a similar fate. In this regard, Buhari has not paid the greatest tribute to Chief Moshood Olawale Kashimawo Abiola whose death and the cancellation of his June 12, 1993 presidential election have spawned memories that still rankle 25 years after.

Yes, we all, like the family of Abiola and many others who died in the course of fighting for the revalidation of the June 12 election, are pained by their tragic fate. Their families have been waiting for an opportunity to purge themselves of these sad memories. However, we must not ignore the fact that as these people suffered unjust death at the hands of bad leaders, so have other Nigerians. This is especially the case since the emergence of Buhari as president. So while it is important that Buhari has apologised to the families of Abiola and others, the lack of sincerity in his action is seen in his not possessing the right credentials to discharge that responsibility. He could have demonstrated his altruism before now by having high regard for the life of every Nigerian. This he could have done through good leadership that would have checked the killings by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen, stabilising democratic institutions and holistically fighting corruption.

Buhari cannot claim to have apologised for the tragic disruption of the nation’s democratic process when he himself has become a threat to the current democratic dispensation. We see this in his war on the judiciary and the National Assembly. Again, we are confronted with this reality in his refusal to heed the calls for the restructuring of the polity that would stabilise democracy and the nation . Buhari cannot claim to value the lives of other citizens and democracy when he has violated the fundamental human rights of Sambo Dasuki and Ibrahim El Zakzaky and permanently locked them up and subjected them to slow death. Buhari cannot claim to have respect for life when Leah Sharibu is still being held in captivity of bigoted Boko Haram insurgents because she has refused to give up her Christian faith . If Buhari considers life precious, it is only that of himself, his family and his political associates.

Nigerians who cheered Buhari on as he gave the nation’s highest honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) to Abiola and engaged in specious apology only value their lives. They do not value the lives of other Nigerians, especially the poor ones among us. Or would they have attended the event in Abuja if their pregnant daughters were raped and their stomachs ripped open by Fulani herdsmen? Would any of them have attended if they were the only surviving members of their families after others have been wiped out by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen? Would they have attended if Leah were their daughter and she is still being held in captivity?

We cannot be convinced that Buhari is pained by the death of Abiola and other June 12 activists in the absence of his demonstration of the great value he placed on the lives of Nigerians who are not dead. How much does Buhari value the poor citizens when his lack of good leadership and economic management is driving them to the nadir of despair? How much does Buhari value Nigerians when he dooms them to a poor health care system while he uses the nation’s resources to give himself the best medical facilities abroad? Are many Nigerians not dying daily in childbirth and through other means because of a poor health care system or they cannot afford medical bills? Are many Nigerians not consigned to a miserable existence that borders on death because they have not had educational opportunities?

The families of Abiola, the late Gani Fawehinmi and other Nigerians should have rejected the awards. Yes, we appreciate their pains. Their loved ones suffered and died because of an unjust system in the country. But their accepting the overtures of Buhari is not the best decision. It is sad that other elected leaders from 1993- Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan – did not deem it fit to do what Buhari did. But the issue is that Buhari is not the right person to do this. He is only a political opportunist who has taken advantage of what would resonate with Nigerians . The families of Abiola and Fawehinmi should not have ruled out the possibility of the right time when there would have been the right leader who really understands the importance of June 12 and who would have made the appropriate restitution. They should have like Chinua Achebe in 2011 insisted that they disallowed the perpetrators of corruption and lawlessness in the country to honour them.

It is equally wrong to suggest that we should disregard whatever motive Buhari has for his action. We cannot. It is clear that Buhari’s action is self-serving. It was politically motivated. He knows full well that his performance does not recommend him for re-election. And he has thought that June 12 is one way of worming his way into the hearts of the citizens. If Buhari really believes in June 12, he should have demonstrated this by his fidelity to a transparent election that the political milestone of 1993 stands for. Instead of encouraging this atmosphere of peaceful election, Buhari has sired the auguries of blood and death in the next election. Buhari has declared anybody he thinks does not support his presidential ambition as an enemy that must be eliminated through corruption charges and other means. Buhari claims to be pained by the tragic fate of Abiola but he has refused to deny his tormentor-in-chief Sani Abacha.

But those who cheered Buhari on over his June 12 magnanimity still has an opportunity to redeem themselves. They can do this if they have only humoured him by aligning with him on June 12 . Again, they can do this by refusing to allow themselves to be used to shore up his fast-vanishing political fortune . In that case, their conscience can be at peace that the interest of democracy that Abiola and others died for has been served if Buhari does not return to Aso Rock in 2019.