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June 12: Protesters test Buhari’s democratic credentials

By Seye Olumide, Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Eniola Daniel (Lagos)
21 June 2021   |   3:09 am
Amid protest and demand for good governance, equity and justice, Nigerians celebrated 22 years of democratic governance and first year anniversary of the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day.

Protesters on June 12

Amid protest and demand for good governance, equity and justice, Nigerians celebrated 22 years of democratic governance and first year anniversary of the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day.

Prominent Nigerians and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) expressed mixed feelings over the worsening state of insecurity, poverty and other critical challenges threatening the unity of the country.

While some resolved to express their anger through protests, others chose to hold seminars.

However, protests that were to hold across the country were resisted by security agencies working on the order of the Federal Government.

Last year, President Buhari signed into law an Act that recognised June 12 as Democracy Day instead of the May 29 chosen by the military to formally hand over power to civilian government in 1999. There were, however, mixed reactions in 2020, when June 12 was pronounced as Democracy Day as there were doubts if the gesture was actually meant to translate into good governance or bring about dividends of democracy to Nigerians.

Eminent Nigerians like former External Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and Chairman National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Chief Ayo Opadokun among others, made a strong case for poverty reduction and good governance, saying that it was only on that premise the purpose for which June 12 was recognised as Democracy Day, would be achieved.

On Saturday, when the country officially marked the first year anniversary of June 12 as Democracy Day, the sentiment shared by Professor Akinyemi, Opadokun and those who shared similar views seemed to resonate as Nigerians trooped out to express grievances over bad governance but the move was repelled by the government.

Protesters carried placards and banners marked with #Buharimustgo at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Lagos, Oyo, Ondo, Port Harcourt, Ogun and Osun; they expressed anger over the rising insecurity and poverty across the country. They said the current administration has failed and must go. They also argued that the policies of the Muhammadu Buhari-led government are against the message of ‘Hope’, which the acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 Presidential election, the late Chief M.K.O Abiola stood for in his campaign tagged: ‘Hope 1993’.

On the other hand was the pro-Buhari group, allegedly sponsored and mobilised to counter anti-Buhari protests. The group carried various placards marked #StandingwithBuhari.

The message by the #Buharimustgo group was clear: democracy is under threat from rising insecurity and bad governance. The protests came as the Federal Government has been struggling to curtail terrorism, kidnapping and separatist agitations across the country.

Only recently, the Federal Government suspended Twitter usage in Nigeria because the social media pulled down an unfriendly message on the Twitter handle of President Buhari regarding secessionist groups in the country.

The protesters criticised the Federal Government and described the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria as dictatorial and desperate to suppress freedom of expression.

Across states of Oyo, Ondo and Abuja protests began early but not without resistance from battle-ready security forces stationed at strategic locations. In Abuja and Lagos, security agents wasted no time firing tear gas and gunshots to scare activists, who demanded an end to insecurity and what they called systemic oppression.

Recalling the mayhem of the October 2020 #EndSARS protests, the Lagos State Police Command did not take chances, it mobilised armed policemen stationed at the Freedom Square in Ojota, where the protesters were forcefully dispersed. Lagos was like a ghost town on Saturday as commuters refused to operate until later in the day when tension subsided. Eyewitnesses also narrated how state security operatives in Abuja and Lagos seized banners and placards from protesters.

One of the protesters described the reaction of the Buhari-led administration to their demands as a tactical return to military dictatorship, where peaceful protests for justice and good governance were repelled forcefully.

Reacting to how security agencies manhandled the protesters during the protests on Saturday, the National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralphs Nwosu and former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Tanko Yinusa, condemned the police action, saying it shows that Nigeria is no longer in a democracy but the autocratic rule.

Speaking on telephone with The Guardian, Nwosu said the government is no longer pretending to be democratic. He also condemned the deliberate silence of progressives in the ruling party, whom he accused of subjecting and suppressing tenets of democratic rule because of inordinate ambition for power.

Nwosu said, “The only way out for Nigerians especially our youths is to ensure they get their PVCs to vote this government out of power. I appeal against agitation for secession because the unity of Nigeria should and must not be toyed with but we must vote APC out of power if at all we want peace and progress for this nation.”

Yinusa on his part chided the protesters for failure to obtain permission from the police before hitting the streets to protest. He, however, condemned police for the undemocratic manner it dispersed the protests. He said the action of the police was against the principle of democracy.

For a pro-democracy activist, Mr. George Akinola, Federal Government was wrong over the treatment meted to the protesters on Saturday. He also said the democracy Buhari celebrated was not the one Nigerians fought for from 1993 to 1999. He said the democracy in place today favours a particular section of the country, the Fulani, precisely and makes them look superior to other ethnic nationalities in the country.

According to him, “Buhari keeps assuring Nigerians he will address insecurity challenges but if you look at the leadership of major security operations in the country, they are all from the Fulani ethnic group, so when they discuss they focus on the security of their ethnic group and not for Nigerians.”

As for the Yoruba, Akinola said his people are tired of being part of the country. “We have concluded arrangements to stage a peaceful protest in Lagos very soon, to express our displeasure over remaining with Nigeria. We are going to make our point clear that we no longer want to be part of Nigeria.”

But Buhari in his address to mark the first anniversary of June 12 as Democracy Day, assured Nigerians of his commitment to addressing the worsening state of insecurity. He disclosed that every incident, however minor gives him great worry and concern and that he always ordered security agencies to swiftly but safely rescue victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

He noted that Nigerians elected him in 2015 to end insecurity, especially the insurgency in the North East, but that the unintended consequences of scattering insurgents in the North East pushed them further in-country, which is what the country is with. He said his government would by the Grace of God put an end to the challenges.

He said it was unfortunate, like in most conflict situations; some Nigerian criminals are taking undue advantage of a difficult situation and earning profit therefrom with the misguided belief that the administration’s adherence to democratic norms handicaps this it from frontally and decisively tackling them.

“We are already addressing these obstacles and we will soon bring some of these culprits to justice. We are, at the same time addressing the twin underlying drivers of insecurity namely poverty and youth unemployment.”

Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere said the Democracy Day speech exposed the Buhari administration as one bent on taking steps that are not in the best interests of the majority of Nigerians.

The National Publicity Secretary of the group, Comrade Jare Ajayi, expressed their disappointment with the disclosure by the President that he had directed the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation to ‘re-open old grazing routes throughout the country.

In their reactions, Speaker Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Mudashiru Obasa, Constitutional lawyer, Kayode Ajulo and Convener Lagos4Lagos Movement, Abdulazez Adediran enjoined critical stakeholders to ensure Nigeria remained united, safe and developed for the good of citizens and the black continent.

In separate messages to mark Democracy Day and 28 years of the annulment of June 12, 1993, Presidential election they said for Nigeria to remain as a country despite the numerous challenges it faced in the last 22 years is an indication that “we love one another across ethnic divides and would love to retain our united identity.”

Obasa said, “As we mark another democracy day, it is worthy of note that Nigeria has been able to sustain its current civil rule for 22 years. This is proof that the citizens are all united in a decision to ensure a government where their collective voice is heard, where there is equity and majority rule as devoid from what obtains under a military regime.”

The speaker said it was a coincidence that June 12 falls same day when Nigeria marks the 28th anniversary of the annulment of the freest, fair and credible elections, which was synonymous with the victory of the late Bashorun MKO Abiola.

Adediran’s lamentation is more about the state of affairs in Lagos, which he says is a microcosm of Nigeria.

He argued: “Can democracy be said to be a blessing or an albatross to us in Lagos? What has gone wrong over the years that has seen to a systemic and repeated suppression of the will of the people and their rights, both to their own choice of leaders and to good governance?

“How can it be that in a society of great minds, teeming creative youth and illustrious statesmen, we all gullibly pan to the whims and desires of a single individual who we recklessly permit to decide who becomes what and who gets given what in Lagos? For how long more are we going to keep approving and watching as witnesses, while the absurdity of godfatherism keeps us in deliberate and perpetual penury?”

The convener Lagos4Lagos movement described democracy as a mirage in Lagos.

But Ajulo lauded President Buhari over his infrastructural drive, saying the incumbent government has done a lot in the area of transportation and other critical sectors of the economy.

Ajulo commended Mr. President’s Democracy Day speech but urged the administration to redouble its effort in the area of electricity.

EMINENT opinion leaders and intellectuals from Yoruba land said Democracy Day was not worth celebrating as long as Nigeria continued to sustain the current skewed and lopsided system that favours a particular ethnic group.

In a webinar programme organised to mark June 12 as Democracy Day on Saturday, former Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, Chief Olusegun Osoba (Ogun), Commodore Kayode Olofinmoyin (rtd) former Military Administrator of Ogun State; and Commodore Olabode George (rtd) former Military Administrator of Ondo State, and others insisted that devolution of powers, resource control will reset Nigeria on the path of development.

Others at the webinar were Navy Captain Musbau Atanda Yusuf, former Military Administrator of Ekiti State; Senator Akin Odunsi (Ogun West), Professor Mojeed Alabi, a former Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly; Rt. Hon Rotimi Kuteyi, a former speaker; Sen Iyabo Anisulowo from Ogun West; Sen Tokunbo Ogunbanjo from Ogun East; Rt. Hon Jumoke Akindele, a former Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly; Hon Titi Oseni-Gomez, a former Speaker of Ogun State House of Assembly; Mr. Bimbo Ashiru- seasoned banker and two-term commissioner, Ogun State; Hon Adekunle Osibogun-councillor UK Parliament;

Although the participants commended President Buhari for recognising June 12 as Democracy Day and also accorded the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, Abiola the honour, they however resolved that devolution of powers and resource control are the way to go to reset Nigeria and set it on the trajectory of accelerated development.

They also called for true federalism with emphasis on the regional government system.

The two-day webinar was organised by Yoruba Ko’ya Leadership and Training Foundation (YKLTF) with the theme: ‘Retreat on Resetting Nigeria’.

In a communiqué issued and signed by Demola Sanyaolu, director of Media and Publicity of YKLTF, the meeting resolved to continue intellectual engagements on the State of the Nation, within all groups and associations in Yoruba land with a unity of purpose. They insisted that dialogue, instead of war or agitation for secession is better.

They also agreed that since governance cannot be by discretion but by the Rule of Law, true federalism with emphasis on return to regional governance is the most important indicator and the best solution to solving Nigeria’s current and future challenges, occasioned by a new Constitution akin to the 1963 Constitution.

They resolved that June 12, as Democracy Day, should bring about devolution of power, resource control with agreed tax remittances to the Federal Government from the states or region. According to them, “This will reset Nigeria on the path of genuine development and greatness. It was also resolved that community policing with appropriate statutory joint structures (State/Community complemented with an appropriate line of jurisdiction as authority for each level) should be set up to fast-track security, for effective practical responses within each local government council area, where the people actually reside.”

The leaders also resolved that the Western Nigeria Security Network code-named Amotekun must be armed to carry out its duties effectively. “Amotekun Security network must be armed to the teeth to combat any incursion or terrorist attack if the need arises by the same weapons the criminal herders are using. It is the state, local government or community policing that each governor will control as the Chief Security Officers respectively,” they said.

Participants also agreed that with regards to criminal conflicts such as the cases of kidnapping and banditry, the ongoing massacre of innocent residents and destruction of life and property across Yoruba land, the hitherto “freedom of movement” of cow herders, metamorphosing into trespass and other sundry criminal activities, must be curtailed.

They supported the permanent ban on open grazing of cows in all the Southern states as demanded by the 17 Southern governors in their Asaba meeting held in Delta State.

They concluded that as long as justice is denied, poverty is enforced, ignorance prevails, and where one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade others, there will be no safety for human life and property.

IN another programme organised to mark June 12, the Aare Onakankanfo of Yoruba land, Iba Gani Adams said Abiola would never be happy in his grave that the democracy, which he lived and died for, has turned out be autocratic in nature and practice.

While he condemned in totality the repelling of protesters of bad governance across the country by government security agents, Adams lamented that Nigeria’s democracy is marred by disunity, rivalry and wanton killings.

He said the democracy Abiola lived and died for has failed to accommodate the worthy ideals the business mogul cherished most.

According to him: “This present danger has been threatening the fragile union of our great country. And sadly, Nigeria is sliding towards an anarchical terminal point. Nigeria is at war with itself because a section of the country has always betrayed the trust, which is the bond that binds us together as a nation.

“A good example of this is the Federal Government’s ban and suspension of the Twitter platform. As far as I am concerned, it is another ploy to tamper with the citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and expression.”

He said if the Federal Government succeeded in banning and suspending Twitter, it would easily do the same for other social media platforms, now that the Federal Government has said all social media platforms must be registered to continue operating in the country.

“If democracy could not guarantee freedom of speech and expression, so what system of government will guarantee such component of good governance?

Head of Department History and strategic studies, University of Lagos, Professor, David Aworawo in an address titled: ‘June 12 and National Integrity’ said the annulment of the June 12 election created a lacuna and setback to the development process for Nigeria.

He said June 12 elections had provided opportunities to look back and redress the mistakes of the past. “We can only change the narrative by reflecting on the June 12 milestone to achieve national integration and political stability.”

Also describing June 12, and demand for a National Referendum as a catalyst to nation-building, a non-political movement, All Referendum People Movement (ARPM) on Saturday said the national referendum is the catalyst to nation-building.

In a programme organised to mark June 12 and Democracy Day, ARPM said the national referendum is inevitable to solve burning issues of secession, agitation from some quarters, unemployment and insecurity of life and property.

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