President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday apologised to the family of the late Chief Moshood Abiola over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election.He offered the apology while investing Abiola with the nation’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) in Abuja, yesterday.“On behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of the late M.K.O. Abiola, who got the highest votes and to those that lost their loved ones in the cause of June 12 struggle,” the president said.
The election, adjudged the most credible in Nigeria’s history, was widely believed to have been won by the late philanthropist, but was annulled by the then president, Ibrahim Babangida.Buhari noted: “We cannot rewind the past, but we can at least assuage our feelings; recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and in the future for the sanctity of free elections. Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.”
Calling on all Nigerians to accept the gesture in good faith, he explained: “Our decision to recognise and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering wound caused by the annulment of the elections.”
According to him, the move is intended to “bury the negative side of June 12, the side of ill-feelings, hate, frustrations and agony. What we are doing is celebrating and appreciating the positive side of June 12; the June 12, which restates democracy and freedom; the June 12 that overcomes our various divide and the June 12 that produced unity and national cohesion. This is the June 12 we are celebrating today and we will nurture it to our next generation.”
The president insisted the event was not meant to open old wounds but right a national wrong, adding: “Nigerians of their own free will voted for the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe, the presidential flag bearer and running mate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 1993 elections. The government of the day inexplicably cancelled the elections when it was clear who were going to be the winners.”
Thereafter, Buhari called for a minute’s silence in honour of Abiola and all that lost their lives in the June 12 struggle.The president also conferred Kingibe and the late rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger.Absent from the event were: Babangida, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and June 12 electoral umpire, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu.
While Babangida cited health reasons, Obasanjo and Nwosu explained they were outside the country. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, acknowledged the apologies of the three.Mustapha also announced that Chief Agunwa Anekwe, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and two former presidents of the Senate, Iyorchia Ayu, and Ameh Ebute, would be conferred with national honours at a later date.He said: “The monumental election that took place on June 12, 1993, represented the first time in the history of our nation that Nigerians voted, not for tribe or creed or region, but for their convictions, affirming their common heritage and unity of purpose.
“As you are all aware, nation building requires the sacrifice of all citizens. We must therefore imbibe the moral rectitude to look into our past with pride and take lessons from our rich history to draw a roadmap for the present and future development of our great country.”We must also recognise the efforts of our heroes of democracy. It is in commemoration of this day, the spirit of which should be internalised in the consciousness of Nigerians of all ages and taught to our children and generations of Nigerians yet unborn.”
Son of the late Fawehinmi, Mohammed, described Buhari as the most sensitive and reasonable Head of State; one who listens to his people and acts accordingly. He commended the president for attempting to right past wrongs and described June 12 as the foundation of democracy in the country. He said the recognition was a symbolic demonstration of the country’s unity irrespective of tribal, religious or ethnic affiliations.
Kingibe also praised the president for his courage at recognising the historic day. He said this proved Buhari a fair-minded man of conviction. “The decision came to you naturally because you are a principled politician, who refuses to be swayed by the expediency of the moments,” he said.He described Abiola as a man of great wit and persuasive powers, full of energy and a great philanthropist committed to improving the lot of the poor.
“Indeed, M.K.O. was the messiah. Nigerians never had opportunity to feel his liberating impact. The annulment of the June 12 election had the tragic consequence of dissolving that unity we as a people exhibited on that historic date and turning us into a divided people who began to see one another as enemies.”We must be thankful that we eventually survived the prolonged crisis, even with all the collateral damage to our body politic. Today, President Buhari has called upon us to inter the ghost of the acrimony surrounding June 12 and celebrate the principles and the joys it brought,” said Kingibe.
After receiving the award on behalf of his late father, Kola Abiola commended Buhari for the gesture, noting: “We accept both the award and the apology.” The honour would go a long way to strengthen the country’s democracy and guarantee the future by reconciling the peoples’ past, he said.Hafsat Abiola, on her part, recalled the long wait, saying: “When he died, we accepted his body and watched Nigeria year after year till now, the 25th year.” She added: “Nelson Mandela said, ‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’ Who would ever have believed that you (Buhari) would be the instrument God will use to honour this man and bring recognition, and healing to the country? You apologised to my family and it touched my heart. I lost my mother in the struggle, so that apology meant so much.”
Former President of the Senate, Iyorchia Ayu, said contrary to perceptions that Buhari is unforgiving, his position on June 12 has shown he has “a large heart.” He admonished him not to regard the opposition as enemies and be wary of aides “who turn everybody” into his enemies.The National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, praised Buhari’s “courageous determination,” saying the country’s democracy has been “furthered and strengthened.”He said: “I know some ex-presidents who because of June 12 threatened to throw me out of the helicopter. But you remained resolute. Thank you Mr. President. Thank you, for bringing back hope to Nigeria. Farewell to poverty. It is the struggle of Africa to banish poverty, and you are investing in education, which is a great weapon against poverty. You are feeding our children. We are no longer paying for darkness. Thank you, Mr. President.”
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, appreciated the fact that the honour finally came, but noted it was with an eye on electoral fortune.In a statement titled, “June 12, The Mandate”, he echoed the call of legislators to have results of the poll “fully published, so as to lay the ghost of that presumptive qualifier.”He said: “Dictators are free to annul the succession of day and night, the succession of drought and rains, but no mortal power, either in this world or in any other human habitation, can annul the truth of that election.”It was that truth that nerved Moshood Abiola to emerge and re-present himself to the people in the famous declaration of Epetedo, saying: My name is Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, and I am here to reclaim my mandate. Today, that mandate conferred upon Abiola is being reclaimed on his behalf. Whatever the motivation, the credit is undeniably yours.”