*Warns Nigerians won’t tolerate cancellation of elections
*Apologises to Abiola’s family, others
*OBJ, IBB absent at ceremony
By Chesa Chesa
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday defended his recognition of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election and the unannounced victory of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola.
Amidst claims that his action was politically-motivated, especially to garner support from the South West in next year’s presidential contest, Buhari said that his decision to recognise the major actors of the struggle 25 years after, was not meant to open old wounds but to right the wrongs of the past.
Buhari said that it was also to aid the healing and reconciliation processes in the aftermath of the June 12 debacle.
He therefore warned that Nigerians would never again tolerate the perversion of justice and annulment of election.
Speaking at the conferment of the posthumous national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, Buhari apologised to the late politician’s family and others who lost their lives in the course of the struggle to uphold the June 12 mandate.
The President also conferred the honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) on Abiola’s then running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe and the same GCON, but posthumously, on renowned rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
Buhari urged Nigerians, irrespective of their political or ethnic coloration to accept the recognitions in good faith, as the “intention is to bury the negative sides of June 12″ and to bear in mind that the ideals of June 12 will be nurtured for future generations.
His words: ” Nigerians of their own free will voted for the late Chief MKO Abiola and Ambassador 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 was going to be the winner.
“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.
“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 June 12 elections. I earnestly invite all Nigerians across all divide to accept it in good faith.
“Our action today is 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 restated democracy and freedom; the June 12 that overcame our various divides 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.
“Accordingly, on behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of the late MKO Abiola, who got the highest votes and to those that lost their loved ones in the cause of June 12 struggle,” he said.
At the President’s request, the audience observed one minute silence in memory of Abiola, Fawehinmi and others who died in the struggle for the actualisation of June 12.
*Obj, IBB absent
Invited but conspicuously absent at the ceremony was former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said that he was in Norway for a food conference. He had famously declared that Abiola was not the messiah Nigeria needed.
Also, former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, excused himself on health grounds. He annulled the June 12 presidential election.
The Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, said that he was abroad and the notice was too short for him. He conducted June 12 election adjudged as Nigeria’s freest and fairest
They, however, all wished the President success at the ceremony.
*Apology means so much to us – Hafsat, Kola
Responding to the honour done to her father, Abiola’s daughter, Hafsat, recalled that she also lost her mother in the struggle; therefore the President’s apology meant a lot to her, especially considering his relationship with her father. She did not delve into details of what this meant.
She told Buhari: “Who would have ever believed, given the relationship that you had with Chief MKO Abiola that you would be the instrument God will use to honour this man and to bring recognition and healing to the country.
“You apologised to my family and it touched my heart. You know that I also lost my mother in this struggle, so that apology meant so much. Let me use this opportunity, on behalf of the Chief Abiola because I know what he would have done, I use this opportunity to apologise to you, to apologise to your family, anything that he might have done to harm you and your family,” she said.
Hafsat noted that the President had woken Nigerians’ courage to defend the nation’s democracy, and that such efforts would not bring calamity to him “but let us fight and bring about the conclusion of MKO’s struggle that Nigerians should be the ones in full control of this country. It is not for a few landlords whoever they maybe, it is for the 200 million Nigerians”.
Abiola’s oldest son, Mr. Kola Abiola, who received the GCFR medal and certificate on behalf of his late father, simply said: “Mr. President, on behalf of the MKO Abiola family, we accept both the award and the apology. We will like to thank you for the great honour you have done our family. We thank you for taking the decisive measure to strengthen our democracy and guarantee our future by reconciling our past. Thank you very much sir. Generations to come will honour your for this”.
The son of the late legal icon, Muhammed Fawehinmi, in accepting his father’s award, declared that Buhari is “the first sensitive and reasonable President that has listened to Nigerians and acted accordingly.
He said: “June 12 is the foundation of democracy in this country; the recognition of Chief MKO Abiola as president-elect in this country not as presumed winner, and I thank God that I have seen it today.”
He urged Nigerians to eschew bickering and trivialities, religion and ethnic differences, and support Buhari, adding that “we are experiencing problems in Nigeria now because of hatred of values but I know with ‘Oga’ at the helms of affairs things will be better for Nigeria.”
*MKO was the Messiah Nigeria never had – Kingibe
In his remarks, Kingibe commended the President for the courage in recognising June 12, adding that “it proved him to be a man of conviction, fair-minded man who is clear on what is right and what is wrong; what is just and what is travesty of justice.
“The decision came to you naturally because you are a principled politician who refuses to be swayed by the expediency of the moments,” he stated.
Kingibe recalled that Abiola was a man of great wit and gifted with persuasive powers; full of energy and a great philanthropist who was truly committed to improving the lot of the poor masses.
“Indeed, MKO was indeed the messiah Nigerians never had opportunity to feel his liberating impact. The annulment of 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 12th and celebrate the principles and the joys it brought,” he stated.