When President Muhammadu Buhari came with his mantra of ‘change’, only few gave him a chance. This is understandable in a society where forthrightness has almost become a taboo. Ditto when he remarked on May 29th 2015 that he belonged to nobody and belonged to everybody.
Developments in the polity in the last three years have shown that the President is living up to expectations as a statesman and a unifier in a largely heterogenous society called Nigeria. His method may be difficult to understand by those who still tenaciously hold to the status quo, but his motive and sincerity are never in doubt.
A man who has been largely described as unforgiving and vicious in handling his perceived enemies, political and domestic, last week surprised his vitriolic critics when he apologized for the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election presumed to have been won by late philanthropist, M.K.O. Abiola.
His decision on the contentious June 12, 1993 election with the official validation of the suspended results by recognizing Abiola passively as a past president and according him a national honour reserved only for past Presidents came as a surprise not only to his critics but also to his admirers.
For the first time since he became the President, Nigerians from all walks of life came together to commend Buhari for a well thought out decision to rebuild the nation and calm strained nerves.
The highlights of the decision to recognize June 12 as the democracy day in the country did not end in conferring the highest national honour on late Abiola, whom he posthumously decorated with the GCFR; his Vice, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe and the irrepressible social crusader of our time, late Gani Fawehinmi with GCON, but in the significance of such action in the quest for nation building.
No doubt, the annulment of the June 12 1993 Presidential election by the then military President Ibrahim Babangida was at the root of political distrust in the country in the past 25 years. Had Abiola been allowed to rule, analysts hold that the country would have transformed into an integrated nation where equity and egalitarianism reign.
With the June 12 Presidential election, where Abiola and his Kingibe ran as President and Vice on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) were both Muslims, the toga of religious bigotry was shed and a new Nigeria was born. Regrettably, the new reality was aborted and the nation has been thrown into a dark conundrum since then.
Although Babangida had tried in several fora to justify the annulment of an election acclaimed to be the freest and fairest election in the country, not much had been done to ensure that justice is done to the aggrieved Abiola’s political family.
This is not withstanding the fact that the political leadership in 1999 resolved to zone the presidency to the South-west in 1999 as a palliative to redress the injustice done Abiola and by extension, the South-west.
Curiously, the beneficiaries of the June 12 struggles, including ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and his cohorts never found it expedient to, in anyway, immortalize the symbol of that struggle which eventually brought about democracy in 1999.
Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, who attempted to name the University of Lagos after the late progenitor of modern democracy in Nigera was resisted and he never did anything to enforce his proclamation. So, the status quo remained.
The honour done Abiola by President Buhari was instructive against the background of his relationship with the late politician. There was this story that the late philanthropist single-handedly financed a coup against Buhari’s military government in 1985.
Since the annulment of the widely acclaimed free and fair Abiola’s mandate and his death while in detention, Buhari was never been known to have made any public statement on the matter.
Obviously, the President may have seen what others before him refused to acknowledge in the sanctity of the Abiola’s mandate annulled by his friends in power.
It is with this background that the recognition accorded Abiola and other June twelvers is considered a masterstroke in the nation’s politics ahead if 2019.
Buhari’s proclamation has been variously described as a political strategy to warm himself into the hearts of the South-western voters as the 2019 Presidential election beckons. If the decision was motivated by politics, the question then is why not?
If the father of the nation has come to the realization that a balm should be provided to heal an old wound in order to foster national unity, one wonders why such would be counted as a vice.
With that singular decision, Buhari had succeeded in shutting the mouths of his enemies who are grandmasters of intrigues tailored at retiring him from politics in 2019.
Babangida, who annulled the election and his co-conspirators against the will of the people in 1993 remain the greatest villain in this political game. Interestingly, the former military president is also at the head of a cabal working against Buhari’s second term ambition.
Obasanjo, a major beneficiary of the June 12 struggles, who never thought it expedient to right the wrongs while in power for eight years, has also been counted as tanning against the will of the people. The former President never hid his disdain for Abiola and his mandate while in power.Therefore, the recognition of June 12 as democracy day had taken the puff off the former President and reduced his influence in the polity.
Buhari has pitched his tent with the masses by doing what his predecessors could not do in the last sixteen years. His declaration on June 12 has further raised his democratic credentials both locally and internationally.
Politicians of progressive bent, who have strayed in recent past now have a leader in President Buhari whose political iniquities seemed to have been forgotten by just standing by the truth.
Undoubtedly, the honour done Abiola and those who fought for the actualization of his mandate, as well as declaration of June 12 as democracy day in the country would count much in Buhari’s favour as the nation goes to the poll in 2019. He had demonstrated that he actually belong to everybody by ensuring that justice is done to the Abiola’s family regardless of his personal relationship with their patriarch while alive.
Still warming into the hearts of the youth who represent the largest percentage of voters, the President recently signed into law the ‘Not too young to run’ bill into law.
This was also received with great enthusiasm as Buhari has etched his name in gold by opening up the political space for the participation of the youth in governance.
But critics have urged him to go a step further by appointing young men and women into positions so that they could be mentored for leadership.