One of President Muhammadu Buhari’s very first actions since being returned to power in the Feb. 23 presidential election was legalizing June 12 every year as national Democracy Day. He did so in signing the Public Holiday Amendment Bill into law. The new legislation makes that day ahead May 29 which is now just a handing-over date but not a holiday. His National Assembly liaison man, Ita Enang, explained it thus: “By the act amended and signed by Mr. President, May 29 is no more a public holiday. June 12 is now a public holiday and the country’s Democracy Day.” Since 1999, May 29 has been observed as a public holiday and Democracy Day.
Speaking during the ceremony to usher in the new national democracy day, President explained why he took the decision to drop May 29 for June 12. “As we all know, correcting injustice is a pre-requisite for peace and unity. As part of the process of healing and reconciliation, I approved the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day and invested the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe with National Honours, as I did with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. The purpose was to partially atone for the previous damage done in annulling the Presidential elections of that year.” Besides, the President re-named the Abuja National Stadium Moshood Abiola National Stadium.
Again, to underscore the significance of the new National Democracy Day, President Buhari chose to not give an address the day of his second inauguration, reserving it for June 12. In the 74-paragraph speech, he said his first 4 years in office saw Nigeria emerge from the status of a beggarly nation to one that has the potential to become “a major economic power on the world stage.” What is required to make this come true is, according to him, “the will to get our acts together. And our strength is in our people – our youth, our culture, our resilience, our ability to succeed despite the odds. A huge responsibility, therefore, rests on this and succeeding administrations to develop, harness and fulfill our enormous potential into a force to be reckoned with globally.”
Buhari admitted there are lapses to be corrected in his Next Level government. But “We are not daunted by the enormity of the tasks ahead. Instead, we are revived by this new mandate to work collaboratively with state and local governments, legislators, the diplomatic corps and all Nigerians to rebuild and reposition our country as the heartbeat and reference point for our continent.” He said “my optimism about Nigeria’s future is unshaken and Nigeria’s role in the world as an emerging economic force is without a doubt.” Based on that optimism, Buhari promised to “assemble a strong team of Nigerians, and allies, to implement our transformative plans and proposals.”
At the same time, he had a warning for Nigeria’s internal detractors. This Government will not tolerate actions by any individual or groups of individuals who seek to attack our way of life or those who seek to corruptly enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. We will crack down on those who incite ordinary innocent people to violence and unrest. We will ensure that such actions are met with the strong arm of the law.” Very strong words there. We advise that the security forces do not mistake this as a blank check for impunity. Nigeria remains a country of rule of law. Under law, a citizen is presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court law.
Also, many Nigerians may not be comfortable that June 12 which used to be celebrated in only the south-west states has become a day to be marked with ceremony nationwide. Presidents since 1999 avoided it like a plague. Not even Olusegun Obasanjo, president between 1999 and 2007, and a beneficiary of a campaign to compensate Yorubas for the 1993 annulment of Abiola’s supposed electoral victory, made a move in that direction. The man of who annulled the 1993 polls, military president Ibrahim Babangida , avoided the first National Democracy Day celebration in Abuja. And so did previous heads of like Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. Perhaps, herein lay the value of Buhari’s action. The timing of it makes doubly significant. If he had done it before the elections, he would have been accused of bribery for Yoruba votes. By avoiding that trap, Buhari has made history by becoming the only leader to have stepped on a political banana peel without falling. All others before were too afraid to take the risk.