Hitting back at Obasanjo, Buhari declares June 12 as democracy day, honors late politician MKO Abiola Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 4, 2021


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced on Wednesday the decision of the Federal Government to declare June 12, and no longer May 29, as democracy day, effectively delving into a controversial issue that would please many in the Southwestern part of Nigeria but displease many elsewhere. He also by that act, escalated a political fight between himself and former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

“Dear Nigerians, I am delighted to announce that, after due consultations, the Federal Govt has decided that henceforth, June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day.  We have also decided to award posthumously the highest Honour in the land, GCFR, to the late Chief MKO Abiola,” President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted on Wednesday.

Millions of Nigerians had argued that June 12 should be celebrated as democracy day, the same day in 1993 when philanthropist and activist MKO Abiola was elected President. But instead of being sworn into office, he was thrown into jail and died there years after while Sani Abacha was in power.

On 29 May 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler turned democrat was sworn into office, making him the first civilian to become President after years of military dictatorship, some of the dictatorship perpetrated by him when he was head of state between 1976 and 1979.

To many Nigerians, democracy day was June 12 when Abiola was elected President although his election was canceled by General Babangida. But Obasanjo agreed with others to celebrate democracy day the day he was sworn into office and resisted moves to change the date when he was in office between 1999 and 2007. The issue has remained contentious.

MKO Abiola

In recent months, however, former Mr. Obasanjo has attacked President Buhari in open letters and press interviews, saying that he had failed and should be rejected next year when Nigerians go to the polls to elect a new President, more than 30 governors and federal and state lawmakers. The move by Buhari today may be seen as an attempt to hit back at Obasanjo and at General Babangida who has also said Buhari has failed.

It may also win him some votes in the Southwest, eight months to an election that it appears would not be easy to win, at least not with the same velocity as in 2015, when he zoomed into office vowing to fight corruption, crush Boko Haram and a revamp a dying economy as well as give back dignity to a country on the brink of collapse and at the peak of official corruption and total recklessness.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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