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Buhari Shifts Democracy Day To June 12, Honours Abiola,

• Confers GCFR on the presumed winner as Kingibe, late Fawehinmi get GCON

• Son: ‘Finally, it’s done, we’re happy’

Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja; Chukwudi Nweje

President Muhammadu Buhari has directed that effective from next year, Nigeria’s Democracy Day will now be celebrated on June 12, rather than the traditional May 29.

May 29 has been Nigeria’s Democracy Day for 19 years since the birth of the Fourth Republic.
Buhari will also confer a posthumous Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), Nigeria’s highest honour, on the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential poll, late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.

His running mate in that election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe will be awarded Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger GCON as well as a GCON on the late pro-democracy activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi.

The president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the Democracy Day shift is to honour “an illustrious son of Nigeria…who won a presidential election but was prevented from taking office when the results were annulled.

“The late Abiola died while struggling to actualise the mandate. Consequently, the late MKO Abiola will be conferred with nation’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, exclusively conferred on the holders of the highest office in the country, the president.

“In the same vein, Kingibe is to be conferred with the second highest honour, GCON. Also to receive a GCON is Fawehinmi.”

In a personal statement he signed yesterday evening, Buhari explained why his administration chose June 12.

“For the past 19 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day. That was the date when for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government.

“The first time this happened was on October 1, 1979. But, in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12, 1993, was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even October 1.

“June 12, 1993, was the day when Nigerians, in millions, expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our Independence. The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the then military government does not detract from the democratic credentials of that process.

“Accordingly, after due consultations, the Federal Government has decided that henceforth, June 12 will be celebrated as Democracy Day.

“Therefore, the government has decided to award posthumously, the highest honour of the land, GCFR, to Abiola… His running mate, as vice president, Kingibe, is also to be invested with a GCON. Furthermore, the tireless fighter for human rights and the actualisation of the June 12 elections and, indeed, for democracy, in general, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) is to be awarded the GCON.

“The investiture will take place on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, a date which, in future years, will replace May 29 as a national public holiday in celebration of Nigeria Democracy Day.”

MKO was born on August 24, 1937, in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
He was the 23rd child of his father but the first to survive infancy.

He delved into business at nine years old, selling firewood before school. By age 15, he founded a band and would perform at various ceremonies in exchange for food.

He was eventually able to require payment for his performances and used the money to support his family and his secondary education at the Baptist Boys High School Abeokuta.
Quite politically conscious, MKO joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) at the age of 19, because of its stronger pan-Nigerian origin.

A business mogul, Abiola set up Abiola Farms, Abiola Bookshops, Radio Communications Nigeria, Wonder Bakeries, Concord Press, Concord Airlines, Summit Oil International Ltd, Africa Ocean Lines, Habib Bank, Decca W.A. Ltd, and Abiola football club. He was also chairman of the G15 business council, President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, among others.

He joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of the two political parties registered by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration.

At the June 12, 1993, presidential election, Abiola and his running-mate, Kingibe defeated the National Republican Convention candidates of Alhaji Bashir Uthman Tofa and his running-mate, Dr Sylvester Ugoh.

The election was eventually annulled by Babangida, causing a political crisis which led to General Sani Abacha seizing power later that year.

In 1994 Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria.
Abacha thereafter arrested and detained Abiola on treason charges.
He was detained for four years.

Abiola died in suspicious circumstances shortly after Abacha’s death, on the day he was due to be released; July 7, 1998.

In his reaction to government’s declaration, Abiola’s eldest son, Kola Abiola, told Daily Sun last night: “Finally, it is done. It’s been a lot of hard work. We are happy.”
Kola also said the family will issue a comprehensive statement on the development.         (The Sun)

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