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JUNE 12: Declare Abiola president now

JUNE 12: Declare Abiola president now

…YCE, Afenifere, Ohanaeze,Arewa Youths tell FG

  • Ahamba, Ojo, others disagree

 

Sequel to Thursday’s passage of the Public Holiday (Amendment) Act by the Senate, in which June 12 has been recognised as Democracy Day and a public holiday, some prominent Nigerians and groups yesterday asked the Federal Government to declare the winner of the day’s election in 1993, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, as a former president posthumously.

This is coming on the heels of suggestions that President Muhammadu Buhari should immediately accord the late Abiola the title of a former president, before the next June 12, which is less than a month away. The Yoruba Council of Elders, the Afenifere, some lawyers and a host of others had argued that the only way to make the celebration of the day meaningful is to refer to the deceased as a former president, since there is presidential order for the day to be placed in the national gazette as public holiday. President Buhari had in June last year directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami Malami, to take immediate steps to gazette the presidential order declaring June 12 as Democracy Day and conferring national awards on late Chief MKO Abiola, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe.

Make pronouncement before June 12 – YCE

At the forefront of the agitation was the Yoruba Councils of Elders (YCE), which yesterday asked the Federal Government to make the declaration a possibility before the next anniversary of the day. In an interview with Saturday Telegraph yesterday, the Secretary-General of the YCE, Dr. Kunle Olajide, said the decision of the National Assembly to approve June 12 as Democracy Day and public holiday is a positive step forward but should be backed with the immediate declaration of Abiola as president. “The next thing hopefully is that they should declare MKO Abiola president because he won the election free and square. Yoruba elders believe that Abiola should be declared as president posthumously since he has been given the highest honour and the day (June 12) has now been declared Democracy Day.

“It means that the government; the legislature and executive, have acknowledged June 12 as historical and very eventful. And since it has been rightly linked to democracy, they should take the whole step and declare him president posthumously.” In the same vein, the National President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, while speaking with Saturday Telegraph said: “Now that June 12 has been approved as Democracy Day and public holiday by Federal Government, they should go a step further by declaring the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, President of Nigeria.

He should be declared as president posthumously. Government should declare Abiola as president before that day, June 12 if they are really sincere. “MKO Abiola should be declared as former President and all his entitlement as a former president should be paid to his family. A gazette should also be put in place to amend the constitution to ensure that handover date is shifted from May 29 to June 12 in recognition of that day as a Democracy Day.”

Put those that annulled June 12 in hall of shame – Ohanaeze

In its reaction, the Pan Igbo sociocultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo also threw its weight behind the call for the posthumous declaration of Abiola as President of Nigeria, but with an addendum that those who were behind the annulment should be placed in hall of shame. Speaking with Saturday Telegraph in Enugu yesterday, Ohanaeze through its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, also called on the Federal Government to recognize and honour Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, the then chairman of the electoral body that made June 12 possible.

“June 12 is a watershed in our democratic journey in Nigeria, nobody can discountenance that. Without June 12 there won’t be President Buhari, there won’t be President Goodluck Jonathan, and there won’t be President Olusegun Obasanjo. In fact, June 12 is the taproot of what we are experiencing today.

“So recognizing June 12 and commemorating it in our political calendar is not a bad idea, it is right; without June 12, other sequence of political activities that culminated into the Buhari presidency will not be there. “The symbol of that June 12 was of course MKO Abiola, and he’s been honoured by the Federal Government, which is not bad. However we have to go beyond mere honour and recognition to practice the significance of June 12. “What was June 12 all about? It wasn’t just ceremonials, the lessons of June 12, are we internalizing? Is our democracy touching the lives of the people? That is the issue.

“As for recognising Abiola posthumously, well Abiola was the symbol of June 12, there is nothing wrong with that. But the most important thing is that the lessons of June 12 must be practiced, the lessons of June 12 must be learnt; our politicians have not done anything to prove that they have learnt the lessons of June 12. Ohanaeze further demanded that those “directly or indirectly annulled June 12 election should be declared enemies of democracy and placed in hall of shame”, and that “the man that made June 12 possible Prof. Humphery Nwosu should be made a Pillar of Democracy in Nigeria”.

It’ll be a symbolic declaration – Afenifere

Despite its nod to the idea, the Pan Yoruba Socio-political group, Afenifere, said the agitation would be an exercise in futility if the electoral system is not rejigged to reflect the spirit of June 12. The spokesman of the mainstream Yoruba organisation, Yinka Odumakin said the declaration would just be symbolic in nature and would not bring Chief Abiola back to life to mount the leadership of the country. He said the best honour that can be done to the memory of MKO Abiola is for the Federal Government to conduct free and fair election that would meet the best practices. Odumakin said you cannot be honouring Abiola and declare June 12 as Democracy Day and yet conduct election that did not meet the International best practices. Declaring Abiola as the winner of June 12, 1993 election will not bring him back. His bones have rotten in the grave. The best honour we can do to his memory is to conduct free and fair elections similar to that of June 12. “Abiola’s case will be similar to that of a 14-year old black boy who was sentenced to death by USA court for killing two white women. But years after, be was declared innocent. That will not bring him back. But it is symbolic to his memory.”

Lawyers differ

Disagreeing, some lawyers that spoke over the legality of declaring Abiola as the winner of the June 12, 1993 annulled Presidential election, said, the man, who died on July 7, 1998, barely five years after former military President Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the presidential election, would have been the president, because the process would have brought him to the seat of power, if not truncated.

Though Buhari honoured Abiola with the title of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) and declared June 12 as Democracy Day, some people still felt that the posthumous honour and the National Assembly’s passage of June 12 as a public holiday is not enough. There are arguments in some quarters that the Federal Government should in addition to declaring June 12 as Democracy Day, also declare Abiola as president, having won the said election. But some senior lawyers differ in their opinion on the issue. In his own reaction, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ahamba commended the Federal Government for declaring June 12 as Democracy day and the honour bestowed on Abiola. He however raised reservations on the legality of declaring Abiola as President posthumously. “To declare MKO president is not a legal possibility, those who are calling for it should realise that.

This is because President Buhari has no power to declare anybody president. It is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that should do so after an election. “The Senate’s call for the announcement of June 12, 1993 presidential election result is a tall request. It is not possible. The result was annulled by a constituted authority at that time. So, nobody can say that the annulment, even though not right is not legal.

“The then military president had the power and he used it. So, nobody can go back and start reversing what happened. The annulment of the election is unfortunate but the military decision on it cannot be revisited. “More so, it is impossible to declare a dead man the winner of an election. We should be realistic and stop being unnecessarily emotional. The honour done to the man by the president is okay and I think it should stop there.”

For Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, he equally commended that gesture of Buhari on the declaration and posthumous award, and added that the President should go ahead and call for the declaration of the 1993 presidential election results, in order to pave way for the posthumous declaration of Abiola as president. “President Buhari should ensure that the June 12, 1993 presidential election results are officially declared and Abiola formally pronounced the winner, and therefore president of Nigeria.” A law lecturer, Dr. Kingsley Ogbonna noted that there is no law that barred the president from declaring Abiola the President posthumously.

“To me, it is welcome call to declare the results of the annulled election. The results were being announced when it was halted by former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, who for reasons best known to him canceled the poll. I think the Senate’s request will only complement what the president has done. It would also mean that everything that needs to be done in relation to that election is now being done.”

It’ll bring legal crisis

Two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Dr. Biodun Layonu and Mr. Olalekan Ojo, also disclosed that any attempt by the Federal Government to declare the late Abiola as Nigeria’s president posthumously would create legal crisis. The senior lawyers in different telephone interviews with Saturday Telegraph, opined that Buhari’s government declaration of June 12 as democracy day in Nigeria is the best honour that could be accorded the late business mogul regarding the circumstances surrounding his case. In his comments, Dr. Biodun Layonu, noted that declaring the late Abiola as president posthumously would create legal crisis because he was never at any time at the helm of affairs.

He said: “That is a very serious and weighty matter. Declaring the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola as president posthumously will occasion serious legal issues. “Firstly, if we look at the category of people that receives the highest honour in Nigeria, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), it is exclusively for former presidents and Heads of State of the country.

“When we are now saying Abiola should be declared Nigeria’s president, what time will be recorded against his name that he was the president of the country? Are we going to say he ruled the country from 1993 when the election was done and Babangida refused to hand over power? “When Babangida eventually left, he put Chief Shonekan there and his name was recognized as one of Nigeria’s past president. That is to say that all the period that Abiola was supposed to be in power, Shonekan was there.

“So, what period are we now going to say Abiola was Nigeria’s president? That is the legal problem that would be created. My view is that Buhari has done what I think he could really and seriously do without occasioning legal problems”, he said. Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, disclosed that from the legal point of view, it is impossible to declare the late Abiola as Nigeria’s president posthumously.

“That can only be possible from the political perspective but legally it is not possible. This is because there are laid down procedures on how a candidate in an election can be declared as the winner. Without this declaration which as concerns the late Abiola has become practically impossible, nothing can be done again. So, it will be better to continue to refer to the late business mogul as the presumed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election. “For the Federal Government to have declared June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria, that in itself is a recognition of the historical fact of a watershed in the political annals of Nigeria.

That is the best that could be done for the late Abiola in the circumstance we found ourselves”, the silk said.However, a former Vice- President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, thinks otherwise. Believing that the logical thing for the Federal Government to do is to declare the late Abiola as Nigeria’s president posthumously.

He said: “I think that is the proper thing to do. If the Federal Government has recognised that the man won the June 12, 1993 presidential election and that the polls was wrongly annulled, the most logical thing to do is to declare the late Abiola as a president that was elected but was never allowed to rule. “It should not be too much for the Federal Government to do. So, it should not stop at just declaring June 12 as democracy day, government should go further by declaring the man as president posthumously”.

‘INEC can’t release June 12 results’

However, a law lecturer, Abiodun Adeloye, disagreed with the calls to declare Abiola president, saying there is no need for that after Buhari has exercised his prerogative in giving an award. “The request that the full result of the election should be declared is unnecessary. I don’t think that matters again. This present INEC cannot do so because it did not conduct the said election. I don’t think the present INEC can be declaring the result of an election it did not conduct”. An Abuja based lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, in his own reaction noted that this present INEC cannot be compelled to declare the June 12 presidential election. “In Nigeria, we operate constitutional democracy where powers of state actors and institutions are prescribed with little allowance to broaden same. The power of INEC is limited to the election it conducted, with a specific timeframe of casting ballots, collation of results, eventual declaration/ release of election and finally petitions if any. “It is my humble opinion that irrespective of how sentimental and desirable the formal declaration of June 12 election may be, doing such, INEC will against the statute of Limitations and other ruling and judgment of court on the issue which have not been vacated or upturned”. An Abuja based lawyer and Rights Activist, Solomon Ehiane noted that the power to order INEC to declare 1993 election results lies in the hand of the court. “This is because the matter has become a constitutional issue which only the court can make pronouncement on. “As for declaring MKO ex-president posthumously, it boils down to the declaration of the election results. Without declaring the results, the winner cannot emerge. And hope you know that law is not about insinuations but of facts placed before the court “The first thing is to get a court order on INEC to declare the result and subsequently declaring Abiola if he is the winner of the said election as president posthumously can follow”.

Bill not yet law – INEC

However, INEC said yesterday said it has no opinion on the matter, whether Abiola should be declared president-elect posthumously or not, because Buhari has not yet assented to the bill passed by the National Assembly. INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said the bill declaring June 12 Democracy Day is not yet a law, as such, INEC can’t have a position till then. “The president has not signed the bill, so INEC has no opinion on that,” Okoye said.

‘NASS, not Buhari can do it’

However, a top government functionary within the seat of power, who prefers not to be quoted told our correspondent that given the unique incident of the June 12 annulment, it is unclear if the President has the power to declare Abiola as the president-elect. The man, who spoke in Villa, said: “remember that elections had been conducted and results were being collated. It was clear from the results being announced that someone was in the lead before the annulment. “The same way the National Assembly has passed a bill to recognise MKO and celebrate June 12 as the country’s Democracy Day, the lawmakers can also pronounce him presidentelect if they so wish. There is no constitutional provision where the President can exercise such powers,” he added. Asked if the directive by Buhari to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for gazetting of June 12 as Democracy Day has been effected, the top government functionary explained that only the AGF is in a position to explain the matter.

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