Recognizing June 12: This could be Buhari’s final act of reparation

After contesting and failing three times to be an elected president, the retired General Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015, got the consent of Nigerians to lead them. He did so under an unprecedented circumstance toppling an incumbent whose party had held firmly for sixteen years. The campaign was run on the emblem of ‘Change’ crafted to signal that his new administration would present a different reality to Nigerians. It was, as much, a promise of a new way as it was a pledge by the candidate Buhari that he would show evidence of a changed man, that his experiences from failing repeatedly to prove his credentials as a reformed democrat will be put to effective use for the entrenchment of democracy.
Mr Buhari’s place in Nigeria history, until 2015, is not to be envied. But for his unwelcome interruption of the second Shagari administration – corrupt and fraudulently acquired as that may have been – the chronicle of the 15 years from the night of his coup till the eve of the fourth republic would have, arguably, been of a more prosperous nation. Through iterations, Nigeria would have learned more lessons from the experimentation of democracy, to become a true giant in 2018. If Buhari and his colleagues at Jos had defeated the urge to come out of the barracks, there may have been no need for a Babangida to want to right Buhari’s wrongs. A constitutional democracy may have avoided the misadventures of the structural adjustment programmes, the environmental crises of the Niger Delta would have been attended to earlier and the escalation of advanced fee fraud among disenfranchised young people may have been better curtailed.
Most significantly, however, ‘June 12’ may not have happened. Without an unbroken succession of four-year terms, the Nigeria president, as at June 1993, would have been serving a term from the 1991 elections.
That president may well have been Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola; he was already popular and well to do as a politician at the time. Or it may not have been him, given the widely held view of Mr Abiola’s confidence in 1993 flowing from the friendliness to head of state Ibrahim Babangida. It seems rather plausible that there would have been no ‘June 12’ if Nigerians never once had Buhari in charge.
As we have it, those elections, twenty-five years ago, happened. They were adjudged free and fair, but unceremoniously annulled. From the resulting fracas, captured in memory by people from my part of the country as Oso Abiola, the dictatorship of Sani Abacha grew out unleashing a reign of terror never before witnessed from a single administration in the country’s history. Mr Buhari joined this Abacha government (which he has recently appraised boisterously) serving as the head of the Petroleum Trust Fund whose revenue management was not available to the public. Hence, Mai Gaskiya – as the man who is now Nigeria’s president was then called – did give validation to that perceived robbery of 1993. Under Abacha’s watch, Kudirat Abiola, the former spouse of the presumed winner and champion of the restoration of the mandate, was assassinated. Mr Abiola would die in detention after Abacha’s demise (twenty years this month), without claiming his mandate or actually recognized for it.
Buhari did not play a direct role in the 1993 annulment as to be said to bear the burden of ultimate reparation; it will remain IBB’s ineffaceable sin. But it was Buhari who set the ball rolling for the perversion of the social order leading up to the hijack of the popular will of Nigerians in the 1993 elections. Hence, there has been a democratic debt to pay.
In his previous roles in government, Buhari has attempted to fight corruption (through WAI in 1984), and has worked on spreading infrastructure nationwide (precisely his role at PTF form 1995), but he has never been noted for making a marked input on recognizing democracy. Elevating June 12 from a regional remembrance to the status of Democracy Day was his opportunity for reparation and it is not surprising that he has taken it.
Beyond reparation, June 12 as the new Democracy Day is also a stroke with which Buhari amends two other subjects in his history into his favor. Babangida who forcibly took over from Buhari and proclaimed the annulment, is by this move, to be cast as even more villainous. But the real shade is to Olusegun Obasanjo, who had eight years to accede to the popular demand for the formalization of the date’s significance but would do so, given his active campaigns against Abiola in ’93 as well as the little matter of May 29 being the date of his own second inauguration in 1999. Buhari has taken the moral high ground and as the appreciation of the Abiola family and the NADECO activists show, it is a monument for which history will remember him.
It is a gift wrapped in Buhari’s 2019 flyers. Whether it is shameless opportunism or crafty politics is a matter of subjective tastes in the interpretation of political transactions; what isn’t in question is that a perceived ill has been corrected eventually.  Should that convince voters, from the South West and others for whom June 12 has been a dream, that Mr Buhari will be more democratic and considerate of their needs in a second term? It is to be hoped that those voters will weigh other substantial matters of his government’s record, from the handling of Shiites in Zaria, to the detention of persons whom competent courts have asked to be released, and the broader issues of economic governance and internal security.
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