The decision by the Buhari administration to recognize June 12 as democracy day was not just a brilliant move, but one which set Mr President apart from the rest. Nearly everyone who played one infamous role or the other in the decision to truncate Nigeria’s march to democratic governance is still alive today. And one wonders how these fellows would be feeling now that what they worked so hard to denigrate suddenly is given credence and respect, by one so heckled as a tyrant, dictator and sanguinary despot.
I remember then listening to Babagana Kingibe after he dumped MKO to take up the post of foreign minister with Sanni Abacha. He said the concept of that election as the freest and fairest was a hoax and that MKO did not deserve to be president. In addition, many of Abiola’s friends and acquaintances turned coat after that famous Babagana outburst, and went on as well to accept one position or the other under the Abacha regime.
Many years after the that June 12 imbroglio, and Nigeria attained civil rule, we all expected those who were the greatest beneficiaries of the supreme price paid by Abiola, and who assumed leadership roles would recognize June 12 as a metaphor for our collective voice. But no. Instead, they played all manner of politics, threw very cheap shots at the June 12 hero and buried the June 12 matter deeper than the grave they buried MKO. Even the man from MKOs town who became president for two terms fought very hard to denigrate that Nigerian dream.
If we have not forgotten, that election that was ushered in Abiola as president was conducted by the military. It experienced so many vicissitudes before eventually throwing up Abiola as a contender of note. That election was the first and maybe the last time Muslims and Christians, north, south, east and western Nigeria, young and old rose up like a man to invest their sovereignty in one man to lead them to the promised land. Nobody then was interested in speculations that ITT meant international thief, thief or that Abiola was associated with malfeasance. Good or bad, tall or short, Muslim or Christian, rich or not, Nigerians made a decision irrespective of all these considerations. We all should have respected that decision but for the inordinate ambitions of a few good men.
Yet here we are with the man we all love to hate Muhammadu Buhari – the great rapist of democracy, and tyrant extempore rescuing everyone from the June 12 embarrassment. And you know what, most cannot come to terms with this glaring masterstroke from one we all know as a sanguinary despot. Most are out of breathe, and blushing, that it is the devil and ravisher of democracy himself who has saved the lamb from falling off the precipice.
And after the rescue of the precious little lamb of June 12, we just suddenly now remember that Abiola was a serial coupist, an agent provocateur, an ITT who made all his monies from knavery and thievery. Curiously, we now ask: what is the big deal with the June 12 anyway. But hey, didn’t we know all of these allegations against MKO before friends and foes, north, south, east and west trooped out in their vast numbers to vote and did so emphatically for the alleged thief and knave? And having done so, why then do we want to be this hopelessly naïve and childish by insulting the memory of this good man? Why?
Most of this is perhaps a product of our unhappiness that it was a Buhari who eventually broke the June 12 logjam. But should that make us begin to gripe and wring our hands, wallow in self-pity like some aficionado? Where has our power of constructive criticism gone and why are we finding it this difficult to maintain our nerve in spite of the rumblings in our alimentary canals?
Earlier this year, presidents of North and South Korea met, and for the very first time. Prior to this, everyone thought that both the South and North Korea were day and night, and would never meet at any table and have tea. Yet they met, held hands like two playful boys, glad to be having fun together in spite of their overbearing parents China and the US. The instructive thing about that meeting and how it connects with the decision by the Buhari admin to recognize June 12 is ascribed to a statement from the South Korean leader. He asked: why was it so hard for us to meet before now? Why haven’t we been meeting often? But this wasn’t so hard…!’
That is the same question we should be asking those who were there before Buhari. Why was the recognition of June 12 as a national holiday so hard in the first place? Why did they stay their hands? We may never be able to get answers to these questions except perhaps to lay the inability to recognize June 12 on the notion that the intricacies involved were too many. But I tell us this: in Muhammadu Buhari, we all should learn one great lesson in governance and in our personal lives, and that is that we must do the right thing at all times no matter the burden doing the right thing imposes on us. Doing the right thing may cost but the dividends can last a lifetime.
Etemiku is deputy executive director Civil Empowerment & Rule of Law Support Initiative Abuja.