Abuja (Sundiata Post) – Nigerians now celebrate this date every year as Democracy Day to commemorate the fearsome but aborted struggle to return the country to civilian rule after 20 years of unbroken military rule.
The day recalls the June 12, 1993 general election which was, and is still, adjudged the freest and fairest election held in the country, which was won by the late business mogul and philanthropist, MKO Abiola. June 12 recalls the annulment of that election by the Gen Ibrahim Babagida junta and the dogged struggle by pro-democracy activists supported by labour unions and student associations, among other pressure groups, to revalidate that election and send the military back to the barracks.
It was a long drawn-out battle in which many of the protagonists were hounded into jail or exile, with some paying the supreme price on both sides of the divide, including Abiola’s wife Kudirat, the military dictator Gen Sani Abacha and Abiola himself on July 7, 1998, barely a month after Abacha’s death on June 8, 1998. After an 11-month transition midwife by Gen Abfulsslami Abubakar, Nigeria returned to Democratic rule on May 29, 1999, with President Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Obasanjo had, during his inaugural speech as president, designated May 29, the day the country returned civil rule, as Democracy Day, and accorded it the status of a national day, a public holiday.
However, not a few felt that the June 12, 1993, struggle sent a clear signal to the military that the people of Nigeria thirsted for democracy and that it directly pushed the military to give way, as such that day was better suited as Democracy Day. States in the South West geopolitical zone went ahead to celebrate democracy on June 12.
Seeing the merit in the argument, President Muhammafu Buhari, ahead of his reelection bid in 2019, announced on June 7, 2018 that the celebration of Democracy Day would move from May 29 to June 12 starting from 2019. May 29 would remain handover date but would not be a public holiday. It was a decision that was well received in the polity.
On the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, there was high optimism with the politicians promising the masses that they would now begin to reap the dividends of their struggle, the dividends of democracy in the forms of good governance, rule of law, respect for human rights and social justice, fight against corruption, economic empowerment and a better standard of living which they felt were denied them under the military junta.