Nigeria’s democratic journey has been a long and eventful journey at an attempt to entrench principles and values that ensure liberty, justice and equality which are qualities that have to be evident in all aspects of our political life as a nation.
Nigeria’s Democracy Day was originally held annually on May 29, as a national holiday which marked the day the military handed over power to an elected civilian government in 1999. It has been a tradition that has been held annually, and it began in the year 2000.
In the past, June 12 was known as Abiola Day and was mostly celebrated in Lagos, and some other south western states of Nigeria. On June 6, 2018, eight days after May 29, 2018, had been celebrated as Democracy Day, the President Buhari-led administration declared June 12 as the new Democracy Day.
Democracy Day in Nigeria is a public holiday to commemorate the restoration of democracy in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. May 29 was initially the official democracy day in Nigeria, marking when the newly elected Olusegun Obasanjo took office as the President of Nigeria in 1999, ending multiple decades of military rule that began in 1966 and had been interrupted only by a brief period of democracy from 1979 to 1983.
As a result of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which has been adjudged to be Nigeria’s freest and fairest election, civil unrests broke out in the south western states of Nigeria. It was, however, believed to have been wrongly cancelled by the Ibrahim Babangida Junta, leading to the subsequent detention of MKO Abiola, after he declared himself president. Abiola died mysteriously after drinking tea during the negotiation of his release.
The annulment denied Nigerians the opportunity to witness the realization of their aspirations for democracy. Abiola himself was courageous enough to come out in defense of his mandate, by leading other Nigerians who refused to accept the perceived injustice, who came out and fought for their democratic rights. He is today seen as a symbol of Nigeria’s fight for democracy.
However, sacrifices made by the fighters for democracy at that time can be said to be a turning point in Nigeria’s history. A struggle that should not be forgotten, and the President, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, was very much a part of that struggle.
In his Democracy Day speech, he paid glowing tribute to the people of Nigeria for exercising “their inalienable right to elect a President of their choice to lead the transition from military dictatorship to a representative government of the people.
As reflected in the speech, civilization and societies experience progress as they are forced to respond to challenges posed by the environment, a postulation of the 19th century historian, Arnold Tonybee. The annulment, which elicited resistance by civil society was a factor that led to the attainment of the return of democratic governance in 1999.
Just like the other leaders in the past, President Tinubu rounded up by looking back at the expectations of Nigerians vis-a-vis the pledges made by his administration. He restated his commitment to diligently fulfilling every component of the electoral pact made with the people in the ‘Renewed Hope’ agenda.
We hope to see fairness and respect for the rule of law, and a commitment to upholding the dignity of the Nigerian people.
The President had reiterated that democracy cannot be taken for granted, and must be protected as such, adding, we have come a long way, and are hopeful that the future would be much better than the past. Our elections cannot be seen as mere sacred rituals from now on. We need to go back to that point which we got it right.
It is commendable that President Tinubu concluded on this note, ‘Truly, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola remains that symbol, and the June 12 factor means democracy in Nigeria can be eternal.’
We admonish that our leaders will, at all times, demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the real essence of democracy, and see to it that the dream of an all-inclusive, strong, and prosperous Nigeria does not elude us.