In his controversial book ‘The Accidental Public Servant’, Nasir Elrufai narrated how the ’12th of June’ (or ‘June 12’ to be precise) was deliberately avoided as hand-over date by the military interregnum of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, even though the writer said, a sequence of calendar searches by that government for a convenient hand-over date, had fortuitously, even if inadvertently, fallen right on ‘June 12’. But El-Rufai said that because the date was some kind of “bad karma” for the military that had arbitrarily annulled Nigeria’s freest and fairest election which held on that date, the idea that Abdulsalami should hand over on that date was rejected.
And in its place El-Rufai said ‘May 29th’ was haphazardly chosen, a desolate date with no political history or democratic antecedent other than what El-Rufai himself insinuated in the book, that its choice was motivated by a malevolent conspiracy at the highest level to deny recognition for June 12 or to avoid immortalizing the man, MKO who was martyred to nourish the very democratic tree that was about to be husbanded. And then they said also that the same ‘May 29th’ henceforth would be our ‘Democracy Day’-by so doing honoring a day in which an event not any more momentous than when General Obasanjo handed over to a democratically-elected Shagari, took place.
And you wondered, if that blank date in which General Obasanjo handed over power to a democratically elected Shagari was not historic enough to make our ‘Democracy Day’ -even though it marked our first return to civil rule, from military dictatorship- why should another blank date in which General Abdulsalami was to hand over power to a democratically-elected Obasanjo, suddenly be, -even though there were now two eventful dates each eminently deserving of that honor: ‘June 12’ in which Nigeria’s ‘freest and fairest election’ held, or ‘June 8’ in which the winner of that election’ was assassinated?
El-Rufai said in his book that soon after the coming of Abdulsalami, cogent reasons were advanced for discarding late Abacha’s ‘self-succession’ program which had an October 1998 date for its presidential election, and at which Abacha himself was to have been a ‘sole candidate’. And with that therefore, El-Rufai said, “cancelling all previously scheduled elections” under Abacha to commence a fresh transition program, became a fait accompli. Besides he said, the new transition program required brand new parties that “would need some time to form, hold congresses, primaries and conventions followed by national elections with enough room for any potential post election litigation”. Only then, El-Rufai said “could power be handed over by the military junta”.
Considering these exigencies, El-Rufai said that all “elections had to be postponed until February 1999”, -thus extending by one month Abdulsalami’s earlier wish “to be out of power by the first of January”. And so now the middle of April –barely two months from the presidential election- was fixed as hand-over date; but which again El-Rufai said the Chairman of Program Implementation and Monitoring Committee (PIMCO), Ibrahim Aliyu had said would be insufficient for “post-election litigation and adjudication”.
The lot then fell on El-Rufai -as he wrote- to go “see the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais”, for advice on “how much time… would be adequate… for all post-election litigations to run their course”. And he said that Uwais after “a step-by-step-analysis of civil procedures likely to be complied with”, had suggested “the end of April to the middle of May” when the courts would have been done with all litigation.
When he took Uwais’ advice back to PIMCO, El-Rufai said “we added four weeks from mid-May and we landed on Saturday, the 12th of June as the hand-over date”. This was not the intention. It was fortuitous. And although he said the First Lady, Fati “weighed in” on the recommendation to get her husband’s “quick buy-in”, El-Rufai, without saying whether Abdulsalami accepted it or not, tactfully proceeded to say “so we moved two weeks backward to the 29th of May, which has remained our ‘Democracy Day’ and a national holiday ever since”.
Thus El-Rufai’s book, -even as it pretends to tell-all concerning the rejection of ‘June 12’- has not come clean enough on those responsible for that rejection or in deed for the acceptance of ‘May 29’ as hand-over date or ‘Democracy Day’ for Nigeria.
But radical lawyer Femi Falana, has alleged recently in an interview with Sahara Reporters that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was responsible for the celebration of ‘May 29’ instead of June 12 as ‘Democracy Day’. “No one” he said “has ever made a case for the celebration of May 29 as Democracy Day. It was meant to spite those who celebrate June 12 by the Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration.” Which to me is not sufficiently indictive of the former President.
In fairness to Obasanjo, and if El-Rufai’s account is anything to go by, how could an “administration” (Obj’s), be guilty of an act or omission committed even before its own birth? Obasanjo, just smarting from detention and still being rehabilitated, allegedly by ‘special interests’ to contest for president, could not have been in a position then to manipulate the choice of a hand-over date or the date to be celebrated as ‘Democracy Day’. Because both of these, as El-Rufai seems to suggest in his book, were strictly the prerogative of Abdulsalami and his wife, Fati?.
Yet the question may be asked ‘could Obasanjo as President for eight years have done something to reverse the non recognition of June 12 and, by so doing, to immortalize MKO? Absolutely yes! So then why did Obasanjo not do anything in the direction of recognizing ‘June 12’, or immortalizing the late MKO? And maybe the answer is simple: like Abdulsalami, he too did not think it was necessary. Nor did Yar’adua and Jonathan -who came after OBJ and were beneficiaries too of the martyrdom of MKO- think it was necessary to recognize ‘June 12’ and to immortalize MKO.
Yes Jonathan had attempted, unclerkly if you ask me, to play politics with Abiola’s name when he renamed UNILAG ‘Moshood Abiola University’, MAU; but again if you ask me, to have to kill an intellectual product, namely ‘UNILAG’, that has taken 50 years to ferment into a fashionably-settled brand, was not my idea of recognizing June 12 or immortalizing a hero like MKO. It was simply a mockery of two iconic names for inordinate political objective.
The late Chief MKO did not only win the freest and fairest election, his pan-Nigerian victory in fact symbolized the struggle to end military dictatorship and to install lasting democracy in Nigeria. MKO built bridges across ethnic, regional, religious and political divides. He was not only a lover of press freedom, he was a practical exponent of that right; he was not only an idealist of the fight against poverty, MKO’s charitable disposition was in fact the epitome of that species of philanthropy; he was not only a sports enthusiast but a continental pillar of it in the whole of Africa; not only a passionate afro-centric himself but MKO was a lone ‘buffalo soldier’ in the demand for reparation for the 200 years of slavery visited on the black race.
MKO was more African than he was a Nigerian. And the pride in fact should have been gladly ours, Nigerians, to show that recognition. A day should long have been set aside to commemorate this great man; not a university’s hard-earned name mangled to mock him!
For a man whose martyrdom watered the tree of the democracy that we enjoy today, true recognition consist only in declaring him President-elect posthumously –which will only be reaffirming that which he was, baring the annulment. And then also to substitute ‘May 29’ with ‘June 12’ –which again will not be a gratuity because it will merely recognize the date for what truly it is worth. Then and only then will the anger of the democratic gods be assuaged, and the unsettled spirit of the late MKO properly reposed..
Falana could not have put it better when he said “No serious democratic country in the world ever sets aside a day to mark the exit of military dictators. Holidays are declared to mark significant events and individuals who have contributed positively to the development of societies”.
In commemorating June 12 last year I wrote ‘ODE TO MKO: A PARODY OF SHAKESPEARE’, and in which I said “the army of exigency (Abdulsalami’s) had become the army of mischief. Avoiding remembrance of ‘June 12’ or recognition given to the 8th of July”. That “they came up with a barren May 29 which they claim is our ‘Democracy Day’. Meaning that between the ‘fig’, the ‘olive’ and the tree of ‘vine’, they chose the accursed tree of Jesus that bore no fruits”. And I asked rhetorically “What hath this ‘day’ (May 29) deserved? What hath it done that it, in golden letters should be set…?”
Because “If the tree may be known by the fruit, as the fruit by the tree, June 12 (not May 29) is our democracy day”.