The declaration on June 6 by President Muhammadu Buhari that the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) be conferred on the late business mogul, Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, has caused ripples in the polity in the last few days. The pronouncement, quite expectedly, has divided analysts since it surfaced in the media largely because of its significance in the context of 2019 electioneering and power play.
It’s quite interesting to note that the GCFR was exclusive to presidents and former presidents until former president Shehu Shagari conferred it on the late Obafemi Awolowo.
That, understandably, underscores the importance attached to the move and its symbolic essence in the polity.
Frankly, the pronouncement is in part a political gambit; no ifs, no buts––and anyone who thinks otherwise is just being clever by half. What makes it significant, however, is the euphoria and ripples it elicited among Nigerians, in the media, among civil society campaigners, and most importantly among pro-June 12 campaigners.
It has elicited largely positive responses among many Nigerians, especially the people directly affected, notably the Abiola and Fawehinmi families. The reception, quite inevitably, makes it susceptible to politics and political interpretations.
Beyond this, the president and his strategists seemed to have gotten this right this time around, giving the pronouncement the impact of a masterstroke. Its impact is more pronounced when juxtaposed against a similar but poorly thought-out decision by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to rename the University of Lagos (UNILAG), leading to what was Nigeria’s equivalent of the Mau-mau revolution from alumni associations and students of the institution. To be frank, both decisions were hinged –partly or wholly – on politics; but the difference is that while this appears to be a masterstroke; the Jonathan move failed perhaps because it was not well thought out.
Talking about political capital, it is sheer illusion to expect that such a pronouncement would be made by any government – even if with the purest, most altruistic of intentions – without milking political fortunes out of it. So it is a bland argument to make issue out of the government’s decision to gain from the pronouncement politically. And, interestingly, given the emotional attachment people have with June 12 mandate, it is plausible that the pronouncement would have ripple effect on SOME voters’ electoral decisions, especially in the south west.
In his pronouncement , the president also said June 12 will henceforth be preserved as Nigeria’s Democracy Day to further honour Mr Abiola and the late legal icon and Senior Advocate of the Masses, SAM, Gani Fawehinmi, would also be honoured with the GCON. Of course, Gani deserves more than that, given his footprint in the struggle for democracy.
The only taint in the pronouncement is the directive that Mr Abiola’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, be conferred with the second highest honour of Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON). Apparently, Mr Kingibe’s recognition is to give a somewhat ‘pan-Nigerian’ outlook to the entire pronouncement. Of course, his Judas-Iscariotesque treachery is well documented in the book of history and he will forever be seen as the one who sold the June 12 mandate for a pot of porridge.
In all, the recognition is quite commendable irrespective of its curious timing and it is capable of healing the wounds of the post-June 12 troubles as seen in the reaction of the Abiola family. More importantly, it shows that the struggles of all pro-democracy activists were not in vain, especially those killed in the dark days of the struggle.
In the last few days, especially on social media, there have been attempts to create a ‘Yoruba affair’ out of the June 12 and it is really unsettling. In fact, details of the government itinerary on the modality of the conferment of the honour and those invited seemed to reinforce this sentiment. But it’s important to affirm that the mandate itself was a pan-Nigerian mandate which saw people jettison hate and divisions to embrace a Muslim-muslim ticket based on the expectations that they would get good governance in return. More importantly, the post-June 12 struggle had notable non-Yorubas at the forefront, fighting endless to ensure the mandate was recognized and it will be mischievous to ‘ethnicise’ the struggle. It’s a recognition I support wholeheartedly.
But a caveat: there is the seemingly inconsequential but important issue of motive and the need to put issues in proper historical contexts. Mr Buhari, to the best of my knowledge, never identified with the June 12 and was even reported to have allegedly made derisive remarks about the mandate. This is important and must be properly contextualized because of history and posterity. There have been ahistorical narratives, especially online, creating fictitious bond between the president and the June 12 mandate.
First, it is on record that the major undertaker of the June 12, under whom Mr Buhari served as PTF chair, is the president’s beloved boss who never stole and actually did no wrong: Sani Abacha. The president in fact served Abacha at a time Mr Abiola languished in jail; Mr Fawehinmi was being hounded by Abacha and his goons; Alfred Rewane and many other pro-democracy activists including Kudirat, Abiola’s wife, were assassinated; scores of journalists were incarcerated and hounded. So it’s plausible that any sane individual would find it difficult to reconcile these two extremes.
Nevertheless, congratulations to the Abiola family and all those who stood for good governance and fought relentlessly for this democracy. And for the government, it’s important to realise that, beyond symbolic recognition, the greatest honour they could give to the man is to deliver good governance.
For the alleluia crowd who handed the government another four year mandate on the basis of this otherwise commendable move, perhaps SATIRE SATURDAY must restate loudly that the GCFR title will not construct the Lagos-Sango end of the rickety Lagos-Abeokuta expressway.
‘Barrister’ Dino Melaye!
Dino Melaye, at the height of his certificate crisis, didn’t make one disclosure: that he had another certificate in law. Given his penchant for flaunting things – cars, designer wears, wristwatches, degrees, and even ‘baby mamas’ – maybe the distinguished senator didn’t make the disclosure because he had no evidence of being called to the bar.
The senator however displayed his ‘learned’ mind earlier in the week when he cautioned President Muhammdu Buhari against breaching the constitution in his latest move of conferring the honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Moshood Abiola.
Citing Chapter 43(2) of the National Honours Act on Thursday, Mr Melaye argued that the act does not allow for conferment of the honours on non-Nigerians. He claimed that Mr Abiola is dead and that automatically makes him not to be a Nigerian.
One sometimes agrees that his controversial legislative life notwithstanding, Mr Melaye does depression-challenged Nigerians some good with his horrific sense of humour, especially his theatrics in his numerous video clips. But one sometimes feels that some issues are so serious that they make the lousiest, most undiscerning person act with decorum. Yes, the legal issues are importanrt but shouldnt be subjected to ridiculous interpretation.
Many have pushed forward quite a number of reasons for Mr Melaye’s line of argument but we seem to be missing the point. The missing link, for me, is in people’s failure to recognize that the man recently fell off ‘something’. And as a way of showing empathy for people who have gone through what the “distinguished” senator went through, it won’t be out of place if the hallowed chamber could make a law that would compel lawmakers with similar experience to go through ‘post-falling-off’ therapy. That would stabilise persecuted senators like Mr Melaye psychologically––and ultimately improve the quality of debate on the floor of the senate.