The Nigerian Senate on Thursday resolved to take President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration a step further by asking that the official result of the June 12,1993 presidential election be announced.
The June 12 election is considered one of the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history. It is believed to have been won by late Moshood Abiola and his running mate Babagana Kingibe. The election was annulled before final results were officially announced. Mr Abiola was eventually jailed by the Sani Abacha military dictatorship for seeking to actualise his mandate. He died in prison in 1998.
President Buhari on Wednesday decided to honour Mr Abiola by declaring June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day. It was formally May 29. The president also declared that Mr Abiola would be given Nigeria’s highest national honour, GCFR, while Mr Kingibe would be given the second highest, GCON.
On Thursday, the Senate while largely supporting the president’s announcement, however, insisted May 29 will continue to be the hand-over date for presidents of Nigeria.
The lawmakers after a lengthy deliberation on the president’s announcement agreed that an alteration of the handover date will require a constitutional amendment.
Since 1999 when the country returned to civil rule, Nigeria has celebrated May 29 as Democracy Day. The date, after every four years, also doubles as the day for the inauguration of newly elected presidents and many state governors.
First to raise the issue on Thursday was Lanre Tejuosho (Ogun-APC) who commended Mr Buhari for the announcements while urging him to also reconcile with the Legislature.
Having come under order 43 of the Senate standing order, the matter was not open for discussion.
Coming under order 42 and 52, Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti-PDP), re-opened the issue to allow contributions. While commending Mr Buhari for the move, she wants him to do more in legalising the gesture
“For once, I want to thank the President of Nigeria. I want to say he has done well. This is one time that the President has given a thought to what (Moshood) Abiola and his family went through to fight for this democracy that we enjoy today.
“Going further, there are issues to be addressed so that we can be confident that this is not a Greek gift.”
She prayed the Independent National Electoral Commission to announce the result of the June 12, 1983 election officially, grant entitlements to the winners, recognise Babagana Kingibe as a former vice president and the executive declare June 12 a public holiday.
Mr Kingibe was running mate to Mr Abiola in the June 12, 1993 election. Mr Buhari on Wednesday announced that Mr Abiola would be conferred with Nigeria’s highest national honour, GCFR, while Mr Kingibe would be conferred with the second highest honour, GCON.
After Ms. Olujimi’s speech, next was Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who called on his colleagues to continue ‘to support the government to further entrench democracy.’
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the gesture comes with legal issues which the president must address.
“They are now saying June 12 is now Democracy Day, proposing that in 2019, the president will now be sworn in on the 12th of June. This is illegally impossible.
“A president shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four years he took the oath of office.
“The implication is that 29th of May remains the date the president will be inaugurated and take oath of office. If they are moving from May 29 to June 12, it means we have to amend this constitution.
“Otherwise, we will be extending tenure of a president beyond what the constitution contemplates. We have to advise the president properly so that we won’t enter a jam next year. We cannot extend it to June 12 without extending the Constitution.”
Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia-PDP) said he wants President Muhammadu Buhari to declare December 31 as Democracy Destruction Day to mark a coup he championed to end the tenure of a democratically elected government in 1983.
“Finally, I want to also propose another day since we are now moving in the right direction, saying that democracy is needed, I want to propose that we also designate 31st December as Democracy destruction day because that was the day that this same president did a coup,” he said.
He was, however, shouted down by APC senators who felt his choice of words was offensive.
Mr Abaribe was formally cut short by his colleague, Barau Jibrin (Kano-APC), who raised a point of order to call the attention of the Senate to a derailment from issue being discussed. The point of order was sustained.
The chamber was taken into another slight rowdiness when Dino Melaye (Kogi-APC) announced that Mr Abiola is not a Nigerian and cannot be granted such honour.
He said, “I am a democrat, I believe very sincerely that Chief M.K.O Abiola deserve even more than the President have pronounced because he is a true patriot, philanthropist and should be sole decorated. But Mr. President, we are governed in the country by the constitution and extant laws. No matter how beautiful a situation is, the law of the land remains the law of the land.”
He went further to read a section of chapter 43 of the National Honours Act which he believed buttresses his point.
“Subsection 2 of the act says a person shall be eligible for appointment to any rank or holder unless he is a citizen of Nigeria. A dead man is not a citizen of the federal republic of Nigeria. We should not be emotional about this. The law remains the law.”
Mr Melaye’s interpretation is however novel and not backed by any known judicial interpretation.
Mr Melaye also argued that the act provides that such honour be conferred on the recipient in person and since Mr Abiola is dead, he cannot receive the award; a similar claim to that made by a former chief justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore.
He added that the constitution must be altered to make Mr Buhari’s decision hold.
The Senate adopted five prayers including that the result of the June 12, 1993 election must be announced, all allowances and entitlement be paid to Mr Abiola as a former president and Mr Kingibe as a former vice president, Mr Kingibe be recognised as former vice president and that June 12 be declared public holiday.
The lawmakers also resolved that May 29 remains the day for inauguration of presidents of Nigeria as June 12 date will mean tenure elongation which is against the constitution.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his comment urged his colleagues to look away from the imperfections and first commend Mr Buhari for the decision.
“We need to be guided. I think the whole essence of this discussion was to recognise the fact that Chief MKO Abiola, his contributions, what he had been through, his tribulations.
“For many years, it was long overdue. The good intention is what we should recognise. There might be imperfectons in how it was implemented but let us for today take the good intention.
“The other issues, I’m not saying they are wrong or right. Whether the award is right, the process, constitutional amendment to recognition of Babagana Kingibe’ position as Vice President, the process of making June 12 a public holiday.
“In the spirit of all those imperfections, we should not allow that to cloud what Chief M.K.O Abiola is,” he said.
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