But these decisions…are so fundamental, with far-reaching national consequences, that they should not be taken frivolously with the wrong motive and a flawed process. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened. It’s a pity!
For the avoidance of doubt, it is right, unquestionably right, to revisit the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, recognise the results and honour the winner. So, I have no issue with the substance of President Buhari momentous, out-of-the-blue, decision to declare June 12 as Democracy Day and a public holiday, and to confer the country’s highest national honour posthumously on Chief MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the annulled election, and the second highest national honour on Abiola’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, as well as, posthumously, on the late lawyer and civil rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. I rejoice with them and their families for receiving a belated justice for the pains they suffered directly from the iniquitous and criminal annulment of the 1993 election.
Yet, laudable as these decisions are, we cannot, and must not, ignore the motive and process that underpinned them. This is important because the capriciousness of the annulment cannot justify the capriciousness of its redress. A civilised society is not run on the whims and caprices of its leaders. Furthermore, in politics, as in law, motives and process matter. In politics, a wrong motive and a flawed process can undermine the legitimacy of an otherwise sensible decision. And, as every lawyer knows, process values are often more important than substance values, and motives can taint or esteem an action!
Sadly, the rightness of the President Buhari’s decisions is tainted by their arbitrariness and underlying cynical politics. And it is on these grounds of improper motive and flawed process that I refuse to have a herd mentality but instead strike a discordant note amid the cacophony of celebratory noises about the president’s historic decisions.
For a start, President Buhari was wrong to have hatched his ‘June 12’ plans stealthily and then spring a surprise on the nation in what some have called a “masterstroke”. Secondly, even worse, he was wrong to have done so in such a blatantly partisan way in a pre-election year, with just over six months before the next general election. In the UK, gaining unfair electoral advantage is so frowned on that there is a “purdah” in the pre-election period which prevents ministers and civil servants from announcing new policy initiatives that may be seen to give the government an advantage over the opposition.
Yet, as Professor Wole Soyinka put it in a speech at the investiture of Abiola and others, Buhari’s ‘June 12’ decisions were made “with an eye on electoral fortunes, undoubtedly”. Indeed, leaders of the president’s party, All Progressives Congress (APC), have made absolutely no pretence of the decisions being non-partisan. Bola Tinubu, APC’s national leader, made explicit links to next year’s elections when he said to Buhari: “Thank you for bringing hope back to Nigerians. You deserve the praise and we are going to win with you”.
Certain things should transcend partisan politics, and after 25 years, the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election should be one of them. Unfortunately, what should have been a cross-party opportunity to unite the country turned out to be divisive. For instance, why was the investiture attended by virtually no senior politician outside the APC and by hardly any prominent Nigerian outside the Southwest? Well, because the June 12 issue was politicised and ethnicised, as it has been for over 20 years with the annual charade of Southwest governors declaring a public holiday on June 12, while the rest of the country took absolutely no notice!
President Buhari’s decisions are therefore significant. By declaring June 12 as Nigeria’s Democracy Day and a national public holiday, he has rightly stripped the commemoration of the June 12 annulment of its crude ethnicization. Equally, by conferring Nigeria’s highest national honour, GCFR, posthumously on Abiola, Buhari has effectively reversed the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election and posthumously recognised Abiola as the elected president.
But these decisions – the recognition, effectively, of Abiola as winner of the June 12, 1993 general election and declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day and national holiday – are so fundamental, with far-reaching national consequences, that they should not be taken frivolously with the wrong motive and a flawed process. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened. It’s a pity!
The process flaws in President Buhari’s decisions were obvious from the statement signed by him announcing the decisions. First, the statement said the federal government took the decisions “after due consultation”. But who were consulted and why was the consultation so secretive? There was absolutely no reason why the process by which decisions about the June 12 annulment were made should not have been open and transparent. I can’t think of any civilised nation where the government would show such insensitivity to process values and spring a surprise on its citizens on such an important issue. Heightened sensitivity to process values brings greater legitimacy for major decisions.
Second, the statement described Abiola as “the presumed winner” of the annulled election. My immediate reaction was: “Really? So, President Buhari took these far-reaching decisions based on a presumption”. This exposes a fundamental process flaw at the heart of the president’s decisions. Elsewhere, such monumental decisions would have been preceded by an independent commission of inquiry, headed by a highly respected judge. The commission would verify the results of the election, tell us the winner (which, of course, we all know was Abiola), order the release of the results and make other recommendations. Based on the independent review, the government could then make the kind of decisions that President Buhari made.
Let’s face it, you can’t effectively reverse the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election and declare Abiola the elected president without publishing the official results of the election. In a rule-of-law country, such decisions would result from the recommendations of a judicial commission of inquiry. As things stand, President Buhari’s decisions seem so arbitrary and so whimsical. It is wrong!
But what are the motives, why did Buhari do it, and why now? Well, it’s about the politics of next year’s election.
First, on a collateral level, the decisions were designed to embarrass Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo, both of who have come out to oppose Buhari’s second term bid. Babangida, of course, was the evil genius who annulled the June 12, 1993 election, and Obasanjo was the serendipitous beneficiary of the annulment, who, regrettably, ignored the June 12 issue and Abiola throughout his eight years as president. Let’s be clear, Babangida and Obasanjo deserve eternal opprobrium for their ignoble parts in the June 12 saga, and few should shed tears if Buhari’s decisions make them ashen-faced!
But, then, while Buhari is happy to embarrass Babangida and Obasanjo on the June 12 issue, he’s paradoxically whitewashing General Abacha, who emerged from the annulment to impose a reign of terror on Nigeria, ensuring the deaths of Abiola and his wife, Kudirat, among others. I wrote about this three weeks ago, and Professor Wole Soyinka put it powerfully when he told Buhari at the investiture: “It is not possible to honour MKO Abiola in one breath and then admire his tormentor (Abacha) in another breath”. Indeed!
Now, the second motive is more strategic. Buhari wants to bribe the Southwest ahead of next year’s elections. APC’s Southwest leaders needed something positive to say to their people about Buhari during the campaign. They would have struggled, given Buhari’s poor performance. But now Buhari has thrown them something like a lifeline. Surely, they would, to use a term in British political lexicon, “weaponise” the ‘June 12’ decisions to try and gain electoral advantage. They would trumpet how Buhari did what previous leaders didn’t do by righting the wrongs of the June 12 annulment and honouring Abiola and Fawehinmi!
The truth is that the June 12 issue will feature prominently in next year’s elections. The highly political statement, titled “June 12 tsunami and those who won’t forgive Buhari”, issued by the presidency after Buhari’s announcements, and the statement by the secretary to the federal government that “more heroes of democracy” would be honoured, are clear indications that President Buhari’s decisions on the June 12 annulment were mainly intended as a political weapon against the opposition ahead of next year’s elections.
Sadly, the crude arbitrariness and blatant politicisation of President Buhari’s actions have cast a shadow over what are otherwise sensible decisions on the ‘June 12’ issue. Pity!
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