Democracy Day: Celebrating Abiola’s impact

 Democracy Day: Celebrating Abiola’s impact

Image source: ICIR

Perhaps things would have been different if that election wasn’t annulled. Perhaps an Abiola administration would have put Nigeria in better shape democratically.

Democracy Day: The background

Since the year 2000, Nigerians have celebrated Democracy Day to mark the transition from military to democratic rule. May 29th, which was the date of Olusegun Obasanjo’s assumption of office, the first president of the fourth republic, was chosen to mark the day.

However, in 2018, the government of President Muhammadu  Buhari declared that effective June 12, 2019, would be the new Democracy Day. This was done to commemorate the election of Moshood Abiola on June 12, 1993, which was unjustly annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida. However, all the states in the South West celebrated June 12 before 2018 to commemorate Abiola’s democratic impact.

The celebration of June 12 as Democracy Day by South-West states was due to the belief by governors elected on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) that it was a significant day that couldn’t be forgotten in history.

The man, The Hero.

Democracy Day in Nigeria thrives on the legacy of Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (GCFR), also known as M.K.O. Abiola. A Nigerian businessman, publisher, and politician, he was born on August 24, 1937. Abiola was also the honorary supreme military commander of the Oyo Empire and an aristocrat of the Egba clan.

Abiola for President

Image Credit: Getty Images
Image Source: BBC

Formerly called “Abiola Day” and observed only by the South West, June 12 has now evolved to become Democracy Day bearing national significance. It serves as a remembrance of what could have been, a reminder of how close Nigeria was to getting democracy right, and a reflection on the free and fair election, a pillar of democracy, which was overturned on the altar of military bias.

Abiola, who strongly believed that poverty could be eradicated through proper social and economic policies, rode on that ideology to run for the presidency in 1993, naming his campaign manifesto “Farewell to Poverty.”

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In 1993, Abiola contested for president, but the election was declared null by Ibrahim Babangida, who was Nigeria’s military president, on the basis of corruption and unfairness.

This unfortunate outcome occurred despite Abiola receiving 60 percent of over 14 million total votes cast in the election, and the testimony of international and local observers, who deemed it the most peaceful and credible in Nigeria’s history, unlike previous elections characterized by fraud, violence, and intimidation.

The annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, however, led to protests across the nation but did not change the decision of General Ibrahim Babangida.

Abiola protested the unfair cancellation, declaring himself president despite the election nullification, and was jailed.

Upon exiting office, General IBB installed an Interim National Government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan. However, Gen. Sani Abacha, the most senior military officer, deposed them soon after and took over the government.

The Business Side of Abiola

Image source: The Nations

In the 1980s and 1990s Abiola was considered Nigeria’s richest man. He invested greatly in maritime, banking, telecommunications, agriculture, education, oil and gas, and football projects, which contributed significantly to the economic growth of the country and Africa as a whole.

Abiola owned Concord Group of Newspapers, Abiola Farms, Concord Airlines, Africa Ocean Lines, Radio Communications Nigeria, Abiola Bookshops, and Abiola Babes Football Club.

His Death 

Abiola never got justice as he eventually died in prison on the day of his release. The circumstances of his death remain controversial as autopsy reports revealed that he died of a heart attack. However, General Sani Abacha’s Chief Security Officer reported that he was beaten to death.

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