Continuing the series of SaharaReporters’ June 12 Special, this article takes a cursory look at the regions that never celebrated the June 12 struggle and why.
Why June 12 Is Only Recognized In South West Of Nigeria
June 12, a historical date in Nigeria‘s democracy, was born out of the demand for true democracy and recognition of the freest and fairest election in the history of Nigeria elections.
On June 12, 1993, Chief Moshood Abiola had contested for the president of Nigeria with Bashir Tofa as the opponent in the election. Abiola, because of his religion as a Muslim, he got more votes from the Northern part of the country and he also enjoyed popularity and acceptance in South West states.
Abiola was leading the election after winning the majority votes in 19 states compared to Tofa who had 11 states to himself but General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election just before the official result was announced.
Following the annulment of the election and subsequent arrest of Abiola, thousands of Nigerians flooded the street of Lagos and Abuja to demand his release and the announcement of the election result, which Abiola was adjudged to have won. Abiola mysteriously died on July 7, 1998, the day he was to be released sparking a national protest.
June 12 has since then been set aside to commemorate the fight for democracy led by Abiola, however, the celebration of June is only restricted to the six South-western states: Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti. This was so because the struggle was based in Lagos and was not sold to other parts of the countries. States in the South-west declare a public holiday to commemorate and honour Abiola and the victims of the June 12 struggle.
Why North, South-east, South-south Didn’t Celebrate June 12
Alhaji Yerima Shettima, Chairman of Arewa Youth Council, speaking on why June 12 was not recognized in the Northern part of the country said the acceptance is a work in progress as the 1993 struggle had many people from different part of the country at the forefront of the demand.
Shettima said: “I have always been around the rallying point for June 12 to be recognized as democracy. Gradually, one day, Nigeria would have to face the reality beyond acknowledging June 12 as democracy day but Abiola should be pronounced the winner of that election, so it’s a process.”
Similarly, the South-Easterners are of the perception that June 12 was set aside solely to honour Abiola who is a Yoruba man, thus seeing no reason to celebrate the date.
June 12 As National Holiday
On June 6, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that June 12 would now officially be the Democracy Day of Nigeria, cancelling May 29.
Announcing the change, President Buhari said June 12 was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even October 1.
This was greeted by excitement from different segment of the country with the Yorubas tagged the biggest winner of the announcement.
Buhari said, “For the past 18 years, Nigerians have been celebrating May 29 as Democracy Day. That was the date when, for the second time in our history, an elected civilian administration took over from a military government. But in the view of Nigerians, as shared by this administration, June 12th, 1993, was far more symbolic of democracy in the Nigerian context than May 29 or even October 1.
“June 12, 1993, was the day when Nigerians in millions expressed their democratic will in what was undisputedly the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections since our independence. The fact that the outcome of that election was not upheld by the military government does not detract from the democratic credentials of that process.”
About a year after the announcement by Buhari, on May 16, 2019, the National Assembly passed the Public Holiday Act Amendment Bill to recognize June 12 as the new Democracy Day.
With this declaration, all states of the country would be mandated to observe June 12 as Democracy Day keeping alive the struggle and honour for Abiola and thousands of Nigerians who stormed the street of Lagos and Abuja to call for the recognition of Abiola as the winner of the 1993 presidential election.