Democracy Day in Nigeria

Nigeria marks its Democracy Day this year on June 12 for the second time after the change by President Muhammadu Buhari from May 29 in 2018.

June 12 carries huge significance for older Nigerians. It was on this date in 1993 that presidential elections were held for the first time since the 1983 military coup.

On the day, an estimated 14 million Nigerians came out to elect their president with the hope of ending eight years of military dictatorships. The euphoria was short-lived. The results of the election were never released. However, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, was declared the winner by civil society groups in the country.

The annulment of the election by the then military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida, sparked civil violence in the southwestern states.

In his official reaction to the annulment, Abiola was quoted as saying:

“I might embark on the programme of civil disobedience in the country. If those who make the law disobey the law, why (should) I obey it? There is a limit to the authenticity one could expect from a military ruler who is obviously anxious to hang on to power.”

Under tremendous pressure, the Abubakar administration arranged for elections to be held.

These took place — for state governorships, the senate and local councils — over a few months from late 1998 to February 1999.

Finally, Abubakar’s transition reached the climax with the declaration of General Olusegun Obasanjo, who had retired from the military, as the president-elect in late February 1999. He was duly sworn in on May 29, 1999.

This explains why May 29 became the official public holiday on which Nigerians celebrated the country’s return to civilian rule.

During most of this time, Abiola was in jail. In 1994, he declared himself Nigeria’s lawful president. This was after returning from a trip to win the support of the international community for his mandate. After declaring himself president, he was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of then military President General Sani Abacha.

Abiola died under suspicious circumstances on the same day he was due to get released —July 7, 1998.

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