June 12 as day of national atonement

Whether it was an obligatory atonement emanating from genuine contrition, or an expedient after-thought contrived for political reasons, President Muhammadu Buhari’s conferment of the national honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on, and his public apology to the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election, as well as the eventual declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, are indeed acts of nobility and magnanimity.

Viewed as an act of statesmanship, the apology and multiple honours granted Abiola struck many, as a surprise, an appeasement and a move toward reconciliation and national unity.

In immortal words that bear the message of the well-deserved apology and honour, the president said: “On behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of MKO Abiola, who got the highest votes and to those who lost their loved ones in the course of June 12 struggle….The country will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.”

While the president claimed that the reason for the double honour rightfully granted the late Abiola was not “to open old wounds but to put right a national wrong,” he sufficiently justified the government’s decision by acknowledging the credibility of the said election.

He affirmed the unanimity of Nigerians on their choice for president and the injustice perpetrated by the military government that cancelled the election without explanation.

To assuage the feelings of Nigerians and “recognise that a wrong has been committed,” the president made his offering: “This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.

Our decision to recognise and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest.

It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering wound caused by the annulment of the June 12th election.

I earnestly invite all Nigerians across our entire national divide to accept it in good faith.”

It does not matter what the motive of the president might have been, that this is coming from the fourth president since Nigeria’s return to democracy is a commendable symbolic gesture.

Known variously as a ’25-year old pregnancy,’ ‘a watershed,’ ‘a debacle,’ and ‘a national albatross,’ the June 12 controversy, which has haunted the trajectory of Nigeria’s precarious democracy, has finally been brought to a manageable closure by President Buhari.

In concord with well-meaning Nigerians, this newspaper congratulates the president and commends him for his courage to exhume and resurrect what certain quarters had considered a fossil of Nigeria’s political history.

Although many seem to be carried away by the appeasement and prospects for national reconciliation which the honour promises, the deeper import of Buhari’s recognition of the injustice of the Ibrahim Babangida regime should not be lost.

By reviving June 12, the present government is reminding Nigerians that the democracy that has been operative since 1999 has been rooted in falsity and hinged on injustice.

It has been as if every democratic dispensation since 1999 until now triumphed on a mockery of the principles of fairness and justice.

That successive regimes since 1999 were unwilling to confront the monstrosity of that great injustice, constituted an act of violence to the collective memory of Nigerians.

Now, feelings are assuaged, sensibilities are respected and people’s minds and hearts are open to revisiting pressing national questions.

Considered in this light, a starting point of sorts begins for Nigeria; hope is rekindled that someday all the injustices perpetrated before now will be revisited.

Despite the dissipation of emotion over June 12, there are others who think it is not yet uhuru for Nigeria.

Nigerians in this category posit that the clamour for national reconciliation transcends the recognition of June 12.

They argue that if genuine honour is to be accorded to what June 12 symbolises, the government must take cautious but desperate steps to address the injustices that have plagued or presently afflict the country.

According to them, the same magnanimity accorded to Abiola and June 12 should be extended to such cases that abound in the country.

Indeed in agreement with this position, there is need to push for renewed mechanism for national reconciliation.

To entrench this as a message of restitution and rectification, there must be proper investigation of persons, be they individuals or institutions, who are willfully culpable in this atrocious act committed against the country.

Besides, it is an opportunity for all such acts of injustice hanging on Nigeria to be addressed, and all found guilty to be made to face the lawful consequences of their actions.

Also, in line with the gesture of President Buhari, there is need for many of the dramatis personae to come out and offer an unreserved apology to the victims of June 12, 1993.

This is necessary for them to make personal atonement and seek inner peace for other injustices perpetrated.

Atonement and reconciliation are volitional for the attainment of peace, it can rarely be done on behalf of another, especially when the perpetrators are still living.

As a first step towards this atonement, there should be a roll call of honour of all the genuine victims of June 12, dead or alive.

The assassination of progressives in the land, the unexplained disappearance of social activists, human rights lawyers and journalists; the brutal murder of perceived enemies of government, and the wanton destruction of properties and deliberate incapacitation of opponents must now be brought to light.

This is what the triumph of June 12 has birthed Nigeria into.

The successful foreclosure of the June 12 controversy has some hard life lessons for anyone in leadership.

Firstly, it is an auspicious moment of rebirth that speaks to the consciences of managers and administrators of general elections.

It is a lesson to workers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and their co-opted auxiliaries that the phrase “credible, free and fair elections” is neither a political slogan nor an advertisement mantra.

It should rather be a pronouncement of factual witnessing from a sound mind, relayed with truth and conviction.

When something is true and credible, it is like the proverbial goldfish whose luminescence is difficult to quench or hide.

Thus, the appeal to electoral managers to endeavour to conduct free and fair elections is both a national assignment and a spiritual exercise.

The triumph of June 12 is also a lesson to the feeble-minded political realists who take up political positions primarily for immediate gratification, that a people’s mandate openly or surreptitiously stolen would, with time, be recovered.

This is a truism that has long been enshrined in the annals of public service.

Politicians should learn that political positions are about service.

Furthermore, it teaches them that in the face of obvious truth, men and women of principles do not succumb to the lure of convenience as did those eminent personalities who, signed away June 12.

It is also a lesson to incurable pessimists, who, in the estimation of their over-bloated self-importance cannot see anything good outside their myopic horizon. It teaches them that something that is too good cannot be shrouded by evil.

The triumph of June 12 also speaks specially to people- leaders and followers alike who were placed by providence in a most dramatic manner to right the wrong but failed to do so.

Above all, leadership demands courage; courage to take the right decisions even if such decisions go against one’s moral preferences.

If leaders stick to principles in their actions, time will prove them right.

This lesson is very instructive as Nigerians approach another election year.

Nigeria is, today, besieged by widespread politicised insecurity, corruption and political immaturity of both aspirants and electorate and the consequent economic stagnation.

In the face of all these, no politician or public officer can offer leadership unless he makes his presence felt among the people through commitment to the common good and its best possible attainment.

To do this he must step out of the protection of power and the comfort of wealth to lead the people by example.

He must be willing to mortgage his life for the service of the people and confront the risk and pain that both deserve and foster genuine followership.

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