As many pro-June 12 activists gathered at the State House Conference Centre, Presidential Villa, Abuja on Tuesday, some of them shared their views on the decisions of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mohammed Fawehinmi, son of late human rights lawyer Gani Fawehinmi, who is also being honoured posthumously, also gave reasons why his father would have accepted the honour.
Mr Buhari at the event conferred the posthumous award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on late Moshood Abiola, who won the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
The president also awarded Mr Abiola’s running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe, and Mr Fawehinmi, with Grand Commander Order of the Nigeria (GCON).
He had also declared June 12 the Democracy Day in Nigeria from next year.
The regime of the self-styled military president, Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election widely adjudged freest and fairest in the nation’s history.
At the event, Frank Kokori, a frontline labour leader who was one of the most vocal advocates for the actualisation of June 12, said Mr Buhari was the least person expected to honour late Abiola. He said it was a confirmation that “Buhari has a great soul.”
He said, “If this is coming 25 years later, it means one day your country will remember you because some of us felt when we came out of Abacha’s gulag and we were not recognised. I just felt what sort of country is this. Like my personal experience as one of the most famous prisoner of conscience in the world, I saw that my country did not even appreciate the four years I spent in one of the worst cells in the world. And we did all these for our country and the country did not recognise us.
“So, now we are happy and we are very grateful to our president, the least president we expected who should have done this, Muhammadu Buhari. We thought people like Obasanjo should have done that for us long time ago. There was so much pressure. Not Muhammadu Buhari. We least expected it, so in doing it for us, he has a great soul and we appreciate it.”
Mr Fawehinmi’s eldest son, Mohammed, said his late father would have accepted the award because June 12 was actualised and MKO recognised as president-elect.
On how he felt about the recognition, he said, “I feel very elated, I feel very proud, my family feels very honored that all the suffering was not in vain and that the Nigerian people have a chance of better governance in future.”
On the assumptions that his father would have rejected the award if he was alive, he said, “I know he would have taken it, I know my father more than anybody. There are two reasons why he would taken it, one, because June 12 was actualised, two, because MKO Abiola was recognised as president-elect. And you can see from the suggestion at the Senate that they are going to eventually declare the election result and he is going to be given all his benefits after 25 years which he has lost. So, for that reason that is victory for him because he went through hell and high waters to make sure that June 12 was actualised.”
Mr Fawehinmi’s wife, Ganiyat, on how she felt about the honour done her husband said, “I was a bit disturbed. Every time the security will come, turn our house upside down, even his office was broken into, they took away many files during IBB regime and they were not returned till date. So I just thanked God that I am alive to witness today and I know that my husband will turn in the grave for this June 12 that is being actualised because he really fought and died for it.
“I believe God has a purpose for it, I believe that is how God wants it because you can’t run a race ahead of God. So, God has a purpose of actualising it today which is exactly 25 years after ‘93 when Abiola wanted to be the president.”
A former governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba, said Mr Buhari, with the conferment of award, has demonstrated he is courageous to do what others could not do.
“I was just telling Chief Kokori that the fact that the two of us are alive to witness the event of today is a thing of joy. Because Kokori became the last man standing when everybody was taken and I was wrongly accused, which is not true. So I am happy that we are all alive today.
“The significance of what we are doing today is that the President has the courage to do what others failed to do. Secondly, he has shown tremendous courage in recognising Abiola as late president of this country because I hate the language the presumed winner of the annulled June 12 election. With this declaration of honour of GCFR, which is reserved for Presidents and GCON for Vice Presidents and other eminent Nigerians, (it) shows that the president has answered our appeals over the years and I thank God I am still alive.”