…Wants FG to pay full entitlements to Abiola, Kingibe,
…Seeks for retention of May 29 as Inauguration date, June 12 Democracy Day
…Rowdy session in Reps as Dogara clarifies President’s power on holiday…Buhari directs gazetting of Presidential Order on Abiola, others
The Senate has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to mandate the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to announce the results of the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by a business mogul, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, declare Abiola and his running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, president and vice-president respectively.
The Senate by extension mandated that full entitlements of the two be paid by the Federal Government.
The Upper Chamber also extended its support to the June 12 declaration as Democracy Day by President Buhari while it insisted that May 29 be retained as inauguration day for elected officers.
This resolution followed the motion through a point of order raised by Senator Abiodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) where she also requested that all due entitlements be recognised and accorded to the winner and the family of the June 12 Presidential election.
Drawing the attention of the Senate to the declarations on Wednesday by President Buhari, Senator Lanre Tejuoso (APC, Ogun Central), who rose through order 43, commended Buhari for the long awaited recognition for the late Abiola whom he described as symbol of democracy.
According to him, what Buhari did was continuation of wind of reconciliation that started in Kenya three weeks ago when President Uhuru Kenyatta invited the leader of opposition in the country to a national day prayer breakfast.
The reconciliation wind, he explained, should be leveraged upon in Nigeria by both the executive and the legislature for the betterment of all Nigerians and good of the country.
Not satisfied with Senator Tejuoso’s submission on Buhari’s recognition of the late Abiola, Senator Abuidun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) created avenue for further deliberations.
Coming under Senate order 42 and 52, she said for the recognition and declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day not to be seen as Greek gift, results of the 1993 Presidential election should officially announced and required recognition and entitlement should be accorded the winners.
She, however, asked Mr. President to send a bill for ratification and seamless implementations.
Other Senators including Sulynan Adokwe (PDP Nasarawa East), Tayo Alasoadura (APC, Ondo Central), and Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South), strongly supported the call for official announcement of the results and declaration earlier made by President Buhari on Wednesday.
But the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in his own contribution, said May 29, being the date the current 4th republic took off with the swearing-in of democratically elected president of the country and many of the state governors, remains sacrosanct as date of inauguration.
According to him, unless provisions of section 135 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is amended, swearing-in of elected president and governors who took oath of office on May 29 cannot shift their tenure to June 12.
“Therefore as far as the law is concerned and the declaration made by the President, while June 12 would now be recognised as Democracy Day , May 29 remains inauguration day”, he said.
In his own contribution, Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), also raised another legal lacuna in the declaration made by Buhari as regards conferment of GCFR Honours on the late Abiola.
According to him, chapter 43 (3) (2) of the National Honours Act States that “a person shall in person at an investiture by the President be conferred with it”, meaning that Abiola being a dead person, is not eligible for the Honours.
But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his remarks, said what matters most in the recognition being accorded the late acclaimed winner of the June 12 1993 Presidential election, Chief Moshood Abiola by President Buhari is the good intention behind it and not any legal technicalities.
He said, “Recognition for the late Abiola is long overdue, the very reason why the good intention behind the current move should be appreciated devoid of legal technicalities”.
In a related development, the House of Representatives , on Thursday, witnessed a rowdy session over the declaration of June 12 as a public holiday by Buhari.
Buhari had on Wednesday conferred the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on late Moshood Abiola as a sign of honour and further declared June 12 as the new date to be marked as Democracy Day.
Abiola was the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 general election, but the government of former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the election before the overall result could be announced.
Thursday’s session was marred by rowdiness as lawmakers opposed and in favour of the president’s declaration engaged in a verbal spar of words immediately a motion to commend Buhari’s action was moved by Hon Wale Raji (APC, Lagos).
Shortly after Hon Wale had moved his motion on the declaration of June 12 as the national Democracy Day, under matters of urgent national importance, he was opposed by Hon Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) who kicked against the new date, insisting that the change was done with bad intent.
Shouts of “sit down” by supporters of the motion rented the air as they tried to heckle Ossai from voicing his opposition to the motion.
The rowdiness caused by this as lawmakers kicking against the motion tried to be heard over the resultant din, as backers of the motion began singing praises in memory of Abiola, chanting “MKO, is our man oh”.
This development threw the House into approximately 20 minutes of drama and inaction.
But leading debate on the motion, Hon Wale said that since 1999, successive governments have failed to acknowledge and celebrate June 12 as the real Democracy Day but instead continued to celebrate May 29 as Democracy Day in the country.
He commended President Buhari for declaring June 12 as Democracy Day, instead of May 29, lamenting that in spite of the commendable integrity of the 1993 general election, it was annulled by the military government of General Babangida.
This action by the military, he added, threw the country into serious political turmoil leading to another military era, which lasted till 1999 when the country eventually returned to democratic rule.
He said that “the 1993 presidential election was generally acknowledged to be peaceful with large turn-out of voters and was adjudged by the international observer groups as the freeiest, fairest and most credible in the democratic history of Nigeria.”
In opposing the motion, Hon Ossai declared that only the National Assembly is empowered to set new dates for public holidays.
He added that “public holiday is derived from the National Assembly Act and not from executive declaration. This honour is to be given to the President or former presidents who are still alive.
“Two weeks ago, we celebrated our great feat as a nation on our Democracy Day. The executive never thought it wise to declare it on that day. What is the difference between now and one week ago? It is an act of discrimination.
“What happens to the public funds used in celebrating Democracy Day weeks ago? They must be accounted for. Why didn’t the President announce it on that day?”
Hon Toby Okechukwu from Enugu State in commending Buhari’s decision to announce June 12, as Democracy Day, cautioned that lawmakers must ensure the President is “doing what is within the framework of the law.
“We must make sure that we set the correct actions to ensure it is sustainable and it is registered for what it is. We must ensure the rule of law is abided with,” he added.
Hon Kayode Oladele (APC, Ogun) who favoured the motion, described the President’s decision as being in order, adding that the decision will always be remembered.
He said that “the annulment of the 1993 election result was the beginning of the crisis in Nigeria. Had it not happened, we would not have been where we are today because Nigerians spoke without any iota of doubt that this is what we want.”
Some lawmakers who argued in support of the motion stated that the Public Holidays Act empowers the President to fix a new public holiday.
According to them, the National Assembly can amend the Act and change the date before the new date of June 12 can be adopted and become legal.
Ruling on the motion, Speaker of the House, Hon Yakubu Dogara, said that the Public Holidays Act gives room for the President to fix public holidays.
“The National Assembly has exercised its powers as provided in the Constitution by enacting that Act, but Section 2(2) gives the President power to declare a new date for public holidays.
“There is a schedule in the Act which leaves Democracy Day as May 29. So the issue to be resolved is to look at the presidential declaration and compare with the Section of the Act that states that June 12 is the Democracy Day.
“So I will freeze the motion, and refer the matter to the committees on Justice and Rules and Business,” he ruled.
The Speaker said that further debate on the motion will be suspended and thereafter, referred the motion to the House Committees on Justice and Rules and Business for legislative advice.
Meanwhile, President Buhari on Thursday directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, to take immediate steps to publish the Presidential Order in the Federal Gazette.
This followed his declaration on Wednesday that henceforth, June 12 be observed as Democracy Day in Nigeria and that some heroes of democracy be given national honours.
Those honours are as follows: Chief MKO Abiola – Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (Posthumous); Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe – Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger; and Chief Gani Fawehinmi – Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (Posthumous).
The President also directed that the development should be done so that the awards slated for June 12, 2018 can go on as planned.