In Summary
  • Last week, President Buhari made the unexpected announcement that from next year, June 12 would be a public holiday.
  • Mr Moshood Abiola — a Muslim businessman from the Yoruba-dominated southwest, had been on track to win the vote when it was annulled.

  • Buhari said date "far more symbolic of democracy" than May 29 which has been celebrated as "Democracy Day" since 1999 when the generals finally relinquished power.

NIGERIA,

Since 1993, June 12 has been more than just a date in the calendar for Nigerians. For many, it became a symbol of how the military government crushed long-held hopes of a return to civilian rule.

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari made the unexpected announcement that from next year, June 12 would be a public holiday and commemorated as "Democracy Day".

He would also give Nigeria's highest honour to Moshood Abiola — a Muslim businessman from the Yoruba-dominated southwest who had been on track to win the vote when it was annulled.

FAMILY HONOURED

Reaction to the announcement has dominated the Nigerian media for the last week in a clear sign of the passions the events of 25 years ago still arouse in Africa's most populous nation.

Buhari said June 12 was "far more symbolic of democracy" than May 29, which has been celebrated as "Democracy Day" since 1999 when the generals finally relinquished power.

For Abiola's family, who will receive the posthumous award of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Tuesday, and his supporters, it holds huge significance.

The GCFR is usually reserved for former heads of state: the award for Abiola, they say, is formal recognition that he was the rightful winner.

"The government has officially validated the integrity of the fair and free election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta," said human rights lawyer Femi Falana.

Yinka Oduamkin, of the ethnic Yoruba socio-cultural lobby group Afenifere, said: "Although belated coming after 25 years we are happy that Abiola's victory has been recognised at last."

"What the president has done is to correct the mistakes of the past," added Dapo Thomas, a history and political science lecturer at the Lagos state university.

"Buhari should be commended for doing what past leaders could not do."

Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960 but by 1993 had been under military rule for more than two decades.

EVIL GENIUS

Babangida, a self-styled "evil genius" who ousted former military ruler Buhari in a coup in 1985, called the election after several previous postponements.

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