By Goodluck Ikiebe
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has reminded Nigerians of the sacrifices made to attain democracy, saying everything must be done to defend it.
In a 25-paragraph Democracy Day broadcast, aired on Television and Radio stations, Tinubu said the sacrifices made by the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, and others, must not be in vain.
The President also urged Nigerians to expect a better deal from his administration in the months to come.
President Tinubu, who said Judicial reforms had begun in a bid to strengthen the rule of law, restated why petrol subsidy had to go.
He said the subsidy mostly benefited a few people and was unsustainable.
According to the President, democracy did not come on a platter, especially given the sacrifices of heroes of the June 12 struggle.
President Tinubu said: “The abortion, by military fiat, of the decisive victory of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the June 12, 1993, presidential election, up to that time, the fairest and freest election in the country’s political evolution, turned out, ironically, to be the seed that germinated into the prolonged struggle that gave birth to the democracy we currently enjoy since 1999.
“In rising to strongly oppose the arbitrary annulment of the will of the majority of Nigerians as expressed in that historic election, the substantial number of our people who participated in the struggle to de-annul the election signified their fierce commitment to enthroning democracy as a form of government that best ennobles the liberty, the dignity of the individual and the integrity as well as the stability of the polity.
“The fierce opposition to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the unrelenting pro-democracy onslaught it unleashed were the equivalent of the battle against colonial rule by our founding fathers that resulted in the gaining of Nigeria’s independence in 1960.”
The president added: “Every day, on this day, down the ages, we will recall the several other heroes of democracy such as Kudirat Abiola, wife of Chief Abiola, who was brutally murdered while in the trenches fighting on the side of the people.
“We remember Pa Alfred Rewane, one of the heroes of our independence struggle and Maj.- Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who were silenced by the military junta while in pursuit of democracy. They gave their yesterday for the liberty that is ours today.
“The point is that we must never take this democracy for granted. We must forever jealously guard and protect it like a precious jewel. For, a people can never truly appreciate the freedoms and rights democracy guarantees them until they lose it.
“We have traversed the dark, thorny path of dictatorship before and those who experienced it can readily testify to the unbridgeable gap between the dignity of freedom and the humiliation and degradation of tyranny.
“True, rancorous debates, interminable wrangling, ceaseless quarrels, bitter electoral contestations may be perceived by some as unattractive features of democracy. But they also testify to its merit and value,” he said.
The President appealed to Nigerians to bear with his administration on its decision to implement the fuel subsidy removal.
He pointed out that the decision would help Nigeria to preserve resources, which he said his administration would devote to other critical sectors for the public good.
President Tinubu said: “To the winner of June 12, democracy offers the best chance to fight and eliminate poverty. Thirty years ago, he christened his campaign manifesto, ‘Farewell to Poverty’ because he was convinced that there is nothing divine about poverty. It is a man-made problem that can be eliminated with clearly thought-out social and economic policies.
“It is for this reason that, in my inauguration address on May 29, I gave effect to the decision taken by my predecessor-in-office to remove the fuel subsidy albatross and free up for collective use the much-needed resources, which had hitherto been pocketed by a few rich.
“I admit that the decision will impose extra burden on the masses of our people. I feel your pain. This is one decision we must bear to save our country from going under and take our resources away from the stranglehold of a few unpatriotic elements.
“Painfully, I have asked you, my compatriots, to sacrifice a little more for the survival of our country. For your trust and belief in us, I assure you that your sacrifice shall not be in vain.
“The government I lead will repay you through massive investment in transportation infrastructure, education, regular power supply, healthcare and other public utilities that will improve the quality of lives.
“The democracy MKO Abiola died for is one that promotes the welfare of the people over the personal interests of the ruling class and one where the governed can find personal fulfilment and happiness. That is the hope MKO Abiola ignited throughout our country in 1993.
The President also assured citizens that his administration would uphold the rule of law and protect democracy.
“It is about the rule of law and vibrant judiciary that can be trusted to deliver justice and strengthen institutions.
“It has become imperative to state here that the unnecessary illegal orders used to truncate or abridge democracy will no longer be tolerated.
“The recent harmonisation of the retirement age for judicial officers is meant to strengthen the rule of law, which is a critical pillar of democracy. The reform has just started,” he said.
On the 2023 elections, President Tinubu said: “This year, we held the seventh in the cycle of elections that have become sacred rituals of our democratic practice in this dispensation since 1999.
“That the polls were intensely contested is in itself positive evidence that democracy is well and alive in our land. It is only natural that even as those who won and experienced victory in the various elections are elated and fulfilled, those who lost are disenchanted and disappointed.
“But the beauty of democracy is that those who win today can lose tomorrow and those who lose today will have an opportunity to compete and win in the next round of elections.
“Those who cannot endure and accept the pain of defeat in elections do not deserve the joy of victory when it is their turn to triumph. Above all, those who disagree with the outcome of the elections are taking full advantage of the constitutional provisions to seek redress in court and that is one of the reasons why democracy is still the best form of government invented by man.
“We shall be faithful to the truth. Faithful to equity. And faithful to justice. We shall exercise our authority and mandate to govern with fairness, respect for the rule of law, and commitment to always uphold the dignity of all our people.
“On this note, I wish us all a happy Democracy Day celebration and pray that the light of liberty shall never be extinguished in our land.”
Nigeria’s 24 years of unbroken Fourth Republic Democracy was watered by the struggle for actualisation of his June 12, 1993 mandate and death of the winner of the election, Chief Abiola.
The annulment of the famous poll won by the late business mogul, by Military President Ibrahim Babangida, set Nigeria on political fire, leading to a five-year battle by pro-democracy politicians and activists for the actualisation of election results in the course of which Abiola and his wife Kudirat died.
There was also a brutal suppression by a military dictator, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, who booted out and replaced the puppet Interim National Government (ING) installed by Gen. Babangida when he hastily left office.
Gen. Abacha’s death, shortly after Abiola brought into power Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1998.
Gen. AbdulSalami supervised the transition programme that gave birth to the Fourth Republic in 1999.