Democracy Day date change: Did Buhari deliver a master stroke?

As President Muhamadu Buhari’s electability in the South West of Nigeria was beginning to look weak (at a time that the enormous influence formerly wielded by his main ally Bola Tinubu is being badly eroded) a landmark decision to change democracy day from May 29 introduced by ex president Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ to June 12, the day that late MKO Abiola presumably won presidential elections in 1993 , promises to offer him a new anchor in Yoruba land.

Adopting June 12 , which is the day that Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, one of the most celebrated Yoruba businesses Moguls, philanthropist and politician presumably won the presidential elections adjudged by many to be one of the freest and fairest elections in Nigeria ,but got annulled by the military govt under the watch of Ibrahim Babangida, IBB is likely to give president Buhari’s campaign the fillip to earn Yoruba votes and boost his chances of being re-elected in 2019.

The best part of that apparently deft political decision is that in one fell swoop, President Buhari has been able to get even with both OBJ and IBB who recently (via open letters) thumped down his decision to throw his hat into the ring for re election next year.

During the 8 years reign of OBJ, the Afenifere, a Yoruba sociocultural group had lobbied in vain to persuade him to honor MKO Abiola in the manner that president Buhari just did.

OBJ’s objection to granting posthumous honors to Abiola was deemed to be absurd and arcane because he was a fellow Egba man.

In fact, it is generally believed that it is on account of Abiola’s sudden death while he was trying to claim his mandate and got incarcerated under Sanni Abacha’s military dictatorship, that OBJ got the opportunity to be put forward by IBB and TY Danjuma, (one time chief of army staff) as presidential candidate of the PDP that eventually clinched the presidency.

The opinion on the street is that OBJ’s emergence as the presidential candidate of the PDP in 1998 was facilitated by the duo for selfish and group interests.

For lBB, pushing OBJ’s candidacy was probably a form of atonement to or appeasement of the Yoruba nation for annulling the election which their illustrious son Abiola presumably won on June 12, 1993 and for TY Danjuma , it is assumed that he did it to protect the interest of the military class by ensuring that one of them remained in power to protect their interest.

Otherwise, they risked having a professional politician with no military pedigree as president and who might have started probing the military in the way that then army general, Muhamadu Buhari in 1984 probed and jailed hordes of politicians after he seized power via a coup d’etat from the regime of President Shehu Shagari.

Another spectacular value of the announcement of the shift of democracy day from May 29 to June 12 is that apart from honoring MKO Abiola with the highest national award of Grand Commander of The Federal Republic, GCFR , chief Gani Fawehinmi, another fallen Yoruba hero who is an icon of human rights struggle was also awarded the second highest honor, Grand Commander of The Order of The Niger, GCON.

That singular charm offensive may likely win President Buhari some converts in the south-west. But whether it’s enough to gift him re-election victory in February is another kettle of fish.

It is difficult to tell at this point if the move was made to compliment Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s efforts who worked assiduously for his election in 2015 or a self help effort being facilitated by his new friends in the south-west political arrangement including Kayode Fayemi, Babatunde Fashola, and lbikunle Amosun to give Mr President a fighting chance to win back the presidency through Yoruba votes.

It may be recalled that after operation Python Dance-a show of force by the Nigerian military during which a legion of Igbo youths were bludgeoned by the military, a dastardly act that left a bad taste in the mouth of easterners, the Igbos were further alienated from president Buhari.

The unwelcome military exercise ostensibly conducted to rein in secession activist groups like MASSOP and IPOB jeopardized Igbo votes for president Buhari as it reinforced the belief (wrongly or otherwise) that he was determined to punish the Igbos for not voting for him as reflected in his infamous gaffe at a forum in the USA about his intention to tilt appointments in he govt towards the 97% that voted for him compared to the 5% Igbos who did not.

As if on a rescue mission, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had embarked on a charm offensive in eastern Nigeria. One of the carrots dangled at the Igbos at that time was the payment of the pension and gratuities owed to veterans of the Biafran war. Whether the promise to pay the entitlements running into billions and owed since the end of the civil war over 50 years ago has been fulfilled, is unclear.

But Vice President Osinbajo’s efforts paved the way and bolstered the opportunity for President Buhari to embark on state visits to commission projects in Abia and Ebonyi states.

After the state visit by Mr President, he offered a couple of eastern state governors the opportunity to be on his entourage to international trips (perhaps with a view to lobbying them) but whether such gesture of political brinkmanship is being deemed as a Greek gift by the Igbos and as such unwilling to give Buhari their votes will be manifest in February 2019.

Make no mistake about it, charm offensive is a veritable tool in politics.

European leaders recently adopted the strategy in trying to dissuade USA president Donald Trump from repudiating the anti nuclear deal entered into with Iran. After Trump threatened to cancel the deal that the USA under Barack Obama jointly entered into with major European countries facilitating the establishment of critical trade arrangements including oil/gas exploration, auto assembly and aircraft supply by major European firms, there was a flurry of visits to the White House by the heads of states of the concerned countries trying to convince Trump to retain the agreement.

Disappointingly, President Trump canceled the deal in spite of the charm offensive by fellow heads of state.
What the scenario described above teaches us is that charm offensives are good but may sometimes not be enough to achieve desired ends.

Charm offensives certainly work better when they are combined with altruism.A lot of pundits aver that the current shift of democracy day from May 29 instituted by OBJ to June 12 in memory of MKO Abiola is not altruistic but with the ulterior motives of spiting OBJ and gaining the votes of the Yorubas who have been craving it.

Expectedly , all manners of reactions have trailed Mr. President’s announcement with some hailing it and others denouncing it.

And the most worrying and disconcerting aspect is the legal and constitutional implications of the initiative which Justice Alfa Belgore, one time Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN and chairman of National Honors committee in 2016 said is unconstitutional.

The learned judge reportedly pointed out that apart from members of the armed forces, no Nigerian is eligible for post humorous national honors award which president Buhari just conferred on MKO Abiola, his running mate Babagana Kingibe and Gani Fawehinmi, who by the way are deserving of the honor.

Justice Belgore’s concern effectively shifts the determination of the authentic democracy day to the interpretative society-the judiciary arm of govt. The bid to untangle the legal knot would likely crank into live the engine of the third arm of government which had gone cold after its key members were recently hounded into detention like common criminals, after the executive arm of govt alleged that the arrested judges have been hands in gloves with corrupt people.

For all it is worth, legal fireworks about democracy day is much better than the very low level of dialogue about corruption and now armed robbery accusations amongst members of the top echelon of establishment which governance has now sunk as politicians go for each other’s jugular in the run up to election 2019.

Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of delta state government sent this piece from Abuja.