There are remarkable events which become etched in memory that they become defining moments for any generation. For Nigerians of the last two generations, the June 12 presidential election was such.
President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the delegation after his Investiture as grand Patron by Nigerian Red Cross Society during a courtesy visit held at the Council Chamber State House in Abuja.
Many Nigerians who were qualified to vote would, of course, remember where they were when the June 12 election was annulled on June 16, 1993. I was somewhere around Kafanchan, Kaduna State on Primary Health Care supervisory duty when the election regarded as the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history was annulled.
Twenty five years on, I was in the Vanguard newsroom sometime around 8.00 p.m. when a colleague, Pastor Yinka Kolawole alerted me to a tweet by Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa. The tweet announced President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to recognise Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as the winner of that election that took place 25 years ago.
As I went to twitter, I confirmed that it was from Dabiri’s verified twitter handle and I immediately called her to re-confirm. Yes, she confirmed that the tweet was hers and that she re-tweeted the press statement by the president’s socio-media assistant. But challenged on the import of the development, she immediately promised to reconfirm with the aide and get back.
Meanwhile, I was faced with the difficult task of downloading the press statement as it seemed to be attached as a PDF file.
Besides the important development, another historical fact was that President Buhari personally signed the press statement. It was the first time that the president would issue a press statement and sign it. It looked confusing. His Special Adviser on Media, Chief Femi Adesina, I recalled hearing earlier in the day was away in Asia. Had the fasting taken its toll on ‘my oga before, before,’ that is Mallam Garba Shehu, that he abandoned his duty?
Not to worry, I immediately printed the press statement and started typing while I waited for Dabiri’s call. Within five minutes she called back and confirmed it and gave me an energetic reaction.
As a journalist, determined to be among the first to break the news, the importance of speed was topmost. Here, one of the unintended spinoffs of the June 12 annulment on my career and personal development became relevant.
In those distressing days that followed the annulment of the June 12 election when the war drums resonated across the country, many Nigerians had reasonably taken to their states of origin for shelter. It was at that time that I relocated from my Kaduna base to my Agbor, Delta State place of my nativity.
While spending the vacation at home, I obtained a typewriter from my elder brother, Bernard Aziken, and a book that taught typewriting from my dad’s bookshop. And with that, I taught myself the rudiments of typewriting.
That was perhaps one thing I gained from June 12 that has stayed with me that has undoubtedly helped me as a journalist.
So, last Wednesday, as I rushed to push the news to the online medium of the newspaper, I could not but notice typographical mistakes in the press statement. It was evident that in a hurry to rush out the statement, the president’s inner circle or those who saw the press statement did not have the time to give it the elegance it should properly deserve. There were also inaccuracies like the claim that the return to a civilian regime in 1979 was on October 21. But who cared? Buhari could do no wrong if he honoured MKO Abiola.
Many other Nigerians have also shown similar emotions and been willing to forgive whatever sins Buhari may have committed since his second advent.
But was it from the heart of the president or an act of political tokenism to win the votes of Nigerians in the 2019 Presidential Election? The immediate reaction was that it was a move to win votes especially given the fact that Buhari had never been known to show any inclination towards the June 12 crusade. Indeed, only days earlier, he had commended Gen. Sani Abacha, the man who vainly tried to kill the spirit of June 12.
But Saul met Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus, and his life changed. Perhaps Buhari had also encountered a visitation, and his life mission may also now have been dramatically altered.
If President Buhari has repented, the validation of Abiola’s sacrificial role in the birth of the Fourth Republic is only the beginning. Buhari has other issues with many Nigerians who voted him to power which he has to remedy. The herdsmen clashes, the insecurity in the land, the fair distribution of appointments, are among other issues he has to contend with.