President Buhari’s decision to declare June 12 as National Democracy Day has divided lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
The division followed a motion by Rep. Wale Raji (APC-Lagos) brought under “Urgent Matter of National Importance’’ on the need to commend Buhari for the June 12 democracy day initiative, at the plenary.
Buhari had on Wednesday declared June 12 as National Democracy Day with effect from 2019.
Buhari also said that the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 election, Chief Moshood Abiola, would posthumously be awarded the highest award of the land, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
He added that Abiola’s running mate in the election, Amb. Babagana Kingibe, and late human rights lawyer, Gani Fayehinmi (SAN) would be vested with Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON).
Moving the motion, Raji called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to release the result of the 1993 election and declare Moshood Abiola, President-elect.
Raji said that the 1993 presidential election was widely acclaimed as the freest, fairest and most credible election in the nation’s history.
He lamented that the result of the election was however annulled by the then military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
According to him, since the return of democracy in 1999, successive governments had failed to recognise June 12 as National Democracy Day.
He urged the house to commend Buhari for the courageous step, adding that it was a sign that he listened to the voice of the people.
Also, Rep. Chris Azubogu (PDP-Anambra) commended the mover of the motion, saying that it was a worthy initiative.
He, however, drew the attention of the house to the exclusion of the electoral umpire, Mr Humphrey Nwosu, who conducted the election, from the list of those honoured.
Azubogu said that Nwosu was a key actor in the June 12 election and risked his life to conduct a free and fair election.
He said that Nwosu should be given due recognition for the role he played in the election as it would encourage future umpires of the electoral process to be free and fair.
In his contribution, Rep. Edward Pwajok (APC-Plateau) drew the attention of the house to the Public Holidays Act which stated that May 29 should be recognised as National Democracy Day.
Pwajok said that for the declaration of the president to take effect, the Public Holidays Act had to be amended.
He said that for a contestant to be referred to as President-elect, he had to be declared winner of the election by the National Returning Officer.
Pwajok, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), also said that there was a court order prohibiting INEC from releasing the result.
He explained that until the court’s decision was stepped down by the same court or a higher court, the decision remained.
In his contributions, Rep. Mojeed Alabi (APC-Osun) said that there would have been no May 29, 1999 without June 12, 1993.
He said that prior to the presidential declaration, only Osun recognised June 12 as Democracy Day.
Alabi commended Buhari and urged the house to support the motion.
A rowdy session, however, erupted in the chamber when Rep. Nicholas Ossai (PDP-Delta) challenged the presidential declaration.
He said that the usurpation of the powers of the Legislature by the Executive was becoming too rampant. Ossai argued that an Act of Parliament could not be changed by a presidential declaration and that if June 12 must stand, it should follow due process of amendment of the Public Holidays Act.
Members roared in disapproval and tried to shut him up while others waved at him to sit down.
Supporting him, Rep. Toby Okechukwu (PDP-Enugu) said that the country must be ruled by law and not by persons or groups.
He said though the intention of the president was good, the declaration needed to be guided by the law, explaining that it was necessary so that nobody would in the future challenge the honour to Abiola.
After he spoke, the rowdiness in the chamber became intense and members left their seats to engage one another in shouting matches.
This lasted for over 20 minutes and when the Speaker of the house, Mr Yakubu Dogara, restored order, he referred the motion to the Committees on Justice and Rules and Business for further consultation.
He mandated the committees to look into the matter and make recommendations to the house before a decision would be taken.