Nigerians of varying extractions have been reacting to President Muhammadu Buhari’s June 6 pronouncement that tended to deepen the nation’s democratic values by upholding June 12 as the Democratic Day and honouring late Chief MKO Abiola and others.
A former Chief Judge of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore, had reacted saying that the president erred in law by awarding the nation’s highest national honour to Abiola and late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN).
But some senior lawyers in Lagos on Thursday stood behind Buhari and disagreed with Belgore.
The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), a professor of International Law at the University of Lagos, Prof. Akin Oyebode and a former National Secretary of Labour Party, Mr Kayode Ajulo said the awards were in order.
The Renaissance recalls that President Buhari had on June 6, conferred on Abiola, the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993, presidential election, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).
Both Amb. Babagana Kingibe who is the running mate to Abiola and Fawehinmi, a human rights advocate and icon of the June 12 struggle, were also posthumously conferred with the Grand Commander of Niger (GCON).
Buhari went further to also declared June 12 as Democracy Day.
While Justice Belgore, who was the CJN from 2006 to 2007, had said the national honours could not be awarded posthumously, saying that under the 1964 National Honours Act, only soldiers or other servicemen could be awarded posthumous medals for their bravery, Sagay was quick to respond and said “although he had not read the particular provision cited by the ex CJN, he urged Nigerians to “look at the big picture.”
“Was there injustice done on June 12? Yes, to both Nigerians and Abiola, a very great injustice which almost destroyed this country. Is it, therefore, good that this injustice should be removed and justice is done?
“The answer is yes. Has what Buhari has done, not restored justice to the situation and poured balm into the hearts of those who were hurt? The answer is yes.
“So, why should we be looking for legal arguments to overturn justice that has been done? These are some of the things that I cannot understand about Nigerians,” Sagay said.
He implored critics to stop pouring “cold water on the happiness of the people.
According to Sagay, the awards were “the right thing to do, it’s a big solution to a long-standing problem that has been festering.
“It brings relief and joy to the country. I think Buhari needs to be congratulated heartily and I so congratulate him.”
Also reacting, Prof. Oyebode observed that the conferment of the awards on Abiola and Gani were special cases.
He cautioned Nigerians against trying to thwart that honour through legalism.
“We should be clear that the awards are honorific in nature and should not be hamstrung by legal gymnastics.
“Agreed, awards are usually for the living but that Abiola’s case is a special one which should not be vitiated by crass legalism, more so as the enabling Act grants the President as the awarding authority a wide discretion on the matter,” Oyebode said.
One of the nation’s foremost Labour union, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has also commended President Buhari for his decision to honour the late Moshood Abiola by declaring June 12 as Democracy Day.
Although the decision was criticised by some as a political move to gain support from the South-west region, the union, in a statement signed by its acting president, Solomon Adelegan said “it goes to show the role of government in modelling good democratic practices and recognising heroism as a cornerstone of political evolution”.
Human Rights Lawyer, Femi Falana, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), says President Muhammadu Buhari is not prohibited by law to confer national honours on deserving Nigerians, dead or alive.
Falana was reacting on Thursday to a statement credited to Alfa Belgore, who described the conferment of the highest honour of the land on MKO Abiola as illegal.
Falana said the ex-CJN did not refer to any section of the National Honours Act or any other law that has been violated by the president.
“With profound respect to the Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, the National Honours Act has not prohibited or restricted the powers of the president to confer national honours on deserving Nigerian citizens, dead or alive.
“No doubt, paragraph 2 of the Honours Warrant made pursuant to the National Honours Act provides that ‘a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an order when he receives from the president in person, at an investiture held for the purpose…’
“But paragraph 3 thereof has given the president the unqualified discretion ‘to dispense with the requirement of paragraph 2 in such manner as may be specified in the direction.’
“Therefore, since the national awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi cannot be received by them in person the president may permit their family members to receive same on their behalf,” Falana said.
He also addressed the legality of the June 12 holiday declared by the president, which has been argued to be illegal on the grounds that the approval of the national assembly was not sought and obtained.
He said, “Furthermore, section 2 (1) of the Public Holidays Act stipulates that in addition to the holidays mentioned in the schedule to the act, the president may appoint a special day to be kept as a public holiday either throughout Nigeria or in any part thereof.
“It is crystal clear that the president is not required by law to seek and obtain the approval of the national assembly before declaring a public holiday in the country”.
Falana concluded that in view of the combined effect of the National Honours Act and the Public Holidays Act, the legal validity of the well-deserved awards and the historic holiday has not been impugned in any manner whatsoever.
Kola Abiola to PMB.
Meanwhile, the Abiola family has written to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for awarding the nation’s highest honour to their patriarch, MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 June 12 presidential election.
“Mr President, I thank you earnestly for heeding our plea where others before you did not, whilst conveying the assurances of my highest esteem,” Kola said in a letter addressed to the president, dated June 6 but delivered on Thursday.
In the letter, Abiola’s son, Kola, said he was appreciating the decision on behalf of the family.
“Your Excellency, as I wrote in my letter to you on June 12, 2016, in our minds, the award was the only befitting recognition of the importance of Chief Abiola’s fight for democracy for Nigeria which culminated in four years incarceration/solitary confinement and decimation of his business and financial interests, before the ultimate sacrifice, being his life on July 7, 1998 at the age of 60,” he wrote.
“Your Excellency, your decision to also designate June 12 as Democracy Day rights the wrongs done to all the nation-builders and heroes that produced that produced the democratic credentials on which the Nigerian polity now thrives.
“We are profoundly grateful to the people from all corners of Nigeria that worked tirelessly to ensure the freest and fair elections in our nation’s history in 1993, fought valiantly for the Hope ’93 mandate given to Bashorun Abiola by the Nigerian people and died trying to protect the mandate.
“Mr President, I thank you earnestly for heeding our plea where others before you did not, whilst conveying the assurances of my highest esteem.”
By Our Correspondent
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