Nigeria honors democracy icons after 25-year gap

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday conferred the country's highest honors on individuals reputed for their roles in the June 12, 1993, presidential ballot, which was later annulled by the military junta.

Buhari had last week declared that every June 12 would be a national holiday in honor of the heroes and heroines of democracy, including the winner of the historic election, Moshood Abiola, who died in detention in 1998 in pursuit of a revalidation of the mandate.

Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, the country's highest national honor reserved for presidents, was conferred on Abiola while the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON), the second highest honor for vice presidents, was given to his running mate Babagana Kingibe.

Buhari also conferred the title of GCON on the late human rights campaigner, Gani Fawehinmi, who spent several years in a military gulag fighting for democratic rights.

This event is not to open old wounds, but to put light on the nation, the president said in a speech at an event in capital Abuja, which was attended by top June 12 activists, senior politicians and family members of the late awardees.

The government [of Ibrahim Babangida] inexplicably cancelled the [June 12, 1993] election when it was clear who was the winner. We cannot right the past but we can at least assuage our feelings.

Nigerians will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. Our decision to honor June 12 is in national interest.

Hundreds of citizens were hounded into exile, maimed or killed, including the wife of Abiola, Kudirat, and a top financier of the struggle, Alfred Rewane, while thousands of others were displaced in the upheavals that followed the annulment of the election that was adjudged the freest in the country's history.

Nigeria's return to democracy in 1999 saw democracy activists and families of victims clamoring for recognition of June 12 as the country's democracy day but the central government has repeatedly rebuffed the call until now.

Source: Anadolu Agency