MAY 29 officially became Nigeria’s Democracy Day during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency.Now a public holiday to commemorate restoration of democracy in Nigeria after a protracted military regime, many activists still insist June 12 is the true Democracy Day.
For this school of thought, June 12, 1993, is the water shed of our democracy, considering the role played by late Chief M.K.O Abiola who contested and won Nigeria’s fairest and freest election on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP).
He contested against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the rested National Republican Convention (NRC).For this group, his struggle to actualize his stolen mandate, which won him a lot of followers, was the real movement that kicked out the military.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government has since given official recognition and public holiday status to October 1, to mark Nigeria’s independence from Britain and May 29, the day we celebrate return to civil rule after 16 years of uninterrupted military administration that almost ruined the nation.The military had earlier seized power from 1966 to 1979, with late General J. U. T. Aguiyi Ironsi emerging Nigeria’s first Military Head of State. General Abdulsalam Abubakar, however, handed over power to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (who was Head of state from 1976 to 1979) as Nigeria’s second Executive President.
The first Democracy Day was on May 29, 1999 when former military leader and then President-elect, Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as the President of Nigeria.
The first Democracy Day also signified the end of almost 30 years of military rule since 1966, with a brief stint of democracy between 1979 and 1983 with Alh. Shehu Shagari in power.
The first Democracy Day – and generally, the practice of democracy since 1999 – took place after Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar, the last military leader of Nigeria promised a transition to democracy. In line with this, a new constitution was adopted in May 5, 1999.
The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) actually opposed the use of the date May 29 in 1999. This is the umbrella body of pro-democracy and civil society groups that had been demanding for the actualisation of the June 12 presidential mandate .
The date was also opposed by some Nigerians who pointed out its similarity to the date Chukwuemeka O. Ojukwu declared the ‘Secession and Declaration of the Sovereign State of Biafra’ and the day ‘On Aburi We Stand’ speech was made; on the 30th of May, 1967 and 1969 respectively.