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NIGERIA: June 12 Reverberates at Conference, Delegates Divided on Status of Abiol

The plenary session of the ongoing National Conference witnessed a rowdy session yesterday over a motion on whether or not to recognise the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Bashorun Moshood K.O Abiola.

The motion divided the delegates along ethnic lines as members from the South were unanimously in support of the motion introduced by a delegate from Cross River State, Hon. Orok Otu Duke under matters of urgent public importance citing Order 7 (5) of the Conference Rules.

However, the delegates from the North, spearheaded by Mallam Naseer Kura, representing the Civil Society, opposed the motion and resorted to shouts of no! no!!, no!!!, a development that triggered a rowdy session to the consternation of newsmen and others watching proceedings from the gallery.

But for the shrewd handling of the matter by the Chairman of Conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, the shouting exchange on the floor sequel to the motion moved by Duke would have degenerated into a physical altercation.

The motion, which nearly marred the session yesterday morning, specifically sought the leave of the delegates to pay tribute to all those who died for the cause of Nigeria's democracy spearheaded by Abiola.

The motion read thus: “That the Conference should cause the authorities to always remember June 12 as a watershed in the history of Nigeria. That a monument in tandem with what the conference had proposed for other heroes and heroines should be recommended in honour of MKO Abiola.”

However, the prayers of the motion did not go down well with some of the delegates from the North who strongly opposed the submission and shouted at the top of their voice to register their disapproval.

Notwithstanding the opposition, Duke argued that the country cannot afford to carry on as if June 12 never existed, and further submitted that many Nigerians died on that day.

"June 12 is a preamble as to why we are here today, it is a continuation of the unfinished business of 1993 that we are here. Moshood Abiola paid that ultimate sacrifice and it is not something we can wish away and assume that it never happened to us, it did.

"I was an active participant, and some of the delegates here were victims of June 12. If we forget history it will repeat itself as tragedy. Those who fell for the sake of June 12 should be remembered today if nothing," he said.

Expressing support for the motion, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a delegate representing the federal government at the parley, took a swipe at the opposition against the mover of the motion by some of the members on the floor.

"It is unfortunate that even members of this assembly, particularly those of us who were victims of (Gen) Abacha regard June 12, 1993 as a mere issue.  I think the delegate who raised this motion should be praised rather than vilified. Without June 12 there will be no May 29. June 12 is the bases of our freedom and democracy and we should remember the day for what it is worth," he submitted.

Also contributing, Chief Issa Aremu, representing the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at the parley, submitted that the best way the country could recognise June 12 is for the politicians to ensure free and fair elections in the country.

"What we are seeing today shows we have not learnt from what happened on June 12. Elections are still a do or die affair with a lot of unnecessary and avoidable violence. The real memory of June 12, and for us to make it worthwhile is to reaffirm our commitment to free and fair elections in Nigeria," he said.

But Umar Mohammed Hadejia described the motion on June 12 as irrelevant, especially when the conference was pressed for time to conclude its assignment on schedule.

"I find it difficult to understand here we are with no time, with a little understanding and with little progress and some people are always and everyday unnecessarily delaying the proceedings of the conference. It is important for people to realise that we are representing Nigerians for something extremely important for this country.

"And I am beginning to suspect, Mr. Chairman, that there are certain people who are coming with ideas to disrupt this meeting so that we don't perform. It is important that for the chairman to begin to call people to order so that we can continue, thank you Mr. Chairman," he stressed.

Mike Ozoekhome (SAN) faulted the argument and submitted that June 12 was a critical national issue deserving of mention on the floor by the delegates.

According to him, "Many people paid the supreme price to attain the democracy we are having today but which some people, unfortunately, are messing up. We should not trivialise June 12 and make it look like it is something that is not important.

"We should observe one minute of silence in honour of people who died during the June 12 crisis whether from the East, North, South or West. They are Nigerians and they paid the supreme price. We should give honour to whom honour is due. June 12 is not just important, it is the watershed of Nigeria's democracy," he argued.

Elder statesman and Ijaw Leader, Edwin Clark representing the Elder statesmen, argued that June 12 should have been the day the country should be observing as democracy day.

According to him, "May 29 is because somebody came into office and decided to make it as democracy day in this country. June 12 is democracy day in Nigeria.”

Clark said that it was because of this that President Goodluck Jonathan named the University of Lagos after Chief MKO Abiola in recognition of his invaluable contributions to the attainment of democracy in the country.

"For eight years he was not recognised, but when the President (Jonathan) came into power he recognised him and even named the University of Lagos after him, but for the protest of the students and the lecturers.

"We must have heroes in our country. So, as far as I am concerned, we must observe such a day as an important day”, he explained amidst shouts of ‘yea’ and ‘nay.’

When decorum was restored by the conference Chairman, Justice Kutigi, a minute silence was observed by the delegates in honour of all the departed on account of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections,

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