The election of June 12th 1993 changed Nigeria profoundly. That it would have this deep and positive effect was not always certain. Many people laboured, struggled and sacrificed for democracy.
They fought not that we would have democracy day but that Nigeria might exist as a democracy every day. When I say democracy, I mean more than that we conduct periodic elections.
Democracy means that we adhere to and live by the enlightened premise that all human beings are of essential value and are possessed of fundamental rights and liberties, which cannot be arbitrarily taken away or denied.
In this, we dare not forget how we got to this point. Planting the seedlings of democracy required much toil and sacrifice. Many potent forces tried to prevent both the planting and the harvest.
People like late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, late Gani Fawehinmi, Baba Omojola, late Pa Rewane, late Pa Enahoro, Baba Ajasin, Pa Adesanya, Baba Adebanjo, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Femi Falana,members of the civil society groups, student-activists and others fought hard and struggled mightily on our behalf. Many laid down their lives that we may have this brighter moment.
Many people who we do not even know gave of themselves and lost life or limb to bring this moment to pass. On this day, we duly honour such patriots.
Bashorun Moshood Abiola stood fast and strong despite the enormous pressure against him. Those who hated democracy and equality tried to break his spirit and make him lose hope that democracy would ever come to our land. Abiola withstood it all and held to a dream.
They could not crush his spirit so they took his body. They did not allow his dream turn to reality but victory was still his because he held fast with uncommon determination and principle. In spirit, Abiola was truly the first president of this democratic period.
Here, I must commend President Buhari for having the political courage to make June 12 Democracy Day. It would have been easier to let things stay as they were. But President Buhari, himself a man of integrity and honesty, realised the import of June 12 and understood that this day more than any other best symbolized our national pursuit of democracy. Despite political opposition, President Buhari helped set the record straight by making today, June 12, Democracy Day.
I also congratulate our various governors including Governor Babajide Sanwo-olu of Lagos. They must all continue to do their level best to make the desired difference in the lives of our people.
The Executive and Legislature are working harmoniously to deliver the programs and policies required for people to live a better more democratic existence. The courts are doing better in protecting the rights of individual Nigerians.
The press is free and robust although, like any nation, we must remain vigilant and do even more to elevate freedom of thought and expression. The civil society remains alive and active and holding government accountable to the people.
The government too has continued to exhibit tolerance of constructive criticism and demonstrate endurance in a bid to nurture our democracy. A relentless battle is being waged against corruption.This fight would have been impossible or ineffective under military dictatorship
We see better ways to define and execute our democratic journey. For example, Youth and Women’s groups that in prior times had no voice or did not even exist. Now they are actively engaged and demanding political participation and a place in democratic decision-making.
Nigerians deserve congratulations and commendation for their investment in democracy and for how far we have come. However, we equally must warn and remind ourselves how far we must go.
The government has performed admirably in explaining its actions to the people on COVID-19 and informing us about the disease. Only a democratic government would have been so informative and open. Only a democratic government would have initiated palliatives.
Only a democratic government would have worked in a cooperative manner with the states to devise the best possible policies to fit local circumstances. By being frank and honest, lives have been saved and the pandemic contained. This has been democracy at work.
The times we face are not the easiest but we have a destiny to reach and a democratic roadmap on how to get there. Hand in hand, let us get there together.
I wish all Nigerians a memorable Democracy Day and many more years of enduring democracy. I implore you all to be safe and act with compassion toward one another.