Democracy Day is celebrated annually in Nigeria on June 12; however, this was not always the case. On May 29 until 2018, the nation celebrated its journey to redemocratization. What then changed? The significance of June 12 is immense; it carries the weight of a nation’s history. Particularly one that has waged long, valiant wars against military dictatorships. Here are a few of the reasons why Democracy Day is so crucial for the new Nigeria.
The background of Democracy Day
The 12th of June has significant significance for Nigerians, particularly the older generation. Nigeria conducted its first presidential elections since the military coup of 1983 on June 12, 1993. The elections are still regarded as the most peaceful and impartial elections Nigeria has ever held. 14 million Nigerians endured terrible weather and surmounted ethnic, social, and religious differences to elect a new president. The country anticipated the end of the military dictatorship. However, election results were never disclosed. The optimism and happiness were fleeting. However, unofficial results indicated overwhelming support for Social Democratic Party leader Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
Abiola connected with individuals across social strata. On June 12, 1992, he ran again for the presidency, but the results were the same. General Ibrahim Babangida, the military ruler of state, annulled the election results. His rationale? It was required to save the country.
What followed was a decade-long national crisis that threatened Nigeria’s very existence. The military never underestimated the severity of the repercussions. By subverting the election results, a once-divided Nigerian nation united to restore democracy.
Across the county, civil unrest broke out. At least 100 protestors were killed by police during violent demonstrations. Additionally, the violence prompted a widespread exodus from major cities. Before he was to be released from prison, the legendary Abiola perished under mysterious circumstances during this period.
From one turbulent election to the next, civil society groups laboured ceaselessly for the re-democratization of Nigeria. In 2018, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared that June 12 would be observed as National Democracy Day. Prior to that, Nigeria observed the day on My 29. The government also resolved to posthumously award Abiola with the nation’s highest honour.
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DEMOCRACY DAY DATES