Bill to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day escapes defeat at House of Reps

Speaker Yakubu Dogara

But for a display of unusual discretion by Speaker Yakubu Dogara of the House of Representatives, a bill seeking to confer legal status on June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day from May 29 would have been killed at Thursday plenary. 

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had in May this year conferred a posthumous award on Alhaji MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election upon which the new Democracy Day is being proposed from the known May 29. 

Members were naturally divided on a plea to pass the bill for second reading. Titled “A Bill for an Act to amend the Public Holidays Act, Cap. P40 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to bring the Act in tandem with the current realities and exigencies of the modern times and to declare June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria and for Related Matters (HBs.918 and 1529)”. 

Those who spoke against the Bill questioned the rational behind the proposal and the Presidential pronouncement, saying it had political connotations. They queried the significance of the day, asking if the hand over ceremony constitutionally done on May 29 of every four years would be shifted. 

Recognizing however that June 12 election was adjudged free and fair, the lawmakers asked if the government of President Buhari has bothered to give democracy a leeway to thrive in various elections he had so far conducted since he came on board. 

They posited that Buhari who himself truncated democratic practice in 1983 by ousting the government of Shehu Shagari has without repentance, continued to muzzle democratic ethos and norms. 

Similarly, those who spoke in favour of the bill said that the annulment of an election termed the fairest can only be redone by pronouncing the day the real democracy day, applauding President Buhari for that singular recognition. 

When subjected to voice vote, the chambers roared with a thunderous “nay”, clearly out-voicing those that chorused “yea”. 

And then came an eerie silence with all attention shifting to Dogara to know what his hitting of the gavel would mean. 

Apparently, applying tact and finesse, the Speaker echoed “the ayes have it.” He was later to justify the ruling on the plank of national unity and cohesion having earlier before putting the question appealed to the members to consider the mood of the country. “I ruled in the favour of national unity and cohesion”, he said.
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