In turn, the family of the deceased politician also apologised to the President for the wrongs Abiola did to him while he was still alive.
This played out at the Presidential Villa, Abuja where Buhari posthumously conferred the highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic on Abiola.
Also, Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka told Buhari to stop showing loyalty to “Abiola’s tormentor.”
At the well-attended ceremony, Buhari also conferred the second highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Order of Niger, on Abiola’s running mate in the election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe; while he also honoured the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, with the same award posthumously.
Buhari said his decision to revisit the annulled election was not an attempt to open old wounds but to put right what had been done wrongly.
He said it was clear that Abiola was already winning the election when the government of the day inexplicably cancelled it.
He said Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.
We are sorry, Buhari apologises to Abiola’s family
The President said, “Today, I am very happy to be present and to preside over the commemoration and investiture marking the formal Federal Government’s recognition of June 12 as the National Democracy Day.
“The decision and this event are not meant to be and are not an attempt to open old wounds but to put right a national wrong.
“Nigerians of their own free will voted for late Chief MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, the presidential standard bearer and running mate of the Social Democratic Party in the 1993 elections.
“The government of the day inexplicably cancelled the elections when it was clear who were going to be the winners.
“We cannot rewind the past but we can at least assuage our feelings; recognise that a wrong has been committed and resolve to stand firm now and in the future for the sanctity of free elections. Nigerians would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.
“This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country.
“Our decision to recognise and honour June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering wound caused by the annulment of the June 12th elections. I earnestly invite all Nigerians across all our national divide to accept it in good faith.
“Our action today is to bury the negative side of June 12, the side of ill-feelings, hate, frustrations and agony. What we are doing is celebrating and appreciating the positive side of June 12 the June 12, which restates democracy and freedom; the June 12 that overcomes our divide and the June 12 that produces unity and national cohesion.
“This is the June 12 we are celebrating today and we will nurture it to our next generation.
“Accordingly, on behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of late MKO Abiola, who got the highest votes and to those that lost their loved ones in the cause of June 12 struggle.”
After a loud applause that followed the presidential apology, Buhari called for a minute silence in honour of Abiola and Fawehinmi as well as all those who lost their lives in the struggle for the revalidation of the annulled election.
Abiola’s family apologised to Buhari too
In accepting Buhari’s apology on behalf of the family, Abiola’s daughter, Hafsat also apologised to the President for the wrongs her late father might have done him.
She said nobody could have imagined, considering the kind of relationship between them, that Buhari would be the one to honour her late father.
“Who would have ever believed, given the relationship that you had with Chief MKO Abiola, that you would be the instrument God will use to honour this man and to bring recognition and healing to the country?
“You apologised to my family and it touched my heart. You know that I also lost my mother in this struggle, so that apology meant so much.
“Let me use this opportunity, on behalf of Chief MKO Abiola, because I know what he would have done, to apologise to you and your family for anything that he might have done to harm you and to harm your family,” Hafsat told the President in an emotion-laden voice.
She quoted her late mother, Kudirat, as telling her that Abiola was already rehearsing his acceptance speech as of the time the election was annulled.
Hafsat, however, regretted that despite trying hard, the late business mogul could not go beyond the introductory line of the speech during the rehearsal.
According to her, all Abiola wanted to tell Nigerians in the aborted speech was how he loved them.
She said, “My mum told me how he (Abiola) would stand before the mirror as he was rehearsing his speech because the results were coming in and he thought he was going to deliver it.
“You know he used to stammer, so he would start by saying ‘My dear fellow Nigerians’ but he never really got passed ‘fellow Nigerians.’
“He would say a few words, and he would say he did not like that and then, he would start again. He kept struggling to say what he wanted to say to Nigerians.
“What MKO wanted to say to the Nigerian people and all that MKO did say to the people of Nigeria is to say, ‘I love you the people of Nigeria, I believe in you the people of Nigeria.’
“He was born Yoruba but he loved Hausa people, Kanuri, Efik, Igbo people, he loved all of you. You just needed to be a Nigerian and MKO was your man. If he could help he would do.
“There were so many things he already did to show that and that was why the people of Nigeria rewarded him with the mandate of June 12, 1993.
“But we know that he was never able to deliver that speech but in many ways, the event that transpired later revealed to Nigerians the eloquence in his heart, the fidelity of his commitment and even his own deep abiding wish that if there was any way his own actions would in any way compromise the people of Nigeria, MKO preferred to die.
“He preferred to leave the earth rather than compromise on you, on your integrity as a people, and your sovereignty as a nation.
“This was why even the day before he died, when he was still being pressured, he asked the question, ‘how do you shave the people’s heads in their absence?’
“He knew he was present in the room where he was pressured but he knew that so long as he refused to allow his own head to be shaved as a symbolic message to you the people of Nigeria that you will be saved.
“When he died, we accepted his body and have watched in Nigeria as year after year till now, the 25th year, you the people have suffered and he was not recognised at all.”
Hafsat regretted that while Abiola was committed to seeing Nigerians bid poverty farewell, more Nigerians were in poverty today than the figure in 1993.
By recognising June 12, Abiola’s daughter said Buhari had awaken many heroes and heroines of Nigeria’s struggle who stood firm on June 12.
“If there is any march that we need to march, if there is any protest that we need to be present to protest, you have called up your own new Army for the defence of this country.
“President Muhammadu Buhari, this fight will not take you God willing as it has taken MKO but let us fight and bring about the conclusion of MKO struggle that the Nigerian people should be the ones in full control of this country.
“It is not for a few landlords whoever they maybe, it is for the 200 million people of Nigeria,” she concluded.
Abiola’s eldest son, Kola, therefore, requested all family members in attendance to stand up while he thanked the President, saying they accepted his apology and the award.
“Mr. President, on behalf of the MKO Abiola family, we accept both the award and the apology. We will like to thank you for the great honour you have done our family.
“We thank you for taking the decisive measures to strengthen our democracy and guarantee our future by reconciling our past. Thank you very much sir. Generations to come will honour you for this,” he said.
Stop showing loyalty to Abiola’s tormentor, Soyinka tells Buhari
Soyinka also commended Buhari for apologising to Abiola’s family.
He described the presidential apology as a dimension which he did not expect from the ceremony.
Soyinka, however, urged Buhari to stop confusing Nigerians by showing loyalty to an unnamed individual whom he referred to as Abiola’s tormentor.
There is the general belief that he must be referring to the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha (retd.), who detained the business mogul for about five years until he died in detention.
Although Soyinka did not mention Abacha’s name specifically, the Nobel laureate said it was confusing for Buhari to honour Abiola on one hand, and be admiring the late politician’s tormentor on the other hand.
Soyinka said, in a private meeting with Buhari, he had also raised concern over how the President could be saying his administration was fighting corruption, whereas a major road in the Federal Capital Territory had been named after a corrupt former leader.
He said he was not satisfied with the response he got from Buhari.
Soyinka said, “Most of what l wanted to say have been actually knocked off my mouth by one singular gesture: the presidential apology. It is a dimension which l did not expect from today’s ceremony.
“l had a lot to say, but fortunately the words have been taken off my mouth. However, l will like to make a request. Mr. President, since we are honouring heroes of democracy today, l will like to request that you manage to stop creating confusion in the minds of Nigerians.
“It is not possible to honour MKO Abiola in one breadth and admire his tormentor in another breadth. Loyalty is all very well but loyalty can become perverse if that loyalty is retained to an individual who if he were alive today would be before the International Court of Crimes against Humanity.
“The one who broke the laws of Nigeria, international laws, pauperised this nation, it is confusing if professional loyalty is carried so far as to be accorded such an individual.
“We had a private conversation some time ago and l remember one of the things which l mentioned to you. l said you are fighting corruption, how come that a notorious dictator, corrupt ruler, is honoured by one of the most important avenues in the capital of Abuja, whereas, individuals like the martyrs of the struggle, philanthropists have not been honoured?
“The answer you gave to me was not too satisfactory, but I let it pass.
“Today, perhaps is also an opportunity to inaugurate our Hall of Shame so that as we have our Hall of Heroes on the one hand, we can also have our Hall of Shame, as a lesson to future generation.
“But your apology has been most touching. On behalf of the Nigerian people, l accept it. I accept and l am sure that most Nigerians will agree with me.”
He also backed the call by the National Assembly that the June 12 poll result be formally released and Abiola declared as the winner, while the Abuja National Stadium be named after him as earlier suggested.
Soyinka added that the event itself should be seen as the beginning and not the closure to the event of June 12.
He said a closure to the event could only come after all the victims of the struggle had been honoured.
Soyinka added, “It is a beginning. l do not agree that this is closure to the event of June 12. There are far too many traumatised individuals walking around the streets, pauperised individuals walking around as a result of the policies and attitudes of one of the most brutal dictators. In fact, the most brutal dictator that this country has ever known.
“Closure will come by responding to those traumatised individuals or victims of unspeakable tortures, some of whom were compelled to watch even their beloved ones being tortured, on behalf of a man who was determined not just to demonise, to dominate his environment, but also to dehumanise that environment.
“All that is left for me is to plead so that we do not forget the nameless, the unsung heroes and heroines of that struggle.
“A number of names have already been listed but l will like to include one of the pioneers, the instigators of the physical confrontations with that dictator, Comrade Ola Oni, who mobilised a number of people and fought the goons and slaves and surrogates of that dictator in that auspiciously named stadium in Ibadan, Liberty Stadium.
“But above all, l want us always to remember that individual which we are principally celebrating today, the man who reappeared and represented himself, who did not understand the word ‘surrender’, saying ‘my name is Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, l am back to reclaim my mandate.’”
Buhari is Nigeria’s first sensitive, reasonable leader – Muhammed Fawehinmi
Fawehinmi’s eldest son, Muhammed, in his goodwill message described Buhari as Nigeria’s first sensitive and reasonable Head of State for his decision to revisit the annulled election.
He spoke shortly after his mother, Ganiat, received the insignia of the GCON from the President.
He urged Nigerians to shun ethnicity and support Buhari.
Muhammed said, “Your Excellency, I want to congratulate you for this gesture. You are the first sensitive and reasonable Head of State that has listened to Nigerians and acted accordingly. June 12 is the foundation of democracy in this country. The recognition of Chief MKO Abiola as President-elect in this country, not as presumed winner, I thank God that I have seen today.
“I congratulate the family of MKO Abiola and everybody present. I am proud of all of you. I also congratulate all of my family members here present. These people stood their ground, sacrificed all they had for this country and I thank God that their sacrifices have not been in vain.
“Today is symbolic because it shows the entrenchment of unity of all citizens of this country regardless of your tribe, ethnic background, religious beliefs because we are all Nigerians.”
Kingibe lauds President Buhari
In his remarks, Kingibe commended the President for the courage displayed by recognising June 12.
He said the gesture proved Buhari to be a man of conviction, who was clear on what was right and what was wrong; what was just and what was travesty of justice.
“The decision came to you naturally because you are a principled politician who refuses to be swayed by the expediency of the moments,” he stated.
Kingibe recalled Abiola as a man of great wit and persuasive powers, full of energy and a great philanthropist truly committed to improving the lot of the poor masses.
“Indeed, MKO was the messiah Nigerians never had the opportunity to feel his liberating impact. The annulment of June 12 election had the tragic consequence of dissolving that unity we as a people exhibited on that historic date and turning us into a divided people who began to see one another as enemies.
“We must be thankful that we eventually survived the prolonged crisis, even with all the collateral damage to our body polity. Today, the President has called upon us to intern the ghost of the acrimony surrounding June 12 and celebrate the principles and the joys it brought,” he said.
I’ll work for Buhari’s re-election – Tinubu
A national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said Buhari deserved a second term and he would work for his victory in the 2019 presidential election.
A former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, also lauded Buhari for the gesture and promised to work for his re-election.
Osoba admitted knowing how the coup that ousted Buhari as military Head of State was hatched.
Although he did not give details, the former governor thanked the Abiola family not only for accepting Buhari’s apology on the annulment of the election but for also apologising to the President for their late father’s action.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, said with the steps taken so far, Buhari had already announced the result of the annulled election as being clamoured for by stakeholders.
He joined others in commending the President for the gesture.
He called on Buhari to take a step further by directing security chiefs to restore the rights of all Nigerians.
Others, who spoke at the event, included Ayo Obe and Frank Kokori.
Obasanjo, IBB, Saraki absent
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was one of those who were conspicuously absent from the Tuesday event.
Obasanjo, however, sent his apologies to the event as announced by the compere.
The former President said he was engaged outside the country as of the time of the event.
Babangida, who annulled the election, was also conspicuously absent.
He also sent apologies, attributing his inability to attend to health issues.
The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, was also absent.
Traditional rulers from the South-West including the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III; and the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, attended the event.
President okays national honours for Ayu, Ebute, Anekwe
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, in his welcome address said Buhari had approved that some other Nigerians should be conferred with national honours for their contributions to democracy.
He however did not disclose the identities of the awardees, saying details would be made available later.
But in a copy of his speech made available to journalists, three beneficiaries were listed.
They include former Speaker, House of Representatives in the Third Republic, Chief Agunwa Anekwe; and two former Presidents of the Senate in the Third Republic, Iyorchia Ayu and Ameh Ebute.