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Arguments for and against Abiola’s posthumous GCFR award

COME June 12, 2018, the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, popularly known as M.K.O Abiola, will be awarded a posthumous national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), the highest national honour in Nigeria, customarily awarded to sitting or former Presidents, or Heads of State.

The announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday is seen by many as an acknowledgement of Abiola’s victory in the June 12, 1993 general election, which was later annulled by the former military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida.

While many Nigerians, including Abiola’s immediate family, have eulogised Buhari’s decision as a positive development long overdue, other Nigerians disagree, saying that national honours are for the living and not the dead.

OPINIONS AGAINST

Senator Dino Melaye

Alfa Belgore, former Chief Justice of Nigeria and former Chairman of the National Honours Committee, was the first to fault Buhari’s decision to confer a posthumous award on Abiola.

According to Belgore, “The only thing they (the FG) could do is to name a place after him (Abiola), but national honours award, no. It is not done. It (the award) is for people living.”

Belgore further said that the law only permits soldiers who died in the service of the nation to be honoured posthumously.

Enter Dino Melaye, controversial Kogi State federal legislator, who took the debate against the proposed posthumous honour for Abiola to a different level.

Melaye, speaking at the floor of the Senate on Thursday, said Abiola is not a Nigerian and therefore cannot be awarded the nation’s highest honour.

Quoting a section of the National Honours Act, Melaye said: “Subsection 2 of the act says a person shall not be eligible for appointment to any rank of an order unless he is a citizen of Nigeria. A dead man is not a citizen of the federal republic of Nigeria. We should not be emotional about this. The law remains the law.”

Also, like Belgore, Melaye argued that according to the Act, National honours are to be conferred on the recipient in person and since Abiola is dead and cannot appear in person, he cannot receive the award.

However, a fact-check by THE ICIR shows that the arguments by both Belgore and Melaye are not backed by any known law in Nigeria.

OPINIONS IN SUPPORT

Femi Falana (SAN)

In response to Belgore’s claims, Femi Falana, popular human rights advocate and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, posited that Buhari did not contravene any law by deciding to confer a nation honour on a deceased person.

“With profound respect to the Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, the National Honours Act has not prohibited or restricted the powers of the President to confer national honours on deserving Nigerian citizens, dead or alive,” Falana stated on Thursday.

“Paragraph 3 (of the National Honours Act) has given the President the unqualified discretion ‘to dispense with the requirement of paragraph 2 in such manner as may be specified in the direction.’

“Therefore, since the national awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi cannot be received by them in person, the President may permit their family members to receive same on their behalf.”

Besides Falana, there are other top legal practitioners who are of the opinion that the legality or otherwise of the decision to confer a national honour on Abiola is irrelevant at this time.

Itse Sagay and Rotimi Jacobs, both SANs, belong to this category. To them, the decision to honour Abiola is the right thing to do, so whether it agrees with all the tiny rubrics of the law or not, is not so important.

“In this case, justice should prevail over technicalities of the law. President Buhari did the right thing by acknowledging the events of June 12 and honouring Abiola,” Sagay told The ICIR in a phone interview on Thursday.

“If (ex President Goodluck) Jonathan had done it, it would have been good. If (Olusegun) Obasanjo had done it, it would have been good. They didn’t. Now that Buhari has done it, it is the right thing to do.”

On his part, Rotimi Jacobs said “Posthumous awards are recognised all over the world, and besides, it is the right thing for President Buhari to do.”

THE THIRD FORCE

Babagana Kingibe

There are other Nigerians who feel Babagana Kingibe, Abiola’s running mate in 1993, does not deserve a national honour. These group of people argue that Kingibe betrayed Abiola by accepting an appointment from Sani Abacha, Babangida’s successor as Head of State.

It was Abacha who later sent Abiola to prison.

Buhari had announced that Kingibe, who is still alive, will also be awarded a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), the second highest national honour in Nigeria, customarily conferred on serving or ex-Vice Presidents.

A tweeter user whose handle is @AbdulMahmud01, posted this text on his handle: “MKO Abiola, yes. Gani, yes. June 12 as Democracy Day, yes. Kingibe, NO. His ignominious role in burying June 12 is legendary. Undeserving.”

Abdulmahmud’s tweet has been retweeted 181 times as at the time of filing this report.

Below are more reactions from Nigerians on whether Babagana Kingibe deserved to be honoured with a GCON award:

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