Being an address delivered by Femi Falana (SAN) at the 25th anniversary of the June 12 1993 presidential election won by the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola organised by the Osun State government.
THE Muhammadu Buhari administration took the nation by surprise last week when it decided to confer the posthumous national awards of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Chief M. K. O. Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) on Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN for his huge contributions to the restoration of democratic rule in Nigeria. By declaring June 12 as Democracy Day, the Federal Government has officially validated the integrity of the credible election that was criminally annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta. By recognizing June 12 as Democracy Day, the Federal Government has put an end to the hypocrisy of May 29 which was proclaimed by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime. This year’s celebration provides a golden opportunity to review the democratic journey with a view to strengthening the fragile democratic process. Before addressing the topic of our discourse, permit me to respond to the attempts by certain persons to questioning the decision of the federal government to revisiting the monumental injustice that has lived with us for 25 years.
Legal validity of posthumous awards conferred on Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi and declaration of June 12 as a public holiday
The Honourable Justice Alfa Belgore, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria was reported to have questioned the legal validity of the decision of President Buhari to confer posthumous awards on Chief M. K. O. Abiola and Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) on the grounds that the advice of the National Honours Committee headed by his lordship was not sought. It was further contended by his lordship that it is illegal to confer national honours posthumously. Curiously, his lordship did not refer to any section of the National Honours Act or any other law that has been violated by the President. It is however pertinent to point out that the National Honours Committee is unknown to law. Hence, there is no reference to it in the National Honours Act.
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. No doubt, paragraph 2 of the Honours Warrant made pursuant to the National Honours Act provides that “a person shall be appointed to a particular rank of an Order when he receives from the President in person, at an investiture held for the purpose…” But paragraph 3 thereof 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 has rightly invited their family members to receive same on their behalf.
Senator Dino Melaye has equally questioned the national awards on the grounds that the two honourees are no longer citizens of Nigeria because they are deceased. I am compelled to draw the attention of the Senator to section 25 of the Constitution which provides that the citizenship of Nigeria can be acquired by birth on by any person whose parent or grandparent is or was a member of a community indigenous to Nigeria. If a Nigerian can acquire his citizenship by tracing his roots to a dead parent or grandparent it is submitted that the death of Chief Abiola and Chief Fawehinmi has not robbed them of their rights as citizens of Nigeria. A few years ago, it was accepted in legal circles in Nigeria that the fundamental right of a dead person to life could not be enforced since he was no longer a citizen. But that erroneous contention was discarded by the Court of Appeal in the case of Mrs Precious Omonyahuh v Inspector-General of Police (2015) LPELR-25581, Adamu Augie J.C.A (as she then was) held that the fundamental right of Nigerian citizens to life guaranteed by section 33 of the Constitution can be enforced by relations of any person whose life has been illegally terminated.