Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday renamed Abuja National Stadium in honour of Moshood Abiola who is revered in the country as the hero of democracy.
The christening was the President acceding to demands by civil society and the people of South West Nigeria to give a fitting memory to Chief Abiola who died in detention on July 7, 1998, more than five years after his presumed win of the June 12, 1993 election against Bashir Tofa.
Despite it being the first election since the military takeover ten years earlier in 1983, it was annulled by military strongman Ibrahim Babangida plunging the country into a crisis.
Babangida would later that year be overthrown by another man in uniform Sani Abacha who later came to be known as the butcher of Abuja for his ruthlessness against dissenters as well as his carting away of the country’s resources estimated at $3 billion to foreign bank accounts.
Chief Abiola’s wife Hajia Kudirat Abiola, who was at the forefront of the democratic struggle while her husband languished in jail for declaring himself president, was assassinated on June 4, 1996.
Apart from naming the stadium after the icon President Buhari also moved Democracy Day from May 29, the day the President is inaugurated after elections, to June 12; the day of the election won by chief Abiola.
He also declared the day a national holiday going forward.
“I approve June 12 as democracy day to partially atone for the annulment of the most peaceful and world acclaimed election in Nigeria,’’ he declared.
The president repeated his warnings to deal ruthlessly with people who incite disunity and unrest, possibly in reference to marauding gangs that have made life a nightmare for villagers in vast swathes of the country.
At the celebration witnessed by some foreign leaders including Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Buhari also repeated his commitment to zero tolerance for corruption.
“Our focus now is to ensure that Nigeria works for all Nigerians. Change has come. We now must move to the Next level,’’ he said.
On his agenda for the next four years, the president said the government would invest more on security, education, fighting corruption and improving health care.
Agriculture would be revitalised especially through integration to other sectors of the economy, cleaner energy harnessed and critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, rail and boost production built.
These measures are intended to lift more than 100 million out of poverty while raising Nigeria’s profile in regional and continental affairs.
“Nigeria is the big brother of our continent and shock absorber of our neighbours,’’ he said, boasting the country had $45 billion in forex reserves. The stock is enough to cover the country’s imports for nine months.
Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress party is in a good position to push through its legislative and economic agenda after its nominees swept all the leadership positions in the newly inaugurated 9th National Assembly (NASS).
The new Senate President is Senator Ahmed Lawan and his deputy, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege. The House of Representatives elected Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila as its Speaker and Mr Ahmed Idris as the Deputy Speaker.
The eighth national assembly was led by opposition Peoples Democratic Party members who had defected from APC which had the majority.
“Nigerians with their eyes open gave the APC the executive, they also gave us overwhelming majority in the two arms of the National Assembly. They also expect that this time around, APC would have no excuse not to deliver,” APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole said.