Nigeria’s Buhari says sorry for presidential election annulled 25 years ago

Lagos, Nigeria CNN  — 

President Muhammadu Buhari has offered a national apology to the family of late Nigerian opposition leader whose election was annulled by the military 25 years ago.

Buhari apologized to the family of Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, popularly known as MKO. He got the highest number of votes in the June 12 election in 1993 and later died in military custody.

“On behalf of the Federal Government, I tender the nation’s apology to the family of late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, who got the highest votes and to those that lost their loved ones in the course of June 12 struggle,” President Buhari said at a special national award ceremony in Abuja held for candidates who contested in the 1993 poll.

Buhari added: “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.”

It is the first of many honors President Buhari bestowed on the opposition leader who died in jail in 1994.

Last week Buhari, who is seeking re-election in 2019, changed the date of Nigeria’s Democracy Day, a day that marks the transition of military rule to a democracy, from May 29 to June 12 to honor Abiola.

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The former military leader also conferred the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, the highest national honor given to Nigeria’s past presidents on the late politician, who never had the chance to take office.

Abiola, candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), was widely believed to have won the June 12,1993 presidential election but the result was annulled by the incumbent military ruler Ibrahim Babangida at the time.

In 1994, Abiola was put in prison under the orders of then military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha after he declared himself president following the elections where he was believed to have garnered almost 60% of the vote.

Hafsat Abiola-Costello, one of Abiola’s daughters and an activist herself, lauded Buhari’s decision, saying she was told by her late mother that her father was rehearsing his victory speech when the results were annulled.

“We know he was never able to deliver that speech but events that transpired later revealed to Nigerians, the eloquence of his heart, the fidelity of his commitment… Moshood Abiola preferred to die… rather than compromise on your integrity as a people or on your sovereignty as a nation,” Hafsat Abiola-Costello said in a moving speech at the event.

“Who would have ever believed given the relationship that you had with Chief MKO Abiola, that you would be the instrument to honor this man and bring reconciliation and healing to the country.”

“You apologized to my family and it touched my heart. You know I lost my mother in this struggle, so that apology meant so much,” she added.

Hafsat’s mother and Abiola’s second wife, Kudirat partly led a wave of demonstration after the politician was jailed.

Kudirat was shot in the head when the car she was traveling in was attacked on a Lagos expressway.