Democracy Day in Nigeria is observed on June 12 every year — but this wasn’t always the case. Until 2018, the country celebrated its journey to re-democratization on May 29. So, what changed? The significance of June 12 is profound — it represents the weight of a country’s history. Especially one that has fought long and valiant wars against military dictatorships. Here are some of the reasons why Democracy Day is so important to a new Nigeria.
History of Democracy Day
June 12 has deep meaning for Nigerians, particularly those in the old guard. On June 12, 1993, Nigeria held presidential elections for the first time since the 1983 military coup. The elections are still considered the most peaceful, fair elections ever held in Nigeria. 14 million Nigerians braved terrible weather and overcame differences — ethnicity, class, and religion — to elect a new president. The country looked forward to the end of military dictatorship. But the results of the election were never released. The optimism and joy were short-lived. However, unofficial results indicated overwhelming support for Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, Chief of the Social Democratic Party.
Abiola connected with people across social divides. He tried for the Presidency again on June 12, 1992, but the outcomes were similar. The military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the election results. His reasoning? It was necessary to save the nation.
What followed was a decade-long national crisis, threatening the entity and existence of Nigeria. The military never underestimated how bad the fallout would be. By undermining the election results, a nation once divided came together to restore democracy in Nigeria.
Civil protests erupted across the county. Some protests turned violent, with the police killing at least 100 protestors. The violence also triggered a mass exodus from major cities. During this time, the legendary Abiola died under mysterious circumstances before he was due to be released from prison.
Over the years, civil society groups worked tirelessly for the re-democratization of Nigeria — from one tumultuous election to the next. In 2018, Nigerian President Muhamaddu Buhari announced that the country would celebrate June 12 as National Democracy Day. Until then, Nigeria had commemorated the day on My 29. The government also decided to confer the nation’s highest award posthumously to Abiola.
Democracy Day timeline
The charismatic Abiola makes his first unsuccessful run at Nigeria’s Presidency.
Civil violence erupts in southwest Nigeria, a region with the most Abiola loyalists.
Retired General Olusegun Obasanjo is sworn in as the president-elect, marking the end of military rule.
Abiola’s legacy lives as Nigeria declares June 12 Democracy Day.
Democracy Day FAQs
Who is the father of the Nigerian state?
In 1953, Enahoro became the first to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence which was eventually granted in 1960 after several political setbacks and defeats in parliament. Enahoro has been regarded by academics and many Nigerians as the ‘Father of Nigeria State.’
What was Nigeria called before colonization?
Nigeria used to be called the ‘Benin Empire’ before colonization. Not to be confused with present-day Benin, a different country altogether.
Who is the father of patriotism in Nigeria?
Nigerian nationalism is territorial nationalism and emphasizes a cultural connection of the people to the land, particularly the Niger and the Benue Rivers. It first emerged in the 1920s under the influence of Herbert Macaulay, who is considered to be the founder of Nigerian nationalism.
How to Observe Democracy Day
Find out more about Abiola
Abiola may have had the Presidency snatched from him, but history remembers his courage. Take time today to read his extraordinary story.
Watch films on Nigeria’s pro-democracy movement
“The Supreme Piece” by Joanna Lipper is a riveting documentary that brings historical events to life. The film traces the evolution of Nigeria’s movement to restore democracy.
Share information on the day
Talk about Democracy Day on social media. Share credible resources and information on the day.
5 Facts About Nigeria That Will Blow Your Mind
A nation of polyglots
Nigeria contains 7% of all languages spoken on earth.
Oil makes the economy go round
Nigeria produces an average of 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day.
Nigeria’s movie industry is called Nollywood — the second largest after Bollywood.
A tribe of many twins
Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe has the highest rate of twin births than anywhere else.
The legendary “Walls of Benin”
“The Walls of Benin” are one of the largest man-made structures after the “Great Wall of China.”
Why Democracy Day is Important
Context makes perfect
It’s no secret that mainstream history tends to be unidimensional. What we see of Nigeria on T.V. is far from the truth. Democracy Day is a good day for a history deep-dive.
To never take things for granted
Democracy is a hard-won, often bloody battle. Nigeria’s story reminds us to value the freedom we otherwise take for granted.
Perhaps it’s too late, but Democracy Day gives M.K.O. Abiola his due. The rightful President of Nigeria whose story will inspire generations to come.
Democracy Day dates