Fellow Nigerians, it is with a heart full of sadness that I address you today.
I have in the last three decades devoted my life to the battle to birth and deepen democracy in our country. It was a battle that started during the military era. It was a struggle that nearly cost me my life and that of my son, Adamu, in Kaduna. I survived the assassination only by the mercies and grace of God.
Following that attack, I was forced into exile. But that attack claimed the precious lives of some police officers. That was not all: my businesses were nearly crippled and my signature business was eventually appropriated by the maximum ruler of that era. My commitment to enthroning democracy ensured that I joined forces with other compatriots. As a leader of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), we fought and won the 1993 presidential election, which was acclaimed as the fairest and freest election in our history. Sadly, Chief MKO Abiola, who embodied that hope for the birth of a new Nigeria, paid the ultimate price. Our fight to enthrone democracy continued. Indeed, the motivating factor for the birth of the Peoples Democratic Party was to force the exit of the military from the government and their permanent return to the military barracks.
Following the exit of the military and the advent of democratic rule in 1999, I did not rest on my oars. I deployed the same level of commitment to advance and deepen our democracy. I did this because our democracy was bought at a huge price for human lives. My mentor and true Nigerian hero, who this venue for which we are gathered this evening is named for, was one of those who paid the ultimate price in that battle. So, also was Chief Alfred Rewane, Chief MKO Abiola and his dear wife, Chief (Mrs) Kudirat Abiola.
It was also for this reason that I sacrificed my political aspiration and fought against the actualisation of the Third Term. Whether during the military or civilian era, I have, no matter how inconvenient, pitched my tent with the people against dictators. During the military regime, it nearly cost me my life and the near decimation of my businesses. In the civilian administration, it had serious adverse implications on my political life. But I have remained undaunted because I was, and am still convinced, that the only reason why I am in politics is to work in tandem with other compatriots in the advancement of the well-being of the people. The 2023 presidential election presented our nation and its people with the greatest opportunity for a reset. We had everything going for us: a legal framework in the 2022 Electoral Act and the BVAS technology. The enthusiasm of Nigerians to turn out in large numbers was an added bonus.
However, the dreams and aspirations of Nigerians who braced all the challenges to go and cast their votes on Saturday, 25th of February, 2023, were shattered by the conduct of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which failed to live up to expectations. The weekend election was neither free nor fair. Preliminary assessments indicate that it is the worst conducted elections since the return to democratic rule. The manipulation and fraud that attended this election were unprecedented in the history of our nation. I can still not understand why the electoral umpire was in such a hurry to conclude the collation and announcement of the result, given the number of complaints of irregularities of bypassing of the BVAS, failure of uploading to the IREV, and unprecedented cancellations and disenfranchisement of millions of voters in breach of the Electoral Act and the commission’s own guidelines. It was indeed a rape of democracy.
Having consulted with leaders of our party and Nigerians from different walks of life, I have come to the conclusion that the processes and outcome of the Presidential and National Assembly election of last Saturday were grossly flawed in every material particular, and as such must be challenged. This has been attested to by both local and international observers. I want to believe that this was not the legacy that President Muhammadu Buhari had promised. For President Buhari, it is not too late to make amends for the good of our country and future generations and indeed to assure his legacy.
This battle to right the wrongs of Saturday is not about me. It is a continuation of my battles to deepen democracy and for a better life for our people. It is about the future of Nigerian youths. I know that Nigerians, especially the youth, are traumatised by the developments, but I want to urge them to conduct themselves peacefully. Like I have done over the years, I assure you that I will commit the rest of my life to ensure that true democracy, which affirms the supremacy of your votes and your will, will take firm footing and guarantee a stable, prosperous and peaceful Nigeria. This is more so as Nigeria represents the hope of Africa and the Black World.
It is my hope that the judiciary will redeem itself this time around and rise to society’s expectations as the last HOPE. In the end, who wins is not as important as the credibility of our elections and electoral processes. I call on all men and women of goodwill to join hands with us in the vanguard to defend our constitution from the brigandage of anti-democratic forces.
Finally, I urge Nigerians to remain vigilant and resolute. You have the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom to choose your leaders. We will not sit idly by and watch your rights taken from you. Your voices will be heard.
May God bless you, and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Atiku Abubakar, GCON, Waziri Adamawa, Vice President of Nigeria (1999 – 2007), 2023 PDP Presidential Candidate.
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