Abiola, June 12, and road not taken

MKO Abiola PHOTO: osundefender,com

MKO Abiola PHOTO: osundefender,com

TWENTY-TWO years down the road, it is necessary to understand the centrality of Chief Moshood Abiola’s sacrifice in bringing us the Fourth Republic. Chief Abiola was the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election whose victory was voided by the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida. It was Abiola’s and other heroes’ and heroines’ sacrifice that have given us the long democratic dispensation we have been enjoying since 1999.

The Abacha putsch was a coup-foretold. Few days earlier, we saw on national television, the fuzzy footage of Abiola’s visit to Abacha in Lagos. We were told later that he was accompanied on that visit by many of his top supporters including Kingibe, Jakande and a young Senator from Lagos, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Few days later, Ebenezer Babatope, and most of the other nominees of the Awoist group and the Abiola group were appointed ministers. Abacha reneged on his promise to appoint civilian deputy governors and he was determined to do worse.

How to actualize Abiola’s victory had been a matter of contention among his supporters, especially those of us ready to join the fray. In the wake of the June 12 annulment, there were many theories and suggestions on which road to take. One of the biggest supporters of Abiola originally was General Olusegun Obasanjo, the retired military ruler who was then living on his farm in Ota, Ogun State. Each time they seized copies of our publication, TELL magazine, we always ran to him for intervention. He had come out openly that Babangida must honour his pledge to hand over to an elected successor come August 27, 1993.

After the annulment was announced through a press statement distributed in Abuja by Nduka Irabor, the press secretary to military Vice-President Augustus Aikhomu, I went to Otta in the company of Dele Omotunde, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of TELL. Obasanjo was in a bellicose mood.

“Annulment or no annulment, Babangida must leave by August 27,” he said. “He made the promise, he has to keep it!”

Few days later, I tried to no avail to see Chief Abiola. I complained to General Alani Akinrinade, who advised that I should see Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, former presidential aspirant on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who was destined for the gulag under General Abacha. Durojaiye linked me up with Kudirat, Abiola’s senior wife who advised me to come 8.00 a.m. the following morning. Sure enough, I met Abiola the following day by 8 a.m. I told him the advice of the big man that he should cooperate with Shonekan so that another presidential election can be held. Abiola shook his head and said this was unacceptable.

“I did not vote for myself,” he said. “Nigerians voted for me. I have already won the presidential election. You cannot re-sit for an exam you have already passed.” It was around this period that the Lagos State high court ruled that the ING was illegal. With this judgment, Nigeria was in a legal limbo. We expected that Abiola would be sworn-in as President in a revolutionary step. There were protests across the country in his support. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote an article in the newspapers asking the military to intervene and save Nigeria from political uncertainties.

After the judicial pronouncement, events were moving at a frenetic pace. The atmosphere was charged with rumour of an impending coup which may be the result of a showdown between the military faction led by Major-General Dongoyaro and the other by Abacha. Soon, Dongoyaro and many other top military officers were fired. Then, the Abacha coup. Shonekan resigned, shown on television claiming he was handing over power to “the most senior minister.” The sacked ING chairman was allowed to pick his suitcase from Aguda House and he quickly returned home. Lucky man.

Many weeks after Abacha had settled into the bosom of power, I was admitted into the small private sitting room of Abiola, who was in a cagey mood like a tiger at bay. I told him we were confused about the turn of events. What is going to happen now about his June 12mandate? He admitted errors had been made. He pointed out two “significant errors.” One was his choice of Kingibe as his vice-presidential candidate. One of the earliest papers we presented to him was on the choice of a running mate. We had recommended a candidate from the Middle-Belt, preferably, Dan Suleiman, a retired air commodore and former military governor. But the SDP governors preferred Kingibe and Abiola went with them. He said he did not know then that Kingibe had “extensive connections and relationship” with the security agencies and the military high command.

The second error, he said, had to do with the emergence of Chief Anthony Anenih as the chairman of the SDP. He said if he had shown sufficient interest, instead of trying to placate his old friend Yar’Adua, he would have been able to ensure the victory of Chief Sergeant Awuse. With Anenih in charge, Yar’Adua came to virtually control the machinery of the SDP and it took a lot of efforts for Abiola to defeat Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Yar’Adua’s protégé, during the presidential primary of the SDP. When the annulment came, Abiola said Anenih did not consult him before “he negotiated away our victory.” It was obvious then that Abiola had given up on his old friend, Yar’Adua, and the chairman of his party, Anenih.

It was to be our last meeting. Soon, the struggle would take on new dimensions corralling into its ever expanding vortex the likes of Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Senator Abraham Adesanya, Chief Bola Ige, Soyinka, Ndubisi Kanu, General Akinrinade, Dr. Amos Akingba (a man of unfathomable courage and daring), Durojaiye, Rewane, Tola Mobolurin, Dr Frederick Fasheun, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, Kola Omojola, Chris Anyanwu, Gbenga Adebusuyi, Baba Omojola, Wahab Dosumu, Ayo Opadokun, Chief Olu Falae, Arthur Nwankwo, Senator Ayo Fasanmi, Reuben Fasoranti, Dr. Falaye Aina, Ayo Opadokun, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Otunba Solanke Onasanya, Chief Frank Kokori, Comrade Adams Oshiohmole, Mrs Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele and many, many more, especially the redoubtable old men (and young men and women) of Afenifere. Many people do not remember now that the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, was formed at a meeting in the Ikeja home of General Adeyinka Adebayo, former military governor of the defunct Western State.

Few weeks later, I met with Chief Babatope at a guest house in Ilupeju, owned by one of the parastatals of the Federal Ministry of Transport. He had now settled in as an Abacha minister. I asked him pointedly whether and when Abacha was going to hand over power to Abiola. Babatope said the situation has changed dramatically. “The National Assembly is gone, the state assemblies are gone, the governors are gone,” he said. I reminded him that General Diya, the Chief of General Staff and deputy to Abacha had said “our stay will be brief.” Babatope said the situation has become more complicated. “Only one man knows the answer,” he said unhappily. “I don’t know. Even Dipo (General Diya) doesn’t know!”

Twenty-three years later, our country deserves to know the truth about the June 12 annulment. General Babangida has repeatedly accepted responsibility for that singular act that derailed his expensive but ultimately futile transition programme, but our country and posterity deserves to know the facts that led to that decision. The truth is necessary for our liberation and progress as a country.

• Babarinsa, author and media entrepreneur, is the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Gaskia Media Limited

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