The trouble started right from the beginning of his tenure. Though, on Tuesday, 7 September 1993, Iyorchia Ayu, the then Senate President described the National Interim Government as a “Child of necessity,” it had been known from the day of the swearing-in that the Interim Government was a child of trouble: It was a contraption full of lies as a colander is full of holes; and those who had a built-in instinct for danger knew a bigger crisis was on its way to the land.
First, the administrators did not even know the tenure of their government because it was not specific, lawyers and political bookmakers were still working on the rules guiding the government as the leaders were taking their oath of office. Second, the Head of the Interim Government, Earnest AdegunleShonekan, was not acceptable to political leaders of the South, he was a stranger to them, and they did not want to have a thing doing with him.
The most dangerous of it all was that a python, ready to swallow was left under the bed of the Head of the NIG. The military, led by General Sani Abacha kept a sneering watch over the new arrangement. By 28 August 1993, the question was: Who was the Commander in Chief? The apparent power vacuum at the apex of the armed forces persisted as the National Interim Government waited for the decree giving it legal muscle and bite.
It was like Shonekan knew, and he was acting very fast to save the situation. On 28 August, he appealed to his kinsmen, canvassing for support. People were very hostile to his acceptance of the job. The mood of the grassroots from the area was that he was not in the right place, and some of the leaders, traditional rulers inclusive, thought he had embarrassed the zone, and they loved to hate him. In an open letter, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, an influential leader in Ibadan, said “The issue of politics today is beyond the illogical appeal to tribal sentiments which your appointment essentially seeks to manifest.”
But Shonekan could not be deterred: he wanted to get the support of the people from his zone, for he realised that was the centre of the problem. He quickly ordered the release of human rights activists and journalists detained in the wake of the controversial June 12 election annulment. Dr Beko Ransome Kuti, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana were ordered to be released by the Head of State on 29 August 1993.
On Tuesday, 31 August 1993, Shonekan delivered his maiden address to the nation. He tried to convince all, saying he accepted to be the Head of the National Interim Government because he wanted to ensure the military disengagement from governance and pave way for democracy. Regretting that his acceptance had been misconstrued, Shonekan said: “Let me assure you fellow Nigerians, that if there had been an alternative way of making the military disengaged and our march to full democratisation as an indivisible entity assured, I would have embarked on a long deserved vacation.”
Well, good in terms of rhetorics, the speech did not convince his opponents, not even those who put him there. To the South, he was seen as an usurper, and to the North he was a stop-gap. Not even when he was designated the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the powers of the National Assembly restored through the Basic Constitutional Provisions Decree 61 of 1993 as released on 31 August, 1993, did he in any sense have the powers, since the architect of his political castle thought he was a masquerade to play with.
While Abiola was speaking form Washington that he was ready for dialogue to resolve the political impasse, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, on Wenesday, 1 September 1993, advised Abiola to accept as act of fate the annulment of the June 12 election. Dasuki wanted Abiola to return home to contribute to Nigeria’s development, instead of staying abroad to create more enemies for Nigeria.
During the Eid-el-Maulud celebration organised by the Sokoto State chapter of the Jama’atulNasril Islam in Sokoto, the Sultan described as unfortunate calls by Abiola for foreign countries to impose sanctions on Nigeria. He said no patriotic Nigerian could make such a call on his fatherland and he never expected Abiola as a true moslem to insist on “invading or attacking” his country to satisfy his personal desire.
This coming from the Sultan angered not few politicians from the South, they now believed the Sultan had never been in support of a Southerner ruling the country. The National Consultative Forum of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), quickly met and urged the National Assembly to compel the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to formally release the remaining result of the June 12 election and swear in Chief Moshood Abiola and Ambassador Baba GanaKingibe.
At this meeting were Kingibe, members of National Executive, governors, National Assembly members, speakers and members of the state houses of assembly, party elders and party leaders nationwide; indeed, it was the SDP’s highest decision making body. And this meeting and its demand spun the Shonekan Interim Government into administrative giddiness, careering out of control. From then on, proponents of June 12 actualisation started milling a round the Head of State, itching for action.
And it came to pass when the Head of State called the first meeting of the governors of the 30 states of Nigeria on 8 September 1993, the SDP governors from the Yoruba-speaking states were conspicuously absent. Segun Osoba (Ogun), Kolapo Isola (Oyo), Isiaka Adeleke (Osun) and Bamidele Olumilua (Ondo) refused to attend the parley, saying they did not want to have any link with the Interim Government in order to press home their demand that the June 12 election must be revisited. Governors at the meeting disagreed along party lines: NRC governors endorsed the Interim Government, their SDP counterparts disowned it.
But Shonekan was happy after the jaw-jaw, he believed other governors would succumb, just a matter of time. As he was about to celebrate this ice-breaking, a shocker crammed into his internal sense of euphoria, displacing it for panic: MKO Abiola was coming home. Yes, Kingibe announced on Wednesday, September 8, 1993, that Abiola would arrive the following Sunday “to start consultations with the leadership of the country, and to prepare to keep faith with the irreversible mandate bestowed on him by the people of this country on June 12.”
Not at this moment, Shonekan thought. But Kingibe said it was the party that was advising Abiola to return, and Abiola had no personal say on this: he must return. And like an echo from a distant call, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) Archbishop, Most Rev Abiodun Adetiloye, restated that the annulled June 12 presidential election held the key to Nigeria’s unity. He said any attempt to dump the poll on history lane and conduct a fresh one would result to trouble, disunity as well as tribal and ethnic conflicts.
Adetilolye had written a “pastoral letter to the people of Nigeria” on September 9, 1993 and insisted there was no need for Shonekan’s interim booby-trap. But the Head of State was the worst hit. Why? He was an Anglican, and that was the head of his church in Nigeria speaking.
All the same, the Interim Government’s rain-makers quickly advised Shonekan: listen not to your church leader; plan a new election NOW. So, the Interim Government started working on how presidential and council elections could be held on 19 February 1993. With the announcement and preparations for these elections, Shonekan believed his Interim Government would be allowed to stay.
But this might not work: Eastern leaders met on September 10, 1993, rejected fresh elections and the Interim Government. Ten prominent Igbo sons criticised the proposal for a fresh election when a valid mandate was given by Nigerians on June 12. The 10 Igbo leaders were Chief Christian Onoh, Commodore EbituUkiwe, Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Dr Uma Eleazu, Chief P. C. Onuoha, Chief Chris Nwankwo, Chief Guy Ikoku, Chief Francis Ozomah, Professor U. U Uche and Dr Eustace. E. Eke. They said they were speaking on behalf of all Igbo, home and abroad.
Shonekan could not allow Abiola to come in under this heat, the Interim Government might be smoked out. So, scare was thrown the way of Abiola abroad, Shonekan got in touch with him to delay his coming: the atmosphere was not conducive, he told him, and he promised to personally come down for a meeting with him. And Abiola postponed his home coming.
Meanwhile, Shonekan quickened his canvass for dialogue as the best means of clearing the political fog. He had visited Sokoto, Kano, Maiduguri and Benin, it was the turn of Lagos on Sunday, 12 September 1993. And he came. Governor Michael Otedola was his host, and together they visited the Oba of Lagos, Adeyinka Oyekan in his palace. There, Shonekan said he believed in dialogue, adding “there are various ways of resolving differences, the best being a round table conference.”
But the dialogue campaign seemed ineffective because on Monday 13 September 1993, and barely three weeks into the Interim National Government, his composition was faulted by Northern leaders of thought who asked the Head of State to reshuffle his cabinet immediately. The belief was that the cabinet housed too many Southerners, and the skewing might work against the interest of the North. So, members of the Northern Consultative Group met in Kaduna, advocating the reshuffle to ensure fairer representation in the government.
This same Monday, and because of the mounting complaints against MKO Abiola’s delay in returning from overseas, Social Democratic Party (SDP) leaders left Nigeria for the United States to bring him back. The deferred home coming which had generated disappointment among his supporters had been attributed to perceived threat to his life and fears that his return might heighten security tension. This was the reason for the leaders to go for him, for they knew from where the bangers of fear were being fired. And off they went.
But before then, another problem was brewing of which the Head of State did not know how to curtail. The military had its own problem, and Sani Abacha, the Defence Secretary, was running a different but calculated show from that of his so called C-in-C. While Shonekan was “dialoguing” the Defence Secretary, on 3 September 1993, removed Lt-Gen Joshua Dongoyaro as the Chief of Defence Staff and Air Commodore NsikakNduak as the Chief of Air Staff. It was barely a week into their appointment.
The Head of State did not know that they would be sacked or why they were caged until Abacha told him it was to balance the lop-sidedness in the military. He quickly put Oladipo Diya in as the Chief of Defence Staff and Femi John Femi as the Chief of Air. Because both were Yoruba, and Dongoyaro had earlier been painted as an implacable enemy of Abiola and his mandate, the June 12 agitators saw the sack as a welcomed development, since the news was that Abacha supported democracy and had promised to pave way for Abiola to get his mandate back.
With this, no one complained. Whereas, Abacha was removing the obstacles in his own march towards the government house, for Dongoyaro was an immovable clog that could block his way. He feared Dongoyaro and some of the Babangida Boys. So, on Monday, 20 September 1993, Lt-Gen Joshua NimyelDongoyaro and GarubaDuba dropped their uniforms, and Lt-Gen Oladipo Diya mounted the saddle as the Chief of Defence Staff. He received the paraphernalia of office from Sani Abacha, and he was an Abacha make.
And from this day, the crack in the Interim Government’s began, but the head of the house did not know. Abacha had by now put his own men in charge of all military formations, and he also had the ears of the June 12 agitators who saw him as their eyes in the Shonekan conclave. He had given the nod that MKO Abiola could return, saying he had silenced all the enemies of the mandate.
That was the situation until Wednesday, 22 September 1993, when Abiola wrote to Nigerians, and there was panic in the government circle. This was how the news was reported:
Abiola to Nigerians: I come in peace
“Chief Moshood Abiola last night confirmed his plan to return to Nigeria tomorrow after a 53-day international campaign for sanctity of the voided June 12 presidential election.
“The Social Democratic Party (SDP) torchbearer, however, stressed the need for his return to be peaceful and orderly, saying in a statement from London last night: “I return in peace, I appeal to all those who may wish to welcome me back to do so in as peaceful an atmosphere as that which prevailed during the landmark event of June’ 12, 1993, when the fairest, freest and most peaceful election in the history of Nigeria took place, and was so hailed both nationally and internationally.”
“Yesterday’s statement entitled: “I come in peace,” recounted merits of the polls annulled by the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. But it stressed the need for national unity which, for Abiola, the election underscored. He said “On June 12, 1993, Nigerians acted together as people of the same nation and gave an overwhelming mandate to the Abiola-Kingibe ticket which cuts across all ethnic and religious barriers.
“This sets the tone for new unity of purpose on which we can build limitless prosperity in the future as one nation.”
“Abiola added: ‘The Nigeria we agreed to build in the spirit of June 12 1993, must be a tolerant and totally accommodating nation in which all citizens can live and work together wherever they choose in our great country.’
“Against the backdrop of mass movement of persons who returned to their respective states of origin in anticipation of civil strife in the wake of the June poll annulment, he said: “I call on all Nigerians to return to their chosen places of work, wherever it may be in our country without fear, let or hindrance. I personally guarantee the safety and security of all Nigerians in the spirit of June 12, 1993.”
“Abiola is expected to arrive to a rousing but orderly reception tomorrow, having completed his mission to garner international support for upholding the June presidential election which he is widely believed to have won. His arrival at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos scheduled for 2 p.m, will climax repeated postponements of his return from a trip he began on August 3 in somewhat controversial circumstances.
“Security measures have been tightened in anticipation of the home coming which the national coordinator of Abiola’s Hope ’93 campaign outfit, Dr. Jonathan Zwingina, said yesterday would mark a turning point in the struggle for validation of the June 12 electoral mandate.
Apparently mindful of allegations of security lapses being the reason for repeated deferment of the homecoming, supporters have met adequate security agencies, and received pledges of full cooperation from operatives, including those at the airport.
“The safety of Abiola’s person became an issue to avoid a replay of the Philipine experience in 1987 when opposition leader, Senator Beniano Aquino was murdered on his return from exile in the United States. But Zwingina said “We have no doubt whatsoever that the police and the various security agencies that we have contacted are very cooperative and willing to assist in order for us to have a very orderly reception for Abiola and an orderly return to his house.”
“Yesterday, journalists covering Hope ‘93 campaign headquarters in lkeja, Lagos, noticed a police helicopter hovering over the SDP torchbearer’s residence nearby. At 11.40 am. when the police surveillance helicopter first came, it circled over the premises at least three times. It returned again at 12noon for another round of surveillance, and departed thereafter.
“Zwingina explained the ‘helicopter’s mission saying Abiola’s residence was within the airport’s vicinity, and that the police helicopter was “hovering around to find a place to land at the airport.”
“On speculations that Abiola’s personal aircraft with which he made the trip might be impounded on his arrival, the spokesman said: “I am not aware that anything has been done to make the aircraft impoundable. No offence has been committed, and I am not aware that such a move is in place. Abiola will exercise his freedom of movement and come in the aircraft of his choice. The manner of the return will be visible when he lands.” Abiola’s departure last month was unannounced and had gone largely unnoticed until he spoke to the press on his arrival in London.”
That was the report, and it was at this time that the populace began to believe that truly, MKO Abiola would be returning home. To authenticate it, it was reported the second day that the leaders of the National Assembly would welcome Abiola at the airport. Besides, a meeting of the SDP leaders had been fixed for the same day. This was the news of the day:
Ayu, Anaekwe, governors to welcome Abiola today
LAGOS will today host an unusual gathering of political actors who are billed to receive Social Democratic Party (SDP) torchbearer, Chief Moshood Abiola, returning from a 54-day sojourn abroad.
Abiola is scheduled to arrive at 2 p.m., ending the international campaign he began on August 3 to press for the sanctity of the annulled June 12 presidential election which he is widely but unofficially acclaimed to have won.
Governors of the 14 SDP-controlled states are expected to be at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, lkeja, Lagos, to welcome the torchbearer. Other SDP chiefs expected to be in the reception team are Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, House of Representatives Speaker. Chief AgunwaAnaekwe, the party’s national officers and those from all the states and councils as well as party elders.
SDP National Assembly members, speakers, SDP controlled state houses of assembly and members, and other party leaders are also to be at the airport.
The reception for Abiola will hold at the domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, lkeja, Lagos. Dignitaries and the public invited to welcome him are to proceed to the airport’s domestic terminal according to Hope ’93 Deputy Director of Campaign Information, Mr. Femi Oredein.
The police confirmed yesterday that Abiola is expected back in Nigeria today. Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Operations Mr. Nuhu Aliyu said the police had held meetings with reception and security committees for necessary arrangements to ensure Abiola’s personal safety.
The welcome team of party faithful would be particularly facilitated by a two day conference of the party’s elected office holders already scheduled to begin tomorrow in Lagos.
Among early arrivals yesterday from the states were former Imo State Governor, Chief Sam Mbakwe, Dr. Bala Takaya, from Adamawa State, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar and AIhaji Mohammed Arzika both from Sokoto, and Mr. Danlani Gaza, Abuja SDP chairman. Oyo State Governor, Chief KolapoIshola also left lbadan yesterday for Lagos, saying a presidential reception awaited Abiola.
Expectedly, a flurry of activities characterised yesterday’s last-minute preparations for the home- coming. At Abiola’s Hope ‘93 campaign office in Lagos, members of security, mobilisation and publicity committees raised by the SDP Consultative Forum’s central working committee busied themselves with details of their respective assignments.
For instance, while the security committee headed by Dan Suleiman, a retired Air Commodore, had reportedly been in touch with the security agencies from whom it received assurances of co- operation, the publicity committee headed by Mrs. Kate MudiagaErhuch, an SDP national officer, concluded publicity arrangements for radio and television jingles and placement of newspaper advertisement.
Alhaji Baba GanaKingibe, Abiola’s running mate in the voided poll, was driven into the campaign office at about 2:50 p.m. He headed straight for the office of the campaign Co-ordinator, Dr Jonathan Zwingina, for a closed-door meeting.
Security was also tightened at the residence and campaign offices of Abiola. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that admission into the premises was strictly by invitation, with security officials conducting rigorous scrutiny of all callers.”
This was the situation when Abiola arrived Nigeria on Friday ,24 September ,1993. And the hope of the people was truly rekindled. The joyous moment was reported by newspapers thus:
Abiola arrives Lagos to a royal welcome
Like a victorious captain arriving home to a heroic welcome, Chief Moshood Abiola flew into Lagos yesterday afternoon after a 54-day sojourn abroad to the warm embrace of a tumultuous crowd that turned out to receive him.
He touched down, 3.15 p.m., at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, in a Boeing 747 “chartered flight 01 Air France. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) torchbearer had left Nigeria in mysterious circumstances on August 3, on an international campaign for sactity of the voided June 12 presidential election which he is widely acclaimed to have won. One report said he left on the trip in his private jet.
Dressed in a grey suit, light blue shirt and a flowered silk tie, Abiola alighted the plane at about 3.30, in broad smiles and waving excitedly at the army of cheering supporters, – the sheer size of which appeared to have overwhelmed him.
He was received at the local airport terminal by political chieftains led by his running mate in the annuled poll, Mr. Baba GanaKingibe. Others included Ogun State Governor, Chief Segun Osoba; his Kwara, Edo, Osun and Oyo counterparts, Alhaji Sha’aba. Lafiagi, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, Alhaji Isiaka Adeleke, and Chief KolapoIshola. Osoba told reporters that all governors of the SDP controlled states except Taraba either came personally or sent their deputies. Other party chiefs such as Second Republic Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and his Anambra counterpart, Chief Jim Nwobodo, who could not make it to the airport stayed back at Abiola’s residence in Ikeja.
Abiola left the airport in a dark-blue Pathfinder jeep at 3:45 p.m. with a large entourage. He had resisted attempts by close aides to keep him in either of two open-roof cars – a blue Mercedes Limousine marked OG IQ and white Classic Limousine marked SOISL. He could not make any press statement, because he was besieged by the large crowd that took up virtually all available space at the presidential lounge of the airport.
Hours before the FBTDG Boeing touched down, placard-carrying party supporters from Ogun, Oyo, and Lagos states converged at the airport. They danced and entertained the crowd amid rife uncertainty as to whether Abiola had arrived earlier. Some reports yesterday had claimed that Abiola arrived on Thursday night, fuelling doubts about his whereabouts. Some speculated that he was already at home as at the time he was being expected, others said he had gone to Ibadan, Oyo State, or some other place as part of his strategy of surprise.
When eventually Abiola arrived, security agents had a hectic time making way for his entourage as the crowd surged, apparently to catch a glimpse of him amidst tight security shield. The entourage spent some five minutes to link up with the Airport Road access way to Abiola’s residence as the massive human and vehicular traffic created a logjam.
Yesterday’s reception was like a carnival, with Abiola’s supporters drumming and dancing all the way from the airport to his residence in Ikeja. Accompanying him from the airport were political stalwarts like Chief OIuFalae, AIhaji Mahmud Wazir, Alhaji Datti Ahmed an Alhaji Lateef Jakande – all former SDP presidential aspirants. There were also Dan Suleiman a retired Air Commodore, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, Chief Joseph Lambo, Senator Bola Tinubu, and Dr. Wahab Dosumu.
The traffic was periodically halted to enable Abiola acknowledge cheers from supporters amid frantic efforts by security operatives to shield him.
Before his arrival, supporters began flooding the airport as early as 10am.The president of Lagos State Market. Women and Men Association., AlhajaAbibatuMogaji, National Concord Editor, Mr. Nsikak Essien, and Rev. Chris Okotie, founder of the Household of God Fellowship, arrived the airport at 12 noon. Jakande and Lambo arrived 2 p.m., and Kwara State Governor Lafiagi, at 2.20 p.m. in company of his Agriculture Commissioner, Mr. Adams Adebola.
The inventory of other events included the arrival of Anambra State Governor, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife in company or Mbakwe at 2.30 p.m; arrival of Kingibe and Yobe State Governor, Alhaji Abba Ibrahim, at 2.10 p.m; and at 3 p.m. Air force officials, policemen and Nigerian Airports Authority (NAA) officials began to mount barricade to prevent people from getting to the point the aircraft was expected to stop at 3.05pm.
Air France vehicles and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NACHO) ground equipment, including aircraft gangway, were stationed on the tarmac. At 3.10 p.m, the aircraft that brought Abiola taxied to a stop at the presidential lounge, drawing a tumultuous applause from spectators; and 3.15 p.m., the aircraft capacity for about 540 passengers, came to a standstill and the gangway was driven to the aircraft door. Kingibe climbed the embarkation staircase to receive Abiola at 3.15p.m. He was assisted by security officials. Abiola and Kingibe, holding hands, came out first, followed by the foreign crew and aides. They raised up the SDP victory symbol and acknowledged loud ovation from the crowd.
At 3.20 p.m., Abiola’s wife, Mrs. Kudirat, accompanied by two aides walked up the gangway to embrace her husband. Abiola came down to enter Osoba’s OGSG 1 official car for departure from the airport at 3.25p.m., he rose from the open motorcade surrounded by enthusiastic supporters who mounted the car from all parts. He waved and danced to the beat of native drummers and songs from the crowd. Accompanied by governors, and other political stalwarts including Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, Abiola left the airport In a long convoy of more than 100 cars, buses and molues at about 3.40p.m.
Many supporters at the airport displayed posters proclaiming the validity of the June 12 election. Others made brisk business selling caps, scarfs, T -shirts, flags, stickers, metal badges and other items either proclaiming Abiola as President of the Third Republic or affirming validity of the voided June 12 poll. By 2.30 p.m., the crowd had already spilled onto Airport Road, forcing traffic to a standstill. It was not until AbioIa had left for his house and the crowd thinned that smooth traffic flow resumed.
But the import of Abiola’s home-coming was not lost on the government, and it made the Head of the National Interim Government jittery because the rumours making the rounds was that Sani Abacha and Oladipo Diya were the moving spirit behind Abiola’s bold arrival. And from then on, Shonekan was in trouble!