SHONEKAN AND HIS INTERIM GOVERNMENT

No one heard of it before. It came from the then General Olusegun Obasanjo: The Interim National Government. Even then, many did not know the idea came from Obasanjo, until it had come and gone.

There was palpable fear in the land, and it was difficult to predict what would happen next. But whatever it was, many knew it could not be peace, but disaster. Many thoughts General Ibrahim Babangida, the self-acclaimed Evil Genius, was not going, as there was no serious planning for him to leave office. There was infighting and intense rivalry in the military.  The political class was in disarray, and the general public had taken laws into their own hands. The killings had just begun.

Something terrible was about to happen, but it was difficult to foresee how destructive it would be. It was under this foreboding atmosphere that Obasanjo, in July 1993, suggested the idea of an Interim Government to IBB. Though Babangida was very suspicious of this “Greek gift” from his former boss, most especially when the General had placed himself and some of his colleagues in the past-Presidents-league to act as the ruler of the so-called National Government, he accepted the plan. But Babangida sensed danger, and he parried most of the details in Obasanjo’s suggestions.

Obasanjo had proposed to Babangida the creation of two organs. The first was to consist of the Presidential Council made up of five eminent, accomplished and distinguished Nigerians. He suggested former heads of state, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, General Yakubu Gowon, General Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. The name of Babangida was not included. And this was where the man became uncomfortable. He knew that at least three of these five past leaders were not his best of friends i.e. Obasanjo, Shagari and Buhari. He had offended them differently.

Obasanjo had proposed the second organ, that is an Interim Government that would be formed and run by the first organ (the Presidential Council). That was why till date, many critics of Obasanjo would say he planned the Interim Government so he could head and become the President by proxy. Why, Obasanjo was the only agile southerner, Azikiwe was close to ninety, he could not have been chosen to lead the team; Gowon, Shagari and Buhari were from the north, and if the plan would work, it must be headed by a southerner. Obasanjo knew this and Babangida too.

IBB was a clever brass hat. He had taken Obasanjo’s advice, promising to get back to the old general.  But he did not because he had reasoned that if Obasanjo could not find a way for him in his own plan, he too should feel free to block Obasanjo’s way to the Government House through the back door. He liked the idea this much; it was an exit plan for him. He had serious problems with his constituency (the military), the political class, the northern leaders and the general public. How would he had come out of this without a scratch. Obasanjo had come to the rescue.

Immediately Obasanjo left, he put on his own thinking cap calling his own men within the two parties and gave them instructions on what to do. The leaders of the two parties – SDP and NRC – must meet with NEC (National Electoral Commission) to resolve the political logjam. Meanwhile, the NEC was a new creation of Babangida. It owed its existence to his magnanimity. So, the Chairman, Professor Okon Uya, took orders and advice if any directly from the President. With this at the background, one could predict what the outcome of such meeting would be.

But the SDP was playing hard to get. On Wednesday, 21 July 1993, it refused to have any parley with NRC and the NEC. NEC had to threaten the party leaders that if they failed to show up on Friday, 23 July 1993, they should be ready to weather whatever storm their recalcitrance generated. And the threat worked. By Friday, the SDP leaders were at the meeting, led by their Chairman, Tony Anenih. At this meeting in Abuja, the parties and NEC agreed on dialogue to resolve the stalemate. And that was the beginning of the acceptance of the Interim Government as the only way out. Babangida’s men were at work.

The party leaders were kept in Abuja. They said they should continue to meet and dialogue, and another meeting with NEC had been fixed for Tuesday, 27 July 1993. But it had started to leak that NRC and SDP might opt and canvass for a National government.  The leak had it that the leaders of the two parties were thinking in the same direction. That showed how efficient the Babangida foot soldiers had become. When two opposing political parties start to think alike, there may be trouble for the citizenry.

And Obasanjo was happy. He had thought the mentioning of “National Government” meant that Babangida was tilting towards his plan, but was just wondering why the junior general had not called him so that he could put him through the more. He believed this would soon happen, he would be invited.  And it was in this mood of happiness that Obasanjo sent a message to all Nigerians on Monday, 26 July 1993 thus: Tell Nigerians that there will be no civil war.”

He was speaking from his Ota farm house. He said he had gone round the country and held consultations with eminent people, emirs, traditional rulers, the two political parties and Chief Moshood Abiola and he was convinced that there would not be any war.

Babangida was also happy. He could now tell two outgoing envoys at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, an amicable and generally acceptable resolution of the political crisis was in sight.  And when Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji led about 200 of the womenfolk to him on Wednesday, 28 July 1993, he told them, “Within the next couple of days, we will come up with the best way forward.”

And so, it was, for on that same day, the two parties, NRC and SDP, opted for Interim Government. At their meeting with senior officials of the National Electoral commission (NEC) in Abuja, the parties raid that a fresh election preferred by the federal government was not feasible in the 30 days left before the then August 27 terminal date for military rule.

A communiqué at the end of their meeting on 28 July 1993 said: “Following our continuing resolve to finding an acceptable political solution to the present impasse and the need to avoid further violence and bloodshed the end of which may be unpredictable, we, the two political parties, after due consultations with the leaders of our political parties, had resolved to revisit the option of Interim National Government as a way out of the present crisis in the greater national interest.”

That was it, it was the first time “Interim National Government” would be used by the parties. The date was 28 July 1993. The communiqué was signed by Tony Anenih for SDP; Hammed Kusamotu for NRC; and Okon Uya, the NEC Chairman.

Many did not know this development from the beginning and they were still skeptical that he would leave the Presidential Villa. But to show how serious he was, and his government’s interest in the new arrangement, he met with the political leaders on Saturday, 31 July 1993. There he announced the military government’s acceptance of the Interim National Government proposal which would replace the Transitional Council but with all the political-military structures including the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) and the National Assembly still intact.

That same day, a preliminary committee, comprising representatives of the two political parties and those of the federal government was constituted by the government. It was headed by Augustus Aikhomu, the Vice President, and it was to come out with workable modalities for the Interim Government. But the politicians did not like it, and Obasanjo too became very alert!

Obasanjo would not want to believe that this was the same suggestion he gave to IBB, for the whole idea had been put in a different mould and coming out with unclear product. Obasanjo knew that all this Aikhomu Committee and the political parties’ gesticulations were just a ruse. He sensed Babangida might not want to go, but preparing a ground whereby he would be the only candidate to head the Interim Government.

But many politicians were no longer interested in what happened to the past election. All they wanted was to have a piece of the action. They could not wait for Abiola or his June 12. If IBB would head the Interim Government and bring in the coveted national cake, so be it. And the jostling started in earnest. Who would head the ING was the major question in August 1993?

Quickly, the Aikhomu Committee had come out with a report. The Interim Government would comprise of military officers and civilians, and this heightened the disquiet in Obasanjo, as he saw his earlier calculation coming through: Babangida wanted to head the Interim Government. And there were indications to this. Some politicians started speaking through the cheeks, Babangida was experienced and he was the only one who could sail the ship of the interim arrangement.

But others were also busy calculating: Yar’Adua, Abiola, Abacha and those who believed Babangida had had enough, he should just go. The Babangida men moved to the National Assembly, trying to let the assembly agree to adopt IBB as the main man for the interim. The working was on, only that the National Assembly had its own plan: it wanted the Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu to lead the temporary government, and they had resolved that if Ayu could not get it, Babangida would not.

Then Obasanjo too moved, he called prominent Nigerians who were members of his association (Association for Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria (ADGN) to his Ota Farm on Monday 9 August 1993, there they resolved that if by August 27, the military did not leave, Nigerians should commence a peaceful no violence demonstration. Muhammadu Buhari was there, Alani Akinrinade, Bolanle Awe, Bamanga Tukur, Lawan Dambasau, Frederick Faseun, Biyi Durojaiye, Ebun Oyagbola, Adebayo Adedeji, Ladosu Ladapo and others.

Obasanjo, in his address said Babangida should come out in plain terms what he meant by this Interim Government, who are the members of the government, and what would be the tenure.  Then the northern leaders too came out, saying that no serving officer should be member of the Interim Government.  All this were signals, and Babangida knew where they were coming from: Obasanjo of course. So, on Tuesday, 17 August 1993, he faced the National Assembly and offered to resign. It was at this meeting with the members of the House that he declared he would hand over to an Interim Government on August 25. Nothing could be more sonorous to the ears, and Obasanjo quickly jumped in to dance to the melodious tune. “I support Interim Government, “he had said. And the newspapers reported:

“A plan for Interim National Government outlined by President Ibrahim Babangida in an address to the National Assembly has received qualified support from former head of state Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo.

But like a cloud after a heavy rain, doubts persisted in some political camps about the implications of the President’s speech for Nigeria’s march towards a fully democratic dispensation. Cautious optimism, cynicism and disbelief characterized appraisals of the address in which Gen. Babangida offered to “step aside” for the Interim National Government billed to assume office on August 25.

Obasanjo supported the idea of raising an Interim Government although he dismissed President Ibrahim Babangida’s offer to “step-aside” as mere sophistry. For him, the Interim Government plan offers a compromise solution to the lingering political quagmire. But he believed Gen. Babangida was holding back on his real designs.

Gen. Obasanjo, renowned for his critical candor on government policies and actions, said the political fog had not been cleared by the President’s “confusing posture” in his address to the National Assembly. He would rather that Gen. Babangida unveiled the finite implications of the planned arrangement rather than merely offer to step aside. The President had however said in his address that details of the interim government plan would be unfolded soon.

Although he was hitherto a strong advocate of sanctity of the annulled June 12 presidential election, Obasanjo said he now supported the Interim Government because it offered the most pragmatic way of enthroning democracy.

Interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) yesterday, Obasanjo said: “We must get President Ibrahim Babangida out to get democracy.”

Gen. Obasanjo, Chairman of the Association for Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria (ADGN), believes democracy cannot thrive while Gen. Babangida remains in office as president. “If an Interim Government is what will get him out to have democracy, I will go for an interim government,” he said.

He refuted reports that he abandoned Chief Abiola, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate widely but unofficially acknowledged to have won the cancelled poll, in the lurch. “Rather, there remained little room for negotiation after the SDP consented to the Interim Government proposals,” he said.

Even, with the talks and promises by Babangida to move out on August 27, no one believed him. They were still hoping for a shift, waiting to know when the man generally called Maradona would pull out another joker from his resourceful bag of tricks. Not until Wednesday, 25 August 1993, when it was reported thus: “Bello swears in Interim Government tomorrow” and the news read:

Members of the proposed Interim National Government will be sworn in tomorrow by Chief Justice Mohammed Bello, in what marked a slight shift from the earlier advertised take-off date of the government —today.

President Ibrahim Babangida’s Chief Press Secretary, Duro Onabule, said yesterday that the swearing in would be preceded tomorrow by a farewell parade for the President who may formally retire from the Armed Forces thereafter. Preparations for the parade were underway yesterday at the new parade ground, Abuja, where soldiers rehearsed their roles.

Gen. Babangida is also expected to deliver a valedictory address to the nation tomorrow.

The composition of the Interim Government however, remained hazy yesterday, with the government yet to name the members. A source at the Presidency said “The situation is still fluid. Even we have not seen the enabling decree setting up the Interim Government. The President is still keeping his cards close to his chest. Anything can still happen.”

Tomorrow’s swearing in is scheduled for the council chambers at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Expectations were high yesterday that relevant sections of the suspended 1989 constitution may be proclaimed by the Chief Justice to facilitate operations of the Interim Government.

Details of the new government may emerge today, or be contained in tomorrow’s broadcast by Gen. Babangida, who held a meeting yesterday with the Armed Forces service chiefs at the Presidential Villa.

On Monday, chairmen of the two political parties held a closed-door meeting with Presidency officials for four hours. Sources at the meeting said discussions centered on feasible solutions to the political logjam occasioned by the annulment of the June 12 presidential election.

In preparation for tomorrow’s ceremony, Transitional Council Chairman, Chief Ernest Shonekan, yesterday read a farewell address to members of the council at the State House, Abuja. He reviewed the council’s performance in the past eight months, hopeful that history would be kind to members as regards their ability or otherwise, to fulfill set objectives.

Shonekan said: “Although we may not have fully succeeded in accomplishing the objectives at the commencement of our tenure, there is no doubt that we have made some giant strides. Indeed, I want to say that a lot has been achieved in laying the ground work for future success.

“I have always believed that history is the best judge of whatever we do in the service of our fatherland. Even though we may not have made an enduring impact on the generality of our people, I have no doubt at all that the verdict of history will vindicate our tenure, its unusual short nature notwithstanding.

“As you very well know, governance is a continuous process in the sense that all the problems confronting a nation cannot be meaningfully addressed in one fell swoop. Put simply, no single administration can provide all the solutions to our numerous problems. What is important is to make a bold attempt, and I believe we have not been found wanting in this respect.”

Shonekan however stressed the need for Nigerians to “demonstrate patience” with the government in tackling Nigeria’s immense problems. “Policy measures, no matter how well-intentioned, require time to work themselves through.

The out-going Transitional Council chairman also received yesterday the final re-committee headed by Chief Clement Isong. He lauded the 11-member committee’s efforts, saying the body discharged its duties effectively.

Shonekan also promised to present the committee’s report as part of the hand-over notes of the Transitional Council, with a strong recommendation that its contents be considered.”

 

With this, the movement had begun, celebrations were even noticed among some members of the political class; all they were saying was that once Babangida leaves, the politicians would know what to do. On 25 August 1993, many of the powerful men of the time started moving from Lagos to Abuja to witness the change of guards.

Then came the day, 26 August 1993, when Babangida pulled out, and the Interim Government took over. The joy was much, for many had thought it would never happen: IBB would not go. But on this day, he left the army, left the government, and headed back home. And it was reported this way: Shonekan heads 32-member Interim Government. And the news on 27 August 1993: “National leadership changed yesterday with Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan emerging as Head of Interim National Government. He presumably succeeded President Ibrahim Babangida who bowed out with the former federal government structure.

Sworn in yesterday afternoon in Abuja by’ Chief Justice Mohammed Bello, the former Transitional Council chairman, heads a 32-member government whose other members will take the oath’ of office at 10 a.m. today at the State House, Abuja.

Shonekan was designated Head of Interim Government, with the exact nature of the new arrangement still somewhat hazy. The former Vice President, Augustus Aikhomu – led committee that worked out the operational modalities of the new government had recommended that the leader be designated Head of State.

The Interim Government’s tenure may also not be known until the decree giving it legal muscle is rolled out. President Babangida only hinted yesterday that the tenure might be less than the 16 months proposed by the Aikhomu Committee. “We cut it (the tenure) to’ make it shorter,” he told State House reporters, adding that “the longer it (the Interim Government) stays the more problems it is bound to face.”

Nine members of the former Transition Council are retained in the interim government. Besides Shonekan, there are Alhaji Aminu Sale, Chief Matthew’ Mbu, Alhaji Saidu Isa, Mr. Uche Chukwumerije, Mr. Clement Akpamgbo, Mr. Barnabas Gemade and Alhaji Mustapha Umaru. Most of them retained their former portfolios.

Defense Secretary, Gen. Sani Abacha and Federal Capital Territory (FTC) Administrator Major-General Gado Nasko are also in the new arrangement.

New hands included former Chairman of the Directorate for Social Mobilization (MAMSER), Prof. Jerry Gana. Chairman of BEWAC Plc, Mrs. Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, renowned economist. Prof. Sam Aluko, and a pharmacist, Mr. Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi. There is also former secretary to the Kano State Government, Alhaji Abba Dabo.

President Babangida hoped the new government’s tenure would be adequate for it to fulfill its objectives.

Shonekan said yesterday that the successful conclusion of the political transition was paramount.

In his acceptance address, he lauded Gen Babangida’s resolve to quit the stage. “The decision bears testimony to his (Babangida’s)unrivalled sense of patriotism, courage and selflessness in the service of this nation.”

He added: “For eight years. he (Babangida) had been at the top piloting the affairs of this great nation. He has seen the ups and downs. as well as the attractions and distractions of public service. Furthermore, he has learnt to bear with fortitude, strident criticisms and vitriolic attacks which, regrettably, have become prominent features of our national life.

“I believe it is beyond debate that President Babangida is leaving an indelible mark on the economic, political and social aspects of our national life. That he has unleashed a revolution in our public life is no doubt. He is one leader who tried his best to leave our country better than he met it.”

Shonekan reassured Nigeria’s foreign partners “that its commitment to the important elements of the New World Order, particularly democratisation, should not be in doubt,”

The Deputy Head of Interim Government was not named at yesterday’s ceremony.

The swearing in was witnessed by former Vice President Aikhomu, the Chief of Defence Staff. Gen. Abacha, Armed Forces service chiefs and the Police Inspector-General, who also retired yesterday.

There were also state governors and representatives of those absent. They included-Mr. Rufus Ada-George-{Rivers) Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo (Enugu). Chief Felix lbru (Delta). Dr. Ogbonaya Onu (Imo) Birnin Kudu (Jigawa), Alhaji Dabo Lcre (Kaduna), Obong Akpan Isemin (Akwa Ibom) and Rev. Jolly Nyame (Taraba).

Gen. “Babangida. who told reporters at the ceremony that he would retire to Minna, his home town, looked’ into the future, saying the immediate task before him would be “to find my bearing within my own environment?”

He re-stated his intention to engage in “various intellectual pursuits:’ adding: “I hope this will make me fairly alert.  Eight years is like yesterday.

Former Vice-President Aikhomu also plans return to his ancestral town, Irrua in Edo State today. He too canvassed the support of Nigerians for the Interim Government in the nation’s interest.

In his capacity as Head of Interim Government, Shonekan may• function from the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, where he was based as Transition Council Chairman. But he may not have at his convenience the use of the council chambers and press center at the Presidential Villa. “This is because only a democratically elected president will be morally justified to live here (Presidential Villa) and use the office,” Presidency sources said.

Yesterday’s swearing in was not attended by Senate President, Dr. lyorchia Ayu, although he earlier attended the farewell military parade held in honour of Gen. Babangida. But the House of Representatives Speaker, Chief Agunwa Anaekwe, was present.

And from this day, Earnest Adegunle Shonekan became the Nigerian Head of the Interim National Government, but it was the beginning of other problems that would shake the national structure to its foundation. The problems of the Interim Government, it became so enormous that it swallowed its handlers. What happened? It is in the next edition of the Historical Flashback on 8 October 2013.

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