THE DAY BABANGIDA ANNULLED THE JUNE 12 ELECTION
It was a good one. Yes, very good. The electoral system called Option A4 used for the 12 June 1993 presidential elections suited the yearnings of the people then. Because results were collated and announced at each polling booth, there was little room for manipulation. It was so good that by the evening of 14 June 1993, many Nigerians and people of the international community knew the result: MKO Abiola had won. Yet, Humphrey Nwosu, the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission called NEC was nowhere to be found to announce the results. He had been taken away.
And the waiting game started. No one knew what was happening except those in Aso Rock, the Presidential Villa with the military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Whereas terrible things were happening: a group of stalematists’ who did not mean well for the nation had ambushed the President who was himself looking for a cheaper way to prolong his stay, and they were working per second to scuttle the elections. But the politicians and the populace knew not what the confusion was all about.
But there was a man with them, he saw it all. He was Omo Omoruyi, a professor of Political Science. When Babangida began his unending political transition programme, one of his first creations was the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) which served as the brain-box of the transitional engine. He was on the scene from the beginning to the end, and he was there in those crucial days of June. He saw the betrayal of the democratic rights of Nigerians, and he recorded scenes in The tale of June 12 this way:
SCENE ONE: JUNE 10, 1993
The venue was the Abuja High Court; the key or visible actors were Justice Bassey Ikpeme of Abuja High Court, Abimbola Davis of the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) and Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the NEC Chairman. The invisible actors were the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Clement Akpamgbo and the President. The issue at stake was whether the election scheduled for June 12, 1993 should be allowed to take place.
Abimbola Davis, in the name of the ABN, filed a suit against the NEC and joined the President and the Attorney General in the action. The case involved stopping the election slated for June 12, 1993, pending the determination of the substantive issue.
On the other hand, the NEC argued, without going into the merit of the case by ABN, that the election could not be stopped by virtue of the provisions of Section 19 of Decree No 13 of 1993, governing the presidential election. This provision ousted the jurisdiction of any court to entertain the case or issue an interlocutory order or ruling to affect the holding of election.
NEC also rested its case on the main Decree, i.e., Decree No 19 of 1987, especially Section 16 as amended by Decree No 26 of 1989 and Decree No 52 of 1992. The significant point in this case was that the President and the Attorney General who were joined in the suit did not put up appearance and they were not represented by counsel, not even by the Ministry of Justice lawyers.
This was unusual. It would appear that they had confidence in the capacity of the NEC to handle the matter single-handedly since all the Decrees on the transition programme supported going ahead with the June 12 election, or that they had confidence in the capacity of the ABN to demolish NEC and thereby establish the stalemate.
This ambivalent position of the President and the Attorney General had never been explained. Perhaps they were aware of the mischief which the Abuja High Court was mobilised to commit in the name of the judiciary.
What other motive can be attributed to the Judge of Abuja High Court other than that she was out for mischief and to create a stalemate rather than to bring about justice? This was obvious from the conduct of Justice (Ms.) Bassey Ikpeme on June 10, 1993. Between 9pm and 10pm on that day, Justice Bassey Ikpeme, sitting at an Abuja High Court, gave this historic ruling:
I am convinced that I have jurisdiction to hear this matter. NEC is not to determine a stable stage for democracy but only to conduct election and the decree cited by NEC does not preclude me but encourages NEC to disregard any ruling … NEC is hereby restrained from conducting the presidential election pending the determination of the substantive suit before the court.”
It should be noted that the learned judge was ruling on an application ‘for an interlocutory injunction brought before her court by the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN). The ABN had in the application prayed the court to stop the NEC from conducting the June 12 presidential election on the grounds of alleged intra-party crisis arising from the national convention of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) that was held in Jos between March 27 and 29, 1993.
Later I discovered to my amazement, embarrassment and disgust for the President that the papers the ABN used were the same “security reports” that were fabricated by security agents from the minutes of the national executive committee meeting of the SDP in which Chief Abiola agreed to provide a certain amount of money to help the party, The security reports lacked merit and the President knew so; there was no evidence that Chief Abiola fulfilled his pledge to the party.
When the candle-light judgement was delivered at about 9.30pm on June 10, 1993, my fears about the intention of the ABN surfaced. I had started to smell a rat from the day in February 1993, when I saw the leader of this organization on CNN in a Tokyo hotel. I must say that the freedom which the organization enjoyed was a source of embarrassment to those who designed the programme and those who were committed to the democratic transition.
The ABN turned out to be the instrument of the stalemate strategy; it rolled out its plan on June 10, 1993, by getting the judiciary at Abuja to halt the democratization train unlawfully. Could the President sustain the judicial ambush? We will have to move to another scene in the drama.
PRESIDENT’S REACTION TO JUSTICE IKPEME’S JUDICIAL AMBUSH
The President telephoned me to ask how, as the “promoter” of democratization, I felt about the “rule of law” in the court’s ruling. Noting that he had described Justice Ikpeme’s charade as the epitome of the rule of law, I was shocked by his question.
I directed the President to the CDS position with respect to the use of the court to ambush the democratic process. I told him that the CDS position had always been that the court should stay out of the political process, especially when and where no Decree on the transition had been violated, or where there were Decrees guiding the process.
I reminded the President that for the presidential election, there was a Decree i.e. No. 13 of 1993, guiding the whole process from the nomination of presidential candidates to the declaration of results and I pointed out to him that Section 19(1) specifically, in addition to ouster clauses in Decrees on the transition, forbids interlocutory orders of tribunals or courts, and that the Judge knew this and acknowledged it.
I further reminded the President that the Decree also covered the adjudication of disputes by the parties to the election just as we had in other elections (local and state governments) and reminded him that the litigants had no locus standi according to the Decrees. I then directed the President’s attention to the fact that the presidential election Tribunal headed by the retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Bolarinwa Babalakin, had been approved by the President and had been constituted by the Chief Justice of Nigeria as required by Decree No 13 of 1993.
I counselled that it was this tribunal which should be allowed to handle matters arising from the election after June 12, including the matters that went before the Abuja High Court. The President felt very embarrassed that I did not, and was not willing to provide justification for him as he expected from me to support the stalematists in their anti-democratic journey. I just could not because I knew that the end would be disastrous for the Nigerian people.
Before he could utter another word, I raised the international implications of any delay and warned him that any delay or disruption of the programme would have far-reaching consequences and urged him to think seriously before the following day, 11June 1993. I could sense his confused state of mind even on the telephone judging by the tone of voice in which he asked me what he should do in the circumstance.
I still remember the words I used in my reply. I strongly advised him that the election should be allowed to hold as was the case in the previous elections and that those aggrieved should take their case to the Presidential Election Tribunal after the election as provided for in the Decree.
The following morning, 11 June 1993, the international observers, ambassadors, journalists and domestic monitors who had been assigned to the states were calling and asking for guidance from me. The advice I gave was that they should await the President’s action.
The NEC had greater problems. Its materials had been sent to all locations throughout the country. To abandon the election would mean that a new set of materials would have to be produced at an alarming cost. I raised all these matters with the President when he spoke to me after the court’s ambush and pleaded with him to err on the side of caution and allow the election to proceed as planned. He dismissed the argument of cost, but was convinced of the argument about the international implications.
He specifically asked what the Americans would say, since they liked obeying the courts in their country. I thought the President was in a fix and wanted a way out. I did not help him, unfortunately. I told him that the US presidential election is governed by the US Constitution and that the court could not vary the dates and times of election and inauguration and thought that the relevant Decrees took cognizance of the fixed dates in the transition programme, especially after the botched presidential primaries of October 1992.
SCENE TWO: US REACTION AND GENERAL BABANGIDA’ S ACTION
The venue was the Presidential Villa and the date was 11 June 1993. The President summoned the rump of the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) to a hush, hush, meeting on June 11, 1993.
I had earlier interacted with him on the implications of allowing the stalematists to have their way. I was not surprised when he decided alone to err on the side of caution and wanted to be found on “the side of the democracy barricade” which was very prominent in his policy statement of May 17, 1993. He was prepared to temporarily abandon his colleagues “on the other side of the democracy barricade.” The reason was not because he loved democracy but because the US threat pushed him to the side of the democracy barricade.
The three officials invited to the meeting at one stage were the Chairman of NEC, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the Director-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olu Adeniji and the Director-General of CDS, Professor Omo Omoruyi.
The reason why the three of us had to attend the meeting was not initially clear to me. It was later that I realised that the President’s fear of the US reaction to the plan to suspend the election was the reason for inviting us. It was obvious that the President was in search of a way out of the dilemma in which he found himself. He did not know what the US had in mind and wanted a way out. The Director-General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Brigadier General Halilu Akilu, handed us two sets of papers containing the US reactions to the court ruling and asked what we knew about the papers.
The papers consisted of two statements, the first statement read: We are awaiting the Federal Military Government’s reaction to the High Court decision. However, any postponement of tomorrow’s election is unacceptable to the US Government.
It was supposed to have been issued by the Director of the USIS, Mr. Michael O’Brien, on behalf of the US Government and on the orders of Washington. But when he was told that the language was too strong, a second statement was issued which read: We are awaiting the Federal Military Government’s reaction to the High Court decision. However, any postponement of the election would cause grave concern to the US Government.
I did not quite see the difference between the two statements; they carried the same implication which was that the Nigerian military should stop deceiving Nigerians and the world and conclude the democratisation project and get out of the political arena.
Ambassador Olu Adeniji, who used diplomatic language, interpreted the statement to mean that the US would apply sanctions against the Federal Military Government if the election was not held on the pretext of the Abuja High Court ruling, because the US had information that that ruling was from outside that court. Of course, the US knew that
That was the message, but the stalematists led by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Sani Abacha, the National Security Advisor, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the Director-General, NIA, Brigadier General Akilu, and the Service Chiefs thought otherwise.
They advised the President to call the US bluff and suspend the election for some months. That would have meant that the military clique would have had the needed time to work out a new plan for the President• or for another military leader.
I must say that the President was very worried with the language of the first statement; he was concerned about the steps which the US Government would or could take should the election be delayed or cancelled. This was the subject of the meeting.The American government’s statement divided the military leadership with the President on the side of the democracy barricade and the others “on the other side” of the democracy barricade. Had the US continued in this vein, I am quite sure the annulment would not have occurred the way it did.
The stalematists thought that they had succeeded with the court’s ruling. They strongly believed that the election would be deferred indefinitely by the NDSC on 11 June 1993 or by the President acting in the name of the Council, as they made him do on other occasions. They had actually suggested six weeks to six months to the President at that meeting and left the President to fix a date himself. They did not know that the President was very conscious of the international implications of any postponement and that he would decide to defy the clique. Here again he let down the stalematists as he did when he allowed Chief Abiola to contest at all.
PRESIDENT BABANGIDA’S SPECIFIC DIRECTIVE AT 1:00 P.M. ON JUNE 11, 1993
The venue was still the Presidential Villa. Conscious of the international implications, General Babangida took certain actions. He directed the NEC Chairman to go ahead with the election and assured him that he was ready to defy the Abuja High Court. I thought that this was too strong. His words were: “Humphrey, go ahead with the election; we will defy the court,” meaning he General Babangida, minus his aides.
His first directive was that the Director- General, CDS, should withdraw the accreditation of the US Observers so that they would not be able to observe the election of June 12, 1993; and the second directive was that, the Director-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs should give the Director of the USIS, Mr. Michael O’Brien, 48hours to leave the country. The three of us were directed to address the world press within three hours;
we were also further directed that our respective statements were to be cleared with him, General Babangida, personally before the press conference. This was President Babangida’s decision. The other military officers in the meeting said nothing. I could notice that many of them were stunned. His colleagues left the meeting, technically implying that the purpose of the meeting was a waste of time.
STALEMATISTS’ REACTION TO GENERAL BABANGIDA’S RULING
Having lost at this stage, the stalematists regrouped and worked out a new strategy to derail the programme. They, however, allowed the election to hold on June 12, believing that voters would not turn out, or if they turned out, the exercise would be attended by riots and the figures would be too low to be credible.
They were wrong on all counts. The exercise was free and fair and credible to the disappointment of the stalematists. Voting took place in all the 110,000 polling stations in the country; counting also took place in the open in all 110,000 polling stations within an hour after the close of voting; the polling agents of the two presidential candidates and others were given the raw figures in each of the 110,000 and the figures were fed to the ward, local government, state and national level for collation, according to the decree.
This was what the Decree said should be done and it was done flawlessly. The figures from the 110,000 polling stations were passed to the ward, from the ward to the local government, from the local government to the state, and from the state to the national level.
Just as the NEC and the Police were passing their figures to the ward, from the ward to the local government and on to the state and finally to the national level, the Nigerian Election Monitoring Group, the organised domestic monitors, were phoning in or faxing in to Abuja raw figures from locations throughout the country.
The international observers and the CDS also had raw figures at the same time. According to Decree No 13 of 1993 governing the election, the results were obvious minutes after the close of the voting. The will of the people of Nigeria was known before the end of that day, June 12. 1993. Actions of collation were confirmatory.
NEC’S DECISION TO SUSPEND ANNOUNCING OF RESULTS
Voting took place throughout the 110,000 polling stations in the country and results were coming in. But suddenly a moment of suspense arrived. The stalemate strategy spearheaded by the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) anticipated that the June 10, 1993 ruling of the Abuja High Court on NEC would lead to a disappointingly low turn-out or skirmishes in certain parts of the country. Their security reports in those directions were wrong. Even the military clique believed that the voting would not go on smoothly because some NEC Officials told them so. They were wrong too. The rate at which the results were arriving at Abuja shocked them.
They then descended on NEC to stop it from displaying the figures on the board. NEC yielded after displaying the results of 14 states. The states that were not displayed did not mean that they had not been authenticated and published as the report of the National Collation Centre showed.
NEC became a source of anxiety for some; for others it became part of the strategy of stalemate during this period because it opened itself to all kinds of speculations. Figures from the states were slow in coming even though the process as worked out by NEC did not require too many days for the election results to be known officially. The rule did provide for the release of the results as and when the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, physically turned up at the national headquarters. By June 13, the state figures were already released to the public at all the 30 state headquarters before the Resident Electoral Commissioners proceeded to Abuja.
NEC had started to display them on the big board which it mounted for the public and the press in front of its office. This process went according to the rule for the first two days: June 13 and 14 for 14 states. But on June 15, the NEC chairman suddenly stopped this practice without giving reasons for it.
This was when the stalematists thought that they needed time to think of what to do. They used the President’s name to order NEC to stop displaying the results. The chairman of NEC protected the source of pressure by saying that, for security reasons, he was directed to stop displaying the figures on the board. What were these security reasons? He never explained. Who gave him directives outside the Decree governing the election? He did not state.
We learned later that it was the attorney General who went to the NEC chairman and directed him that he should abide by the Abuja High Court order. But it was clear as of June 15, 1993, that a winner in the person of Chief MKO Abiola had emerged, the Taraba figures notwithstanding.
SCENE THREE: ABN BACK IN COURT JUNE 15, 1993
The action of the ABN and the Abuja High Court on June 15, 1993 was the desperate act of the stalematists. NEC startled many people. The reaction of NEC to the action of the ABN and the Abuja High Court was very devastating to the pro-democracy elements, the Nigerian Election Monitoring Group (NEMG) and the international observers who had co-operated with NEC at all stages in the counting and collation at all levels and at Abuja.
All these bodies knew that a winner was already clear and that an injunction from the court would only be in vain as of June 14, 1993.
The ABN went to the Abuja High Court on June 15, 1993. This time the ABN and the military clique made sure that the matter was personally handled by the Abuja Chief Judge, Alhaji Dahiru Saleh, from Bauchi State, the head of an institution that assured the military clique that he would be able to stop the release of the results by NEC. He even enlisted the support of the attorney general and the chief justice of the federation for this judicial ambush of the democratic transition.
Those who sensed that something was fishy went to other high courts in Benin, Ibadan and Lagos in the South West calling on the judges in those cities to compel NEC to release the results as provided for in the Decree governing the election.
These actions were ill-advised as they yielded two negative consequences. One was that the actions of those who went to courts in the South West betrayed the complete lack of sensitivity to the ethnic angle of the whole episode and played into the hands of those who were looking for excuses to call the whole election a Yoruba plot to take over the country.
The second was that their actions betrayed their lack of knowledge of the rules governing the election. The way to address these two issues would have been to proceed beyond the level of a high court in the South West and take the matter to the Court of Appeal and argue that the results had been released officially in the 110,000 polling stations in the country and that there was nothing to stop.
The Director of Communications of the Tofa Presidential Campaign Organisation, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, and the NRC Publicity Secretary, Dr. Okey Uzoho reacted and brought in the lgbo dimension to the bizarre episode. Ethnicisation of the election started to creep in with Dr. Ofonagoro and Dr. Uzoho accusing NEC of being taken over by the Yoruba and even calling the national chairman of the NRC to call the Yoruba NRC members to order. Why did SDP not go to another part of the country to challenge the NEC?
From about June 15, 1993, pro-democracy groups had started to play into the hands of those who were looking for ammunition to use. The pro-democracy elements in the South West played into the hands of the converging group (Military, Northern Conservatives, and the Pathological Yoruba haters from Igboland) who wanted to stop the democratisation process and commence a hidden agenda.
It should be noted that the political class during this period was virtually divided into two camps. The first camp was made up of those who were openly jubilating that a shift in the power base was going to occur. This group was based in Lagos and the members were waiting for the official release of the results by NEC. The second camp was made up of those who were in grief because power was slipping from their hand and had started to nurse all sorts of measures to stop the process.
They too regrouped in Abuja and Kaduna. The first group dominated the national media originating from Lagos which were openly calling for the release of the results.
The second group had no national newspaper to use but took over the military leadership and the aides to the President in Abuja to plot all kinds of scenarios and peddle all sorts of rurnours of what would happen if Chief Abiola became President. This was an added dimension. Chief Abiola, as a person, now became an issue.
They knew Chief Abiola had won; their plan was that all those who were afraid of the change were now to be co-ordinated by the military clique. This was how the ethno-military clique started to emerge and converge and was co-ordinated by the intelligence wing of the military (headed by Halilu Akilu, an IBB Boy) and the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
It was difficult to exclude the President from the action of his aides at this stage. They had never wanted to be placed in a situation where power, military or civilian, would shift from the North to the South.
The stalematists were winning when they succeeded in getting NEC to stop the progressive release of the collated and authenticated figures on June 15, 1993.
NEC did this up until June 14 and the ABN went to court on June 15, to ask the chief judge to compel the NEC to show why contempt proceedings should not be entered against it for allowing the election to hold on June 12, 1993. This was a serious matter. The Attorney General, the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, and the President were involved in this twist when the relevant Decrees supported the act of the NEC Chairman.
They pressured the NEC chairman to yield. The court at this stage could not be asking the NEC to stop the formal announcement of the results of an election that had taken place because the results were all over the place. NEC ought to have fought the contempt case while the results were officially being announced.
Instead of doing this, it decided on June 16, to capitulate to the Abuja High Court, thus perfecting the stalemate strategy. What became clear was that the President who gave a specific directive on June 11 that the election should go on and assured the NEC chairman that “we will defy the court” because he did not want to be found on “the other side of the democracy barricade” failed to own up to his directive of June 11, 1993. He had become part of the process of the stalemate.
SCENE FOUR: ABUJA HIGH COURT JUNE 16, 1993
The major players at this stage were the NEC, the CDS, the two parties (NRC and SDP), the non-office holders in the two parties, the international community and the military clique. The venues of the developments were not easily discernible as there was confusion arising from NEC’s inaction.
Lawlessness had taken over the country; the relevant Decrees were abandoned and the design was abandoned. Various locations in Abuja were involved and the pace of activities defied control. I shall try to recapture the pace of events.
General Babangida, on reflection, had started to lose control of the situation which commenced the day he allowed the Abuja High Court to threaten the NEC with contempt for carrying out the laws and the President’s directive of June 11, 1993.
On June 16, the NEC chairman officially caved in to the Stalemate Strategy when he announced the suspension of the June 12 election results “until further notice.” This was clearly a breach of the Decree on the presidential election and he knew it to be so.
The NEC chairman was forced to do so by the Ministry of Justice acting on the orders of the Presidency for “security reasons”. But he did not say so to the public. He had to protect the President, hence, he attributed the suspension to “mounting legal pressure from the Abuja High Court” not to announce the election results and “to stay action on all matters.
DIVISION WITHIN THE POLITICAL CLASS
The decision of NEC to appeal to the Court of Appeal was misguided. There was no basis for it. The court case abinitio was a breach of the Decrees which set up the NEC and governed the election, as well as the main Decrees governing the transition programme.
The announcement of the winner of the election should not have been jettisoned. The two parties were divided at this juncture on the matter. While the SDP was silent, this was not so with some NRC operatives.
For example, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, on the advice of Alhaji Bashir Tofa, and Mr. Okey Uzoho on the advice of Northern and Igbo elements in the party leadership, broke with the National Chairman of the party, Dr. Hammed Kusamotu (a Yoruba) and accused the NEC of displaying on its score board what they called “unauthenticated and unofficial” results of June 12, 1993 election.
Ofonagoro must have been speaking the mind of some officials of the Presidency at this time who accused NEC that its action was a deliberate act to mislead and incite the general public as well as to cause chaos and anarchy in the country. Ofonagoro’s language reminded one of the discussions in the President’s living room on June 15 and the general tone of those (military and civilian) who were “shocked” at the results from their states, even before NEC suspended the announcement of results.
INTERLUDE: REHEARSAL OF MILITARY CLIQUE AT PRESIDENT’S VILLA
The military officers I suspect to be members of the clique promoting the stalemate were those I met on June 15 when I went to the President’s Villa to advise him on the election matters. Let me single out those who came from Plateau, Kano, Borno, Cross River and Benue states where the SDP had won the majority votes because of their concern and how they expressed their concern on that occasion. They knew that the figures from their respective states differed from the pictures they had painted for their boss.
Instead of yielding to the wishes of the voters of their states, they shifted their attention to blaming the NEC for allowing many “irregularities” to occur. For example, one of these officers asked me if the CDS which organised the domestic monitors and accredited the international observers did not observe the “massive” rigging, intimidation of voters and total falsification, of figures and the use of monetary inducements to lure voters into voting for Chief Abiola? Another asked me if these organizations did not observe that Chief Abiola was canvassing for votes at the polling stations by wearing a dress with SDP symbol and displaying the flag and symbol of the SDP contrary to the Decree.
The third wanted me to co-operate with them. This was when I became concerned. I did not want to be a part of the stalemate strategy. I did not want to aid the participants. This was why I asked how? The officer was shocked and quickly said I should advise them on whether, with the foregoing “lapses” or “irregularities” so “clearly” identified by them, it was not time to prevail upon the NEC to cancel the election and start all over again.
The term he used was “prevail upon”. I kept quiet and asked myself: Who was empowered by the Decree to “prevail” upon NEC? My answer was clear without telling the officer that none of the officers assembled there was empowered to prevail on NEC to do anything except by the barrel of the gun.
Their action could only be by way of a coup. They were actually rehearsing. At this stage it was clear to me that they were rehearsing their strategy and tactics; they had allies in the Communication Director of the Tofa Presidential Campaign Organization, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, and the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) and some leaders of the NRC.
The question of wanting me to help them did not arise. I made up my mind that I was not going to help them subvert the democratic transition. I reminded the military officers in the President’s Living room, without answering as to the merit of their observations, that Decree No 13, which I thought they were conversant with, provided for a Presidential Election Tribunal, which had, by that date, been constituted, and which could handle all matters raised by them. One shouted, “Whose Decree?” and added: “Forget about that professor.” There was dead silence and another military officer burst in displaying his utter ignorance, calling the Presidential Election Tribunal, “another Nwosu or Omoruyi Organisation.”
He went on to remind me of what was always obvious: “This is a military government. professor, you are not part of it.”
Before I could say a word I heard from another officer. “It is not a government of professors; we are not working for Bashorun (i.e. Chief Abiola).” Looking in the direction of the President, this officer now revealed what their meeting was all about. “C-in-C must act and resolve this issue immediately or else …,” he said. I said to myself, “Yes, C-in-C must act and resolve this issue immediately or else,” meaning that if the C-in-C failed to do so, hell would be let loose. That was the “else”.
In all these exchanges, the President faked ignorance of what was going on. More seriously, I started to get worried for my safety. It was obvious that the military clique did not know how to disengage from politics. It was not clear to me whether they were working for the President or for themselves. I, too, was in a dilemma: Should I continue or quit or collaborate.
The choice at that stage was not too obvious. The man through whom I came to serve the country had not humiliated me. I did not know where he stood and I wanted very much to be sure on that score. Until I knew this, I would not be in a position to decide which way I should go.
It should be noted that throughout this period at least until I left that night, the President contributed nothing, absolutely nothing, to the rehearsal of the military officers. It was clear that the President was losing control, if he had not already lost it, at that time. He was no more in command of the troops; he was now at their mercy. I then realised what coup planning was like. His “boys” were dictating terms and he was to follow or else … It was clear that he was in severe agony as to what to tell me, a friend who had left his university job to help him achieve his democratic transition, as distinct from General Obasanjo’s of 1979, and make history.
The President was confused, very confused. The source of his confusion was that he assured his “boys” that he would, at the appropriate time, be able to stop Chief Abiola before the day of nomination or before the day of election of June 12. This was the point that was annoying to the military officers, i.e. his so-called “boys”. One of them called me later that night to say that it was the C-in-C who got everyone, including me, into this situation. Did these officers know that President Babangida gave his word to Chief Abiola that the road was clear for him to contest? He told me this himself while the SGF and Chief Abiola also confirmed this to me on separate occasions and in media reports. President Babangida was now confused as to how to get out of the dilemma. In seeing me off, he was speaking to himself and confirming certain facts about how we got to where he was.
He was aware of the fact that he initiated and presided over the transition programme; he remembered that it was he who assembled the professors, (Awa, Yahaya and Omoruyi at one stage, and Omoruyi and Elaigwu at another) to assist him to design and implement the programme. He was now very concerned that the programme and the professors were under assault at the hands of his “boys”. This was how I came to realise how involved he was in the whole episode.
In bidding me goodnight, he asked, “When am I seeing you, Professor?” In reply I asked, “In the midst of your boys?” and he said, “I want to hear from you soon.” I took that to mean that he wanted me to send him a reasoned paper on the vexed question of what he should do, as I always did at critical mornents. When I left him that night, it was clear to me that danger was looming in the horizon and that unless action was taken in time the nation would be engulfed in a conflagration. Instead of quitting, I decided to stay on. I sent him a reasoned letter which I drafted that night and delivered to him through Mallam Umar Abubakar, my personal assistant, with a specific directive that it was for “his eyes only”. The date was on June 17, 1993. Because it touched on all the issues, it is hereby reproduced in full:
Centre for Democratic Studies
17th June, 1993
I forward this note with the greatest sense of responsibility to aid Mr. President at this crucial moment. The responsibility for the Presidential election is yours, Sir, because it is you or/and your administration that is being mentioned by all commentators.
It is claimed:
(1) that Nzeribe is acting for you: (2) that the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) is a front for the extension of the military regime which you head; (3) that NEC is not independent or what is largely the same thing i.e. that your administration is interfering with NEC; (4) that you are acting to defend “Northern interests” by extension means that the military will not hand over to a Southerner (5) that a stalemate is encouraged as part of the so-called “hidden agenda”.
I know, as a matter of fact that the foregoing claims are untrue. I am a pathological optimist. As a loyalist, I am at severe pains to defend you and the Administration. You are never wrong in my sight; you still remain so. But the handling of this case is less than satisfactory. The recent crisis arose from the interpretation of two inter-related issues: (1) what is an election? (2) how should complaints about the electoral process be resolved?
ELECTION AS A PROCESS
An election is a process which commences with accreditation and ends with the announcement of results. In between these two activities are voting, counting of votes and collation of figures. Conducting an election means attending to these activities from accreditation to announcement of results. When Mr President sanctioned certain actions to be taken on Friday June 11 after the court injunction of Thursday night, Mr. President made it clear to me and all others that NEC should conduct the presidential election on June 12 1993 and disregard the court injunction of Thursday night. Mr. President in fact, asserted that “we shall defy the court in this matter”. It was clear to me and those who listened to you that afternoon that no other or further court injunction could or would halt the process until it was concluded. It was therefore inconceivable that NEC would yield to the intervention of the court after collation of results from 29 states and Abuja had been completed with full participation of domestic monitors, foreign observers and agents of the two parties. It was only Taraba result (which was already at hand) which remained to be collated when the second set of judicial ambush took place. To yield to the court that late hour is a clear abandonment of the process.
WHERE NEC FAILED
(i) NEC should not have yielded to any advice whatsoever to commence the line of action which it then decided to embark upon at about 3.00 p.m. on June 16, 1993;
(ii) NEC should not have yielded to the political ambush by the Association of Better Nigeria of Thursday, June 10, 1993;
(iii) NEC should not have yielded to the threat of contempt or another injunction at the last stage of the collation of results. Normally, with the collation of results from 29 States and Abuja there was already a winner and the public and the world knew this. Taraba’s result which was to be verified, authenticated, and collated could not have changed the relative electoral strength of the two parties. That singular act of NEC to commence appeal and related judicial procedures enumerated above is fatal to the transition programme and creates an immense problem for you.
ELECTION GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE
The second is the manner of taking complaints by aggrieved persons in an election. The Presidential Election Tribunal was constituted by the Chief Justice with Justice Babalakin presiding. All complaints about the election should have gone straight to the tribunal by way of election petition. NRC or other interested persons or organisations should have been advised to take this route. NEC should not have entertained any complaint about the election bordering on legal infringements unless they are procedural in nature.
- The solution in my view is for Mr President to dissociate himself from Nzeribe and his organisation. The way to do this is to proscribe the ABN forthwith. If this is done then the Association would cease to be a legal organisation and its cases pending in court will, by the fact of proscription, automatically fail.
- Government should direct all those who have grievances in respect of the election to avail themselves the use of Election Tribunal as provided for in Decree No 13 of 1993.
- For the avoidance of doubt, government should reiterate its commitment to the transition, the August 27 terminal date and the readiness of the Transitional Council to commence its work.
Mr. President needs to take action along the foregoing lines in order to get the Transition Programme back on course, restore moral leadership and credibility to the Administration.
Please act NOW.
PROFESSOR OMO OMORUYI, mni.
The President received the above memorandum and sent for me on Friday June 18, 1993. We met briefly, immediately after the Jumat Service in his residence, and he assured me that he would take the content of my memorandum into consideration in the decision he was contemplating. I noticed that he was uneasy and was not prepared to discuss the matter. When I insisted on discussing the memorandum, he simply said, “I will talk to you later.” I asked for time and he said “I will call you.” And he jokingly ended the conversation with, “Go Professor, Go. Stay home, I’ll call you.” Quite frankly, it was clear to me that the transition programme was in trouble and its fate was in the hands of unknown military officers who were going to a caucus meeting at Minna that weekend.
PRESIDENT MOVES TO MINNA
The President moved to Minna and the stalematists moved out of town with him to Minna. The pro-democrats were not aware that the plot to scuttle the democratic transition programme was thickening. All activities in Abuja went dead; it became a rumour town. At this time, all activities should have been about the election and discussion should have centred around when the Military President would leave the Villa for the elected President.
Of all the diplomatic missions in Nigeria only the British High Commission was checking with me routinely as to what was going on and was expressing the mission’s concern to me. The British High Commissioner, Sir Christopher Macrae, and his Deputy, Mr. Robin Gorham, were excellent diplomats who were genuinely committed to democracy in Nigeria. They were visibly worried that the election process they had watched and supported with funds and advice from the beginning was being halted by the NEC. As of June 17, we thought the NEC should have saved the situation.
Officials of the British High Commission at Abuja assured me that Whitehall, acting through the High Commissioner, was communicating the concern of Her Majesty’s Government to the Nigerian President from time to time. At this juncture, the President had started to distance himself from those who would tell him the truth. In fact, he refused to receive foreign visitors, especially those from the West during this period of stalemate. He was concerned about the international implications of the stalemate that was gradually creeping in and felt helpless because he was not in a position to break it even if he wanted to.
It was at this stage that Sir Christopher Macrae was negotiating to see the President on Friday, June 18, so that he could present him with a letter he was expecting from the British Prime Minister. Mr. John Major. On his way to the golf course early in the afternoon of that day, Sir Christopher called at my house to review the matter. In the course of our discussion, he warned me that Nigeria would not be the same again if the military did not conclude the election of June 12. He told me of his effort to get the Northerners to accept the outcome of the election. This startled me because I was not aware that the British Government was still in such a close relationship with the Northern Emirs. I asked myself a question: why should it be his role to convince them to accept the outcome of a free and fair election?
Sir Christopher reminded me that the British Government’s first choice for the rulership of Nigeria would certainly have been a Northerner and would definitely not have been Chief MKO Abiola who they knew very little about. But he was very clear and adamant that arising from the process which he and his officials saw from the nominations at Jos (SDP) and Port Harcourt (NRC) 21 to the election day which was observed by over 20 British citizens, he had no doubt that the North had been fairly dealt with and that power was peacefully and legitimately slipping away from their hands. I then asked what he did with the Northern Emirs when he met them. He confessed that they were adamant. It was clear to him, he opined, that they would not accept the results of an election which reduced them to an opposition. The British High Commissioner then asked me if there was anything that could be done to assuage the fears of the Emirs, promising to mediate if needed. It was at this stage that we started to think together of the post-election arrangement that could be forced on the SDP candidate, Chief Abiola by the Federal Military Government as a condition for concluding the election and declaring him the winner.
We agreed (i) that the results must first be announced officially, (ii) that the military must say who the winner was, and (iii) that the Transitional Council should commence the process of interacting with the incoming government. The British High Commissioner took copious notes and felt happy, believing that I would be able to get the military or the President to see the need for such an arrangement.
I then recalled the fear of the Sultan of Sokoto which was passed to the President through me on May 19, 1993, less than a month before the June 12 election. The Sultan advised me then to tell the President to stop the process by postponing the election indefinitely if he could not cancel it altogether. He was distressed that the North had no candidate and that the North, for the first time, was going to be humiliated. He pleaded with me to impress on the President that he should not allow that to happen to the North while he was still on the throne of his ancestors. He wanted me to pass on his deep concern to the President. He also gave me a paper prepared on the same subject by Alhaji Akanbi Oniyangi, a Minister in the Second Republic from Kwara State, which he thought would help the President take adequate decision. I telephoned the President that night from Sokoto and narrated the Sultan’s concern. Of course, the President thought that much as he understood the concern of the Sultan, he felt that it was too late in the day to stop the process. I recalled how he wanted me to advise him and I quickly agreed with him on telephone that it was too late for the sake of credibility and for the sake of the country. He then asked me to tell the Sultan that something would be done to assuage the feelings of the North after the election. I also passed this assurance to the Sultan that the President would do something to meet his concern after the election. Certainly annulment was not an option. That was not my understanding of what he planned to do after the election. I thought what he had in mind was how to accommodate all the vested interests in the post-election governments.
The Sultan did not seem to be persuaded by the assurance of the British High Commissioner and myself as later events convinced me that it would seem that he succeeded in extracting an assurance from the President that the election would not hold on June 12, 1993. I would not have known of this or come to this conclusion but for two incidents that took place after the election.
One was that a few days to the election day, the Sultan left the country for Saudi Arabia with the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, an Egba Chief and a friend and supporter of Chief Abiola. Dr. Adegbite told me he pleaded with the Sultan while they were in the Middle East that he would like to get back to Nigeria before June 12 to vote. The Sultan humorously told him not to worry and that he would definitely vote even if he arrived in Nigeria after the June 12 election day. He also thought that the Sultan would be interested in being in Nigeria for the election of his Deputy, Chief MKO Abiola, who was then the Vice President, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. But Dr. Adegbite was not privy to the desire of the Sultan that the election should be stopped. Perhaps he extracted a promise from Babangida that the election will be halted, after which he embarked on the trip to Saudi Arabia. To Dr. Adegbite’s surprise this was the puzzle that he did not quite resolve until after the annulment. It was the event following the annulment that made him recall the conversation he had with the Sultan in the Middle East. It was clear that the Sultan knew that the exercise would be aborted hence he told him, “Seriki, you will vote even if you arrive in Nigeria after June 12.”
The second event occurred after the annulment when the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs under the Sultan intervened in the impasse. The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs was “mediating” between the President and the SDP Presidential candidate, Chief MKO Abiola. Dr. Adegbite said that he was shocked when the Sultan told the team that he was not prepared to go to the President to discuss the issue of June 12 election on the grounds that since the Military had annulled it, all that the Council should discuss with General Babangida was how peace would reign in the country. This was how the effort of the SCIA was frustrated by the Sultan’s intrigue with the military to derail the democratic transition. Dr. Adegbite then recalled the event in the Middle East.
Chief MKO Abiola did not know that the Northern Emirs were not enthusiastic about his bid for the Presidency even though they, with the Sultan, gave him the impression that they did. Chief Abiola believed in the power of traditional gifts which he sent to them routinely. But he did not know that their concept of power transcended the distribution of presents; they were jealous of the enormous wealth of Chief Abiola and wished that it was their son who should have the economic resources of Chief Abiola. They bought the idea of separating economic power from political power and believed that Chief Abiola and the Yoruba should content themselves with economic power, and leave the political power to them in the North. They, in fact, blamed the military leadership for allowing Chief Abiola to waste his resources and wanted the President to call him and give him back what he spent so that Chief Abiola could let politics well alone. This was the way the Sultan thought the matter should be resolved, hence, he thought that he would not go to the President to talk about the June 12 election. The Sultan’s idea of justice was the view held by many Northern Emirs who had talked to General Babangida after the annulment suggesting that Chief Abiola should be paid off and that the chief should remain a good friend of the Islamic North.
OFFICIAL REACTION OF SDP
As of this date, the leadership of the SDP generally condemned the suspension of the release of election results. This created the impression that the party was acting in unity. For example, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Rimi, Second Republic Governor of Kano State, who was not only an SDP elder but also a staunch supporter of Chief MKO Abiola in Kano State expressed shock over the suspension and warned that:
“No attempt should be made by anyone, covertly or overtly, directly or indirectly, to tamper with the verdict of the people. Nobody should be allowed to put Nigeria on fire, and those trying to do so should be warned, and desist from so doing. The military government have their honour to protect. The people have given their verdict. We must keep to the August 27 handover date.”
On June 18, the SDP leaders and the party’s 14 Governors met in Lagos and proclaimed the party’s Presidential Candidate, ChiefMKO Abiola, as the president-elect since the NEC would not officially announce the winner of the election. The reason they gave was that Chief Abiola had satisfied the two constitutional requirements for winning the election i.e. majority vote and geographical spread. Chief Abiola obtained the higher number of votes cast (8,128,720 as against Alhaji Tofu’s 5,848,247) and he secured the mandatory one-third (1/3) of the votes cast in 28 states of the Federation and Abuja.”
They also displayed to the public for the first time what Chief Abiola scored in each state to show that he secured the minimum votes required in 28 states, – i.e., eight more states than the 20 states required by the Decree. The SDP Governors argued that Chief Abiola secured the majority votes in 19 of the 30 states of the Federation and also added that the only two states where Chief Abiola did not record the mandatory 1/3 votes were Sokoto and Kebbi States under the Sultan of Sokoto. As of this date, all the results were-actually available and the President himself had been so informed by his aides through the police and the security agents and me. NEMG had also said so.
NRC TAKEN OVER BY CLIQUE
The leadership of the NRC was split. Its National Executive Committee could not meet and hence it could not come up with a position on the suspension of the process by the NEC. But the Communication Director of Tofa Campaign Organisation, Dr. Ofonagoro, had been echoing the call for the cancellation of the election even when the party had not met to take a position. The NRC, as a party, did not know anything about the stalemate strategy hence its National Chairman did not have an opinion on the use of the court to restrain the process which took place between June 10 and June 18. The Chairman, Dr. Kusamotu, a Yoruba and a noted Constitutional lawyer was not taken into confidence on the stalemate strategy by those in the NRC who knew the action plan of the stalematists. He was not also briefed by those who were privy to the court case. He was not trusted by the stalematists to be taken into confidence on the action plan because he was Yoruba.
NRC leaders in the North secured the support of both Igbo NRC and the leaders in the Southern minority states. The NRC Governors were well briefed of the stalemate strategy by the military clique immediately the June 10 plan failed. All these groups were united with Alhaji Bashir Tofa and his Presidential Campaign Organisation to argue that the election should be cancelled immediately when it became obvious that SDP was leading and would win if the election was allowed to be officially concluded. They accused Chief Abiola and NEC of all sorts of crimes. They were in fact repeating what the military officers had catalogued earlier in the living room of the President. It was obvious to me then that there was a meeting place where both exchanged information and plotted strategies and tactics. Technically, all the allegations levelled against the SDP were matters which the Presidential Election Tribunal was set up to deal with. They, too, were not interested in going to the Tribunal. Definitely they had been told to take that hard line position by the military stalemate strategists as that was the position that would win. They were not interested in the Tribunal.
What was worrisome at this stage was that they were now calling for outright cancellation of the election. It was clear that they were working in concert with the military clique to abort the programme. The NRC from the North, East and Southern Minority states and the NRC Governors commenced, as a matter of sequence, the cry for annulment before the military clique took that fateful step during the midnight “war” session of June 22/23, 1993. They started to fly the kite thus rehearsing for the big announcement of June 23, 1993. They also raised the issue of June 10, 1993 when Justice Ikpeme restrained the NEC from conducting the election. The NRC caucus accused the NEC of failing to mount effective publicity to counteract the demoralising effect of the Abuja High Court injunction that postponed the June 12 Presidential election some hours before it was to take place. This had a debilitating, demoralising and undemocratic effect on the general voter turnout … all over the country, majority of the NRC supporters, for example, were disenfranchised, particularly, in the rural areas of the North and the riverine areas of the country as a result of the inadequate and poor communication?”
In fact, the Tofa Presidential Campaign Organisation speaking through Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, its Director of Communication, even went further to argue in the alternative to wit: that NEC should disqualify Chief MKO Abiola and declare the NRC Presidential candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, as the duly elected President if the NEC would not cancel the election. NRC, as a party, was still not speaking at this time. But it was clear that the “owners” of the party or as it would seem, were the Northern leaders. Southerners, made up of the Igbo and some elements in the Southern minority states, who were believers in the Northern leadership of Nigeria deferred to the Northern position on the June 12 episode. It was also clear that the NRC caucus was not speaking for the Yoruba elements in the party. The Yoruba elements, including the National Chairman of the Party, were actually second class citizens in the party. And this time, they were in a dilemma. The Yoruba elements in the NRC saw the election not only as free and fair but as an opportunity of a life time for one of their men to become the President of Nigeria through legitimate means. It was an opportunity they never had in the First and Second Republics. They refused to endorse the actions of the stalematists in the military who were now preaching annulment.
NEC was swift at this stage to advise the NRC complainants against the election to take their grievances to the Presidential Election Tribunal. Of course, the NRC “owners”, prodded by the military clique, ignored anything that had to do with due process of the law as that would have amounted to recognising an election which, as far as they were concerned, did not hold as per the Abuja High Court’s injunction of June 10, 1993.
However, some Northern leaders in the NRC represented by Alhaji Adamu Ciroma spoke in support of the conclusion of the election commenced peacefully on June 12. According to him: I must say that I am a bit surprised at the latest court order and the reaction of NEC, considering that an order was given earlier which it (NEC) was not keen to observe. It is rather surprising that, this time, the NEC has decided to accede to the court order. .. The election has been conducted. The results are actually known state by state and I do not see any reason why the Commission should not announce tile results … I do not share that opinion (for the cancellation of the results) at all. I do not think it is right that frivolous excuses should be used in delaying the announcement of the results or trying whatsoever to indefinitely postpone them. It will be very difficult to justify and I do not think it is right to do so.
The NRC Western leaders, with the exception of the Yoruba National Chairman, finally spoke. They did this in Lagos, and not in Abuja where their colleagues were operating. They called on NEC to release the results of the states still being withheld and to declare the winner of the election. They also pledged to support and co-operate with Chief MKO Abiola if he was declared the winner of the election. They justified their position on the grounds that: the survival of democracy, and indeed of the Nigerian polity, will depend on the extent of maturity and co-operation and consensus among the parties and contending interests in the polity.”
One of the NRC Western leaders, Chief Akintunde Rotimi, appealed to Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the NRC Presidential candidate, to accept defeat in the spirit of sportsmanship and in the interest of the country.
The June 12-induced split in the NRC notwithstanding, some of its elders led by Adamu Ciroma and Chief Fani Kayode, a key Yoruba leader, met with the united leadership of the SDP and generally called on the Federal Military Government to “keep faith with its commitment to return Nigeria to a democratically elected government on August 27, 1993.
By June 18, the CD went to a Lagos High Court and tendered before it what it called the “comprehensive and authenticated” results of the June 12 election. The CD also circulated these results which were already in circulation all over the country and also pleaded with the print media mostly in the Southwest to publish and circulate them in daily papers and in weekly magazines. This was actually done. I checked the figures and they corresponded with what NEMG had and what representatives of NEMG and international observers on the National Collation Committee had. But they did not give the basis on which the figures were made available to them. They should have argued from the standpoint of Decree No 13 and the application of Section 22(1) dealing with the counting and release of the number of votes in the 110,000 polling stations.
As of this date, there was actually nothing about the election that was not known except the official release of the results and the official declaration of the winner by the NEC. The behaviour of the NEC was contrary to the principle implicit in the system which allowed all and sundry to be able to vet the results and pronounce on the results from the counting stage at the polling stations to the collation centres which were supposed to be carried out in the full glare of the public. The NRC and the military officers were unable to stop these processes.
REACTION OF THE MILITARY CLIQUE
Only very few military officers understood the electoral process or cared to study Decree No 13 of 1993 governing the election. They did not understand the power of the domestic monitors or the International Observers. After all, they saw the whole process as one they could annul at any stage, just as they recklessly plotted to overthrow elected governments without sparing a thought for the consequences. This was my experience listening to their reasoning. But as for the President, there was no question that he understood the implication of Decree No 13 of 1993 and the functions of the bodies he approved to accord credibility to the election.
However, he was not able to communicate his knowledge to his “boys” because of the earlier assurance he gave them that Chief Abiola would be stopped at the appropriate time. When his “boys” started concocting various tactics to circumvent the Decree and scuttle the democratisation process, President Babangida could not display the moral courage which he displayed on June II, 1993. He could not call his military colleagues to order; he could not abandon them and could not direct the NEC Chairman to go ahead with the election. He just lost control of the situation. He was unable to assert or demonstrate as he used to boast, “I am in command.” He forgot both his two “irrevocable commitments” and his injunction of May 17,1993 to his military constituency “not to be on the other side of the democracy barricade” and his directive on June II, 1993 that “he would defy the court.”
Was the President now to join his boys on the other side of the democracy barricade? This was the crucial question as of June 17, a month to the day after his two irrevocable commitments to June 12 and August 27 – Election date and exit date respectively and he vowed never to be found there “on the other side of the democracy barricade” at the National War College before the top brass of the military, the international community and the political class. Did he think that he would be able to pull it off? It was clear he had boxed himself to a tight corner and did not know how to extricate himself. He dribbled and dribbled and was now face to face with his own goal post. Should he shoot? There was no way he could continue as President in a poisoned society. And he knew that and the country was the loser. By June 18, 1993 Nigeria was on a slippery slope. I even doubted whether the President appreciated the enormity of the problem. He did not; otherwise, he ought to have resigned immediately.
It was Justice Musiliu Ope-Agbe who first raised questions about the use of the High Court to abort the transition programme. Reacting to the spate of applications to the various High Courts in the Southwest, Justice Ope-Agbe refused to grant the application brought before his Court by Senator Ayo Otegbola calling for the announcement of the June 12 Presidential election results, not because there was no good case for it but mainly due to the fact that he would not want to commit “errors of comedy by making orders he would not be able to enforce.” The Judge lamented that the judiciary had made itself a laughing stock before the world and ridiculed itself by granting injunctions which they could not enforce
Not surprisingly, the courageous learned Judge called on the Federal Military Government (in reality President Babangida) to step into the election crisis and abate all the injunctions forced down on the NEC by some courts, failing which, the NEC should be given a free hand to perform its statutory duty under Decree No 13 of 1993, including the official announcement of the result. This was an indirect reference to the President. In fact, the Judge was repeating what I told the President in my memorandum of June 17, 1993. This advice of the learned Judge did not fall on deaf ears. It just happened that the President had lost control of the situation and was no longer in a position to order the National Electoral Commission to conclude the election in contradistinction to what the military clique had decided.
The country did not know that Nigeria had no effective government as of this time. What was sad in this situation was that Nigerians and the international community had no way of knowing that unnamed persons (the military clique) had marginalised the President, or put in another way, that the President had surrendered to an unnamed military clique which completely frustrated the democratic transition set in motion in 1986. Those members of the military clique who were working on him were doing this with the tacit support of Generals Sani Abacha, Joshua Dogonyaro and Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the three of whom were acting for different reasons. Unfortunately or fortunately, the same Generals were not in support of the President continuing in office. This was the nature of the crisis at this time and even the President was confused as to which way to go – the Abacha way or the Dogonyaro way?
He started to think of a third way to be led by Brigadier General David Mark. The members of the military clique were working but none of them knew for whom. One did not know where the power in the military resided at this time. It would seem that the leader of the clique at this time was Brigadier General Halilu Akilu, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, because of his co-ordinating role and access to resources. But knowing Halilu as I did, his ambition was not to be Head of State. Certainly he was not working for any of the Generals.
If he was working for anybody, it would have been General Babangida himself or anyone designated by him. This was General Babangida’s “hidden agenda”. But how could he impose an agenda on a highly factionalised military? This was his major problem during this period. He also knew that if it was not well-handled, it could lead to crisis in his two constituencies of the North and the military. He dreaded the thought. It could end in a coup and it could be bloody. He dreaded the scenarios.
STALEMATE AT WORK
While the uncertainty continued, Nigerians did not show the kind of concern one would expect of those who had been deprived of their rights. The President became a prisoner of the military clique who brought him to power in 1985 and who had technically stopped him from moving forward. He was not in a position to confess his incapacity to move forward to anyone, including me. By June 18, 1993 when he left for Minna, the democratic transition had virtually been aborted; the President was only buying time, thinking that he could manoeuvre the situation and come on top. Thus he thought he could handle it at the Minna meeting scheduled for June 18, 1993. Did he succeed!
CONFUSION WITHIN THE POLITICAL CLASS
While the President was virtually imprisoned in Minna, the two parties held different positions. The SDP and its Presidential candidate were too busy celebrating in Lagos to their peril. They abandoned Abuja, the seat of Government, to their opponents who were scheming to annul the election. It should be noted that most of the visitors in the two major hotels at Abuja and callers to the Presidential Villa at this time were scheming for annulment. They came with all sorts of stories about Chief Abiola and the Yoruba. In the Southwest, parties were being held to celebrate the unannounced election results to the embarrassment of the pro-annulment groups in and around Abuja. Those parties were infiltrated by Yoruba security agents who were working for the President. They in turn manufactured stories which they fed to Abuja and made available to Kaduna newspapers.
There was even in circulation at Abuja a list of officers (military and civilian) manufactured by these Yoruba security agents who Chief Abiola was said to be planning to retire. Officers such as General Sani Abacha, Lt. General Joshua Dogonyaro, Lt General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and Brigadier General David Mark were on this fabricated list. Another concocted list also came into circulation consisting of those Chief Abiola would appoint to key posts as soon as he was sworn in as President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. There was even a ridiculous letter in circulation claiming that Chief Abiola would move the Federal Capital back to Lagos. All these were not seriously and forcefully denied by the SDP as a party or by Chief Abiola as its Presidential candidate. It was like a big joke as the pro-annullists boasted that there was no Presidential vacancy yet for Professor Nwosu to fill.
The NRC Governors who at this time were camped in Abuja with a lot of money from their states’ coffers to burn, threatened that if the outcome of the election was actualised it would mean the death of the NRC in such states as Lagos, Cross River and Akwa Ibom in the South, and Kaduna and Kano in the North where the SDP Presidential candidate trounced his NRC opponent. These same NRC Governors who mounted roadblocks for the SDP during the campaign were now concerned that the results showed that the NRC governors were unpopular and that they would be removed by their people. Why did they not believe that the voters split their votes instead of believing that the voters’ decision necessarily indicated that they had turned against the NRC!
SCENE ONE: JUNE 21, 1993
On June 21, 1993, there were series of activities in Abuja involving the major actors, the Abuja High Court, the ABN litigant, Abimbola Davis, the NEC and the Court of Appeal at Kaduna, and the minor players namely, Professor Omo Omoruyi and the British High Commissioner. I shall try to present the activities of these actors as they affected the June 12 election.
My letter of June 20 to the President was delivered at his office as early as 9:00 am on June 21 and I simply awaited the President’s reaction.While doing this, I took time off to go and see the British High Commissioner, Sir Christopher MacRae. The intention was to let him know that the President had promised to create space to see him as early as possible on Monday June 21. I had hardly settled down to the meeting with the British High Commissioner, when my personal staff, Mallam Umar Abubakar, who was manning my cellular telephone, came to the British Mission to inform me that the President had called to say that he wanted me very urgently in his office. This was about 11.50 am. Quite frankly, I was concerned that the President might have finally decided to fire me in order to appease his “boys”, the stalematists, who at this time saw me as the lone thorn in their flesh. I realised that I had been undoing everything they – diarchists, stalematists, military clique – had set out since November 1992 to achieve, They were upset that I was raising too many questions that no one else around the Presidential Villa dared to contemplate, I realised that I was the only one who could still speak to the President at this critical time, urging him to keep faith with the Nigerian people and warning him that his credibility was at stake at home and abroad, I was the only one urging him to call his “boys” to order and conclude the election.
It should be noted that at this time General Babangida was always surrounded by these “boys” who called the shots, The Presidential Villa was virtually a war zone at this time with some officers like General Dogonyaro virtually camping in the President’s residence, I noticed that those who were calling on the President from the military and political class were mostly interested in how to stop the democratic transition, It was frightening; looking back it is obvious that I took too many risks for the democratic transition because I believed in it. For the military officers, in and out of the Presidential Villa at this time, it was a matter of individual personal survival while the country could wait, or even go to blazes.
I decided to risk everything because I believed that General Babangida, as a friend, needed the help of a loyal friend to make history and shame all the Babangida sceptics. I was convinced that he needed to be saved from the hands of the military clique he called his “boys” who were now working with some anti-democratic elements in society to derail the democratisation train which I assisted him to set in motion in 1986. I thought the risk was worth it: he needed to be saved from the hands of the anti-democratic elements in the North and in the East. I also thought that the democratisation project needed to be saved because it was the right course for Nigeria and its people.
While I was getting ready to go to the President, I was told by the British High Commissioner that a new development had occurred at the Abuja High Court presided over by the Chief Judge, Mr. Justice Dahiru Saleh from Bauchi State. I was told that the Court upheld the application of the ABN Chief litigant, Abimbola Davis, that the entire exercise of June 12 should be declared illegal, null and void and of no effect. We were now at the cross-roads; the stalematists had moved to another stage at the Abuja High Court. They were now on the road to the annulment of the entire democratic transition. All the actions of the Abuja High Court were undertaken with full endorsement of the President’s aides and the Federal Ministry of Justice with the full knowledge of the President. Otherwise the position of the various Decrees was unambiguous.
I asked myself who was in charge of the country and the transition programme. “Why does the President want to see me?” I asked myself. I answered the question aloud. “He wants to ask me to go because I am an impediment to him and his colleagues!” Before now we were talking about injunctions, appeal, suspension, etc. But now, the crisis had assumed a new dimension; it had moved to the abortion of the entire project that began in 1986. What should be noted in this scenario was that the same actors were involved in all the developments from stalemate to the abortion of the entire project. At this time in Nigeria no one was bold enough to remind the anti-democratic elements of the implications for Nigeria, for Africa and for the Third World of the plan to scuttle the democratisation programme. All the officials from the Judiciary to the Ministry of Justice, the Police, the Army etc. were involved and they were watching to see the end of the drama. It did not occur to them that it would end in a tragedy.
ABUJA COURT VOIDED DEMOCRATIZATION PROJECT
On June 21, an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Dahiru Saleh -voided the June 12 Presidential election on the ground that it was held contrary to a High Court order. In Justice Saleh’s words:
Since the legality of Justice Bassey Ikpeme’s order was not challenged before violation, surely anything done contrary to a court order cannot to my mind be legal. As such the presidential election conducted by first defendant (NEC) was done in open violation of a court order, and as such I cannot but hold that the election is not legal and is therefore illegal. The interim order sought is granted, until the matter is finally settled.”
On the same day the Kaduna Court of Appeal began sitting on the appeals filed by the NEC challenging the June 10 ruling of Justice Bassey Ikpeme and Justice Dahiru Saleh’s Court order of June 15 restraining NEC from announcing the June 12 Presidential Election results.
While the first appeal was classified as touching on constitutional matters by the Court, which had to be referred to the President of the Appeal Court in Lagos, before hearing was fixed, the hearing on the second appeal (the notice of appeal) was fixed for June 23.
The significance of the various court cases and the judgements on the June 12 election lies in the fact that they did not only politicise the judiciary, they also ethnicised the June 12 election as well as the struggle for and against it. The question that then bothered me as I was going to see the President was whether he had knowledge of the action of the Chief Judge of the Abuja High Court and whether he was conscious of the implication of his ruling on the democratic transition and of his place in history.
SCENE TWO: PRESIDENT UNBURDENED HIS HEART TO ME
The venue was the Presidential Villa (Residence and Office) and the subject was to explore options in the face of annulment of the election that was in the offing; the main actors were General Babangida, General Dogonyaro and myself.
This was not the first time General Babangida and I met like this. We met in Minna in early August 1985 to review how he was to proceed with a transition programme should the coup contemplated in August succeed. We met in Lagos in August/September 1985 after he had succeeded and had become the President over the steps he should take to evolve a transition programme; we met in Lagos over the Political Bureau Report and worked out what to do with the Report; we met in Lagos over the steps he should take to get a transition programme put together from the Report of the Political Bureau and the Report from the White Paper Committee.
It was not therefore unusual for the President to invite me to think with him on how to get out of the dilemma in which he found himself after the suspension of the election process and the injunctions on the NEC by various courts in the Southwest and Abuja and the decision of NEC to appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal.
I also thought that he wanted to discuss the diplomatic impasse he might have created by not seeing the British High Commissioner to accept the letter from Mr. John Major, the British Prime Minister. I could not think of the US reacting to the impasse because the US seemed to have faded away after the incident of June 11. My mind also went to the possibility nevertheless of a fresh, threatening message from the US. I could not rule out the US. My mind raced to my earlier memorandum in which I raised many issues bordering on the President’s inability to assume moral leadership in the face of the apparent derailment of the transition programme and the sliding of the country into chaos. This turned out to be the subject of the meeting.
It was clear when I entered his office that he had lost command/control of the situation. He, in fact, confessed this to me, the first time he was making such a confession since I knew him. He pleaded that he needed help to find a solution to a complex problem which he did not quite understand. It was also clear to me but, unfortunately, not to my fellow Nigerians that the country was without a President that had authority either over the military or over the civilians. One wondered what would have happened if the political class had been united and pressed for the conclusion of the transition programme. But the political class was part of the problem. It was also not clear to the international community that Nigeria had no effective government at this time.
The President had no moral courage to call his “boys” to order having lied to them about Chief Abiola at the outset. These “boys” had now by-passed him and formally linked up with the anti-democratic elements in the North working in concert with some Igbo leaders who felt that the time had come for them to avenge what they thought the Yoruba had done to them during the civil war. General Babangida was now a victim of this web of intrigues and he thought he needed help to take control of the situation, not to reverse it since he could not.
Once inside his office, he locked the door. He welcomed me with a strong appeal for my loyalty which I assured him was constant. I assured him that my loyalty to him as a friend should never be in doubt. He looked very worried; he removed his shoes and cap and confessed that his wife did not know where he was at that time and that he drove himself from Minna that morning just to talk to me; thus he expected me to be frank with him as I had always been. He went on: “I have not even seen my wife or briefed her of what I had been going through in the past three days.” I urged him to unburden his heart to me and assured him that I would be as frank as possible but that he would have to be open to me. For a few minutes he remained speechless and looked morose. The situation in which I saw him could only be compared with the situation in which I found him in 1985 when he was agonising over what to do during the days preceding his decision to overthrow General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime.
Just as he did on that occasion, he pleaded with me to advise him on how to free himself from the dilemma in which he found himself. On both occasions he used the same choice of words: “I see disaster for myself and my family. Where do I go now?” he asked. “Professor, we must find a solution here and now or else I am finished”, he concluded. The operative clause was “We must find a solution”, meaning that he wanted me to work with him or he was relying on me for a solution. I did this with him in the past and he expected me to do it again with him in June 1993.
General Babangida proceeded to recount all that we did together in the past and pleaded that I should see him through this stage. I urged him again to unburden his heart and speak as freely as he always did so that we could discuss the issue. I assured him that there was no political problem that had no solution. He cut in to say that the issue facing him was not political, but had to do with his life, his family’s life, and even the life of his close friends, including me. Still, he was hesitant in addressing the question. Suddenly he got up and reached for the door, making sure that it was well secured; he unhooked his telephones and some security equipment, except the security line which linked him to his Service Chiefs. I was not surprised with this kind of behaviour I had gone through this with him before. It was clear to me that he was in trouble more serious than I had imagined. I was also deeply concerned for his own safety. This was a new angle which he had brought in. I narrowly missed the Orkar coup in 1990. I asked myself, “Was a blood thirsty coup maker around?” But the coups in the past did not happen in broad daylight. He again kept quiet for some time and I pleaded with him for the third time to speak his mind to me. He then gave me a pad from his table to take notes. Of course, I thanked him and pointed out that I had a pad and my memory to cope with the issues that would arise from the meeting. General Babangida opened with the following words which I jotted down as closely as possible, word for word.
- They will kill me; they will kill the President-Elect, Chief MKO Abiola if I went ahead with the elections and announced the winner of the elections which we all know to be Bashorun, Chief MKO Abiola. I know so; I am not daft. He won; he tried. I feel bad about the whole matter.
- Professor, I do not see how they will spare you because they know that you are my principal confidant. You think they do not know you? They know; they know you are with me now. They saw you coming in and they know you are with me now.
He then paused and asked for my views. I started by saying that I sympathised with him. I assured him that I would be the last person to see him or his family dead in the hand of these unknown “they”. I then asked, “Who are these ‘they’ and what are your crimes? Is a coup imminent?” Before he could reply I spoke again. “If a coup is imminent and you cannot stop it, Then don’t resist,” I counseled. “Call them and hand over and spare your life, if that is what they want!” I pleaded. “Is that what they want?” I asked.
It was at this stage that he confessed that he had misled his “boys”. He had assured them that he would be able to stop Chief MKO Abiola before the process reached the stage of election. He had also assured Chief Abiola that the road was clear for him to seek the Presidential election. He was now in severe difficulty as to what to do. He was sitting on the sharp point of a dilemma: it was either his life or his honour as an officer and a gentleman. He was inclined to settle for the former (his life) and to let go of the latter (his honour). I cut in to say that it would involve the whole country and that we might not be that lucky; the same life that we were trying to save could still be threatened and lost. He agreed with me, looking most concerned. Then he said, “This whole problem was caused by my men” and blamed those who pressured him to lift the ban placed on certain persons in December 1991 which opened the way for Chief Abiola and Alhaji Tofa to enter the Presidential race. He also blamed his intelligence officers who told him that Chief Abiola would not get the nomination and that Alhaji Babagana Kingibe would defeat him at the Jos convention. According to him, “They then turned round to tell me the story of how Chief Abiola bought the nomination with millions of Naira.” He thought these were the sources of the problem he now faced.
At this stage, I had to cut in to remind the President that the report I brought from that Jos convention did not say that money was not spent by Chief Abiola. In fact, that report said that money was spent by most of the SDP governors, as well as Chief Arthur Nzeribe, Dr Olusola Saraki, Chief Emeka Ojukwu and others to promote the candidacy of Alhaji Babagana Kingibe and work against Chief Abiola, My report also confirmed that Chief Abiola spent money to avoid being humiliated by the combined forces of SDP governors and the disqualified Presidential aspirants of 1992. In that report, I said that for one man, in the person of Chief MKO Abiola, to withstand these money men and state governments should be the sufficient reason why I thought the process should be allowed to go forward.
I also reminded the President that that was one of the subjects the Sultan raised with me in Sokoto in May 1993 when he counseled that the process should be abandoned. I asked him to recall that we both agreed on my return from Sokoto that it was too late in the day to do that.
The President then recalled how he blamed his security officers who did not give him both sides of the issue and how he concluded that MKO was his friend and that Tofa was his brother. The President was concerned that the Sultan and the Northern leaders were also opposed to Alhaji Tofa, I reminded him further that we parted that day with the understanding that whoever won the election would be okay by him. I drew his attention to how we came to the “last testament” and wanted to know what happened after May 17, 1993.
But he brought me right back to the immediate problem facing him. He agreed with my account, but said that he did not take his “boys” into confidence and that he had rejected the security briefs in the face of the report which I gave to him. He said that what he told them was that he would be able to stop Chief Abiola at the appropriate time. I then asked: “Do you think you have reached that stage now’!” He said: “Yes and No. “It cannot be “Yes” and “No”, I uttered and continued: “With the greatest respect and with the greatest sense of responsibility and with the greatest sense of loyalty to the President and love for the country. it is late in the day.”
He was shocked by my statement. Without giving a chance for response. I went personal; and said, “This is not the appropriate time; we have passed that stage, Ibrahim. I can see your problem but the country will not take it.” While he stared at me I went on: “You cannot tell the country this.” His countenance changed and he said, “The country will just have to take it,” he said. “I cannot kill myself for the sake of what the country wants. I am sorry,” he lamented. It was astonishing to hear a General state that he could not lay down his life for his country. But I understood what he meant. It was clear that General Babangida was in a fix as of June 21, 1993 and was in a desperate search of how to escape the wrath of his “boys.” He had lost the battle over the crucial weekend between June 18 and 21 at Minna.
I then proceeded to deal with the questions of who were these “they” and for what reasons would they want to kill the President and the President-Elect if the June 12 election were allowed to go forward. He named them in military and in ethnic categories:
Sani (meaning General Sani Abacha) is opposed to a return to civilian rule. Sani cannot stand the idea of Chief Abiola, a Yoruba, becoming his Commander-in-Chief at all; Sani seems to have the ears of the Northern leaders that no Southerner, especially from the Southwest should become the President of this country. Sani seemed to rally the Northern Elders to confront me on the matter. He is winning; the Sultan and the Northern leaders are of this frame of mind. Where do I go from here? They do not trust me. Without Sani, I will not be alive today; without the North, I would not have become an officer in the Nigerian Army and now the President of Nigeria.
I then asked what he would want done in the circumstance and he said: “I don’t want to appear ungrateful to Sani; he may not be bright upstairs but he knows how to overthrow governments and overpower coup plotters. He saw to my coming to office in 1985 and to my protection in the many coups I faced in the past, especially the Orkar coup of 1990 where he saved me and my family including my infant daughter.”
He went on, Sani, you know, risked his life to get me into office in 1983 and 1985; if he says that he does not want Chief Abiola, .I will not force Chief Abiola on him. I just have to end the whole matter and go back to the place of my birth. That is the way I feel now.
He also named Lt. General Dogonyaro and Brigadier General David Mark who were too close to him and who would want the issue resolved within the shortest possible time. In fact, he quoted David Mark as saying: “I’d shoot Chief Abiola the day NEC pronounces him the elected President”.
I asked the President what he would want me to do in the face of the threat to his life and the life of the incoming President. He again volunteered another issue from out of the blue which I shall discuss later. The President was in fact at that stage thinking of the military successor when he said: I wish I can just call the “boys” and hand over to David Mark and pack my luggage and go to Minna.
I thought this was strange; but that was how his mind was working as of that date and time (1:00pm on June 21, 1993). He definitely said he would have to retire with the Generals, including Sani Abacha and Joshua Dogonyaro before handing over to David Mark. He was very categorical in this matter. He did not foresee a situation in which Abacha and Dogonyaro could be in one government. These two officers individually saw themselves as the maker of President Babangida and also considered themselves as heir apparent. The order of succession to General Babangida was an issue which would occur later.
I reminded him of one stark fact which he did not quite appreciate. I told him that the report from the Nigerian Election Monitoring Group (NEMG) showed that Chief MKO Abiola secured majority votes in all the polling booths located around the army barracks in the country, which meant that it was only the senior officers who, for their selfish reasons, were opposed to democratic change. He did not respond to this. I also reminded him of the study which the CDS did which demonstrated that the need to intervene was too high among his junior officers, especially those from the North. He also did not respond.
He then volunteered the information that the “boys” had given him an ultimatum at Minna to choose between vacating office that week on his own or else put a seal of conclusion on the annulment of the whole June 12 election that week. As a matter of fact, he said that they wanted to annul the election themselves over the weekend (on June 20, 1993) with a single announcement while he was with them at Minna but that he pleaded with them to give him a few days to work out the modality for doing it so as to give the impression that he was still in command of the situation.
I thought that he was taking the Nigerian people for a ride. But for how long! I then cut in, “It means you have already made up your mind to abort the democratisation project?” He did not respond. Instead he asked a question of his own: “What should I now do?” This meant that he had already agreed to the annulment with his boys at the Minna meeting. I decided to probe further. I asked: “Is that all the ‘they?’ Are there still more?” To which he said, “Yes.”
The next set of people unhappy about June 12 was represented by the then Sultan of Sokoto who warned him not to undo the many years of Sardauna’s achievement for the North. The Sultan told him that the election of Chief MKO Abiola, whom he liked as a person and as a fellow Muslim, would enable the Yoruba to reverse the gains which the North had recorded since 1960. He reminded me that the Sultan had sent a message through me to him in May, saying that he should not allow the election to go forward. Suddenly, he exploded: “The Sultan was right after all; I should have stopped it then and the country would have settled down by now.” He told me that the Yoruba in the Presidency were openly parading themselves in the Villa saying that “Rankadede” (i.e. Northern or Hausa-Fulani hegemony) would soon give way to “Kabiyesi” (Southern or Yoruba hegemony), and he exploded again, banging the table, “Not here, Professor, not here.” He offered an apology. “I am sorry to speak this way.” Then he continued, “These people just think that without them Nigeria cannot move forward. The Ibos should teach them the lesson of history,” said the President, shocking me to the marrow of my bones.
It was clear that the “mistake of 1914” had taken a new turn for General Babangida to speak in that way. What bothered me was that during this period the Yoruba in Abuja had withdrawn to Lagos holding parties, thereby allowing the “annullists” to take over Abuja and consolidate. General Babangida even distanced himself from his Chief Press Secretary, Chief Duro Onabule, who was the former Editor of Chief Abiola’s newspaper, National Concord. Even the Vice President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu from Edo State in the South, was also isolated. He did not know what was going on. During this period, he confided in some people that he knew next to nothing about the President’s thinking.
I tried to advise the President not to believe in rumours but he fired back, “Don’t you know that Chief Abiola has already compiled a list of officers he would retire? Don’t you know he has Yorubas he wants to put in their place? Don’t you know he wants to move Abuja?” The President went on, “Don’t you know all these things about Abiola rice, Abiola milk and Abiola vegetable oil currently circulating in the market?”
These were rumours circulating in Abuja which Chief Abiola, as the Presidential candidate, and the SDP, as a party, did not forcefully address during this period. These rumours achieved their intended objective. I should say that the authors of these rumours were largely Yoruba security officers who made it their duty to circulate in many of Abiola’s parties and file stories to Abuja. I saw many of these reports myself
THE TWO SECTORS: TWO ETHNIC GROUPS
The third problem that General Babangida raised was that it would be wrong to allow two vital sectors – economy and polity – to be in the hands of one ethnic group in Nigeria. “Where will the rest of Nigeria go if the Yoruba take everything?” he asked. This argument appealed to the Igbo, especially those who were in the Transitional Council. For example, the Attorney-General, Mr Clement Akpamgbo, the Secretary for Education; Professor Ben Nwabueze, and the Secretary for Information, Comrade Uche Chukwumerije saw their mission as one of neutralising the influence of the Yoruba. On this occasion they were openly urging the military clique and the Northern Elders that everything should be done to stop Chief Abiola and the Yoruba. They even resorted to such cheap propaganda as that the Yoruba would stop Northerners from obtaining fertilisers or engaging in foreign exchange transactions.
Clement Akpamgbo and Ben Nwabueze were the private legal advisers to the President. They assured him that they would provide the legal basis for the annulment if the President would be courageous enough to do it. They claimed to know how they would be able to deal with the matter legally. Nigerians knew Uche Chukwumerije from the civil war days when he was the Chief of Propaganda of the Republic of Biafra. Definitely, they individually had an axe to grind with the Yoruba; General Babangida and the anullists used them in various ways. Why did these men allow the democratisation project to derail because they wanted to settle their individual and group scores with some Yoruba people! The Yoruba-Igbo feud is critical to the future of democracy in Nigeria. I wonder how the Igbo could think of getting Yoruba support in future. These people did not think that way.
At the end, we agreed to a consensus plan as we both agreed that we could not run away from the fact that there was an election; we agreed that there was a winner; we agreed that I should come up with the mode of constituting a government after the critical election which would take care of the matters arising from the election. I reminded him that what I was going to produce was what the Transitional Council was supposed to do when it was conceived by me. It is sad that during this period the Transitional Council lost focus and became too involved in the intrigues of derailing the transition programme. He readily dismissed the Transitional Council and asked me if a draft of the consensus plan would be possible within the day. I replied in the affirmative, prompting him to jump up for joy from his seat. He fixed 9.30 pm. for the consideration of the draft. His mood changed as we rose and he adjusted his dress.
As he was seeing me off, he humorously said, “I do not want to die like a rat in the hand of anybody; I don’t want anyone to kill me and my family. We survived many coups in that past eight years. I do not want to die in office.” When I said, “They will not kill you,” he humorously said, “Professor, that is one area you know nothing about! Thank you, please go.” I thanked him for the confidence reposed in me and advised him to go to his residence and let Madam know that he was okay.
It should be noted that during this meeting which lasted from 12.30 pm to 4.30 pm he only took a phone call from General Sani Abacha and the President’s reply of Amin! Amin! Amin! Allah Sarki! were the only words I could understand because he spoke to him in Hausa. He however confirmed to me just before I took leave of him that he had assured Sani that he would go ahead with the cancellation of the election. But he assured me that he would send for the “boys” and get them to consider the new position we were working on. He assured me that he would do it the way he did with the two-party system, the creation of states, the banning of certain persons etc.
“Can you, Mr. President?“ I asked. “Trust me,” he replied. It was clear to me that he wanted to separate the boys from General Abacha so that he could deal with the matter, if he could convince them. It was clear to me that he needed help. Despite his assurance to the contrary, he was not in control of the situation. He lost it the day he succumbed to the threat of Generals Abacha and Dogonyaro. On the one hand, he feared General Abacha and General Dogonyaro who were hovering around him for different reasons and, on the other, he did not know how to manage his “boys” (Mark, Ukpo, Shagaya, etc.) who were scheming and who wanted to succeed him. They were not working for the President to continue. They did not trust him. They did not have confidence in his capacity to provide for them. They were worried that they would be drowned with or without him unless they moved fast. They were scared of General Abacha.
GENERAL BABANGIDA NOW CONCERNED WITH SELF
It was clear to me that General Babangida had become more concerned with saving his life and those of members of his family than with his office and, by extension, the country, There was absolutely no doubt that he was prepared to sacrifice anything including the transition programme and the country so long as he saved his life.
I noticed another development from our discussion which was that a link had been struck between the military clique and the anti-democratic forces. This was my assessment of the President and the situation after our four-hour meeting. I, however, thought that I left him happier than he was at the start of our meeting. But that did not mean that the transition programme was still on course. It would be a miracle to save it. A very disturbing fact which I realised from that meeting was that the President had become a loner, more isolated than ever before. He confessed to me that all the military boys he relied on were bent on the cancellation of the election with no firm assurance as to what would happen to him and to the country after such a grave action. They were bent on what a journalist called “a bizarre anti-people conspiracy” to stop the election even at that stage when the winner was very obvious to the country and to the international community. It was in this context that they were trying to sell to the country the story that what happened on June 23 was a coup – yes, a coup against the democratic rights of Nigerians! I could see that the President was obviously torn between saving his skin and abandoning the ship of state in disarray. This was what he swore never to do as he always reminded me that a General does not retreat in disarray. He was now retreating in disarray. He was bent on that course of action if a consensual plan failed to appease first the military clique, then the Northern leaders, and, finally, the NRC leaders, etc.
JUNE 21; 9:30 PM – BABANGIDA’S RESIDENCE (PRESIDENTIAL VILLA)
The two issues of isolation and psychological problems surfaced again when I met the President on the night of June 21 to review the draft of the paper I had prepared on how to constitute a government after the election. The event that led me to the two conclusions arose from my encounter with Lt. General Joshua Dogonyaro that night. As I entered the living room of the President at 9.30 pm, there was General Dogonyaro with whom I would say I had been friends from way back in 1970. At that time, he was a Captain at Ibadan while I was a lecturer at the University of Ibadan. He had never shouted at me, being always courteous in our relations. He was sitting at one end of the living room opposite the President.
Once General Dogonyaro beheld me, he charged at me without provocation and screamed: “Professor, you are confusing this man,” he said. “This man” referred to the President. He kept shouting, “Don’t confuse this man. There was no election as far as the National Defence and Security Council is concerned.” When he got no reaction from me he toned down his voice and apologised for speaking that way. Still, he added that “there was no election; no election took place. Your advice to the C-in-C should therefore be how to tell the country that fact.” The President witnessed this outburst by one of his Generals. But he did not stop him, nor did he say a word. But General Babangida was deeply affected by what he witnessed.
While taking me to a room to review the draft, the President made a telling remark. “I told you that I am a prisoner,” he said. “What do I do? I think I need a psychiatrist.” It was the third time in one day that he was voicing the need for psychiatric help and it left me alarmed. Could it be the cause or an effect of the betrayal of the democratic rights of innocent Nigerians, including his friend Abiola? There was no way General Babangida could survive the pull and push of the two antagonistic Generals (Abacha and Dogonyaro), who, for different reasons, were bent on getting him to crash over June 12. They were united on getting Chief Abiola out of the way; they were not united on what General Babangida should do thereafter. This was how he became a loner and became psychologically disturbed. And that was why he was plotting to get Brigadier General David Mark to succeed him. If the two antagonistic Generals knew what he thought about them and his intention to name General Mark as Head of State, they would have humiliated him and dealt with General Mark.
General Babangida used Generals Abacha and Dogonyaro to climb and cling to power; he relied on them to survive during his many years as Chief of Army Staff and, later, as the President. They were the proverbial warlords with direct command of troops and unlimited access to money. They had, by this time, virtually cut the President off from the troop commanders and were amassing their loyalists in the army for any eventuality. General Abacha, as the Chief of Defence Staff, had mobilised the troops in Lagos and in Ibadan to withstand any civil unrest arising from the projected annulment. General Dogonyaro virtually abandoned his station at Jaji where he was Commandant of the Command and Staff College and converted the Presidential Villa into his residence. He wanted to make sure that the President did not reverse course again.
In the situation in which the President found himself, he did not see how he could steer a new course based on the paper I had developed for him. He still thought we should try it nevertheless and he sincerely wanted to try it. He had in fact tried to review the distinction between winning an election and forming a government with Lt. General Dogonyaro before I stepped into the Villa. That was why General Dogonyaro exploded when he saw me, to register his rejection of the advice I was providing the President. As far as he was concerned, there had been no election. This was a fundamental issue, If somebody did not agree that there was an election, then there was no way they could possibly conceive of the forced distinction which was fundamental to the proposal in the draft statement.
As General Dogonyaro was ranting, the President simply sat unconcerned. When I wanted to argue with General Dogonyaro, he reminded me that I was not a member of the armed forces and that I was not a member of the Military Government. He reminded me of my role, something I thought was obvious.
He told me that my services began and ended with my advice to the President, Commander-in-Chief. He warned me that my advice should not be construed as making the President work against the military interest. This was a veiled threat to me, that I was working against the military interest. He ended by accusing me as the one who brought the International Observers who had become the source of the problems of the Military Government.
As of June 21, 1993 it was clear to me that the military or, at least a clique, was bent on nullifying the election come what may. It was also clear that the military or a military clique was more concerned with the international community than with the Nigerian people. It was also clear to me that the military believed that the political class could be overpowered through the policy of divide and rule or outright purchase if need be, and even suppression if that was what the situation demanded.
The military knew that the international community was expecting a democratically elected President on August 27, 1993. This was what the world should have demanded from the military at this time by asking them to conclude the election. This is why I thought that had the US adopted a firm policy on actualising June 12, the military would have had second thoughts about annulment which at this time was still recoverable. The military needed the kind of strong statement of June 11 which frightened the President and made him to break away from his colleagues and agree to hold the election on June 12. Another statement by the United States, stronger than the kind issued on June 11, 1993 would have frightened the military and provided a cover for the President to opt for a consensual position on the June 12 issue. General Babangida needed an international push but he did not get this after June 12. The story of Nigerian democratic transition would have been different today.
It was after my encounter with General Dogonyaro that the President raised, for the third time, his declining mental capacity to cope with the dilemma. As a friend, I asked him if he would approve of my visiting Professor Adeoye Lambo, a renowned mental health expert and a former Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organisation to invite him to “visit” with the President. He snapped back at me: “Professor Lambo has already taken sides with his fellow Egba-man, Chief Abiola,” he said, declining the suggestion and saying that he would not touch Professor Lambo with a barge pole for as long as he was in favour of a return to democratic rule under Chief Abiola.
This meant that he was running awav from anyone who would want the conclusion of the June 12 election and the installation of Chief Abiola as the democratically elected President of Nigeria. What bothered me during this period was that all those who were then visiting the President or were found around his office were rumour peddlers: those who were carrying one tale or the other about the threat posed by the Presidential candidate and the Yoruba to the Hausa-Fulani hegemony and the status of Abuja as the Federal Capital of Nigeria on the one hand, and the military interest on the other.
The stories were never substantiated but the rumour-mongers were very serious in entertaining themselves and boasting that everything should be done to ensure that Oga (i.e., the President) stayed on. They did not know that Oga was fighting the battle of his life. The tragedy of this man was that he was not able to communicate what he really wanted to do to his “boys” who, in my view, were determined to destroy him if he tricked them this time. The Hausa-Fulani zealots in the North were bent on General Babangida staying on or finding someone amenable to them in office. They did not see how a Yoruba can be amenable. They did not trust the Igbo. The Yoruba haters among the Igbo wanted revenge and were frightened by the Yoruba capacity, hence they worked out deals with the military clique. In the end, it was the country that had to suffer for all these. The Igbo leaders were too anxious to be used as spoilers.
It was clear that General Babangida’s method of reaching decisions from the day he assumed office as President, Commander-in-Chief, had been faulty and had become the source of his difficulty. He believed that he could get around matters through tricks (which Nigerians called the “Maradona Method”) or the method of divide and rule, or of selling different versions of a matter to different groups and outright bribery. He did not trust anybody and became more distrustful with the passage of time. All these methods worked for him up till the time of the election.
To his colleagues, General Babangida had too many things to hide. The results of the Presidential election just had to be done in the open and this was when he was caught. But all the opposing groups knew that Chief MKO Abiola had won and were now one and very united in opposing the outcome, a proposition that President Babangida could no longer hide from. He was forced to come out and be counted. Here was his dilemma. He knew that everything went well; normally this called for celebration. He had worked very hard for this day; he knew that the nation’s Gulf War-induced oil windfall was spent on this programme; he knew how many Nigerians were being taken for a ride; thus, happiness eluded him.
The President and I finally went over the issues in the draft between 10 pm. and 2 am. He felt happy with it in the end, but he surprised me at 12.45 am when he threw a bombshell by asking me to think of an alternative, in case the proposal failed to sail through with the boys.
But when he saw my mood, he quickly said, “Produce a final draft in the normal memorandum form.” He promised to take the final draft to the National Defence and Security Council whose meeting was scheduled for June 23. He wanted a clean copy of the paper at 9 pm on June 22, “for his eyes only” as we usually did with other major decisions in the past. This meant that the paper was to be personally delivered by me, not through my staff and it was to be received by him and him only and not to be sent through any of his staff except if the President phoned me to direct that I should give it to his ADC or his Personal Secretary, both of whom he had used for such errands in the past. I worked on this matter, taking into account the observations and the points he was prepared to live with.
JUNE 22, 1993: 9:00 PM: I WAS LOCKED OUT
I arrived at the gates of the Presidential Villa at 8.55 pm for the 9:00 pm meeting. I had the final copy of the paper I had produced. But I was told by the Security Officers at the gate that the President had removed all names, including my name, from the list of visitors expected that night. Of course, they added that I was not a visitor usually affected by such an order except that the situation that evening was such that they would not be able to alert the Villa that I was at the gate. They were not allowed to phone the security staff in the residence to announce that I was at the gate. I inquired who were with the President. The answer I got was that some Generals and senior officers were with the C-in-C. They named General Dogonyaro, Brigadier General David Mark, Brigadier General Anthony Ukpo, Brigadier General John Shagaya and Brigadier General Halilu Akilu as those who were there. They did not name General Abacha. I asked whether the Vice President, Admiral Aikhomu, was there and the answer was “No!” I asked if the Chairman of the Transitional Council, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was there. The answer was a prolonged, “Nooo!” It was clear to me that it was the usual “war council”, probably called to discuss the matter that was to come before the NDSC meeting the following day. It was usually the practice to stop all visitors including someone in my position from visiting. It was the President’s practice to rehearse critical matters with his “boys” before going to the full meeting of the NDSC. The difference in this case was that contrary to usual practice, neither the President nor his ADC telephoned me to cancel and reschedule the appointment, especially as I was expected to bring a document for the President. Judging from the state of mind he was in before I left him at about 2:00 am on June 22, 1993, I was worried as to how he was going to cope.
I finally reached the President by telephone at about 1:00 a.m; he could not speak freely but he assured me that his Personal Assistant (PA), Captain Abdullah Jalingo, would come for the paper in the morning. As I tried to say that he should come early enough for the meeting scheduled for 10:00 am on June 23, 1993 the phone went dead. I had earlier learnt from the ADC to the President, that he would be going to Katsina early in the morning to attend the funeral/interment ceremony of the late Alhaji Musa Yar’ Adua, the father of Major General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua. I felt relieved, however, that he would ask his PA to come for the paper. I was still feeling that the election was still in order. I went to bed and awaited the President’s PA to pick up the paper in the morning.
At about 3:00 a.m. Chief Anthony Anenih, the national Chairman of the SDP, phoned me from either the home or the guest house of Chief Abiola in Lagos and, routinely, he inquired if things were going on smoothly. He wanted to know when the results would finally be announced. He also wanted me to hazard a guess as to what the President had in mind. I declined to give any positive answers to these questions but I advised him to get his Presidential Candidate, Chief Abiola, to leave whatever he was doing and go to Katsina to attend the funeral ceremony of Alhaji Yar’ Adua scheduled for that day as that could be an opportunity to get answers to his questions. I thought it would have been an opportunity for Chief Abiola to meet General Babangida. Later, Chief Anenih called me from the airport at about 11:00 am on June 23, 1993 and confirmed that the President was there but that he was shielded from Chief Abiola by security men.
Chief Anenih felt disappointed that both men did not even meet to exchange pleasantries. I thought it was a serious matter. By this time, neither Chief Abiola nor Chief Anenih knew of the annulment announcement. I also did not know by this time. I did not suspect that events of the night of June 22/23 had moved the country from stalemate to the annulment of the democracy project.
This was why the security officers built a security wall around the President at Katsina; that was why the security men prevented Chief Abiola from even getting within earshot of General Babangida; that was why security at strategic places in Lagos and Abuja was beefed up, reminiscent of the situation one observed in post-coup periods of the past. General Babangida confessed later that he was not himself at the Katsina ceremony; he had never felt so confused, he told me; he wished that the earth would open up and swallow him when he saw Chief Abiola there that morning. He was aware of the enormity of what had happened and that the consequences for himself and for Nigeria were beyond his comprehension, although he sensed that they would be grave.
The paper was still with me at the beginning of office hours on June 23, 1993. When I called Captain Jalingo, he was positive the President did not direct him to come for any paper. I did not suspect anything because I had no reasons to suspect that something mysterious happened earlier in the night. But the P.A. promised to call me back as soon as the President returned from Katsina. This was about 9:00 am.
I was still expecting Captain Jalingo’s call when a telephone call came through from the Voice of America (VOA), in Washington, DC, USA. Even before he started asking questions, I told the VOA reporter that I had no news for him. He agreed, but wanted me to confirm a Reuters’ story which said that the results of the Presidential election of June 12 had been cancelled. This was at about 11:30 am, after I had spoken to the President’s PA Of course. I declined to comment on it because it was news – bad news – to me. Not long after that I saw it on CNN; later, I think at about 12.00 noon or so, it was relayed on Radio Kaduna (the mouth-piece of the Northern Ruling Group)! It was not until 4:00 pm that the news of the annulment was aired by the network of Radio Nigeria.
The election had been annulled. With what was it annulled? What did the President say? What happened next? Get a copy of Flashback on 17 July 2013; all the answers are there!