THE JUNE 12 CRISIS: WHY IBRAHIM BABANGIDA STEPPED ASIDE
It was the month of August in 1993, and things were so dicey that no one knew what could happen the next hour. While the government of Ibrahim Babangida had postponed the transition programme indefinitely and was working on an interim government, Nigerians were no longer sure if the General would leave the stage on 27 August 1993 as promised. Reason: There were many promises with most of them hitting the rock before the time of fulfillment. But the citizens had no choice than to wait. And they did wait.
While Vice President Augustus Aikhomu’s panel said on 5 August 1993, that the composition of the proposed interim government would be dominated by civilians, the National Republican Convention was canvassing for the retention of all democratic institutions, urging the military government to just go, and leave civilians alone to straighten things out.
But the Social Democratic Party hierarchy was divided because some of the leaders had agreed to the creation of the so called interim government. The former Lagos State governor, Lateef Jakande, this same day with four SDP governors denounced the patch-patch arrangement. The governors of Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Ogun dissociated themselves form the proposal by the two political parties and the government. And as they were saying this, the US was warning that any extension of military rule in Nigeria would attract more sanctions from its end.
By 7 August 1993, there appeared a big chasm between the leadership of the SDP and many of its members. Some of the leaders claiming to be closer to the grassroots supporters were pressing the party’s national executive to pull the party out of the post August 27 interim arrangement. All they wanted was the release of the June 12 election, and the handing over to the acclaimed winner Bashorun MKO Abiola.
But Tony Anenih, the chairman of the party insisted that grassroots support was not a monopoly enjoyed by those miffed by his executive’s apparent abandonment of its earlier insistence on the sanctity of the June 12 presidential mandate. The 30 state chairmen of the party had argued that they were closer to the grassroots than the executive, and they knew that the people wanted only one thing, and that was the June 12 mandate.
On Monday, 9 August 1993, the chasm between the leaders of SDP came to the open when the state chairmen attempted to meet in Abuja, and Chairman Tony Anenih said they could not. He said the meeting was not authorized, and there was no need for it. But the chairmen ignored their leader and held the meeting at the Abuja Sheraton Hotel and Towers, only for them to be stopped by a police team led by Assistant Commissioner of Police, Abdullahi Ibrahim.
And the federal government was poised for a fight and warned people planning to destabilise the country that same month to desist. The warning contained in a statement by Information Secretary, Mr Uche Chukwumerije, came as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) deplored the pervasive rumours of war which had caused exodus of people from their stations to their home states. Chukwumerije said the destabilisation plot was hatched in one of the western states and was billed to take place between August 12 and 13.
But truly, there were plans of protest against the government, as announced by Campaign for Democracy (CD), for not upholding the sanctity of the June 12 election and this might have been what the Information Secretary termed a destabilisation plot. In fact, on 10 August 1993, while M K O Abiola said he was in US and Britain to counter the propaganda machinery of the government operating overseas, Vice-President Augustus Aikhomu was warning all the governors: “There will be no hesitation to declare a state of emergency in any state where there is a break-down of law and order as a result of seditious, inciting and provocative documents circulating, albeit, surreptitiously.”
But the NRC governors were actually moving on, they were advising the government not to allow any civilian to lead the proposed interim government. The governors of the 16 states controlled by the National Republican Convention and other party stalwarts requested the military to head the interim government for the transition to civil rule to be effective. Although they did not state categorically if General Babangida should remain in government after 27 August, their utterances suggested that they would not protest if Babangida was tipped as the head of the interim government.
Despite the threat of Aikhomu about a state of emergency and the assurances of Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Aliyu Attah, Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta and Osogbo roads were deserted on August 12 as residents stayed indoors for most part of the day when the Campaign for Democracy (CD) coordinated a three-day stay-at-home protest to show the disapproval of the cancellation of the June 12 election.
All workers, traders and public transporters stayed away from their offices, shops and markets. Banks, fuel stations, and other key sectors were closed while commercial vehicle operators withdrew services for fear of attack by trouble makers. As a result, the American aviation authorities stopped all flights from and to Nigeria.
On the second day of the protest, commerce and other economic activities in Lagos, Oyo, Ogun and Osun state remained largely comatose. Despite the threats of reprisals against absentee workers by government organs, most federal and state government offices were practically deserted. Markets were desolate, while shopping, the hallmark of a country’s link with international commerce, lulled.
Information Secretary, Uche Chukwumerije quickly came out with a solution as a he announced that he had discovered a plan by a disgruntled politician to carry out bomb attacks in three major cities, and blow up a major oil pipeline. The destabilization plot was to be carried out from August 16 to 25 1993.
Chukwumerije said it involved sporadic explosion of bombs in Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna to create an atmosphere of insecurity. The blowing up of the North-South oil pipeline which was a few kilometers from Kaduna; and release of an extra N10 million to agents provocateur in the Nigeria Labour Congress and N8 million to other dissident activists – to step up acts of incitement.
On 14 August 1993, the stay-at-home protest ended without casualty, though the political logjam scuttled many weddings as Saturday the 14th was not a day to hold any ceremony. But the news was that the interim government might take off that week, and tension seemed to go down, as people started to look into the future.
Things were not easy for the military President himself as the General continued to hold series of meetings with his immediate constituency. He was trying to look into some suggestions bordering on whether the interim government should be headed by a civilian or a military man. But at the same time he was meeting with his own people. The northern opinion leaders were also meeting, and they came out to seek exclusion of serving military officers in the interim government. And the road seemed closed for IBB.
With this and many other interpretations given to the situation by the media, the government became angry with the press, most especially those in the south. On August 15, four senor editors of TELL magazine were arrested in their offices by security operatives. They were Mr. Nosa Igiebor, Mr. Onome Osifo-Whiskey, Mr. Kolawole Ilori and Mr. Kayode Akinkuotu. Another senior editor that escaped, Dare Babarinsa, said the operatives arrived their Ikeja offices in two vehicles – a Peugeot J5 bus, and a Mitsibushi Gallant car, ransacked the offices and took many documents away before hurling the editors into the vehicles.
But that was a child’s play. On Monday 16 August 1993, a heavy hammer fell on the Nigerian press. Newspapers and magazines published by some of the media houses shut in July in the wake of the federal government’s annulment of the June 12 presidential election were proscribed under a new law. The newspapers and magazines could not be published in Nigeria again.
Those affected included: African Concord magazine, the Weekend Concord, Sunday Concord, National Concord and such other newspapers and magazines published by the Concord Newspapers; the Punch, Saturday Punch, and Sunday Punch published by Punch Newspapers Limited; the Daily Sketch and Sunday Sketch published by Sketch Press Limited; and the Nigerian Observer and Sunday Observer published by the Bendel Newspapers Corporation.
But the Abuja Newsday, whose premises were shut on July 21, was not affected by the proscription, although reason for the selective reprieve was not immediately known. The law was also silent on The Reporter shut on March 1. Whereas, Abiola continued his lobby in Europe, canvassing international support for his mandate, dangerous developments were emerging at home.
But on Tuesday, 17 August 1993, what appeared to be the greatest relief of the moment came when the President offered to step aside. He said it could no longer be denied, since it was before the National Assembly. Many people were happy that IBB was finally going; and on 18 August 1993, the Guardian Newspapers reported the day in this fashion:
“Babangida offers to resign
“General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida has offered to step down as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
“It was his own ‘personal sacrifice which he made after lengthy deliberations’ with the service chiefs, to make Nigeria move on with ‘fresh hands to the next sign post in our collective march towards the political and economic development of our great country.
His decision to quit, which he announced to members of the National Assembly whom he addressed in Abuja, yesterday, was his own way of allaying the general impression that he constituted the issue and obstacle to civil democratic rule.
He said: ‘It is unfortunate that I have been portrayed as the issue and obstacle to civil democratic rule by those who are supposed to know better. I know as a matter of fact that this perception of me is not correct. But that does not really matter now. What matters the most is the peace, stability and progress of our dear country.
“Patriotism and sense of higher values demand that I do something personally about this uncharitable perception of my person and the administration over which I preside.”
President Babangida insisted that the interim government was part of his administration’s programme which would be backed by a decree and dutifully defended by the Armed Forces. And addressing members of the Transitional Council later, Vice-President Augustus Aikhomu told them to wind up and be ready to hand over to the interim government on August 25. The President himself said that much.
But more indicative of Gen. Babangida’s probable continuance in government were definite statements suggesting that he would be around during the interim government to carry ‘out specific tasks.’ He would, for instance, be available to defend his stewardship and tackle critics of his administration whom he accused of indulging in forgery, malicious or fictitious writing.
He told the legislators: ‘During the period of the interim administration, I, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who, by the grace of Allah, served this country in the capacity of President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, from 1985 to date, will place before Nigerians full account of our stewardship; so that we can put to rest the usual craze for forgery, malicious or fictitious writing by our compatriots or swearing to affidavits by publicity-seeking Nigerians who are bent on maligning those who served this country in one capacity or the other.
He added: ‘The records of our stewardship will always be available for posterity because, for the first lime, we have ran the most documented Administration in the history of this country.
“I shall also be prepared and ready at the end of the interim government to pass on my experience in defence and security matters and any information relevant to the state to the elected president.’
“But President Babangida did not say in what capacity he would carry out these tasks because the interim government was designed to be headed by civilians as chairman and deputy chairman.
Much of President Babangida’s address to members of the National Assembly focused on refutal of what he said was ‘a curious conception of politics in the ‘first person singular,’ whereby the activities of government were reduced to the whim of one actor (General Ibrahim Babangida).’
That perception which portrayed him as once ‘powerful and supreme’ tended to reduce government to a private activity over which a powerful and supreme actor held sway, rather than, in the case of his administration, a ‘collective activity.
But even as he tried to extricate his person from the political crisis and the process of its resolution, President Babangida’s address dwelt copiously on his person and his place in the impasse as well as the convenient solution to it – the interim national government.
For instance, the President himself confessed that he was hurt by the dilemma of love for friends and love for country, with the latter always superseding because of patriotic obligation.
He said: ‘I have many friends. These friends, in turn, acknowledge our friendships built over many years of give and take. I love my friends. But I also love my country. It is the height of patriotism that whenever the love for one’s country is in conflict with any other love, the love for the country takes precedence.
The President would, therefore, like Nigerians to see the controversial annulment of June 12 Presidential election in the light of this patriotic instinct ‘The decision obviously hurt my friends but, I, for this purpose and on this occasion, wanted to be counted on the side of the nation, my country,’ he remarked.
He regretted that his friends saw the action as an act of betrayal. ‘Were they to have a large heart. he said, ‘they would have been able to see through the broader, patriotic zeal which propelled the administration under my leadership into taking that action.
“President Babangida told the legislators that he, personally, and his family were hurt by the many and varied attacks. But his consolation was that a private hurt must not be allowed to infiltrate and derail public decision making. Even then, he was worried that the personal attack on him and the “innocent members of my family may deter other patriots who genuinely wish to offer themselves for service to the fatherland in the future to tarry a while.
He however, advised such patriots not to be deterred because great men of history went through such difficult times.”
This plan for an interim national government as outlined by President Babangida before the National Assembly was quickly supported by former head of state, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. He supported the idea of raising the temporary government, but dismissed Babangida’s offer to step aside as mere sophistry. The man should just go, he insisted.
And like a cloud after a heavy rain, doubts persisted in some political camps about the implications of the President’s speech for Nigeria’s march towards a fully democratic dispensation. Adekunle Ajasin and some of his political associates could not celebrate or comment as Abiola himself continued to fire from abroad, telling Babangida: It’s not too late for a change of mind.
He had even promised to return home on 24 August, but he quietly changed the date again. He had told Reuters that, “On August 24 I will be 56. I expect to be in Nigeria to celebrate my birthday.” But on 21 August, it came out that Abiola had been strongly advised to delay his return until more auspicious time, probably when Babangida must have completed his “step aside” idiosyncrasy. And MKO stayed put abroad.
All the same, after a lot of push and shoves, on 26 August 1993, Babangida bowed out, relinquishing power to an interim government headed by Ernest Shonekan. He also pulled out of the army and his retirement was reported on 27 August 1993 thus:
“Babangida retires from 30-year military
“General Ibrahim Babangida bowed out of the Armed Forces yesterday, terminating a 30-year military career and eight-year tenure as the Armed Forces Commander-in:-Chief.
“His exit yesterday, ushered in a harvest of other retirements. Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, Vice-Admiral Murtala Nyako, all the service chiefs – Army’s Lt.-Gen. Salihu Ibrahim, his Navy and Air force counterparts, Vice-Admiral Dan Preston Omatsola and Air Vice-Marshal Akin Dada, as well as Police Inspector-General, Aliyu Atta – also retired. No mention was made of Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Sanni Abacha, who was to be named later as Defence Secretary of the interim government and installed later.
Gen Babangida’s retirement featured 45-minute farewell parade in his honour by detachments of the Armed Services. The parade, attended by members of his family, senior military and government functionaries, state governors and some members of the diplomatic community, was held at the Ibrahim Babangida Square, Abuja.
He arrived the parade ground at 10 a.m. dressed in a ceremonial Army uniform. His wife, Maryam, and their four children, were also on hand.
“After taking the national salute at 10.30 a.m., Gen, Babangjda rode with the parade commander, Major Musa Garuba of the 2 Guard Battalion, a Commandant of the Brigade of Guards, Col. John Madaki, in a motorcade to the point where he began a review of the parade.
“Heralded by a 21-gun salute, the retiring commander-in-chief acknowledged cheers from the crowd, by waving a gloved hand and beaming with smiles.
“Gen. Babangida, in his valedictory address on the parade ground, appraised the score card of his eight-year tenure and returned a verdict of wholesome success.
“The transition programme, for instance, has ensured the installation of democratically elected government at the local and state levels. This, he said, was a measure of his administration’s determination to build democracy on a solid and viable foundation to which the two-party structured state government, and councils and the election of national assembly members bear testimony.
According to Gen. Babangida, the relationship between the three-tier federal system is one that Nigeria did not experience during the first and second republics.
He said the painful experience of the two botched attempts to hold or conclude presidential elections must be seen in the context of the total ‘experiment launched by his administration in 1987. To those he called ‘our countrymen, who are in a hurry to write an epigraph’ of democracy in Nigeria, he added: ‘It may be useful for them to remember that democracy means much more than a mere successfully holding of an election. Important as this exercise might be, democracy involves the creation and establishment of appropriate institutions and culture to moderate and absorb the shocks of the democratic experiment in the formative and fragile phases.’
Remarking that ‘democracy means the establishment of values of conflict resolution,’ pointing out that ‘our ability to resolve past and present conflicts by ourselves demonstrates clearly that our skills in democratic maturity is on the rise’
He cited other achievements of his administration as the creation of Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal to act as a watch dog, and ensure the highest standards of efficiency and integrity in public service. There were also the National Population Commission (NPC) which conducted 1991 census, National Revenue and Fiscal Mobilisation Commission charged with evolving adequate revenue allocation formula as well as National Council on Governmental Relation raised to mediate in conflicts among the constituents and thereby ensure more harmonious federation
On the economy, he said the hostile international economic environment and actions of some unpatriotic and exploitative Nigerians accounted for the deterioration in the quality of life of some citizens. They also accounted for the escalating cost of basic commodities even in the rural areas.
But Gen. Babangida was convinced that his administration was leaving behind a durable and realistic base for progress in Nigeria’s economic fortunes. No one can deny the tremendous rural development effort and the rapid transformation of the rural communities through the provision of basic infrastructure and primary healthcare, he added:
Notable amongst the audience were Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Abacha, Vice-Admiral Nyako and the just-retired service chiefs. There were also Senate President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and House of Representatives Speaker, Chief Agunwa Anaekwe. Ayu arrived the parade ground in company of Anaekwe, and took the national salute at 9.45 am – 15 minutes before Gen. Babangida arrived.
Some state governors also graced the parade. They included Chief Felix Ibru (Delta), Sir Michael Otedola (Lagos), Chief John Odigie Oyegun (Edo), Mr. Fidelis Tapgun (Plateau), AIhaji Sha’ aba Lafiagi (Kwara), and Alhaji Saidu Barda. There were also Alhaji Audu Abubakar (Kogi), Alhaji Saad, Birnin Kudu (Jigawa), AIhaji Bukar Ibrahim (Yobe), and Okwesilieze Nwodo (Enugu)
Now, Babangida had left, leaving the trouble-shooting for the national interim government called the Child of Necessity. But would this child survive? Who were the doctors, the midwives and the nurses? Get a copy of Historical Flashback on 18 September 2013.