…MKO ABIOLA STRUCK A DEAL WITH SANI ABACHA
No one expected the suddenness. Of course, many knew something would happen, most especially when the court had said the National Interim Government was illegal and pro-democracy groups had rekindled their clamour for the dethronement of the Shonekan-led ING, but no one thought it the way it happened. Just like that: service chiefs visited their Commander-in-Chief, and gbam! The government was toppled!
And there was no pretense: Shonekan was gone, and Sani Abacha became the Head of State immediately. People were still wondering what happened and how it happened until the news was reported the second day, 18 November 1993. The Guardian reported it this way:
Gen. Abacha with Chief of Defence Staff, Lt Gen. Oladipo Diya
Shonekan resigns, Abacha takes over govt
Chief Ernest OladeindeAdegunleShonekan resigned the offices of Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces yesterday, 83 days after he took over the leadership mantle from former President Ibrahim Babangida.
Gen. Sani Abacha, who until yesterday was Defence Secretary, took over immediately as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), in a news flash last night, credited a statement on Shonekan’s exit to his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Emma Agu.
Although the circumstances of the exit were unclear at press time, Abacha’s succession to the office of Head of State seems in line with the provisions of the Interim National Government Constitution (Basic Provisions) Decree 61 that, should the Head of State resign or be incapacitated, the most senior Secretary, presumably the Defence Secretary, would take over.
Shonekan was sworn in as Head of the Interim National Government on August 26, when Gen. Babangida bowed out. He was subsequently designated the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in Decree 61 which was gazetted a few weeks later.
It was not clear if Abacha’s ascendancy fell within the ambit of the interim government as it is constituted under Decree 61. The government’s tenure is scheduled to terminate on March 31, next year, when a democratically elected president is expected to be sworn in.
The text of Chief Shonekan’s resignation statement reads: “Fellow colleagues of the Interim National Government, I have summoned you this evening on an unusual occasion. Earlier today, I met with the Secretary of Defence, in company of the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Army Staff, and we discussed the state of the nation.
“They expressed serious concern about the general uneasiness in the country and the apparent lack of stability over the past three months. They spoke about the restiveness of the rank and file in the military.
“You will recall that today is our 82nd day in office, having been sworn in on August 26, 1993. Needless to say that we have all worked together to the best of our abilities, and as a coherent team.
“I want to put it on record that I have enjoyed the period we worked together in the Interim National Government. It is common knowledge that the ING is a child of circumstance. It was conceived in crisis and born into crisis.
“If I may recount some of the achievements of the Interim National Government to which you have all been living witnesses, we may not have recorded landmarks, but we have taken the first step. In the social sector, we have brought back normalcy in the institutions of higher learning. On human rights, our records are impeccable and perhaps, unbeatable in the annals of our country. We freed all jailed human right activists; we pardoned all political offenders both dead and alive; allowed all politicians in exile to return home; and we have not restricted the free movement of any activist in and out of the country. We also took the appropriate steps to de-proscribe the newspapers proscribed by sending the Bills to the National Assembly to be repealed.
“On the political arena, we have continued to work ceaselessly towards full democratisation of our dear country. We have extended our right-hand of fellowship to the legislature and have put in place the machinery for local and presidential elections next February.
“On the economic scene, we were able to put in place an Economic Action Agenda for the nation, in conjunction with the private sector operators. Let me assure you that our seemingly tough policies had received commendation from far and beyond. Ordinarily, I would have wished that the Interim National Government would be saddled only with economic problems. This derives from my belief that our country faces more economic challenges than anything else. Although we have not been able to implement some of our policies, nonetheless, we have started out in the right direction by curbing frivolous expenditure and working closely with the private sector of the economy. I can only hope that the successor administration will take off from where we are leaving and continue courageously with the budgetary and other reforms we have adopted as well as our campaign for debt relief.
Abacha and Abiola Exchange Pleasantries while Diya looks on
“Distinguished colleagues, most important, the Interim National Government has tried very hard to bring honour to government and had taken steps to campaign against the corruption and indiscipline.”
That was Earnest Shonekan, the Head of the Interim National Government giving account of his stewardship, and why he had to leave in a hurry. Everyone knew the whole statement was not about any resignation, but about a coup. He was forced not only to write and read, but also to move away immediately from the Government House.
And he did move! He was driven out of the Villa around 8.40pm with this curious veil put on the insignia of the Federal Government of Nigeria affixed to his official bullet proof Peugeot 605.
General Sani Abacha also played a fast one on everybody. He was in Lagos, and he moved down to Abuja for the meeting with Shonekan. Immediately after the meeting and before any announcement was made, Abacha was back in Lagos, leaving Shonekan there in Abuja. He had arrived Lagos at 11.00pm, with Oladipo Diya and other service chiefs, and was already in when the resignation of Shonekan was announced at about 11.45pm by the NTA.
But Shonekan did not return to Lagos until around 1.00am. He came in as a lone ranger, and his pathetic arrival was reported thus:
Abiola and Jonathan Zwingina
Shonekan back in Lagos
Looking pensive, Chief Ernest Shonekan flew into Lagos early yesterday, accompanied by his closest ally in the defunct interim government, Chief DapoSarumi, the Communications Secretary.
Shonekan, adorned in his traditional national attire, flew in on board the presidential jet at 12.45 a.m. to a cold reception as the customary red carpet was not rolled out to receive him.
No senior government official was around at the presidential lounge of the Lagos airport while the airport officials who assisted in clearing his personal items into waiting vehicles apparently did not expect the flight.
The area was apparently devoid of heavy security presence but the former head of state was sandwiched between white security personnel all wearing walkie talkie on their waists, as he alighted from the presidential Boeing 727.
Before he alighted, his personal belongings were loaded into a waiting white Toyota jeep marked LA 99 G, and three other vehicles. He was later driven out of the airport in a metallic blue Mercedes Benz marked 66 CC 2600 accompanied by one of the white security aides.
Chief Shonekan, however, appeared disturbed and his hand perpetually rested on his chin as the convoy drove out of the presidential lounge. Sarumi left in a brown Santana car with registration number LA 6480 DB, followed by a convoy of six cars which left for an unknown destination.
One of Sarumi’s aides asked the former Communications Secretary where the convoy should head for, to which he replied: “We are taking Baba to his house.”
But even with this, the politicians were still dreaming. Those elected and enjoying the perks of office thought that Abacha’s government would be a continuation of the old interim government, and they would be left alone until the fog was cleared, and full democracy returned.
Chife Shonekan with Petroleum and Mineral Resources Secretary, Don Etiebet
But not so. Later on Thursday, 18 November 1993, General Sani Abacha, the new Head of State gave a 10-minute tease broadcast where he ordered Nigeria to return to full-blown military government by dissolving all state governments, all assemblies and all councils. So, the governors stomped angrily home, the senators scurried away, House of Representatives members scuttled off and the councils’ chairmen and their councillors vamoosed.
Now, it was only Sani Abacha and his military boys; really, it was the time of Abacha Boys. And while 67 senators met hurriedly denouncing the military take-over and vowed not to surrender the people’s mandate, the former Secretary of Defence assumed duties in his new capacity as the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
But one man seemed to know what was happening, at least he thought he knew. That was MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12 presidential election that brought in all the crises. He appeared as if he were the one directing the affairs of the time. Abacha had refused to go to Abuja, he was ruling from Lagos, an assurance that his stay would be very brief. Besides, Abiola had predicted his coming.
And to publicly associate with the new government, Abiola led an entourage to Sani Abacha on the first Monday of his days as a Head of State. It was a wonderful day, and everyone thought the day of Abiola presidency was close by. The visit was reported on 23 November 1993:
Abacha, Abiola discuss political development
Recent political developments formed the basis of discussion yesterday in Lagos between the Head of State, General Sani Abacha, and Chief Moshood Abiola, who met for about 75 minutes.
The meeting was confirmed by Dr. Jonathan Zwingina, Abiola’s national campaign director, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Zwingina, a member of Abiola’s entourage to Abacha said that specific issues discussed during the meeting might be highlighted in any future discussions.
“But this was a preliminary review of events and a preview of what should be in the pipeline in order to achieve the quick restoration of democracy in Nigeria,” Zwingina said.
On whether Gen. Abacha solicited Abiola’s support for his military government, Zwingina said: “I believe that anybody who has to govern Nigeria will require the support of all leading Nigerians, and obviously that was touched as well.”
The campaign director also provided some insight (in his response to the BBC) into the mood in Abiola’s camp following the change in leadership, especially the return of the military against the background of Abiola’s struggle for the upholding of the sanctity of June 12 election.
From Left- Isiaka Adeleke, Walter Carrington, MKO Abiola and Kolapo Ishola
Did Chief Abiola say to Abacha that he welcomed his take over in Nigeria; that he thought it would be good for the country?
“You know very well there is no way in which a democrat can welcome a military regime anywhere. But we understand the circumstances that led to this one, which are circumstances… that had to do with the inability of the political class to play the game by the rule, to accept defeat when they are defeated, and to allow the democratic order to prevail on the basis of June 12. I understand that any leader who loves his country will like to see a speedy restoration of democracy and will also like to see a peaceful order, so that citizens are not harmed. But obviously, everybody regrets what has happened and we are not about to jubilate for a military government. But we understand why it had to come.”
That sounds as though Chief Abiola feels the game is over for the civilian political group and for him in particular?
“No. Every politician is of necessity, an optimistic person. And Chief Abiola is extremely optimistic. So, I do not think that anybody, least of all, Chief Abiola will be giving up on the political process. It’s an on-going process and we are very active and he is going to continue to play a prominent role in the process.”
Did Gen. Abacha, in anyway warn Abiola not to pass on his campaign to get the June 12 election recognized? Did he tell him that was effectively finished?
“To the best of my knowledge, there were no warnings from either side. And that issue has not been put in that way.
Did Gen. Abacha indicate that he would like Chief Abiola to be involved in any administration of his and in Nigeria?
“No, I am not aware of such discussion.”
Everything you have said so far, Mr. Zwingina, sounds as if the option is open for Chief Abiola to confront the military take-over if he wanted and put in some resistance.
“I won’t put it that way. But I must say that some discussions have commenced. And I think politics is not necessarily a game of continued confrontation. It also involves dialogue and discussion. And that is all that we are doing.”
So, do you think Gen. Abacha is a man Chief Abiola could do business with?
“I think that judgment can better be exercised by Chief Abiola himself.”
What people would want to know, Mr. Zwingina, is whether Chief Abiola is in the mood for such a deal with Gen. Abiola.
“Chief Abiola is not about to enter into any deal at all. The only politics that we in the politics of social democrats are concerned with is the deal to restore all the rights of Nigerians and the democratic traditions of the nation. That is the only deal every politician, especially of the social democratic order, respects. And I want to assure you that Chief Abiola is not about to start any deal with anybody.”
A member of the dissolved Senate, Chief Bola Tinubu, also accompanied Abiola on the visit which was reportedly preceded by an advance courtesy call by retired Commodore Dan Suleiman also of the defunct SDP.
Other personalities who visited Gen. Abacha yesterday included the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mohammed Bello, Former Defence Minister, Gen. Domkat Bali and former Foreign Affairs Minister, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi.
Chief Tony Anenih and Chief Tom Ikimi, former chairmen of defunct SDP and NRC, also visited the Head of State. Gen. Abacha also received the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Lev Parshin, as part of his consultation with heads of diplomatic missions.
With this visit, Abiola started to mobilise for Sani Abacha, ensuring he had enough of his men in the regime. He told his confidants that Abacha wanted to rule for six months, after which he would return the government to him. Abiola trusted Abacha, and he was practically begging his friends to join the government.
And when Abacha announced his cabinet, most of the friends and supporters of Abiola were already in the government.