👤 By Demola Olarewaju @DemolaRewaju
For Tofa meanwhile, the regime had a plan to disqualify him if he won, on the basis that he wasn’t a duly registered member of the NRC in the first place.
Indeed, the party membership number that Tofa had filled into his nomination form was that of a woman and the regime had made a photocopy of her own membership form and kept it in a dossier, waiting for Tofa to emerge before they disrupted the whole thing.
But Abiola was winning!
Those who know Anenih know that he is a tireless political fixer with wide networks all over the country.
In the Kano axis, SDP also had Sule Lamido as Secretary from Jigawa and Abubakar Rimi was onground in Kano, losing the gubernatorial contest to NRC by the Santsi/Tabo issue.
In May 1993 also, the ABN filed a case to halt the June 12 election. Two days to the date in 1993, Justice (Mrs) Bassey Ikpeme was allegedly flown into Abuja specially to hear the case and she ordered the election to be put on hold, contrary to a decree of the same IBB regime.
The decree had stated that no interim or interlocutory order or ruling, judgement or decision made by any court or tribunal etc etc could stop the election.
So June 11, Sunbo Onitiri and Richard Adejumo filed another case in Lagos before Justice Moshood Olugbani.
Olugbani ruled that election should go on and in June 12, roughly 30% of voters trooped out to vote – an abysmal percentage by most electoral standards but better than Eme Awa’s turnout for the LGA elections previously.
Humphrey Nwosu began announcing results: Abiola was winning
June 15, 1993: Abimbola Davies of the ABN returned to court seeking an order to stop further announcement of results.
Justice Dahiru Saleh granted the order, NEC under Nwosu complied but appealed to the same court and on June 21, Saleh ruled that the elections was null and void.
Saleh conveniently ignored the Olugbani ruling and claimed that the elections should never have held, based on Ikpeme’s ruling.
Babangida addressed Nigerians on June 26 to pronounce the June 12 elections annulled and a fresh election to be held by the end of July.
To divide the political class, Babangida lifted the ban on the 23 initial presidential aspirants and the scramble began in earnest.
Noteworthy: those in the SDP stood by Abiola at this time, insisting on victory. NRC was understandably less enthusiastic about June 12 though.
As a matter of fact, SDP convened a meeting on Sunday July 4 at the Edo State Govt House where Oyegun was Governor under the chairmanship of Tony Anenih and insisted that it stood by June 12.
Abiola himself didn’t react publicly until July 5 – still hoping to appeal to IBB.
For me, this is where Abiola began to make mistakes – he was relying more on his friendship with the military brass rather than the solidarity of his political associates in the SDP.
In any case, IBB wasn’t picking Abiola’s call and was practically avoiding him all over Nigeria.
It is said that when IBB went to condole with Yar’Adua in Katsina over the loss of his father around that period, he hurried out of the state as soon as he heard Abiola was flying into Katsina in his own airplane – which wasn’t cleared for landing until IBB had departed.
Anyway, IBB invited both SDP and NRC on July to a meeting on a way forward – SDP had Anenih, Sule Lamido, Abubakar Rimi, Lateef Jakande, Amos Idakula (Bez’ dad) and others in that delegation. The NRC was open to fresh elections but the SDP was adamant on its victory.
It was clear to all that the military was reluctant to handover power but the NRC was being silly (as I see it) or politically savvy by hoping for a fresh contest. IBB insisted on fresh elections and so the SDP and NRC went on to hold talks on July 7 at a hotel in Abuja.
Both parties released a communique and affirmed that they were committed to the military handover date of August 27, 1993 and agreed to set up a joint committee to resolve all political issues before then – this committee idea later transformed to the Interim National Govt (ING).
IBB asked for time to discuss the issues with his military fellows and another meeting was convened for July 12.
On July 12, Augustus Aikhomu was sent to meet with both parties and told them that the military had decided to set up an ING and handover to them on August 27.
Kusamotu of the NRC reacted first and said either option was fine by the NRC – fresh elections or ING.
Anenih and the SDP leaders were furious and staged a walkout.
Footage from news reports that night show that the SDP leaders were clearly miffed.
So, where was Abiola?
Before we look for him in all these, let’s conclude with how the SDP leaders reacted but keep the question in mind.
July 14: Aikhomu addressed the nation on the outcome of the meeting with political parties and made clear that SDP was being adamant while NRC had capitulated.
Aikhomu made clear that there were only two options: fresh elections or ING.
To be fair to someone like Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, he stood by the SDP position and Abiola – which was only commonsensical because it was obvious the military didn’t want to handover power to anyone.
Also to be fair to someone like Obasanjo, in July 12, 1993, he formed a group called Association for Democracy and Good Governance and publicly condemned the June 12 annulment, calling for the military to vacate power.
So why do many say otherwise?
To answer that, let us now look for Abiola in July 1993:
He was invited to the meeting of SDP leaders in Edo State but he couldn’t to attend, he was shuttling between Lagos and Abuja, trying to get a sitdown with IBB in the hope that they could resolve issues directly.
By the time it became obvious to him that IBB was avoiding him, he had heard reports that he could be assassinated in Abuja and when the SDP leaders invited him to be around in Abuja for the party discussions with the regime, he refused and stayed firmly in Lagos.
As the politicians were trying to meet, the civil society and SW groups had suddenly clung to the June 12 issue – an election which they had initially condemned and asked citizens to boycott.
And Abiola was increasingly meeting with them and listening to them, not his party.
Abiola began to be convinced that the reason for the annulment was because the northern oligarchy didn’t want a Yoruba to become President – which may have been true, but the main reason was that the military simply didn’t want to go.
They had even expected Tofa to win.
Tofa’s expected victory was also to be rubbished – they had prepared more for a Tofa emergence to be dismissed based on valid reports than Abiola and had expected Tofa to go away more quietly. Abiola wasn’t expected to win and his victory had disrupted their plans.
As more Yoruba leaders – who again had all along called the June 12 election a sham, began to speak up and craft the June 12 narrative as an offensive against the Yorubas by the North, they complicated matters even more for SDP which was still standing by June 12.
Abiola was also kept in the loop as much as possible though and SDP as a creation of Govt initially was a bone in the neck of the IBB regime: if they were abrogated, it would ruin the IBB transition plan but Abiola was fighting the war with other new friends outside SDP.
With no headway by the end of July and the August handover date drawing nearer, SDP (and NRC) managed to get the IBB regime to concede to leaving all other democratic structures in place i.e. National Assembly, State Governors And Houses of Assembly as well as LGA structures.
On July 31, IBB inaugurated a tripartite committee to oversee the rest of the transition programme with Aikhomu as Chairman and other military folks like David Mark on it as well as representatives from the two parties.
NRC had the likes of Tom Ikimi, Hamed Kusamotu, Adamu Ciroma, Bola Afonja, Bashir Dalhatu, John Nwodo etc on the committee.
SDP had Anenih, Sule Lamido, Shehu Yar’Adua, Dele Cole, Okechukwu Odunze, Abubakar Rimi, Amos Idakula and so on as their representatives.
For the August handover, this committee agreed to set up the ING – the thinking with the SDP was that once the military handed over to a civilian government, it would be easier to win the battle for June 12.
SDP tried to push Abiola to head the ING but the military rejected it.
The ING proposal was taken to Abiola and he agreed to it as a way to get the military out of Govt but refused the SDP to let go three specific positions to the NRC:
Secretary of State (as the SFG was to be designated), Secretary for Defence and Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
Unknown to many except a few Yoruba leaders within the SDP like Bola Tinubu who was then a senator, Abiola was still friendly with Sani Abacha and pushed him forward to be the Secretary of Defence in the ING.
Meanwhile, massive protests were still ongoing in the SW against IBB.
Ernest Shonekan was proposed to head the ING and IBB handed over to the ING on August 26.
In a sly manner, Shonekan was only named as President and Head of States of the ING, not Commander in Chief.
IBB and his service chiefs dated their resignation from the army – August 27.
Abacha is said to have backdated IBB’s retirement from the military to August 26 which was the date of the handing over and then postponed the retirement of other service chiefs until September.
Rather than work with the ING though, Abiola opposed Shonekan at every turn and one newspaper report from that period has him on record as calling for the overthrow of the ING and the restoration of his mandate.
On November 18, 1993, the ING was overthrown and Abacha took power.
(Time is 11:51 and I’m honestly wondering who sent me to do this thread this night. My dinner is cold, madam has gone to sleep hopefully not in anger but I think it is fitting or fated that it spills into June 12, 2018 – 25 years to the date since that day. I’m tired though.)
Not to leave this hanging, let’s go on: Abacha’s palace coup and Shonekan’s resignation was hailed by the SW media (as usual) and by Abiola’s newspaper especially – Abiola had been dealing with Abacha to takeover and handover to him all along, without telling his SDP associates.
In fact, when Anenih called Abiola to ask why he was calling for the ING to exit power, Abiola allegedly replied with one of his famous proverbial quips that if one is going to Kano, the means of getting there didn’t matter, that SDP was going by road but he wanted to go by air.
Abacha’s opening gambit put Abiola to sleep even further – Abiola personally nominated some of those who served on Abacha’s cabinet like Ebenezer Babatope who until this time was a core member of Awo’s political family which had now embraced Abiola fully as a Yoruba.
The pilot of Abiola’s air trip as per the proverbial quip, Abacha, got into power and consolidated his hold – he dissolved the National Assembly, stunning the likes of Bola Tinubu who had been going to meet Abacha with Abiola all along.
He removed all the Governors too.
The Governors were removed in March of the following year but by December of 1993, Abiola had begun to see Abacha’s game and on January 2, 1994, TELL magazine ran the headline.
Demola Olarewaju is a Lagos-based Political Analyst and Strategist with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and can be found on twitter @DemolaRewaju