MKO Abiola - June 12

So far, none of those who annulled the election have spoken on how the annulment came to be. In the words of Chief Olu Akerele, former personal assistant to Chief Abiola, “there seems to be a mystery and a curse on the annulment”.

Of all decisions that General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida made during his eight year rule in the country, none is graver than the annulment of the presidential election held on June 12, 1993. It was the last act by General Babangida that did the worst damage.

Twenty-four years after, the issue, as they say in latin “adhuc sub Judice lis est”, meaning the case, is still before the judge – the controversy is still not settled.

The annulment statement was not signed by anyone but was circulated by my friend, Nduka Irabor on June 23, 1993, which would be twenty-four years this Friday. The attorney-general and minister of Justice at that time was Chief Clement Obiora Akpamgbo, from Umuakwu in Anambra State. He was president of the Nigerian Bar Association in 1991. The presidential election was held between Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa of the National Republican Convention and Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Both of them, incidentally, were members of the Constituent Assembly of 1976 to 1978. Alhaji Tofa represented Darwankin Tofa constituency in Kano State, while Chief Abiola represented Abeokuta constituency in Ogun State. The eventual winner of that election was never announced by the military.

The running mate of Chief Abiola was Alhaji Babagana Kingigbe, who later became minister of Internal Affairs and secretary to the government of the federation. Alhaji Tofa’s running mate was Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, who represented Abah-Mbaise/Ahiazu-Mbaise constituency of the old Imo State in the constituent assembly. Dr. Ugoh, who lost his wife in 2010, now lives in the United States of America with his children.

Below is the full statement of the annulment as circulated by Mr. Nduka Irabor:

“In view of the spirit of litigation pending in various courts, the federal government is compelled to take appropriate steps in order to rescue the judiciary from intra-voyaging. Those steps are taken so as to protect our legal system and the judiciary from being ridiculed and politicised, both nationally and internationally.

“In an attempt to end this ridiculous charade which may culminate in judicial anarchy, the federal military government has decide to stop forthwith, all court proceedings pending or to be instituted and appeals thereon in respect of any matter touching, relating or concerning the presidential election held on June 12, 1993.

“The Transition to Civil Rule Political Programme (Amendment Number 3) Decree Number 52 of 1992 and the Presidential Election (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provisions) Decree Number 13 of 1993 are hereby repealed. All acts or omissions done or purported to have been done, or to be done by any person, authority etc., under the above named decree are hereby declared invalid. The National Electoral Commission is hereby suspended. All acts or omissions done or purported to have been done by itself, its officers or agents under the repealed Decree number 13, 1993 are hereby nullified.”

I knew Nduka Irabor in 1979 when we both covered the National Assembly with the likes of Labake Adebiyi, Tony Idigo, Dayo Kusa, Demola Osinubi, Nkem Agetua, Bayo Adewusi, James Bello, Dupe Ajayi Gbadebo, Ruuffy Oladipo, Joke Sanyaolu, CIA Akitomide, Frank Olize, Vera Ifudu, Anene Ugoani, Loius Chike, Yinka Guedon, Idiat Abari, Chris Anyanwun, Nduka Obaigbena, Ronke Akinsete-Thompson, Bolu Oni, Toye Akiyode, Gboyega Amoboye, Jimi Aderinokun, Ola Gbolahan and others.

In March 1984, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, who now works for the Abubakar Atiku Media Campaign Organisation, were both jailed under Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree Number 4. The chairman of the tribunal that jailed both of them then was Justice Joshua Olalere Ayinde from Ibadan, Oyo State, while Chief Chike Ofodile (SAN) from Anambra Sstate was then the attorney-general and minister of Justice. This was during the twenty-month military rule of Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Tunde Thompson and I started our journalism career in Ibadan in the early 70s. He worked in the defunct Daily Sketch, while I started with the Nigerian Tribune before I pioneered with The Nigerian Herald.

Nduka Irabor and I crossed paths in 1985 when he was appointed editor of the Post Express of The Guardian family, and I was appointed editor of the Evening Punch. We became competitors looking for news to publish and sell. Both of them were released by General Ibrahim Babangida when he came to power in 1985. Shortly after, he was appointed as the spokesman to the chief of general staff, Supreme Headquarters, Admiral Augustus Akhabue Aikhomu. It was in that capacity that Chief Irabor circulated the press statement on the annulment of the June 12 election.

In 1999, Nduka Irabor was elected into the House of Representatives to represent Ika South and Ika North-East in Delta State. He is now the chairman of the football league management company. A gentleman and devoted husband, till today he never talks about the annulled election.

The annulment of that important is a cross that General Babangida will carry for the rest of his life, for it overshadowed most of his outstanding achievements, like the movement and construction of Abuja into a major national capital, the creation of eleven new states, liberalisation of the banking sector, the establishment of new universities and polytechnics, the establishment of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) now Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the construction and commissioning of the 11.8 kilometres bridge in Lagos on August 19. 1991, now known as the Third Mainland Bridge – the last project the federal government ever did in Lagos, a major state, now without a federal secretariat.

The Third Mainland Bridge was the longest bridge in Africa until 1996 when the Sixth of October Bridge located in Cairo was completed. General Babangida created Akwa-Ibom, Katsina, Osun, Jigawa, Delta, Taraba, Yobe, Kebbi, Kogi, Abia, Enugu states and also established the defunct People’s Bank, once headed by Dr. Augustus Tai Solarin (1922-1994), and the Federal Road Safety Commission.

Till today the nation is yet to know the full story of the annulment.

In his 338 page book on Atiku, Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba quoted General Babangida on page 226 as saying “What we did was wrong but we try to rationalise it. Abiola was my friend for 25 years, a very genuine friend. From the day we met there was a rapport. I had my friend there waiting to take over. It would have been a great destiny”.

In continuation, Onukaba offered his own assessment, “The curse of Nigeria has been its fractionless and individualism. Some people began to see the current crisis as an opportunity to settle old scores or to promote their own interest. Public reactions to the annulment began to reflect the political, ethnic, religious and geographical divisions in the country. In the rest of the world, attempts to tamper with the electoral verdict of the people have always been met mass protests and violent reactions, compelling the anti-democratic forces to concede power or be driven out of office. But the Nigeria political class could not stand together and fight for the de-annulment and compel Babangida to bow to the wishes of the 14 million Nigerians who voted for Abiola on June 12. Seldom do dictators surrender willingly, and Babangida was not going to be an exception. As Nigerians writer Wole Soyinka once said, “power, the negative face of power cannot be negotiated. It must be tamed from within, and isolated from without”.

So far, none of those who annulled the election have spoken on how the annulment came to be. In the words of Chief Olu Akerele, former personal assistant to Chief Abiola, “there seems to be a mystery and a curse on the annulment”.

But as Cicero wrote in DE FINIBUS, “there is no sorrow which length of time does not diminish and soften”.

Eric Teniola, a former Director in the Presidency, Writes from Lagos.