The Secret Behind June 12 Annulement

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I recall my meeting with our common friend, General Babangida on June 21, 1993 on the June 12 issue; I remember very vividly how the General exploded “Professor, I cannot go on with the Presidential election”. I asked why, because both of us knew before that day, that our common friend, Chief Abiola had won the June 12, 1993 presidential election. I thought we should be happy.

This was the first time I knew that we were in trouble. On the why, the General went on “If I allow Bashorun (MKO) to become the President ‘they’ will kill him and ‘they’ will kill me (IBB) and ‘they’ may not spare you (OMORUYI) because ‘they’ know you are with me now and working with me on this matter”.

General Babangida finally summoned courage and had a family meeting with Chief Abiola on July 4, 1993 in the Presidential Villa. But this was after the annulment.

What was IBB planning to achieve then? Maybe he was planning to implement what the northern leaders told him to do, ‘offer Abiola money in lieu of the mandate’. The northern leaders actually advised IBB: ‘pay him off or as Nigerians would say, ‘settle him’.

Chief Abiola told me in London on my hospital bed that he turned this down.

In his words, ‘Omo, I told him, the suggestion was an insult not only to my person but to the Nigerian people’.

According to him, IBB quickly changed the suggestion. The National Chairman and the national Secretary of the party, (Chief Anenih and Alhaji Lamido) who later signed away the June 12 two days later did not have this faith in the Nigerian voters and people. At that meeting of July 4, 1993, General Babangida took Chief Abiola and family into confidence. He told them point blank, ‘they’ will kill you (MKO) rather than allow you to become the elected President, Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’.

He (IBB) went on to repeat what he told me on June 21, 1993 that “‘they’ will also kill him

(Babangida), if he allows you (Chief Abiola) to be sworn in as the President.” The rest is for General Babangida and his wife to conclude as Chief Abiola and Alhaja Kudirat Abiola who were at that meeting are now dead because they stuck tenaciously to the mandate of June 12, 1993. I too had my share of an armed attack on February 3, 1994 as the police put it from ‘unknown assassins’ and others had their share in many ways since June 1993. We have since 1993 known the ‘they’ or the ‘unknown assassins’.

What Abiola Died For:

What Chief Abiola died for or was killed for was because of what the June 12 would have brought about in Nigeria. There were two issues that were dreaded by the ‘geo-ethno-military-ruling-clique’. First, Chief Abiola’s election would have led to a shift of power from the north to the south; second, the free, fair and credible election would have led to a shift of power from the ‘geo-ethno-military-ruling-clique’ to the Nigerian voters for the first time in the Nigerian history. These two issues still remain today undisclosed, undiscussed, and unresolved. Are they dead with Chief Abiola? I decided to give this background in order to let the children of Chief Abiola, Nigerians and the world know and appreciate the context of Chief Abiola’s death. ‘Death’ for Chief Abiola, if he insisted on his mandate has been an issue since June 1993. It was freely brandished around him and those who said the election was in order during the period of General Babangida. I received many threats to my life because of my loud mouth in defence of the June 12. ‘Death’ as an instrument of political control was actually implemented as and when it was necessary by the junta’s agents after June 1993. I hope the death or the killing of Chief Abiola would be the mother of all deaths and the killings in the hands of the ‘geo-ethno-military-ruling-clique’.

Ibb Approved Abiola’s Candidature:

I had been asked before whether General Babangida approved of Chief Abiola’s candidature and my response then was YES for two reasons. First IBB saw it as a way of resolving the credibility crisis he faced in 1992 after the botched presidential primaries and later IBB saw it as a way of resolving the President’s succession crisis. How these changes took place between March and May 1993 was discussed in Chapter 3 of my forthcoming book on the June 12. As a serious candidate along with other candidates, I had dealings with him and other candidates in 1993. I provided him and other serious candidates with any information that they needed before and after they became the official candidates of the SDP and NRC in my official capacity as the Director General CDS. Specifically on Chief Abiola, I also had occasions to discuss him with the President at various times as to his chances as our common friend. The President showed interest in his ambition and this encouraged my dealings with him.

It was as a result of our past relationship which spilled over to our relationship with a common friend that I got to know how passionately he felt about the politics of Nigeria and why he decided to seek the exalted elective office in the land. Chief Abiola from time to time sought my advice on whether our common friend, General Babangida, was actually serious with the transition program and specifically whether there was any ‘vacancy’ in the Presidential Villa.

What Chief Abiola wanted from me was if General Babangida was actually serious with his decision not to transform himself into a civilian President. Of course, I told Chief Abiola just as I told many peoples in Nigeria and in the international community that IBB was not interested in what Washington called the West African Model of democratic transition such as in Ghana, Togo etc. What I got to know was that Chief Abiola loved General Babangida very much and he would have supported him if he had wanted to transform himself into a civilian President.

I knew as a fact that Chief Abiola definitely did not want to offend him. In fact, he regretted ever offending him one day when he went to the Presidential Villa with the ‘enemy’ of the junta, Barrister Aka Bashorun who had earlier accompanied him to a Presidential Dinner Party in honour of the President of South Africa, Mr. F. de Klerk.

Chief Abiola like other candidates and even military officers routinely called me on telephone to find out how IBB’s mind was working on any issue. It was therefore in order that he called me to find out if our common friend had changed his mind on the transition program.

Chief Abiola had a way of asking me the same question over and over again whenever we met in and out of the Presidential Villa. I was very definite after November 1992 when the search for credible candidates was on to solve General Babangida’s credibility crisis as discussed above in

Chapter 3 of my book. I advised him to think about the race and I was not therefore surprised when he decided to take the plunge in January 1993. I knew Chief MKO Abiola; I knew how he felt about the June 12 episode and the twists and turns between the election and his arrest a year after the annulment.

Abiola Died Of Emotional Shock From Betrayal:

Chief Abiola’s emotional shock leading to his death arose from the GROSS BETRAYAL OF HIM and the NIGERIAN VOTERS by those he genuinely thought and believed would be the defenders of his mandate and the democratic rights of Nigerians, but who to his utmost disbelief, amazement and shock turned round to be the undisguised agents of the junta who annulled the June 12, 1993 Presidential election.

Those Who Betrayed Abiola Unto Death:

Chief Abiola must have been shocked by the irony of life. That the junta leaders that robbed the country of their rights, economic and political, were now sitting at the dinner table with the UN, the EU and the US while Chief Abiola, the symbol of the democratic rights of Nigerians was in General Abacha’s Gulag. It was an irony of fate that instead of being on the dining table with them, he was being brought out from captivity and pressurized to give up his mandate. Chief Abiola felt it unto death, I am sure. What Nigerians should appreciate is that as a self-respecting High Chief in many locations in Nigeria, especially in the Yorubaland and at a time when integrity means nothing to many Nigerian politicians, I am sure Chief Abiola must have felt that it would be better for him to be ‘killed’ by the agents of the junta in captivity rather than give up the mandate. He valued that mandate, which the Nigerian voters freely gave him on June 12, 1993.

Newsmen would recall the popular question of Chief Abiola ‘what do we tell our children and children’s children that a southerner cannot become the elected President of Nigeria and cannot become a Head of State through a military coup? What we should know is that Chief Abiola was a very reasonable human being, who went into politics after due consultation with and in agreement with some if not all these same people who were betraying him. One could imagine how he would feel. He felt stabbed not on his thigh but in his heart by his Nigerian friends and now by the international community.

Sources Of His Anguish:

Chief Abiola between June 1993 and June 1994 complained to me on many occasions how he was betrayal by various persons. I still recall one occasion on my hospital bed in the London Clinic in March 1994, how he poured out his heart to me on certain matters. Let me name some of them.

One, he talked about how he was misled and betrayed first by our common friend, General Babangida who assured him that he was serious with the transition program and allowed him to plough his resources into the election.

Two, he complained about Generals Abacha and Diya who invited him to come home on the firm promise that his mandate would be enforced by the military.

Three, he complained about how our common friend made him plough back money into politics and the Presidential race with a view to according his transition program some credibility in March, 1993. This was a fact. It is also a fact that Chief Abiola was used later in May, 1993 as IBB’s instrument of resolving his succession crisis.

Four, MKO was very disappointed with the leadership of the Northern Elders Forum, most of them he named who I will not mention in this paper who he helped on many occasions to have medical attention abroad.

Five, he was bitter with the way he, the Deputy President of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and a major financier of Islamic causes in the country was treated after the June 12 election by the then President of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the former Sultan of Sokoto.

Six, he regretted his blunder in not showing interest in those who became the leaders of his political party, the Social Democratic Party after he won the nomination of the party in March 1993.

Seven, he lamented the dubious role of a major Yoruba Traditional Ruler, who will remain nameless in this paper.

Eight, he wondered aloud, how impotent the military officers from the south, especially from the Yorubaland were in the military government.

Abiola Over Confident In ‘Washington’:

CHIEF Abiola was very confident up to the day he was picked up by the Junta (June 23, 1994) that the international community led by the US especially by the Congressional Black Caucus who he had always supported would intervene in his favour.

This was the source of Chief Abiola’s strength when he embarked on the plan to claim his mandate in June 1994. Would these persons and institutions above be made to account for his death? Certainly they would one day.

It should be a lesson for all of us who are concerned with building democracy in Nigeria that we should find some support for it at home. Chief Abiola did not have reliable advisers and backers. And he realized this deficiency especially within his political organization that sponsored his candidature in 1993.

By the time he realized this deficiency, it was too late. I had prayed that one day, Chief Abiola would regain his personal freedom and he would be in a position to tell Nigerians and the world the parts played by these named persons and institutions in the betrayal of the democratic rights of Nigerians.

In fact, we talked about this as soon I returned from hospital in May 1994. He wanted me to assist him to assemble writers who would assist him to reduce his experience into writing. He genuinely believed that Nigerians especially from the south would learn from his experience, the hard lesson of trying to wrestle for political power with the “geo-ethno-military-ruling-clique’ who have been running the country since independence.

What Abiola Would Have Brought About:

For those who had doubts about what Chief Abiola would have achieved as President, Commander in Chief, if he were allowed to be sworn in, in June 1993, let me state some of Chief Abiola’s concerns.

One, Chief Abiola was bothered by the injustices meted to the Ibo since the civil war.

Two, he was concerned and in fact, distressed that some Ibo leaders, especially Chief Emeka Ojukwu and Arthur Nzeribe should decide to visit the past Nigerian injustice on the Ibo first, on the Yoruba and later on him, Chief Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. Chief Abiola thought that his Presidency would have contributed to the resolution of this unfortunate mistrust between the Igbo and the Yoruba.

Three, he did not want to be called the symbol and the candidate of the Yoruba.

Four, he wanted an opportunity to make oil ‘boom’ and not ‘doom’ among the people of the oil producing areas.

Five, he wanted an opportunity to convince the former Biafran leadership and the leadership of the Northern Elders Forum that a Yoruba political leader, as the President, Commander-in-Chief, could be trusted to do justice to all Nigerians, North, South, West and East.

In addition to the party platform and what he said during the campaign such as wiping out poverty in the land, those issues turned out to be the issues that formed the core of his plan or his VISION, if he were to become the President of Nigeria.

Chief Abiola was deeply concerned about the Ibo-Yoruba mistrust. He wanted me to specifically give some thoughts to how to resolve the Ibo-Yoruba divide using the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS).

World Did Not Appreciate Abiola’s Commitment:

Knowing Chief Abiola as I did and knowing how he valued his mandate, Chief Abiola must have been shocked to death to find that those, who he thought were the acknowledged defenders of democracy world-wide, such as the UN, and the US asking him to give his mandate. He must have been shocked to find the US in the forefront pressuring him to abandon his mandate.

Why should the same US that had assured him in the past as being on his side in his campaign to restore democracy in Nigeria be the same US confronting him in chains and in captivity as the agents of the junta?

Why should the US be the leader of the international coalition in a highly organized and orchestrated manner to pressurize him to surrender the mandate given him by the Nigerian voters as a condition for his personal and political freedom? I hope Nigerians and some Americans, who asked me since 1993 what was Chief Abiola, a wealthy man many times over looking for in politics would now know how committed he was as a democrat. I happen to know him since our days together in the Constituent Assembly in 1977/78 as to how committed he was to using the Presidency of Nigeria not to make more money for himself, but to change the image of the black man in the world. Those who knew Chief Abiola in the field of pan Africanism and in his reparation program would realize the moral content of his ambition.

Death Of Abiola Ought To Have Led To A Renegotiated State:

The death of Chief Abiola ought to lead to a renegotiated Nigeria to make a true federal system and a restructured military to make it representative of all the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Nigeria needs a reoriented military that is accountable to a democratic order. I know that Chief Abiola would have achieved these three policies. It should be noted that one of the real reasons for the annulment was the fear that he would reform the armed forces.

June 12 As A National Event Ought To Be Embraced:

What Nigerians and the world should acknowledge is that this is the first time in Nigerian history that a Nigerian political leader can be associated with a national mandate and a national cause worth being killed for or dying for. It is a pity that the military deprived us of this great man, this passionate believer in the commonman who gave him the mandate on June 12, 1993. We pray that his death should not be in vain.

 

•Prof. Omoruyi, a friend of Abiola, is Head of Centre for Democratic Studies.