The June 12, 1993 annulment of the presidential election that provoked widespread protests and has continued to arouse controversy at its anniversary was not the hasty decision to deny Chief M.K.O. Abiola his perceived victory that it seemed. It was a plot laid prior to the election to keep General Ibrahim Babangida in power.
Author, publisher and newspaper columnist, â€œPeter Panâ€ Enahoro, says in his memoirs, titled: Then Spoke the Thunder, launched last week by Malthouse Press, that intelligence analysis submitted to the Babangida administration was that Abiolaâ€™s opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, whose party, the National Republican Convention, NRC, was favoured by the Babangida administration, would win the election.
Enahoro writes: â€œAbiola was not the obvious front-runner coming into the race for SDP flag-bearer. The multi-millionaire had joined the three-year-old party with its pretensions of left-wing leanings just three months before the nominations. In the end, he won the nomination by resorting to the way he had become accustomed to, untying any knot: he bought the thing.
â€œDespite the high spendings, he beat Babagana Kingibe, who did not have his kind of money, by a mere 112 votes. Most of the SDP State Governors, who knew his working methods, campaigned against him and he won his narrow margin in the end because Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua could not stand Kingibe.â€
Enahoro, who was appointed Chairman of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, by Babangida and had good friends high up in the administration, says that many among those closest to IBB did not really want to see an end to his hold on power. The â€˜Babangida Boysâ€™ were especially reluctant to see power slip from his grasp. IBB also had supporters outside the military â€“ State Governors, moneyed-men â€”who were just as determined. IBB himself had earlier tried to muddy the waters with the disqualification of 13 presidential aspirants. It was those disqualifications that opened the way for Abiolaâ€™s candidacy.
â€œIt may come as a surprise to those who held a candle for Chief Abiola that he was not the main issue troubling Babangida still struggling to get round the pressure to quit… Intelligence appraisal available to the Babangida administration was that the Abiola candidacy could not win,â€ says Enahoro.
He adds: â€œThat turned the attention of (Babangidaâ€™s) most ardent supporters fully to plans to undermine the NRC candidate, Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, who had failed to shine at the campaigns. The surprise nomination of the former NPN Financial Secretary had the smell of a put-up job from the beginning and his campaign never recovered from it. A consequence was that he failed to ignite the NRC faithful who did not come out in droves to campaign for him. Yet, the Intelligence forecast was that Tofa would win.â€
Then follows the astonishing claim that â€œthe military held a damaging dossier on Tofa to be unveiled at the appropriate time by pro-Babangida plotters posing as the conscience of the nation.
Enahoro goes on: â€œThe conspirators planned to foment a public scandal straight after the Tofa victory they thought was on the cards. That would give Babangida the excuse to annul the result. The calculation was that the annulment would placate Southerners generally and, in particular, the Yoruba, who predictably were expected to reject Abiolaâ€™s defeat.
Babangida would come out wreathed in laurels on the grounds that he set his Northern heart aside and acted with the noblest of motives to cancel an election won by a Northerner.
Frustrated SDP supporters throughout the nation would rush to congratulate him and welcome the implication of a second chance at the polls. The calculation was that Babangida would come out looking good and the political class would be said to have failed once more.â€
But, as the results started piling in, unexpected success for Abiola loomed large, contradicting the Intelligence assessment and throwing the plot asunder.
â€œThere was no alternative but to proceed with nullification as the only way to stop the handover of power. The alleged scandals that would have been unveiled to vindicate the annulment of a Tofa victory did not apply to Abiola and the regime had no ready excuse for cancellation.
Fortunately for the plotters, all the counts were not yet in. The bullish decision to pre-empt the final result by cancelling the election was chosen as a desperate option. It would become a millstone Babangida and his cohorts could not escape; but, at that moment in time, what other choice did the plotters who were determined not to give up power have?
Babangida stood firmly by the annulment despite nationwide protests; but his manoeuvrings to stay in power failed.
Enahoro paints a picture of a dithering Babangida and explains the background of rivalry within the military that culminated in the decision to set up an Interim National Government (ING). Abachaâ€™s stalking horses, led by General Oladipo Diya, wanted a military-led ING, while those in support of a weakened Babangida wanted a civilian ING. The ‘Babangida Boys’ won the day with the support of the two political parties which were dissolved.
Enahoro contends that â€œthere were people around Babangida who would sooner have had a goat-herder as Interim President than support the multi-chief. Some resented the way he flaunted his influence with Babangida, which in turn smeared the top echelons generally with the image of soldier/businessmen; others envied him of his freebooting access to lucrative contracts; while still more wished the administration would distance itself from association with his business opportunisms.â€
Nevertheless, General Babangida eventually persuaded the military council to accept Chief Abiolaâ€™s nomination for the Interim presidency. The deal was that a 16-man cabinet would be named by the administration but it would lie with the cabinet to select its head â€“ the Interim President â€“Â in order that it should not appear that Babangida had manoeuvered to handover to his friend, Chief Abiola, who, as pre-arranged, would be nominated for that role by Prince Julius Adeluyi.
The chief accepted the arrangement and flew overseas to inform his business associates of the impending change in his circumstances; but, on his return, he insisted that he should be announced as ING President and secondly, that he would choose who would serve in the cabinet as it would be his head on the bloc. When he was told that there was no chance of that, he walked out saying it was that or nothing.
The choice of Ernest Shonekan as an alterative, a man from Abiolaâ€™s ethnic group, home state and local government area, drove Abiola mad, Peter Enahoro claims.
The book, Then Spoke the Thunder will be launched at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, today.