* June 12 should not be confused with MKO Abiola
*Insists: â€œMy struggle was for the 14 million Nigerian votersâ€
*We have not learnt anything
Chief Ayo Adebanjo is an Afenifere leader and remains one of the most consistent leaders in Yoruba land.Â You may not agree with his views but he is consistent.Â As Nigeria marks the 17th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections, Adebanjo makes some revelations. He told Sunday Vanguard that on the day of the annulment, he, Adebanjo, â€œcould not believe that such an election had been annulledâ€. â€œWhen I met Duro Onabule the following day or was it on that day of the annulment, I asked him if it is true that the election had been annulled and he also said it can not be true that the election had been annulledâ€, he told Sunday Vanguard..
Adebanjo insists that Nigerians have not learnt anything from the experiences of the June 12 presidential elections. Excerpts:
By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor & Anthonia Onwuka
ON June 12, Nigerians voted for Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola; what message did that send?
The message it sent out is that Nigerians were ready to bury their differences as a people and support whatever they considered good and which they felt would make their country move forward.
But the election was annulled?
Yes!Â The election was annulled; and that is where I have a problem.
What is your problem?
Good. I have told people that my problem with the annulment has nothing to do with MKO Abiola as an individual. My problem with that annulment also has nothing to do with the fact that Abiola is a Yoruba man. Even if the annulment had been against a Chukwuemeka or a Dan Fulani or an Essien Udom or Isokrari James, I would still have opposed that annulment the way I have always opposed it. Look, 14 million Nigerians voted. Why should one man, just one man, decide that he would annul that election? What right does one man have to say that he is annulling an election? In a country where people voted just one man annulled the election, why?
What right does he have?
But he did it?
Yes he did it. When I met Duro Onabule the following day or was it on that day of the annulment, I asked him if it is true that the election had been annulled and he also said it can not be true that the election had been annulled.
You know the statement from Aso Rock Presidential Villa annulling that election was not signed?
No! That statement was not signed. That is the irony. In fact when I asked Onabule, he said it is not possible. He said Babangidaâ€™s first house was built for him by MKO Abiola and the Babangida he knows can not annul an MKO election.
You mean Onabule told you that?
Yes! Except he is going to deny that he said so.
What lessons would you say Nigerians have learnt from that experience?
I do not think as a nation we have learnt anything.
M.K.O. Abiola and his opposition to Awolowo during the Second Republic?
I still believe that God has a way of rewarding people because Abiola confessed before he died and that is why many of us reached some conclusions regarding the role he played. But I still believe that God has a way of punishing people for the offence they have committed. We were supporting Abiola during the crisis. I remember during my detention days when people asked me what was my connection with him, I said Abiola is not my cup of tea. I told them that I am here because 14Â million Nigerians voted for this man and that is the democracy Chief Awolowo taught me.Â No one man has the right to nullify that election and thatâ€™s why I am fighting for him.
Okay, letâ€™s go back in time:Â What happened between Bola Ige and Pa Alayande. Please, give the inside story about primaries and imposition?
Thatâ€™s true. Bola Ige started the idea of primaries in the party. What Papa wanted to do in 1979 was to choose a candidate by consensus throughout and he had succeeded in almost every state. When he got to Oyo, Bola Ige said no. It was either governorship or nothing.
What was his staying power?
His staying power was that he wanted people to vote and the moment he said that, Papa felt strongly about it. By the time we had the elections in 1979, he yielded. And that itself was the cause of the rift between him and Afolabi because the understanding Afolabi had at that time with Bola Ige was that â€˜weâ€™ll support you first term, but when it comes to the second term you, Ige, will support me, Afolabi. But Bola Ige wanted to go for a second term and the rest is history. He did not agree to the consensus approach and Awolowo said as a democrat, go and choose your candidate.
In retrospect, what do you think created room for party harmony.Is it the consensus approach or the primaries?
The consensus approach is much better and less expensive if there are no too ambitious members of the party. One of the solidarity we enjoyed in the Action Group then was the consensus approach but once we had many ambitious candidates, it became a problem. In the last regime of the Pa Adesanya, we were forced to do primaries.
You talked about not having too many ambitious people in the party?
Yes. In those days, the caucus was powerful and persuasive.
Letâ€™s look at what happened which led to the collapse of the First Republic.Â In summary, how would you want to relay the events of that era; are there any regrets?
I donâ€™t know which aspect you are referring to.
For someone who has not heard anything about it and you are trying to explain to him or her, how would you relay it?
It depends on what you want and on what led to the crisis.
What led to the crisis of the Western House?
There was a split in the Action Group led by Akintola. Akintola wanted the party to be in alliance with the NPC and Chief Awolowo asked what has the relationship between us and the NPC. We have our own policy, they have their own policy and, in any event, they have not invited us; are we then going to write an invitation to Balewa, to say, please come and accept us?
There were some who wanted to join the NPC because they wereÂ ambitious of becoming Ministers and all that and Awolowo said anything that does not stand for the principle and ideology with which we stand, there is no way for it. If there is a basis for us, then we can understand, but on this issue, there is no way.
There was no ideological basis for the unity.Â That was the beginning of the crisis until it went on. Having done that, the majority of the members of the House of Assembly supported Chief Awolowo against Chief Akintola and they were going to move a motion for his removal to be substituted by Adegbenro. It was in the course of this that he mobilised mobile police into the House of Assembly and disrupted the whole thing and when it happened, a state of emergency was declared and that is what we have not gotten out of till today.
Oh yes. The unconstitutional nature, the lack of due process is just the result of what happened since then.
But there is this story that it was because Chief Awolowo went to the centre and when he wanted to come back, Akintola…?
(Cuts in) That was just the campaign of those who were supporting Akintola.Â They canâ€™t give an evidence to support that. The truth of the matter is that when he was there, he was really punching the Federal Government hard because he was the main opposition, to the extent that when they wanted to do the Defence Act, Awolowo mobilised students and scuttled the Defence Act.
There was crisis in the House and they could not pass that Defence Act but Akintola still wanted collaboration and some members of the party who believed that if they joined the NPC in the centre, they could become ambassadors and ministers also wanted it. As it was in the beginning, itâ€™s happening now.Â People never learn from history. If they had learnt from history, what is the end of the opportunistic politics?
Talking about learning from history, some people insist that during the Second Republic, Chief Awolowo could have become the president easily, had he not left out people like J.S. Tarka…?
(Cuts in) No, no, no. People didnâ€™t know that we brought Tarka and other people to politics. IÂ say that because there are some of us still alive. Lar is still alive, we were paying Tarka as leader of the UMBC as a minister, we empowered and paid him the salary and entitlement of a minister in order to keep the leadership of the UMBC and the AG alliance.
What happened during the 1979 election?
Ah, that was the time we had the magical thing in the Supreme Court.
But the Supreme Court at that time justified it and the two thirds we were talking about was two thirds of the…?
(Cuts in) Why did the Supreme Court then say the election was a closed precedence? That nobody should cite it as a precedent in any other case. Itâ€™s on record. We were all there and I was a participant. What happened was 12 2/3 of 19 will be 13. A state is a state; that is Akinjideâ€™s metaphysical prognosis and thatâ€™s why we are still suffering till today. The moment you turn justice around, you can never have good justice.
So, maybe Chief Awolowo was right by being rigid in his own…
(Cuts in) He couldnâ€™t have done less. When you say somebody is rigid on a principle, the moment you bend a principle, itâ€™s no longer a principle.
Today, some say AD is not Afenifere and Afenifere is not AD; but AD is as good as dead?
Afenifere is attached and cannot be separated from the party Awolowo founded in the South-West.Â Itâ€™s because of heritage. It was the party that they knew when Awolowo was performing his wonders in the West and to show the people that weâ€™re not a new party, we said we are the same Afenifere; just as the Middle-Beltâ€™s ruling party said the Middle-Belt used AG to serve those areas. Those of them who insisted on separating the two were never one of us ab initio. Go and find out, up till today, including Akande and others; those are the people who said Afenifere began when they came in. If they knew the history of Afenifere, they would know that Afenifere in Yoruba area is inseparable from those who believe in the philosophy of Awolowo.
But, in 1998, the position of Afenifere then was that, to solve Nigeriaâ€™s problem, there was need for a constitutional conference, but at some point, M.K.O. Abiola died, Abacha died and then, Abdulsalami came in. Some people in Afenifere and NADECO then were insisting that it was constitutional conference or nothing; but the Abdulsalami transition was too rigid and some people said you canâ€™t be rigid forever, bend a little bit…?
(Cuts in) Thatâ€™s a different story.
How did it become a different story?
Itâ€™s different in the sense that we insisted that there must be a sovereign national conference.Â We were not going to participate in Abdulsalamiâ€™s transition. The experience of Abacha, when he summoned a constitutional conference, which he loaded with his nominees and we were to contest and when we found out.Â We said whatâ€™s the point in contesting since heâ€™s already doing it with his nominees, so we boycotted.
When we boycotted, some riff raffs, who had no following, got in and it was that election that Ojukwu said was even superior to Abiolaâ€™s election, that was what we learnt as our lesson. These are the people who have been elected.
When Abdulsalamiâ€™s thing came, we said we wonâ€™t allow this renegade evil.Â We will go to the election and demand for a sovereign national conference, it is on this that they should vote for us. I wouldnâ€™t say we bent.Â We contested that election to prevent the charlatans from going in because, if we did not, they would say â€˜you are that strong.Â We asked you to contest election, you did not come, these people have the mandate.Â Who gave you the mandate on what you are talking?Â Itâ€™s a political decision; itâ€™s not a question of bending on principle.
If you didnâ€™t do that at that time, we wouldnâ€™t have captured the whole of the West and get the people we represent to follow. As soon as we won the election, the leaders of Afenifere toured the whole of the Western Region House of Assembly asking them to pass a resolution demanding a sovereign national conference. All the six states did in the presence of the leaders of AD.
Unfortunately, our flag bearers did not follow-up.Â That was the beginning of our problems. The instructions we gave them was that, having won the elections, seize the mandate, donâ€™t have anything to do with Abuja till after the conference because the condition we used in contesting election was for a sovereign national conference.
The moment you begin to hold meetings with them, they would think you are submitting. Unfortunately, they developed a different theory that â€˜oh, we are in the minority, we canâ€™t be effectiveâ€™ all because the sweetness of office was being enjoyed.
Thatâ€™s how we lost the battle. I told them in particular to go back to history. When we changed the McPharsonâ€™s constitution, we were in the minority.Â It was only the Western Region that boycotted cabinet appointment after our members resigned as a result of Enahoroâ€™s motion and we refused to send in new members after McPherson had expelled Enahoro, and the Ooni of Ife was made to resign. When that happened?Â There was crisis because Nigeria was on a tripod and that was what led to the constitutional conference of 1953 and then the eventual change in constitution making the constitution more federal, with each region standing on its own basis. In other words, if they had been as principled and sound and steadfast as inherited from Chief Awolowo, at that time, if we boycotted on that basis, I have no doubt that the South-East would have followed, the South-South would have followed.
Some people would have also argued that you were the one who presented these same set of people who did not hold firmly to the principles of Papa Awolowo, to the electorate?
You have only given birth to a child you would not know the inner workings of the child. Look at it this way, even the people we presented at that time, when did we know many of them? The ban on politics was lifted in September.Â We started election in December. We were in a rush to have candidates to fill all sorts of position to avoid the other parties going in unopposed. There was no time to really screen anybody.Â In fact, as I have said before, if we were to apply the rigid quality or qualifications that we are used to, many of them could not have gone in.Â Many of them couldnâ€™t have been councilors.
At that time, politics again had been monetised, even if you say you know, they would say the old men donâ€™t want the young men to come in. The oldest candidate at that time was late Adefarati, he was not even 70 then. I had no intention of contesting election, Nigerians are not prone to seeing issues, they have always been on sentiments and bread and butter politics. They will tell you in private that if you canâ€™t beat them, join them. In retrospect now, who has stood vindicated, them selves or ourselves?
Some still say that even AD did not meet the criteria to become a party but that it was registered because the Abdulsalami regime didnâ€™t want the South-West to be schemed out of the transition…?
(Cuts in) That is the allegation, okay, let us say so.Â But based on what?
Based on the criteria given by INEC?
Again, you see, when you are talking of a democratic setting, what right does any government have to say X or Y should be in that government? The case then we were making was that if myself and my wife should decide to join a political party, nobody had the right to stop us. It is only the electorate that will reject us.Â Tell me: is there any place where somebody has the right to prevent you from joining a political party?
Till today, there are communist parties in Britain and America. But because people donâ€™t vote for them, they are moribund. People will decide who their leaders or those who will govern them will be, not a few people. Look at it again, the condition under which registration must be done was really on the high side, it was really on the elite side. If I want to contest election in my village to be a councilor, and I say I will represent you well in my village and they accept, why must you say I must then form a party that they know in Sokoto or in Maiduguri . Iâ€™m saying I want to be elected here; itâ€™s in my own area here that I want to be elected. Today, there are independents in Britain and in America just to give room for people.
But, the law does not give room for independent candidacy here?
Thatâ€™s what I am saying, itâ€™s undemocratic.