BY CHARLES KUMOLU
PHENOMENAL! This ten-letter word best describes the June 12, 1993 presidential election presumably won by the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, fondly called MKO.
Of all elections that preceded the exercise in Nigeria, June 12 stood out in every sense.
Indeed, the making of the event as a political memorial and source of unending national debate was a direct fall out of the actions of some principal characters.
They are but not limited to Gen Ibrahim Babangida (retd), Abiola, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, Chief Sylvester Ugo, Chief Tony Anenih, Chief Tom Ikimi and Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Others are Chief Frank Ovie-Kokori, Paschal Bafyau, Sen Arthur Nzeribe, Justice Bassey Ikpeme, Justice Dahiru Saleh, Abimbola Davies, Prof. Omo Omoruyi, the late Gen Sani Abacha, Chief Clement Akpamgbo, SAN, and Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
As each anniversary of June 12 struggles to put the event in proper perspective in Nigeria’s largely chequered socio-political narrative, Sunday Vanguard beams its searchlight on the dramatis personae. What has happened to them since the poll, described as a watershed in Nigeria’s political history, and where are they now?
For students of history, the name Babangida has been a recurring feature in any discourse on June 12.
This was primarily provoked by his position as the President and Commander- in-Chief of the Armed Forces at that time on whose desk the buck stopped.
As head of the then Armed Forces Ruling Council – the highest decision making organ of the military junta – IBB, as he is fondly called, claimed the regime annulled the poll in the “interest of the state.”
In his June 26, 1993 broadcast to the nation, IBB said: “In the circumstance, the administration had no option than to respond appropriately to the unfortunate experience of terminating the presidential election. Our actions are in full conformity with the original objectives of the transition to civil programme.”
His administration was acclaimed to have conducted the freest and fairest election in Nigeria history but ironically annulled same.
Lately, rumour of his death had been making the rounds but the former President debunked the speculation from Germany.
Since stepping aside on August 26, 1993, Babangida has been living in his Hilltop Mansion residence in Minna.
Abiola was believed to have won the June 12 presidential election and was pronounced so in June 2008, 15 years after, by the chief electoral umpire at the time of the poll, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu.
That was also ten years after Abiola’s death.
Abiola, a business mogul, became the presidential candidate of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, having emerged after a fiercely contested primary on March 27, 1993 in Jos, that had Babagana Kingibe and Atiku Abubakar as his fellow aspirants. One of richest Nigerians at that time and with great influence on military rulers, it was easy for Abiola to become the frontline aspirant.
His colourful campaigns across the country proved it.
With the slogan, ‘Hope 93’, he tapped from his extensive goodwill arising from his legendary philanthropy across the country.
Abiola was known to have been conferred with chieftaincy titles from many places across the ethnic and religious divides. It was no surprise to many Nigerians that he won the poll by 58 percent.
But his decision to reject the annulment was the beginning of what is now known as the June 12 crisis.
Indeed, it is believed that had Abiola accepted the annulment, June 12 would have become like one of the several other political reversals that characterized the transition programme of the Babangida regime.
The election would have passed for any other national event. But by insisting on his mandate, the man, who abandoned the comfort that his money could guarantee to seek public service, largely made the event a watershed in the nation’s history.
His July 7, 1998 death at the verge of freedom literally brought to an end, the struggle for his mandate. Many issues thrown up by his travails are still unanswered till date.
He was a largely unknown political figure at the point of his nomination as the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC) for the June 12 presidential election.
The Kano based businessman was, however, known as a very wealthy man who had connections to the then ruling military class. His money, connections and political clout were, however, no match for Abiola who defeated him in his home state of Kano.
The suggestion that Tofa would play the good sportsman by conceding defeat failed and he as such played into the hands of those in the military who did not want the election to stand.
He has continued to defend the annulment to the effect that the agitation for the mandate was nonsense and the whole brouhaha about June 12 was fiction.
“People who have nothing to offer this country or have nothing better to say can go on talking about June 12 because they have nothing else to say to help this country move forward,” Tofa had famously said.
Tofa currently resides in Kano where he sometimes comments on national issues.
Kingibe was the Chairman of the SDP, the platform on which Abiola contested the election.
With immense influence upon the SDP governors, he became a major factor in the run up to the SDP presidential primary which Abiola won.
The governors were nevertheless determined to foist him on the ticket as Abiola’s running mate, a decision Abiola took at the expense of Atiku who was a loyalist of the powerful Shehu Musa Yar‘Adua.. It was the first time Nigeria would have a Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket but nonetheless successful. Following the annulment, Kingibe initially stood with Abiola but confidence in him among the pro-June 12 agitators gradually ebbed following his acceptance to serve in the Abacha administration. A Kanuri man like Abacha, some believed he betrayed Abiola by participating in the government that detained Abiola for five years.
The respected bureaucrat resurfaced on the national scene in the administration of the late President Yar’Adua as Secretary to the Government of the Federation. He reportedly fell out with that administration following what observers described as high-wire internal wrangling at the then Presidency.
After Kingibe exited the office of National Chairman of the SDP, the lot fell on Anenih, who retired from the police over three decade ago and entered into business and politics.
Anenih was anointed the Chairman of the SDP with the blessing of the late Shehu Musa Yar‘adua being that he was also a member of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, one of the strongest blocs within the SDP led by Yar’ Adua.
Though Anenih motivated his party to victory in the June 12 election, not long after the results were annulled, he was seen to have abandoned the cause of the SDP.
While political leaders and rights activists were agitating for revalidation, Anenih reportedly looked the other way, and, according to some sources, turned into a strategist for the military regime that detained the standard bearer of his party.
Having played key roles in the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, since 1999, the Edo State born political tactician is believed to have exited from active politics after his party’s defeat at the 2015 presidential election.
Ikimi was the National Chairman of the NRC who led his party to defeat in the June 12, 1993 election.
Like his party’s presidential candidate, Tofa, he refused to concede defeat and echoed the words of the military to justify the annulment of the results.
In his capacity as the NRC Chairman, Ikimi was allegedly a member of the committee that prepared the plan which produced the Interim National Government, ING.
The Igueben-born politician also served in Abacha’s administration as Foreign Affairs Minister.
At the moment, he is a chieftain of the PDP having dumped the APC over the allegation that the party had been hijacked and issues relating to the emergence of the party’s current National Chairman.
Chief Ernest Shonekan, a respected figure in the business community of that era, through his successful stewardship at the UAC, one of Nigeria’s leading blue chip companies, carved a niche for himself.
He was appointed by the Babangida administration to head the transition cabinet at the beginning of 1993 known as the Transition Council.
With the annulment, Shonekan, a Yoruba of the Egba extraction like Abiola, was made the Chairman of Interim National Government, ING, which was supposed to arrange another presidential election.
His ING was eventually declared illegal-a development Abacha said informed his November 17, 1993 coup.
His acceptance to head the 32-man ING at the expense of his kinsman, Abiola, infuriated many, who dismissed him as an obstacle to social justice. The octogenarian currently lives in his Ikoyi home in Lagos, where he is a regular face at high profile events and National Council of State meetings.
The Oguta-born mercurial figure had carved a contentious reputation as a spoiler through his Association for Better Nigeria, ABN.
In the days leading to the poll, he navigated the courts with several actions aimed at stopping the election. Alongside one Abimbola Davies and the mysterious Dr. Atkins, he raised fears among many Nigerians.
His action in obtaining a midnight court injunction on June 10 stopping the election in a court presided over by the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme was one of the reasons given for the annulment.
At the dawn of the Fourth Republic, Nzeribe was elected into the Senate. His failure at getting re-elected, in 2003, kick-started the decline of his presence on the national scene.
Ikpeme made a ruling a few hours to June 12, 1993 to stop the presidential election from holding in a development that earned her the sobriquet ‘’Midnight Judge.’’
The ruling is believed to have contravened Decree No. 13 of 1993, which did not recognise the jurisdiction of the court on the matter. Ikpeme is deceased.
It was her first pronouncement on June 7, 1993 which suggested that the election was likely to be scuttled.
She had ordered Nwosu, Akpamgbo and Babangida to appear before her to justify why the exercise should hold after which she gave the judgment.
An Abuja High Court, presided over by Justice Dahiru Saleh, ordered the then National Electoral Commission, NEC, to stop further announcement of election returns and subsequently declared the entire poll illegal on the grounds that it was held in contravention of a subsisting court order.
Defending his action in 2008, Saleh said both the late Ikpeme, who first ordered NEC not to conduct the election, and himself were only doing their job.
Abacha came to national limelight as the announcer of the military coup that ousted Second Republic President Shehu Shagari from office in 1983.
Following that, he became a permanent feature in the military political chess game till November 17, 1993 when he acquired maximum power.
It was claimed by some that Abacha and Abiola reached an agreement for military intervention that would eventually lead to the transfer of power to him. Even if true, Abacha apparently did not have any interest in honouring it as his regime exploited the June 12 crisis by dismantling all democratic institutions and suppressing the agitation for the actualisation of the mandate.
His regime brought a reign of near bestiality that had never been seen in the country as the government used all instruments of power to sustain Abacha in office. Opponents were thrown into detention or forced into exile, and some were killed.
Abacha held on to power until he died in office on June 8, 1998.
Prof Humphrey Nwosu
Nwosu was the Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, NEC.
His supervision of the National Assembly and state legislative houses and the governorship elections were hailed as a huge success. Even though the June 12, 1993 presidential election was also largely successful, Nwosu’s failure to speak up in defence of the poll conducted by him, even if he was reportedly under military coercion, led many to lower the impression of his earlier actions.
Nwosu, now a retired Professor of political science, was silent on June 12 for about 15 years, until he spoke in 2008 revealing that he was putting down the events of June 12.
Till date, Nigerians are still awaiting Nwosu’s documented narrative which he said ‘’will generate a lot of discourse all over Nigeria.’’