•I barged into NSDSC meeting to argue poll should hold
•Abacha challenged me: Who do you think you are?
•We had expected national honours for a job well done
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor
ILLUSIONARY! This adjective better explains the thinking that recent developments regarding the June 12, 1993 presidential election have responded to every nagging question on the matter.
No! The activities of the past few weeks do not translate into a requiem for the factors that made the poll a stillborn.
Even if President Muhammadu Buhari had declared the late presumed winner of the poll, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (fondly called MKO), an ex-President posthumously, the gesture wouldn’t have addressed all about June 12.
As gratifying as that could have been, it would have only succeeded in expanding the already large scope of the issues surrounding that historical event.
This is not a conjecture or an ill-intentioned observation, but the stark reality.
It is so because June 12 has ceased from being just a historical event to becoming history in itself, which is told to suit the interest of any narrator.
Anyone who doubts this perspective should remember the old cliché that history is sometimes whatever the winner decides to write.
The winner in this context is not the late Abiola, but those alive telling the June 12 story from whatever perspective.
Therefore, whether Buhari grants Abiola all the benefits accruable to a former President or not, June 12 has become an eternal angle in the Nigerian conversation.
For generations to come, its complexities will prick conscience and sadly remind the nation of an opportunity bungled.
No matter who tells the June 12 story, more strands would remain untreated and unexplored. And more questions would pop up begging for answers.
Simply put, when you think you have heard the most authentic account of that event, you will find yourself evaluating all you think you know.
Indeed, such is expected considering the legion of state and non-state actors, who made it what it is.
For reasons still considered self-serving, the dramatis personae brazenly altered the course of Nigeria’s history in a manner that left the country permanently on edge.
By doing so, the nation’s survival was perpetually left at the mercy of sociopolitical and economic connections, instead of an orderly system that guarantees a future for all.
That is the tragedy of June 12, an election many believed could have launched Nigeria on the path of seriousness.
While its symbolisms are defining, its place in the nation’s narrative is only disputed by a few.
Little wonder many stories are being told by several non-state actors since the President honoured Abiola.
Whether all the narratives represent the true account of the events of June 12 is an issue for another day.
Today’s subject is the account of a state actor, Prof Humphrey Nwosu, who was not just a witness to history but also a creator of history.
As the Chairman of then – National Electoral Commission, NEC, he could pass for a repository of all the happenstances of that period.
As the umpire of that widely adjudged credible exercise, his account could shine light on some grey areas or trigger more debates on the matter.
Whichever, Sunday Vanguard is of the view that Nwosu’s June 12 story, as encapsulated in his book: ‘Laying the Foundation for Nigeria’s Democracy: My Account of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election’, offers a compelling insight into the conduct and the annulment of the poll.
Based on an authoritative understanding of the scenario, Nwosu, in the 392-page book, reveals and analyses the forces that killed June 12.
18 days to election
Some sections of the book, which respond to certain issues recently raised in different fora, reads: “The Transition Council, 18 days to the presidential election, requested me to brief it on the preparation made by NEC to ensure the conduct of free and fair election. Consequently, on May 24, 1993, in company of the Secretary of the Commission, Aliyu Umar, and Director of Legal Services, DLS, Mallam Buhari Bello, briefed the Transition Council on the preparation made by NEC. We illustrated the extent of our readiness with maps, diagrams, samples of voting cards, analysed the virtues and advantages of Modified Open Ballot System over the Open Ballot System and the conventional balloting system used in previous elections in Nigeria. The council expressed its satisfaction over the detailed arrangements made for the successes of the June 12, 1993 election. The Council and its Chairman, Chief Ernest Shonekan, personally recommended our work.
Less than 35 hours to poll
“Before the Chairman’s broadcast, which was aired during the Nigerian Television Authority’s 9;00m news was concluded, two legal officers of NEC, Director of Legal Services, Buhari Bello and his Assistant, Tony Ojukwu, arrived in my residence at Mambilla Street, Maitama, Abuja. It was around 9:30 pm. They came in to inform me of the “Bomb Shell”—the sad news that Abuja High Court presided over by Hon. Justice Bassey Ikpeme had issued an interim injunction restraining NEC from conducting the presidential election on June 12, 1993. This was at the instance of Suit No. FCT/HC/M/299/93 between one Abimbola Davies for himself, and representing the members of a so-called Association of Better Nigeria, ABN, and National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, Attorney General of the Federation, National Defence and Security Council, and then – President of Nigeria.
“The June 12 presidential election was less than 35 hours away from that period the news was broken to me. The crisis caused by this unnecessary and this obstructive order of the court required calling for an emergency meeting of the commission. However, this could not be done because the National Commissioners were already in the states within their respective zones to ensure the conduct of a hitch-free election.
“Meanwhile, I encouraged my two legal officers, who were worried by the High Court order which was given around 9 pm on June 10, that I will do everything humanly possible to ensure the election took place as scheduled. Furthermore, the Director of Legal Services reminded me of the provision of Section 19 of Decree 13 Presidential Election Basic Constitutional and Transitional Decree 1993.
“I directed the DLS to draft a Press Release to assure Nigerians that the presidential election of June 12 will go on as scheduled in spite of the Interim Order that emanated from Abuja High Court.
I tried to reach the President
“I tried to reach the President through the telephone. The line was continuously ringing engaged. Meanwhile there was a collection of many senior officers of the commission who appeared confused and worried about our next possible line of action in order to save June 12 presidential election.
“As I was unable to contact the President, I decided to visit the residence of the Attorney General of the Federation. On my arrival, he appeared surprised as he was not expecting me. He was conferring with Barrister Philip Umeadi,SAN, who was the same Counsel for Abimbola Davies and his Association for Better Nigeria. Immediately Barrister Umeadi, an experienced Senior Advocate of Nigeria who knew me very well, saw me, he uttered, `Humphrey, I do not want to do anything with NEC’, and left me alone with the Attorney General of Federation. He entered one of the rooms in the Attorney General’s residence.
Meeting of NDSC
“There and then I directed Buhari Bello to accompany me to the meeting of the NDSC scheduled for 10 am. Initially he was reluctant to attend partly on the grounds that he was not properly and formally dressed as a lawyer and partly because NEC was not invited to the meeting, and then the tight security at Aso Rock.
“The President and all members of NDSC,including the Vice President, Admiral Aikhomu, Minister of Defence, Gen Sani Abacha, General Aliyu, all the Service Chiefs, including the Inspector General of Police, General Joshua Dogonyaro, Brigadier General Akilu, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Aliyu Mohammed, were present in that meeting.
“From the expression on their faces they were not expecting us to attend the meeting.
“The President turned to us and asked what was the purpose. I explained to the President and members of the Council that our visit was in connection with the June 12 presidential election. That our position is that the election should go on as scheduled. I stated, among other things, that, by the virtue of Section 19 of Decree 13 of 1993, the said order of the honourable court shall have no effect on the date or timing of holding the presidential election on June 12, 1993.
“The President, after weighing the arguments on both sides of the divide, was convinced that NEC’s position was quite tenable and that the Abuja High Court order would not stop us from conducting the June 12 presidential election.
We were about sharing a smile of victory when we heard shuffling of papers and legs. And as we looked up, we heard the collective voice of the military colleagues of the President saying, `We are not a banana Republic. No one should tell us what to do. Postpone the election at least for one week to prove that we are a sovereign nation’.
“I assured him, the President, that we had concluded a near perfect arrangement to ensure a hitch-free presidential election tomorrow. Furthermore, if the postponement had to be done, it should be postponed not for one week but for three months as all the voting cards would be abandoned and fresh ones printed. Otherwise the ensuing election would be the most rigged exercise in Nigerian electoral history. I told the President that if he allowed the election to take place and thereafter hand over to a democratically elected President, he would go down in history as our greatest President.
“ For him not to allow the election to go on will be giving credence to all those in the wider society and the media who had accused him of a hidden agenda. Our advice might have pleased the President and displeased some of his colleagues who did not want the election to take place. They wondered why he should listen to a civilian official who was not even a member of the ruling council. It is, therefore, because the President accepted our advice and considered the wider interest of the nation, that he gave me the directive to go ahead with the June 12 presidential election.
Opposition against the result
“The election was held in all local government areas in the country except in two Ogoni LGAs in Rivers State. In the two local government areas in Rivers State, election failed to take place not because of the unpreparedness of our commission, but because the people refused to come out to vote for different grudges against the Federal Government.
“Undoubtedly, with almost all the results known, the opposition against the election rose very high within the hierarchy of some senior military officials. While the majority of the National Commissioners were already congratulating themselves and the Chairman for conducting the freest and fairest presidential election in Nigeria’s electoral history, they were looking forward to receiving national honours for a job well done. The tension in the armed forces and the restlessness of the civil society led to the spate of court injunctions.
Nyako, Dongonyaro, Aliyu, Mohammed, Akilu, David Mark
“We issued a press statement stating among other things that in deference to the multiplicity of court orders and counter orders from various jurisdictions all over Nigeria that we would immediately file an appeal before the Court of Appeal in Kaduna with a view to vacating all injunctions or orders so as to complete all the processes of the announcement of the winner of the presidential election.
‘’Perhaps, as a result of the above development, the expanded meeting of the NDSC, which included the Chairman of the Transition Council, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was held on June 16, 1993. I was invited to brief the Council on the ensuing spate of court injunctions and counter injunctions.
Before I entered Aso Rock, I saw Colonel Abubakar Umar, a former governor of Kaduna State. He is an accomplished officer and a very patriotic Nigerian. He congratulated us on the excellent work we had done for Nigeria. I told him that many of his senior colleagues in the army were against the election and wanted it cancelled, but he assured us of his personal support.
‘’On my entry into the venue of the meeting, I quickly glanced at the faces of members of the council. Most of their faces were grim, fearful and hostile. It was General Sani Abacha who quickly asked: `Did you expect us to know the outcome of the election like ordinary members of the public through your so-called scoreboard?’ There and then, I briefed the members about June 12, 1993, presidential election. I told them about the orderly, peaceful and successful conduct of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. I informed them that through our effective communication machinery, transparent and simple collation procedure, all results had been affirmed with the exception of that of Taraba State. They were further told that the spate of court injunctions and counter injunctions were violations of Section 21(I) of Decree 13.
Abacha committee on outcome of poll
‘’Despite our thorough briefing and satisfactory answers to the questions, no one congratulated the Commission for the successful conduct of the presidential election. Rather, there were expressions of concern to put closure to the whole matter. The other person, who before, during and after the election gave us support and wanted the outcome of the election to be concluded in keeping with the provisions of the law was the Vice President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu.
“However, the NDSC set up a committee, headed by General Sani Abacha, to handle the outcome of the election. The other members included Admiral Murtala Nyako, Generals Dongonyaro, Aliyu, Mohammed, Akilu, Brigadier David Mark, Attorney General of the Federation, Clement Akpamgbo, the NEC Chairman, Humphery Nwosu.
“The main term of reference of the committee was to find an immediate solution to the outcome of the presidential election. I wondered in my mind, with the elections concluded, what else would be the solution other than allowing NEC, in keeping with the law, to announce the result.
Who do you think you are?
‘’We met in General Sani Abacha’s guest house in Abuja. A subcommittee made up of the NEC Chairman, Brigadier General Akilu, the Attorney General, Clement Akpamgbo, was set up. In attendance at the series of meetings we held to find a solution were the Secretary of the Commission, Alhaji Aliyu Umar, a National Commissioner, and Professor Felix Ideriah, who was also the Chief Returning Officer for the June 12, 1993 presidential election, and Mallam Buhari Bello, the Director of Legal Services of NEC.
‘’ From our own angle in NEC, there was nothing to discuss other than the successful conclusion of the election by declaring the winner. We returned to the guest house of General Sani Abacha, the venue of the committee’s meeting. I presented to the committee two options. I could hardly conclude the submission when General Sani Abacha shouted on me to stop. He uttered, `Who do you think you are? You conducted a presidential election the court prohibited. You helped to cause the current confusion without the support of the members of your commission’.