By Richard Akinnola
Suite 1034 of Abuja Sheraton Hotel was the control room. This was the place that served as the incubator where the anti-June 12 plans were hatched. Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola must never win the fast-approaching June 12, 1993 election. General Ibrahim Babangida must continue in office as Military President for another four years. That was the game plan.
Present at this meeting of May 18, 1993 were Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe, leader of an amorphous group known as the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN), an organization set up and funded by General Babangida to scuttle the 1993 democratic march. Others at the meeting included Abimbola Davis, Director of Operations of ABN, Clement Akpamgbo, Attorney-General of the Federation and legal strategist, Brigadier-General Haliru Akilu, Babangida’s Chief spook and linkman with the ABN.
This day’s mission was to finalise arrangements of how to file a suit at an Abuja High Court to stop the election scheduled for June 12.
After endorsing the affidavit drawn up by Nzeribe, Akpamgbo took it to Oguta, Nzeribe’s home town, for fine-tuning. Here, it was decided that a Yoruba man, Abiola’s tribal kinsman should be the plaintiff in order to reinforce the belief that the suit had no tribal colouration. And the lot fell on Davis, the Organisation’s Director of Operations, to stand in as the plaintiff.
Back in Abuja, having perfected this, there was a little problem. A pliable judge had to be secured to hear the case and Brigadier Akilu was mandated to contact the Chief Judge of Abuja, Justice Dahiru Saleh, who was close to the government and a willing accomplice.
Akilu was to make sure that the case was assigned to a “trusted” judge who could do their bidding. But the “trusted” judge was out of town and had to be awaited before the case was assigned.
The judge, Justice Bassey Ikpeme (now late) was quickly recalled from Lagos where she was on a brief visit. Justice Ikpeme, a close associate of the Justice Minister, Akpamgbo, did not hesitate in doing their bidding by granting the injunction on June 10, two days to the election.
Prior to this suit, the ABN and a shadowy “Committee of Elder Statesmen” co-ordinated by Mazi S.G. Ikoku and Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, had launched a series of campaigns in conjunction with Nzeribe’s ABN to prolong Babangida’s stay in office.
Alarmed over these devices, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), a pro-democracy outfit then led by Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, headed for the court to restrain the ABN from its nefarious activities. Joined as defendants in the suit No. LD/1148/93, were General Ibrahim Babangida and Chief Ola Olatunde, National Director of Operations of ABN. (It later turned out after the election that “Ola Olatunde” was a fictitious name). The third defendant was the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Dr. Ransome-Kuti had contended that if not checked, the activities of ABN could derail the transition process.
In her ruling, Justice Dolapo Akinsanya restrained the ABN and its agents from carrying out any activity that could perpetuate Babangida in office.
Despite this court order, the ABN and the government still succeeded in manipulating the Abuja judiciary to do their bidding.
The Plaintiff in the case, Davis on behalf of the ABN, had alleged electoral corruption on the part of the SDP candidate, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola at the SDP primaries in Jos between March 27 and 29, 1993.
Before her ruling ex-parte at 9 pm in the night of June 10, 1993, there were flurries of activities between Justice Ikpeme’s court chambers and the Office of the Attorney-General, leading to the postponement of the ruling from morning to night. This led to speculations that the ruling may have been written for the judge by Mr. Akpamgbo, the Attorney-General.
In the ruling, Justice Ikpeme not only stopped the election but also got carried away by the interests she wanted to serve by making “final” pronouncement on the case even at an Interlocutory level. The allegations ABN leveled against some of the state governments at the primaries, Justice Ikpeme held, was “the greatest shame in the history of Nigeria’s politics”!
For a judge to make this outlandish statement at the ex-parte stage of the case when the other party (NEC) had not been heard, exposed the judicial conspiracy in the whole saga. This was confirmed by Mr. Davis himself in his confession when he addressed a press conference.
Confusion cradled the nation in its hands. The NEC promptly issued a statement, disregarding the court order, stating that the election would go on as scheduled.
Meanwhile, NEC filed a counter-affidavit that the jurisdiction of the court had been ousted by Section 19(1) of Decree 13 of 1993. It did not only hold the election as scheduled but also started releasing the results.
When it became apparent that Bashorun Abiola was emerging as the winner from the 14 states results already released, the government and ABN hatched another plan.
They ran to court again to obtain an order to stop the further release of the results of the election. And ready to play the good boy was Justice Saleh who in his chambers on June 16 immediately granted the order stopping further announcement of the result. Curiously, even though the motion to stop further release of the result was on notice, Justice Saleh granted it ex-parte without hearing NEC.
From this stage, activities started to unfold at dizzying heights. NEC remained adamant. Its lawyer went to Court of Appeal, Kaduna, armed with the full result which it filed along with its notice of appeal.
Sensing that the full result had been filed at the Court of Appeal, the Babangida government quickly announced the cancellation of the whole election process, blaming it on the need to save the judiciary from embarrassment!
Prior to this decision, following the order of Justice Ikpeme stopping the election, there were series of counter court orders ordering NEC to proceed with the election.
One of such cases was the one filed at the Lagos High Court before Justice Moshood Olugbani.
The Plaintiffs, Mr. Sumbo Onitiri and Mr. Richard Adejumo in suit No. LD/1757/93 sought for an order of mandamus to compel NEC to conduct the election on June 12.
This order was granted by Justice Olugbani who held:
“I have examined the provision of Section 19 (1) of Decree 13 of 1993…..after considering the contents of the whole Decree, the most important function of the National Electoral Commission is the conduct of the Presidential Election which the Decree imposes an obligation on the commission to do…..The court is aware of the fact that the effect of non-holding of elections on the 12th day of June 1993 may bring about the breakdown of law and order and disaster to the Great country called Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, legal fireworks were ignited at various courts in the country following the halting of the announcement of further results by Justice Saleh.
In Benin, a member of the then Bendel State House of Assembly, Mr. Matthew Egbadon also went to a Benin High Court, seeking for an order that NEC be compelled to release all the results of the presidential election.
In his 26 paragraph affidavit, Mr. Egbadon stated that “If this application is not granted, I will suffer irreparable damage and mischief which cannot be compensated adequately or sufficiently by way of monetary damages as the Defendants’ acts will prejudice the chances of my party SDP (and invariably myself) in the political fortunes of the Third Republic.”
In his ruling on June 16, 1993, Justice J.O. Sadoh of Benin High Court made an interim order of injunction “restraining the first, second and third Defendant’s (NEC, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu and Chief Electoral Officer of the Federation respectively) from further withholding, neglecting or refusing to release the authentic results of the presidential election conducted on June 12, 1993 in respect of the following 16 states…” pending the determination of the motion on notice filed simultaneously with this application.