By Owei Lakemfa
Two prominent Nigerians, Bashir Othman Tofa and Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan, departed eight days of each other; the former on January 3, 2022 and the latter on January 11.
If both men had acted differently in the 1993 crisis when the Babangida military regime hijacked the presidential election in a desperate bid to cling to power, the sorry story of Nigeria today might have been different.
The 1993 presidential election were between the then 46-year-old Tofa, the candidate of the National Republican Party, NRC; and Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.
Abiola, with Babagana Kingibe as running mate, secured 8,341,309 or 58.36 per cent of the votes, while Tofa, running with Sylvester Ugoh, had 5,952,087 or 41.64 per-cent. Abiola won 19 out of the 30 states, including Tofa’s Kano State, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Although the results came in early, the National Electoral Commission did not start announcing them until June 14. Although the results of the election as collated in each state were known and were widely circulated though unofficially, the electoral commission decided to release them piecemeal.
After 6.6 million votes had been released with Abiola receiving 4.3 million and Tofa 2.3 million, the announcement was stopped.
A shadowy pro-regime group, the Association for a Better Nigeria, ABN, led by a notorious anti-democracy businessman, Arthur Nzeribe, which had earlier tried to stop the election, obtained an injunction on June 15 to stop further release of the results. Playing to the script, the electoral commission halted the results. The ABN had previously campaigned for the handover to civil rule to take place in 1997.
Did Tofa assume that by collaborating with the Babangida regime the military might have preferred him or that a new election would be conducted which will give him another shot at the presidency?
In all these, since Tofa, who like many of us, had the final results, knew of the ABN and Babangida plans to subvert the elections, could have conceded defeat and congratulated the winner.
This might have scuttled the unholy moves of General Babangida and his errand boys to scuttle the election in a vain attempt to continue military rule. Even after pro-democracy groups on June 18 damned the military dictators by releasing the full results, Tofa, conscious of the fact that he had lost the elections, chose to play along with the military.
The ignoble role of Shonekan in scuttling the democratic process and inflicting the debilitating pains of six more years of military misrule, including the evil era of Abacha on the country, was far more devastating.
A military gang on December 31, 1983 overthrew the elected Shagari administration and imposed its rule on the people. The junta leader, General Muhammadu Buhari, was on August 27, 1985, ousted in a palace coup which saw the Chief of Army Staff, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, replacing and putting his boss under house arrest.
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The latter claiming the military was going to hand over power to civilians, began an endless transition programme, fixing the handover date for 1990, then shifting it to 1992, then January 1993 before fixing another date of August 27, 1993.
As part of its acts of claiming a transition was finally afoot, the Babangida regime on January 2, 1993 announced the formation of a transitional council headed by businessman and anti-public sector technocrat, Ernest Shonekan.
This was claimed to be the last stage of the handover. However, the regime reneged by annulling the presidential election and attempting to elongate its unwelcome stay in office. Mass resistance across the country forced Babangida into an ignoble ‘step aside’ from the presidency.
But rather than allow Abiola, who had the peoples’ mandate to preside over the country, Babangida signed a new decree entrusting the stolen presidency to a pliable Shonekan whom he named the Head of a contraption called the Interim National Government, ING.
Shonekan continued the repressive policies of the military, including mass arrests of pro-democracy activists. He also increased the economic misery of the populace with anti-people and poverty-inducing economic decisions such as increasing the cost of petroleum products by 700 per cent.
He also worked hard to ensure that the peoples’ electoral mandate was never actualised by beginning his own version of the fraudulent transition programme. He ordered the electoral commission to carry out a voters revalidation exercise and organise a new presidential election.
Chief Abiola went to court challenging the ING. A courageous Justice Dolapo Akinsanya, who was just four years on the bench on November 10, 1993, declared the ING as an illegal body. She ruled that: “President Babangida has no legitimate power to sign a decree after August 26, 1993, after his exit; so the decree is void and of no effect”.
But Shonekan would not obey the court judgement. What followed were open meetings where the decision to kick him and his gang out of power was made. It was the most open and brazen coup in the country’s history. The impotent Shonekan regime knew the coup was afoot but had no group, least of all, the masses willing to stop it.
When three persons: Generals Sani Abacha, Oladipo Diya and Aliyu Gusau on November 17, 1993 walked up to Shonekan in the Presidential Villa and asked him to resign, he did so without any protest. He was only 82 days in office. It was good riddance to bad rubbish.
But after he passed, there have been brazen attempts to rewrite history; the political class is presenting Shonekan as a patriot and courageous leader. To preserve our collective sanity and assault on our psyche, I will quote only three of these brazen untruths.
Babangida, the puppeteer said of his puppet: “He was a man, a leader and an uncommon patriot who had a presence of mind and whose understanding of Nigeria was profound and remarkable.”
President Buhari, who with Babangida derailed the Second Republic democratic process, claimed that: “Nigeria owes a great debt to Chief Shonekan.” Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, a senior to Babangida and Buhari in coup plotting, claimed that Shonekan “…was a unifying force for the nation and his contribution to the growth and development of democracy in Nigeria cannot be forgotten in a hurry”.
In all the encomiums showered on Shonekan by politicians, I have not read a single one that mirrored his real image and our true history, especially in 1993 and the anti-military struggles to restore democracy in the country.
Truly, as it is said in Proverbs 13:34: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” There is no middle ground in this alternative because you are either on the side of the people or on that of their oppressors.