Ernest Shonekan

By Eric Teniola

This continues the publication last week of the SDP’s dilemma on whether or not to support MKO Abiola’s quest to reclaim his mandate following the annulment of the 1993 presidential election by the military.

If it agreed to fresh elections, it would forfeit its convincing electoral victory, and risk losing in a new election.

While the SDP squirmed, the Federal Military Government was ready to go ahead with fresh elections, with or without the SDP’s cooperation. In his speech of June 26, General Babangida had also lifted the ban on all persons who had previously been disqualified from the presidential race (except those with criminal records). He said this was “with a view to enriching the quality of candidature for the election and at the same time tap the leadership resources of our country to the fullest”.

It seems astonishing that Babangida felt that individuals whom he earlier disqualified from the transition for electoral malpractice, rigging and corruption would “enrich” the political process. He was re-admitting into the political process individuals whom he previously described as having “imbibed the worst culture of the Nigerian political class”. The real reason for re-admitting disqualified candidates was to create a cleavage in the political support for Abiola. Babangida played on the greed, opportunism and power hunger of Nigerian politicians.

He hoped that powerful disqualified candidates would ditch Abiola in the hope of another shot at the presidency. This was a typically brilliant divide-and-rule tactic by Babangida to isolate Abiola, whose previous mistakes came to bear. Yar’Adua (the political godfather of Abiola’s party) was still angry that Babangida had stopped him from becoming president by disqualifying him in 1992. Abiola was an outsider to the SDP, so Yar’Adua and powerful party members had no incentive to support or take risks for him.

Many SDP members who laid the groundwork and campaigned for six years resented the way that Abiola walked into the party at the last moment and used his wealth and high powered contacts to emerge as the party’s presidential candidate ahead of party members who were there before him. Now Babangida had opened a back door that would give them and Yar’Adua another shot at the presidency.

Yar’Adua also had a grievance with Abiola for ignoring his choice of Atiku Abubakar as vice-president. Additionally, the SDP was effectively Yar’Adua’s party and was packed with his acolytes. Yar’Adua’s new political lifeline placed his interests in direct competition with Abiola’s. To support Abiola would mean forfeiting his second chance to run for president.

Many disqualified candidates from the SDP and NRC took the same view. Some of them had even canvassed the military to annul the election, and felt no sympathy for Abiola, whose misfortune they regarded as no different from their own in 1992. Some politicians also ditched Abiola after being given very generous financial “settlements” by Babangida. Abiola found himself having to financially match or exceed Babangida’s “settlement” of these politicians in order to retain their support.

However, the military had totally exhausted its goodwill and had little credibility left. Few believed it would or could organise a fresh election, and instead believed that the idea of another election was just a ruse to buy the military more time in office. Even if it could conduct another election in such a condensed time frame, such election would lack credibility and the winner would be haunted by the ghost of the annulled June 12 election.

Although they had threatened Babangida and severely weakened his authority, the military clique behind the annulment were willing to give Babangida breathing room to negotiate his own exit – so long as this did not entail Abiola as president. Abiola’s stubborn insistence on his mandate further enraged senior officers and stiffened their opposition to him.

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Babangida decided to bypass Abiola and SDP party members to negotiate directly with the SDP and NRC leadership.

After Babangida’s meeting with the national chairmen of the SDP and NRC (Tony Anenih and Hammed Kusamotu respectively) in Abuja on July 7, 1993, the SDP and NRC issued a joint statement announcing their decision to “cooperate fully” with the Federal Military Government, and their acceptance of the Federal Military Government’s proposal to form a national government.

The parties decided: To cooperate fully with the Federal Military Government to ensure the speedy resolution of the present political impasse. To this end, the two parties accepted in principle the second option of a national government proposed by the Federal Military Government, but would suggest that in view of the implications of the option, a committee comprising representatives of the Federal Government and representatives of the two political parties should be set up to work out the composition, tenure and other issues pertaining to the setting up of the national government.

The NRC thought a national government would allow them to circumvent their defeat on June 12, and provide the opportunity of getting some of its members into the government. It is not clear where the idea of a national government originated. Although the parties’ joint statement of July 7 claimed that the national government was proposed by the Federal Military Government, Brigadier Shagaya and the Director-General of the CDS denied that the idea emanated from the military (although they disagreed on whose idea it was). 

Both Abiola and Omoruyi believe that former Head of State General Obasanjo proposed to Babangida the idea of handing over to a civilian national government which would conduct fresh elections.”

However, the biography of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua claimed that it was Lateef Iakande (former Governor of Lagos State) who suggested a national government. According to the biography (based on the recollections of Yar’Aduas colleague A.B. Borisade): Lateef [akande tabled a suggestion for an interim national government at a meeting with secretary of the party Su1e Lamido, Chief Anenih and others. IBB said he shouldn’t swear in Abiola if Aso Rock was burning because he did not want him dead. Jakande tore off a piece of paper and wrote, ‘Why don’t we try an interim government?’ He handed the paper to Lamido – he probably still has it.’

There does seem to be a consensus that the idea of forming an Interim National Government (ING) originated from a civilian source. Opportunists and pragmatists decided to back the ING proposal for different reasons. Opportunists thought it was their best chance for another attempt at the presidency. Pragmatists knew that the military would never reverse the annulment, so started considering other avenues to force Babangida to stand down. Their objective changed from trying to validate Abiola’s victory, to one of finding a face-saving way to manoeuvre Babangida out of power. Reversing the annulment would almost certainly have triggered a violent coup. Senior military officers repeatedly vowed that they would leave office only on their own terms and would never be “humiliated out of office” by civilian agitation.

With the military unwilling to reverse the annulment, the ING became a way to get the military to give up political power without losing face. The pragmatists knew that confronting a military government populated by soldiers trained and experienced in combat would end in disaster and bloodshed. They also wanted to avoid playing into the hands of hard core Babangida loyalists who were trying to manipulate the crisis to create enough chaos to justify leaving Babangida in power as the least daunting of frightening alternatives. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua became a pivotal figure in the planning to force Babangida to relinquish power by August 27.

He joined efforts to construct an ING to succeed Babangida, telling his SDP colleagues that as a former military officer, he knew and understood the mentality of a military government. When the ING proposal was first presented to senior officers, they initially opposed it. However, they were eventually won over. Babangida was finally convinced of the need to step down by the insistence of his own generals, who concluded that his name had become so synonymous with the pain of the annulment that his position was untenable. Even respected retired military officers became exasperated by Babangida. In a rare moment of indiscretion, the normally taciturn General Bali later revealed that he gave his fellow “Langtang Mafia” member Brigadier Shagaya the green light to force Babangida out: I think the biggest blunder he [Babangida] made was to annul that election.

Personally, I think it was the freest and most orderly conducted election in this country and it was clear that Abiola was winning … So when that happened, I told General Shagaya (he is a Langtang man: he was then the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 15t Division); I said Babangida has lost the credibility to remain as head of state of this country. So, they must remove him. If he doesn’t leave, they must remove him because he will never again stay as head of state.” On July 31, 1993, Babangida inaugurated a Tripartite Committee headed by Vice- President Aikhomu to formulate the ING’s composition, duration and operational details. The Tripartite Committee comprised representatives from the FMG and the two political parties. FMG Representatives: Vice-President Aikhomu, Lt-General Dogonyaro, Lt-General Aliyu Mohammed, Brigadier Mark, Brigadier Shagaya, Brigadier Ukpo, Ernest Shonekan, Clement Akpamgbo, Alhaji Abdulrahman Okene. NRC Representatives: Adamu Ciroma, Bashir Dalhatu, Tom lkimi, Eyo Ita, John Nwodo. SDP Representatives: Major-General Yar’Adua (retired), Dele Cole, Jim Nwobodo, Abubakar Rimi, Olusola Saraki, Dapo Sarumi, Joseph Toba. After seven years on a long, winding road to civilian rule, the Transition hit a dead end.

The election winners sat down in conference halls and hotel suites to negotiate away their electoral victory with the same people who voided their victory. On August 2, Lt-General Ibrahim briefed senior officers at the Command Mess, 1 Marina, Lagos. Senior officers were asked to submit recommendations on the lNG’s composition.

The officers considered three structures for the ING: (i) a full civilian government with equal representation from the SDP and NRC (ii) a hybrid military and civilian government, or (iii) a full military government. Shehu Yar’Adua demanded that a civilian should head the lNG, and that Babangida, Aikhomu and all the service chiefs should resign. The demand was accepted with one exception. General Abacha was the only military officer named to serve in the ING. Obasanjo was asked to head the ING but declined. He contacted Yar’Adua and urged him to stand firm and resist Abachas retention in the ING. Yar’Adua reluctantly agreed to Abachas retention as he did not want to give Babangida a pretext to remain in power. The Tripartite Committee recommended an ING to be led by civilians, but with military representatives.

The head of the ING was to be the head of state and chairman of the ING. Nebulously, the ING chairman’s powers as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces were to reside in the National Defence Council and the National Security Council. The ING was to commence on or before August 27, 1993, and would stay in office until December 31,1994. However, its duration was shortened, with its terminal date being brought forward to March 1994.

The NDSC accepted the Tripartite Committee’s recommendations with a few amendments. A small band of hardliners urged Babangida to stay on. Some planned to use the Senate to pass a motion calling for an extension of Babangidas tenure. The Senate president, Iyorchia Ayu, was impeached by the Senate for opposing moves to extend Babangidas tenure beyond August 27.9 This was the first time that a Senate president had been impeached in Nigeria’s history.

Politician Mohammed Arzika said that “it is a sad commentary on the political environment of the country … that being principled and honest is considered something unbecoming that should be gotten rid of’Finally out of options, Babangida announced on August 17,1993 that he would “step aside” as “a personal sacrifice’: The following Tripartite Committee members and stakeholders signed a document agreeing to create the ING.On behalf of the FMG: Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (retired) – Vice President , Lt-General Joshua Dogonyaro – Commandant of the Command and Staff College, Iaji , Lt -General Aliyu Mohammed – National Security Adviser , Brigadier David Mark – National War College, Abuja Brigadier John Shagaya – GOC, I” Division, Kaduna, Brigadier Anthony Ukpo – Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene – Secretary for Internal Affairs in the Transitional Council.On behalf of the SDP: Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (retired) , Tony Anenih – SDP National Chairman , Alhaji Sule Lamido – National Secretary of the SDP , Dr Okechukwu Odunze – SDP National Treasurer , Jim Nwobodo”, Alhaji Olusola Saraki , Dapo Sarumi, Dr Patrick Dele Cole”, Amos Idakula ,Alhaji Abubakar Rimi. Prominent among those who signed for the NRC were: Dr Hammed Kusamotu – NRC National Chairman , Okey Nzoho – NRC National Publicity Secretary , Tom Ikimi, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Joe Nwodo, Theo Nkire, Professor Eyo Ita, Dr Bawa Salka, Prince Bola Afonja Alhaji Y. Anka, Abba Muritala, Halilu Maina, Alhaji Muktari A. Mohammed Other signatories: Alhaji Ramalam, Ahaji Halimu Maina, Joseph Toba A remarkable aspect of the I G’s emergence is that many of those behind its formation were unelected, while the majority of those who had been elected (Abiola, the National Assembly and state governors) played little or no part in its creation.

The ING was superimposed on the polity and nation without the consent of the overwhelming majority of both constituencies. 

The ING was unique. It was the only government in Nigeria’s history that was not the product of a coup or election. On August 26, 1993, Babangida “stepped aside”. He stood down after eight years in power and retired with his service chiefs (Lt-General Ibrahim, Air Vice-Marshal Akin Dada, Vice-Admiral Dan Preston Omatsola and Aliyu Attah). He left the crisis-racked country to an uncertain future in the hands of an ING headed by the chairman of  the Transitional Council, Ernest Shonekan. Shonekan was the former chief executive of the multi-national United Africa Company. His selection was strategic. Like Abiola he was an Egba Yoruba from Abeokuta. The military knew that Shonekan would be regarded as a traitor by other Yorubas for agreeing to lead the ING after the voiding of an election won by a fellow Yoruba.

Even though Babangida had officially retired, Shonekan was perceived as a puppet being controlled by Babangida from behind the scenes. In a last-ditch attempt at continuity, Babangida left his loyalists in charge of key military units. Lt-Generals Joshua Dogonyaro (Chief of Defence Staff), Aliyu Mohammed (Chief of Army Staff) and Brigadier John Shagaya (GOC, 1’1 Division) were left behind to watch Shonekan. The Defence Secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Sani Abacha, also retained his position and was the only military member of the ING. Babangida stood down with the military’s reputation at an all time low.

When he came to power he was seen as a visionary benevolent leader with foresight, a reform agenda, finesse and a forward thinking economic blueprint. Yet he left office eight years later with his reputation mutilated and became (at that time) the most unpopular military leader in Nigeria’s history.

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