Ernest Shonekan as a footnote (2)

By Eric Teniola

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

After Babangidas 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 FMG, and their acceptance of the FMG’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 FMG, 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.’

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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, LtGeneral 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.

To be continued next edition

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