When I arrived in Lagos in January 1992 after serving three military governments in Akure, Ondo State, politics was in the air. A friend of mine, Senator Mahmud Waziri had shown interest in contesting the presidential election under the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He then pleaded with me to help him in his bid.
A friend needed my help and I could not refuse. I knew the nomination would be won by Major General Musa Yar’adua (rtd.) or Chief Samuel Oluyemisi Falae. I knew Senator Waziri, in terms of finance, could not match either Major General Yar’Adua or Chief Falae. Chief Falae had the backing of a lot bankers, civil servants and numerous friends, including another friend of mine – Chief Julius Olawale Adewunmi, the Chief Executive of ABACHUS Merchant Bank, while Major General Yar’Adua (rtd.) had the backing of men like Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih from Uromi in Edo State and Chief Lamidi Ariyibi Akanji Adedibu (1927-2008), the strongman of Ibadan politics.
Senator Waziri appointed me as the deputy director general of his campaign organisation, while the director general was Professor Ben Obumselu (1930-2017), a gifted man from Oba in Anambra State. My experience at that time taught me the complexities of Nigerian politics, which is more difficult and complicated than what we read about.
Nigeria is an interesting country and our tragedy is that we know what is right but we never do it.
On September 31, 1992, another meeting was held at the same venue. This time it was attended by all the aspirants of both the NRC and SDP… It was at the gathering that Major General Yar’Adua informed those in attendance that he had heard from the grapevine that General Babangida was planning to ban all of them and had decided to hand over the federal government to Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. The news was like a bombshell to all those present.
On July 30, 1992, Professor Humphrey Nwosu’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) cleared all politicians who had scaled through SDP and NRC screening exercises. On August 1, 1992, the first round of staggered presidential primaries were held in five states – Katsina, Borno, Kwara, Abia and Delta. But on August 7, 1992, presidential primaries were suspended and a new time-table was announced. The nation was divided into three zones of 10 states each and the elections were due for September 5, 19 and 26. On September 23, 1992, the 10 SDP presidential aspirants met in Lagos in the guest house of Senator Mahmud Waziri on the 10th floor of Roman Gardens, Louis Solomon Close, Victoria Island, Lagos. I was the secretary at that meeting. And those who attended were Chief Olu Falae, Chief Olabiyi Durojaiye, Chief Arthur Nzeribe, Alhaji Datti Ahmed, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Dr. Olusola Saraki, Dr. Patrick Dele Cole, Dr. Layi Balogun and Professor Jerry Gana, alongside Senator Mahmud Waziri, whose apartment was the venue, as mentioned. The decision taken at that meeting was that they as aspirants would withdraw from the presidential primaries due for September 26. The allegation was that the SDP leadership under Alhaji Baba Gana Kingigbe was bent on imposing Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua on the party. They also demanded for the dissolution of the executive of the SDP under Alhaji Baba Gana Kingigbe. I then transmitted the decisions taken by the aspirants to the SDP headquarters in Abuja and copies were sent to General Babangida at the villa in Abuja.
On September 31, 1992, another meeting was held at the same venue. This time it was attended by all the aspirants of both the NRC and SDP. I was also the secretary at the meeting. It was at the gathering that Major General Yar’Adua informed those in attendance that he had heard from the grapevine that General Babangida was planning to ban all of them and had decided to hand over the federal government to Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. The news was like a bombshell to all those present. Chief James Ajibola Idowu Ige (1930-2001), who later became minister of Justice and attorney-general of the federation, captured the mood of what happened during that time in an article he wrote on August 23, 1998 in The Sunday Tribune, when he declared that: “Seven years ago, I publicly declared that I would siddon look. It was my reaction to what I perceived to be a fraudulent transition programme unfolded by our then military President, General Babangida. Actually, my decision not to take part in his transition programme was reached immediately after I listened to his forty something minutes’ broadcast in which he announced that none of the thirteen political associates which had applied for registration was good enough. And he announced his creation of the Social Democratic Party and National Republican Convention (NRC).
“I felt affronted on two grounds. First, it was obvious that his speech had been drafted months earlier, very likely before he asked Nigerians to run round forming political associations, with funny requirements made by the Electoral Commission. I was very active in organising the People’s Solidarity Party (PSP) and we had gone to great lengths collecting membership lists and registers from ward level, collecting information about party officers, etc., and in the end delivering lorry loads of documents to the National Electoral Commission. At the end of the exercise, PSP had the highest overall score. Babangida who has never taken part in organising political associations, not to talk of parties, had the temerity to speak about inadequacies of the political associations!
On Monday, January 5, 1993, General Babangida dissolved the Armed Forces Ruling Council and replaced it with a new 14-member governing council, and named the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC). The NDSC’s members were: General Babangida – president; Admiral Aikhomu (rtd.) – vice president; General Abacha – chief of defence staff and defence secretary, Admiral Murtala Nyako – deputy chief of defence staff…
“The second affront in my view was that Babangida took over a job that properly belonged to the National Electoral Commission. As far as I was concerned, Babangida, by and in that broadcast, was telling us without any dissimulation that he controlled the National Electoral Commission and ultimately would decide the electoral process. As soon as he finished that broadcast, I determined not to be part of his charade.
“I was surprised that quite a few of my colleagues did not see or read the handwriting on the wall. When some of them were scrambling for positions as presidential candidates, I was amused, and told those of them who were my friends that they were falling for a dummy. After a lot of money, energy and time had been spent by twenty three presidential aspirants, Babangida declared ALL of them unfit! The rest is history”.
On October 16, 1992, General Babangida announced that the Armed Forces Ruling Council had cancelled the remaining round of presidential primaries, dissolved the executive committees of both parties at the national, state and local levels, named caretaker committees to run the parties, and said that the NEC would propose to the Armed Forces Ruling Council a new selection process for presidential candidates. On November 17, 1992, General Babangida announced the banning of all 23 presidential aspirants who participated in the annulled September primaries and laid out a new schedule for completing the transition to civilian rule by August 27, 1993. The presidential election was now scheduled for June 12, 1993. General Babangida also announced that the open ballot, which effectively disenfranchised those persons not willing to be seen openly supporting a candidate or party, would be replaced by the open-secret ballot.
On Monday, January 5, 1993, General Babangida dissolved the Armed Forces Ruling Council and replaced it with a new 14-member governing council, and named the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC). The NDSC’s members were: General Babangida – president; Admiral Aikhomu (rtd.) – vice president; General Abacha – chief of defence staff and defence secretary, Admiral Murtala Nyako – deputy chief of defence staff, Lt-General Salihu Ibrahim – chief of army staff, Air Marshall Akin Dada – chief of air staff, Vice Admiral Dan Preston Omatsola – chief of naval staff, Alhaji Aliyu Attah – inspector general of Police, and Lt-General Aliyu Mohammed – national security adviser. Also, Lt-General Joshua Dongoyaro – commandant, Command and Staff College, Ernest Shonekan – chairman of the Transitional Council, Clement Akpamgbo – attorney-general and justice minister, Matthew Mbu – foreign affairs minister and Alhaji Abdulrahman Okene – internal affairs minister.
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, Writes from Lagos.