By Adetutu Folasade-Koyi
Twenty-three years after former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s regime annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by businessman, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona has detailed how monarchs were lobbied to support the move.
In his autobiography, Awujale: The Autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S.K Adetona, Ogbagba II, published by Mosuro Publishers, to commemorate the monarch’s 50th coronation anniversary in 2010, Awujale narrated behind-the-scene manoeuvres by the military to get monarchs to support the annulment.
In his book, the Awujale, in his book, wrote extensively of the dramatis personae in the military lobby.
“In June 1993, the elections finally held and apparently against all IBB’s calculations, they were not only transparent, but were judged to be free and fair by international observers. The results pointed clearly in the direction of one winner – Chief M.KO Abiola, a close friend and confidant of the General himself.
“But, just as the announcement of the results was to be made, Babangida cancelled the entire process! The nation erupted everywhere in commotion.
“As part of his desperate measures to douse this widespread violence, IBB invited traditional rulers to a meeting in Abuja. I represented Ogun State.
“I got to Abuja on a Thursday, the day before the meeting, and at 7.00 pm that night, there was a knock on my door. It was Chief Ernest Shonekan. He was now head of the Transitional Council. The council was the body designed by Babangida to lead to civilian government. I took the opportunity of his visit to ask how really important his position was, as the soldiers were still calling the shots…
“When Shonekan left me, I became agitated about what was going to happen at our meeting with IBB the next day. I was not going to betray our people, who wanted the election results to be upheld and Abiola sworn into office, but, I was not sure about the stand of the other Yoruba Obas who were going to attend the meeting.
“So, I called the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, and expressed the need for us to hold a meeting beforehand so that we could express a common position and speak with one voice when we meet IBB the following day.
“The Alaafin wholeheartedly agreed and asked me to convene the meeting. But, aware that ego could be at play in calling a meeting to be attended by all the Yoruba Obas, I suggested instead to Alaafin that we should both go to the Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuade and discuss with him our position and emphasise the need for unanimity in the interest of the Yorubas in particular and the nation in general.
“It took a long while for the Alaafin to agree to go with me. He finally yielded in the interest of the Yoruba people. Then, I called Oba Adeyinka Oyekan of Lagos on the intercom and discussed the matter with him.
“We were all staying in the same hotel, the Nicon-Noga Hilton Hotel (now Transcorp Hilton Hotel(, in Abuja. He also agreed that there was a need to present a common voice but he said he would not go with us to the Ooni’s meeting. Rather, the meeting should be held in my room. I pleaded with him on the phone, but he declined.
“The Alaafin and I decided to go to Oba Oyekan’s suite to persuade him. Again, Oba Oyekan agreed with us in principle but still declined to accompany us to the meeting. I argued with him that he was the eldest Yoruba Oba among us and, therefore, in the interest of our people, he had to come along. He refused bluntly but promised to support whatever decision we took.
“When we got to the Ooni, the Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, was at table with him. The Owa of Idanre was there in a corner. The Ooni left the table the moment we got in and sat with us while the emir continued with his meal. When the emir finished his meal, both he and Ooni went into the Ooni’s room for a few minutes. We allowed the emir and the Ooni to conclude their conversation and the emir left us.
“When we told the Ooni the purpose of our meeting, he said he had met the northern emirs. Their position was the same as ours and when we asked how, he said that they wanted a fresh meeting to be called of the Council of State along with us. The Council of State, as enshrined in the Constitution, has powers to advise the President whenever requested to do so on the maintenance of order, among other things. We objected to that. If that was the position of the emirs, we said we would respond to that at the meeting. Our mandate from the Yoruba was that the election results had been concluded and our ‘son’ was clearly the winner. So, all we wanted was that they should just simply release the election results.
“I insisted that if a Council of State meeting was to be called on the matter, it could only be for the sole purpose of ensuring that the mandate of the people was respected, and that our son, Moshood Abiola, who won the election, was declared the winner. It was up to our fellow traditional rulers from the north to react therefore to this, but we should stand on that immutable fact. The Ooni agreed with me.
“The Alaafin, however, said that there was no need to ask for a meeting of the Council of State at all since all the key members of the Council had stated already they were opposed to the nullification of the elections. So we all agreed to speak with one voice that the elections had been held, our son had won, and he should be declared the winner.
“When we left the Ooni, we decided on an additional strategy. We discussed our seating arrangements with the other Yoruba Obas, and decided to seat ourselves in such a way that the Ooni would be firmly placed in the middle in our midst and so, forestall any wavering to our position.
“This did not work out however, because when we got to the meeting the next day, we found that the organisers had labelled the seats to indicate where each person was to sit. Thus our seating strategy was foiled.
“IBB came in and spoke at length, in fact for over an hour, after which he called, I think about five other people to his left to respond. By the time they finished, we were all tired. First to respond, I remember, was Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, although he said very little.
“He accused the government of always using traditional rulers as fire brigade for problems that they themselves caused. He deplored the fact that, so very often, government would set their house on fire and then call the traditional rulers to come and help quench it. He suggested that IBB should invite the Council of State to join us so that we could discuss the matter together.
“Then the Ooni reiterated that we had come to present the mandate of our people. Elections had been held, he should protect the sanctity of the election which our son had won, and he should therefore be declared the winner. You could have heard a pin drop. The whole chamber was dead silent.
“Then, Bayero broke the silence. Associating himself with the previous speakers but also calling for a meeting of the Council of State. Erediauwa, the Oba of Benin, condemned what the government had done but did not agree with the call for the Council of State meeting to deliberate on the matter.
“One of the traditional rulers from the South East pleaded, ‘Please go! Please go!’. Other speakers spoke in similar vein that IBB must go.
“At this point IBB broke in. He replied that the matter was not his sole decision but that of the military hierarchy. We noticed that he had been calling people mostly from his left, whereas the Alaafin and a few others like me were seated to his right. So the Alaafin protested that he had not called us.
“The President was then obliged to call on the Alaafin. The Alaafin said there was no new thing to gain from calling the Council of State. I added that IBB was the one who printed the ballot papers, fixed and changed the election dates several times. Then, on his own volition again, he called for the election and the people voted. Now, instead of promoting chaos and crisis, he should please go. Other traditional rulers spoke after me, all in the same vein.
“IBB rounded up. First he recounted his relationship with Abiola. It was a relationship, he disclosed, that was very intimate. His government, he went on, had even paid Abiola a large debt owed by him by previous governments, totalling about $600 million, and a huge sum in local currency.
“When he heard this piece of information, the Ooni became angry and said something to the effect that if Babangida paid him that much, he would be living on the Island of Capri in Italy! He got up to go to the toilet. Sensing that the information had made him change sides, I quickly trailed him to the toilet and chided him. Uche Chukwumerije, then minister of Information saw what was going on between us at a distance.
“Later, in the presence of Uche Chukwumerije, the Ooni addressed some reporters and indicated his acceptance of Babaginda’s position and that we, the Obas should return home and tell our people to try their luck, that is, vote again. Since the election had been nullified, a fresh election would be conducted.
“To assure myself that what I heard was true, I invited one of the reporters who was there when the Ooni spoke accepting Babangida’s position to my hotel room. This was a reporter from The Nigerian Tribune. Fortunately, the Alaafin was with me when the reporter played the tape for us. We were stunned!
“When the Ooni got back to his room in the hotel, he buzzed on his intercom, calling me in his usual banter, the ‘Awujale of Africa’, and announced that he had told the world (meaning, the Press), about our mandate, I replied that I was not sure he was telling me the correct thing and said that I was coming to see him in his room.
“I went with the Alaafin along with the reporter who took the tape along. The Owa of Idanre was with him. When we got there, the Ooni repeated that he had spoken in support of the mandate. I disagreed with him and asked the reporter to play the tape, which he did. The tape contradicted what he had told us. The Alaafin was livid. Then, at our suggestion, the Ooni agreed to redeem himself by doing another interview to correct himself. This he did there and then with the reporter. We asked the reporter to send this corrected version immediately to the media houses, and the Ooni even gave money to the reporter. But as it turned out, it was earlier recording collected by Chukwumerije that the television Network News at 9.00 pm and the Radio broadcast used! The following day however, the newspapers published the corrected version.
“While I was in Cairo, I heard that Chief Ernest Shonekan had been appointed Head of the Interim Government on 26 August 1993.”
The idea of an interim Government had long been in speculation. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had even come to see me much earlier to discuss it. He came in company of some people and hosted I hosted them at the Gateway Hotel in Ijebu-Ode.
At that meeting, Obasanjo broached the idea of an interim government. He wanted not just my opinion on it but also that I should support it. I indicated that I wanted to know who would head the Interim government and the answer that I got was that, at that stage, they did not yet know. All they wanted was an acceptance of the idea first, at that stage.
I told them that I could not support the idea of an Interim Government until I knew who was going to head it. If a substantive government was to be formed, in my opinion, then it was Chief Moshood Abiola, who had won the elections, who should head it.
But if on the other hand, an Interim Government was the preferred option, that would still not disqualify Abiola from heading that Interim Government. Obasanjo and his people left after the lunch, and I did not hear about their plans again.
Upon taking office, Chief Shonekan sent word to me through Chief (Mrs) Kuforji Olubi that he would like to see me in Abuja. I refused to honour the invitation, but they both persisted. Mrs Kuforji Olubi came back again to plead that Chief Shonekan really wanted to see me.
By this time, I had left Cairo for the UK. Word was left with my wife who was still in Cairo. She called me in the UK, and still, I turned down the invitation. By the time the third invitation was sent, I had returned to Cairo and I had also discussed the matter with Chief Olusegun Osoba.
So I accepted, provided they send an aircraft to pick me up from Cairo and also bring me back from Abuja after the meeting. But they made a counter offer saying that they would ask Nigerian Ambassador in Cairo, to offer a first class ticket from Cairo to Abuja and back to Cairo, I rejected the offer and told them they should simply wait until I returned to Nigeria.
When I returned to Nigeria. Chief Shonekan sent Chief Sikiru Alatise, his former colleague at UAC, with an invitation for me to come and see him in Abuja. I refused to go. Instead, I suggested that Chief Shonekan should come to Ijebu-Ode. I insisted on this because, by that time, Chief Shonekan had gone to Sokoto, Kano, Benin, Lagos and so on. So I did not see why it should be different with the Awujale.
The explanation that I got was that Chief Shonekan felt unsafe to come to Ijebu-Ode because the people were very hostile to him. But I did not accept this because he had military protection to travel anywhere in the country. Much later, Chief Shonekan again sent Oba Funso Adeolu, the Alaye-Ode of Ode-Remo, a descendant of Awujale Ekawaolu, to mount pressure on me to see him.
I finally agreed to meet with him but refused to go to Abuja. A telephone call was put through to Chief Shonekan and a meeting was fixed for that same day at the State House, Marina, Lagos, for 8.00 pm. I requested that Chief (Mrs) Kuforji Olubi should be present at the meeting. I also requested for Oba Adeolu to meet me at Chief Bayo Kuku’s house in Lagos in order to accompany me to the State House.
I got to Chief Bayo Kuku’s house at about 6.30 pm later in the evening, just as Oba Adeolu too was arriving. We went in briefly into Chief Kuku’s house and then proceeded together to the State House at Marina. Chief Shonekan was waiting, but Chief Kuforji Olubi had not arrived because Shonekan forgot to inform her. Since she lived not too far away in Apapa, he called her on the phone while I waited.
As we waited, Chief Don Etiebet – Minister for Petroleum Resources, came to see Chief Shonekan, but was politely turned away with the excuse that Chief Shonekan was going to be very busy and that he should come back after an hour. Next, Justice Alfa Belgore of the Supreme Court turned up and was told the same thing. Still Chief (Mrs) Kuforji Olubi had not come. After a long wait, the meeting started without her.
I spoke on three or four things. I told Chief Shonekan, almost prophetically, that by his appointment as the Head of Interim Government, he only had six months in that office. I asked him whether, given what was happening around the country, he was going to be staying put in office or leaving soon, and soon he answered that he was leaving.
I told him his answer was contrary to the feelers I was getting because I had heard that members of the National Assembly were being bribed to elongate the Interim Government. Chief Shonekan denied it. I clarified my point further by suggesting to him that he might not be personally involved in bribing people nut that others could be doing so on his behalf. He further denied this.
Then I asked whether he did not think that it was high time the country sat down to a constitutional conference, in order to discuss the full relationship of all parts of the nation, and that we needed a new constitution to spell things out for all of us. He replied that he could not do it and it was a matter for the National Assembly.
I suggested that in his executive capacity, he could initiate such an amendment to our Constitution and let the National Assembly take over the matter. But he simply repeated that he could not do it. I told him that both Abiola and Osoba, his fellow Egba men, were against him which was dangerous, and advised him that the three of them should get together to resolve the crisis. He said no to that.
Finally, I informed him that he was not in charge of things, that he had just been placed there as a stooge! I further told him that history would record him as a traitor and that when the time comes for him to be removed, he would be given less than ten minutes to pack his things as his letter of resignation would have be pre-written just for him to sign!
Much later, Chief Shonekan would tell Chief Isaac Aluko Olokun, his special assistant, that he had been forewarned that he was going to be removed the way I had predicted. And funny enough, it was in Cairo again that I met Chief Shonekan after he left office.
The Protocol Officer of the Nigerian Embassy in Cairo dropped out of the blues in my house one day and said he was going to the airport to meet Chief Shonekan that I was in Cairo.
Later in the day, Chief Shonekan called on the phone and I invited him to dinner. The invitation was also extended to the Nigerian Ambassador and a few others. Shonekan offered to come early so that we could have a private meeting before the others came.
I was in the UK when my wife called to tell me that Chief Shonekan had been removed from office. General Sani Abacha had taken over as the new Head of State and many of the royal fathers had gone to pay solidarity visits to him as usual.
When I returned to Nigeria however, I took a different stance, I issued a statement against the military government and condemned the royal fathers who in their usual character, had trooped out to pay solidarity visits to Abacha. I said that since Chief Abiola had won the elections, the new dispensation should have been headed by a Yoruba man. Whatever the should have been headed by a Yoruba must head it otherwise Nigeria would cease to exist. This was reported in The Guardian of 13 December 1993.
Furthermore, I said there was a need to probe the past regime over the N2.1 billion extra earnings that the nation made from oil, as well as from the divestment from Shell Oil Producing Company. I ended by urging the royal fathers to pray for those in government, and for peace and progress in the country, rather than embarking on pretentious trips.
Following this statement to press, many of my people came to see me, pleading that I should take a different stance, since General Oladipo Diya, who was next in command to Abacha was an Ijebu man and that it would be good for me to visit Diya. Some others, however, who were hovering around Diya went to the extent of peddling stories that I was against him.
Soon I was labelled ‘Oba NADECO’, that is ‘NADECO King’ after the main anti-Abacha opposition group which called itself National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The pressure was so much that I had to finally agree to visit Diya.”
‘Awujale: The Autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S.K Adetona, Ogbagba II’ , Mosuro Publishers,