June 12: How IBB, Abacha, Buhari, Others Betrayed MKO Abiola, Truncated Nigeria’s Democracy

Twenty seven years has passed since the election deemed Nigeria’s most credible to date was truncated.

Nigerians filed out in orderly queues on June 12, 1993 to decide, who would become the President between Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party and Bashir Tofa of the National  Republican Convention. 

Shortly after the elections, Justice Dahiru Saleh (now deceased), acting on the orders of military Head of State at the time, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, gave a court order for the suspension of further release of the results of the elections after which IBB announced the cancellation of the exercise using the court order as a subterfuge.

The results, which were never officially declared by the National Electoral Commission however, showed that MKO Abiola had won with an overwhelming majority.

Now commemorated as Nigeria’s “Democracy Day, the events of that day had villains, some of who today parade as democrats, writing open letters, representing the country at international events, clinching appointments and sitting in the inner circle of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration without openly apologising for their role in the June 12 saga.

Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida

Former military dictator, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida

Infamously dubbed the “evil genius”, Babangida was Nigeria’s military head of state from 1985 to1993. History will remember him as the prime architect of the June 12 debacle.

He came up with the two parties, Social Democratic Party and the National Republic Convection. One, a little to the left and the other a little to the right – on these platforms MKO Abiola and Basiru Tofa respectively contested.

The gap-toothed dictator annulled the June 12 election on June 21, 1993, when it was clear that the winner was the late MKO Abiola and ordered a fresh election.

Often called Maradona — after the rotund diminutive football genius from Argentina — for his political crafiness, Babangida would later dribble the nation into a political cul de sac.

On August 26, 1993, Babangida announced his exit by saying he would “step aside” thus adding a new word to our ever increasing repertoire of political lexicons.  By that singular action, he ushered in the Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.

However, things used to be rosy between the self-avowed evil genius and Abiola before June 12 drove a wedge into their relationship. In fact, MKO in his lifetime said that it was Babangida, who first mooted the idea of running for the presidency to him. He raised the idea with him during the burial of his first wife, Simbiat, in Lagos in 1992. 

Abiola would later regret trusting Babangida while in Abacha’s gulag by saying, “I believed in a friend. I trusted a friend and he betrayed me. IBB betrayed me.”

Justice Dahiru Sale

Dahiru Sale, Nigerian judge who pronounced annulment of June 12 election.

Dahiru Sale was the judge used by Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida to annul the June 12, 1993 elections.

Sale who died on May 8, 2020, took over two court cases against MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, the presumed winner of the election, who polled more votes than Bashir Tofa, candidate of the National Republican Convention, his closest contender.

He said in an interview, “There were so many cases and I cannot remember all the cases off-hand. There was the case against MKO Abiola and it was before one of my judges; she was Igbo but I can’t remember her name. She started the case, then fell sick and was flown out of the country for treatment.

“Then there was another case against him (MKO Abiola) and I had to transfer the case from the other judge’s court to my court. During that time it turned that Abiola didn’t even finish the case before he disappeared. Later, I learnt he had been arrested by authorities… while the political blame game must be on Babangida, he (Babangida) did nothing of the sort to stop him (Abiola) using my court…Anybody not satisfied with what I was doing as Chief Judge could appeal to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, simple. And I have no regrets, none whatsoever. No regrets. I would repeat the same thing now.”

Saleh had ordered then National Electoral Commission to halt the release of the election results on the grounds that the election ought not to have been held in the first place based on a previous order by Justice Bassey Ikpeme on the request of Authur Nzeribe.

Babagana Kingibe

Ambassador Babagana Kingibe

Now a famed and decorated member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s inner circle known as the ‘cabal’, Babagana Kingibe was a retired diplomat, who contested against Abiola in the presidential primary election of the SDP and lost.

Abiola at the time was nudged to pick Kingibe as his vice-presidential candidate because of his political clout in the North and closeness to Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was the deputy Head of State in the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. Together they sold HOPE 93 to Nigerians.

When there was turmoil resulting from the events of June 12, Kingibe jumped ship to serve as Foreign Minister to military dictator, General Sani Abacha, the same man that arrested and jailed Abiola with whom he ran on the platform of SDP.

Abiola would later regret choosing Kingibe over Dan Suleiman, a retired air commodore and former military governor from the then middle belt.

Abiola referred to Suleiman as a ‘complete gentleman’, adding that he did know that his running mate had “extensive connections and relationship” with the security agencies and the military high command.

Kingibe in a 2019 interview said his decision to take a role in Abacha’s administration, which imprisoned and eventually led to the death of his running mate was for “national interest which he put above his personal feelings”.

Despite his role in the detention of MKO Abiola, President Buhari has conferred Kingibe with the honour of GCON solely for being Abiola’s running mate, a medal reserved only for Vice Presidents.

Justice Bassey Ikpeme

Justice Bassey Ikpeme nicknamed the ‘midnight judge’ was approached by a bogus group led by Arthur Nzeribe, Association for Better Nigeria, to institute an ex parte motion halting the conduct of the elections.

In what seems like a carefully orchestrated plot, Ikpeme, who is now deceased, gave the order at 11pm.

Despite granting the order, the elections held but was later cited by Babangida as the reason for annulling the election.

Sani Abacha

Sani Abacha on 17 November 1993 orchestrated a bloodless coup that kicked out the interim government set up by Ibrahim Babangida and headed by Shonekan after the annulment of the June 12 elections.

Abiola had travelled outside the country to seek international support for his Presidency and upon his return in 1994 declared himself the lawful President of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island.

Abacha immediately ordered his arrest for treason and went on to detain him in solitary confinement for five years until he died. How he died is still the subject of controversy but men in Abacha’s close circle alleged that MKO was poisoned.

Abiola’s second wife, Alhaja Kudirat, was assassinated in Lagos in 1996 after declaring public support for her husband.

David Mark

David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, Nigeria’s former Senate President and Brigadier General at the time of the election, was one of those, who worked against the fruition of MKO Abiola’s mandate.

He was one of the wealthiest Babangida era army generals, who led some army commanders known as “IBB Boys” to scuttle the electoral success of Abiola.

He is quoted by Prof Omo Omoruyi, who was Director-General, Centre for Democratic Studies and also Babangida’s friend, as threatening to kill Abiola and IBB if the military handed over power to him. He said, “I’d shoot Chief Abiola the day NEC (National Electoral Commission) pronounces him the elected President.”

Mark befriended Olusegun Obasanjo, who had similar intentions. Obasanjo became close with Mark as he worked underground with the military to ensure that Abiola did not take over power. IBB however, did not let Obasanjo head the interim government as planned because he reportedly did not trust Obasanjo.

Ernest Shonekan

Chief Ernest Shonekan(right) with Gen. Ibrahim Babangida

Post-June 12, a Nigerian Lawyer and an Egba man like Abiola was brought to placate the aggrieved south-western bloc as head of the illegitimate Interim National Government.

Describing the events that preceded the imposition of Shonekan as head of the ING, Prof Omo Omoruyi, the late political adviser to Babangida in his expose titled: “The tale of June 12” (an insider’s account of the intrigues that characterised General Babangida’s transition), said, “First, he (Shonekan) gave the assurance and undertaking to Babangida that under no circumstance would he reopen the June 12 matter. Second, was that he would do everything to divide the Yoruba on the matter of June 12.”

Olusegun Obasanjo

Former Head of State and President, Olusegun Obasanjo, initially supported Abiola in the struggle to reclaim his mandate. Obasanjo had urged Babangida to relinquish power and stop dawdling on the transition programme. He said, “Annulment or no annulment, Babangida must leave by August 27. He made the promise, he has to keep it.”

Obasanjo later made a U-turn on his stance, solidifying it by saying “Abiola is not the messiah”. He would later become the chief beneficiary of the democracy Abiola paid the supreme price for when he was sworn in on May 29, 1999, as President of Nigeria. He kept mum on the issue of June 12 throughout his tenure.

Tony Anenih (Deceased)

In the build-up to the 1993 election when Babagana Kingibe decided to throw his hat into the ring for the presidential primaries in SDP, he stepped down as the Chairman of the party and Anenih (now deceased) took over.

He worked for the emergence of Abiola as the winner of the 1993 presidential election. However, the story changed after the annulment.

Anenih was later quoted to have declared that the day the Interim National Government was signed was the happiest day of his life.

He even subtly mocked Abiola in his autobiography titled ‘ My life and Nigerian politics’. In the book, Anenih said, “Chief MKO Abiola as indicated earlier has said that if you want to go to Kano, going by air or going by road does not make any difference as long as you get there.

“His interpretation of this was that going by air meant Abacha taking over from Shonekan and he, Abiola, being sworn in the next day. Going by road was waiting till March 1994 when Shonekan would use the National Assembly to hand over to him because he actually won the election.

“Unfortunately, for Chief Abiola, there was, in fact, no landing, and Kano as the desired destination proved to be a fantasy.”

MKO Abiola regretted doing the bidding of Yar’Adua to ensure the victory of Anenih over Chief Sergeant Awuse. He said Anenih did not consult him before “He negotiated away our victory”. 

The late Prof Omoruyi corroborated Abiola’s claim in his book. He however, included Alhaji Sule Lamido, who was the National Secretary of the SDP, as being privy to the signing away of the June 12 mandate.

Francis Arthur Nzeribe

Francis Arthur Nzeribe was a key figure used in truncating Nigeria’s path to democracy.

Nzeribe, an ally to Babangida, founded the bogus group, Association for Better Nigeria alongside Abimbola Davis.

In a covert May 18, 1993 meeting at Sheraton Hotel (room 1034), which involved Nzeribe, Abimbola Davis, Director of Operations of ABN, Clement Akpamgbo, Attorney-General of the Federation and legal strategist, Brigadier-General Haliru Akilu, Babangida’s Chief spook and linkman with the ABN, the group finalised plans to stop the June 12 elections.

After learning of the plot, Campaign for Democracy, a pro-democracy outfit then led by Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, headed for the court to restrain the ABN from its coup.

Joined as defendants in the suit No. LD/1148/93 were General Ibrahim Babangida and Chief Ola Olatunde, National Director of Operations of the ABN and the Attorney-General of the Federation.

Dr Ransome-Kuti had contended that if not checked, the activities of ABN could derail the transition process.

In her ruling, Justice Dolapo Akinsanya restrained the ABN and its agents from carrying out any activity that could perpetuate Babangida in office.

Ignoring this order, the ABN approached the court to halt the conduct of the June 12 elections and got a midnight ruling from late Justice Bassey Ikpeme of Abuja High Court.

This ruling is cited by Babangida as the reason for usurping MKO Abiola’s victory.

Muhammadu Buhari

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari also played a role in seizing Abiola’s mandate after the June 12 elections of 1993.

Buhari initially attended a meeting of statesmen condemning the annulment of the election by Babangida at Olusegun Obasanjo’s farmhouse in Ota, Ogun State.

He however, reneged and sided with his friend, Abacha, who detained Abiola. In return, Buhari was rewarded with the position of Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, which was funded from the revenue generated by the increase in price of petroleum products.

Buhari served side by side with Abacha while MKO Abiola languished in jail.

As the 2019 general elections drew near, Buhari hurriedly declared on June 6, 2018, eight days after May 29, 2018 had been celebrated as Democracy Day, that June 12 would be the new date of commemoration.

He also post-humously awarded MKO Abiola the highest honour in Nigeria usually conferred on Presidents, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic.





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Saharareporters, New York

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