Nigeria: 'Abiola Rejected Babangida's Choice of Running Mate'

Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
interview

Chief Abimbola Moyosore Aboderin is the son of the late Chief Moyosore Aboderin, the founder and financier of Ibadan Peoples Party, one of the political parties in the 1950s. He participated in the June 12, 1993 election of Chief MKO Abiola along with the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, former Attorney-General, and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola. He narrated his experience about the election, the annulment and the mistake of Epetedo declaration.

Late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, former Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola and yourself could be regarded as the three musketeers who worked closely with late Chief MKO Abiola in the preparation for the June 12 1993 elections. Could you explain what transpired?

It is a welcome development that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari finally recognized June 12 as Democracy Day 26 years after and 20 years of Nigeria's return to civil rule but the painful aspect of it is that the acclaimed winner of the election, Abiola and Adedibu are not around to witness today. The three of us closely worked with the late business mogul behind the scenes before the election and after it was annulled by former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

What is special about the relationship between the three of you and Abiola in respect to June 12 election?

I got to know Abiola through my late father, late Olola Moyosore Aboderin, who was the founder and financier of Ibadan Peoples Party. He played politics with the likes of late Chief Adisa Akinloye, Adegoke Adelabu and some other prominent Ibadan people. My father won the election to the Western House of Assembly in 1962 and then the federal parliament in Lagos. The party joined together to form Action Group with late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. My father was also the financier of Action Group. I met Abiola when he came to see my father at our family house in Apapa Water House Building.

When he (Abiola) saw me he said, 'Omo Baba,' he held me closer and said, 'we are friends' and that I should come and see him in his office at Jibowu. Our friendship started and I do meet him occasionally at the Ministry of Defence. After a while, Abiola disclosed to me he was not afraid of the general election but his fear was the Jos convention. I told him not to worry, that God would take charge. We later went to see Papa Adedibu and the met with Prince Ajibola.

Abiola's fear over the Jos convention was because late Gen. Musa Yar'Adua, a former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, won the earlier SDP convention before Babangida cancelled it. To me Abiola's fear must have been borne out of the fact that Yar'Adua was in control of the party's structure. The late business mogul was afraid because of the delegates, with the north having more delegates than the south put together. He thought if the northerners decided to vote for their own, the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would win since he was in the camp with Yar'Adua. Babagana Kingibe and some other people from the north were also there.

What really happened at the Jos convention, how did it go?

We all went to Jos for the convention. When voting started, at a point, it became obvious that Abiola would not win the election because the northerners had more delegates than the Southwest. But Adedibu apparently was the one that helped Yar'Adua to win the previous convention election by making sure all the Southwest delegates voted for him (Yar'Adua) before Babangida wielded the big hammer. So Adedibu knew the convention was getting out of hand and something needed to be done before it ended. He decided to talk to people to get votes for Abiola. He went to see Yar'Adua at his official resident in Jos. Of course, many prominent people had residence in Jos. Yar'Adua then agreed to work for Abiola by asking Atiku to step down and also directed the northerners to support the business mogul.

There was this story of first balloting and second balloting. What really happened?

I told you that the first one, Atiku was leading; Kingigbe was a there, too. He was the party chairman as at that time. Adedibu knew there was no way Abiola could have won that election.

There was a story told by Atiku in 2010 that when the first ballot came to a stalemate, Yar'Adua intervened and directed Atiku and Kingibe to support Abiola and it was only the Southwest that had the capacity to confront him. Are you aware of that?

I knew it was Yar'Adua that convinced Atiku to step down for Abiola. Whatever he told them is left for the two of them because the former Chief of General Staff controlled the structure and, of course, the finances at that time. So, he was able to convince Atiku to step down for Abiola; that was how Abiola won the convention. After Abiola won the convention, we went to say thank you to Yar'Adua although Abiola didn't accompany us. On getting to Yar'Adua's house, Adedibu gave me a letter to hand it over to Yar' Adua and thank him. I met Yar'Adua at the staircase in his house and thanked him and gave him the letter to show our gratitude. We were jubilating throwing cash here and there. But after the convention, some people who were not happy that Abiola won targeted to kill us. Their grouse as we later discovered was that power had shifted as the business mogul won the election because it was almost certain that SDP would win the general election. Adedibu and I had to escape.

What was Atiku's disposition towards Abiola's victory?

Of course, he wasn't too happy because he or probably Kingibe would have won but he had no choice since his boss told him to step down. Then Abiola was proactive to start reconciling all aggrieved parties in preparation ahead of the main election between him and Bashir Tofa, who was the presidential candidate of NRC. Adedibu and others did most of the leg walk and I must say that Yar'Adua tried his best.

After the convention came the big challenge of who to be chosen as running mate to Abiola. That was when the trouble started. Apparently, Babangida gave Abiola two names, Maitama Sule and former Chairman of NLC, Pascal Bafyau, to be considered as vice president but Abiola confided in Baba Adedibu, who thought otherwise. It was Adedibu who suggested Kingibe's name. Babangida wasn't happy about the choice of Kingibe as running mate to Abiola. I got to know Babangida's untoward disposition to Kingibe's choice through my close relationship with some top ranking military officers that were in government then. We started the campaign all over the country and we were able to raise N350 million cash at Premier Hotel in Ibadan. Many prominent people attended the fundraising, including Chief Layi Balogun, Alhaji Alao Arisekola and others.

We campaigned rigorously before the election with the hope and assurance that we would win. It was actually the most peaceful election in the history of Nigeria; everybody voted according to their will and one thing was that Abiola meant well to fight poverty in the country. I can say this because I was very close to him. He was hungry to put a stop to poverty and because of his wide business experience and persistence interactions with the people he knew what to do.

A day to the election, Prince Ajibola came to me and said we should go and see Adedibu in Ibadan to say hello. As at then people had started calling Ajibola and myself the president's men.

After the election, Abiola's house in Ikeja became a Mecca. We were all there waiting for the results. Abiola assured us that we should not worry, that he had won the election. I could remember vividly that Chief Tony Anenih phoned and said, 'Bashorun, we have won this election.' We were all singing 'e se, e se o, e se baba'. Abiola himself later joined us in singing. But the next day the election was annulled and everybody knew that crisis was brewing. Abiola himself was dumbfounded.

What could have led to the annulment from your own view?

There are many people in-between Abiola and Babangida who were playing the spoiler roles. Maybe they didn't mean well for Nigeria, I wouldn't know but they actually created the animosity between the two friends. For me, if Abiola had sat down with Babangida immediately the election was annulled and they discussed issues, maybe there would have been a truce but unfortunately, the thing got out of hand and the whole nation and the entire world got to know about it. I was worried because Abiola wanted peace while many people operating between him and Babangida were not for peace. We went to Chief Afe Babalola to dialogue on what to do next after the annulment. It was Ajibola and I that were running around to ensure that a suit was filed against the annulment.

But suddenly, Abiola disappeared for some weeks. NADECO perhaps kept him out of reach for some time until I saw him in the midst of a crowd who where shouting 'MKO is our man o' somewhere along Maryland a few weeks later. I never knew he had been hijacked by the coalition.

Do you totally agree with the role of NADECO in the struggle to regain Abiola's mandate?

At first I wasn't happy but most of those who participated in the struggle did not understand the actual issue. They only felt that Abiola was being cheated and the mandate must be reclaimed in a radical way. What NADECO did in regards to the struggle was okay except that they would have carried other people across the country along in the struggle.

Do you corroborate the sentiments by other regions that Yoruba people made the June 12 issue look as if it was a Southwest affair

Yes. From my own personal opinion, I think it would have been better if they had connected with other people from other parts of the regions to participate in the struggle. But NADECO just came and hijacked Abiola.

Did you support Abiola's declaration at Epetedo?

I knew that the military people would not take it lightly because some of them were ambitious and for him to have declared himself president, meant problem was coming. Our plan was to first get Abiola out of the country and he could declare abroad because being in prison here would be a different ball game. If he had escaped and declared abroad perhaps he would have reclaimed the mandate because the entire world, including the United States were in support of June 12. That was where many people got Adedibu and Arisekola wrong. The two of them moved closer to Abacha hoping they would be able to convince him to release Abiola so that he (Abiola) could travel abroad.

It is unfortunate that former President Olusegun Obasanjo who later emerged president in 1999 did not recognize June 12 and Abiola throughout his eight years in office. I don't see the issue of June 12 as a Yoruba affair but that of Nigeria. However, I am happy that President Buhari has done it.

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