June 12: How IBB’s Gamble On Tofa Backfired, By Anenih
A sinister political gamble by then military dictator Gen. Ibrahim Babangida on the presidential candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Alhaji Othman Tofa, to win the June 12, 1993 presidential election became Babangida’s undoing, it was learnt.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT) former Chairman Chief Tony Anenih narrated the insidious scheme by the former military ruler to truncate the transition to democratic governance at the time.
Incidentally, the victory by the business mogul and philanthropist, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, who contested on the platform of the rival Social Democratic Party (SDP), defeated Babangida’s well-laid out scheme.
In his autobiography, My Life And Nigerian Politics, which was unveiled in Abuja on Saturday, Anenih said Babangida was banking on Tofa’s victory to give him cogent reasons to annul the poll, knowing well that Tofa was not qualified to contest the election in the first place.
According to Anenih, who was national chairman of the defunct SDP, when Babangida’s plethora of excuses to annul the election failed to convince the leadership of the party, he then brought out a dismal “dossier” on Tofa.
Anenih said on page 91 of the book, “he (Tofa) had used in his nomination form a woman’s membership card number. The photocopies of the Kano NRC membership register showing the woman’s form, name and other details were produced, meaning that at the time Tofa was nominated as NRC candidate, he did not have an NRC membership card.
“He was not an NRC member after all, but could be regarded as an independent candidate. He could easily have been disqualified by the government if he had won the election on the NRC platform as security reports earlier indicated.
“The discomfiture of the military arose from the fact that it was Chief Abiola, not Alhaji Tofa, who won the election.
“Having set the machinery ready to disqualify Tofa after his assumed victory by getting all the documents in readiness for that action, the military got caught in their web when they found that their plans did not fit into the new equation of an Abiola victory.
“All the clumsy steps taken by them at the tail end of the election stemmed from this fact.”
On Abiola, the former PDP BoT chair said the only accusation Babangida could raise for denying him the presidency was that all the contracts executed for the Federal Government by the ITT, in which Abiola had major interest, were “grossly inflated”.
Anenih narrated how Babangida mounted pressure on the leadership of the two political parties to go for fresh election, even when it was obvious that a fresh presidential election was not feasible.
He told of how he resisted the suggestion for fresh election and how the NRC, led by the late Dr. Hemmed Kusamotu, jumped at the offer, a development which he said, portrayed the NRC as a lackey of the Babangida regime.
Failing to convince the parties to go for a fresh election, Babangida then suggested the formation of an Interim Government as an alternative, which Anenih said the NRC leadership agreed to.
The PDP chieftain said while permutations were going on, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who Babangida eventually handed over to as head of the Interim Government, was in the background, attending meetings from the Babangida camp.
According to him, the leadership of the two parties eventually met and agreed on the Interim Government option to get the military out of power.
He added, however, that the SDP still insisted that forming the Interim Government should not in any way invalidate Abiola’s mandate.
“We had it in our plans that once the Interim Government was put in place, and the military was removed from office, we would start again with our demand for release of the June 12 election results,” Anenih stated.
The Uromi, Edo State, born politician added that it became obvious that Babangida had mobilised military chiefs and top police officers under his government to resist a handover to Abiola.
According to him, Babangida’s reluctance to play by the rule became more glaring when he stopped attending meetings with leadership of the two parties and subsequently sending his deputy, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, to meet with the politicians with a prepared speech at each meeting.
Anenih inferred that from Aikhomu’s utterances and body language at the meetings, it was apparent that the Babangida government had made up its mind on the direction it was headed.
He rued the imposition of Interim Government and the subsequent overthrow of Shonekan by the late Gen. Sani Abacha.
“The Abacha regime sounded the final death knell on June 12 and the last nail on the coffin of June 12,” Anenih said.