By Malachy Uzendu
Everybody’s mouth was wide open shortly after receiving news of the annulment. Results of election held in 35 states had been complied, approved and pasted on the Notice Board hoisted beside the perimeter fence of the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), at Area 10. The office premises of both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), FCT office and AMAC was the headquarters of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC).
From the official results from the 35 states, it was crystal clear that Chief MKO Abiola had won. There were 14,117,342 votes already collated. Of these, Abiola polled 8,293,420 votes, while Tofa secured 5,888,086. Votes later obtained as that of Taraba, though not released officially showed that Abiola polled 101,887 votes, while Tofa got 64,001 votes. It shows that even if Bashir Othman Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) had garnered all the 176,054 votes cast in Taraba State, Abiola would still have won that election.
I remember vividly that veteran journalist Chuks Ohuegbe and other nut-cracking journalists had to battle mosquitoes at Area 10 as they kept vigil at INEC. I was charged with responsibility of chronicling activities of the political parties.
The annulment exposed the perennial mischief still inherent in our national politics, where lies, mischief and everything negative and dirty have unfortunately acquired the synonym, ‘politics’.
Shortly after the annulment, Campaign for Democracy (CD) took up the gauntlet, leading a coalition ofpro-democracy groups on civil disobedience and shut-down protests, especially in Lagos and states in the South West zone. And the Military replied with iron fist repression. Several people died, the lucky ones were incarcerated. So, many people went on self-exile. Abroad, they founded the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), through which they mounted pressure on the military to quit politics at the international circle. Veteran pro-democracy activists like Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), Eziuche Ubani, and late Chief Abraham Adesanya leader of Afenifere, among several others, provided needed support to Kudirat Abiola, even after Chief Abiola got incarcerated for declaring himself president.
Of course, the media were forced to bleed through the nose for daring to publish activities of people considered by the IBB and the Abacha junta administration as “disgruntled”. And so, on July 22, 1993, seven media houses: Punch Nigeria Limited, Concord Press Nigeria Limited, Guardian Newspapers Limited, Sketch Press Limited, Bendel Newspapers Corporation, TELL Communications Limited and Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) got proscribed. The Secretary (Minister) for Information and Culture, Mr. Uche Chukwumerije, sought to justify the action by saying that “The government is convinced that the media houses have completely mortgaged all professional ethics for money”. Up until now, there is no evidence to buttress such claim. From a study conducted by Media Rights Agenda, Babangida and his agents proclaimed 82 proscriptions on Nigerian newspapers, magazines and broadcast media institutions between August 27, 1985 and August 26, 1993 when he “stepped aside”.
I would like to recall interesting events that happened around July 1995, up to December, 1996. One was the invasion of the Press Center of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), FCT Council by Gen. Abacha’s “Strike Force” which was coordinated by Abach’s Chief Securiry Officer (CSO), Major Hamza Al-Mustapha. The SF squad led by CSP Rabo Lawal and Seargeant Rogas, stormed the Press Center. They had threatened to deal ruthlessly with anyone who dared move an inch. Not perturbed by such irascible threats, the late Joel Gure (Punch), Ambassador Udeigwe (Abuja Newsday), Sylvanus Eze (The Outlook), Frank Omagbon, Secretary of Council , FRCN), me, and our Council Chairman, Shok Jok, braved the odds and approached CSP Lawal to demand to be told the reasoning behind such uncouth invasion. They demanded that we hand over Mr. Alex Okiemute Kabba, the correspondent of The News/Tempo magazines, who was at the Press Center enjoying his evening. Of course, their boisterous nature attracted some other journalists and we used our bodies to barricade the two entrances to the main hall where Alex was gulping his beer. Pronto, Alex moved to the Secretary’s office, unlocked the back entrance, while the other extremely smart journalists at the back yard of the building assisted him scale the walls to the next premises from where he zoomed off to the American Embassy, and was subsequently ferried to the US, where he stays even now. As soon as Alex scaled the walls, the security operatives were allowed to ransack the Press Hall and offices. They even climbed to the ceiling from the toilet, but Alex had vanished! They had foul-proof evidence that Alex was at the Press Center. They were benumbed, or better still, befuddled.
The second event took place at the National Center for Women Development (NCWD), opposite the Central Bank. Around December 1993, Mrs. Maryam Sani-Abacha, was to chair a conference at the place. The SF had flushed asked Gure to leave the premises. Of course, the characteristic Gure would have none of that and he charged at them saying: “You, ‘boi-boi’ to the illiterate wife of a shameless coup plotter; is that what you were asked to do? Charge at a harmless journalist whose only weapon is this harmless biro? I pity your generation”.
The journalists that witnessed the scene were awaiting a click of the trigger knowing how irascible the SF were but that was not to be. Their hearts cut a bit. Gure lived to tell the story. And the boisterous Gure never seized every opportunity to tongue-lash Abach and the military hierarchy.
Episode number three: The late Sylvanus Eze remained an interesting character. He was unparalleled in dropping rib-cracking jokes. At the Presidential Villa, Sylvanus would pull together the SF and gimmick Abacha’s vainglory. He would tell stories of how top-rated traditional rulers all over the country were invited for dialogue with Abacha on the state of the nation. Eze would paint dramatic picture of how those oldies would unabashedly fiddle with 13-15 year-old supplied by Villa goons. He would equally make a jest of the strike called by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the dismissal of some lecturers in 1996. Dr. Asisi Asobie, ASUU National President and his executive were invited on the protracted strike. As Sylvanus would mimic, the former Head of State did not know the meaning of ASUU, neither was he interested in holding talks with them in the real sense of it. But to see if he could arm-twist them, he would instruct Al-Mustapha to provide extremely chilly hotel rooms for them, ordering that such rooms must left constantly at 12 degrees centigrade or below. Abacha kept them in the hotel’s cood rooms and had pretended to be on telephone conference with the Emir of Brunei, and some other oil Shieks in the Middle East. This was at the time international sanctions were imposed on Nigeria. Sylvanus dramatise those events, and the Presidential Bodyguards and SF guys would instead roll over themselves in ecstasy. We would too.
There were several other things that happened, but for lack of space, let me call it quits here. Hope we are together? You are welcome!