June 12: Why Ooni Betrayed MKOAbiola-TheNEWS
Culled From The News Magazine Nigeria Via Sahara Reporters
The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade’s role in the aftermath of the annulment of the 1993 presidential election is widely thought to have been less than noble. In Awujale, the recently released autobiography of Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Sijuade’s connivance with those who annulled the election is brought into sharp focus
His position as the most revered traditional ruler in Yorubaland has not innoculated Oba Okunade Sijuade Olubuse 11, the Ooni of Ife, from public scorn. Since 1993, much of the mystique around him has been eroded, largely through the carnage sparked by the controversial annulment of the 1993 presidential election, aka June 12. Oba Sijuade came out of the annulment saga with grave reputational injuries from which he is yet to, and may not, recover, given the decision of Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland, to re-invite public attention to Sijuwade’s role in one of the most grotesque episodes in Yoruba and Nigerian history.
The medium chosen by Oba Adetona is Awujale, his recently released autobiography, in which the 11th chapter is dedicated to the annulment and the struggle for the de-annulment of the election won by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola.
In Awujale, Adetona presents what can hardly be described as a worm’s eye view. And in the book, the Ooni does not come out smelling like roses. As one of the most prominent Yoruba traditional rulers, Adetona was regularly invited to meetings with General Ibrahim Babangida, the military president that annulled the election and installed an Interim National Government, ING, headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
As the widespread anger provoked by the annulment and Babangida’s ING contraption raged, the former military president hoped to limit the damage to his reputation and that of his government, appealing to leaders from all the country’s geo-political zones, especially the South-West, which felt wounded because of Abiola.
For one of those meetings in Abuja, writes Adetona in Awujale, he arrived on a Thursday. The meeting was to hold the next day. While in his hotel room on the day of arrival, Adetona called the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, to say that there was a need for a meeting of Yoruba traditional rulers, where they could arrive at a common position to be presented at the next day’s meeting with Babangida. Adeyemi agreed. Adetona then suggested that there was also a need to inform the Ooni and asked Adeyemi to accompany him to Sijuwade’s room.
Adeyemi, however, was not keen because of the rivalry, over superiority, between him and the Ooni. Eventually, he gave in. The late Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, Oba of Lagos, was also informed. He agreed that a meeting was required, but refused to accompany them to the Ooni’s suite. However, he said he would support whatever position the meeting adopted.
In the Ooni’s suite, Adetona and Adeyemi met the Ife monarch dining with Alhaji Ado Bayero, Emir of Kano. Another Yoruba monarch, Oba Frederick Aroloye, the Owa of Idanre, writes Adetona, sat in a corner. When the two dining monarchs finished their meals, they went into the Ooni’s room for a discussion, after which the Ooni came out to meet Adetona and Adeyemi.
“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. We asked how and 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,” Adetona writes.
But what the Northern traditional rulers wanted was not exactly what the Yoruba monarchs wanted.
“Our mandate from the Yorubas was that the election had been concluded and our son was clearly the winner. So, all we wanted was that they should just simply release the results,” the author explains.
Adetona then insisted that if a Council of State meeting was to be called, it should be for the purpose of ensuring that the election was de-annulled and the wish of the people respected. The Ooni agreed. But the Alaafin, writes Adetona, said there was no need for another meeting because the key members of the Council had already expressed their opposition to the annulment.
When Adetona and the Alaafin left the Ooni, they went to discuss seating arrangements for the next day’s meeting with the other Yoruba traditional rulers. Apparently suspicious that the Ooni could switch positions, the monarchs agreed that they would sit in a way that would ensure that the Ife monarch was hemmed between two of them “so as to forestall any wavering of position.”
The planned sitting arrangement was foiled. As the traditional rulers walked into the venue of the meeting, they found seats that bore each attendee’s name. Babangida came in, explained the position of the government and sought reactions from his audience. The first came from Ibrahim Dasuki, then Sultan of Sokoto, who said very little apart from accusing the government of using traditional rulers to quell crises brought upon the nation by the government itself.
He suggested that Babangida should invite members of the Council of State to join the traditional rulers in the discussion of the annulment. The Ooni was the next to speak and presented the position of the Yoruba obas: declaration of Abiola as the winner.
It was something the meeting had not expected. “You could have heard a pin drop,” writes Adetona. Next was Bayero, who expressed no opposition to what the Ooni said, but called for a fresh Council of State meeting. After him spoke the Oba of Benin, who condemned the annulment and rejected calls for a Council of State meeting.
The natural rulers continued turning the heat on Babangida. According to Adetona, Gbong Gwon Jos, the late Chief Fom Bot, told the meeting that he could not return to his domain if Babangida did not to de-annul the election, as his subjects had demanded, and asked the former president to find accommodation for him in Abuja. A traditional ruler from the South-East, Adetona writes, was more dramatic, telling Babangida to quit as president. “Please go. Please go,” he shouted.
Then Babangida cut in, explaining that the decision to annul or de-annul was not solely his, but that of the military heirachy. He kept on calling on others to speak, but the obas observed that he was calling only people who sat to his right. The obas sat to his left. This drew a protest from the Alaafin, who Babangida was forced to ask to speak.
The Oyo monarch insisted that another Council of State meeting was needless because the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a member, was out of the country, while some other key members had expressed their disapproval of the annulment in the media. Other traditional rulers told Babangida that he should save the country from a huge crisis by respecting the wishes of Nigerians.
Then, Babangida attempted one more throw of the dice. In a somewhat emotional tone, he told the meeting how close he and Abiola were. His government, he added, had paid Abiola hefty debts owed him by previous regimes. The sum, Babangida said, was about $600million. The scent of money scrambled a particular royal head–the Ooni’s.
“When he heard this piece of information, the Ooni became angry and said something to the effect that if Babangida paid him (Ooni) that much, he would be living on the Island of Capri in Italy,” Adetona writes.
Sijuade then got up to go to the toilet. Adetona followed, spewing criticisms at his fellow oba for going against what the Yoruba traditional rulers had agreed on. After the meeting, watched by Uche Chukwumerije, Information Secretary in the Interim National Government.