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June 12, the judges and litigations

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June 12, the judges and litigations

Prior to the annulment of June 12, 1993, presidential election by former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, the courtroom was not spared of litigations aimed at ensuring that the election was either not held or that the full results were never released. AKEEM NAFIU reports

 

The annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which was widely adjudged to be the freest and fairest poll ever conducted in Nigeria by former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, finally nailed the coffin used in burying the mandate freely given to the late business mogul, Bashorun Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, by a majority of Nigerians in the election.

However, legal battle on the election was initiated by a group which tagged itself Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) that went to court seeking an injunction restraining the National Electoral Commission (NEC) from conducting the poll. According to the ABN headed by Francis Arthur Nzeribe about 25 million Nigerians who wanted General Babangida to continue in power for four more years have appended their signatures to a petition and do not want the election to hold.

Five days to the election, precisely on June 7, 1993, Justice Bassey Ikpeme, who heard ABN’s petition directed NEC’s Chairman, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Clement Akpamgbo and President Babangida to appear before her within 48 hours to show cause “why the election should not be stopped.” She then reserved ruling on the ABN’s petition till Thursday, June 10. On June 10, 1993, Justice Ikpeme delivered a ruling stopping the election in the dead of night.

The ruling delivered just 48 hours to the election created so much tension in the country. However, the tension was doused with the announcement by NEC on June 11 that it is proceeding with the poll despite the court’s order. The electoral body hinged its decision on the provisions of Decree 13 of 1993 which ousted the courts from derailing the transition programme.

Out of fear of a possible sanction by the United States Government, the Federal Government also affirmed that the election will hold. The presidential election was eventually conducted on June 12 with local and international observers showering accolades on NEC for organising a free, fair and credible poll.

Two days later, the news of a grand sweep of the poll by the Muslim-Muslim ticket of Chief MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe, of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was everywhere. The NEC had equally authenticated the returns from 14 states, and that returns from the remaining 16 states were being “collated.” It also named a chief electoral officer, an indication that it was set to declare a winner.

The opposition National Republican Party (NRC) was also putting finishing touches to a statement conceding defeat and pledging to work with the SDP in the country’s best interest. However, the NRC was singing a different tune the following day when it alleged that Chief Abiola had gone to vote on election day dressed in an attire on which was embroidered a stallion, the party’s symbol, in breach of the electoral rules.

The party asserted that the breach raised questions of “morality;” that the entire poll stood fatally tainted, and should therefore be voided. Meanwhile, the electoral body stopped announcing results, while apparently continuing the “collating”. At that time, the results from all except two of the 30 states were everywhere at home and abroad indicating that Chief Abiola had won in a landslide.

In the midst of all these, Justice Dahiru Saleh of a Federal High Court in Abuja also granted a petition by the ABN to stop further announcement of the election results. The AGF, Clement Akpamgbo, later directed NEC to comply with the court’s order. He also mandated the electoral body to show cause why it should not be punished for discountenancing the earlier order of Justice Ikpeme, which stopped the conduct of the election.

The following day, the news stand was awash with divergent editorials about the June 12 election. In one of the publications, the New Nigerian Newspaper, wholly owned by the Federal Government, denounced the entire poll and called for its cancellation, even while proclaiming that it had been won by a “third party,” presumably the ABN.

The newspaper was of the view that the 25 million ABN members who did not vote outnumbered the 13 million Nigerians who voted. Information later filtered in through NEC’s director of publicity, Tonnie Iredia, that the electoral body had concluded plans to seek judicial interpretation of Justice Saleh’s order. On June 21, NEC filed processes before the Kaduna High Court against the rulings of Justices Ikpeme and Saleh.

Just as NEC was filing its appeal, Justice Saleh who had barred NEC from announcing further results, swung back into action in Abuja and declared the presidential election of June 12 null and void and of no effect whatsoever, on the grounds that it had been conducted in violation of a restraining order.

The order under reference was Justice Ikpeme’s. She had issued it fully acknowledging that NEC was not obliged to heed it, since the court had no jurisdiction in the matter. Justice Saleh said since NEC had disregarded that order, the election is null and void.

On June 23, the Federal Government released the bombshell. In an unsigned and undated statement, it announced the cancelation of the presidential election, suspended NEC and repealed the law governing the final phase of the political transition programme that had been eight years in the making. By that singular move, it also terminated all court cases relating to the presidential election.

The statement issued by Nduka Irabor, press secretary to the Vice President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, indicated that government had taken these sweeping measures to ensure that a judiciary that had been built on a sound and solid foundation is not “tarnished by the insatiable political desire of a few persons.” Not a few Nigerians were stunned by the announcement which came a few hours before the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) was scheduled to meet and deliberate on the crisis. When the NDSC finally convened, farreaching decisions on a new agenda that could include the appointment of a prime minister to serve alongside an unelected military president, formation of more political parties and the un-banning of all those who had been kept in political purgatory during the transition were said to have been taken. The meeting was followed with a national broadcast by General Ibrahim Babangida. In the broadcast, Babangida said: “There were allegations of irregularities and other acts of bad conducts levelled against the presidential candidates but NEC went ahead and cleared them.

“There were proofs as well as documented evidence of widespread use of money during the party primaries as well as the presidential election. These were the same bad conduct for which the party presidential primaries of 1992 were cancelled.

Evidence available to government put the total amount of money spent by the presidential candidates at over two billion one hundred million naira”. Babangida, in his address to the nation cancelling the June 12 election also noted the failure of the judiciary, which he said behaved less than satisfactorily. The annulment of the election was however not challenged at the higher court by either Chief Abiola or his party.

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