Third Republic Senate President, Senator Ameh Ebute, has revealed the forces that conspired to ruin the June 12, 1993, presidential election presumed to have been won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola. Ebute, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was the de facto second-in-command during the Chief Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government and was of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) headed by Chief Tony Anenih.
Ebute told Saturday Sun in Abuja after attending the conferment of the posthumous Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) award on Abiola, and the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) on his deputy, Babagana Kingibe, and late Chief Gani Fawehinmi that the same forces that conspired to kill June 12, have been behind the handing over of power from one administration to the other in the country.
According to him “They are many. The personalities are many; the personalities that conspired to be handing government from one to the other are many. You have Babangida, you have Abacha, you have Shonekan, you have Anenih himself.”
Justifying why he dumped PDP after Jonathan lost the presidential election in 2015, Ebute said “I was peeved that they didn’t even take some of us into confidence irrespective of the performance that we put up to support the Jonathan’s government. Some of us were relegated to the background and not considered in this form of looting. Even if they had invited us and we refused, that would have been a different thing. But they just formed the click and looted the nation. So, I said I don’t want to belong to that type of group. That was the reason I left the PDP.”
Ebute spoke on this, the allegation that he is always with any government in power, and why he dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the APC and much more in this interview conducted by AIDOGHIE PAULINUS.
You witnessed the posthumous conferment of GCFR on the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola. How do you describe the event?
The event was unprecedented in many respects. One, it lays the foundation for a concrete democracy in the country. Two, it pacifies the minds of the people who were injured in one way or the other by the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election. And more so, the apology that came from the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not only to the Abiola family, but to the entire country; apologising for that unusual performance of the federal government is well accepted by people and we are glad.
Taking a look at the events that happened at that time, some people see you as a sell out, someone that Babangida used against the pro-democracy elements like Iyorchia Ayu. Is it true?
No. Babangida didn’t use me. I was not there during Babangida’s time. Babangida left before I came in. So, nobody could have argued that Babangida used me. If he used Ayu, it is for Ayu to defend himself. I don’t think he used anybody. What I noticed was that there must have been a conspiracy among the powers that be.
Do you mean Abacha?
Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to mention… There was a high conspiracy between some personalities to handover from one person to the other because before we came in, there was a decree providing that in the event of anything happening, the most senior officer in the military should become the head of state. So, how can you interpret that other than to say that it was conspiracy at the highest level of government?
At what point did you play a noble role in the entire scenario?
It was after the annulment of the June 12 election that we all started agitating that the government of Abacha should handover the reign of government to Abiola and few months after the annulment, although we were chased out of the Nicon Noga hotel; the National Assembly members, the senators were chased out, about six months later, we reconvened the Senate in Lagos and urged Abacha to handover government to Abiola as the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. And we were put in detention for 50 days and we were prosecuted for felony against the federal government.
You were released by the then Justice Gambari?
We were released by Ibrahim Gambari, who is now the Emir of Ilorin. He was then the Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal in Lagos. You will agree with me that there are some judges who retired with integrity in this country. I doff my hat for Justice Gambari as he was because when the proceedings were going on, telephone calls were coming from Abuja…
And he refused to pick?
He refused to pick.
Some people believe that you are always with any government in power and in that way; they see you more like a cash and carry person. Or is this borne out of patriotism?
I sided with the government of Jonathan from the point of view of the fact that a minority like me was holding office. That was the ground for which I supported the Jonathan administration. After Buhari won, it surfaced that so many atrocities were committed. So many people looted the government treasury. And I have never in my life, from the Second Republic, and even when I was Chairman of Okpokwu Local Government, I never tampered with any government money. So, I was peeved that they didn’t even take some of us into confidence irrespective of the performance that we put up to support the Jonathan’s government. Some of us were relegated to the background and not considered in this form of looting. Even if they had invited us and we refused, that would have been a different thing. But they just formed the click and looted the nation. So, I said I don’t want to belong to that type of group. That was the reason I left the PDP.
That was the reason you dumped Jonathan?
I didn’t dump Jonathan; I dumped the PDP as a political party. I didn’t dump Jonathan. I said I don’t want to belong to that group of people who are styled as looters of government treasury.
But some people will interpret it to mean you dumped Jonathan…
That is not an abandonment of an individual. My declaration for APC is not an abandonment of Jonathan, but an abandonment of a system that was so corrupt.
If you had participated in the looting or maybe the loot was shared with you, would you have left the PDP?
I abhor looting. I wouldn’t have accepted any money from anybody. So, it is out of the question.
Is this pro-democracy action enough to give President Buhari the political leverage in the South
West and amongst the progressives?
I don’t know and I am not in the mind of anybody. I am not in the minds of people, especially from the South West. Whether it pacifies them or whether it gingers them towards him, I cannot say. But as far as I am concerned, I have admired the administration of Buhari even before the celebration of June 12 by his trying to sanitise the Nigerian society. That is my reason for supporting the Buhari’s administration. So, I have my own principle for acting, for admiring government and not any government in power.
People still believe that beyond the June 12, what is more germane is addressing killings across the country and the restructuring of the country. Don’t you think these are important?
Security is very, very important. Any government that is in power has the primary duty of securing lives and property of the citizens. So, it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that killings are stopped. That cannot be compromised.
What role did you specifically play during the Chief Ernest Shonekan Interim National Government?
I became the President of the Senate from the 4th of November to the 17th of November and I was the second in command because there was no vice president for Shonekan. I told you that we formed association to fight against the annulment. That is one. We were criticising Babangida for installing a government with no go area; for restricting the making of the law to certain minor subjects in the legislative list. We were not allowed to make laws on very important subject matters and of course, we were waiting for the National Electoral Commission to arrange another presidential election, maybe since this one has been annulled by Babangida. That was the promise made to us by the government of Babangida that another election was going to be conducted. So, we were waiting for the next presidential election which never came.
Chief Tony Anenih who was the national chairman of the SDP, wrote in his book that Chief Abiola went into an agreement with Abacha to overthrow Shonekan…
I cannot comment on that. I cannot comment on that. But I told you that I saw some evidence of conspiracy at the highest level.
Can you name these people who conspired?
I cannot. I don’t want to name them.
They are many. The personalities are many; the personalities that conspired to be handing government from one to the other are many. You have Babangida, you have Abacha, you have Shonekan, you have Anenih himself. There were allegations that Chief Anenih was privy to what happened, that he sold out. There were speculations to that effect, but you have no evidence against Anenih. But there were speculations that he agreed, he consented to the taking over of government from us.
Beyond this, what were the roles played by Chief Anenih and Babagana Kingibe?
I concentrated on the activities of the National Assembly. Chief Tony Anenih was the chairman of the party. I didn’t know what was happening, what was going on at the party level.
But as the Senate President…
(Cuts in) We were not invited to any meeting of the party comprising party leaders, the executive and the legislature. That is when I should have known what was going to happen.
Did you have personal relationship with Chief Abiola?
Very personal relationship! He was my friend.
What kind of man was he?
He was a very generous person. It was his generosity that made him acceptable throughout the country.
Some people have also said his relationship with the then military hierarchy cost him his mandate. Is it true?
Of course! They knew him and maybe they were afraid of his being president. He knew the facts of the atrocities committed by these people at the highest level. Maybe they were afraid that if he became the president, he was going to sanction some of them. I don’t know, but I know he was very close to top military officers in this country. And that is why he never believed that he will be toppled; he never believed that he would be arrested. But eventually, he was arrested because of the conspiracy to handover government from one person to the other by certain personalities.
Considering that Kingibe participated in the Abacha regime, do you think he deserves the award given to him?
I think he deserves it. Of course, I am privy. He later participated in the Abacha administration as minister, as ambassador to somewhere. So, since Abiola is being honoured, it follows automatically that his running mate should equally be honoured in fairness to him.