Says Abiola asked Kingibe, Jakande, Babatope to join Abacha’s cabinet
Former National Vice Chairman Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Ishola Filani has given his own account of what happened during the June 12, 1993 imbroglio.
Speaking with SATURDAY SUN in Lagos, Filani who was also a former National Publicity Secretary of defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP explained why some Yoruba leaders betrayed the late MKO Abiola.
Filani, a former Chairman of WEMA Bank who turns 70 next Monday also spoke on other national issues including restructuring, annulment of June 12 election by IBB, relationship between MKO Abiola and Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe among others in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS.
Can you recollect the genesis of your romance with politics?
I have always been an activist even right from student days at OAU, and I was a member of Student Union Government. I remember then that we used to invite radicals like late Gani Fawehinmi, late Kanmi Isola Osobu and Chief Ebenezer Babatope to the campus for one programme or the other, and I will say that they were initially my mentors, and I drew a lot of inspiration from them. I will also say that late Papa Obafemi Awolowo was another factor that propelled me to go into politics. I admired his vision, focus and welfarist programmes. He was a greet leader of men, brilliant and people-oriented.
But it was in 1989 that I formally entered politics during the era of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SdP and National Republican Convention, NRC.
Late General Shehu Yar’Adua invited me to join the defunct Peoples Front of Nigeria, PFN. He got me through Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe who is a good friend. The PFN later merged with PSP to form SDP.
In SDP, I was first elected an ex-officio member to represent the Southwest geo-political zone. I later became the National Publicity Secretary of SDP. But before then, when the military government then under General Babangida created new states in 1991, I was appointed Administrator of SDP in Edo and Delta states, and later I served in the same position in Imo and Abia states.
The 7th anniversary of the death of late Chief Gani Fawhinmi is being marked this year, having worked in his chamber for some years, what is your recollection of the man, Gani Fawehinmi?
In terms of bringing up somebody in life as it relates to our profession, Gani taught me law and what it takes to fight for the rights of human beings. He was very hardworking. Most of us that passed through his chambers learnt from him on how to be hardworking. I had a permanent relationship with him until his death, and I’m still very close to his family.
Gani was somebody that if you had the opportunity to meet, you will know that he is a legend. In a good country where they appreciate the worth of an individual, Gani should have been immortalized. One problem we have in this country, it is politicians are mostly recognized, we don’t recognize contributions by other professionals who have distinguished themselves in various fields.
This is why I appreciate the efforts of people that organize annual remembrance programme in his honour. Gani was an eminent Nigerian who distinguished himself in his own generation.
Today, governance has become something else. Nigeria is now at a crossroad, we need to rediscover ourselves. We need a messiah that will restore Nigeria’s last glory.
Now talking about your romance with politics in the aborted Third Republic, you were trying to explain how you met Yar’Adua and Kingibe …
Cuts in … I knew Kingibe through one Professor Adegbite who is late now. He used to be a lecturer at University of Lagos. He was a brilliant don. It was through him that I become a good friend of Kingibe.
General Yar’Adua reached me through Baba Gana Kingibe.
Some people have described that era of two parties politics, that’s SDP and NRC as a golden era of
Nigerian politics, and that it was the annulment of June 12, 1993 election that disrupted everything, what’s your view on that?
I agree with that. I think the military themselves were not sincere. They didn’t want to hand over power. They were not ready to go. There was no reason for that annulment. Although General Babangida exonerated himself but I think as a result of the agitation by many officers under him then to succumb to the wishes of those members of the military that supported annulment.
SDP’s presidential candidate, late MKO Abiola won that election clean and clear. I was the Director of Publicity of Abiola’s Campaign Organisation called “Hope ’93”. I worked in conjunction with others like Tunji Bello, and Dele Alake. Other members of the Abiola’s family like late Alhaja Kudirat also worked hard to ensure Abiola’s victory.
There was no crises anywhere. So there was no justification for the annulment. I still believed that the military harboured a hidden agenda. I want to add that Babangida was overwhelmed by the hawks in the military and that was why he stepped aside.
The Interim National Government, ING headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan lasted only 3 months, before it was sacked by the court, and then the military hawks seized power. That was the best election Nigeria never had. It still remain Nigeria’s best election. Whatever you still want to say about Babangida that two party system was the best Nigeria could have had, and we lost that opportunity.
You were a key player during that period, some people believe that the military owed Abiola an apology over the annulment, what is your take on that?
Whosoever was in power then or had anything to do with that annulment should have been put on trial. Nigeria owed Abiola a lot and we should immortalize him. From my own knowledge, I don’t think Babangida was part of the plan to annul the election. I want to believe that he was overwhelmed by some powerful forces in the Army.
Kingibe who was Abiola’s running mate has always been accused of being a betrayer and abandoning
June 12 struggle to go and serve as a minister in General Sani Abacha’s government, what is your reaction?
Kingibe didn’t in anyway betray Abiola. What happened was that when Abacha sacked Shonekan’s government, he invited us, that is both SDP and NRC and I was in that meeting. We were about between 12 – 15 that Abiola called to his house for a meeting before giving a response to Abacha’s invitation.
Abiola told us how Abacha had asked him to nominate names of some ministers who were to serve in his government. We then debated the matter with Abiola himself presiding over the meeting. The meeting took place in Abiola’s house.
We debated the matter, and about four of us called for caution in serving in Abacha’s government. But majority of us agreed that some of our people should be released to go and serve in Abacha’s government. The main consideration for us agreeing to go and serve in Abacha’s government was that if we didn’t go that our counterparts in NRC would take up the offer. This was the main consideration and the expectation then was that Abacha would not serve more than a year in office.
Abiola is a very intelligent person, and he told us that if we don’t go or take up the offer, by the time we now say we are ready that the NRC people would have consolidated their positions, and thereby put SDP at disadvantage.
When I started reading all these stories that Baba Gana Kingibe betrayed Abiola I felt bad.
We need to set record straight – there was nothing like betrayal between Abiola and Kingibe. Both of them were friends up till time of Abiola’s death. Even up till now Kingibe enjoy cordial relationship with the Abiola’s family.
It was the same situation that compelled Ebenezer Babatope, and Alhaji Lateef Jakande to join Abacha’s government.
But some prominent Yoruba people later kicked against Babatope, Jakande and other Yorubas that joined Abacha’s government …
Cuts in … Forget all those noise some of these prominent Yoruba leaders were making that time, they never wished that Abiola should become President. They didn’t want MKO Abiola to become president.
They were even telling us that it was nemesis that caught up with Abiola, that it was Abiola that didn’t allow late Papa Obafemi Awolowo to become President of Nigeria. They accused Abiola of using his national newspaper, Concord to work against Awolowo and his political party, the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN.
Only few of these Yoruba leaders were sincere – they were hypocrites. With exception of people like late Papa Abraham Adesanya, and Chief Ayo Adebajo, most of the other ones didn’t forgive Abiola over the Awolowo affair. But Baba Adesanya, and Chief Ayo Adebanjo genuinely supported Abiola, and fought his cause.
In fairness to Kingibe, he did so much not only to secure Abiola’s release but also to protect him. Kingibe used his position in Abacha’s cabinet to protect Abiola. If not for his presence in Abacha’s government, Abiola’s suffering and humiliation could have been more.
At a point, MKO Abiola was granted conditional bail by Abacha but he reportedly rejected it based on the advise of some people, now some people are saying that Abiola would have been alive today if he had taken that conditional bail …
Cuts in … Why conditional release? They asked him to renounce his mandate. But for a man of Abiola’s stature, and even for any reasonable person, he would never agree to any conditional bail. If you want to release him, release him and let him go, why conditional bail? Abiola was a true hero of democracy by rejecting that conditional bail. To accept conditional bail would be like surrendering the mandate freely given to him by millions of Nigerians to the military. I believe Abiola should be immortalized. He is a true hero of Nigeria’s democracy.
Why do you think Abacha held Abiola for that long in view of the fact that he was very close to the military?
Abacha was afraid of Abiola. Abacha wanted to become civilian president and that was the reason he held Abiola so long. He also knew that Abiola was not ready to renounce his mandate.
He was afraid that if he released Abiola, that his own ambition would be threatened.
Abiola’s death is a big loss to Nigeria. He would have become one of the best presidents of this country.
Although you are now in PDP and you were initially scheduled to be part of PDP when the party was formed in 1998, but suddenly you became a member of Alliance for Democracy (AD), what exactly happened?
It is true that I and some notable politicians led by late Chief Bola Ige were part of the formative years of PDP but I remember that we were to attend one of the meetings of the then budding new PDP when Chief Bola Ige called some of us to his room at Nicon Noga Hotel in Abuja, and he told us about AD. He gave the party the name AD there on that day, he single-handedly wrote the party’s constitution.
AD was entirely Bola Ige’s idea. When he put the proposal for the new party before us, nobody could fault him, and that marked the end of our romance with PDP then. Even some PDP members were shocked because of the role played by Ige in setting up AD.
Some of other people at that meeting were Senator Ayo Fasanmi, and Otunba Niyi Adebayo, former governor of Ekiti State. Bola Ige was a genius.
Before he died, he was already disenchanted with AD because of certain developments. After his death, I lost interest in AD. You can describe Bola Ige as the soul of AD. After his death, I lost appeal in AD. I came back in late 2003.
How do you feel that up till now Ige’s killers are yet to be apprehended?
It is a big embarrassment to this nation. Although there are assassinations that are still yet to be unrivalled by the Police, but Ige’s case is somehow different. As the nation’s number one Chief Law Officer, it is a big embarrassment and shame. That his killers are yet to be apprehended. That a serving Attorney-General’s killers are yet to be arrested is disgraceful.
What is your view on Restructuring?
Most of the problems facing us today was our demotion from the original Federalism we were practising to Unitary government. This is why everything in Nigeria today is weak. Too much power is concentrated in the hands of the federal government. There is a lot of difference between federalism and unitary government introduced into Nigeria by the military.
Federalism has collapsed in Nigeria and that is why we are having this crisis. States for a long time have been depending on the Central or Federal government for monthly allocation to run their states, but now with the drop in oil prices also comes a sharp drop in allocation to the states.
But this could have been averted if states along the line have been developing resources in their domains with a view of generating revenues. Now we are paying the price.
To get it right, we have to scale to the beginning. We have to return to Federalism. We need to diversify the economy and also states should be allowed to start developing resources in their domains so that they won’t go cap in hand to beg Federal government for financial bail-outs every now and then.
Restructuring is the reality we have to face. For those saying it will lead to Nigeria’s break up, it is not true, and the earlier we do the needful the better.
What is your assessment of the ongoing anti-corruption battle by President Muhammadu Buhari?
Battle against corruption is good but it should not be seen to be one sided. Was PDP in control of all the 36 states of Nigeria during Jonathan’s time, why has EFCC and ICPC beam their searchlight on the states, if they don’t want the whole thing to look like persecution, the battle against corruption should not appear one-sided. Battle against corruption is good, but in doing so due process must be followed, and the battle must go round not limited against one political party.
Again a word of advise to APC’s led government: Enough is enough. A party that has its own programmes and plans for implementation will not be giving excuses. They should stop blaming PDP for everything. APC should portray itself as a party that is prepared for power – they should let Nigerians feel the effects of change they promised. Many Nigerians are hungry, many are jobless, many are wallowing in poverty – these are issues APC should address instead of blaming PDP for its woes.
Can you recollect your happiest or most memorable day?
That was the day I was called to the Bar, and enrolled at the Supreme Court as a lawyer in June 1975.
What day can you recollect as the saddest day in your life?
That was the day I lost my father in the year 2000. I was very sad because I was close to him.