By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Sunday Editor
FRESH facts have emerged revealing that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was among those, who conceived the Interim National Government, ING, in 1993, against popular expectations for the declaration of the late Chief M.K.O Abiola as the winner of June 12 presidential election.
Chief Olusegun Osoba
The former President was also said to have made mockery of Abiola, accusing him of abandoning his supporters, when the latter travelled to Europe after the annulment in search of support for his cause.
These were revealed by a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba in his autobiography entitled: Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics.
In the book which would be launched on July 8, 2019, in Lagos, Osoba, an accomplished journalist, revealed that Obasanjo, with some military officers and eminent Nigerians conceived the idea of putting an Interim Government in place after the exit of then Military President, Gen Ibrahim Babangida.
Narrative of human foibles
The elder statesman in the book, which was described as a narrative of human foibles, jealousies, persecutions and setbacks, revealed that Obasanjo had told him some names of those to be made ministers in the ING.
Osoba, who would become an octogenarian a few days after the book launch, precisely on July 15, 2019, said Chief Ernest Shonekan, who eventually headed the ING felt displeased when he (Osoba) opposed the ING during its formative stage.
The excerpts read: “On July 7, 1993, a Council of States meeting was called in Abuja to assess the political tension. I was returning with the Governor of Oyo State, Kolapo Ishola from the meeting where there was no consensus on the way forward, when I got a message from Gen Olusegun Obasanjo. He asked me to see him urgently at his Farm House in Ota. At the Abuja meeting, the military had presented us with what they called “security report” and “some official briefing” which, according to them, led to the anullment. I decided to go with Governor Ishola to Obasanjo’s Ota Farm. There, he presented us with conclusions of a meeting he had in Abuja with some military officers and some eminent Nigerians where it was decided that an interim government would be put in place after the exit of the military in August.
“Interim what?” I asked. “I am vehemently opposed to the idea.” I told our host that millions of Nigerians who voted overwhelmingly for Abiola would not accept any interim government. This government would never gain the support and confidence of Nigerians. It will not survive. What Nigerians want is for the remaining results of the election to be announced and Abiola declared winner. I will therefore not support any idea of an interim government aimed at supplanting Abiola’s mandate,” I concluded. Late Governor Ishola supported and reinforced my views.
Knowing that he could not change our position, Obasanjo said: “I will have to arrange for a plane to be sent from Abuja to take the three of us there to explain your position on the ING to the military chiefs.”
On my way out of Ota, I asked Ishola to accompany me to Abeokuta before proceeding to Ibadan. On the way, I told Ishola that for me, there would be no point of meeting Obasanjo any longer or going to Abuja to explain anything to some military chiefs.
Ishola agreed with me and we closed that chapter. Unknown to us, some elements within the SDP leadership had gone to Abuja with the leaders of the rival NRC to negotiate an interim government which would supplant the mandate of our party’s presidential candidate.
Obasanjo and Babangida
Eventually, the leaders of the two parties signed a pact with the military regime to put in place an Interim National Government, ING.
Chief Ernest Shonekan would later be appointed by the military to head the ING. Obasanjo never got back to me. Before we realised it, events had taken a new twist and the matter had been taken off the hands of Obasanjo and to some extent, Babangida.
“In the days after the annulment, there was great commotion in the country.
There were fears that the “political logjam” as the crisis was called could escalate into the disintegration of Nigeria. Many people, particularly the Igbo, who had experienced the effect of war, were returning home to the east from the north and the west of Nigeria. One day, in the heat of the crisis, Governor Ishola stopped over to see me in Abeokuta from a trip to Lagos. He told me he was coming from Abiola’s house and that Abiola had briefed him about the latest intelligence information about a plan to assassinate him. A reliable source that benefited from Abiola’s generosity has sent a message warning him and the need to escape the country instantly. The source looked credible to Abiola. He alerted his pilot and crew on a pretex of travelling to Katsina. Instead of Katsina, the plane diverted and headed for London. By the time the news reached me, Abiola was already on his way to the United Kingdom. Shortly after Governor Ishola left, I got a call from General Obasanjo.
A call from Obasanjo
“Obasanjo sounding sarcastic on phone. “Where is your President?” he asked. “What is wrong with my President? “I shot back. “You don’t know the whereabouts of your President?” he asked again sounding more scornful. It strucked me that Obasanjo had received the news of Abiola flying out of Nigeria and wanted to deride the man and his supporters. I gave it back to him tit for tat. “My President is in touch with me and he informed me about his movement. But I am not prepared to disclose my President’s movement to anyone,” I replied. “What kind of General would abandon his troops?” he asked mockingly. “A good General knows when to withdraw and when to fight back,” I answered. Since he had decided to speak in parables, I responded in kind.
“The metaphors ended there. He then told me that ING was being formed that Chief Bola Kuforiji-Olubi was going to be one of the ministers. She would represent Ogun State, It was obvious that he was fully involved in the process of setting up the ING. A few days before Obasanjo made the call, Chief Shonekan, the Chairman of the Transitional Council had visited Abeokuta. He had discussions with me as the governor and Dr. Onaolapo Soleye, a former federal minister of finance.
At the meeting, we urged Shonekan to return home at the end of his term as Transition Council Chairman on August 27, 1993. I told him I would organise a rousing welcome for him in Ogun State on his return. However, a few days later, Shonekan called me on the phone to announce that there was a new twist. “I have been offered the position of the Head of the Interim National Government, “he said calmly, not showing too much emotion. “What?” I told him bluntly the SDP would not support the new government. He was obviously displeased with my response considering my relationship with him. Shonekan was very close to my uncle late Chief Albert Osoba who was a very close friend of Shonekan’s father. My position sparked off family disagreement. Some members of my extend family were not happy with me. The disagreement grew bigger with the installation of Shonekan as the Head of ING.’’