After the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election between Bashorun Moshood Kasimawo Olawale (M.K.O.) Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention, NRC, by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida military junta, came an unprecedented protest that crippled political, economic and even religious activities in Nigeria. The protests enveloped the entire Southern part of the country, and was so fierce when Babangida barred the two candidates from running in the supposed new election scheduled to hold on July 31, 1993.
In the Weekend Concord‘s characteristic way of reporting, every reporter on the desk was deployed to the battle field for on-the-spot reportage of the protests, and the killings by soldiers unleashed on innocent protesters by the military. We must talk to the protesters who built barricades of buses, cars and tyres on all major streets, highways and bridges, and set them on fire to block movements, our Editor, Mike Awoyinfa and his deputy, Dimgba Igwe charged. If it had to be in Weekend Concord, the report must be unique and breezy.
So, we set out, everyone to his or her beat.
Scores were killed by the soldiers, dozens mauled down at Bariga and several other hot zones across Lagos. The killings were so horrible that the Pan-African News Agency (PANA) reported that soldiers were pilling bodies into the back of a truck and driven away.
As we crisscrossed the streets, there were gory pictures of shattered bones and mangled bodies everywhere especially from Iyana-Ipaja area to Ikeja where I had to trek to work daily as there were no public transport anywhere. I vividly recall how a mob at the Ilepo area along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway set fire to a taxi driver and killed him after he had tried to crash through a human chain and killed a youth.
After five or six days into the protests, it was hijacked by hoodlums who looted supermarkets, major markets, shops, banks and business centres, but a whole lot of them met their waterloo in the hands of the police and soldiers though some of the security people were also clubbed to death by the irate protesters.
There was this pathetic story of a lady at the Bariga area, Lagos, whose fiancé, Biodun, was cut down by soldiers’ bullets when she was just two months pregnant. She later told me in an interview that she was so traumatized she felt like she should also be killed. She said she became suicidal because she wouldn’t know how to start life again or what to do with the pregnancy. They had just had their mandatory pre-wedding introduction.
The protest lasted till after Babangida decided to step aside and appointed Chief Ernest Shonekan Head of an Interim Government as Bashorun Abiola refused to surrender his mandate freely given to him by Nigerians. The Social Democratic Party issued a statement reiterating that it stood by the June 12 election. The publicity secretary, National Republican Party, Dr. Doyin Okupe, also resigned in protest, saying it was shameful that some party members saw the crisis as an opportunity to win the presidency.
Between June 12, 1993, and July 1993, the pro-democracy protests and the violence inspired by the military claimed hundreds of lives. General Sani Abacha who later toppled Shonekan in a palace coup unleashed an unprecedented reign of terror on the country. His goons eliminated political activists like Mrs Kudirat Abiola, Bagauda Kaltho and ambushed others like Senator Abraham Adesanya who narrowly escaped death when Abacha’s killer squad sprayed his car with bullets.
In seeking to eliminate pro-democracy leaders and perceived opponents in the military, Abacha accused some top brass in the military of plotting a phantom coup, jailed some of them, and forced many pro-democracy leaders like Professor Wole Soyinka and Chief Anthony Enahoro into exile. Then, he began a process of transforming himself into a civilian president by announcing a transition programme and registering five political parties which he funded and controlled.The parties which the late pro-democracy leader, Chief Bola Ige, aptly described as the “five fingers of a leprous hand”, in turn, picked him their sole presidential candidate..
But Abacha could not still command mass support in spite of his iron hands, So he began a process of funding mass rallies that would endorse him. And Ibadan become the rallying point for him as his allied, the strongman of Ibadan politics, Chief Lamidi Adedibu and Alhaji AbdulAzeez Arisekola Alao became the major contractors for a so-called ‘Two-million-man’ rally at the Adamasingba Stadium, Ibadan, in 1994.
The rally was meant to endorse the dictator but the pro-democracy movement decided to stage an anti-Abacha rally to scuttle the dream. The National Democratic Coalition, (NADECO), Campaign for Democracy; Congress of Progressive Youths; United Action for Democracy, and the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria, JACON, and others, sent contingents of battle-tested youths, especially from the Militant Mainlanders, to reinforce their Ibadan comrades.
On the day of the rally, the stadium was full of hired crowd of people in festive mood. But outside the stadium were the anti-Abacha groups whose ranks began to swell with the arrival of groups who were trekking from various parts of the city.
As the Military Administrator of Oyo State, Colonel Ahmed Usman, was addressing the rally in the stadium, the pro-democracy groups realised that they had far more people outside than the pro-Abacha rally inside, so they stormed the stadium in waves, forcing Colonel Usman, Adedibu, Arisekola and their supporters to bid a rapid dialogue with their legs.
The musicians abandoned their drums and fled. Unfortunately for Adedibu, as he tried to escape, he fell into the hands of pro-democracy youths and had to take shelter in the van of AIT. But they saw him and rained bullets on the vehicle, shattering all the screens.
Shola Oshunkeye and I were caught in the web of the sporadic shootings by both pro-Democracy militants and the pro-Abacha thugs and soldiers. And there was no hiding place for us than to say our last prayers and ask God to take control. We were face-to-face with death. We survived but at least a dozen of people could not. We survived by the whiskers to tell the story in the Weekend Concord edition of that week.
After the killings of that day, Ibadan became the epicentre as Abacha’s bloody campaign as unleashed armed policemen and soldiers on the city, killing and maiming. The protesters however fought back setting businesses and property of pro-Abacha campaigners on fire. The premises of the Monitor Newspapers, owned by Alhaji Arisekola Alao, was razed with about 11. Six cars and three houses belonging to Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu were also torched.
At the end of it all, Abacha declared those arrested as “Prisoners of War” who could be summarily tried and imprisoned. But this was not to be as the dictator died on June 8, 1998.