June 12 : Why Ooni Betrayed MKO Abiola – Oba Sikiru Adetona

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The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade’s role in the
aftermath of the annulment of the 1993 presidential
election is widely thought to have
been less than noble. In Awujale, the recently released
autobiography of Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Awujale of
Ijebuland, Sijuade’s connivance
with those who annulled the election is brought into
sharp focus His position as the most revered traditional
ruler in Yorubaland has not innoculated Oba Okunade
Sijuade Olubuse 11, the Ooni of Ife,
from public scorn. Since 1993, much of the mystique
around him has been eroded, largely through the
carnage sparked by the controversial
annulment of the 1993 presidential election , aka June
12.
Oba Sijuade came out of the annulment saga with grave
reputation injuries from which he is yet to, and may not,
recover, given the decision of Oba Sikiru Kayode
Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland, to re-invite public
attention to Sijuwade’s role in one of the most
grotesque episodes in Yoruba and Nigerian history.
The medium chosen by Oba Adetona is Awujale, his
recently released autobiography, in which the 11th
chapter is dedicated to the annulment and the struggle
for the de-annulment of the election won by the late
Chief M.K.O Abiola.
In Awujale, Adetona presents what can hardly be
described as a worm’s eye view. And in the book, the
Ooni does not come out smelling like roses. As one of
the most prominent Yoruba traditional
rulers, Adetona was regularly invited to meetings with
General Ibrahim Babangida, the military president that
annulled the election and installed an Interim National
Government, ING, headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
As the widespread anger provoked by the annulment
and Babangida’s ING contraption raged, the former
military president hoped to limit the damage to his
reputation and that of his
government, appealing to leaders from all the country’s
geo-political zones, especially the South-West, which felt
wounded because of
Abiola.
For one of those meetings in Abuja, writes Adetona in
Awujale, he arrived on a Thursday. The meeting was to
hold the next day. While
in his hotel room on the day of arrival, Adetona called
the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, to say that
there was a need for a meeting
of Yoruba traditional rulers, where they could arrive at a
common position to be presented at the next day’s
meeting with Babangida.
Adeyemi agreed. Adetona then suggested that there was
also a need to inform the Ooni and asked Adeyemi to
accompany him to Sijuwade’s room.
Adeyemi, however, was not keen because of the rivalry,
over superiority, between him and the Ooni. Eventually,
he gave in. The late Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, Oba of
Lagos, was also informed. He
agreed that a meeting was required, but refused to
accompany them to the Ooni’s suite. However, he said
he would support whatever
position the meeting adopted.
In the Ooni’s suite, Adetona and Adeyemi met the Ife
monarch dining with Alhaji Ado Bayero, Emir of Kano.
Another Yoruba monarch, Oba Frederick Aroloye, the
Owa of Idanre, writes Adetona, sat in a corner.
When the two dining monarchs finished their meals, they
went into the Ooni’s room for a discussion, after which
the Ooni came out to
meet Adetona and Adeyemi.
“When we told the Ooni the purpose of our meeting, he
said he had met the Northern Emirs. Their position was
the same as ours. We asked how and he said that they
wanted a fresh meeting to be called of the Council of
State along with us. The Council of State, as enshrined
in the constitution, has powers to advise the President,”
Adetona writes.
But what the Northern traditional rulers wanted was not
exactly what the Yoruba monarchs wanted.
“Our mandate from the Yorubas was that the election
had been concluded and our son was clearly the winner.
So, all we wanted was
that they should just simply release the results,” the
author explains.
Adetona then insisted that if a Council of State meeting
was to be called, it should be for the purpose of
ensuring that the election was
de-annulled and the wish of the people respected. The
Ooni agreed.
But the Alaafin, writes Adetona, said there was no need
for another meeting because the key members of the
Council had already expressed their opposition to the
annulment.
When Adetona and the Alaafin left the Ooni, they went
to discuss seating arrangements for the next day’s
meeting with the other Yoruba traditional rulers.
Apparently suspicious that the Ooni could
switch positions, the monarchs agreed that they would
sit in a way that would ensure that the Ife monarch was
hemmed between two of them “so as to forestall any
wavering of position.”
The planned sitting arrangement was foiled. As the
traditional rulers walked into the venue of the meeting,
they found seats that bore each
attendee’s name. Babangida came in, explained the
position of the government and sought reactions from
his audience. The first came
from Ibrahim Dasuki, then Sultan of Sokoto, who said
very little apart from accusing the government of using
traditional rulers to quell
crises brought upon the nation by the government itself.
He suggested that Babangida should invite members of
the Council of State to join the traditional rulers in the
discussion of the
annulment. The Ooni was the next to speak and
presented the position of the Yoruba obas: declaration
of Abiola as the winner.
It was something the meeting had not expected. “You
could have heard a pin drop,” writes Adetona. Next was
Bayero, who expressed no opposition to what the Ooni
said, but called for a fresh Council of state meeting .
After him spoke the Oba of Benin, who condemned the
annulment and rejected calls for a Council of State
meeting .
The natural rulers continued turning the heat on
Babangida. According to Adetona, Gbong Gwon Jos, the
late Chief Fom Bot, told the meeting that he could not
return to his domain if Babangida did
not to de-annul the election, as his subjects had
demanded, and asked the former president to find
accommodation for him in Abuja.
A traditional ruler from the South-East, Adetona writes,
was more dramatic, telling Babangida to quit as
president. “Please go. Please go,” he shouted.
Then Babangida cut in, explaining that the decision to
annul or de-annul was not solely his, but that of the
military heirachy. He kept on
calling on others to speak, but the obas observed that
he was calling only people who sat to his right. The
obas sat to his left. This drew
a protest from the Alaafin, who Babangida was forced
to ask to speak.
The Oyo monarch insisted that another Council of State
meeting was needless because the late Dr. Nnamdi
Azikiwe, a member, was out of
the country, while some other key members had
expressed their disapproval of the annulment in the
media. Other traditional rulers told Babangida that he
should save the country from a huge crisis by
respecting the wishes of Nigerians.
Then, Babangida attempted one more throw of the dice.
In a somewhat emotional tone, he told the meeting how
close he and Abiola were. His government, he added,
had paid Abiola hefty debts owed him by previous
regimes. The sum, Babangida said, was about
$600million. The scent of money scrambled a particular
royal head–
the Ooni’s.
“When he heard this piece of information, the Ooni
became angry and said something to the effect that if
Babangida paid him (Ooni) that much, he would be
living on the Island of Capri in Italy,” Adetona writes.
Sijuade then got up to go to the toilet. Adetona
followed, spewing criticisms at his fellow oba for going
against what the Yoruba traditional rulers had agreed
on. After the meeting, watched by Uche Chukwumerije,
Information Secretary in the Interim National
Government, the Ooni told journalists that he was in
support of Babangida’s position that a fresh election
should be held and that the obas should return to their
domains and tell their people to prepare for the election.
Adetona thought he had not heard Ooni right. “To
assure myself that what I heard was true, I invited one
of the reporters, who was there when the Ooni was
speaking to my room. This was a reporter from The
Nigerian Tribune. Fortunately, the Alaafin was with me
when the reporter played the tape for us. We were
stunned,” the Awujale writes.
From his hotel room, the Ooni called Adetona on the
intercom and announced gleefully that he had told the
world (through the media) of the Yoruba position.
Adetona replied that he was not sure that
Sijuwade’s claim was correct. Adetona, accompanied by
the Alaafin and the reporter, went over to Sijuade’s
room. The Ooni repeated his
claim that he presented the Yoruba position to the
press.
He was instantly put to shame, when the reporter was
asked to play his tape, which contained the opposite of
Ooni’s claim. Adetona and the Alaafin then pressured
Ooni into granting another interview, restating the
position of the Yoruba. He did and the reporter was
asked to take the interview to media houses for
publication the next
day. The interview was published by newspapers the
next day, but Chukwumerije had caused the first
interview to be used on the network news of the
Nigerian Television Authority, NTA.
In the book, the Awujale was unsparing in his attack on
former Nigerian leader, Olusegun Obasanjo. He
described him as a Judas, “who would betray his
people,” who lacks credibility and squandered “the
enormous goodwill,” which he carried into office “with a
performance that left him with a second term short of
tangible achievements.”
Oba Adetona recalled an event on 24 July 2002, the late
Abraham Adesanya’s 80th birthday in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun
State, when in a ride with Obasanjo to a makeshift
helipad he told Obasanjo how disappointed he had
become over Obasanjo’s pussy-footing on the issue of
federalism. “This was the dividing line for me in our
relationship,” Awujale recalled and Adesanya’s birthday
presented an opportunity for him to tell
Obasanjo how he felt about him, when they rode
together in a Mercedes Benz limousine, with former
Ogun governor, Olusegun Osoba, as witness.
“It was going to be a short trip but I had
something to say and so it had to be said quickly
enough while the three of us shared some privacy. I
said there was a time when I had trusted Obasanjo so
much so that I could swear by his name, but that the
trust was now gone. Obasanjo asked why. I answered
that Obasanjo was no longer credible.” The Oba recalled
further in the
book, that at another time when he visited Obasanjo in
Aso Rock, Obasanjo revisited their earlier conversation
during which he told the
Awujale, accusatorily, that he painted him a Judas.
Awujale reconfirmed the labeling according to his
account.
“I told him that I not only remembered but still
maintained that he was a Judas who would betray his
people…I had no qualms about speaking plainly to him.
In high office, people who surround leaders tend to skirt
around the truth,” Awujale wrote.
The Awujale was clearly not impressed by Obasanjo’s
tenure as nigeria’s leader. ‘‘Eight years in office was
ample time to put electricity on a very strong footing.
Eight years was enough to put
down a strong foot against corruption and make a clear
difference. Eight years was adequate for orderliness and
the rule of law to triumph in every facet of our society.
These were the basis upon
which I gave my support for the office,” he submitted.

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