THIS is the Second Part of our epic story written by ONIGEGEWURA on the political crisis In Ondo State Governorship elections between Akin Omoboriowo and Chief Adekunle Ajasin in 1983.
READ PART ONE: ARCHIVE! (AJASIN Vs Omoboriowo) HOW Politicians set Ondo State on Fire, many people roasted, properties burnt (1) (A MUST READ INSIDE STORY)
IT was denied that Omoboriowo was marginalized. In support of this, it was pointed out that the Deputy Governor was in charge of the Water Corporation, Investment Corporation, Ondo State Broadcasting Corporation, Okitipupa Oil Mills, Chieftaincy and House of Assembly matters. Ajasin further explained that his Deputy failed to discharge his responsibilities in respect of these assignments because he was afraid of failure.
It was an exhaustive meeting that took most of two days. Chief Omoboriowo marshaled his arguments with all his skills as a legal practitioner.
Chief Ajasin’s analytical presentations showed that he was a professional teacher. Chief Awolowo was not called the Leader for nothing. He brought his experience to bear in resolving the seemingly intractable issues. The meeting eventually came to a peaceful end with a Peace Treaty being signed by both parties as well as Chief Awolowo.
It was term of the Treaty that “The Governor of the State shall with due dispatch, delegate specific responsibilities to the Deputy Governor and give him a free hand to discharge such responsibilities.”
It was also a term of the Treaty that: “no member of the Party shall make any public statement relating to nomination for post of Governor or Deputy Governor.”
With the Peace Treaty, relative calm returned to the state. On the surface, it appeared that the snake of discord troubling the state had finally been smothered.
This was however only on the surface. Insiders in government knew that the leaders continued to view each other with mistrust.
This was the state of affairs until the time came for nominations for the 1983 General Election. The consensus of opinion in the UPN was that the incumbent governors be given automatic ticket to fly the flag of the party for their second term. However in almost all the UPN-controlled states, the Deputy Governor or a cabinet member was interested in contesting the gubernatorial election.
In Oyo State, the Asiwaju of Esa Oke, Chief Bola Ige, the incumbent faced stiff opposition from his deputy, Chief Sunday Afolabi, as well as from Alhaji Busari Adelakun (Eruobodo) and Chief M. A. Omisade. In Ogun State, Mrs. Titi Ajanaku and Chief Odunjo wanted to slug it out with Chief Olabisi Onabanjo.
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The story was not different in Bendel State where Dr. Isaac Okonjo, the Secretary to the State Government wanted to contest against Prof. Ambrose Folorunso Alli.
The only exception was Lagos State where Alhaji Rafiu Jafojo had no problem in running again as Deputy to Alhaji Jakande.
The intra-party crisis was however not limited to the Unity Party of Nigeria. In Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, the State Governor did not see eye to eye with his Deputy, Alhaji Bibi Farouk. In Plateau State, Governor Solomon Lar and his Deputy, Alhaji Yakubu Danladi were locked in a perennial war of attrition.
At the party’s special National Conference held in October in 1982, the sole issue for discussion was the issue of automatic ticket for returning governors. Following pressures from the prospective contestants who appeared to be very vocal, the party resolved to allow shadow elections to be conducted in order to test the acceptability and popularity of the incumbent.
It was a triumphant Omoboriowo and his team that returned to Akure after the National Conference. In accordance with the Peace Treaty, he resigned his appointment as the Deputy Governor of the State. With the resignation, the stage was now set for the epic battle between the governor and his former Deputy for the soul of Ondo State. They were joined in the contest by Banji Akintoye, a Senator.
It was a triumphant Omoboriowo and his team that returned to Akure after the National Conference. In accordance with the Peace Treaty, he resigned his appointment as the Deputy Governor of the State. With the resignation, the stage was now set for the epic battle between the governor and his former deputy for the soul of Ondo State. They were joined in the contest by Banji Akintoye, a senator.
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Feelers that the shadow elections were not going to be hitch free started appearing some days to the elections. It was a requirement that for a member to qualify to vote at constituency meeting, such a member must hold the party’s membership card.
The Ajasin group alleged that Omoboriowo and his team arranged with some private printers in Akure to illegally print the party’s membership cards.
The Omoboriowo group however claimed that it was Ajasin group that was caught with the freshly printed UPN membership cards.
On November 11, 1982, the shadow elections took place in Akure. The Nomination Committee for Ondo State was headed by Chief Sebastian Umoren from Cross River State. All the four members of the Committee were from outside Ondo State. This was understandably to ensure that none of the three candidates was unduly favoured.
At the end of the day, Ajasin polled 707 votes, Omoboriowo scored 531 and Akintoye came third with 94 votes. These figures were however contested by Omoboriowo who claimed that his score was 532, with Ajasin and Akintoye scoring 479 and 94 votes respectfully.
With the result announced by the Nomination Committee, Chief Ajasin was declared the winner and the party’s flag bearer for the gubernatorial election in 1983.
It is on record that following the shadow elections, Chief Omoboriowo wanted to mend fences with his boss, the governor.
He was however prevented from doing so by some members of his group.
Chief Omoboriowo was now confronted with the task of choosing another platform to actualize his political ambition.
As a committed socialist of Awolowo school of thought, he found it incongruous to pitch his tent with the National Party of Nigeria, his former party’s archrival.
Overnight he became the toast of the other political parties who were desperate to dislodge Awolowo from the state.
First to extend an invitation to Omoboriowo was the newly registered Nigerian Advance Party promoted by Dr. Tunji Braithwaite.
The Nigerian People’s Party of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe also came calling. They were followed in quick succession by the duo of Great Nigerian People’s Party and Aminu Kano’s People Redemption Party.
After extensive consultations with his group, it was decided that the NPN offered the best alternative if they were desirous of extricating the state from the grip of Ajasin.
According to Omoboriowo: “We agreed that the situation was too grave and the best thing to do was to take the larger interest of the state into consideration.
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We opined that by joining the NPN, the economic and social welfare of our people would be better catered for. We also believe that the NPN was more democratic in its structure.”
Finally, on January 6, 1983, Omoboriowo cut his political umbilical cord from Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Unity Party of Nigeria.
On that day, the author of Awoism signed a formal agreement with the National Party of Nigeria at 10 Cooper Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.
According to James Okoroma, Chief Omoboriowo “was most reluctant to sign an agreement with a party he had consistently criticized in his writings and speeches. But according to him (Omoboriowo), that is ‘real politick’…” With the agreement signed, sealed and delivered, the Rubicon was crossed and things would never be the same again.
Back in Akure, the campaign for the State House began in earnest. Unlike in 1979 when the election was practically a walk over for the UPN, this time around, Ajasin had a formidable opponent in Omoboriowo and the NPN to contend with.
The campaign was as tough as it was intense. It appeared as if the two parties were evenly matched. UPN was the party in power in the state and therefore had the advantage of incumbency.
NPN was the party in power at the centre and therefore had the advantage of Federal might.
As the election day draw nearer, clashes between the supporters of the leading parties became the order of the day. At Ado Ekiti, three prominent members of the Unity Party of Nigeria were assassinated.
The Ajasin group naturally pointed accusing fingers at the NPN. This was refuted by Omoboriowo’s group who claimed that the killings must have been the “handiwork of rival groups within the UPN.”
On August 13, 1983, Ondo citizens trooped out to cast their votes for their next governor. A week earlier, on August 6, they had voted overwhelmingly for Obafemi Awolowo in the Presidential Election.
Though the winning margin was not as high as it was in 1979, Awolowo’s UPN still led comfortably with 77.3%. Shehu Shagari of NPN came a distant second with 20%. Buoyed by the result, Ajasin and his group became more confident of coming out victorious.
On their part, Omoboriowo and his group were also certain of victory. For one, from mere 4% in 1979, the party had leapt to 20% in 1983. More importantly, it was assumed that Ondo citizens voted for Awolowo as an individual and not UPN as a party. It was therefore reasoned that as between Ajasin and Omoboriowo, the latter was bound to carry the day.
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This assumption was not without basis. It is on record that majority of the parliamentarians in the State belonged to Omoboriowo’s camp. It is also a fact that out of 12 twelve commissioners in the state, the governor could only count on the support of 6.
Though the election was generally smooth and hitch-free, pockets of violence were recorded in Ondo township. By evening, it was all over.
People waited with bated breath for the results to be announced. The result of the Presidential Elections which was conducted on Saturday, August 6, was announced on Monday, August 8. It was therefore assumed that by Monday, August 15, at the latest, the gubernatorial result would also be announced.
There was however a problem at the collation centre. It was found that the electoral body had supplied the wrong forms to its Returning Officers.
One party claimed the action was deliberate, the other countered that it was inadvertent. As a result of this technical problem, the results were entered into the wrong forms which were supplied by the FEDECO. At the collation centre, the Chief Returning Officer, refused to accept results which were entered into the wrong forms. To compound the matter, FEDECO Officers and NPN agents produced results which were recorded on the prescribed forms.
I hope you are following me. Let me explain again. The result of election from each ward was required to be recorded on a particular form and to be signed by all party agents as well as the Returning Officer.
As a result of the fact that FEDECO gave out the wrong forms, the Returning officers had no choice but to record the results on the wrong form.
At the collation centre, FEDECO turned around to inform the parties that the only result recorded in the prescribed form was to be admissible.
Strangely, both FEDECO officers and NPN agents had results entered into the prescribed form while the remaining five parties [NAP, NPP, PRP, GNPP and UPN] held copies on the wrong form.
That was not all, it was also discovered that there were glaring differences in the figures in the copies held by FEDECO/NPN on one hand, and the Group of 5 political parties on the other hand.
Naturally, the five parties rejected both the declaration by FEDECO as well as the copies produced by NPN and the returning officers. This resulted into a stalemate.
Outside the FEDECO Office, citizens were becoming restive. Results in neighbouring states were being announced one after the other.
There was only a deafening silence from Akure. People began to wonder what was going on.
In the evening of August 15th, the Chief Returning Officer informed party agents that he had been advised by the FEDECO Headqarters in Lagos to accept only the results submitted by its officials on the prescribed form. It was at this point that the UPN directed its agents to withdraw from the collation centre.
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Ominous clouds began to gather.
The people of Ondo State woke up on the morning of August 16, 1983 to a popular song of victory being played on Radio Nigeria, Akure. The station had been established a month earlier by the Federal Government allegedly as a counter force to the Ondo State Radio. It was a chorus sang by the Ozzidi King, the late Sunny Okosuns:
Baba ti ba wa se…. Baba ti ba wa se o, ohun ti o m ba wa leru, Baba ti ba wa se
[Father has done it for us… Father has done it for us. What had terrified us… Father has done it for us]
As soon as the song ended, the voice of the Ondo State Returning Officer, Mr. Dipo Alibaloye, came over the airwaves. In a few brief sentences, he announced the results of the gubernatorial election as follow: UPN = 1,015,385; NPN = 1,288,981; NPP = 18,766; NAP = 13,848; GNPP = 11;720; and PRP = 7,454.
With the result, Chief Victor Akinwole Omoboriowo, the Onibudo of Ile-Ife and the Balogun of Ijero Ekiti, was declared as having been duly elected as the Governor of Ondo State.
The results had hardly been declared when all hell was let loose. In a minute, a massive crowd had gathered. People poured into the streets of Akure from all corners.
Their target was none other than the FEDECO Office. The elderly woman leading the mob wasted no time in throwing the object she was holding at the building.
The object must have been an explosive device as it exploded immediately on hitting the building. The office went up in flames.
The crowd was not finished. They proceeded to houses and residences of prominent supporters of the newly declared governor. One after the other, houses and buildings began to go up in flames. It was a day that Akure would never forget.
Properties were vandalized with reckless abandon. Security operatives, unable to withstand the ferocity of the angry mob, abandoned their duty posts and fled.
Any supporter of Omoboriowo who was unfortunate to be caught was summarily dealt with. According to different eyewitness accounts, some were roasted alive, some had their heads chopped off, while others had their bodies mutilated. A distinguished jurist who was in Akure at the time recorded that it was learnt that “people were roasted publicly and turned around over in the fire as for a goat or sheep.” By noon reports began to filter in that violence had spread to other major towns and cities in the state. It was one gory story after another.
It was indeed a very terrible day in the annals of political violence in Nigeria. It was a day blood flowed freely on the streets of the state.
The Omoboriowo group decided to fight back. They converged on the residence of Chief Wunmi Adegbonmire, the Executive Chairman of the State Investment Corporation who was a prominent supporter of Ajasin.
They succeeded in burning down the building. The supporters were however too few and seemingly unpopular. The counter attack soon fizzled out.
The police was practically helpless in the face of the rampaging mob. The Governor (Chief Ajasin) contacted the State Commissioner of Police and ordered him to “do everything within his power to curtail the protesters.”
The Commissioner however responded that he and his men were helpless, as the ferocious protesters had blocked all the roads in the town.
On August 17, a day after the bloodbath, Chief Omoboriowo left Akure for Lagos in the company of his wife and two loyalists.
They were accompanied by six police officers who were assigned to them for the purpose by the Deputy Commissioner of Police.
Chief Adekunle Ajasin promptly proceeded to the Ondo State Election Tribunal to challenge the result declared by FEDECO in favour of Chief Akin Omoboriowo. In the petition, Chief Ajasin urged the Tribunal to declare that Mr. Omoboriowo was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes and that instead, it was he, Ajasin who received 1,652,795 who ought to be declared the winner.
Olakunle Orojo who was the Chief Judge of the State. His Lordship was assisted by Justice Edward Ojuolape, Justice Sidney Afonja, Justice S. Akintan, and Justice A. O. Ogunleye.
On Monday, September 5, 1983, trial in the case of Ajasin v. Omboriowo & Another started. Ajasin was represented at the hearing by Chief G. O. K. Ajayi, SAN. Omoboriowo’s legal team was led by the legendary Chief F. R. A Williams, SAN. Chief Ajasin called 40 witnesses to prove his petition. Chief Omoboriowo called 18 witnesses.
Neither of them personally testified.
The hearing of evidence took four and a half days. On Friday, September 9, counsel for the parties addressed the court. The trial had taken the whole of 5 days. No adjournment was sought by counsel and none was given by the Tribunal.
After the address of counsel, the learned Justices retired briefly into chambers to deliberate on when to give judgment.
Back in the courtroom, parties and witnesses waited anxiously to hear from their Lordships when the judgment would be delivered. In a few minutes, the Justices came back to the court and announced that judgment would be delivered the following day, Saturday. So soon?
The people in court exchanged meaningful glances.
It was clear that whatever the people were expecting, they were not expecting the judgment to be delivered almost immediately.
However, they would not have been surprised if they had known the professionalism and dedication of the five Honourable Justices who were on the panel.
What people did not know was that after the day’s hearing, His Lordship Orojo would not leave the chambers until he had reviewed and summarized the evidence. The result was that at the end of the hearing, His Lordship had summarized all the evidence and had researched relevant legal principles.
Hardly did anyone in Ondo State sleep that night. The news had spread quickly across the state like harmattan fire.
Overnight, rumours began to circulate to the effect that the NPN had bribed the judges with millions of Naira in order to give judgment in favour of Chief Omoboriowo.
The NPN countered this by claiming that the judges were agents of Chief Ajasin and would give judgment in his favour.
It was an anxious Ondo state that woke up on September 10, 1983. Though judgment was to be delivered by 4pm, people who were brave enough had begun to assemble in street corners as soon as the Muslims came back from the morning prayers.
The question on everybody’s lips was the same: where would the pendulum swing? There was another question agitating people’s mind. Though it was largely unspoken, yet it was as audible as if it had been uttered. What if…? No one was ready to complete the question!
By 9am, the Lord Justices had assembled in the Chief Judge’s chambers. Justice Orojo requested armed policemen to cordon off the Chief Judge’s office. No one was to be allowed in or out of the office until the CJ directed otherwise.
Akure City was enveloped in a blanket of anxiety as news filtered out that the Judges had started writing the judgment.
Back in Chambers, deliberations began in earnest by 9.30am. Justice Orojo explained to his brother Justices what he had done on records and how he had summarized and assessed the evidences as well as submissions of counsel. His Lordship produced a draft which he had worked on overnight.
Their Lordship then started to consider the draft. As soon as a page was approved, it was passed on to the secretariat for stenciling and reproduction.
By 3pm, the typed draft of the whole judgment was ready. Their Lordships reviewed and approved it. It was immediately signed and endorsed by the Tribunal members. Enough copies were produced for parties, their counsel and the media.
TO BE CONCLUDED IN PART 3
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