A former chief judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Justice Dahiru Saleh (retd.), who tied the last judicial knot before the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election has absolved former President Ibrahim Babangida of culpability over the issue.
Saleh, while taking responsibility for the annulment, also faulted the failure of Chief Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the election, to appeal his decision.
Justice Saleh had in June 1993 ordered the then National Electoral Commission, NEC, to stop further release of the results of the election upon the claim that the election itself should not have been conducted in the first place.
He had cited the mid-night ruling on June 11, 1993, by Justice Bassey Ikpeme that the election should not hold.
The Prof. Humphrey Nwosu-led NEC had upon the provisions of Decree 13 of 1993 which ousted the courts from derailing the transition programme, gone ahead to conduct the election on June 12 which turned out to be one of the best organised elections in the history of the country.
Speaking toThe Interview,a magazine publication, the former jurist fully absolved Babangida of any role in the issue, even as he expressed no regrets over the ruling which led to a five-year impasse in the march towards democracy.
Besides, several lives were lost in the agitation for the manifestation of the mandate.
However,Vanguardrecalls that Babangida in his address to the nation cancelling the June 12 election had noted the failure of the judiciary, which he said behaved less than satisfactorily and alleged the use of money in the election as he said as much as N2.1 billion was expended by the two presidential candidates, Chief Moshood Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Tofa.
Babangida also alleged that the election should not have been held on June 12 following dissonances that preceded the election.
Asked if he was pressured by Babangida who was at that time the military president of the country, he said: “The former President did nothing of the sort. There were so many cases, and I cannot remember all the cases off-hand.
“There was the case against MKO Abiola, and it was before one of my judges; she was Igbo, but I can’t remember her name. She started the case, then fell sick and was flown out of the country for treatment.
“Then there was another case against him (MKO Abiola), and I had to transfer the case from the other judge’s court to my court. During that time, it turned out that Abiola didn’t even finish the case before he disappeared. Later, I learned he had been arrested by authorities.”
Says Abiola refused to appeal ruling
He noted that Abiola, the candidate of Social Democratic Party, SDP, should have appealed the ruling if he was not satisfied.
He said: “The judicial system was still open, but he chose not to follow it. Why no one followed up the annulment of the election in the higher courts is best known to members of Abiola’s party at that time.
“If he, as an individual, was not interested, there must have been other people who would be interested to see the end of the story, but they didn’t appeal.
“They were very close, and there were so many assumptions regarding the relationship between the two of them.
“But the point is, in those days, the Yorubas wanted Abiola to become president; he was seen as a kind and considerate man to every Tom, Dick, and Harry.
“Unfortunately, he wanted to be the president, but he couldn’t be. While the political blame must be on President Babangida, he (Babangida) did nothing of the sort to stop him, using my court.
“I think I was in service when I first came to know him. I can’t remember the time. But I only came to know him well after his retirement.
“I was already Chief Judge when he was President. He came and met me there, and he left me there. But while he was in office, we had no personal relationship. He was my boss; I was his subject.
“Anybody not satisfied with what I was doing as Chief Judge could appeal to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, simple. And I have no regrets, none whatever. No regrets. I would repeat the same thing now.”