Kola Abiola, the first son of winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, has explained the circumstances that led to the choice of Babagana Kingibe as his father’s running mate.
He said that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who later became Vice President between 1999 and 2007, was the initial choice of his father for the position but circumstances made it impossible for them to run together.
In a chat with Daily Sun, the younger Abiola explained that he drew up the blueprint that guided his father’s campaign.
Explaining the blueprint, he said, “I felt that we needed to work with the late Shehu Yar’Adua group, which I was very much involved in. I also felt that I needed to stay out of the campaign and do the legwork, while I coordinated with the Yar’Adua group. I predicted that we didn’t have a choice than to pick a Muslim-Muslim ticket at that time. So, I had to broker an arrangement with Yar’Adua about Atiku Abubakar and my father; the deal was that Atiku would be the running mate.”
On why Kingibe, and not Atiku was eventually picked, he explained, “We ended up with Kingibe because there was a lot of pressure on my dad to have a balanced ticket, where he would pick a northern Christian running mate. But events at the time didn’t make it possible for us to have that option and I will explain. We came in at the second leg of the election; the first leg was when the election of the 23 candidates was annulled, and then we stepped in. At that point, Kingibe was chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and he was helped by the Peoples Front (PF), which was the Yar’Adua group. All along, he had zoned every key office to all the other zones except the presidency. So, the Hausa-Fulani North didn’t have a stake in the entire political process. We coming in from the South-West was basically a coup on the process because they had assumed that they would have a northern presidential candidate.
“NRC (National Republican Convention) had a northern candidate (Bashir Tofa), so SDP assumed that their candidate would also come from the North. If we made the mistake of picking a Christian northerner, the NRC would have had block votes from the Muslim North; so, politically, we had no choice than to choose a northern Muslim. If we had not done that, we would have given away a large percentage of the votes that would have come from the Muslim North. My father was being pressured by the Falae-Ajasin-Adesanya group to pick a running mate from the minority Christian North. Initially, they considered Dan Suleiman from Adamawa as running mate, but I kicked against it because I knew how politically strong they all were.
“In Jos, I also wanted to avoid a three-way race where you had two northerners against one southerner, so I had to broker a deal for Atiku to step down for my father and it became a two-way race, which gave us a better option. Part of the deal was to have Atiku as the Vice President.”
Explaining what happened afterwards, Kola Abiola said, “After we scaled that hurdle, pressure started coming from other parts of the party and even Aso Rock, that we must have a balanced ticket. I kept on saying no because I knew that if we had a balanced ticket, we were going to lose the election. There was also pressure from the governors’ forum led by the late Olusola Saraki (Baba Oloye) and also Arthur Nzeribe was part of that powerful block. They had lost out at the time and they were pushing for a possible petition on the election process itself. So, I had to run to Alhaji M.S. Buhari, who was the number two of the PF. He later left the PF to move with Kingibe because they were both Kanuri. I rushed to him to appeal to Kingibe to cease the planned petition, so they met and they told me not to worry that they would cede. But the governors’ group kept on putting pressure, so you can understand where it was coming from.
“As party chairman, Kingibe had influence in putting all those governors in place, so they were loyal to him. But I always knew all along that if we had a free and fair election, there was no way that any of those governors would return. We had to pick a Muslim running mate and I had brokered a deal with Atiku, but then there was Kingibe on one side who was being supported by the governors. At the end of the day, rather than lose entirely, I now had to cede my commitment to Atiku, which was very unfortunate. Once we agreed on a running mate, I left Jos and met with Yar’Adua over the issue.”