Yar’Adua and 12 other so-called banned politicians were arrested and detained on December 2, 1991 for participating in politics despite having been banned. He was released on December 20, 1991 after 17 days in detention. He was free to participate in politics again, the government said.
We, his associates, persuaded him to join the race for the presidency. He declared his interest on February 25, 1992 at City Hall, Lagos. He promised to create a united, stable and progressive Nigeria with a common purpose and vision. He was one of the 50 presidential aspirants of the two parties that participated in the six-zone presidential primaries from May 2 to June 20, 1992. I was Yar’Adua’s campaign coordinator.
I really wanted to see him become the President of this country. I had no doubt in my mind that he would have made a good President. He had a vision and he knew how to bring good people together to achieve his goals.
A three-stage party primary was introduced, beginning in September 1992. By the end of the first round, Yar’Adua had emerged the front-runner, beating prominent politicians in their strongholds. The Babangida administration cashed in on the unfounded allegations of rigging, thuggery and bribery and cancelled the primary results on November 17, 1992.
All 23 presidential aspirants were also banned. The executives of the two parties were dissolved. A new system of presidential primary was announced. The handover date from military to civilian rule was extended to August 17, 1993.
With Yar’Adua banned, the group needed someone that its members could rally round. My influence, hard work and selfless contributions to the Yar’Adua group as well as my loyalty to Yar’Adua and my youthfulness (I was then 46 years old) counted in my favour.
The task before me was daunting. My closeness to Tafida (as I used to call him) also meant that I would inherit both his goodwill and his ill-will. I knew that those who did not want Yar’Adua to become President could also stop me. But I was not deterred. I decided to run on the same ideas and vision that Yar’Adua had espoused during his candidacy – a strong, united, democratic and prosperous Nigeria.
Babagana Kingibe, a former member of the Yar’Adua group who became SDP Chairman because of the group’s support, was also vying for the party’s presidential ticket. So was newcomer Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a wealthy businessman and newspaper publisher.
I contested and won the SDP presidential primary in Adamawa State in March 1993. Moshood Abiola, 55 years old, and Babagana Kingibe, 48, had also won in their respective states. Altogether, 27 of us from various states converged in Jos in March 1993 to contest the SDP Presidential ticket at the national convention of the party.
I campaigned on the need for a strong economy with agriculture as a top priority. I promised Nigerians that their collective interest would count first when far-reaching economic decisions were being taken. I said I would run a true federalism if elected President.
To stop Kingibe, whom we all believed had betrayed our group, the Yar’Adua group resolved to negotiate with Abiola. We would support Abiola’s candidacy for the presidency in return for making me his running mate.
We met Abiola and his key advisers and agreed to go to the Jos convention to push for an Abiola-Atiku ticket. Thereafter, we would harmonize our campaign structures and finances.
At the end of the first ballot, Abiola came first with 3,617 votes. Kingibe came a close second with 3,225 votes. I came third with 2,066 votes.
We met again with Abiola. We agreed that I should step down for Abiola in the final round of voting. I agreed to subordinate my personal ambition for the sake of democracy. I was ready for any personal sacrifice that could end military rule in Nigeria.
In the two-way race between Abiola and Kingibe, Abiola triumphed with 2,683 votes to Kingibe’s 2,456 votes. However, Abiola refused to honour the agreement to make me his running mate. He picked Babagana Kingibe.
Yar’Adua was angry over Abiola’s betrayal. I knew it would be difficult to persuade him to support Abiola again. I was concerned about our party. Without the support of the Yar’Adua group, the SDP could lose the presidential election to the NRC whose Bashir Tofa, then 46, was generally thought to be inexperienced.
Knowing that Shehu Yar’Adua’s father and former military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo were the two people in the world that Yar’Adua could not refuse, I went to see Obasanjo at his Ota farm to ask him to convince Yar’Adua not to withdraw his support for Abiola. I said the Yar’Adua group needed to work closely with Abiola to defeat the reactionary forces in the upcoming election and to get Babangida out of office.
Obasanjo promised to talk to his former deputy. He did. And the Yar’Adua group went on to support Abiola who won the June 12 election. But the Babangida administration annulled the election midway into the vote count.
We were all sad and angry about the annulment. We were tired of the endless transition. But we could not leave the ship of state adrift. We began consulting other political groups. In the end, a compromise was reached to form an Interim National Government (ING) with corporate chieftain Ernest Shonekan as Head.
The ING was sacked three months later by General Sani Abacha, the Defence Minister.
Nigeria once again returned to full military rule.
It was in the midst of this challenging political situation in 1994 that I received news of the death of my aunt, Hajiya Fatima Isa, popularly known as Azumi. She was about 68 years old. She died exactly a decade after my mother, Hajiya Aisha Kande.
Culled from the biography titled ‘Atiku: The Story of Atiku Abubakar’ by Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba (Africana Legacy Press, Abuja, 2006)