Some said what she threw at the building was an egg. Others claimed it was a local grenade. What was not in dispute is that whatever the half-naked elderly woman threw at the office of the Federal Electoral Commission [FEDECO] was powerful enough to set the building on fire. In a twinkle of an eye, the office was up in flames. It was not the only compound on fire. From Akure to Ondo, from Owo to Ado-Ekiti, the whole of Ondo State was burning.
The protesters were unstoppable. The half-naked woman was strolling ahead of the protesters like an army general. Once a building was identified for her, out came her magical egg and the next moment the building would be on fire. Anywhere you turned to in Akure, the skyline was enveloped in thick, dark smoke.
People were not spared. First to fall victim of the rampaging crowd was Hon. Olaiya Fagbamigbe who was a member of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos. Fagbamigbe was the publisher of the trilogy of collected speeches of Chief Obafemi Awolowo titled Voice of Reason, Voice of Wisdom, and Voice of Courage. You have seen the books? He was not the only one. He was killed along with his brother, James Fagbamigbe. Hon. Tunde Agunbiade was also caught in the crossfire. He was a member of the Ondo State House of Assembly.
From one house to another. From one street to another. From one town to another, the carnage went on and on. The thunderstorms of tragedy continued to reverberate throughout the length and the breadth of Ondo State. It was a day Ondo State would never forget. But what could have turned the hitherto peaceful state to a theatre of war? What could have turned a people who were formerly in the same political family into sworn enemies?
Four years earlier, the Unity Party of Nigeria – the political party founded by the legendary Obafemi Awolowo – had won a landslide victory to produce the first democratically elected Governor of the State. It was an unprecedented victory. UPN had coasted home to victory with 94.50% of the votes cast, leaving the four other political parties [National Party of Nigeria, Nigeria Peoples Party, Great Nigeria Peoples Party and Peoples Redemption Party] to share the remaining 5.50% amongst themselves. Of the 66 State House of Assembly seats, UPN won 65 leaving NPN with only one seat.
To many a political watcher, the emergence of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Chief Victor Akinwole Omoboriowo as the Governor and the Deputy Governor respectively was the best thing that could have happened to the State. Ajasin was elderly and full of wisdom. At 71 in 1979, he had earned his stripes as a tested administrator, legislator, school principal, and as a member of the Federal Advisory Council. Awolowo respected his maturity, experience, and loyalty. Omoboriowo, on the other hand, was youthful and vibrant. Like Awolowo, he was a socialist by orientation and a legal practitioner by profession. In 1979, he was 47 years old. Awolowo admired his passion, brilliance, and energy.
If the people of Ondo State had expected anything, it was that the Governor and the Deputy Governor would get on well like a house on fire. For one, both of them were committed Awoists to the core. The Action Group was founded in Owo – Chief Ajasin's hometown. On his own part, Chief Omoboriowo was an extremely loyal party man. He was the author of a seminal work on the philosophy of Awolowo appropriately titled Awoism – Selected Themes on the Complex Ideology of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. What could therefore go wrong?
|Deputy Governor Omoboriowo|
What was however unknown outside the party caucus is that Omoboriowo was not Ajasin’s preferred choice of running mate. According to him: “Omoboriowo was not the man I had intended as my running mate, and my future deputy. But I picked Omoboriowo at the instance of Chief Awolowo who vouched for his capability and loyalty.”
On his own part, Omoboriowo considered Ajasin as being too old to be the governor. When Awolowo asked him for names of possible candidates to fly the flag of the party during the 1979 Elections, he responded by mentioning the names of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Professor Sam Aluko, Chief Ayo Fasanmi and Banji Akintoye. Apparently not satisfied with the response, Awolowo prodded him for other likely candidates. It was at that point that Omoboriowo volunteered Ajasin’s name.
The Leader then smiled and informed him that Ajasin appeared to be the most experienced among the names so far mentioned. Omoboriowo immediately raised two fundamental points against the candidacy of the retired school principal. His first objection was that Ajasin at 71 was too old to be a governor. His second point of objection was the desire of the Ekitis to produce the governor on account of their population which was said to be the largest in the old Ondo State. Ajasin was from Owo.
In response to Omoboriowo’s objection, Awolowo was said to have responded with “…We have to balance Ajasin’s age with the dynamism of a person from the main ethnic group in the State.” Hence the choice of Omoboriowo, an Ekiti man, as Ajasin’s running mate.
It was against the backdrop of this strange pairing that the party recorded its landslide victory in the 1979 Elections.
The first cracks began to appear on the wall of the party in the State barely six months after their inauguration. Probably on account of his advanced age, it was assumed that Ajasin would not be able to effectively discharge his functions as the governor, thereby ceding the responsibility to his younger deputy. Ajasin however proved the bookmakers wrong by not only being active but also by showing that he was not ready to be an armchair governor. After all, ori ti a fi se ewe ko ti kuro l’orun [the head which an elder used as a young person does not desert him in old age].
This is how Ajasin put it: “Omoboriowo had expected that I would only be able to reign and not to rule. As far as he was concerned, I was going to be the de jure Governor while he would be the de facto Governor.” On his own part, Omoboriowo attributed the genesis of the problem to Ajasin’s conservatism: “Chief Awolowo believed that it was elderly people who could administer without problems. No, it turned out that the elderly people, because of their set ideas, created more problems than members of the younger generation.”
The problem was further compounded by the operation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979. As you are already aware, the Constitution did not provide specific executive functions for the Deputy Governor. It was left to the discretion of the Governor to assign duties and responsibilities to his deputy as he thought fit.
Omoboriowo claimed to have been sidelined in the running of the government of the State. It was his case that major decisions were taken by the Governor without his knowledge. Instances of these include: the dismissal of Professor C. S. Ola as the Secretary to the State Government; the dismissal of Dr. Bode Olowoporoku as the Commissioner for Economic Planning; the decision to establish six branches of the Owena Bank in different parts of the State; and the appointment of all full-time members of corporations, amongst others.
It was also claimed that the Governor was in the habit of paying unscheduled official visits to industries and corporations under Omoboriowo’s schedule of duties without the knowledge of the deputy governor. An instance was given where the governor went to ‘commission’ the Ero Dam Project which was largely supervised by Omoboriowo without the latter’s knowledge.
That was not all. Ajasin was also accused of being discriminatory against the Ekitis. It was claimed that no major project was sited in Ekitiland and that Ekiti were being treated as second-class citizens of the state. The governor was accused of dismissing people who were sympathetic to Omoboriowo and replacing them with his own loyalists.
On August 11, 1981, Omoboriowo sent a memorandum to his boss in which he brought up the issue of his marginalization in the administration of the State. In the memo, Omoboriowo stated: “…I have just read this morning on the pages of newspapers that you have removed the Honourable Commissioner for Economic Planning and Statistics, Dr. M. O. Olowoporoku from office. I do not wish to go into the merits or otherwise of the termination, but in a major matter like this Your Excellency should have mentioned it to me before terminating the appointment…”
If the issues had been limited to the foregoing perhaps the situation would not have snowballed into the mayhem it became. Perhaps the gathering clouds would have disappeared eventually. Perhaps…
To the people in Ajasin’s camp, Omoboriowo was nothing but an overambitious young man who was not ready to wait for his turn. It was felt that Omoboriowo’s game plan was to portray Ajasin as ineffective and show the people of Ondo State that he was the brainbox of the administration and that the Governor was merely a rubber stamp for Omoboriowo’s intellect and ideas.
At party meetings, it was said that Omoboriowo would try to outdo Ajasin by making contributions that suggested that he had a superior knowledge and was better informed than his boss on the subject matter under discussion. In many cases, the deputy governor was accused of being in the habit of jumping up to answer questions specifically directed at the governor in order to project himself as someone more knowledgeable and capable.
It was also observed that the press was giving more publicity to the deputy more than the Governor. Every function attended by Omoboriowo was given lavish press coverage, usually on the front page whilst the governor’s programmes were tucked somewhere amongst obituary and advertisements. To the governor’s team, this was nothing but acts of a rebellious deputy who did not wish his boss well.
On the allegation that he was not being allowed to ‘commission’ projects which he superintended, Ajasin’s response was that as the person elected the governor by the people, he considered it his responsibility and duty to personally commission projects which, in most cases, usually have plaques with his name on it. It was also his view that the people would feel more honoured by his presence than that of his deputy.
In dismissing the allegation of Ekiti marginalization leveled against the Governor, Prof Sam Aluko was of the view that the story came mainly from Messrs Akerele and Babatola who wanted to be full-time chairmen of Ondo State Radio Corporation and Housing Corporation respectively but were given part-time appointments.
As fate would have it, Chief Adekunle Ajasin took ill in 1981. Naturally, the deputy governor became the Acting Governor. It was alleged that Omoboriowo did not believe that Ajasin could survive the illness. He therefore did not waste time before consolidating his hold on power. He started making arrangements for setting up his own government machinery. Dr. Bode Olowoporoku who had been removed by Ajasin as a commissioner was offered the post of the Secretary to the State Government.
At a point, rumour of Ajasin’s death hit the state. As the acting governor, Omoboriowo stood to be the major beneficiary if the news were to be true. According to Aluko, this was the beginning of the trouble.
Ajasin however did not die. He soon came back to Akure as the Governor. On his return, a lot of people went to tell him that his Deputy was not very loyal and that he behaved badly while he was sick. The Governor was also informed that his deputy had given the impression to the state parliamentarians that were he to be the substantive governor he would have met all their monetary demands.
If there were cracks in the wall before Ajasin left for Lagos, the cracks widened upon his return. By the end of 1981, the crisis had developed into open confrontation. You know that ti ofon ba ti to si gbegiri, o di ki eleko o ko eko re da ni [when a rat urinates into a soup, that's the end of the dinner]. The state became polarized as government functionaries began to pitch their tent either for or against the governor.
Elders in and outside the state began to take steps to nip the crisis in the bud. Many of them were old enough at the time of the crisis between Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola in the old Western Region. None of them wanted a repeat of the bloodbath they witnessed in the 1960s. They therefore left no stone unturned in their bid to resolve the feud between the warring leaders.
On January 19, 1981, a peace meeting was called at the palace of the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti. This was followed by another one on January 28 at the same venue. At the two meetings both camps spoke about their grievances. It was at these meetings that Ajasin pointed out that the cause of the crisis was Omoboriowo’s ambition to become the governor in 1983, which Ajasin admitted was a legitimate ambition. It was however Ajasin’s grouse that Omoboriowo was doing everything he could to earn cheap popularity to make himself Ajasin’s unchallenged successor.
These allegations were denied by Omoboriowo who claimed that at no time did he entertain the thought of becoming a governor. In his defence, he claimed that: “They sold to the governor the idea that certain people were behind me for the 1983 governorship race. Before God and man, I did not have an ambition to contest as governor.”
What was however left unsaid was that as far back as late 1978 the impression had been created in Omoboriowo’s camp that Ajasin would only govern for the first two years and hand over the baton of leadership to Omoboriowo who would complete the first term and run for another term.
This was confirmed by Olowoporoku who revealed that: “In fact our acceptance of him (Ajasin) as a candidate was because we were told that Chief Obafemi Awolowo directed that Chief Ajasin should be allowed two years after which Chief Omoboriowo would takeover. This was the note and understanding with which we campaigned in the election of 1979.”
Prof Aluko also appeared to corroborate the above statement of Olowoporoku when he said that: “Chief Awolowo gave us the impression that Ajasin was going to run one term only… It was planned that after the one term, Omoboriowo would contest the nomination…”
It was not certain if Chief Ajasin was a party to these ‘impressions’ and agreements. What was however certain was that Ajasin, his advanced age notwithstanding, was proving to be a very competent leader who was performing creditably well. It was becoming clear that nothing would stop him from exercising his constitutional right to re-contest in 1983.
To prevent the festering wound from becoming an open sore, the leaders of Unity Party of Nigeria mandated Chief Abraham Adesanya to look into the crisis. His efforts came to naught. The governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, also intervened without success.
As you know egun nla lo n kehin igbale [it is the biggest masquerade that is the last to come out of the grove], Chief Obafemi Awolowo decided that the time had come for him as the Leader of the Party to intervene in the matter. It was a two-day meeting that Awolowo summoned. All party elders and leaders in the state were invited to the meeting.
Chief Awolowo listened patiently to both parties. The major grouse of Omoboriowo and his team was that the deputy governor had been completely marginalized by the governor in the running of the government. The governor was also accused of refusing to provide official cars and personal offices to the members of the State House of Assembly.
On their part, Ajasin and his group accused Omoboriowo of wanting to get him involved in the running of government in such a way as to be seen to be the brain behind Ajasin’s achievements. 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.
|Ajasin and Omoboriowo|
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. 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.
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. 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.”
|Omoboriowo with Awolowo before things fell apart|
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.”
|Omoboriowo and Shagari|
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. 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 election 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 headquarters 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.
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.
The Tribunal was headed by His Lordship, Justice 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.
GBA! GBA!! GBA!!! Court! The awaited moment had arrived. The courtroom was packed full with security at the highest. Outside the court, the city of Akure itself was flooded with armed soldiers and anti-riot policemen who had instructions to deal with any further breakdown of law and order.
There was pin drop silence in the room as Hon. Justice Orojo began to deliver the judgment of the Tribunal. It took His Lordship one hour and three minutes to deliver the landmark judgment. His Lordship began by identifying the task before the Tribunal. According to His Lordship: “the issue before this court is to determine which of the conflicting documents and figures are correct and genuine on the face of the evidence before it.”
The Tribunal then proceeded to consider the evidence led in respect of each of the seven disputed local governments. As the court pronounced its decision in respect of each local government, witnesses were seen frantically adding and subtracting figures. It appeared that the sums were adding up on the side of Ajasin. By the time His Lordship arrived at the 6th local government, the pendulum had almost swung completely away from Omoboriowo.
But the judgment was not yet over. His Lordship continued: “When these figures are added to the total figures admitted or conceded on the pleadings, then the total number of votes received by the petitioner [Ajasin] is 1,563,327 and by the 1st Respondent [Omoboriowo] 703,592. We therefore hold that the total votes received by the petitioner in the gubernatorial election for Ondo State held on 13th August 1983 is 1,563,327 and that the votes received by the 1st Respondent is 703,592.”
Ajasin had won!
Jubilations broke out across the length and breadth of Ondo State. UPN members trooped out into the streets in their hundreds to celebrate their hard won victory. The battle had been long and hard. They savoured the sweet taste of victory as their counterparts in NPN licked their wounds and went back to the drawing board.
Four days after the judgment, Chief Omoboriowo granted a media interview where he was reported to have said that justice was miscarried in his case because of an alleged fear of assassination on the part of the five-man panel headed by Justice Orojo: “How can such a tribunal be free enough to deliver impartial judgment?” He was reported to have queried.
Chief Omoboriowo therefore decided to challenge the decision of the Tribunal at the appellate level. At the Court of Appeal Benin, Omoboriowo was represented by Prof. Alfred B. Kasumu, SAN, a distinguished professor of law. Among other grounds, Omoboriowo argued that the Ondo State Tribunal lacked jurisdiction to try his case.
The appeal was heard by a panel of seven Lord Justices: Hon. Justices Beckley Pepple, Sunday James Ette, Nnaemeka Agu, Adenekan Ademola, Rowland Okagbue, Omo-Eboh and Uthman Muhammed.
On September 27, 1983 – 17 days after the decision of the Tribunal – the Court of Appeal delivered its judgment. It was a split decision. Justices Pepple, Ette, Ademola, Okagbue and Omo-Eboh [the majority] dismissed Omoboriowo’s appeal. Justices Agu and Muhammed however dissented. In their minority judgment, they upheld his appeal and held that the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction on the ground that the condition precedent to Ajasin’s petition being filed was not fulfilled and that the petition was not properly served.
Ajasin had won again!
Though riled by the majority decision, Chief Omoboriowo was somewhat happy that the minority decision agreed that his case had merit, for whatever it was worth. There was a ray of hope. He proceeded to the Supreme Court.
On October 1, 1983, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was sworn in for the second term as the President of the Federal Republic Nigeria. In states across the Federation, elected governors also took their oath of office. Ondo State however was an exception. The pending appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal had left the State without a governor, at least for the time being.
Finally, on October 15, 1983, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of Omboriowo v. Ajasin. It was another split decision. However this time around, unlike the Court of Appeal where it was 5-2, it was now 6-1, with only Justice Ayo Irikefe dissenting.
Ajasin had won for the third and final time!
On Tuesday, October 18, 1983, Ajasin was sworn in for his second term as the Governor of Ondo State. In his address at the inauguration, he condoled with the victims of the political mayhem: “We must not also forget to spare a thought for those who lost their lives and properties in the recent political disturbances in the state. May the soul of the departed rest in peace.”
He went on to assure the people of his administration’s commitment to security of their lives and properties. In concluding his address, Ajasin extended an olive branch to members of other political parties. “Let us put bitterness aside and realize that in whatever party we find ourselves, this is our State and no one will build it up for us unless we do so ourselves.”
Onigegewura knows what you are thinking. You want to know what happened to Chief Omoboriowo?
On the day the Supreme Court delivered its judgment, President Shehu Shagari invited Chief Omoboriowo to his residence. The President congratulated him for his impressive performance at the polls and in defending his mandate. To compensate him for his loss, the President offered him a ministerial portfolio.
The Onibudo of Ile-Ife however declined the offer. He informed the President of his decision to take a break from politics in order to face his law practice. In his stead, he nominated one of his allies, Dr. Bode Olowoporoku, who was eventually appointed by the President as the Minister in charge of Science and Technology.
And that’s how the story ended. But that was not the end of the history…
I thank you very warmly for taking the time to read the story.
I wish you a very fantastic 2018!
History Does Not Forget
The right of Olanrewaju Onigegewura© to be identified as the author of stories published on this blog has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright laws.
Ajasin: Memoirs and Memories by Michael Adekunle Ajasin
Omoboriowo: Storm Rider by James Okoroma
Amazing Grace [My Memoirs] by J. Olakunle Orojo
Law Reports, Newspapers, and personal interviews