By Ben Ezeamalu
The judge who pronounced the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Dahiru Saleh, has absolved former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, of blame in the controversial decision.
The election, won by late business mogul, MKO Abiola, was cancelled by the Babangida administration, and Mr. Babangida has personally taken responsibility for the decision.
But speaking to The Interview magazine, Mr. Saleh said the former leader did not direct him to annul the end election.
“The former president did nothing of the sort,” said Mr. Saleh on whether Mr. Babangida forced the judgment on him.
“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 that Abiola didn’t even finish the case before he disappeared. Later, I learnt he had been arrested by authorities.”
The 1993 presidential election, adjudged to be one of the most credible polls in the country’s history, saw MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party defeating Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention.
However, a cancellation of the election prior to the final announcement of results threw the country into months of chaos as angry Nigerians questioned the the decision.
Mr. Saleh, who was the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court at the time, said Mr. Abiola ought to have challenged his decision at a Court of Appeal but chose not to.
“If Abiola wasn’t happy with the case, he could have appealed it to the Court of Appeal, to the Supreme Court,” said Mr. Saleh, who is now retired.
“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.”
Mr. Saleh said the friendship between Messrs Babangida and Abiola could be a reason people hold the former president responsible for the annulment.
“They were very close and there were so many assumptions regarding the relationship between the two of them,” he said.
“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.”
Mr. Saleh said he had no personal relationship with Mr. Babangida while the latter was in office.
“I think I was in service when I first came to know him. I can’t remember the time,” he said.
“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.”
The retired judge also maintained he had no regrets whatsoever for cancelling the June 12 polls.
“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,” he said.
“And I have no regrets, none whatever. No regrets. I would repeat the same thing now.”
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