“You are so ignorant about these things, let me enlighten you” – Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
Election seasons around the world are usually filled with drama and verbal fireworks between the opposing parties and candidates. The drama includes clever statements by the candidates and their supporters, insults, dramatic visual campaigns and television adverts.
For example, in 2011, former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola said that the problem with his opponents was not their age, but the age of their ideas (J.K. Randle was much older than him). In 1995, former British Prime Minister, John Major, told his opponents to “Put up or shut up”. In 1992 Bill Clinton entered the venue of an election campaign rally holding a sign that read, “It’s the economy, stupid!” (George Bush had been talking about foreign affairs while Americans suffered the effect of an economic recession). Dan Quayle likened himself to Jack Kennedy during the 1988 US vice presidential debate and his opponent, Lloyd Bentson replied, “I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”
The 1993 presidential election season in Nigeria was no different.
The NTA had many live political programmes in the run up to the June 12 elections. They had a vice presidential debate between Alhaji Babagana Kingibe and Chief Sylvester Ugoh on Saturday, June 5th, 1993 and a presidential debate between Chief M.K.O Abiola and Alhaji Bashir Tofa on Sunday, June 6th. They also had a live update programme on election day (June 12) and it featured the directors general of the two campaign organisations.
Chief M.K.O Abiola appeared to be a formidable opponent for any candidate. He was a very charismatic speaker and he was quite knowledgeable about Nigerian affairs because he was deeply involved in virtually every area of Nigerian society (politics, the economy, entertainment, sports, etc).
He was a chartered accountant (he had a first class degree in accountancy from Glasgow University) and he was involved in banking (Habib Bank), publishing and the media (Concord Press and Concord Newspaper), telecommunications (RCN), crude oil production (Summit Oil), aviation (Concord Airlines), entertainment (he was a musician [he played the saxophone], owned a record company [Decca] and was a patron of PMAN), sports (he owned Abiola Babes, Concord FC and Kakanfo Queens football clubs, was made the Pillar of Sports in Africa by the African Sports Journalists union and sponsored numerous sports competitions), shipping (OT Africa Lines), manufacturing (Berec Batteries), food processing (Wonder Bakeries), farming (Abiola Farms), trading (Abiola Bookshops), education (Salawu Abiola Comprehensive High School), etc. and he was knowledgeable in all these sectors. He had also served as the president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
His speeches were always entertaining and captivating. He usually spiced up his speeches with proverbs that were both humorous and thought provoking.
However, Chief Abiola had a flaw. He sometimes stammered and you know what they say about stammerers? Yes, Chief Abiola had a short temper.
The NRC knew this and they decided to exploit this flaw as much as they could.
Format of the debate
The NTA invited politicians from both parties to the debate and the SDP politicians sat on the left while the NRC politicians sat on the right (President Babangida had said that SDP’s ideology was a little to the left, while NRC’s idology was a little to the right). Both candidates made statements at the beginning of the debate and then the moderator asked the candidates questions. Then the politicians were allowed to ask the candidates questions.
Chief Tom Ikimi asked most of the questions on behalf of the NRC. It quickly became clear to me that Chief Tom Ikimi was at the debate to provoke Chief Abiola. He interrupted him, repeated his questions, reemphasized his points and boasted about the NRC. At times he was almost badgering Chief Abiola and I could see that Chief Abiola was beginning to get irritated by Chief Ikimi’s antics.
He finally succeeded in provoking Chief Abiola at his fourth or fifth attempt
Chief Ikimi said that it’s well known that Chief Abiola is involved in various businesses. He said that Chief Abiola found oil and therefore he is a prospector. He said that the issue in Nigeria is the pump price of oil. He said that the question he is asking is, “Will you increase the price or not”. He said that he wants a direct answer, “Yes or no”. He said he wants a direct answer how Chief Abiola will protect the oil in Nigeria and ensure that neighbouring countries are not smuggling it and how he will ensure that there is oil for transportation, so that the ordinary man, “That the NRC is bothered about, can have cheap transportation”.
Chief Abiola said that the problem in the sector is that nobody has actually ascertained the cost of producing petrol and that he would ensure that the costing is done transparently and publicly.
Chief Ikimi tried to interrupt him and Chief Abiola said, “Well you are not an accountant, so I’m not surprised”.
Chief Abiola said that he would ensure that the costing is done transparently and publicly and then he would ask Nigerians if they want the NNPC to sell below cost price and die or if they want a sustainable price.
Chief Ikimi interrupted Chief Abiola again and said, “But you are a producer”, Chief Abiola said, “Listen, I am no more a producer”, Chief Ikimi tried to interrupt again and Chief Abiola said, “You are so ignorant about these things, let me enlighten you”.
At this point, 25 years ago, I collapsed with laughter. I actually didn’t hear what was said next.
Chief Abiola said, “I invested a lot of money, found oil. . .” and Chief Ikimi interrupted him again by saying, “You found oil” then Chief Abiola said, “Try and behave like a civilised man”.
Much later on, towards the end of the debate, Chief Abiola apologised to Chief Ikimi for calling him an uncivilised man
Watch the exchange at the 9.19 minute mark.
Vice Presidential Debate
There were no fireworks during the vice presidential debate. Alhaji Babagana Kingibe is a very experienced and unflappable diplomat and he easily and calmly answered all the questions that he was asked. Dr Sylvester Ugoh is a very experienced Harvard trained economist, who also served as the governor of the Bank of Biafra and he also easily answered all the questions that he was asked.
Election day programme
The NTA had an election day programme in which they monitored the election as it took place across the country. They brought the directors general of the two campaigns to their studios and got them to react to NTA’s reports from across the country as they came in. The director general of the Tofa Campaign (I’ve forgotten his name) complained that Chief Abiola had violated the electoral law which states that there should be no campaigns on election day and party symbols should not be displayed at polling centres. He said that Chief Abiola wore an agbada that had a white horse on it, to the polling centre (the NRC’s symbol was a green eagle while the SDP’s symbol was a white horse).
The director general of Chief Abiola’s campaign organisation, Jonathan Zwingina, said that his “good friend” the Tofa campaign DG did not know what he was talking about because if you look closely you would observe that that is a unicorn, not a horse.
I fell out of my chair and almost died of laughter.