Nigerian newsrooms were not spared of the confusion, shock, and disbelief that engulfed the world over the abrupt annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. The announcement of the annulment was made on June 24, 1993 via a decree by the leadership of then military junta who said “These steps were taken to save our our judiciary from being ridiculed and politicised locally and internationally”, thus aborting the declaration of the winner that was being eagerly awaited.
How It All Happened:
On 10 June, just two days before the election, an organization with ties to the military, Association for a Better Nigeria – led by Chief Arthur Nzeribe– obtained a high court injunction against the holding of the election on the basis of alleged corruption. The chairman of the NEC, Humphrey Nwosu, dismissed the injunction citing the high court’s lack of authority on election-related matters. NEC went ahead to stage the election, which was deemed to be free and fair by by both local and international observers.
Though voter turnout was low – about 35%, and there were administrative and political problems, no episodes of serious violence were recorded. NEC began announcing the first batch of election results on 14 June: Abiola won 19 out of 30 states, and the FCT. He won all the states of the south-west; three of the seven states in the south-east; five of the nine northern states including Kano, Tofa’s state; and four out of the seven states in the central middle belt. Of the 6.6 million votes that had been announced, Abiola had received 4.3 million and Tofa 2.3 million. If Abiola had been declared the winner, he would have been at that time the first southerner to be elected as president of Nigeria, breaking through ethno-religious divides having received support from all regions of the country.
The Association for a better Nigeria obtained another court injunction on 15 June to halt the counting and verification. This time however, the NEC accepted the injunction and announced via Radio Nigeria on 16 June that it was suspending its announcement of the results, indicating it was prohibited by a court order. The final vote was leaked on 18 June by democracy activists defying the law, revealing Abiola won by a 58% majority. On 24 June, IBB announced the annulment of the election, citing the issue of vote buying, as well as the need to protect the country’s judiciary.
Editorial Workers Recall The Mood In Newsrooms
It Created Confusion In My News Room – Akpe
Mr Sam Akpe, a reporter with the defunct Pioneer Newspaper by Delta State at the time, describe the mood as that of confusion.
“Confusion in the sense that this kind of thing has never happened before; confusion in the sense that there were so many failed attempts to conduct elections at the time, and here was one that seemed to be like saying finally it has been done. The candidates were not disqualified; they were not the old breeds as usual. Babangida was looking for new breeds then and these candidates were comparatively.
“The election was conducted for two candidates that were moslems which ordinarily somebody would say the military rurer was a moslem so he would welcome whoever wins. But suddenly, the election was annulled so it was like hey! What’s happening, how do we report this, how do you put this to the world? And if you remember, the statement that was distributed at that time announcing the annulment, from what we knew, was not on a headed paper to indicate where it was coming from, like the Dodon Barracks. So there was confusion as to why these people were not disqualified from the beginning; election was held, somebody was almost officially declared the winner, and then the annulment.
“And as a matter of fact, as at that time, the word ‘annulment’ wasn’t popular in political vocabulary. So you can see that a lot of things combined to create the confusion,” he explained.
He said the confusion later glided into caution as editors who were stranded as to what and how to report were being very careful not to incur the wrath of the military in what they published.
“And editors had to be very careful in carrying the story because it was a military regime. They could turn around to say this isn’t true, and then you are in trouble, the media organisation could be shut down. So you move from confusion to caution.
“I remember one journalist working with The News Magazine at the time who called me and said “This is one moment in my life that I wished I wasn’t a Nigerian”, and I was like is it that bad?, and he replied “Yes, it is because what this means is that the military will continue, democracy is not in sight.” So that was it.
“It took time for the annulment to sink into people, for people to come to understand. It was like with this annulment, does it mean we are going to have a bye-election, does it mean the election was rigged? That gave rise to caution, and then at the end of the day we had to live with it,” he said.
According to him the first thing they did was sit down with their editors to get a sense of what is annulment because this was something that had not happened before.
“Under Babangida you enter the race; they would screen you again and again and then you were disqualified. So people were like if these two guys were not disqualified, and Abiola was known to be Babagida’s friend as a military contractor and all that, and the other man, Tofa, from Kano State, then why the annulment.
“So the editors were trading cautiously because anything could happen. Incidentally, at that time, I was working fo a goverent newspaper-The Pioneer, published by Akwa-Ibom State government. If it were a private medium, you could at least dare to some extent, but for government newspaper, no. But of course it eventually made the front pages of virtually all the newspapers,” he said.
Unmet Expectation Triggered Confusion – Dantiye
On his part, former Editor, Triumph Newspaper and former president, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Baba Dantiye spoke in the same vein said there was confusion in newsroom because that was contrary to the expectation.
“The expectation was that the election was progrssing in the right direction and it was clear so the result was being awaited. but all of a sudden, it was stopped so there was general confusion in the newsroom.
“we could not understand the situation, not to talk of which angle to take the story from. What we were thinking was different from what the government then brought forward, so there was confusion everywhere in the house and we were trying to figure out what was happening, because the election was very peaceful all through and counting was going on when all of a sudden annulment was announced, even when we already knew what we were expecting. Things went contrary to what people’s expection was, and that was the confusion. It was like ah, ah, what’s happening, and everywhere was calm,” he narrated.
We Were Shocked In Disbelief – Aniebo
Also speaking, Aniebo Nwamu, an accomplished veteran journalist, said he was in the newsroom late night of June 23, 1993, when a news flash came on NTA said the military regime of IBB has annulled the presidential election held on June 12 to the disbelief and shock of everybody.
“Like many, I felt disbelief and then shock. The word “annul” was strange, and we didn’t fully understand it.
“Perhaps nobody believed it was possible to cancel an election adjudged to be free and fair nationwide.
The next morning, fear and sadness spread across almost the entire south and middle belt. Was it a coup? But there was no martial music. Many thought that world powers would intervene immediately to restore the people’s mandate which, at the time, was known already. NEC had been releasing the results until its chairman Prof Humphrey Nwosu was stopped. So it was all disbelief, shock, and uneasiness in the newsroom.
READ ALSO: Why MKO Abiola’s June 12 Victory Was Annulled – Obasanjo
We Were Shocked Because We already knew the result – Amokeodo
Everybody in The Punch’s newsroom then was shocked and could not believe because the election was adjudged free and fair by both national and international observers even as it happened afterl a long military interregnum, and in the history of the country, people did not question the moslem-moslem ticket of Abiola and his vice, Babagana Kingibe but went out and voted the candidate of their choice and the results coming in showed clearly the MKO, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was winning, even in the constituency of his rival, Bashir Tofa, in Kano State.
All of a sudden, we heard about the stoppage of counting by the then chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof. Humphrey Nwosu. And after a long wait for the announcement of the results, which the newsroom already had, the military leader, Ibrahim Babangida came up with annulment.
Before then the excitement was at peak in the newsroom in expectation of formal declaration of the presumed winner.
Every journalist in the newsroom was shocked because as early as 12 noon, results were already and by trickling in and the winner was already known. Some people were already plotting map, others were working on graphs; journalists believed it was a turning point for the country. As at 4 to 5pm that I told you, different media houses were already with their headline, waiting for official announcement by the electoral body. There were calls everywhere; state correspondents’ were being tasked to turn in their reports as quickly as possible such that the editor, news editor, and the other top editorial officials had their busiest day of the era. Then I was with The Punch and Azu Isiekwene, your Editor-in-Chief now was a principal actor in the newsroom.