Intrigues of the 1979 Elections: The Game, The Players and the Consequences

Written by O'News Blog

On August 11, 1979, Presidential Elections held across the then 19 states of Nigeria with Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme winning the majority votes of 5.7 million to Awolowo and Umeadi’s 4.9 million votes.
The controversy that followed however almost derailed the transition programme.
The military had by then been in power since 1966 with Aguiyi Ironsi followed by Gowon then Murtala Mohammed who started the transition to civilian rule and Obasanjo was to complete it in 1979.
The constitution however had two major hurdles for a clear winner to emerge:

  1. The winner had to win more votes that all the other contestants and
  2. The winner had to win at least 25% of the votes cast in at least 2/3 (two-thirds) of the states in the country.

If no clear winner emerged, there would be a re-run by popular vote or electoral college.
The question that nobody had bothered to ask or answer before that date was: “what is two-thirds of nineteen states?”
Mathematically, accurate answer is 12.67 or “Twelve Two-Thirds” (12 2/3) in fraction but FEDECO had made an ‘error’.
In the formation of parties where the hurdle was also party offices in two-thirds of the 19 states, FEDECO insisted on party offices in 13 out of the 19 states.
Shagari had won 25% of the votes cast in 12 states but not enough votes in Kano, which was the 13th state.
With FEDECO hesistant to declare a winner, Chief Richard Akinjide  – the Legal Adviser of Shagari’s party (NPN) and it’s defeated gubernatorial candidate in Oyo State went on radio in Kaduna and did the following analysis of the results which then became the FEDECO template:

  • Two-Thirds of Nineteen in Maths was 12 2/3.
  • Two-Thirds of Nineteen States was 12 states and 2/3 of a 13th state.
  • Shagari had won 25% in 12 states and total votes in Kano, the 13th, was 1.2m of which 2/3 was 813K of which Shagari had 243K which was greater than 25%.

On August 16, FEDECO used the same argument to declare Shehu Shagari winner of the 1979 election and returned as President.
4 days later at the Eko Holiday Inn in Lagos, Zik read a statement on behalf of himself, Awolowo, Ibrahim Waziri and their parties rejecting the result.
Curiously, Aminu Kano’s name was listed as one of the presidential candidates rejecting the result and the figures his party (PRP) had got was also used in the calculations Zik presented but Kano’s name was cancelled with a biro on the press statement photocopies circulated.
Awo went to Court on the same day with a petition asking the Elections Tribunal to declare that Shagari had not been duly elected and that a re-run should be conducted.
But a re-run hadn’t been exactly agreed on in the constitution, it could be that or an electoral college.
The constitution which had been produced after deliberations was specifically silent on what would happen if a winner didn’t emerge and it was to play a game of spin-offs: if Awo was in contention, re-run. If it was Zik, electoral college.
Awo’s contention was that the Decree had said “Two-Thirds of all states in the Federation” not of the votes in the Federation and that a state could not be divided mathematically even by LGA or votes and had to remain a whole number and so it should be 13 states, not 12 2/3.
Papa submitted the written testimony of a Professor of Mathematical Engineering, Engr. Ayodele Awojobi, to support his argument and also listed him as one of the witness to be presented in the course of the hearing of the petition.
But Shagari also had his own argument:

  • Shagari said the decree had said 2/3 and so no one should round it up on behalf of the law.
  • 12 2/3 was simply 12 as a whole number plus 2/3 as a fraction – nothing more or less.
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And that the whole thing was a question of voting figures, which could be divided, not states.
Shagari further contended that even beyond the votes, 2/3 of a state could be known by dividing LGAs or population but this was an electoral context and so votes it was.
In any case, he chipped in that the time for a re-run would have lapsed by the time the Tribunal sat.
The Tribunal began sitting on the 4th of September and appearing for Awo were lawyers like G.O.K. Ajayi, Abraham Adesanya, Alao Aka-Bashorun etc while Richard Akinjide, Hammed Kusamotu, Toye Coker, Olu Awotesu and others appeared for Shehu Shagari.
Awo lost and appealed at the Supreme Court.
Before the case was concluded at the Tribunal however, the tenure in office of the CJN Sir Darnley Alexander, came to an end and he was replaced by Justice Atanda Fatayi-Williams.
Sir Alexander had come to Nigeria from London in 1957 on the request of Awolowo as Premier.
Awo eventually lost at the Supreme Court.
The panel that sat on the appeal at the Supreme Court had 7 Judges with 6 finding against Awo – Andrews Obaseki, Mohammed Bello, Muhammadu Uwais, Ayo Irikefe, Chukwunweike Idigbe and CJN Fatayi-Williams.
Kayode Eso was the only dissenting Judge but the judgement came with a caveat that gave Awo a moral victory of sorts: it said the judgement could not be cited as precedent thereafter.
That should have ended the matter but Awolowo had a very strong hold of the press and all sorts of conspiracies and demonisation followed for years.
Singled out mainly were Richard Akinjide and Olusegun Obasanjo.
I’ll presented the facts, here is my subjective analysis:

  • The Law is the Law but there is a spirit or intent behind any law that must always be kept in view.
  • The intent of that provision of the decree was to use a mathematical equation to produce a President with voters from all parts of Nigeria, a Federalist President so to speak.
  • The media of that age loved to claim that all the parties were regional parties but a closer look proves that NPN was the only one of the five that was not a regional party but fully National and had the crucial national spread.

The spread of voting figures proved this and it’s even easier to understand: Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa had been killed in 1966 and their party had by 1979 evolved into a national party, winning gubernatorial elections in Kwara, Benue, Cross River, Rivers etc and competing strongly in Imo and Anambra.
Awo’s votes had come mainly from the South West and he didn’t even come close to the national spread that Shagari had.
In studying the figures in fact, I discovered something that I’ve never found in any analysis of that period – which must have been missed by the Awo media:
The decree was that “…in default of a candidate duly elected…there shall be a second election at which the candidates shall be:
(a) the candidate who secured the highest and
(b) one among the other candidates who has a majority of votes in the highest number of states.” (- paraphrased) 
Awo had won the second highest number of votes but had not acquired the required spread – Ibrahim Waziri had it.
Awo with the UPN platform won 25% of the votes in only 7 states – Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Kwara and Rivers States, Waziri Ibrahim of the GNPP had it in 12 states.
Ibrahim Waziri won 25% of the votes cast in Borno, Bauchi, Anambra, Benue, Cross-River, Gongola, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Plateau and Sokoto States – 12 states.
So, Awo had more numbers but Waziri had the spread – another round of legal gymnastics was bound to happen.
To show how funny it was:

  • Awo in the then two Eastern States had got .73% in Anambra compared to Waziri’s 1.67%, .64 in Imo compared to Waziri’s 3%.
  • Shagari did 13% in Anambra and 8% in Imo – it’s very clear to me personally who was more nationally acceptable but, agenda.
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Anyway, Awo wasn’t happy with everybody and then the beautiful bride Azikiwe on the same day he had held that press conference on behalf of the others had began holding talks with Shagari and NPN to form a political alliance of his party NPP and the soon-to-be ruling party.
At the same Eko Holiday Inn on the same day of the press conference, Zik allies – RBK Okafor And Adeniran Ogunsanya were in discussions with Joseph Tarka, Matthew Mbu and Olusola Saraki to form an alliance – which they eventually did and NPP produced Ministers under NPN.
Governors on the platform of Awo’s UPN refused to hand Shagari’s pictures in their offices for a long time – almost two years and in some cases, never.
But the battle soon moved to the Senate when NPN presented Richard Akinjide as the Ministerial nominee from Oyo State.
There were two nominees from Oyo actually – Janet Akinrinade and Richard Akinjide.
Akinjide and 3 other nominees (2 NPN and 2 NPP) were rejected by the Senate – UPN Senators claiming that Akinjide had done one thing of the other while being a Minister in the First Republic and So should be rejected.
On November 28, Shagari presented him again to Senate.
The big irony is that two Senators from the North had joined UPN Senators to claim that Akinjide had been ethnocentric with scholarships as Minister of Education in the First Republic – Oloye Saraki, the Sage of the Senate, however countered that point very logically:

  • Saraki pointed out that Akinjide had never been a member of any party that had the West as its base, instead, he had always joined national parties that seemed to make him unpopular at home.

How could anyone accuse such a nationalist of ethnocentrism, and records were produced.

  • Saraki also claimed that UPN Senators were only trying to punish Akinjide for being a member of UPN and instrumental to Awo’s loss by way of the argument he had first proposed on Radio Kaduna, justifying why Shagari should be declared President based on 12 2/3.

Senator Jonathan Odebiyi of UPN however countered, and his counter is for me the eternal justification of Akinjide from all the accusations from shadowy opinion articles in Tribune and other Awo friendly media.
He absolutely exonerated Akinjide, albeit inadvertently.
Odebiyi declares that Akinjide was not the author of the 13 states versus 12 2/3 saga, that FEDECO had actually sought and got that interpretation from the Ministry of Justice and that Akinjide was only the voice to sound out public opinion on it.
Senator Joseph Tarka then rose and delivered the coup de grace, saying that if Akinjide’s brothers want to destroy him, that is their own business because Gambari pa Fulani, ko l’ejo ninu, a Yoruba idiom.
But that this was now a national issue and Akinjide a national property.
The Senate became rowdy, Senate President Wayas banged his gavel but nobody listened, the UPN Senators staged a walk-out, a roll-call was taken and with quorum still formed, the matter was put to vote.
Akinjide became a Minister by 48 Senate votes out of 90+ Senators.
Interestingly, one UPN Senator stayed back that day to vote for Akinjide – Senator Ademola Adegoke from Oyo State and he gave his reason.
That if Akinjide was to be demonised for politically opposing a fellow Yoruba, why should fellow Yorubas not support Akinjide to be Minister?
His closing sentences were “…If we look back at this country, we find that 19 years ago we had independence but have achieved nothing. It is always confusion caused by tribalism or one allegation or the other.”
Of course his political party UPN never forgave him.
The political position taken by some of us is based on our understanding of the political history of this country and our interpretation of past events is without prejudice to anybody, and one studied all of them quite very deeply.
Awolowo’s political thoughts in terms of policy were far ahead of his time – nobody compares to him in his generation, not one.
I admire him but I see his flaws very clearly and on this electoral saga, Akinjide was unfairly demonised and the narrative was mainstreamed.
If I had come across that demonisation only as a one-time thing with Akinjide, then I may say maybe indeed, Osuolale Akinjide was at fault.
But it is ‘uncanningly’ consistent with Awo’s politics against fellow Yorubas who did not join his party or dared to oppose him.
The Awotesu who appeared for Shagari, earlier mentioned, was an Awo ally in the First Republic.
Towards 1978, he didn’t join Awo and from that point on, demonisation followed.
Fagbamigbe was a brilliant entrepreneur who joined Action Group in the First Republic and published Awo’s most famous trilogy.
He joined then left UPN for NPN in the Second Republic and was burnt to death after the saga of 1983 in Ondo.
His name was erased almost completely.
‘Almost’ because, if you buy an old edition of those Awo books, Fagbamigbe Publishers is still there.
But tonight I’m talking about Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide who was a proud member of the PDP until his sad death a few days ago: what did UPN expect on the 12 2/3 issue?
Akinjide was the Legal Adviser of the NPN but he should have abandoned the party he campaigned hard for and not produced any legal argument to justify the victory declared by FEDECO? Lol.
Anyway, that’s the story and I hope future generations and ours, learn from it.
The aim is never to denigrate anyone but to present the facts as I know them.
The men of yesteryears are to be studied and learnt from and history is not just a compilation of stories but a living guide to help us in our own time and shape our thoughts, disposition and actions.
– Exerpts from Demola Adeyanju

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