On 16th of August 1983, the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) conducted a general election into gubernatorial positions across Nigeria. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the then president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria promised Nigerians that the general elections would be free and fair but the promise turned out to be an empty one. The declaration of election results in some states came along with full-blown violence!
Crisis started brewing in Ondo State when the deputy governor, Akin Omoboriowo, could not get the approval of the governor, Adekunle Ajasin, Obafemi Awolowo and the machinery of the ruling party in the state for his governorship ambition. The United Party of Nigeria (UPN), which Obafemi Awolowo headed and which was also a major opposition party in the country, preferred that Adekunle Ajasin would go on a second term in office. Akin Omoboriowo, like any other opportunistic and ambitious politician weighed his options of staying put in the UPN. The opposition party in Ondo state, which was also the national ruling party, National Party of Nigeria (NPN), under the leadership of President Shehu Shagari, saw Akin Omoboriowo’s disappointment as a golden opportunity to infiltrate into the ranks and stronghold of the Pan-Yoruba political party and establish itself further in the South West.
Akin Omoboriowo got the ticket to run under the NPN and, as expected, he resigned from his post as deputy governor of Ondo state. This gambit of course is a recipe for violence, but none of the political actors seemed to care enough about how this move would rub off on their supporters. They did little to remind themselves that politics is easily violent is this clime. In fact, they courted and beckoned violence more with their vengeful rhetoric as the gubernatorial elections drew closer.
The election was held, and FEDECO eventually announced Akin Omoboriowo as the governor-elect. No doubt that the margin of victory and other technicalities involved did not add up. Several observers and pundits tagged the 1983 general elections as the most rigged in Nigeria’s history. Adekunle Ajasin approached the appeal court and the mandate was ultimately secured in his favour at the tribunal, but the military coup which followed did not allow him and the other elected politicians to settle down in office. Ajasin was replaced by Commodore Bamidele Otiko, and both himself and Omoboriowo spent some time in detention. We can also submit that it was the anger that the electoral fraud courted which set the grounds for the coup d’état which cut short the 2nd republic on 31st December 1983.
The then Oyo Police Commissioner, Umaru Omolowo, who was in charge of security, announced that at least 40 people were killed in Akure, including two NPN congressional candidates, Olaiya Fagbamigbe and Kunle Agunbiade, who were set ablaze, according to Omolowo, by an angry mob. Both Omoboriowo and Akerele barely made it out, with Akerele and his family skipping town the night before his house was burned down by displeased protesters. To de-escalate, FEDECO postponed the scheduled senatorial elections in Ondo state indefinitely, and then, their own offices were hit by rioters, and burned to the ground.
Some reports claimed that this outbreak of violence in Ondo was the worst the history of post-independence Yorubaland, exceeding according to at least one newspaper, the ‘Operation Wetie’ riots of the 1960s.
Angry rioters targeted notable citizens and politicians who were believed to have enhanced the fraudulent elections as well as lives of other innocent citizens. In fact, an unverified claim indicated that “Hon. Kunle Ajibade, a prominent member of UPN who defected to NPN with Akin Omoboriowo, was beheaded and his head taken to Adekunle Ajasin”.
There is no doubt that the electoral commission failed woefully in delivering a worthy, free and fair election in 1983. This is a reminder that anytime democratic institutions fail to deliver on their mandate, the military feels they can save the situation. We would all agree however, that military interventions in the past have been catastrophic and nothing but a setback for the democratic run since independence. And this is more of the reason why, for the safety of lives and well being of all citizens, the patriotism required to be upright in whatever national duties or roles we find ourselves is not only non-negotiable, but it should also be a basic requirement.
Thanks for reading, OldNaija.com
- Cheta Nwanze; A reminder of the 1983 old Ondo governorship elections; The Guardian
- Teslim Opemipo Omipidan; Political Parties In The Second Republic Of Nigeria; OldNaija
- Adedoyin Tella; ThrowBack Thursday: The 1983 Political Violence in Ondo; Connect Nigeria
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