If he had another opportunity, he may have taken another course of action or played a different role in the evolution of Nigerian democracy. If he knew how the headlines would be cast when he dies, he may have rejected the controversial assignment allegedly offered him by Brigadier-General Haliru Akilu and be on the side of the majority.
It was as if someone had a premonition of his death and quickly called a meeting of journalists under the auspices of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Online Publishers’ Association of Nigeria (OPAN) etc and all the practitioners, editors and media owners in attendance agreed to cast the same headline when he eventually dies. In both online and conventional newspapers, the headlines read: “Justice Dahiru Saleh, the man who annulled June 12 election, dies”
He was an erudite judge who rose through the ranks to become FCT Chief Judge and spent decades on the bench. There must, therefore, be many more cases he handled, aside the controversial June 12 1993 election annulment matter.
But almost all editors across the nation chose to take out the frustration of millions of ‘Hope 93’ voters on the departed soul of Justice Saleh by emphasizing the fact that he was the one who was used to judicially truncate their hopes, in their headlines.
The late Swedish legendary inventor and industrialist who invented dynamite and other lethal weapons, Alfred B. Nobel, was wrongly reported by a French newspaper to have died when it was his brother, Ludwig, that died in 1888. The newspaper headline read something like: “Merchant of Death, Alfred Nobel, is Dead.”
The story’s opening paragraph read: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
For a man who thought he would be celebrated as an accomolished inventor, waking up the following morning to read such words about himself broke his heart and he soon realized how badly he would have been remembered if he had died truly.
To change the narrative about himself, in 1895, a year before he died, he changed his will and donated 94 percent of his huge estate to the establishment of an annual award platform called the Nobel Prizes to honour people “who confer the greatest benefit on mankind” in academic fields like Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Medicine as well as the pursuit of Peace. The Nobel Prizes award has evolved over a century and it is now the most prestigious and lucrative honour in the world.
Another icon who saw his own obituary was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as he was falsely reported dead by several newspapers in November, 1989. But in his case, he had already dedicated the greater part of his life to the fight for emancipation and decolonization of Africa and the political evolution of Nigeria. So he had nothing to fear about how he would be remembered when he died. He eventually lived peacefully and died in 1996.
For Justice Saleh, he wasn’t as lucky as any of of the above duo. If he was, maybe he would have made a similar decision as Nobel and rewrite his own story for the sake of posterity.
Who is Justice Saleh?
Justice Mohammed Dahiru Saleh was born on August 22, 1939 in Azare, Katagum local government area of present Bauchi state. He attended the Azare Primary School from 1948 to 1951 and then proceeded to the Azare Senior Primary School in 1952 where he was till 1955.
Saleh then went to the Barewa College, Zaria in 1956-1969. He also attended the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from 1961 to 1962 and the Council of Legal Education, London (Middle Temple) between 1962 and 1965.
He began work as Pupil State Counsel Northern Nigeria in 1966. He once served as Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General in Bauchi state.
He worked in several places and rose to become the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja from 1984 to 2003 when he retired.
Since he left public service, he retired into private and family life as little was heard of him since then aside a rare interview he granted The Interview Magazine in 2016, in which he claimed he had no regret on the role he played in the abortion of June 12.
His death last week Thursday at the age of 81 was announced by one of his grandsons, Armayau Abubakar Liman, on his Facebook page.
He was the Matawalle of Katagum Emirate and so he was buried at the Palace of the Emir of Katagum same day in accordance with Islamic rites.
His Date with History, 1993
The June 12, 1993 Presidential election was convincingly won by the late MKO Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party after defeating his rival, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, of the National Republican Convention.
But before the election, a lot of efforts were allegedly made by state agents to truncate the whole thing as then Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) obviously allowed the process to satisfy public clamour, not because he truly wanted to handover power to civilians.
A group called Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) led by the duo of Francis Arthur Nzeribe and one Abimbola Davies was given the mandate to truncate the process. Allegedly sponsored by Babangida’s right hand man and intelligence chief, General Halilu Akilu, the group moved to secure the support of a pliant judge to get the election cancelled or postponed.
According to a story later told by Davies, Justice Saleh was contacted by General Akilu who assigned another pliant female judge, the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme, to handle the case. Ikpeme issued an order on the 10th of June that the election should not be held. Justice Ikpeme was said to be a close ally of the then Attorney-General of the Federation, Clement Akpamgbo.
The then chief electoral officer, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, defied the order and went ahead with the polls, arguing that the Transition Decree had torpedoed the superiority of regular court orders.
With Abiola coasting home to victory, the group went to work again and got Justice Saleh himself to issue an order for the stoppage of announcement of results. This order was obeyed this time and Babangida capitalised on the chaos and confusion to announce the annulment of the polls on June 23, 1993. That was how Justice Saleh came to be known as the man who truncated the freest and fairest election in the country’s history.
Whether he truly repented or wasn’t compensated for his role in the whole confusion, no one could say why Davies later exposed all the intrigues that led to the annulment. It was Davies and Nzeribe who initiated all the court proceedings that caused the confusion of that time on behalf of ABN.
Davies issued a long press statement to confess how General Akilu and other state agents engaged and used them to frustrate the transition.
He didn’t only lead a splinter group of the ABN to apologize to Nigerians and call on Babangida to honour June 12, he referred to Justice Saleh in the most dishonourable manner, saying the erudite jurist doubled as the judge on the matter and also as a defender of ABN/Babangida interest.
He also exposed how Justice Saleh removed a vital document from the case file which would have worked against their plan to give a judgement in favour of an end to the announcement of results. He attached the document to the press statement.
According to Davies, ABN’s motion ex-parte did not even have motion of urgency, yet Justice Saleh went ahead to quickly grant the order to stop Abiola from being announced president-elect.
“The case was heard in the chamber of Justice M.D. Saleh who was the persecutor and judge at the same time delivering judgment as well as defending us. In fact when Chief Fani Kayode (SAN) filed an appeal on behalf of Bashir Tofa against ruling of the High Court of the Federal Capital territory refusing the rejoinder of Bashir Tofa as an interested party in the suit brought by me on behalf of ABN versus NEC and three others, Saleh merely removed the appeal document and gave it to me. In other words there should not be the trace of appeal against that particular ruling. (Appeal document attached). He (Justice Saleh) later phoned Alhaji Bashir Albasu, the Commissioner of Police at Abuja of this judgment. The Commissioner of Police delivered the judgment paper to NEC,” Davies claimed.
This is not far-fetched. The newspaper headlines summarised his legacy. The choice he made in 1993 has formed his legacy, arguably, the only notable thing Nigerians remember him for.