Hajiya Ireti Kingibe, former wife of one-time Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe, has denied that her husband abandoned MKO Abiola at the height of the struggle to validate the result of the June 12 election.
After Buhari posthumously conferred the GCFR honour on MKO Abiola, Kingibe was widely criticised as undeserving of a similar honour because he allegedly abandoned Abiola when it mattered most.
But speaking in the current edition of The Interview magazine, Ireti Kingibe said that it was, in fact, Abiola who left her former husband in the cold.
In her first major interview 25 years after former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the election, Ireti Kingibe said: “Whether Kingibe deserves national honors or not, if you are giving it to June 12, then he was part of it. But saying that he betrayed Abiola (I have nothing to gain from telling the truth), was unfair.
“Maybe a lot of people didn't see what he went through himself. He also did not care to make it public. Everybody says Kingibe betrayed Abiola, how? Nobody tells us. At least I haven't been told.
“In case, you want to know, it was a decision — and you can verify with Abiola's widows — it was a decision that they made collectively that not just Kingibe but remember they had Jakande and so many people from the Abiola/Kingibe camp in the government.
“They were under the misguided notion that Abacha was going to hand over to them. And really, as I have said over and over again, Kingibe is no longer my husband and I am under no obligation to say anything good about him. But I also do not believe in telling lies. And as I have said to many people in the past, they are all guilty of bad judgement and not bad will.”
Continuing, she said Abiola wasn’t comfortable enough around Kingibe but only had him as running mate because he needed Kingie to win votes.
“In truth, Baba Kingibe only went to see Abiola and found out that Abiola had left the country. And when Abiola called from abroad, it was me he got,” she said.
“Those days we had landlines. Baba (Kingibe) was not at home. I picked up the phone and he (Abiola) said to me in Yoruba that I should tell my husband that a bird does not tell another bird that a stone is coming. So, when Baba came back, I said Abiola called and this is the message he left for you.
“Baba said to me, ‘did he call to apologize?’ I said no, he did not call to apologize. He just gave an explanation or a rationalization for his action and this is what he said. He said ‘no, no! You didn't understand his Yoruba well.’ I said you can go and find out from anybody.”
Ireti Kingibe said Abiola ignored her husband’s advice to land in Kano because of the perception that was fast gaining ground that he was “a Yoruba president”.
She portrayed her husband as “a hostage” of the government of the former military head of state, General Sani Abacha, saying he was miserable throughout and only gained his freedom after Abacha’s death.
Saying she shared the family’s dilemma at the time with Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, she added, that, “It was either Kingibe would stay in Abacha’s government or Abacha was going to bury him alive.”