Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

MKO Abiola’s Only Regret

0 521



As a political reporter with the defunct Sunday Times, I covered the presidential campaigns of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, popularly called MKO, in several states of the country, and his acceptance by Nigerians in the six geopolitical zones was not in doubt.

I was also at Abiola’s Ikeja, Lagos home, when, on June 12, 1993, in the company of his wife, late Kudirat, Bolaji, daughter of Abiola’s late first wife, Alhaja Simbiat, family members, Director General of the Hope 93 Campaign Organisation, Jonathan Zwingina, party faithful, admirers and journalists, the politician walked to the nearby polling unit, to cast his vote for the presidential election.

Abiola, sure of victory, wore his trademark smile and at a point, obviously talking to Kudirat and Zwingina, disclosed what he called his only regret.

Of course, two of them and probably everyone, who heard him, would have wondered what someone of Abiola’s stature, influence, fame and wealth, could regret, more so, when it was certain that he was on his way to participating in a process that would enthrone him as the president of the giant of Africa.

Unfortunately, MKO, after what was then regarded as an epoch-making day, rather than emerging the winner, was later to be addressed as “the acclaimed winner” of the election.

The journey of life, for Abiola, who was a renowned businessman, multibillionaire, philanthropist, privileged Nigeria, and particularly, a graced man, was not that rosy.

His story was that of grass to grace, attaining a height, which most human beings will desire.
He rose to become a favoured family man, with multiple wives and children. In fact, in at least a state, in each of the six geo-political zones of the country, there was always a woman, who was introduced as one of his wives, that will address the mammoth crowd at his campaigns, in the local language of the area.

All these were the result of his generosity, which knew no boundaries, and a particular indication of the reciprocation of his heart of gold, was the self-sponsored performance of the late Sonny Okosuns, a musician and leader of the popular Ozzidy band, in virtually all campaign grounds nationwide.

The Edo state-born first president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), was later to visit the graveside of MKO, and in tears, eulogising him for his extraordinary generosity to him.

The popularity and generosity of Abiola were beyond Nigeria and Africa. In fact, he enjoyed the respect accorded leaders of countries, wherever he visited globally.

It can be said that MKO, who was the first of his father’s 23 children to survive infancy, was destined to be a great man and he was indeed great. He was able to pull through all hindrances to greatness.

The collapse of his father’s cocoa business made him become the breadwinner of his family at the age of nine, with proceeds from the sale of firewood, gathered in the forest. As a teenager, he also led a local musical band, with which he initially got rewarded with food and later he was paid money for his performance. This also assisted him to take care of the home.

After securing a government scholarship, he proceeded to the University of Glasgow, where he graduated with a degree in accountancy. He later qualified as a chartered accountant.

On returning to Nigeria, he was employed as a senior accountant at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), where he later left to work with a multinational pharmaceutical company, Pfizer. Abiola joined the ITT Corporation, where he was employed as an accountant and later got promoted to the post of Vice-President, Africa and the Middle East.

With the influence he wielded, particularly his connections in the military, he was able to “bargain” for and eventually got promoted to the position of chairman of the company in Nigeria.

MKO was a business mogul, with the Midas touch, making a success of every business pursuit, which included communications, shipping, aviation, publishing, banking, bookshop, bakery, farming and even sports.

Abiola, indeed, grew in stature, particularly getting close to world leaders, which may explain his being trapped by the allure of power.
This desire may have also been fuelled by the fact that his humanitarian services endeared him to many Nigerians (influential and downtrodden) at home and abroad. He was a household name.

Abiola was conferred with about 200 traditional titles and built scores of educational institutions and libraries as well as hundreds of worship centres, for both Christians and Moslems. He also gave financial support to all universities and several tertiary institutions in the country as of then.

The philanthropist also provided basic infrastructural facilities to serve the people in so many states.

While being conferred with the title of the Aare Ona Kakanfo (field marshal) of Yorubaland, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, said of the 14th Yoruba man to be so honoured thus, “He is a worthy person and a very rare breed. He has brought honour to his father land and I am sure he would bring more honour to his country and the entire black race.

“It is true that the Kakanfo is a war title, but Abiola has been using his wealth to fight war against unemployment, poverty and want. Therefore, we are making him Kakanfo for his war efforts in these fields”, Oba Adeyemi added.

Abiola, indeed carried his battle for the betterment of humanity beyond Nigeria, when he championed the course of Africans, sponsoring reparations for acts of slavery and colonialism in the continent, for which he got the support of African leaders.

These extensive humanitarian efforts were also acknowledged and honoured outside Africa, as he became the first non-American to be recognised as a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

In 1980, MKO was named the Pillar of Sports in Africa, by the then African Sports Journalists Union (ASJU).
Also, in 1992, in Dakar, Senegal, he entered the African Football Hall of Fame, when he was honoured by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), with an award of Order of Merit in Gold, in 1992, the body’s highest honour, in 1992.

The sports enthusiast, who, at the occasion, donated the CAF Cup trophy endowed with $100,000, was the proprietor of Abiola Babes FC, Abeokuta, Concord FC, Lagos and ITT FC, Lagos.

With his accomplished life, no one would have imagined that Abiola would nurse any regret, but the statesman wished for something an ordinary person would have considered irrelevant.

Obviously, it may have been a surprise to those who heard him say “My greatest surprise is my inability to speak the Hausa language.”. The language is the mother tongue of no fewer than 90 million people in the Northern part of Nigeria as well as some minorities in inland Eastern West African countries.

Could Abiola have made this statement because the late Alhaja Kudirat or Zwingina were with him? Kudirat, who was second to the left of Abiola, was born in Zaria, Northern Kaduna State, just as Zwingina, walking by his right, is a native of another Northern state, Adamawa. In fact, Alhaja Kudirat was active in the campaigns in the North, because she was fluent in the Hausa language, and she addressed the crowd, where the language was necessary.

Could MKO have regretted his inability to speak the language of the majority of the ruling class as well as the military top brass, who he hobnobbed with and through who he was said to have made his wealth? Was he lamenting his inability to address his supporters and admirers, who converged on campaign grounds in the North?

One of his daughters, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, speaking to me, however, believes her father “could have lamented his inability to have direct communication with the most populous segment of this country in their language.”

These questions can be answered by only Abiola, who unfortunately died on July 7, 1998, if the talk about life after death, made popular after the death of late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo becomes a reality as regards MKO.

Many of Awolowo’s admirers believed he would come back to life, and a book, titled Life After Death, sold out at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, at one of his burial ceremonies.

However, some also believe that if Abiola returns, he may express his grave regret for ever engaging in partisan politics, particularly his presidential aspiration.

Many people were surprised at his aspiration, because it was popularly believed that MKO was warned by his family members not to aspire for the presidential seat.

Specifically, the gist then was that Alhaja Simbiat, MKO’s first wife, who failed in her attempt to secure a Senatorial seat in Ogun State, under the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), during the defunct Second Republic, was said to have warned him against such aspiration.

Abiola himself confirmed this, when asked about his desire to take a shot at the seat of the president, as published in the Punch Newspaper edition of May 7, 1985. “No! Absolutely no! My family said absolutely no to that and I will never be insha Allah, I don’t pray to be,” he said.

Shedding light on this issue, Abiola’s first son, Kola, said, “Contrary to what is out there, my mother (Alhaja Simbiat) never told my father not to run or get into politics.”

His mother, he added, was concerned about the timing and was not particularly against his ambition to become president. Kola said his mother told his father to drop his ambition until the end of the Ibrahim Babangida regime, because she was not comfortable with the political situation at that time, adding that she rightly predicted that the transition programme was not going anywhere. Prophetic, one will say.

“When he went to pick the presidential nomination form in Abeokuta, back then, he didn’t tell me, because he knew what the agreement was, so I equally acted as if I didn’t know he did, but obviously, it was all over the news.

“My father had his own way of doing things, he didn’t wait for that, (IBB finishing his tenure) the rest is history now”, Kola stated.

He also disclosed that after his father had gotten his ambition underway, he sent people to get him to be involved and even wrote him a letter, inviting him to join his campaign organisation.
The lookalike of MKO, added that he had no choice but to put his energy into the course to actualise his late father’s dreams, stating that he has no regrets regarding the outcome of the events of the June 12, 1993 elections.

MKO’s foray into the world of politics, was at the age of 19, when he joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC).
His major appearance in partisan politics was after the military regime handed over power to civilians in 1979, after which he emerged as the NPN leader in his home state, Abeokuta, in Ogun State.

His effort to become the national chairman of the party was however thwarted and the military coup of December 31, 1983, truncated that dispensation, with the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari, incidentally the incumbent civilian president, overthrowing the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

Babangida, the then Chief of Army Staff, in a coup d’état, toppled the Buhari regime on August 27, 1985, and thereafter set in motion a winding transition programme, through which Abiola become the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his running mate, for the June 12, 1993, presidential election.

This aspiration, unfortunately, was the genesis of his end, the assassination of his second wife, Kudirat, the collapse of his business empire and turmoil in the country.

MKO died on July 7, 1998, at the age of 60 while in detention. He had incurred the wrath of the then military Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha, who took over after Babangida “stepped aside” on August 26, 1993, for declaring himself the winner of the election.

Babangida annulled the election, while votes were still being counted, on June 24, 1994.

Abiola, following his arrest and incarceration in 1994, died after four years in detention. He was accused of felony, following his famous declaration speech at the Epetedo Area of the Island in Lagos State.

It was while Kudirat was in the struggle for the release of her husband and revalidation of the mandate believed to have been entrusted to him by a majority of the Nigerian electorate, that she was killed by suspected agents of the Abacha regime.

Abacha, also, still ignored the appeal made by world leaders to release MKO, just as Babangida had earlier forcefully quelled nationwide demonstrations to protest his annulment of the election, considered the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria. It is on record, that the electorate did not vote on tribal or religious lines, as they didn’t consider the Muslim-Muslim ticket of Abiola and Kingibe.

Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC), his major opponent, was even defeated in his Kano base.

Although Abiola never got to assume the office of the president in his lifetime, the struggle may not be in vain, as Buhari, on June 6, 2018, posthumously honoured him with the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) award, the preserve of leaders in the country. He also changed the hitherto Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12 of every year.

The president went on to also change the name of the National Stadium in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to Moshood Abiola National Stadium.

Asked whether or not MKO’s labours were in vain, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Kudirat’s daughter, also told me that “thinking about June 12 and its promise to Nigerians, I can’t help feeling sad that we are still to say farewell to poverty in Nigeria and, according to studies, expect to have 90 percent of the world’s extremely poor in Africa by 2030.

“Of all the traits I hope Nigerians remember about my father, I hope his belief in them remains evergreen.

“Nigerians defeated primordial divisions to give birth to June 12 then and when their efforts were undermined, they fought on to restore democracy.

“I hope we will one day come together again to defeat poverty and put in place a system that works for all our people”, she concluded.


First published in the book, Nigeria’s Aborted 3rd Republic and June 12 Debacle: Reporters’ Account, of which YEMISI FADAIRO is a co-author


Nigeria’s Aborted 3rd Republic and the June 12 Debacle: Reporters’ Account

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.