Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, GCFR, (aka MKO Abiola) was by all standards a genius; highly endowed in multitudinous dimensions, perhaps beyond human comprehension. Such personalities are not created by God in sufficient quantities. They trickle in and out of the world. And the wicked could stay longer! That is God Almighty Who does whatever HE likes. As Shakespeare once said, ‘’those whom the gods love often die young’’. So it was with MKO Abiola, a sympathizer of humanity who combined ingenuity with humility, and fellow-feeling of a highly cultured and detribalized Nigerian; or even global citizen. Abiola’s bravery, absolute professional competence, and dedication to whichever cause he chose to pursue, ranked him among the class of the greatest Nigerians that ever lived.
THE MAN WITH A MIDAS TOUCH: As an American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” Longfellow, in 1834, became a professor at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. MKO Abiola was widely regarded as a global businessman with ‘’a Midas touch’’ Midas is popularly remembered in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. MKO was an immensely successful man by global ratings. Abiola’s influence traversed Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East where he drove the expansionist policy of American communications giant, ITT. Abiola, by dint of hard work rose to the position of ITT Corporation’s Vice-President for Africa and Middle-East.
Abiola spent a lot of his time flying all over the world attending to his vast businesses. He made most of his money, in the United States, while serving the ITT and retained the post of chairman of the corporation’s Nigerian subsidiary – Radio Communications. He knew how to navigate the business better than political terrains. Both may be connected to intrigues. But politics, as played in Nigeria could be frightening and may not be for the timid soul. Politics features harder tackles than business. Politics might not give room for what Yoruba call ‘’Omoluabi’’ to operate. In politics, nobody bothers if you die. The important consideration appears to be political power. In the business world, MKO was a master strategist with rare and unique marketing and negotiations skills that won him a sizable chunk of ITT’s mouth watering earnings from his areas of jurisdiction. And his rise to prominence was just too phenomenal.
ABIOLA DEFEATED POVERTY: Moshood Abiola knew poverty, and fought poverty right from birth. He was a professional singer on the social scene and sang alongside schooling to survive. But he was clever and dogged in pursuit of his goals. His poor background could not hold him back from breaking forth; a lesson for the younger generation of Nigerians. Abiola was a determined and courageous personality who never believed in running away from obstacles. His performances at the educational institutions he attended were exemplary. Abiola won the University of Glasgow 1st prizes in Political Economy, Commercial Law and Management Accountancy in 1962/63; the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland – Distinction (1965) and the Queen Elizabeth Prize in the CIS (1964) Abiola invested heavily in Nigeria and West Africa. Among others, he established The Abiola Farms, Abiola Bookshops, Radio Communications Nigeria, Wonder Bakeries, Concord Press, Concord Airlines, Summit Oil International Ltd, Africa Ocean Lines, Habib Bank, Decca W.A. Ltd, and Abiola football club. He was also Chairman of the G-15 Business Council, President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Patron of the Kwame Nkrumah Foundation, Patron of the WEB Du Bois foundation, Trustee of the Martin Luther King Foundation and director of the International Press Institute. 1983, he teamed up with Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Bamanga Tukur and Raymond Dokpesi to establish Africa Ocean Lines. (Hoperises.com) The publication under reference also reveals that Abiola’s organizations provided employment for over 5,000 people in Nigeria and West Africa.
AS A POLITICIAN: Abiola made a foray into the murky political terrain when he joined the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and became the Ogun State chairman of the party in 1979. He attempted to contest the for the position of Presidential candidate of the party which he financed heavily to the extent of attracting the displeasure of his tribe – The Yoruba; who were solidly behind the ambition of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, another genius, recognized only after his death as ‘’the best president Nigeria never had’’. MKO Abiola lost the opportunity to more rugged and experienced NPN chieftains told him that:‘’The President was not for sale to the highest bidder’’. Abiola invested heavily in the Second Republic politics on the platform of the NPN, but lost profoundly. That ambition attracted weighty condemnations and recriminations from a large portion of the Yoruba and sympathizers of Awolowo’s ambition. An example of how the ordinary person reacted to MKO’s political ambition on the platform of the NPN was the decision of one top employee of the government of the old Oyo State, who usually played Ebenezer Obey’s tapes eulogising Abiola when he was made the Bobagunwa of Egbaland to publicly destroy all such recordings in honour of MKO Abiola by notable musicians publicly in the office; arising from his displeasure with Abiola’s membership of the NPN that opposed Awolowo.
AIDED BY PHILANTHROPY – DOING GOOD: It took a couple of years before MKO Abiola could remove that ‘stigma’ of working against Obafemi Awolowo, who was deeply loved by the Yoruba race. One of those factors that enabled MKO Abiola bounce back into reckoning was his philanthropy that knew no bounds. He was a great giver and socialite who mixed with the rich and the poor. MKO Abiola danced freely with students of tertiary institutions and the poor at public functions that he attended widely subject to his availability in Nigeria. He was always ready to share the story of his journey from poverty to wealth with just anybody who was willing to listen. He appeared on the scene like a whirlwind; and departed in like manner. MKO Abiola contributed meaningfully to discussions beyond his accountancy profession. Abiola was also a talented writer and speaker, very witty with his anecdotes, especially when he had to draw comparisons about personalities and events.
THE POWER OF INFORMATION & PUBLIC PERCEPTION: MKO Abiola could have been misunderstood, given the nature of Nigerian politics. There was probably nothing wrong with using what you have to legitimately get what you want. But we are yet to get to that stage in Nigerian politics 21 years after MKO lost both his ambition and life. People still thrive on the basest of sentiments with lots of damaging stories and information about one another in the game of supremacy and conspiracy. Abiola carried on the post-1983 politics undeterred and sometime in 1988, a Television News Magazine programme tagged: SATURDAY SPECIAL, a popular audience participation-programme with a very wide audience in the South-Western States including Lagos, commenced on the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State.
At inception, nobody wanted to miss any of the Saturday editions that show that sometimes preempted investigative stories published by the leading magazines published on Mondays. Saturday Special sought MKO Abiola for a LIVE INTERVIEW session in Ibadan. MKO Abiola was an extremely busy personality. After repeated visits to the offices of RADIO COMMUNICATIONS, Lagos from Ibadan, and contacts with his prized secretary, Alhaji Akinteye, with and at least one ambush laid for him in the corridor of CONCORD PRESS, Ikeja, energetic Dodan Barracks correspondent of the BCOS, Mrs ‘Joke Omotunde; a fine professional who was later the Information Specialist of the United States Consulate-General, Lagos got MKO Abiola to appear on the programme.
AN INTERVIEWERS DELIGHT: Compeered by brainy Gbenro Adegbola and Adeola Alagbe, the programme literally grilled MKO like no other station had done before, and brought out the best that several people never knew about Abiola.MKO was indeed an interviewer’s delight. He recalled dates of events with accuracy and ease. He reeled statistics and facts from memory, sang on the programme, told the story of his life with anecdotes without withholding any information about his past, in a no holds barred manner. Some of us joked later that the only information MKO Abiola probably held back could be said to be how he fared with his numerous wives. That programme most certainly contributed to the positive public perception of this genius who had the opportunity of speaking on hows and whys of the actions he took in the past. MKO Abiola returned for another appearance, this time as a politician, running for President of Nigeria on the platform of the SDP a few weeks after States were created in 1991.
AN EMERGING PAN-AFRICANIST: Before his death, MKO Abiola has become an emerging Pan-Africanist & Champion of African Renaissance & Economic Emancipation. He was at the vanguard of the REPARATIONS AGENDA through the Movement for Reparation to Africans & all African Peoples Worldwide. Abiola wielded tremendous influence beyond the shores of Africa such that he was the Grand Patron of the Congressional Black Caucus of the United States Congress; Grand Patron of the United Kingdom Black Parliamentary Caucus of the British House of Commons; and winner of the Black Heritage Award of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured people of the United States. (NAACP)
AN ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC THAT WAS NEVER SWORN-IN: MKO Abiola, GCFR, recognized winner of Nigeria’s 1993 presidential election; paired with Babagana Kingibe (Vice-President) to win the 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, but never realized his ambition of ruling Nigeria. The pair won on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at the June 12, 1993 election. It took a lot of strategies and courage for MKO Abiola to declare himself the president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos on 11 June 1994.
For the records, here is the speech read by MKO Abiola on that fateful day.
People of Nigeria, exactly one year ago, you turned out in your millions to vote for me, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But politicians in uniform, who call themselves soldiers but are more devious than any civilian would want to be, deprived you of your God-given right to be ruled by unknown the President you had yourselves elected. These soldier-politicians introduced into our body polity a concept hitherto to our political lexicography, something strangely called the ‘annulment’ of an election perceived by all to have been the fairest, cleanest and most peaceful ever held in our nation.
Since that abominable act of Unclad political armed robbery occurred, I have been constantly urged by people of goodwill, both in Nigeria and abroad, to put the matter back into the people’s hands and get them to actualise the mandate they gave me at the polls. But mindful of the need to ensure that peace continues to reign in our fragile federation, I have so far tried to pursue sweet reason and negotiation.
My hope has always been to arouse whatever remnants of patriotism are left in the hearts of these thieves of your mandate, and to persuade them that they should not allow their personal desire to rule to usher our beloved country into an era of political instability and economic ruin. All I have sought to do, in seeking dialogue with them, has been to try and get them to realise that only real democracy can move our nation forward towards progress, and earn her the respect she deserves from the international community.
However, although this peaceful approach has exposed me to severe censure by some who have mistaken it for weakness on my part, those with whom I have sought to dialogue have remained like stones, neither stirred to show loyalty to the collective decision of the people of their own country, nor to observe Allah’s injunction that they should exhibit justice and fair-play in all their dealings with their fellow men.
Appeals to their honour as officers and gentlemen of the gallant Nigerian Armed Forces, have fallen on deaf ears. Instead, they have resorted to the tactics of divide and rule, bribery and political perfidy, misinformation and (vile) propaganda. They arrest everyone who disagrees with them. Even the 71-year old hero of our nation, Chief Anthony Enahoro, was not spared.
How much longer can we tolerate all this? People of Nigeria, you are all witnesses that I have tried to climb the highest mountain, cross the deepest river and walk the longest mile, in order to get these men to obey the will of our people. There is no humiliation I have not endured, no snare that has not been put in my path, no ‘setup’ that has not been designed for me in my endeavour to use the path of peace to enforce the mandate that you bestowed on me one year ago.
It has been a long night. But the dawn is here. Today, people of Nigeria, I join you all in saying, “Enough is Enough! We have endured 24 years of military rule in our 34 years of independence. Military rule has led to our nation fighting a civil war with itself. Military rule has destabilised our nation today as not before in its history. Military rule has impoverished our people and introduced a dreadful trade in drugs which has made our country’s name an anathema in many parts of the world.
Even soccer fans going to watch the Green Eagles display in America are being made to suffer there needlessly because Nigeria’s name is linked with credit card and fraud and ‘419.’ Politically, military rule has torn to shreds the prestige due to our country because of its size and population. The permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council that should be rightfully ours, is all but lost. For who will vote for Nigeria to get the seat if Nigerian military rulers do not respect the votes of their own people? Enough of military rule.
We are sickened to see people who have shown little or no personal achievement, either in building up private businesses, or making success of any tangible thing, being placed in charge of the management of our nation’s economy, by rulers who are not accountable to anyone. Enough of square pegs in round holes. We are tired of the military’s repetitive tendency to experiment with our economy: Today, they say “no controls.” Tomorrow; they say “Full controls”. The day after, they say “Fine tuning”. The next day, they say “Devaluation.” A few days later, they say “Revalue the same naira upwards again Abi?”
All we can see are the consequences of this permanent game of military “about turns;” high inflation, a huge budget deficit and an enormous foreign debt repayment burden, dying industries, high unemployment and a demoralised populace. Our youths, in particular, can see no hope on the horizon, and many can only dream of escaping from our shores to join the brain drain. Is this the Nigeria we want? We are plagued also by periodic balance of payments crises, which have led to a perennial shortage of essential drugs, that has turned our hospitals and clinics into mortuaries.
A scarcity of books and equipment has rendered our schools into desolate deserts of ignorance. Our factories are crying for machinery, spare parts and raw materials. But each day that passes, instead of these economic diseases being cured, they are rather strengthened as an irrational allocation of foreign exchange based on favouritism and corruption becomes the order of the day. Enough is enough of economic mismanagement! People of Nigeria, during the election campaign last year, I presented you with a programme entitled “HOPE ’93.” This programme was aimed precisely at solving these economic (problems) that have demoralised us all.
I toured every part of Nigeria to present this programme to you the electorate. I was questioned on it at public rallies and press and I had the privilege of incorporating into it much of the feedback that I obtained from the people. Because you knew I would not only listen to you but deliver superb results from the programme, you voted for me in your millions conferences and gave me an overwhelming majority over my opponent.
To be precise, you gave me 58.4 per cent of the popular vote and a majority in 20 out of 30 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Not only that, you also enabled me to fulfil the constitutional requirement that the winner should obtain one-third of the votes in two-thirds of the states. I am sure that when you cast an eye on the moribund state of Nigeria today, you ask yourselves: ‘What have we done to deserve this, when we have a president-elect who can lead a government that can change things for the better? Our patience has come to an end.’
As of now, from this moment, a new Government of National Unity is in power throughout the length and breadth of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, led by me, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, as President and Commander-in-Chief.
The National Assembly is hereby reconvened. All dismissed governors are reinstated. The State Assemblies are reconstituted, as are all local government councils. I urge them to adopt a bi-partisan approach to all the issues that come before them. At the national level, a bi-partisan approach will be our guiding principle. I call upon the usurper, General Sani Abacha, to announce his resignation forthwith, together with the rest of his illegal ruling council.
We are prepared to enter into negotiations with them to work out the mechanics for a smooth transfer of power. I pledge that if they hand over quietly, they will be retired with all their entitlements, and their positions will be accorded all the respect due to them. For our objective is neither recrimination nor witch-hunting, but an enforcement of the will of the Nigerian people, as expressed in free elections conducted by the duly constituted authority of the time.
I hereby invoke the mandate bestowed upon me by my victory in the said election, to call on all members of the Armed Forces and the Police, the Civil and Public Services throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to obey only the Government of National Unity that is headed by me, your only elected President. My Government of National Unity is the only legitimate, constituted authority in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as of now.
People of Nigeria, these are challenging times in the history of our continent, Africa, and we in Nigeria must not allow ourselves to be left behind. Our struggle is the same as that waged by the people of South Africa, which has been successfully concluded, with the inauguration of Mr. Nelson Mandela as the first African President of that country. Nelson Mandela fought to replace MINORITY rule with MAJORITY rule.
We in Nigeria are also fighting to replace MINORITY rule, for we are ruled by only a tiny section of our armed forces. Like the South Africans, we want MAJORITY rule today, that is rule only by those chosen by all the people of Nigeria as a whole in free and fair elections. The only difference between South Africa and Nigeria is that those who imposed minority rule on the majority rule whether it is by black or white, remains minority rule, and must be booted out.
I call on you, heroic people of Nigeria, to emulate the actions of your brothers and sisters in South Africa and stand up as one person to throw away the yoke of minority rule for ever. The antics of every minority that oppresses the majority are always the same. They will try to intimidate you with threats of police action. But do not let us fear arrest. In South Africa, so many people were arrested, during the campaign against the Pass Laws, for instance, that the jails could not hold all of them. Today, apartheid is gone forever. So, let it be with Nigeria.
Let us say goodbye forever to minority rule by the military. They talk of treason. But haven’t they heard of the Rivonia treason trial in South Africa? Did those treason trials halt the march of history? People of Nigeria, our time is now. You are the repository of power in the land. No one can give you power. It is yours. Take it! From this day, show to the world that anyone who takes the people of Nigeria for fools is deceiving himself, and will have the people to answer to.
God bless you all. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long live the Government of National Unity.