Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (born August 24, 1937 and died on July 7, 1998), popularly known as M. K. O. Abiola, was a popular Nigerian businessman, publisher, politician and aristocrat, who contested for the position of the presidency in Nigeria in the year 1993, and is widely presumed to be the winner of the inconclusive election, though no official final results were announced. He died in in the year 1998, after he was denied victory, following the annulment of the entire election by the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida. He was the 23rd child of his father, though the first to survive infancy. He was named Kashimawo, meaning “Let us wait and see”, having been born after the father lost many of the children he had before him. It was only at 15 years of age that his parents named him Moshood for the first time.
Abiola is a native of Abeokuta in Ogun State of Nigeria. He manifested entrepreneurial skills when he was still very young. When he was just nine years old, he started his first business, selling of firewood. Then, he would wake up very early in the morning and enter the forest to fetch firewood, which he would transport to the town and sell before going to school, just to support his father, who was already old and his siblings. At the age of fifteen, MKO, founded a band, and would perform at various ceremonies in exchange for food. When he became very famous, he started demanding payment for his performances, and he uses the moneys he was paid to support his family. He funded his secondary education at the Baptist Boys High School Abeokuta, with the moneys he earned from his band performance.
While still in the secondary school, MKO was the editor of the school’s magazine, popularly known as The Trumpeter, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then his school mate was the deputy editor. At the age of 19 MKO Abiola became a politician, and joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). He was expected to join the Action Group, a political party founded by Obafemi Awolowo, but he chose to join NCNC ostensibly because of its stronger pan-Nigerian origin.
In the year 1956 MKO Abiola got a job as a bank clerk with Barclays Bank Plc in Ibadan, in the present Ondo State of Nigeria. Two years after he joined the bank, he left and pitched his tent with the Western Region Finance Corporation as the establishment’s executive accounts officer. After working briefly with the Western Region Finance Corporation, he left for Glasgow, Scotland for academic pursuit. He attended Glasgow University, and obtained first class degree in accountancy. He also attended the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland where he obtained a distinction in accounting. When he returned to Nigeria, he got a job as a senior accountant at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital. From there, he proceeded to Pfizer, and later joined the ITT Corporation, where he later rose to the position of the Corporation’s Vice-President of Africa and Middle-East, he stayed at the Corporation’s headquarters at the United States. While at the United States, where he also spent a lot of his time, Moshood Abiola made most of his money even while he retained the post of chairman of the corporation’s Nigerian subsidiary. Then, he invested heavily in Nigeria and West Africa. He established 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. Apart from these, he also performed his duties as Chairman of the G15 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.
Moshood Abiola became very prominent both in Nigeria and in the international communities on account of his philanthropic activities. On one occasion, The Congressional Black Caucus of the United States of America issued the following tribute to him”
“Because of this man, there is both cause for hope and certainty that the agony and protests of those who suffer injustice shall give way to peace and human dignity. The children of the world shall know the great work of this extraordinary leader and his fervent mission to right wrong, to do justice, and to serve mankind. The enemies which imperil the future of generations to come: poverty, ignorance, disease, hunger, and racism have each seen effects of the valiant work of Chief Abiola. Through him and others like him, never again will freedom rest in the domain of the few. We, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus salute him this day as a hero in the global pursuit to preserve the history and the legacy of the African diaspora”.
Before his death, Moshood Abiola had received 197 traditional titles, given to him by 68 different communities in Nigeria. The titles were giving to him, following his philanthropic gestures of assisting in the construction of 63 secondary schools, 121 mosques and churches, 41 libraries, 21 water projects in 24 states of Nigeria, and was grand patron to 149 societies or associations in Nigeria. This was how MKO Abiola reached out to, and won the admiration of different ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria. Apart from Nigeria, MKO Abiola was a staunch supporter of the Southern African Liberation movements from the 1970s. He also personally sponsored the campaign to win reparations for slavery and colonialism in Africa and the diaspora. He also personally rallied every African head of state, and every head of state in the black diaspora to ensure that Africans would speak with one voice on the issues.
Involvement in politics.
Abiola’s involvement in politics started early on in life when he joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) at age 19. In 1979, the military government kept its word and handed over power to the civilian. As Abiola was already involved in politics, he joined the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1980 and was elected the state chairman of his party. Re-election was done in 1983 and everything looked promising since the re-elected president was from Abiola’s party and based on the true transition to power in 1979; Abiola was eligible to go for the post of presidential candidate after the tenure of the re-elected president. However, his hope to become the president was shortly dashed away for the first time in 1983 when a military coup d’état swept away the re-elected president of his party and ended civilian rule in the country. After a decade of military rule, General Ibrahim Babangida came under pressure to return democratic rule to Nigeria. After an aborted initial primary, Abiola stood for the presidential nomination of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and beat Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to secure the presidential nomination of the SDP ahead of the 12 June 1993 presidential elections.
Abiola had managed to work his way out of poverty through hard work and symbolised the aspirations of many downtrodden Nigerians. His commitment to the plight of ordinary Nigerians included establishing Abiola bookshops to provide affordable, locally produced textbooks in the 1980s when imported textbooks became out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians as the naira was devalued. He also made available daily necessities such as rice and soap at affordable prices in the market.
For the 12 June 1993 presidential elections, Abiola’s running mate was Baba Gana Kingibe. He overwhelmingly defeated his rival, Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. The election was declared Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election by national and international observers, with Abiola even winning in his Northern opponent’s home state. Abiola won at the national capital, Abuja, the military polling stations, and over two-thirds of Nigerian states. The reason why the election was so historic, was because men of Northern descent had largely dominated Nigeria’s political landscape since independence. The fact that Moshood Abiola (a Southern Muslim) was able to secure a national mandate freely and fairly remains unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. However, the election was annulled by Ibrahim Babangida, a political crisis that ensued which led to General Sani Abacha seizing power later that year. During preparations for the 2011 Nigerian Presidential elections there were calls from several quarters to remember MKO Abiola.
In 1994 Moshood Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos island, an area mainly populated by (Yoruba) Lagos Indigenes. He had recently returned from a trip to win the support of the international community for his mandate. After declaring himself president he was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of military President General Sani Abacha , who sent 200 police vehicles to bring him into custody. MKO Abiola has been referred to as Nigeria’s greatest statesman. His second wife Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was assasinated in Lagos in 1996 after declaring public support for her husband.
Moshood Abiola was detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement with a Bible, Qur’an, and fourteen guards as companions. During that time, Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and human rights activists from all over the world lobbied the Nigerian government for his release. The sole condition attached to the release of Chief Abiola was that he renounce his mandate, something that he refused to do, although the military government offered to compensate him and refund his extensive election expenses. For this reason Chief Abiola became extremely troubled when Kofi Annan and Emeka Anyaoku reported to the world that he had agreed to renounce his mandate after they met with him to tell him that the world would not recognise a five-year-old election.
Abiola died under suspicious circumstances shortly after the death of General Abacha. Moshood Abiola died on the day that he was due to be released, on 7 July 1998. While the official autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, al-Mustapha has alleged that Moshood Abiola was in fact beaten to death. al-Mustapha, who was detained by the Nigerian government, but later released, claims to have video and audiotapes showing how Abiola was beaten to death. The final autopsy report, which was produced by a group of international coroners has never been publicly released. Irrespective of the exact circumstances of his death, it is clear that Chief Abiola received insufficient medical attention for his existing health conditions.
As recounted at the time in a BBC interview with special envoy Thomas R. Pickering, an American delegation, which included Susan Rice, visited Abiola and during their meeting with him, Abiola fell ill, with what was presumed to be a heart attack which caused his death.
A clause in Abiola’s will required that his heirs could prove that he was their father. Over seventy people were able to show that Abiola was their father using DNA tests. Seven children were descended from his second wife, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
Awards and honours.
Moshood Abiola was twice voted international businessman of the year, and received numerous honorary doctorates from universities all over the world. In 1987 he was bestowed with the golden key to the city of Washington D.C., and he was bestowed with awards from the NAACP and the King center in the USA, as well as the International Committee on Education for Teaching in Paris, amongst many others. In Nigeria, the Oloye Abiola was made the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland. It is the highest chieftaincy title available to commoners amongst the Yoruba, and has only been conferred by the tribe 14 times in its history. This in effect rendered Abiola the ceremonial War Viceroy of all of his tribespeople.
According to the folklore of the tribe as recounted by the Yoruba elders, the Aare Ona Kakanfo is expected to die a warrior in the defence of his nation to prove himself in the eyes of both the divine and the mortal as having been worthy of his title.
Abiola was awarded the third highest national honour, the Commander of the Federal Republic posthumously in 1998.
Remembrance of M.K.O. Abiola.
Chief MKO Abiola’s memory is celebrated in Nigeria and internationally. 12 June remains a public holiday in Lagos and Ogun states. There are also remembrance events arranged across Nigeria. MKO Abiola was known for his charisma and for being a man of the people. As a prominent social activist, democratic freedom fighter, and successful business figure, the continuing support for MKO Abiola is part of his legacy. MKO Abiola Stadium and Moshood Abiola Polytechnic were named in his honour. There were also calls for posthumous presidential recognition. A statue, MKO Abiola Statue was also erected in his honour.
Despite his popularity or because of it, MKO Abiola occasionally attracted criticism from political activists and detractors. Controversy was caused by a song by Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. Kuti was a charismatic multi-instrumentalist musician, composer and human rights activist – famed for being the pioneer of Afrobeat music as well as a controversial figure, due to his unusual lifestyle and apparent drug use. It is believed that Kuti had entered into an acrimonious dispute relating to a contract with MKO Abiola’s record label. He used the abbreviation of International Telephone & Telegraph (IT&T) in a song criticising big multinational corporations. The song, ITT accuses such companies of draining Africa’s resources and makes specific reference to MKO Abiola (“they start to steal money Like Obasanjo and Abiola”).
Source: Wikipedia (with some modifications).