Chief Moshood Abiola attended the Baptist Boys School in his home town, Abeokuta, in Ogun State, and studied accountancy at the University of Glasgow. On his return he had lucrative posts with Pfizer of Nigeria, where he was chief accountant, and with International Telegraph and Telephone of Nigeria. In 1969 he was appointed a regional vice president for ITT and chairman of ITT Nigeria.
His wealth grew and so did his holdings. He was the publisher of Concord Press, a chain of newspapers; the founder of Africa Ocean Lines; chairman of the Abiola Bookshop, Abiola Farms and Concord Airlines. He married four women, had 18 children and lived in a large home in Lagos on a street bearing his name. Critics said some of his fortune came from shady deals with both military and civilian leaders.
On June 12, 1993, after a decade of military rule, the strongman then presiding, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, called an election with civilian candidates.
Mr. Abiola, a candidate of the center-left Social Democratic party, ran against Bashir Tofa, a similarly rich businessman, who represented the center-right National Republican Convention. Both parties had been established by General Babangida, who had stipulated that there should only be the two new parties, ”one a little to the left and the other a little to the right.”
Mr. Abiola unexpectedly took an early lead and General Babangida, who had been friendly with both candidates, annulled the election. No real explanations were given. But Mr. Tofa was a northerner from the Muslim Hausa Falani areas, like General Babangida and much of the military elite, while Mr. Abiola was from the south and held many traditional African titles, among them Basbortun of Ibadanland and Baba Adini of Yorubaland.
After the protests and strikes that followed, General Babagida stepped down, but an interim Government was ousted by Gen. Sani Abacha, the Defense Minister.
Mr. Abiola kept a low profile until the first anniversary of the annulled elections, when he announced that he was ready to claim the presidency. He was then imprisoned on the orders of General Abacha.
Mr. Abiola had been in detention for almost two years when, on May 8, 1996, his second wife, Kudirat, was seized by the police and questioned after asserting her husband to be Nigeria’s rightful leader. She was ordered to stand trial, but less than a month later she was shot to death by six armed men who attacked her car.
During his imprisonment, Mr. Abiola’s family had expressed concern about his failing health. Such concerns were repeated even as hopes for his release were raised after General Abacha’s sudden death from a heart attack on June 8.
Hafsat Abiola, a daughter of Kudirat and Moshood Abiola who graduated from Harvard and lives in the United States, spoke out.
”On Monday General Abacha, my father’s jailer and my mother’s murderer, died, reportedly of a heart attack,” she wrote in an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times. ”His successor, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, has called for acceptance as Nigeria’s legitimate ruler. But before the world acknowledges him, some changes must be made. General Abubakar must release all political prisoners, including my father.”
Since then, the Nigerian leader has freed a number of detainees, but the Government seemed to vacillate about Mr. Abiola, who was 60. Nigeria’s imprisoned political leader, Moshood Abiola, died of an apparent heart attack as he talked with Nigerian officials and senior U.S. diplomats about how to resolve the country’s five-year-old political crisis, the Nigerian government said. Within hours, as the news of his death spread, rioting was reported in Lagos, the country’s largest city and the center of opposition to military rule.
Embittered Yorubas have declared that Nigeria risks violence and perhaps civil war if their demands for greater political representation are not met. “This will lead to attacks” by Yorubas on Nigerians of northern ethnic groups who are seen as supporters of the military leadership, “and, I think, the breakup of Nigeria,” said Lanre Banjo, a Washington spokesman for the National Conscience Party, a prominent, Yoruba-led opposition group based in Lagos.
News of Abiola’s death immediately triggered rioting by Yorubas in Nigeria’s southwestern region, which includes Lagos, the country’s teeming commercial capital. Crowds of young men quickly massed in the streets of the city, burning tires and throwing stones at policemen, who responded with tear gas, according to news service reports.
Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola Full Biography and Profile
Chief Moshood Abiola was the presumed winner of the 1993 elections in Nigeria – annulled by the military. A year later he was arrested and has been in detention ever since. His birth on 24 August 1937, came at the end of a long and heartbreaking series of failed pregnancies, still births and children who died in infancy. Grimly, not wanting to tempt her fate, Moshood’s mother gave him the name Kashimawo – let us see if this one too will die. But this late baby proved tenacious of life and a determined fighter.
He grew into a large, robust man, with a strong voice, a dominating physical presence and a flamboyant taste in clothes. And as he grew, he flourished.
Although from a modest family, he rode the crest of Nigeria’s oil boom of the 1970s, and through involvement in a series of massive telecommunications projects with the American multinational ITT, became very wealthy indeed.
And in 1979, when an earlier military government kept its word, and handed over to civilians, Abiola went into politics and joined the National Party of Nigeria.
The NPN had the backing of Nigeria’s powerful northern establishment, and it won the election. But it also had a zoning system for its main posts.
The President, Shehu Shagari, was from the north; his deputy from the east, and they were limited to two terms in office. After they were re-elected in 1983, Abiola, a Yoruba-speaker from the south-west, looked qualified to make a bid for the presidency the next time round.
Then the blow fell – a military coup swept away President Shagari, the NPN, and, for the time being, Abiola’s political hopes. He went back to making money, his extensive business interests now including an airline and a shipping company, as well as the Concord newspaper, and a group of sister publications.
And when that military government in turn started moving, painfully slowly, toward a handover of power, Abiola came back into politics.
This time there were just two parties, set up by the military, and their leadership was carefully vetted. Moshood Abiola became the presidential candidate for the Social Democratic Party, with the government’s blessing.
When the then military leader, Ibrahim Babangida, at a regional summit meeting, invited Abiola onto the platform to address the assembled heads of state on his pet project – the need for western countries to pay reparations for slavery – those present saw it as a discreet benediction, and imagined Abiola would be back at the next summit, as Nigeria’s elected president.
That impression lasted through the campaign, the vote, and the count. Then, with Abiola well in the lead, General Babangida stopped the count, and annulled the election. Moshood Abiola and his supporters were outraged.
There was no question this time that he would sit down quietly and accept the decision. And when, on the first anniversary of the election, he publicly declared himself Nigeria’s lawfully elected president, he was arrested, and charged with treason.
Even then he didn’t give up. He could have been released on bail, if he had been willing to accept the annulment and stop claiming to be president. He refused, and stayed in detention.
Now the Nigerian political wheel turned again, the man who detained him, General Sani Abacha, is dead, and the detainees are coming out of jail.
The question now is whether four years of confinement and isolation, and the killing of his wife Kudirat while he was inside, will have shaken even his powerful will to survive, and his tenacious ambition to lead Nigeria.
Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola Quick Facts
- He was born Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, but was popularly called by the acronym of his name, MKO.
- He was born on August 24, 1937 in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
- He was his father’s 23rd child but the first of his father’s children to survive infancy.
- He was a wealthy industrialist who owned thriving businesses spanning telecoms, agriculture, media and the oil sector.
- Abiola ran for the presidency in the 1993 election alongside his running mate, Baba Gana Kingibe.
- The election was annulled by the then Head of State, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, a self-styled, Military President.
- In 1994, Moshood Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos and that was the beginning of his battle with the military government.
- This led to his arrest and incarceration for nearly five years.
- He was the editor of The Trumpeter, a magazine of his secondary school — Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta, while former President Olusegun Obasanjo was deputy editor.
- Abiola married many wives during his lifetime and had many children. His first wife was Simibiat, who died before his 1993 presidential bid. He lost another wife, Kudirat, on June 4, 1996 while he was still in detention.
- Abiola died shortly after the death of General Sani Abacha, on the day that he was due to be released, precisely on July 7, 1998.
- Since his death, there have been agitations to recognise him as the undeclared president of Nigeria and for government to also recognise June 12 as a watershed in Nigeria’s political history.
Full Speech of M.K.O Abiola
Below is the full speech delivered on June 11, 1994, and dubbed the ‘Epetedo Proclamation,’ having been made in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island. This speech resulted to the arrest and death of Chief M.K.O. Abiola:
“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 the President you had yourselves elected.
“These soldier-politicians introduced into our body politic, a concept hitherto unknown 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 naked 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 fellowmen.
“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 then military 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 conferences 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 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.”
The death of Abiola – seen by many Nigerians, especially those of his Yoruba ethnic group, as a political savior – appeared certain to damage prospects for political reconciliation and cooperation between the new military government of Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar – who succeeded Abacha – and the Yoruba-dominated political opposition.
Nigeria’s political crisis and Abiola’s political importance are rooted in the country’s deep ethnic and regional fissures.