M.K.O Abiola : The President who never ruled

Society Zainab Sulaimon
M.K.O Abiola

“I am being arrested on an allegation of treason…They have come to arrest me, not to arrest my mouth…Any sacrifice is worth taking if it will bring peace and prosperity to the democracy of Nigeria…I suppose going to jail is one of the qualifications you need, in this part of the world, to become a president”

Those were some of M.K.O Abiola’s words in his last interview, with the BBC reporter, before he was escorted out of his Ikeja residence and taken into detention. He was a man who took great care, not only about his freedom of speech (a basic element of a democratic government) but also about the needs of others and the progress of Nigeria as a country. Let us take a look at how he was stripped of his right and integrity and how he became the only Nigerian President who never ruled.

Early Life of M.K.O Abiola

Moshood Kashimawo Olalekan Abiola was born 24th August, 1937 in Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria, to Salawu Adelekan Abiola and Zeliat Ayinke Abiola. He attended the African Central School Abeokuta and only at the tender age of 9, he started selling firewood in order to support the family, as his father’s cocoa business was failing. He founded a band, at the age of 15, and he would perform at different ceremonies in exchange for food. When he started getting paid for his performances, he was able to help out his family and pay for his secondary education at Baptist Boys High school, Abeokuta. In 1960, he obtained a government scholarship to study at the University of Glasgow. He obtained a first-class degree in accounting and qualified as a chartered accountant.

Abiola as a Businessman

As a business magnate, Abiola started humbly in 1956 as a bank clerk at Barclays Bank in Ibadan. After his Education at Glasgow, he worked as a senior accountant at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital. He later left to join the American multinational pharmaceutical corporation, Pfizer. Because of his vast knowledge in management and accounting, he was employed by the ITT corporation. He quickly rose from his entry position as a controller of operations to the vice president of Africa and the Middle East.

He invested heavily in Nigeria and West Africa. He established a lot of firms which in turn created thousands of employment opportunities. Amongst his establishments include: Abiola Farms, Bookshop, Football club, Wonder Bakeries, Concord Press, Concord Airlines, Radio Communications Nigeria, Summit Oil International Limited, Africa Ocean Lines, Habib Bank, Decca W.A Ltd.

Philanthropist M.K.O Abiola

He was once poverty-stricken so he knew how it felt to be in need of basic necessities. He wanted to eradicate poverty as much as he could. During his lifetime, he donated funds to construct 63 Secondary schools, 41 libraries, 21 water projects across 24 states in Nigeria, 121 mosques, and churches.

His Political Career

He became a politician very early, at 19, and joined the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) political party. In 1979, after the military handed power to the civilians, he joined the ruling party, NPN (National Party of Nigeria), and became the party’s chairman. Also, he joined the SDP (Social Democratic Party) in 1993 to contest for Presidency. He won the primaries and proceeded to be the presidential candidate of the party.

June 12, 1993, general elections held in Nigeria are considered, to date, the freest and fairest election, in and outside the country. It was an open ballot system which meant that the results were announced immediately and, of course, Abiola was victorious over his opponent. But unfortunately, the election was annulled unjustly by the then-military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, on allegations of being unfair and corrupt. Many of his supporters were dismayed and it led to a political crisis and seizure of power.

His Death

In 1994, Abiola declared himself the President of Nigeria after returning from a trip whose purpose was to win the support of the international community for his mandate. After his refusal to renounce his mandate in return for a full refund of his campaign expenses, 200 police vehicles arrived at his house just to bring him into custody. He didn’t seem bothered that he was going to be detained nor did he ever consider retracting his statement.

In 1998, precisely July 7, when he was due to be released from prison, he was paid a visit by some US Consulates. He mysteriously fell ill during the meeting and died. Due to this puzzling occurrence, three accounts relating to his sudden death include death caused by a cardiac arrest, death caused by the supposed poisonous tea he drank, and death caused by torturous beating in order for him to renounce his mandate. Whatever the case was, it was certain that he was denied proper medical care and attention when he was held up.

Some intriguing facts about MKO Abiola

  • He was not named until he was 15 years of age. Prior to that, he was called “Kashimawo” which means “let us wait and see” in the Yoruba language because he was the first of his father’s children to survive infancy.
  • In June 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari changed the annual National Democracy Day from May 29 to June 12, in honour of Abiola and his glaring victory in 1993.
  • He was conferred with 197 traditional titles due to his generosity (the like of which hasn’t been seen, till date, in the country), selflessness, and concern for a better country.
  • He served as a grand patron to about 149 organizations including the G15 business council, Nigerian Stock Exchange, WEB Du Bois Foundation, Martin Luther King Foundation, Kwame Nkrumah Foundation, International Press Institute.
  • His presidential campaign poster read “Hope ‘93, Farewell to Poverty – How to make Nigeria a better place for all”.
  • He had cordial relationships with African Heads of States and world leaders.
  • He was a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria.
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