The political turmoil endured by the citizens of Nigeria during the final decades of the twentieth century was led by a varied group of individuals. One of the most influential was Moshood Abiola (1937-1998), a Nigerian businessman educated in Scotland. He climbed to the top of several corporate ladders, building a political and financial empire. On this day 21 years ago, the nation mourned the death of one of its champions of democracy.
M. K. O. Abiola was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State to the family of Salawu and Suliat Wuraola Abiola, his father was a produce trader who primarily traded cocoa and his mom traded in Kola nuts. His name, Kashimawo, means “Let us wait and see“. Moshood Abiola was his father’s 23rd child but the first of his father’s children to survive infancy, hence the name ‘Kashimawo’. It was not until he was 15 years old that he was properly named Moshood, by his parents. Abiola attended African Central School, Abeokuta for his primary education. As a boy, he assisted his father in the cocoa trade, but by the end of 1946, his father’s business venture was failing precipitated by the destruction of a cocoa consignment declared by a produce inspector to be of poor quality grade and unworthy for export and to be destroyed immediately.
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Abiola was the editor of the school magazine The Trumpeter, Olusegun Obasanjo was deputy editor. At the age of 19, he joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons ostensibly because of its stronger pan-Nigerian origin compared with the Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group. In 1960, he obtained a government scholarship to study at the University of Glasgow where he later earned a degree in accountancy and qualified as a chartered accountant. He was also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria(ICAN).
Abiola had married many wives, notably Simibiat Atinuke Shoaga in 1960, Kudirat Olayinka Adeyemi in 1973, Adebisi Olawunmi Oshin in 1974, Doyinsola (Doyin) Abiola Aboaba in 1981, Modupe Onitiri-Abiola and Remi Abiola. From many wives, he fathered many children too. He had many children, among them: daughter Hafsat Abiola, a Nigerian human rights, civil rights and democracy activist, daughter Dupsy Abiola, a British barrister, entrepreneur and businesswoman, son Kola Abiola, daughter Lola Abiola-Edewor, son Abdul Mumuni Abiola, daughter Khafila Abiola, son Olalekan Yusau Abiola, daughter Hofsad Abiola, daughter Lawunmi Abiola, son Hadi Abiola, son Jamiu Biodun Abiola and Moriam Abiola.
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 the presidential candidate after the tenure of the re-elected president. However, his hope to become the president 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.
For the 12 June 1993 presidential elections, Abiola’s running mate was his primary opponent Baba Gana Kingibe. He 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 of Kano. Abiola won at the national capital, Abuja, the military polling stations, and over two-thirds of Nigerian states. Men of Northern descent had largely dominated Nigeria’s political landscape since independence; Moshood Abiola, a Western Muslim, was able to secure a national mandate freely and fairly, unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. However, the election was annulled by Ibrahim Babangida, causing a political crisis which led to General Sani Abacha seizing power later that year.
Abiola died in suspicious circumstances shortly after the death of General Abacha, on the day that he was due to be released, 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. Regardless of the exact circumstances of his death, it is clear that Chief Abiola received insufficient medical attention for his existing health conditions
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