About Chief Moshood Abiola

Basorun Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola

Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland

President-Elect of Nigeria

(1937 - 1998)

The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, once said of himself, that the day he was born, one other being was born with him, fear. For his mother went into labor on hearing of the approach of the Spanish Armada. That fear dominated Hobbes life, motivated his political views and social conscience. The day our MKO was born Hope was the other being born along with him. Hope of survival; hope of prosperity, hope of life. It was this Hope that dominated his life.

He was born as the hope of the family that had gone through the mystery of children "born to die", and had lost twenty-two children before his own birth. Hence his given name, "Kasimawo", meaning "let's watch him". Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, born on August 24 1937, did not disappoint his parents. He gave them reason to rejoice by fulfilling their hopes and dream. He thus became the beacon of Hope, not only for his parents, but for all around him, including those who believed in HOPE '93, and those who carried the struggle for the four years of his incarceration. He was the hope of every one, excluding the Nigerian junta and their collaborators, domestic and international. They quashed our Hope in broad daylight on July 7, 1998. He was destined to be great; his detracted can never fathom it; they did not know his choice of destiny. Nwon o mo bi olori yanri o, nwon I ba lo yan tawon, nwon o mobi Kashi yanri e, nwon ba lo yan tawon. But in ignorance they did the most devilish thing. They obstructed the destiny of us all. They quashed our hope.

Chief Abiola was many things to many people. He was a businessman of immense connections and network, both local and international, all of which cut across several barriers: racial, ethnic, religious and of course language. He was a generous philanthropist who became, out of doing things for others, a folk-hero for many in the beleaguered country called Nigeria. As a Muslim, he was a beacon of how that faith could be practiced without making it seem what it is not. By and large, he was a rounded modern figure, complicated in his own ways, yet very friendly at the same time. He sought to make everyone he came across his personal friend and indeed, he won not just a few to his sides. Until June 12th 1993 when he won election to the highest office of the Nigerian State, no one disputed his many identities. Chief Abiola died exactly five years after he won that election. Remarkably, he died a prisoner of the Nigerian State he had sought to head through an election-the only civilized and open means of securing leadership of peoples bound in one country. Chief Abiola died as a prisoner, the prisoner of the same people who had organized the election he convincingly won.

It has always been speculated that the ways of the Nigerian military is inscrutable. This is a blatant lie. Since July 1966, the Nigerian military has been nothing more than the rapid deployment force of the Hausa-Fulani hegemony. It was and still is through the so-called Nigerian military that that hegemony has reconstituted every segment of the Nigerian State in its own image and fashion. Naturally, its political sophistication is founded solely and absolutely on guile and duplicity. The Yoruba are, more than most national groups in the Nigerian federation, the target of the hegemonists' guile and duplicity because it is the reward inherent in the sort of idea of society that the Yoruba have embraced for so long that the hegemonists seek. They are seeking that reward in its absolute form, and without wanting to work for it. They dare not create the basis for working for it because it will lead to a disastrous disruption of their own society and inescapable overthrow of their own privileges and status.

Between the late Obafemi Awolowo and Moshood Abiola, we have seen the futility of either trying to understand, be sympathetic or even collaborating with these hegemonists. It was not only that the Nigerian State finally slipped into its worst crisis of legitimacy when the June 12, 1993 election was annulled, but that the annulment brought the various contradictions on which hegemonic politics in Nigeria had hitherto rested to their final exhaustion. If anybody had told Moshood Abiola on June 5, 1993 that he would be inheriting, five days later, the intolerance and the hatred with which the late Obafemi Awolowo was regarded by the Northern political establishment throughout his political career, MKO would have said never. He would have said that 'never' with certitude born out of conviction. He was a man of many identities, who also went out of his ways to cultivate everybody and everyone in Nigeria, high and low. Yet, to those who annulled the election won by Chief Abiola and threw him into jail a year later, when he rightfully pressed his claims, none of his many identities mattered. What they began to see and loathe from that moment it became apparent that he was going to become the president of Nigeria was the possibility of a Yoruba occupying that office. It was Abiola's Yoruba identity that made all the other identities insignificant at that crucial moment. From that moment, intolerance turned into hatred. Containment turned into desperation.

Bashorun Abiola began his formal education at Nawaru-Ud-Deen School, Abeokuta in 1944. Between 1945 and 1950, he moved to African Central school, Abeokuta, where he received the Primary School Leaving Certificate. In 1951, he was admitted to the Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta, and in 1956, he completed his secondary education. All through his education, he had to fend for himself, through thick and thin. Indeed, as he worked himself through school, by fetching firewood for sale, he also helped some of his classmates, organizing fundraising activities such as Agidigbo musical displays to help them pay for their final examinations. Some of them attained positions of authority, only to forget their benefactor. But Olawale never worried. He was doing it for his God. Having a first hand experience of what it was to suffer poverty, he dedicated himself to the cause of the poor and downtrodden. This was what motivated him to the unpredictable vocation of politics. He went in there to actualize the Hope of the helpless.

Chief Abiola began his work experience as a clerk with Barclays Bank in Ibadan, before joining the Western Region Finance Corporation as an Executive Officer. By February 1961 when he left for Glasgow University in Scotland, he was a Higher Executive Officer. At Glasgow, he excelled in his studies, earning First Prizes in Political Economy, Commercial Law and Chartered Accountancy. He became a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland and was certified as a Chartered Accountant in February, 1966.

As a visionary who had great ideas for contributing to his country's development, Chief Abiola left the shores of Great Britain for Nigeria as soon as he was qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1966, to join the Lagos University Teaching Hospital as its Deputy Chief Accountant. Though he went back to Nigeria on the ticket of Guiness Ltd. He realized, as soon as he got back, that the company offered no Hope for him, nor for any Nigerian because of its discriminatory policies. And this was why MKO moved to Lagos University Teaching hospital, even when doing so cost him #4,000 in earnings. In 1967, he moved to Pfizer Products as Divisional Comptroller (Agriculture). In 1968 he became the Comptroller, International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT). He later became the Managing Director of the company, and as such the first Nigerian to head such a multinational corporation. In 1970, at a youthful age of 33, Chief Abiola's brilliance and industry earned him the position of the Vice President for Africa and Middle East of ITT.

A business tycoon of immense capabilities, Chief Abiola founded Radio Communications (Nig) Ltd in February 1974, in conjunction with Harris Communication of USA. In 1979, he was Chairman of Decca (WA)Ltd, later renamed Afrodisia (Nig) Ltd., and in 1980, he established Wonder Bakeries Ltd. In the same year, he ventured into one of his life-long ambitions to own a publishing industry by starting the Concord Group of Newspapers and Magazines, publishers of National Concord, Weekend Concord, Sunday Concord and Midweek Concord. These papers immediately took a pride of place as authoritative sources of news and information on politics, business and culture. Basorun Abiola's business interests, including banking, shipping, publishing, aviation, fisheries, and farming, are spread over sixty countries and five continents.

Aare Abiola was wealthy; however, he used his wealth to benefit others, and to keep their Hopes alive. He was the foremost philanthropist in the whole of Africa. He gave generously to worthy causes across the continent and around the world. He made donations to development projects in remote villages, to schools and libraries, for water projects and sports, to universities and trade unions, and for mass education and health facilities. He gave generously to religious causes, building mosques and endowing churches. He endowed chairs in institutions of higher learning and made provisions for students welfare across the country. For instance, in 1990, Chief Abiola gave NI,000,000 to each state university for improvement of students welfare; N500,000 to each Federal University for students welfare, and N25,000 to each Nigerian polytechnic for students welfare. His Zulikha Abiola Islamic Center in Abeokuta provided free Islamic education to more than 500,000 students across Nigeria, and in 1990, he donated N30,000,000 to the Oyo State Educational Development Fund. It would appear that his background of poverty motivated Chief Abiola to recognize the inherent worth of each person and to see himself as an instrument to further the good of others.

Chief Abiola was a pan-Africanist to the core. A life time member of the African National Congress, he was involved actively and financially in the struggle against apartheid since the early 70's. He had always insisted on justice through reparation for the Black victims of enslavement, and to match his words with action, in 1991, he established the Abiola Foundation for Reparation with $500,000. In 1988, Chief Abiola gave $40,000 to Howard University for research in African Studies and there are several Abiola scholars presently studying in the University. In memory of the foremost pan-Africanist, W.E.B. Du Bois, Chief Abiola donated a huge amount of money to the W.E.B. Du Bois Center in Accra. In 1990, he gave $50,000 for the construction of an Islamic Center in New York City, and $100,000 to the 19th anniversary of Africare, which was dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

Fondly referred to as the pillar of sports in Africa, Chief Abiola gave generously to sports clubs throughout the continent, and he took active interest in sports. He founded the Abiola Babes Football Club which won several challenge club competitions. Out of his interest, he volunteered to chair the fund-raising committee for the Nigerian National Olympic Committee. He also encouraged university competitions by donating cups and trophies. It is an open secret that his incarceration cost the nation the opportunity to host the FIFA world cup competitions four years ago.

Among the public and private positions and offices Basorun Abiola held were Member of the Constituent Assembly (1978); Chairman, G.15 Business Development Council; Chancellor, Ladoke Akintola State University of Technology, Ogbomoso (1991); President, Nigerian Stock Exchange (1991); President, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (1991); Board Member, International Press Institute (1992).

Basorun Abiola served the people and the world, and the people appreciated him with a variety of professional, honorary awards and traditional titles. In 1992, he was honored with the American Black Heritage Award of the NAACP. In the same year, he received the Golden Key to Washington, DC. In 1986, he was named Patron of the W.E.B. Du Bois Foundation in Accra, and in 1986 and 1989, in recognition of his support for the Black struggle across the world, he was named Patron of Congressional Black Caucus in the United States and of Black Parliamentary Caucus in Great Britain respectively. In 1991, Chief Abiola was elected Chairman of the OAU Group of Eminent Persons on Reparation, and in 1992, he won the Humanitarian Award of the Southern Leadership Conference. Other awards received by Chief Abiola included honorary degrees from various universities. Thus he received the LL.D (Hon) from Tuskeegee University in 1989; D.LITT (Hon) from the University of Ilorin in 1990; D.Litt. (Hon) from University of Jos in February 1991; D.Sc.(Hon) Usman dan Fodio University, Sokoto in Jan 1992; LL.D. (Hon) University of Port Harcourt in February 1992; LL.D (Hon) Ogun State University in November 1992; and in December 1992, he received an Honorary Doctorate degree from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile- Ife.

Abiola's fervor for spirituality and for being at peace with God was remarkable. He had a strong faith in his God, declaring once that "I believe in Allah, and I've vouched to live my life as laid down in the Holy Quoran, Hadith and its jurisprudence and not ruled by any allusion." Yet he was not fanatical, and he was at home in both Islamic and Christian scriptures, especially during the last years of his life, when all he was left with in captivity were the Holy Quoran and the Holy Bible. Abiola was the Baba Adini of Yorubaland, the Vice President of the Jamat-al-Nasrul Islam and the Vice President of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. As a true believer, he spread the Hope of peaceful coexistence between the religions. Hence the active involvement of Christian clerics in his cause. They saw him as the Hope of a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.

A humble respecter of traditions, Chief Abiola won the heart of traditional rulers and the masses throughout Nigeria and Africa, and they appreciated his philanthropy with numerous traditional titles. He was given the traditional chieftaincy title of Bobagunwa of Egbaland in 1972; the Oganla of Ojoo Gbagura in 1973; the Bobajiro of Ode-Remo in 1978; the Balogun of Ojoo, Gbagura in 1983; Itevuegbe of Weppa Wano, Agenebode in 1986; Basorun of Ibadan in 1986; Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland in 1987, and Jagunmolu of Lagos in 1989. He was also the Shettima of Borno, the Magayaki of Katsina, the Ozemoya of Auchi and the Magayakin Zazzau of Suleja, among over two hundred other titles he held.

At ease in traditional and modern circles, Chief Abiola was a wordsmith. His profound knowledge of Yoruba proverbs testifies to his having been an "omo odo Agba" in his youthful days. For him proverbs are the vehicles for bringing back thoughts lost on an audience. It was only MKO who knew that "the bigger the head, the bigger the headache; or that you cannot shave a head in the absence of its owner and that any such attempt is an exercise in futility. He also was the only one who could warn the corrupted leaders that power is like a tiger, if you ride a tiger, you must be very careful when you get down, otherwise you find yourself inside the tiger's belly. He knew that anyone afraid of death cannot claim his father's tilte, and that once you have claimed your father's title, you have become the object of envy of all the members of the family, many of who will pray for your early demise to provide a vacancy for them.

It was not a surprise then that the people believed in him, north, west, east and south. They believed in the program he enunciated for delivering the masses from the shackles of poverty and ignorance and they trusted his ability to deliver. He had vowed that a government presided over by him would put the people first, even as he did in his own private life. He saw our people as the hope of the nation and promised to invest in them. They also saw him as their hope, and gave him the mandate to lead them on June 12, 1993. He would not have disappointed them, just as he did not disappoint his parents. However, the ethno-military hegemonists imposed their will on the people, and quashed the people's hope. First on June 23, 1993, and finally on July 7, 1998. After four years and fourteen days of keeping him away from the family and the people he loved and pledged to serve, the ethno-military oligarchy had no solution to the "Abiola problem" than to eliminate him. And while the people where waiting for the release of their president-elect, they received the news of the passing of the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland at about 5: 05 p.m. Nigerian time.

Abiola once fondly recalled his father's favorite Yoruba song:

If I look back and I see my people behind me, I feel elated. Human beings are the cloth I need around me."

Eniyan laaso mi, eniyan laso mi,

Bi mo ba boju wehin ti mo reni mi,

Inu mi a dun, ara mi a ya gaga,

Eniyan laaso mi.

In life, the people were behind Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola. In death they did not desert him. For they know that we will never see his like again. They know as the Aare Ona Kakanfo, he did not desert them in the battle for justice. Indeed he internalized the Yoruba philosophy of life, ikuyajesin, death is preferable to disgrace. He stood up for the cause of the people. But the agents of despair prevented him. He was not the type that could compromise with evil to renounce the mandate of Hope given to him by the people. There is a defiant tradition of Kakanfo exemplified by Kurumi Balogun Ijaiye. It was a tradition that prided itself in the struggle for justice, and was not afraid to die in the cause of justice. Aare Abiola belonged to that tradition, and it is a tradition that must be celebrated. They thought he would cave in even in incarceration. He did not. We must be proud of him.

Nwon yio se bi yoo da ni, nwon se bi yio da ni,

Abiola o dale ri,

Nwon se bi yio dani.

He preferred death to betrayal of the people.

The lesson of Abiola's life for us is to pursue the cause for which he suffered, and internalize the belief for which he died. As we memorialize his suffering and death, we remember his loyal and loving wife, the Moremi of our time, Kudirat Abiola. They both died so that we may live as decent members of the world community. It behooves us to reciprocate so that they do not die in vain. We know that they are at peace with their God. For they have fought the good fight.

Iku pa abiri, Abiri ku

E ni ko si nkan

Iku pa Abiri, Abiri rorun,

E ni ko si nkan

Ibiti iku ti pa Olawale

Lai eiye o de be je;

E si tun nwipe ko si nkan!

Nwon ni ko si nkan,

Nitoripe Awo ki'ku:

Se Awo ki'run

Nse l'awo ma nlo si Itunla

Itunla, ile awo

If so, then we must celebrate the life dedicated to the cause of justice, a life that counted service to the community as intrinsically valuable; a life that enriched the lives of others with a generosity that was unsurpassed. We now know that he is beyond the hands of the enemy and that he is at peace with his God. So let us thank His God for giving us the opportunity to have him on this plane, in spite of our inadequacies. And let us commit him to the everlasting presence of his God:

Baba maa gbe Kashi goke lo

Allah maa gbe Kashi goke lo

Nibiti t'oju oso ko le de

Nibiti t'owo aje ko le le te

Baba maa gbe Kashi goke lo


Father, carry Kashi to your heights

Allah carry Kashi to heaven

Where the eyes of the sorcerer cannot penetrate

Where the hands of the witch cannot reach

Father carry Kashi above and beyond.


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