Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola,GCFR (24 August 1937 – 7 July 1998) was a Nigerian Yoruba businessman, publisher, politician and aristocrat of the Yoruba Egba clan, he was the Aare Ona Kankafo of the Yoruba land. MKO Abiola ran for the presidency in 1993, for which the election results were annulled by the preceding military president Ibrahim Babangida because of allegations that they were corrupt and unfair.
Abiola was awarded the GCFR posthumously on 6 June 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria’s democracy day was changed to June 12.
Abiola was a personal friend of Babangida and he is believed to have supported Babangida’s coming to power. Abiola’s support in the June 1993 presidential election cut across geo-political zones and religious divisions, among a few politicians to accomplish such a spread during his time. By the time of his death, he had become an unexpected symbol 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 young 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.
At the age of nine he started his first business selling firewood gathered in the forest at dawn before school, to support his father and siblings. Abiola founded a band at the age of fifteen and would perform at various ceremonies in exchange for food. Abiola was eventually able to require payment for his performances, and used the money to support his family and his secondary education at the Baptist Boys High School Abeokuta.
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 University of Glasgow where he later earned a degree in accountancy and qualified as a chartered accountant.
BUSINESS CAREER AND POLITICS
In 1956 Moshood Abiola started his professional life as a bank clerk with Barclays Bank in Ibadan, South-West Nigeria.
After two years he joined the Western Region Finance Corporation as an executive accounts officer, before leaving for Glasgow, Scotland, to pursue his higher education.
From Glasgow University he received a first class degree in accountancy, and he also gained a distinction from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.
On his return to Nigeria, Abiola worked as a senior accountant at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital, then went on to US firm Pfizer, before joining the ITT Corporation, where he later rose to the position of Vice-President, Africa and Middle-East.
Abiola spent a lot of his time, and made most of his money, in the United States, while retaining the post of chairman of the corporation’s Nigerian subsidiary.
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.
Abiola announced his candidacy for president in February 1993, this was after a previous round of presidential primaries had been cancelled by military President Babangida.
His party of choice was SDP, though he was an outsider who was new to the partisan politics within the party which at the time was dominated by two major factions, People’s Front(PF) and PSP. Both SDP and its opposition, NRC held presidential primaries in March 1993.
SDP’s primaries was held in Jos and was largely a three way contest between Abiola, Kingibe and Atiku even though there were more aspirants. Abiola was heavily supported by the People’s Solidarity faction (PSP) within SDP while Atiku was supported by PF faction led by Yar’Adua and Kingibe was supported by a loose coalition of party members.
During the first ballot, Abiola was able to score a slim majority vote of 3,617 to Kingibe’s 3,225. A second round was contested two days later and Abiola again emerged victorious with a slim margin and he became the party’s presidential candidate for the June 12 election.
Abiola’s political message was an optimistic future for Nigeria with slogans such as “Farewell to poverty”, ” At last! Our rays of Hope” and the “Burden of Schooling”.
His economic policy included negotiations with foreign creditors and better management of the country’s international debts, in addition, increased cooperation with the foreign community while presenting himself as someone the international community can trust.
BASHORUN MOSHOOD KASHIMAWO OLAWALE ABIOLA INSTALLED AS THE ARE ONA KAKANFO
In 1987, Oba Yesufu Oloyede Asanike, Olubadan of Ibadan made history. Olubadan installed Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as the Bashorun of Ibadan. It was a prestigious title befitting of a distinguished personality in the mould of MKO Abiola.
That was the title of the legendary Bashorun Oluyole who was the paramount chief of Ibadan in 1850. It was also the title of Bashorun Ogunmola who reigned between 1865 and 1867.
It was therefore historic that exactly 120 years after the death of Ogunmola, MKO Abiola became the fourth person to be conferred with the prestigious title.
It was indeed a befitting honour for someone who had amassed chieftaincy titles from almost every town in Nigeria. As of the time of his installation in 1987, MKO Abiola was reputed to have over 150 chieftaincy titles.
He was the Bobajiro of Ode-Remo. He was the Bada Musulumi of Gbagura Egba. He was just settling down in his Ikeja home when he was informed that he had a call. Who was on the line? He asked before collecting the phone.
It was the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III. MKO snatched the phone. “Iku Baba Yeye, Igbakeji Orisa! Kabiyesi!” The newly installed Bashorun paid his homage to the foremost traditional ruler.
Alaafin must be calling to congratulate me, MKO thought. Kabiyesi was however not calling to congratulate the business magnate. “We have decided that you are to be conferred with the title of Aare Ona Kakanfo!” Kabiyesi informed him.
The phone nearly dropped from the hand of Bashorun. Aare Ona Kakanfo! The Generalissimo of Yoruba race! The Field Marshall for all descendants of Oduduwa! The portfolio held by Afonja, the founder of Ilorin! The title of Aare Obadoke Latosa of Ibadan – the scourge of Efunsetan Aniwura! The position held by the last premier of Western Region, Ladoke Akintola of Ogbomoso!
For a single person to be Bashorun and Aare was unheard of. It was the ultimate! Traditionally, Bashorun is the Prime Minister. Aare is the Field Marshall.
When Bashorun Gaa moved against Alaafin Abiodun around 1770, it was Oyalabi from Ajase (now Republic of Benin), the Aare Ona Kakanfo that came to the powerful monarch’s rescue.
Now, Abiola was going to be both the Prime Minister and the Field Marshall! Alaafin had spoken. MKO Abiola had no choice. The news spread like wildfire.
Congratulatory messages poured in from all over the globe. Aare Ona Kakanfo was not just another title. It was the title. It was the father of all traditional titles. Father ke? No, it was the Grandfather of All Titles.
If it were to be a national honour, it would be the equivalent of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic! Everybody in and outside Yorubaland was ecstatic at the choice of Abiola as the 14th Aare Ona Kakanfo. Well, almost everybody.
It happened that the Ashipa of Oyo, Chief Amuda Olorunosebi was not pleased with the choice of Bashorun MKO Abiola as the Aare. Ashipa was one of the prominent chiefs of Alaafin. He objected to the choice of the flamboyant publisher, an Egba man, as Aare Ona Kakanfo.
He went to Kabiyesi to protest. Iku Baba Yeye was adamant that MKO was eminently qualified to be the Aare Ona Kakanfo. Despite all the efforts of Chief Amuda Olorunosebi, Alaafin installed MKO Abiola as the Are Ona Kakanfo.
On Saturday, January 14, 1988, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III installed Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Abiola as the 14th Aare Ona Kakanfo.
The famous Yoruba Poet, Lanrewaju Moshood Adepoju was then called to the podium. In his deep and flawless Yoruba, Adepoju movingly rendered traditional poetry tracing the history of the title and the qualities of the new Aare Ona Kakanfo.
It was indeed a glorious day for the husband of Simbiat Atinuke. Ashipa Amuda Olorunosebi tried jeopardizing the intention of Alaafin to install MKO Abiola as Are Ona kakanfo but Chief Afe Babalola was available to give Alaafin legal support.
In recognition of his service to the Crown and the Law, Alaafin later conferred Chief Afe Babalola with the prestigious title of Aare Bamofin of Oyo Empire.
(Adapted from Impossibility Made Possible by Chief Afe Babalola, with additional materials researched from publicly available sources.)
IMPRISONMENT AND DEATH
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 assassinated 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 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 audio tapes 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.
As recounted at the time in a BBC interview with special envoy Thomas R. Pickering, an American delegation which included Susan Rice visited Abiola; 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 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.
- Impossibility Made Possible by Chief Afe Babalola
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