By Eric Elezuo
If and when bookmakers decide to write a comprehensive book on the person of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, popularly as MKO, the book will make the best read, considering the fact that the man who is reputed to have won the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, amassed so much personality in his 60 brief years.
On July 7, 1998, five years after his electoral victory, and four years after he was arrested and incarcerated by the General Abacha Sani junta, Chief Abiola died in prison, bringing to a partial end of the demand for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate. Many people believe that he was murdered. He had declared himself the lawful in 1994 at the Epetedo area of Lagos State, drawing the angst of the military government.
Born on August 24, 1937, Abiola was a splendid businessman, who touched the lives of almost everyone he came across. Not only was he a businessman, he was also an accomplished GCFR publisher, politician and aristocrat of the Yoruba Egba clan, coupled with the prestigious of the Aare Ona Kankafo of the Yoruba land.
Abiola, from day one, has been a survivor. He was the first of his father’s children to survive infancy in as much as he was born after 22 of his father’s children.
He attended African Central School, Abeokuta for his primary education. As a young boy, he assisted his father in the cocoa trade.
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. In search of the greener pastures, 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. He was very hardworking.
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. He was also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
MKO Abiola, whose sense of reaching out to the general Nigerian public, contested for the presidency in 1993, an office he believed will help him distribute equitable wealth. Unfortunately, the election results were annulled by the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida because of allegations that they were corrupt and unfair.
A prolific investor in both Nigeria, Africa and the Middle East, sub-region, he set up Abiola Farms, Abiola Bookshops, Radio Communications Nigeria, Wonder Bakeries, Concord Press, Concord Airlines, Summit Oil International Ltd, Africa Ocean Lines, Habib Bank, Decca W.A. Ltd, and Abiola football club. He was also Chairman of the G15 business council, President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Patron of the Kwame Nkrumah Foundation, Patron of the WEB Du Bois foundation, trustee of the Martin Luther King Foundation, and director of the International Press Institute. The list is endless. The beauty of all his investments is that he used the proceeds to see to the wellbeing of the ordinary people.
Many years after the agitation for the recognition of Abiola as the authentic winner of the June 12 election, President Muhammadu Buhari on June 6, 2018 awarded Abiola the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, posthumously and changed Nigeria’s democracy day to June 12.
Abiola’s friendship and humane disposition cut across all religion, tribe, geographical zones and even societal strata, and these explain the support he got in the June 1993 presidential election. By the time of his death, he had become an unexpected symbol of democracy.
As Nigeria celebrated the first democracy day on June 12, 2019, Buhari renamed the Abuja National Stadium in his honour. It would be recalled that in 2012, the government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan had renamed the University of Lagos after him. This was however, rejected by the generality of the Nigerian public, and the idea was dropped.
In recognition of Abiola’s exploits in the field of politics, business, sports and many other fields of human endeavours, various institutions have be named after such as Moshood Abiola Polytechnic in Ogun State, MKO Stadium among others.
Moshood Abiola married many wives and fathered many children. In fact, he took care of everyone of them handsomely. Some of his well known wives were Simibiat Atinuke Shoaga, who he married in 1960; Kudirat Olayinka Adeyemi (1973), who was brutally murdered in 1996 after publicly declaring support for the June 12 cause; Adebisi Olawunmi Oshin (1974), Doyinsola (Doyin) Abiola Aboaba in 1981, Modupe Onitiri-Abiola and Remi Abiola.
Two great things have happened to Abiola since his death on July 7, 1998. They include the posthumous award of GCFR, which is only reserved for presidents and the recognition of June 12 as the authentic Democracy Day for Nigeria. One, and the ultimate, is left, and that is recognising him as a former president with all benefits and entitlements.
Whether that will ever happen, the watchword is ‘kashimawo’ – let’s wait and see.