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Rethink It With Ben M.K.O Abiola, June 12, the change Nigeria hoped for

There was once a case he had in the US where he was required to pay $20,000 in child support and his lawyers are known to have argued that Abiola only had four official wives and the woman in question was just one of his 19 concubines.

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Ex-CJN Belgore says posthumous GCFR to MKO Abiola is illegal play

M.K.O Abiola


June 12, 1993 is much more than the day Chief M.K.O Abiola won the freest and fairest democratic elections ever held in Nigeria, but a day that symbolizes hope for Nigeria’s survival as a democratic nation. For the first time since after independence Nigerians forgot about ethnicity, religion and region and all came out to back a candidate because they believed he was the right man for the job.

Abiola the presidential candidate for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) with his promises of change and slogan of “Hope 93”, won states in the north, east and western parts of the country in an election that was later annulled by then president General Ibrahim Babangida, even though it was widely acclaimed by both local and foreign observers to be the freest and fairest elections held in Nigeria.


The Babangida government annulled the election on grounds of corruption, an irony by a government i’m sure David Cameron would have referred to as “Fantabulously Corrupt”. The speculated reason for the annulment however, was that the results did not go down well with the northern ruling elites who had hoped Bashir Tofa whom Abiola defeated in his own home state would win. So pressure was on Babangida to annul the election.

According to Mr Moshood Fayewimo, editor of the now defunct Razor magazine, Babangida had planned the 1985 coup just to protect himself from prosecution by the Buhari administration for his alleged involvement in drug trafficking. He was not ready to rule nor did he have the nation at heart when came into power. He ended up running the nation ragged with his unpopular Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) which had been advised by the IMF and the World Bank. Nigerians suffering under the economic policies of his government and cried out for a change. Under so much pressure from home and abroad, the Babangida regime decided to hold an election to transition the nation from a military regime to a democratic one or so it seemed.

Ibrahim Babangida play

Ibrahim Babangida


It was under these conditions that Abiola a renowned philanthropist known to have financed the construction of about 63 secondary schools, 41 libraries, 121 mosques and churches, and various water projects across about 24 states in the country emerged as the presidential candidate of the SDP with Baba Gana Kingibe as his running mate .

Abiola named Kashimawo (let’s keep watching) by his parents because even though he was their 23rd child he was the first to live past infancy, came from a poor background yet rose to become one of Africa's richest men, a story which provided hope to the Nigerian populace. So it's only natural that his faults were easily ignored and excuses were made on his behalf.

He was accused of corruption and using substandard materials when he was the chairman and chief executive officer of International Telephone and Telegraph, Nigeria (ITT), and blamed as the major reason the telephone industry at the time was poor. and the late Fela has a song where he referred to the acronym ITT as “International Thief Thief”. Notably and ironically, according to Fayewimo MKO Abiola is also alleged to have sponsored the 1985 coup that brought Babangida to power with ten million dollars ($10M)

And of course there’s the issue of his philandering. Abiola had four official wives, 19 concubines and supposedly 113 children. There was once a case he had in the US where he was required to pay $20,000 in child support and his lawyers are known to have argued that Abiola only had four official wives and the woman in question was just one of his 19 concubines.

But then many great leaders have been known to have their bad sides and weaknesses including greats like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, and it's  foolhardy to judge a man by his shortcomings as we all have them. I do not want a perfect man, I want one whose motives are true and Abiola embodied that.

On the 26th of August, 1993, Babangida set up an interim government and chose Chief Ernest Shonekan as it's head. Their mandate was to conduct another election and transition the country to a democracy. But the only history Shonekan made was becoming the shortest president ever to govern Nigeria. In November 17, 1993 just 82 days after, he was overthrown by General Sani Abacha in a "bloodless" coup.

For the master coup plotter Abacha, this particular coup was a walk in the park. He literally just walked into the government house and said “hey this is a coup”. Shonekan might have been the interim president but he was not the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces an oversight either planned or not that would cost him dearly. Abacha also had the backing of the northern ruling elite who believed power was their birthright and did not want to see a southerner rule.

On June 11, 1994, Abiola made the fatal mistake of declaring himself president before a group of about 3,000. He had finally provided Abacha with a legitimate reason to go after a man whom he deemed to be a threat. He quickly accused him of treason and sent 200 police vehicles to bring him into custody.

Late Nigerian military leader General Sani Abacha is shown in this September 1993 file photo. play Late Nigerian military leader General Sani Abacha is shown in this September 1993 file photo. (Reuters)


Riots and strikes erupted all over the country. Oil workers went on a strike bringing the nation to a standstill. There were  riots in the Western, Eastern and Northern part of the country which was proof of the popularity of MKO Abiola. Abacha finally managed to crush the protests after about nine weeks by firing, arresting and killing anyone he believed was against his government and this later included Kudirat, Abiola’s second wife.

After Abacha died on June 8, 1998, there were renewed calls for MKO Abiola to be made the president but this was not to be. On July 7, 1998, after four years in prison, Abiola died just days before he was to be released. The official report stated he died of a heart attack but insider sources say he was poisoned. Fayewimo believes both Abacha and Abiola were killed by Babangida a theory recently supported by Major Hamza Al-Mustapha.

Abiola might be dead but his legacy lives on and June 12 will always be honored as the day one man was able to unite a nation of fractured tribes to accomplish one goal, which was to make Nigeria a better place for everyone.

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