Nigerians will never forget in a hurry the great philanthropist, popular Nigerian businessman, publisher, politician and aristocrat of the Yoruba Egba clan Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, he won the 1993 presidential election that was annulled by the former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babanginda.
Abiola affectionately known as MKO Abiola died in 1998. His 1993 presidential victory with accurate election results was dubiously annulled by the preceding military president Ibrahim Babangida because of alleged evidence that the results were corrupt and unfair.
Regardless of one’s ethnicity, educational background, tribe, or culture, Nigerians voted en mass for a man who recognized the importance and value of democracy in the country.
The election was declared Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election by national and international observers at the time, with Abiola even winning in his Northern opponent’s home state. Abiola won at the national capital, Abuja, the military polling stations, and in over two-thirds of Nigerian states. The reason why the election was so historic, was because men of Northern descent had largely dominated Nigeria’s political landscape since independence.
- Moshood Abiola was his father’s twenty-third child but the first of his father’s children to survive infancy, hence the name Kashimawo.
2. MKO showed entrepreneurial talents at a very young age, at the age of nine he started his first business selling firewood. He would wake up at dawn to go to the forest and gather firewood, which he would then cart back to town and sell before going to school, to support his father and his siblings.
3. As a business person, he had investments in 102 countries.
4. As a philanthropist, he donated, in 1991, N120 million to all higher institutions in the country among other organizations.
5. His financial assistance resulted in the construction of 63 secondary schools, 121 mosques and churches, 41 libraries, and 21 water projects in 24 states of Nigeria, and he was grand patron to 149 societies or associations in Nigeria. His commitment to the plight of ordinary Nigerians included establishing Abiola bookshops to provide affordable, locally produced textbooks in the 1980s when imported textbooks became out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians as the naira was devalued. He also made available daily necessities such as rice and soap at affordable prices in the market.
6. As a chief, he bagged more traditional titles than any other Nigerian.
7. Following common tradition, Abiola took four wives; Simibiat Atinuke Shoaga in 1960, Kudirat Olayinki Adeyemi in 1973, Adebisi Olawunmi Oshin in 1974, and Doyinsola (Doyin) Abiola Aboaba in 1981.
8. He is said to have fathered over 40 children from these four marriages.
9. Abiola’s second wife, Kudirat, was murdered in the capital city of Lagos in 1996. There was speculation that her death was caused by the military, but no proof was ever found.
10. His third wife, Doyin, ran a newspaper chain he owned until it was closed by the government.
11. Abiola died under suspicious circumstances shortly after the death of General Abacha, June 8, 1998, he died on the day that he was due to be released from prison on July 7, 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.
12. MKO Abiola’s memory is celebrated in Nigeria and internationally on June 12 and remains a public holiday in Lagos and Ogun States. There are also remembrance events arranged across Nigeria.
13. Despite his popularity or because of it, MKO Abiola occasionally attracted criticism from political activists and detractors. Controversy was caused by a song by popular Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. Kuti was famed for being the pioneer of Afrobeat music as well as a controversial figure in his own right.
14. In 1994 Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos island, an area mainly populated by (Yoruba) Lagos indigenes. After declaring himself president he was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested.
15. He was detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement allegedly with a Bible, Quran, 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.