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…The last tea my father drank before his death — Abiola’s son speaks

… My dad was killed to balance Abacha’s death

Wednesday 12th June 2024 marks another year MKO Abiola’s election was annulled . For children who witnessed this, all they are praying for is justice to prevail. The painful and emotional side of the story is , MKO finally died on the struggle!

Even his wife, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was assassinated in June 1996 by agents of state-linked directly to the government of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, while trying to actualize the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by her husband, the late Chief MKO Abiola.

It has been 28 years since the assassination. In this interview, Kudirat’s son, Abdulmumuni, reflects on the life and times of her mum as well as her legacies. He also speaks on the arrest of his dad in his presence after declaring himself president and the conflict in the family following the death of the patriarch. Abiola, who had won the June 12, 1993 election but annulled, had been imprisoned in 1994 after he declared himself president.

He died on July 7, 1998 amid hopes that he might be released and possibly allowed to reclaim his mandate as an American delegation which had arrived in Nigeria tried to mediate in the election annulment crisis. His tormentor, Abacha (Head of State), had died June 8, 1998, about four weeks earlier thus raising the hope of the release. Excerpts:

Tell us about your mum. Who was she and how do you describe her legacy?

Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was a humble lady, born in Zaria. She had four siblings (two older brothers and two younger sisters). After she graduated from high school, she went to work. With her job, she was able to support her sisters to go to university. You could tell that from a young age that she was selfless, humble and more or less a northerner because she spoke the language and lived the culture. Growing up with such a lady made me see her determination.

I felt maybe she was a little bit too strict, especially with me because I was very stubborn. She used to scold me and tried to make me understand that no matter how much my father had, I shouldn’t think that I was entitled to anything and I should always look at the other side of the coin or put myself in other people’s shoes. I remember that while growing up, I wanted to use the Mercedes to go to school, but my mum forced me to use the Peugeot 504. I think she was trying to send a message to me that no matter what you have, you should always know that everything is from God. And because you are blessed by Allah doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take care of other people or be compassionate when it comes to taking care of your fellow Nigerian or fellow brothers and sisters.

That is one of the things I remember vividly about her. She was a disciplinarian and always tried to make us understand that education is key and whatever I decide to do with my life, I am doing in a way of serving, giving back to humanity. It has been 28 years, and that is mostly what I remember because I was really young when I lost her. At that age, what I remember was her punishing me. She had a koboko (whip) used for disciplining me. I didn’t like it very much. In hindsight, I see what she was trying to do, which was to instill some habits that would see me through, especially now as I am getting older.

What was your immediate reaction after you learnt that your mother had been assassinated way back in 1996? How did the family take it?

It was a mixture of profound shock, disbelief and overwhelming grief. It was a moment that shattered our world. My mother was a beacon of strength and resilience, not just for our family but for the countless others who admired her courage and dedication to justice. The news felt like a nightmare, an unfathomable reality that we couldn’t escape. As the reality set in, the pain was almost unbearable. The family was deeply affected; each of us dealt with the loss in our own way, yet we found a way to come together in our grief. We leaned on one another for support, drawing strength from our shared memories and the values she had instilled in us. Her assassination was not just a personal loss, but a blow to the ideals she stood for and the fight for democracy and human rights in Nigeria. Despite the sorrow, we resolved to honour her legacy by continuing to advocate for the causes she believed in so passionately.

Do you think that she’s been given the recognition that she deserves from the Nigerian government and the Nigerian people?

I was there at the very pivotal moment. I was in the country when she was assassinated. I was here when the soldiers came to the house trying to arrest my father. I saw things that I may not be able to put into context. I was definitely aware of what happened and I understand her role, the position that she stood for.

I thank God she was able to find the courage to take that position. When we talk about honouring people who have fought for this country, I think it will be more impactful when we try to do some of the things that they were fighting for. My father’s ambition during the whole election was farewell to poverty.

A better way to immortalise my father is to bring more people out of poverty, educate more people and expose more people to opportunities where they can find something to sustain themselves. That could be a better way to immortalise them not necessarily naming something or a building after somebody. I think the ethos and the principles of what they stood for should speak volumes. On my part or as a family, we can now look at scholarships that we would dedicate on her behalf for young ladies who are trying to go into engineering or other programmes.

When we talk about government, we should be looking at the message that they tried to pass across. If we can try to imbibe those principles, that might be a better way of honouring the legacy and sacrifice they made.

Do you believe your dad was equally eliminated to balance the death of Abacha? I remember there was the controversy about the last tea he was said to have taken in the presence of the American delegation mediating in the June 12 crisis after which he died suddenly and which raised suspicions he might have been killed…

The theory that my dad was eliminated to balance the death of Abacha has been circulated and discussed in various forums. While it is difficult to confirm such claims definitively, the circumstances surrounding his death certainly raise many questions and suspicions. My father was a formidable figure in the fight for democracy and human rights, and his sudden and untimely death left a void in the nation’s heart.

The Idea that his death was part of a larger political manoeuvre is both chilling and plausible, given the turbulent political climate of the time. However, without concrete evidence, it remains one of many possible explanations. What is clear, though, is that his passing was not just a personal loss for our family but a significant blow to the country.

He was a man of principle, deeply committed to the betterment of Nigeria, and his loss was felt deeply by all who shared his vision for a just and equitable society. Regardless of the true motives behind his death, we must continue to seek truth and accountability, ensuring that his legacy of integrity and justice endures.

Which of your dad’s qualities do you find different from contemporary politicians?

One of the most striking qualities of my dad, which sets him apart from many contemporary political figures, was his unwavering integrity. He was a man of his word, someone who believed in the principles of justice and fairness above all else.

In today’s political landscape, it is often difficult to find leaders who prioritise the welfare of the people over their personal ambitions. My dad’s commitment to democracy and human rights was not just rhetoric, it was evident in his actions and decisions.

He was deeply empathetic and genuinely cared about the plight of the ordinary citizens, always striving to make a tangible difference in their lives. Another quality that distinguished him was his humility. Despite his significant influence and achievements, he remained grounded and approachable.

He never sought power for its own sake but viewed it as a means to serve and uplift others. This is in stark contrast to the often self-serving attitudes seen in modern politics, where personal gain frequently takes precedence over public service.

His leadership style was inclusive and consultative. He believed in listening to diverse perspectives and fostering a sense of unity and purpose among those he led. Today, we often see political figures who are more divisive, using their platforms to further polarize rather than unify.

Those who fought with your father are in power today, yet they have been unable to transform the country. What can you say about that?

This question comes up all the time. There is also another one that says 25 years after, is this the democracy they died for? I always say this, democracy is a journey, not a destination. It is always changing. There is a prerequisite to democracy and that is participation. We need to be engaged in the process. You are right that President Bola Tinubu was a key member of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, struggle.

He knows all that we are discussing because he was there and his life was also threatened. I know that we might not be exactly where we want to be, but the only way we will get to that Promised Land is when we all take ownership of Nigeria. I said before that my father was able to win across the board because the message that he put out there was accepted by the majority of the population. What we need to do if we want to ensure that democracy works is working together, collaborating and synergizing.

Democracy is a two-edged sword, a double-sided coin. There is one part that has to do with leadership and the other side with the followership. The followership has to keep the leadership to account. The more people who engage in this democracy, the more people who participate, the more people who believe in the process will be the way. Abiola would not have been the one to fix Nigeria, Nigerian people would have done that, and I think he tried to make that clear. I believe that we have a long way to go in this democratic journey, but, like I said, it is still a journey and the only way we can demand the dividends of democracy is when we are on the same table. We must be interested in knowing what is happening, we must be informed and educated.

These are the steps that we need to take as citizens. Nigeria belongs to us all. Yes Mr President has his role; as citizens, we have our own role to play. I am a strong believer that we are blessed to be in a democratic journey. This might not be the democracy that we all want, but like I said, the only way we are going to get there is by working together towards that Hope Agenda that my father fought for. I think that is important.

How is the family? Is there unity?

For me, I noticed that when I was younger, I was very vocal. In Yoruba culture, it is frowned upon when someone younger has discussions with his elder ones in a certain way. I thought I might have been working against myself. First of all, yes we are still not speaking with one voice which is not good because I think we can do a lot together. For instance, in some of the situations in which we find ourselves. Today, if the Abiola family was one, I can guarantee you that Abiola Farms would be operational. About 45,000 hectares of farmland could have been put to use and God knows how we will be helping to reduce the cost of food across Nigeria.

I have this conversation with my brothers, and it seems like we are at an impasse. I have reached out to the Federal Government to take charge of this matter. We are talking 28 years after my mother died and 25 years after my father died, yet we are still having these issues. The Abiola family is hurting and there are also other people hurting. There were people employed by the Abiola Farms, there were people employed by Concord, who believed in my father and we left them hanging. I remember going to Lafiaji in Kwara State to meet with the Emir from whom my father bought 10,000 hectares of farmland. When he saw me, he just started crying saying “this was not what your father promised”.

I believe that the promises my father made are left for the children to be fulfilled. Whatever issues we might have within the family, I am willing to resolve it. Abiola’s properties belong in Nigeria and with it, we can employ more people. For now, what I have decided to do is to calm down. Like I said, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I am reaching out to people of like minds to see how I can work with them towards bringing a better tomorrow not only for the Abiola family but for Nigeria as a whole. Today, we live in a global village. You would have seen that during the elections, we were divided. My brother was in Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, I am in the All Progressives Congress, APC. We are all speaking in different voices. I think that we need to reconcile in due time. We need to come together and rededicate ourselves towards that vision our father had for the country.

Family’s take on the last tea

As a son of Abiola, our family has always been deeply concerned about the tea my father reportedly drank in the presence of the American delegation during their mediation efforts on the June 12 crisis. We believe this tea might have played a role in his sudden and unexpected death. Despite our concerns, no conclusive evidence has been found to support this theory. We continue to seek clarity and justice regarding the circumstances surrounding his demise.

Postmortem findings

The postmortem examination of my father revealed that he died of natural causes, specifically a heart attack. According to the autopsy report, there was no evidence of foul play or poisoning, which was a significant point of the investigation given our suspicions. Although the findings concluded that his death was natural, we remain skeptical. We believe further investigation is necessary to rule out any external factors that could have contributed to his death.

Resolution of Will and paternity issues

The controversy surrounding my father’s Will and the paternity of some of his children was a complex legal matter that required thorough judicial intervention. DNA testing was used to confirm paternity claims, providing clear genetic evidence about the legitimate heirs. Once all rightful beneficiaries were validated, the legal proceedings upheld the validity of the Will, clarified the rightful beneficiaries and ensured that my father’s estate was distributed according to his wishes and the facts.

However, despite these efforts, my father’s first son, Kola Abiola, in partnership with his siblings, has done everything in their power to frustrate, obstruct and even sabotage the Abiola estate executors from executing the Will by my father’s wishes and I quote “sell everything and share equally among the rightful beneficiaries”. This has led to ongoing challenges and disputes within the family, hindering the fair and transparent resolution we seek.

(Sunday Vanguard: Text, Excluding Headline)

Source: News Express

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