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

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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
The Babangida government annulled the
election on grounds of corruption, an irony by
a government i’m sure Tony Blair 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
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
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.
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

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