A hero is someone by his ideals, strides or achievement is looked up to. He is always a man of honour, dignity and courage. A hero is always prepared to lay down his live in the defence of the down trodden people against forces of subjugation, intimidation, exploitation, and dehumanization. He is a man who bequeaths an enduring legacy of emulation to present and un-borne generations.
The people should see themselves in him. Since the dawn of ages, history is replete with heroes. In America, during 9/11, the fire fighters risked their lives climbing the smoky stairway to save a life. For the role George Washington played in the American Revolution, he is undoubtedly an American hero. The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Roman Catholic nun, Saint of the Gutters was a humanitarian and an advocate for the poor, the aged and the dieing. She died that others might live. In Africa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkruma, Patrice Hemery Lumumba stand out in the struggle to disentangle Africa from the stranglehold of colonialism. They showed the light and Africans found their way.
They are quintessential heroes of all times. Here in Nigeria, it’s somehow amusing how some people dead or alive are portrayed as heroes. It is Abubakar Audu who virtually named all edifices in his State after himself when he held sway as Governor of Kogi State. Also, every Independence anniversary, one Taiwo Akinkunmi and his pen pushers harass Nigerians for not recognizing the ‘unsung hero’ who designed the Nigerian National Flag. Those that designed the National Coat of Arms, wrote the National Anthem/National Pledge, fought for and won our national independence did not achieve much in their eyes. Along Western Avenue road in Lagos, stands the statue of late Funsho Williams. Funsho was the standard bearer of People’s Democratic Party, in Lagos State who was allegedly assassinated in the run up to 2003 governorship election. The popular Western Avenue road has been named after him. I cannot figure out what Funsho Williams achieved in his lifetime that deserved his immortalization. Or are we immortalizing him because he died? During Funsho’s stewardship as a commissioner for works in Lagos, he did not perform remarkably, earning him the nickname Mr. Asphalt. If anything, what of Bola Ahmed Tinubu that lived to contest the said election, defeated the PDP rigging machine in the polls, constantly fought the ‘nest of killers’ in PDP and survived, even as he delivered a modicum of democracy dividend?
And then, we have Aare ona kakanfo, the generalissimo of the Yoruba, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. To some, Abiola was the greatest thing that happened to Nigeria nay Africa. By their estimation, Abiola was an African god. In his reaction over the House of Representatives decision that the issue of June 12th struggle be divorced from MKO as a personality, Dele Momodu writing on Thisday Newspapers issue of 24th July, 2009, has this to say of Abiola: How does one divorce a man from his hard work? Abiola was known to have worked harder than any soul on the unity of Nigeria in particular and that of Africa in general. Abiola was an exceptional fighter for the dignity of man. His love for his fellowmen made him one of the most generous human beings that ever lived. He was the most acclaimed philanthropist of his time. He was never tired of sharing whatever God had given him... Talk about ‘dangers of single story’. What of the other side of Abiola we know? These mischievous praises from the people charged with the responsibility of informing the general public have become a monumental amusement of annoying proportion.
Monument like Ogun State Stadium and many other roads/streets have since been named after Abiola. Not done, recently, there was a clamour to name National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos after the late Abeokuta high Chief. Sam Okwaraji, whose blood was shed on that soil, fighting for the country mattered not. I suggest, since Abiola died scheming to rule Nigeria, the clamour should rather be ‘Name Aso Rock Abiola’s House’. This elite choir band, if they have their way, would lynch ex-President Obasanjo for not immortalizing their god ‘the father of the democracy we enjoy in Nigeria today’ which as they say, Obasanjo was a major beneficiary. They reason that without June 12th, there would not have been an Obasanjo Presidency as if Obasanjo’s government translated to El-Dorado for all Nigerians. They would not mention that Obasanjo dismissed Abiola early enough as not the Messiah Nigeria needed. Fela Anikulapo Kuti would not have agreed with them either.
Every June 12th each year, Ogun and Lagos States of Nigeria declare public holiday in honour of the late Egba chief, presumably, for his good work here on earth. In their imagination, Abiola was the greatest Nigerian worthy of such honour. Sheer bunkum! Let’s remind them that the fight for the actualization of the June 12th mandate was based on the fact that the right of every Nigerian to vote and be voted for remained inviolate as a salutary augury or foundation for evolving democratic practice in Nigeria. Not, repeat not on the depraved personality of Abiola and his reeking undemocratic and corrupt credentials. It is sad that the struggle for the actualization of June 12th mandate has been reduced to Abiola’s solo fight for all of us. The alacrity of the call for Abiola’s apotheosis actuated this writer’s inquisitorial instinct at investigating the late Abeokuta High Chief and his ethical business practices – a man Fela Anikulapo Kuti, dubbed ‘international thief-thief’. Abiola, from a typical poor African family, rose to become one of the richest Nigerians. His is a story of rise from grass to grace. He once said that he was the richest African of his time. Abiola, a Baptist High School, Abeokuta product and University of Glasgow, Scotland trained accountant, worked with Pfizer, ITT amongst others.
That he was a known friend of and contractor to the corrupt military oligarchy that ruined Nigeria is well known. That he oiled the wheels of several military subversion of the sovereignty of Nigerian people in electing their leader is not a subject of conjecture. When Alhaji, Shehu Shagari cried out that a ‘well known business tycoon’, ‘a frustrated politician’ engaged in ‘coup baiting’ to destabilize his government, we knew who he meant. Abiola did not only finance coups in this country. He used the media to psychologically prepare the mind of the gullible populace to accept his inordinate schemes as divine. Babangida speaking on their coup d'état against Shagari’s elected democratic government, revealed, ‘Abiola was very good in trying to mould the thinking of the media. We relied on him a lot for that. So there were both the media and financial support. Read Midnight in Nigeria by Karl Maier. But in a country where the ends justify the means; in a country that obeys the 11th commandment of ‘steal but thou shall not be caught’, Abiola with his dubious wealth became a demi-god. And to add salt to the injury, we are being affronted to make image of the same Abiola in our respective places of abode (call it Abiola shrine) and pay obeisance when a just recompense would have been to put him in prison; even posthumously. What an irony? What a country? Any nation where the people who should know better are adept at misinforming the public is damned. When Abiola contested the Presidential election of June 12th 1993, it appeared that (his impoverished) Nigerians gave him their mandate. When his best friend Babangida (tell me who you go with), annulled the election and consequently, ‘stepped aside’, he installed Abiola’s fellow Egba man, Ernest Shonekan, as Head of the short lived Interim National Government. In Abiola’s penchant for coup making, he went into an un-holy political alliance with the late Sahelian General, the Kanuri born Sani Abacha to bring down Shonekan’s Interim National Government in an act of coup d'état de tat.
The gentleman agreement between the duo of Abiola and Abacha was that Sani (as he used to call him) would rule for six months, stabilize the heated polity and then hand over power to him. It is on record that Abiola actually nominated some people he trusted that served in Abacha’s cabinet. Propelled by his undemocratic attitude and blind pursuit of power, his and Abacha’s decision represented the decision of all Nigerians. It is safe, therefore, to state that Abacha’s junta was Abacha/Abiola junta at inception. But when Baba Gana Kingibe took up appointment to serve in Abacha’s Government, the Nigerian Press chastised him, dismissing his decision as an act of political harlotry and mercantilism whilst Abiola remained their hero. What manner of two-faced press? Abiola’s presidential ambition dates back to the NPN days when he plotted to succeed Shehu Shagari before he was frustrated out by Umoru Dikko that ‘Nigerian Presidency is not for sale to the highest bidder’. That that he waited on the sidelines as his friend, IBB, banned and un-banned political heavy weights like the late Rtd. Gen. Shehu Musa Yaradua et al before he declared his intention to contest created enough room for suspicion. Could it be that he read the mind of Babangida, his partner-in-crime? Or was the banning and flurry of annulments by his friend, Babangida, intended to pave way for Abiola’s smooth sail to power before things fell apart? Even in the said election we gathered that Abiola emerged the flag bearer of the Social Democratic Party by sheer money power - cash and carry politics! It was revealed that while Ambassador Kingibe was buying each delegate’s vote between N500 to N2, 000, Abiola, was paying between N10, 000 to N20, 000. Democracy in action! In a country ravaged by hunger (which the Abiolas of this world created), it is understandable why Abiola defeated Bashir Tofa of rival National Republican Convention even in his own ward. That’s free and fair election indeed! At this stage, let’s take a question: What if Abiola presidency had even materialized?
Would he have turned his back against the corrupt military cabal that made him in the first instance and become people centred, patriotic and incorruptible over night? It could have been a pleasant surprise. When Abacha reneged on their agreement to hand over power to him after six months, he threatened war. Egba women went nude in protest, invoking ancestral spirits may be to twist Abacha’s neck to compel him to relinquish power their son, Abiola. There was panic across the land. Many people died in the mass exodus that ensued. Ominous cloud did hand over Nigeria’s geopolitical firmament. The fear was that a fierce battle of unimaginable proportions and unpredictable consequences would ensue between the then Military Junta of Sani Abacha and our imagined Aare Onakakanfo’s Combatants. How wrong we were. Before a canister of tear gas was detonated; before a lone rubber bullet was fired, the Egba Chief scampered to the comfort zones of London, citing plans to assassinate him as the reason for his escape. When reminded that it was unthinkable of Aare ona kakanfo, field-marshal, to be a coward, as portrayed by his escape even before the battle whistle was blown, he returned to the country and threatened to declare himself President. Many voices of reason advised him otherwise; that he should rather toe a line of civility rather than such a combative approach. But like a recalcitrant dog, he turned deaf ear to the hunter’s whistle and ended up in python’s belly. He purchased a sculpt Nigerian Coat of Arms from a road side Sculptor and went to a village called Epe and declared himself President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigerian Armed forces whilst Abacha’s military government which he helped to form was still subsisting. By this his infamous Epetedo Declaration, any person of the age of reason knew he had booked himself a one way ticket to prison. He was expectedly arrested, charged with treason and thrown into gaol. He did not come out alive. Abiola did not heed the advice of Albert Einstein that a man should look for what is and not what he thinks should be. What outcome did Abiola expect in that senseless political alliance with a Military political monkey, Sani Abacha?
He displayed an embarrassing political naïveté by dining with a devil without a long spoon. Even his son, Kola, wouldn’t have handed over power to him under such an ill-conceived political arrangement. Lesson learned here is contained in the immutable words of Sakyong Miphan, that ‘if we act virtuously; the seed we plant will result in happiness. If we act non-virtuously, suffering results’. And it was suffering for Kashimawo Abiola in his last days on earth. How did Abiola rise to serve at the pinnacle of power at ITT as the Vice-Chairman for Africa and the Middle-east? He acted dubiously in the manner of his emergence as the Vice Chairman of the region. His scheme involved photographing his American predecessor and boss, portraying him mischievously as a chronic drunkard who couldn’t be trusted. The man was consequently sacked and Abiola landed a plum job. There, as the Vice-Chairman of ITT, it was a tale of corrupt enrichment at its worst! Chief Abiola sponsored the Babangida’s coup in 1985 and several other coups. As a military apologist, he with Nigerian military cartel that ran Nigeria aground, looted, squandered, ruined, and desecrated Nigeria’s socio-economic and political space, condemning over a 150 million people into avoidable penury.
His insatiable appetite for money knows no boundary. As the Corrupt-in-Chief African Business man, Liberians did not escape the bug of his rapacious appetite for ill-gotten wealth. Over five billion dollars which Samuel Doe of Liberian stole from the treasury of his country found a safe haven in Abiola’s hands. There is no evidence that the money was returned to Liberians after the death of Samuel Doe in the battle field. Thanks to their regional network of corruption. A man aspiring to public office should be considered a potential public property. This necessitates the scrutiny of his private and public life. As it concerns Abiola, little was made known in this regard. Abiola married over fifty wives and was not sure of the total number of his children. Rough estimate put it that he sired more than a 100 children. In his will dated October 25, 1989, he ordered that paternity of his children be ascertained by their undergoing DNA test as a condition for inheriting parts of his estate. After his demise, the DNA test condition caused commotion in his family as there emerged pro - and anti - DNA test faction. But legally, since Abiola’s wish must prevail, the DNA test was carried out. More than 25% of Abiola’s children (children bearing his name) failed the DNA test. This tells how disciplined the Chief was.
Abiola’s promiscuity make Jacob Zuma’s of South Africa pale into insignificance. How could this sort of man, disorganized as he was by lust for women and avarice be entrusted with the destiny of over a hundred million people in a country not lacking in human resources. It beggars belief. Abiola was philanthropic? That Abiola distributed bags of rice, gave out scholarships to the some indigents in our midst and sponsored sports is undeniable. But a man who stole your billions naira and turned back and gave you a few thousands of naira is a thief. Period! Recently, the hands of Nigerian press was on the neck of Rtd. General Theophilous Danjuma, (another ‘hero’ of 1966 coup/counter coup), for making it public that the he made a $1 billion profit from the sale of an oil block allocated to him by the generosity Nigerian State. He gave a percentage to a motherless baby’s home saying that the money was too much for him and his family alone. Spontaneously, there was a barrage of condemnation of the ex-General on the pages of Nigerian Newspapers.
This is quite opposite to the encomium being poured on Abiola, who was also helped to affluence by the same generosity of the military cartel that destroyed Nigeria. Like Abiola philanthropy, like Danjuma’s. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander! But no! Not in Nigeria. Danjuma must be crucified while Abiola must be apotheosized! If heroes are said to endure hunger; defy pain, and death to bequeath a lasting legacy, creating a moment's glory that endures in the memory of their descendants, how does M.K.O. Abiola fit into this category? Were his actions here on earth dictated by public good? What of his ethical business practice? My answers are in the negative. As the 16th anniversary of June election approaches, let us remember, for the sake of posterity that Chief MKO Abiola and his military collaborators ran Nigeria for decades in an exploitative economic mission, plundered our common wealth, unleashed debilitating poverty, disease, and hopelessness on the land. They are nothing but a band of armed robbers who will, forever, in our consciousness, live in infamy; the public relations gag by his duplicitous image makers and President Goodluck Jonathan’s uninformed intention to immortalize him notwithstanding.