(Having been denied legitimate space in the classrooms, would you blame history for taking to the streets?)
The Newsroom was startled by Foluso’s scream. Instantly, it graduated to a wail. Looonnng and piercing. It was unprofessional; journalists don’t crack up so easily over news items. But none of us could console her. Others could only join…
They had struck again.
It had been a gruelling five years in detention. Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, business mogul, pillar of sports, publisher, philanthropist…
His generosity knew no bounds. From the South to the North, Abiola dispensed favours with Jupiterian magnanimity to Nigerians. A one-on-one encounter with Abiola would cure chronic poverty for life.
His sin was attempting to be president.
He won the June 12, 1993 election alright. It was a landslide. Who didn’t love Abiola? From South to North, Nigerians trooped out to vote for him. It was adjudged the freest and fairest election in Nigeria. Even in the ward of his major opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a northerner, Abiola swept the votes.
Then, They robbed him of the mandate given him by majority of Nigerians – from North to South — through a northern “military president”, Ibrahim Babangida. As the election results were being announced and it was clear that Abiola had won, the election was annulled through an unsigned piece of paper.
Protests erupted, mostly in the South. Pro-democracy groups took to the trenches. Many protesters were shot on the streets. Many northerners joined in condemnation of the robbery, including Col Abubakar Umar, col Yohanna Madaki,, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, many emirs, Rev Moses Adasu etc.
But the worse was to come. After Babangida was allegedly forced to step aside, an interim government of their choice in the form of Ernest Shonekan, an Egba Southerner like Abiola, was installed.
In an apparently pre-arranged script, Babangida’s second-in command, Sani Abacha, another northerner, shoved the bloody civilian out of Aso Rock and took over.
Hopes were naively raised that the short fellow of dark glasses would redress the wrong. Those hopes were dashed. Obviously, frustrated and probably misadvised, Abiola returned from self-exile to declare himself President — claiming the mandate given him by Nigerians.
Abacha’s men promptly picked up the business mogul in Lagos. And in the roughest rides of his life, the business mogul was driven by road all the way to Abuja—and to jail. As he was being taken away, Abiola’s voice announced his arrest to the world at large — especially his “friends” abroad.
It was the last the general public saw of Abiola.
If Babangida was Sweet Poison, Abacha was Bitter Poison. Nigeria entered one of its most repressive years ever. Hired killers mowed down prominent Nigerians. Abiola’s wife, Kudirat was gunned down while campaigning for her husband’s release… Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian Newspaper was shot. Akinrinade’s Lagos home was bombed, Omatshola was killed in a bomb blast, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka was hunted into exile…
Not even the northern emirs who had benefitted from Abiola’s generosity, could save him. That he was a staunch Muslim like his captors counted for nothing.
Pro-Abacha campaigners soon took to the streets telling Nigerians that Abacha was the best president Nigeria needed.
Some prominent Nigerians were later accused of planning to topple Abacha. Most of the accused were southerners, including Abacha’s second-in command, Brigadier-General Oladipo Diya and former Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. They were all jailed.
Then on June 8, 1998, Abacha died — after eating an apple, rumours said. Many Nigerians erupted in jubilation. Another northerner, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, took over. Again, hopes were raised that Abiola would be released and his mandate restored to him.
But no. Abiola, they said, would be released only on the condition that he renounced his mandate. But what manner of justice demands that an aggrieved owner renounces his stolen item as condition for settlement?
The battle for Abiola’s release raged. Abubakar started making frequent, suspicious trips abroad. In turn, foreign envoys (collaborators?) were trooping to Aso Rock.
Then few days to Abiola’s “sudden death”, this alert was faxed to Professor Wole Soyinka and a handful of others:
“The only addendum the new regime and its collaborators has is to ENSURE THAT CHIEF M.K.O ABIOLA DOES NOT BECOME THE PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA IN WHATEVER FORM…let me state here categorically that this is not a prediction at all. It is a pre-conceived plan of the new regime, exposed by an insider…
THE IMPORTANT REPORT SENT TO ME TODAY: A NOTORIOUS GANG IN THE NIGERIAN ARMY has completed their plan to assassinate Chief Moshood Abiola as a final settlement of the ABIOL/ABACHA war in a ‘no victor no vanquished way’. Believe it or not, if the report given to me is anything to go by, Chief Abiola’s death could come within few days or before the end of September. This may look ridiculous, unthinkable or like an outright fabrication, but believe it or not it is true. Tell Prof. and other pro-democracy groups both abroad and at home to mount a very intensive pressure on Abdulsalami to release Chief M.K.O. Abiola now!
The new regime will fail to protect Chief Abiola from his assassins because it has not been able to persuade them to rethink the Nigerian National question. They might even seize power from Abubakar in order to achieve their destructive plan. These people are hell-bent on destroying the corporate existence of Nigeria than see Abiola become the president.”
But Soyinka got the fax too late, as he narrates on page 19 of his book, “You Must Set Forth at Dawn.”
True, few days later on July 7, 1998, they killed Abiola. Among those reportedly present were former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan; a CIA agent and former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Thomas Pickering and a member of US President Clinton’s administration, Susan Rice. The lie they told the world was that Abiola died of natural causes — after a drink of tea in which they all partook…
Abacha’s former Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza al-Mustapha, was to later confirm that Abiola was actually murdered.
The Supreme Head Cutters have gone unpunished till today.
And they have not stopped killing…