WHAT IF ABIOLA HAD BECOME PRESIDENT?


As the 15th anniversary of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election approaches, I ask a question that Nigerians rarely ask, and will never know the answer to.

The facts of the annulment are well known. After the painstaking eight year conduct of a “transition programme” to return Nigeria to civilian democratic rule after 9 years of military rule, the then military government led by General Ibrahim Babangida voided the results of the June 12, 1993 election that was supposed to herald the return of democracy. That act added the word “annulment” to the standard Nigerian vocabulary. Although the full election results were never disclosed, everyone knows that Moshood Abiola won. However, given his antecedents, background and temperament, would Abiola have been a beneficial President for Nigeria?

The story of Abiola’s life is a classic rags to riches story that could be a Hollywood film. He was born into poverty in a large family. His birth came after a series of failed pregnancies, still born children and infant deaths in his family. He eventually attended the famous Baptist Boys High School in his home town of Abeokuta, in Ogun State. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is another alumnus of that school. Afterward he studied accountancy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He then worked with the multi-national pharmaceutical company Pfizer. However Abiola made his name and riches when he joined the telecommunications company International Telegraph and Telephone (ITT). Abiola eventually became the chairman of ITT and via series of cordial relations with key army officers, Abiola amassed so much wealth, influence and fame that he once boasted of being the richest African on Earth.

Two of Abiola’s closest military friends were then Minister of Communications Brigadier Murtala Muhammed and Lt-Col Ibrahim Babangida. Abiola met Babangida in 1974 when Abiola was selling radio systems to the military. Babangida was sent to evaluate the quality of devices being sold by Abiola. According to Babangida “From that time the relationship developed and he was always around”. Abiola also met Brigadier Muhammed after bravely confronting Muhammed over a series of debts owed to Abiola’s company by Muhammed’s Communications Ministry. The normally fearsome and ruthless Muhammed was impressed by Abiola’s courage and the two struck up a friendship. With Babangida and Muhammed eventually becoming Heads of State, Abiola exploited his relationship with them to secure extensive patronage via contracts with the government and became spectacularly rich in the process. His business empire grew massively as did his bank account balance, number of wives, concubines and children.

With his perpetual wealth ensured, Abiola turned to politics and joined the ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The NPN had an elaborate zoning system for the distribution of government portfolios – including the presidency. Since the presidency had been zoned to President Shagari (from the north), Abiola assumed that when President Shagari’s term of office expired, the NPN would zone the presidency to the south, and he would be allowed to run for President. He was wrong. His presidential ambition was rebuffed by the powerful Minister of Transport Umaru Dikko who told him that “the presidency is not for sale to the highest bidder”. Abiola “retired” from politics soon after – totally exasperated with the NPN. He would have his revenge. President Shagari reported that several frustrated politicians engaged in what he termed “coup baiting” against his government. Abiola had a massive publishing empire was used to launch frequent vitriolic attacks on President Shagari’s government with the intention of discrediting it sufficiently to psychologically prepare the public for its replacement by a military regime. In his memoirs (“Beckoned to Serve”), President Shagari later obliquely referred to the financing and support given to military conspirators by an unnamed “well known business tycoon”. Although he declined to name this tycoon, contextually it was an obvious reference to Abiola. Babangida went further in unequivocally confirming Abiola’s role in financing a coup plot against Shagari and using his influence to destabilise Shagari’s government. He later revealed that Abiola:

“was also very good in trying to mould the thinking of the media. We relied on him a lot for that. So there was both the media support and the financial support.” (Karl Maier – Midnight in Nigeria)

President Shagari was overthrown in a military coup on December 31, 1983 and replaced by a military government in which Abiola’s friend Babangida was Chief of Army Staff (number 3 in the regime). Less than two years later Abiola was at it again and financed another military coup which eventually led to his friend Babangida becoming Head of State. Abiola’s wife Simbiat was opposed to his involvement in politics. However after she died in 1992 Abiola returned to politics and ran for President in an election stage managed by his bosom friend Babangida. As a southern Muslim (the religion of the north) and who was a close friend of the Head of State, an Abiola presidency seemed a virtual certainty. As results began trickling in, it became obvious that Abiola was headed for a landslide victory. He even defeated his opponent Bashir Tofa in Tofa’s home state of Kano. For the first time Nigerians voted across ethnic and religious lines as Christians voted for a Muslim, and northerners voted for a southerner. However something went very wrong. On June 23, 1993 the election was annulled and Abiola was denied the presidency. Five years later Abiola was dead, having been incarcerated for treason for declaring himself the rightful president.

So what would have happened had the election not been annulled and had Abiola ruled? A powerful hard line faction in the military bitterly opposed his candidacy. Babangida later said that had Abiola become President, he would have been overthrown in a violent military coup within six months. The then Director-General of military intelligence Brigadier Halilu Akilu was quoted as saying that “Abiola will be President over my dead body”. Other officers in the regime such as General Sani Abacha and Brigadier David Mark (current Senate President) promised to overthrow or even kill Abiola if he became President. With such opposition to him in the army, an Abiola presidency would almost certainly have led to new round of bloody coups and counter-coups that would have given the military a pretext to retain power. Nigeria might even have still been under military rule today.

But what if the military had supported Abiola? Would an Abiola presidency have been good for Nigeria? Abiola did not win the June 12, 1993 election because he was a massively popular candidate. He won and was adopted as an unlikely symbol of democracy by a public that was desperate to rid Nigeria of increasingly corrupt and authoritarian military rule. To the public, any candidate was better than the military. Olusegun Obasanjo warned that “Abiola is “not the Messiah that Nigerians are looking for”. How (in)accurate was Obasanjo’s assessment of Abiola?

Having come from a poor background Abiola was extremely generous to the poor and made grandiose charitable donations. These took the form of bulk buys of rice and tinned milk, to constructing new wings in new universities. He also awarded several hundred scholarships from his own personal fortune. Abiola made such gestures country-wide and did not limit them to his own ethnic or geographic group. He had contacts and friends across all ethnicities and regions of the country. It was also hoped that Abiola’s stupendous wealth meant that he was rich enough not to be tempted to loot the state treasury. A rich multi-billionaire southern businessman from the south, who adopted the religion of the north and had extensive local and international contacts, the perception was that if Abiola could not govern, no one could.

However Abiola had many weaknesses which might have proved his undoing had he become President. His first and foremost weakness was for female flesh. His appetite for women was such that a decade after his death, not even his own family is aware of how many wives and children he had. Educated estimates put the number of his wives somewhere between 25 and 40, and children anywhere between 85 and 120. He also had a number of concubines. Such a complicated personal life could have proved embarrassing and destabilising for a President in the public eye and would probably have occupied several column inches for gleeful tabloids.

Although from humble origins, in adulthood Abiola was no firebrand political reformer and he was unlikely to rock the boat or risk physical challenge. In many ways he was part of Nigeria’s corrupt elite and a government led by him would have continued with business and corrupt dealings as usual. His emergence as a presidential candidate was predicated on his membership of that corrupt elite. In the end the same military Leviathan which Abiola sponsored and supported ended up devouring him.

Advertisements

33 responses

  1. […] 12: Nigeria: June the Twelfth JUNE 12 1993, Just Like Yesterday! That we may not forget: June 12 What if Abiola had become president? Bookmarks:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web […]

  2. We never know what the late Alhaji could have done as President.Even if he loved women, did that mean he would have been a bad President? Women didn’t distract President Clinton from been a competent President. A President Abiola would have inspired many Nigerians to believe they could achieve what he achieved. Let’s not write ill about one of the greatest Africans who ever lived. A man with his wealth gave his life for his country, what more can be said. RIP sir

  3. Whether one agrees with your speculation or not it is clear that you engage in the kind of critical thinking the Nigerian elite avoid in favour of sentimental bluster and intellectual laziness. It is not a surprise that we are a nation of quick fixers hence the many coups and distorted expectations. In spite of it all for sheer gall and exuberance you must love us eh! I truly enjoy your postings a place of true intellectual excursion. Well done!

  4. EJIKE ANYADUBA | Reply

    Obviously Nigeria would have benefitted erom his wealth of experience.Unfortunately we never did.That is one of the tragedies of our country.We tend more towards those who have no opinion of themselves as our leaders. Proxies who always govern at the instant of some cabals and it has become motion without movemet.

  5. […] Abiola Have Been a Good President? https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2008…ome-president/ https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2009…1993-election/ __________________ […]

  6. The question of whether Abiola would have been a good president should no longer be entertained as Allah certainly does not want this to happen.
    All those who are in the habit of pulling their fellows down at their point of greatness shall also be pulled down at their own point of greatness. This is a simple retributive law.
    Abiola should remember his own contributions to chief Awolowo’s political aspirations.
    This is a jet age.

  7. Really Abiola payed the ultimate price of what he did at the past, likewise Abacha while Babangida is next. These three men and few others comitted a lot of atrocity in that country just to achieve their sellfish wicked aim. These three men knew themselves, they plot evil against humanity. The root of their so called wealth was one of the major cause of Nigeria downfall which has allready took the life of millions of people by the way of poverty, depression, starvation and fraustration. They introduced too many crimes in the society. God will punish their soul.

  8. Bola-Wola Makinde | Reply

    Nice one….very nice!

    1. abiola would have been the worst president,check his file from itt.i think nigeria will still be in war by now.

  9. the greatest thief in Nigeria,is obasanjo and abiola.international OLE.

  10. it’s not the right time to assume,he’s dead now

  11. lionel mordred | Reply

    I think the ratio of people in nigeria now and that of his leadership would be 1:2

  12. It would have been a turn around for Nigeria if he had become President.

    1. In what way?

  13. Ekusond Debango | Reply

    The prospect of an Abiola presidency frightened the daylight out of me. I am glad it never happened,given his involvement in financing coups both in Nigeria and other countries. Besides he never had any experience running any state let alone an entire country. Never held any cabinet level position but very highly involved in all manner of monetary malfeasance (remember ITT).It was not an accident he never became president. This would have devastated the country more than we know at this very moment.

    1. There would probably have been another coup had MKO become Prez. He may not have completed his first term of office.

      1. Ekuson Debango | Reply

        Truth be told, neither Abiola nor Tofa had what it took to be president.How these two ploitical noephytes and incompetents emerged as candidates is well beyond my comprehension. Abiola’s choice as running mate was the first to abadone him for a cabinet post in the Abacha govt. As federal minister for internal affairs he
        was effectively Abiola’s jailer and torturer. Goes to show how much experience Abiola had in matters of politics. As for Tofa whose running mate was Dr. Sylvester Ugo, a former governor of the Biafran Central Bank, I am eminently befuddled as to how this man-child got that far. I mean when I heard the name Tofa,I asked :Who the hell is that? Clearly IBB had his own plan in this game of political brinksmanship. Look where we are now:paid a heck of a lot for all these silly, childish games.Frankly, if all hell were to come lose, I would not as much as bat an eyelid.

        1. Well to be fair to people like Kingibe, they joined Abacha’s govt with MKO’s blessing. That extent of collusion shows you how close MKO was to the military.

  14. “Abiola reaped the seed that he sowed” The Nation could had been in shamble if he happened to be the President. His goal was to loot the government treasure to enriched himself as a world wealthy personel and probably would end up marrying extra 150 wives around the world to comfort himself, even though it will not be enough for him.
    He had no brain to run a local government talkless of Federal government.He spents money extravagantly because he obtain his wealth by tricks. He creates awareness by giving charities to steal peoples mind, and cover his bad side just like 419ers. Don’t forgot that those Abiola’s charitable gifts came from our government purse. People should be carefull over those unnecessary gifts from con men, fraudsters and politicians. His corruption dated all the way back to ITT during M.Mohammed era to his prison sentence and death. Even after his death his authopsy revealed that his brain was filled with fraud and corruption which sent him to hell fire to dwell with Abacha and their co-frausters.

  15. Things might have been better Max.

    1. How so?

    2. Chief MKO Abiola supported the Buhari-Idiagbon coup.. He knew the coup was on its way just as the rest perceptive Nigerians but more than that he contributed to the coming of the military. After storming out of the NPN convention against the backdrop of the shabby treatment meted out to him at the National Convention in Gboko, Benue State, his hatred for his former party was buoyed by such arrogant announcements from the likes of Umaru Dikko who contemptuously derided MKO Abiola that Nigeria’s presidency was not for sale. MKO could not have joined the UPN after leaving the NPN although the venerable Chief Awolowo still extended his hand of fellowship to the billionaire. On the other hand, he didn’t contemplate forming his own political party because, to be candid, at this time, Chief Abiola was a political nobody. His late and first wife, Alhaja Simbiat Atinuke Abiola (nee Shoaga) had failed woefully in her bid to become a Senator on the platform of the NPN representing Gbagura Senatorial District of Abeokuta in 1979. To the majority of Yoruba people, MKO Abiola was just a rich man whose popularity could not yield him political dividends as far as the Southwest geopolitical nature was concerned. And in Nigeria, as everywhere else, if you don’t have a political base, you are spent force politically. In a region where the legendary Awo held sway, to the level of being deified it would be politically suicidal to go against the indisputable leader of the Yorubas. And for good measure, the Yorubas not just blindly following the indomitable Awo. Chief Awolowo, more than any leader had improved the lot of his people, a fact acknowledged even by his critics. For Abiola to be politically relevant, he must appeal to his own people in the Southwest. But the Chief had so offended many of his tribesmen and women in the Second Republic through his Concord newspapers that Abiola, to most Yorubas was seen as one of the factotums of the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy who employed the politics of “divide and rule” tactics to polarize other ethnic group to its own political advantage.

      culled from:http://www.pointblanknews.com/authbioofabiola8.html

  16. […] has only been an illiterate victim, manipulated y the Middle Belt and Millionaires like Abiola. https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2008…ome-president/ Two of Abiola’s closest military friends were then Minister of Communications Brigadier Murtala […]

  17. A facile analysis with a shallow conclusion. I cannot say that I know much more about Moshood Abiola than Max Siollun, but I also wouldn’t publish this hatchet job with my name and reputation attached to it. You may not like the man, but endless prattle and gossip about his “bosom” friendship with military dictatorship and some unproven allegations about the origins of his fortune isn’t enough to speculate on the possible merits of his presidency. It is not disputed that he won the ’93 election. You barely concede that fact here (“Abiola did not win the June 12, 1993 election because he was a massively popular candidate”) but you are comfortable in predicting that he would have almost certainly been overthrown by coup-plotters within six months. Your work is riddled with errors and an underlying current of bias that’s unfitting for a professional historian. I’m disappointed and will certainly read your future works with much more skepticism.

    1. Ekuson Debango | Reply

      Here is an excerpt of an interview which IBB gave about coups in Nigeria and the role Abiola played in these coups;
      “We couldn’t have done it without collaborators in the civil society, collaborators in the media, collaborators among people who have means.Because the means were not easily available but we received some from people who were convinced it was the right thing to do. Of course, they normally get something back.The media is satisfied that they waged a war against a bad government, fought it to a standstill, and pulled it down.The elite who participate want recognition, maybe patronage as time goes on.” One such man was MKO Abiola, the soldiers’ millionaire business partner who later emerged as the unlikely symbol of Nigeria’s struggle for democracy.In 1982 Abiola was an influential member of Shagari’s NPN, well out of the Yoruba mainstream that backed Awolowo’s United Prty of Nigeria, He used his newspaper group, The Concord, to attack Awolowo.For Abiola, the NPN was his best route to the presidency.Becuase Shagari, a Northerner, was expected to give way to a Yoruba man in the NPN presidential nomination in 1983, Abiola figured he would get the nod.The only problem was that Shagari decided to run again.Abiola quit the party.Babangida confirmed the widely held popular belief that Abiola supported both the coup against Shagari and later against Buhari, with money and editorial support from his Concord newspaper.Said Babangida of Abiola’s support,”He did. He said so. Of course he was also very good in trying to mould the thinking of the media.We relied on him a lot for that.So there was both the media support and the financila support”.The above quote taken from the book “This House Has Fallen”, by Karl Maier.
      IBB also was quoted to believe that had Abiola been sworn in as president his government would have been overthrown in a military coup. It is no secret how Abiola made his fortune,starting from his days supplying radio/communications equipment to the Nigerian Army at inflated prices to his dubious dealling as head of ITT for Africa and the Middle East.These facts should be known to any serious student of Nigerian history. Now are these dealings enough reason to disqualify him from running the country?I am not saying so .You’d have to ask his firends in the Nigerian military who knew other reasons to deny him the opportunity to serve.I am only trying to put things in perspective in light of what is generally known to be fact.This comment has not been edited for lack of time.All errors,typos and mistakes are my sole responsibilty.

      1. MKO had many schemings with the military. The outcome of these schemings cost him his life…

        1. everybody is playing God, no body perfect not even Jesus or Muhammad, only God is the Most perfect and generous. Let the Soul of a dead Man rest in peace.

    2. Anonymous, I hope the sources cited by Ekuson show you that no part of this article is “gossip”. These article was based on research and the direct testimony of Abiola himself and his powerful friends in the military such as Babangida. Unless of course you think that Abiola and Babangida lied about their friendship with each other.

  18. […] Maxsiollun, a high repute global blog, has this to say of Abiola, the one man caucus: […]

  19. What goes around,comes around.Abiola died of Law of Karma.He was used by the Military & killed by the same military.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: