This photo tells the story of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections winner, Chief Moshood K.O Abiola who was killed in prison by Abacha’s government.
General Sani Abacha, MKO Abiola and Bola Ahmed Tinubu in 1993 (HistoryVille)
In this rare photo, General Sani Abacha, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (at the rear) and winner of the acclaimed June 12, 1993 presidential elections, Chief Moshood K.O Abiola are seen walking in Abuja few days after Abacha seized power in a palace coup, 1993.
Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, died in 1998, after being denied victory in the 12 June 1993 presidential elections when the entire election results were dubiously annulled by the preceding military president Ibrahim Babangida because of alleged evidence that they were corrupt and unfair.
According to information on Wikipidea, Abiola overwhelmingly defeated his rival, Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. The election was declared Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election by national and international observers, with Abiola even winning in his Northern opponent’s home state. Abiola won at the national capital, Abuja, the military polling stations, and over two-thirds of Nigerian states. The reason why the election was so historic, was because men of Northern descent had largely dominated Nigeria’s political landscape since independence. The fact that Moshood Abiola (a Southern Muslim) was able to secure a national mandate freely and fairly remains unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. However, the election was annulled by Ibrahim Babangida, a political crisis that ensued which led to General Sani Abacha seizing power later that year. During preparations for the 2011 Nigerian Presidential elections there were calls from several quarters to remember MKO Abiola.
In 1994 Moshood Abiola declared himself the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos island, an area mainly populated by (Yoruba) Lagos Indigenes. He had recently returned from a trip to win the support of the international community for his mandate. After declaring himself president he was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of military President General Sani Abacha, who sent 200 police vehicles to bring him into custody. MKO Abiola has been referred to as Nigeria’s greatest statesman. His second wife Alhaja Kudirat Abiola was assassinated in Lagos in 1996 after declaring public support for her husband.
Moshood Abiola was detained for four years, largely in solitary confinement with a Bible, Qur’an, and fourteen guards as companions. During that time, Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and human rights activists from all over the world lobbied the Nigerian government for his release. The sole condition attached to the release of Chief Abiola was that he renounce his mandate, something that he refused to do, although the military government offered to compensate him and refund his extensive election expenses. For this reason Chief Abiola became extremely troubled when Kofi Annan and Emeka Anyaoku reported to the world that he had agreed to renounce his mandate after they met with him to tell him that the world would not recognise a five-year-old election.
Abiola died under suspicious circumstances shortly after the death of General Abacha. Moshood Abiola died on the day that he was due to be released, on 7 July 1998. While the official autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, al-Mustapha has alleged that Moshood Abiola was in fact beaten to death. al-Mustapha, who was detained by the Nigerian government, but later released, claims to have video and audiotapes showing how Abiola was beaten to death. The final autopsy report, which was produced by a group of international coroners has never been publicly released. Irrespective of the exact circumstances of his death, it is clear that Chief Abiola received insufficient medical attention for his existing health conditions.
As recounted at the time in a BBC interview with special envoy Thomas R. Pickering, an American delegation, which included Susan Rice, visited Abiola and during their meeting with him, Abiola fell ill, with what was presumed to be a heart attack which caused his death.
A clause in Abiola’s will required that his heirs could prove that he was their father. Over seventy people were able to show that Abiola was their father using DNA tests. Seven children were descended from his second wife, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
Narrating how South Africa fought to free the men held in prison by Abacha and his cohorts, former President Thabo Mbeki said:
“President Mandela resisted all this until news came through that on the very first day of the 1995 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in New Zealand CHOGM, the Nigerian Government had executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni colleagues. He then immediately joined others strongly to condemn the Abacha Government and approved the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth.
Thereafter, despite strong presentations about human rights, South Africa’s strenuous efforts to get SADC and the OAU to impose sanctions against Nigeria produced a negative response throughout the Continent, leaving South Africa isolated on this matter.
President Mandela had visited Nigeria in 1994 and engaged General Abacha on the matter of the release of Mr Abiola.
In July 1995 I led a small delegation of our Government to Nigeria to meet General Abacha. This time our focus was on the two matters of persuading General Abacha and his Government to release the Ogoni leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and his co-accused, as well as to release Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Yar’ Adua, who were detained for allegedly having been involved in a planned coup d’état.
We met General Abacha at 02.00 hrs (2 a.m.) at his offices. Having heard us out, he told us that he would reflect on what we had said and would respond to us before we left Nigeria.
A day or so later, then Chief of Defence Staff and effective Deputy to Abacha, Lt Gen Oladipo Diya, invited us to lunch. During this lunch he gave us General Abacha’s response to the issues we had raised.
This response was that with regard to the matter of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his co-accused, Gen Abacha could not intervene to stop a legal judicial process which involved murder charges. However, if the accused were to be found guilty and sentenced to death, he would use his prerogative as Head of State to reprieve the accused so that they would not be executed.
Gen Diya also reported that Gen Abacha had said that there was a military tribunal which was considering the matter relating to Generals Obasanjo and Yar’Adua. It was necessary that he should allow the tribunal to complete its work. His view was that the tribunal would recommend the release of the two Generals, failing which he would again intervene to release them.
After asking Gen Diya to convey our thanks to Gen Abacha for the commitments he had made, we suggested to him that it would be best that the Nigerian Government makes the necessary announcements when the time came, rather than that we should do this. Diya agreed to this and said that Gen Abacha would issue the necessary orders at the appropriate moments.
Our delegation still had a small challenge to address. We had travelled from South Africa with a journalist. Treated by our Nigerian hosts as a member of our delegation, she was present at the lunch where Gen Diya gave us Gen Abacha’s response.
She therefore had a real “scoop”! Together with her we agreed that if she were to publish what we had been told by Gen Diya, the likelihood was that not only would the Nigerians deny the story, but this would also inevitably condemn Ken Saro-Wiwa and others and Generals Obasanjo and Yar’Adua to death.
A principled person, she kept her word not to publish her “scoop”, convinced as all us were that Gen Abacha had made a commitment to President Mandela and South Africa which he would honour.
It was with this knowledge that President Mandela left South Africa to attend the New Zealand CHOGM meeting. When Ken Saro-Wiwa and others were executed, President Mandela was truly surprised and genuinely outraged that Gen Abacha could evidently so easily betray his solemn undertaking in this regard.”