Sunday, June 13, 2021 11:00 am
By Simbo Olorunfemi
It was just another day in the newsroom, preparing for the programme on Saturday, until Alhaji TAM walked up to me. He had received a call, I think. Even as I was not on the reportorial desk, he decided that I should be the one to cover an event that evening.
It could only be MKO Abiola. He was hosting all the Ambassadors in Nigeria from African countries to a dinner at Lagoon restaurant, Victoria Island. He spoke extempore on a cause he was pushing then – reparation payment to Africa for the years of slavery Sonny Okosuns and Onyeka Onwenu played good music. We were to learn that the event itself was put together in only a day or two, yet we had a full house of Ambassadors, in response to the invitation by a private citizen. This was a year or two before MKO Abiola ran for election. Such was his influence.
In a way, MKO Abiola did not have to be the President of Nigeria to be a man of power. Before he was elected President, he was already a man of towering influence in Nigeria, Africa and parts of the world. June 12 did not make Abiola. He was already a great man. June 12 only transformed him into a martyr.
I dare say that no Nigerian, living or dead, has ever had the kind of influence MKO Abiola had, which might explain why a particular President has never been comfortable with his towering stature which seems relentless in the determination to overshadow him.
MKO Abiola was a giant, even before June 12. A First-class graduate of Accountancy, he was to become one of the richest men in Africa. In Nigeria, he loomed larger that life, his influence cut across all parts of the country – into villages and towns. He was a man of the people. The man with a proverb for every season or incident.
He had hundreds of titles from all over Nigeria, patrons to several associations, wives from here and there, supported religious institutions and dozens of philanthropic causes, supported musicians, donated money to all the major universities, passionately supported and funded sports, even setting up a football club (Abiola Babes). He was not named the Pillar of sports in Africa for nothing. He put his money where his mouth was.
in Africa, even in his private capacity, he was like a President of Presidents. His influence cut across parts of Africa. He was said to have been highly influential in getting Yoweri Museveni to take over power in Uganda. It was said that Museveni had to step out of the Cabinet meeting to see Abiola when he visited the country, even as a private citizen.
Abiola generously supported the anti-apartheid cause. He was highly appreciated and respected by President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his support. They stood strong on his behalf when he was incarcerated.
Beyond Africa, he became a legend by taking up the fight for the payment of reparations to Africa for the years of slavery. He supported the African-American community, with Jesse Jackson and others benefiting from his generosity.
Some claim that Abiola taking up the cause of reparation was what ensured he never got sworn in as President, as it was said that the West was never comfortable with him and what might become of the call for reparation should he become President.
MKO Abiola was a brave heart – the Are Ona Kakan’fo of Africa. He was willing to lay down his life for his belief. “In Africa, if you are afraid of sudden death, do not take your father’s title. The day you take your father’s title, a lot of people will wish you dead”.
25 years after the defining June 12 election, MKO Abiola looms larger than ever while those who fought to pocket the dream diminish and fade away as footnotes of evil.
MKO Abiola – the Are Ona Kakan’fo of Africa.
“One does not relieve oneself into the well from which one wants to drink.” – MKO Abiola.
“A nation that does not do justice cannot know peace, it is as simple as that.” – MKO Abiola
“Power is like a tiger. If you ride a tiger, you must be very careful when you get down. Otherwise, you will find yourself inside the tiger’s belly”
– MKO Abiola
“Who is he to say who he will hand over to? He might as well be allowed to handpick the person he wants to succeed him. Here is a man who after eight years is still as thirsty for power as of the first day. It is like a sheep in a salt market, unless you carry the sheep from salt, it would poison itself.”
– MKO Abiola
“Make no mistake, my opponent was not Tofa in the election. It was President Ibrahim Babangida who is not courageous enough to face me at the ballot.”- MKO Abiola
“If you are looking for a shortcut, you will have a hunchback while climbing the coconut tree” – MKO Abiola
“The people made fine beads and a man seized them and put them on a frog, but they didn’t fit…Then a snake seized the beads and put them on. What waist has a snake to wear beads on?” – MKO Abiola
“Poverty is a dangerous animal, because the more you chase it, the more it calls back at you. Ignorance and poverty are sisters and brothers, children of the same mother and father. If we are to eradicate poverty, we must remove ignorance.”
– MKO Abiola
MKO’s Words on Marble, as I shared here over the years.
Simbo Olorunfemi is a poet, writer and public affairs analyst