By Segun Gbadegesin
The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, once said of himself, that the day he was born, one other being was born with him, fear; for his mother went into labour on hearing of the approach of the Spanish Armada. That fear dominated Hobbes’ life, motivated his political views and social conscience. The day M.K.O was born, hope was the other being born along with him. Hope of survival, hope of prosperity, hope of life. It was this hope that dominated his life.
He was born as the hope of a family that had gone through the mystery of children ‘born to die’, and had lost twenty-two children before his own birth. He was then given the name, ‘Kasimawo’, meaning ‘let’s continue to watch him’.
Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, born on 24 August 1937, did not disappoint his parents. He gave them reason to rejoice by fulfilling their hopes and dreams. He became the beacon of hope, not only for his parents, but for all around him, including those who believed in ‘Hope ‘93’, and those who carried on the struggle for democracy during the four years of his incarceration. He was the hope of everyone, excluding the military junta and their collaborators- domestic and international. Their hopes were quashed in broad daylight on 7 July 1998.
MKO was destined to be great; his detractors can never fathom it; they did not know of his destiny.
Nwon o mo bi olori yanri o, nwon i ba lo yan tawon,
Nwon o mobi Kashi yanri e, nwon ba lo yan tawon
– meaning ‘people don’t know where other people chose their destiny, they would have gone there to choose theirs. They don’t know where Kashi chose his destiny, they would have gone there to choose theirs’.
But in ignorance, they did the most devilish thing. They obstructed the destiny of us all. They quashed our hope.
Chief Abiola was many things to many people. He was a businessman with immense connections, and local and international network which cut across several barriers: racial, ethnic, religious, and of course language. He was a generous philanthropist who became a folk-hero for many in the beleaguered country called Nigeria. As a Muslim, he was a beacon of hope that faith could be practiced the way it is taught. By and large, he was a rounded modern figure, complicated in his own ways, yet very friendly. He sought to make everyone he came across his personal friend and indeed, he won not just a few to his side.
Until June 12, 1993, when he won the election to the highest office in the Nigerian State, no one disputed his many identities. It is, however, tragic that he died a prisoner of the Nigerian state; the country he had sought to lead through a democratic election. Chief Abiola died as a prisoner of the same people who had organized the election he convincingly won.
Bashorun Abiola began his formal education at Nawaru-Ud-Deen School, Abeokuta in 1944. Between 1945 and 1950, he attended African Central School, Abeokuta, where he obtained his Primary School Leaving Certificate. In 1951, he was admitted to the Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta, and in 1956, he completed his secondary education. All through his education, he had to fend for himself, through thick and thin. Indeed, as he worked himself through school, by fetching firewood for sale, he also helped some of his classmates by organizing fund-raising activities such as Agidigbo musical displays to help them pay for their final examinations. Some of them attained positions of authority, only to forget their benefactor. But Olawale never worried, he was doing it for his God. Having had a first-hand experience of what it was to suffer poverty, he dedicated himself to the cause of the poor and downtrodden. This was what motivated him to the unpredictable vocation of politics. He went in there to actualise the hope of the hopeless.
Chief Abiola began his work experience as a clerk with Barclays Bank in Ibadan, before joining the Western Region Finance Corporation as an Executive Officer. He left for Glasgow University in Scotland in February 1961. In Gadsgow, he excelled in his studies, earning first prizes in Political Economy, Commercial Law and Chartered Accountancy. He became a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland and was certified as a Chartered Accountant in February 1966.
A business tycoon of immense capabilities, Chief Abiola founded Radio Communications (Nig.) Ltd. In February 1974, in conjunction with Harris Communications of USA. In 1979, he was Chairman of Decca (WA) Ltd., later renamed Afrodisia (Nig.) Ltd.; and in 1980, he established Wonder Bakeries Ltd. In the same year, he ventured into one of his life-long ambitions to own a publishing industry by starting the Concord Group of Newspapers and Magazines, publishers of National Concord, Weekend Concord, Sunday Concord, African Concord and Midweek Concord. These newspapers immediately took pride of place as authoritative sources of news and information on politics, business and culture. Bashorun Abiola’s business interests, including banking, shipping, publishing, aviation, fisheries, and farming, are spread over sixty countries and five continents.
Aare Abiola was extremely wealthy; however, he used his wealth to benefit others, and to keep their hopes alive. He was foremost philanthropist in Africa. He gave generously to worthy causes across the continent and around the world. He made donations to development projects in remote villages, to schools and libraries, for water projects and sports, to universities and trade unions, and for mass education and health facilities.
Fondly referred to as the Pillar of Sports in Africa, Chief Abiola took active interest in sports and donated generously to sports clubs throughout the continent. He founded the Abiola Babes Football Club, which won several Challenge Cup competitions. Out of his interest in sports, he volunteered to chair the fund-raising committee for the Nigeria National Olympic Committee. He also encouraged university competitions by donating cups and trophies. It is an open secret that his incarceration cost the nation the opportunity to host the FIFA junior world cup competition in 1995.
Abiola once fondly recalled his father’s favourite Yoruba song: “If I look back and I see my people behind me, I feel elated. Human beings are the cloth I need around me.”
Eniyan laaso mi, eniyan laso mi,
Bi mo ba boju wehin ti mo reni mi,
Inu mi a dun, ara mi a ya gaga,
Eniyan laaso mi.
-The conclusion of this tribute delivered at the memorial service in Washington DC on Sunday, August 15, 1998 by Professor Segun Gbadegesin is contained in a 500-page book of one hundred Nigerians who shaped the past, present and future of this country in the century (1900 – 1999) entitled: PEOPLE IN TheNEWS: A SURVEY OF NIGERIANS OF THE 20TH CENTURY published by the Independent Communications Network Limited in March year 2000.
The tribute was culled from The PUNCH, Thursday, August 20, 1998.
Copies of the book are still available at our headquarters in Lagos. For enquiries, call 0803 351 7367.