By Gbenro Adeoye/Punch
What do you think about the annulment of the outcome of the 1993 presidential election which your father was believed to have won?
Of course, I was very disappointed and I felt a sense of betrayal because IBB was someone we knew very well. This was somebody who assured the nation that he was leaving, how can he do that? If all along, he knew that he had no intention to leave, why did he allow my dad to go all the way, do all the campaigns and spend all that he spent? He could have told my father. But as a family, we have forgiven him; we have taken it as act of God.
Have you had an opportunity to speak with IBB since then and what transpired?
Yes, I met him (IBB) about three years ago and we discussed. But he could not explain much but that he himself regretted what happened and that the whole situation was out of his hands. He said that his hands were tied and that there were many things that he could not discuss. He said we should let bygones be bygones and to bury the hatchet.
Wednesday will make it 20 years since the historic June 12 presidential election was held. Where were you when you heard about your father’s death?
I was in the United States when I heard the news. We were preparing to watch a World Cup game between Brazil and Holland. I had expected my father to have been released. I was expecting a call. I went to pray and when I came back, I saw all my friends who had gathered together to watch the game but they were all looking gloomy. Instead of the television to be tuned to a football channel, I noticed that it was tuned to CNN.
I put all of these together and asked ‘is my father dead’? They replied that they were just finding that out. It was really shocking because we were expecting that he would be released. Instead, what we got was the news that he was dead. And remember that my mum had died two years before, so losing both parents on the same issue hurt very much. It was painful for all of us but more painful for some of us who are Kudirat’s children, in particular, because his death meant that we had lost both our parents. So, where do you start from? It was a disaster; the worst case scenario.
Why do you consider yourself luckier than your siblings?
The last time I saw my father alive, he was in detention and there were about 10 of us – all siblings – waiting to see him. It was at the police commissioner’s office in Abuja. This was like four years before his death. We were there waiting and we had waited for like two hours. I remember thinking to myself that when daddy comes out, I would like to be the one that he would see first. Like five minutes after I thought of it, they all left, some to get drinks because we were all thirsty.
Almost immediately they all left, they brought my dad out and I had my wish because I was the only one there. It was after like 10 or 15 minutes before others came back. I had an extra 10 minutes with him and you can’t buy that with N1 million. That was the last time all the 10 of us that went saw him. Before they came, my father and I chatted and joked one on one. He had a beard and I said ‘daddy, this beard fits you’. It was totally black and he had always been clean shaven; that’s why I said I was fortunate to have that extra moment with him.
The last time you saw your father, when you had about 10 extra minutes with him, what did he tell you?
He (MKO) told me to be strong and to make sure I pray a lot. He said he would never back down and that we should not be discouraged. He said he was sure that he would win back his mandate and that I should be very prayerful, hold on to God and to tell my younger ones to do the same.
How would you describe your relationship with your late father?
We had a good and wonderful relationship. He was a good father and I wasn’t a terrible son. I was lucky and fortunate to get more from him than a lot of my siblings. I looked up to him because he was a problem solver; I respected him a lot. If you had a problem, just call dad to say these are the problems. He was always there for us. I wish I can be half as good to my children as he was to me. He was a good husband to my mother and a good dad to me because you need to be both to be considered a good dad. You can’t be a good dad and be a bad husband.
How would you like him to be remembered?
Nigeria needs someone that actually cares. We didn’t need a school to be named after him or any specific thing. He did what he did to bring about change in the country, and that is the only thing that would truly make him happy. He gave his life for this country, but I have to say that the public reaction that followed the attempt to rename UNILAG (University of Lagos) after him was bad. Even if people had issues with it, there are ways to go about it; they can go to court, write letters and things like that.
But the way some people went about it, blocking the road, and going on Twitter, and social media and insulting the man is just sad. Maybe Nigerians are not worth all the sacrifice because they are ungrateful. This was someone who gave up everything, including his life. I would like to commend President Goodluck Jonathan for being the first president to try to do something to remember our father. We appreciate what he tried to do; I wish to say that he should not be discouraged by the reaction from the public. Our father and mother gave their lives for this country. My mum took a bullet; what is worth doing at all is worth doing well.
How has it been for the family?
The elections cost a lost of money – billions. The struggle against Ibrahim Babangida to get back his mandate, after that, the interim government of Shonekan and then Sani Abacha cost him a lot. Government did not pay the debts owed to him for projects he had done; all the contracts he had were cancelled.
They locked him up; no compensation for the family. My mother got shot in the head; her businesses too were shut down. But we thank God that he died for something honourable and just. For like 14 years, government has not done anything, they have not really apologised, and they have not done anything to compensate us. So I’m not going to hold my breath that government will still compensate the family for everything they did to us. After all, all that we have in the end is our deeds.
You lost your mother two years before you lost your dad. How did you and your dad take the loss?
I was in the US at the time; someone called to say that somebody in our family had been shot. It was the last thing any of us expected. When I was told, I remember repeating ‘daddy’, but they said it wasn’t daddy but mummy. I couldn’t imagine that it would be mummy because she was free; it was daddy who was in detention.
I came back home to see dad and to try to get back my mum’s containers that were held but we were not allowed to see him. We wanted to know what we should do but they did not allow us to see him in detention.
We met with Oladipo Diya, who was the second-in-command then. He asked us to talk to Hamza al-Mustapha, but al-Mustapha would say we should call back the next day. He just said, ‘Call back tomorrow’. Then one day, he banged the phone.
So we didn’t get to see him (MKO Abiola) to know his reaction to it. It must have been very painful for him, to hear that the woman that had seven children for you was shot just like that. It was injustice on top of injustice, but I know that Allah will judge.
My younger brother, Jamiu, had told me to get our mother out. He said the government would kill her but I said that the worst they would do was to lock her up, that who would want to kill a woman? That’s to show how wicked some people can be. You shot someone in the head and did not allow the children to see their father.
When she died, it was the last thing I could ever imagine, that these people could descend so low. My mother knew Mariam Abacha; my sister and her kids were in school together. My dad also knew Abacha. Last year, I met Mariam Abacha in Mecca and some of the kids. I told her that I don’t have any animosity against her family. I told her that I expect God to forgive my father and her husband too. I know that when Abacha died, my father wrote Mariam a condolence letter. So if my dad buried the hatchet, why not me? As Muslims, we are brothers and sisters.
How do you remember him today?
I’m glad that he was a good Muslim; both my late parents actually. At the end of the day, we have nothing except our faith and our good deeds – no money, no shoes, no cars, we have nothing.
When Abiola was alive, there used to be so many visitors coming and going, but the premises are very quiet now. Why is that?
He was always helping people a lot; if you have a place where the owner helps people, there will be crowds. People were always coming to come and collect something. Now, my father is no longer alive and his businesses have been crumbled. The family is no longer in a good shape to be able to continue doing that kind of thing anymore. Obviously, you will not see people coming like they used to, but some of his children are still here. Two of his wives are still living here and the mosque is still open. So maybe not as many people as before, but we still have people coming in.
Abiola had many wives and many more children. How was growing up for you?
He only had four wives as a Muslim. The ones outside were concubines and they were not inside the house. So it was just us – the four wives and their children – and we had a good relationship with one other. Out of the children belonging to the four wives, I had a good relationship with about 15 of them. The other four that I was not so close with, it was not because of animosity or anything like that. It was just because they were older than me and I didn’t get to see them often. The wives also got along fine but sometimes you know women, they sometimes don’t get along. But generally, the relationship was okay.
After Abiola’s death, many people wonder why his businesses have gone down. Why is this so?
There is no guarantee that your business will survive over time. Today, the exchange rate is so high. During Abacha’s time, it was N80 to a dollar, but now, it’s about N160. It’s very difficult to do business in Nigeria. There have been efforts to improve the rail system but the Central Bank of Nigeria should do something about the interest rate which is above 20 per cent.
As it is, products made here will find it difficult to compete against those of other countries. If countries like US and the UK where their interest rate is like two or three per cent, their economies are still shaky, so what can we say about Nigeria where the interest rate is over 20 per cent? We’ve seen improvement in electricity generation but we still need more improvement in electricity.
No compensation for the family: you called an election, campaigns were held, money went into these campaigns because materials like posters were made, etc. He now won the election, you now annulled the election and followed that up by locking him up. You closed down his businesses, you killed his wife and before that, you crippled her businesses too. No compensation till now.