Abim­bola Aboderin

If NADECO Had Been A Bit Pa­tient, MKO Would Have Be­come Pres­i­dent


Ac­com­plished and self­less are words that suit­ably de­scribe Chief Abim­bola Aboderin. Call him the face be­hind June 12 and you wouldn’t be wrong. He is in­deed a man of un­sung glory in Nige­ria’s nascent democ­racy. In the wake of the re­cent na­tional hon­our done to the late MKO Abi­ola, Aboderin, who is the Chair­man, Icon Group, shares the un­told story of his al­liance with late MKO, Aded­ibu, Shehu Yar’Adua and Arisekola and his near-death ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the June 12 strug­gle with Ade­dayo Ade­jobi

Your late fa­ther was a very in­flu­en­tial politi­cian. Could that have spurred your in­ter­est in politics?

My fa­ther was the late Chief Olola Aboderin. He in­stalled the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Ades­oji Aderemi, who once worked for my grand­fa­ther. Be­ing the sole agent of Shell for West Africa, my late fa­ther at a rather ten­der age, be­came wealthy and suc­cess­ful in pe­tro­leum busi­ness, and so he formed Ibadan Peo­ple’s Party, which brought the likes of the late Akin­loye and Ade­labu to the fore. My dad was also a found­ing mem­ber of the Ac­tion Group and part of the del­e­ga­tion cho­sen by the Fed­eral Par­lia­ment to rep­re­sent Nige­ria in England. Years later, my old man stopped politics and con­cen­trated on his busi­nesses. He spurred my in­ter­est in politics.

So, how did you meet the late Mos­hood Kashimawo Abi­ola?

I got to know him through my dad. When I fin­ished my A ‘lev­els in England, I moved to have my first and se­cond de­grees in Cal­i­for­nia. Prior to this, I came to my fa­ther’s house in Apapa and met him and Abi­ola at the wa­ter­front. Abi­ola came to ap­peal to my fa­ther to please help him talk to the Yoruba’s be­cause they were not happy with him be­ing in the op­po­si­tion NPN against Awolowo’s party. Know­ing fully well that my fa­ther was pow­er­ful in the po­lit­i­cal sphere, Abi­ola came to him, and that was how I met him. I didn’t know who Abi­ola was at that time, but we spoke and we be­came friends.

When my fa­ther died in the early 80’s, MKO came for the burial. Later, I went to see him at ITT at Ji­bowu, La­gos. For­tu­nately, again we met po­lit­i­cally at Ibadan when he came to see late Baba Aded­ibu. Aded­ibu, Abi­ola and IBB were all my friends. Abi­ola called me and said his prob­lem was the forth­com­ing con­ven­tion. He knew he was go­ing to win the elec­tion be­cause peo­ple knew him but the con­ven­tion was a prob­lem. I also met Abi­ola’s friend who dou­bled as his per­sonal lawyer- Chief Abim­bola Aji­bola. Aded­ibu told me to go to my ward and let peo­ple know me so I started do­ing char­ity work and I got no­ticed by my peo­ple. They used to call me and Abi­ola’s lawyer the Pres­i­dent’s men be­cause it was as­sumed that Abi­ola was al­ready the pres­i­dent. Any­thing Abi­ola wanted to do, I and his lawyer were al­ways around to­gether.

Af­ter Abi­ola told me of his de­sire to win the SDP con­ven­tion, I geared up in full swing and went there as a spe­cial ob­server. With vot­ing start­ing, there were fears that my friend Abi­ola was go­ing to lose to the for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Atiku Abubakar, who was us­ing Yar’ Adua’s po­lit­i­cal struc­ture. I, with MKO and the late Aded­ibu headed straight to meet with Gen­eral Yar’Adua in his house at the wee hours of the night, while vot­ing was on-go­ing.

For the records, the pre­vi­ously an­nulled con­ven­tion was won by Shehu Yar’ Adua. Aded­ibu stood with Yar’Adua; he got his western del­e­gates and won. For that rea­son and more it’s safe to say the late Shehu Yar’Adua owed Aded­ibu a huge favour at a time. Af­ter the meet­ing with Yar’Adua, he fi­nally asked Atiku to step down. That marked a wa­ter­shed in Abi­ola’s life, as he coasted home to sweet vic­tory at the con­ven­tion in Jos.

The fol­low­ing day, ju­bi­la­tion rented the air, as sup­port­ers, Aded­ibu, Abim­bola Aji­bola, I and Shina Peters who came to serenade guests gath­ered in Abi­ola’s house. The next day Abi­ola and the three of us went to Yar ’Adua’s house to thank him. Yar ‘Adua’s re­mark was sim­ple and loaded. ‘That is all I can do for Nige­ria,’ he said.

In what par­tic­u­lar ways were you in­stru­men­tal to rais­ing money for Abi­ola’s elec­tion cam­paign?

With the con­ven­tion done and dusted, prepa­ra­tions for the 1993 elec­tions moved into top speed, as the fi­nan­cial team, com­pris­ing Arisekola, Olona and Bisi Abi­ola was led by me. I got sad­dled with the task of rais­ing N360 million in less than four days. Be­cause Abi­ola trusted me, the cash I raised for the elec­tion was kept in my cus­tody. Al­though Abi­ola was a wealthy busi­ness man but as a mem­ber of SDP, it was im­per­a­tive to raise funds for the gen­eral elec­tion.

You also worked closely with Abi­ola’s wives. What roles did they play in the scheme of things?

As a friend, brother and a self-made man, any­where Abi­ola went from Ilorin to Kano, Enugu, I was sure to go with him. In a strate­gic move, Abi­ola di­vided his wives Kudi, Doyin and Bisi to the North, East and South re­spec­tively on the strength of their un­der­stand­ing of nu­ances of lan­guage, cul­ture and cus­toms in the North, East and South­ern Nige­ria. With this, he pen­e­trated deeply into these re­gions. In all of this, I was sim­ply root­ing for a cred­i­ble man to rule Nige­ria.

The choice of se­lect­ing a Vice Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date must have been a tough and fre­netic one. What went down?

Choos­ing a Vice Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date was a cru­cial pe­riod in Abi­ola’s cam­paign, as many in­ter­ests and egos got bruised, lead­ing to mis­un­der­stand­ing and feu­dal war amongst friends who pos­si­bly be­came sworn en­e­mies. Ba­bangida was a Bri­gadier gen­eral when I got back from the United States. I’d known him when he was a Ma­jor be­cause I was do­ing busi­ness with the Army, Air Force and Po­lice. Un­known to many, Abi­ola and Ba­bangida were very good friends, but the is­sue of Vice Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date caused the prob­lem. The Ba­bangida I knew was very much in­volved in Abi­ola’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Peo­ple we don’t know just came to hi­jack the strug­gle; they don’t know how we got there. Ba­bangida ac­cord­ing to Abi­ola gave two names-Tofa and Maitama Sule to choose from as Vice Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date. On the con­trary, Aded­ibu ob­jected and rooted for Kin­gibe. That was the be­gin­ning of the rift be­tween the two of them. Ba­bangida felt since Abi­ola was his friend, he should have gone for his op­tions, and they didn’t han­dle it well. They went too far in­stead of sit­ting to­gether to set­tle it, they al­lowed peo­ple’s in­ter­fer­ence to es­ca­late the dis­agree­ment.

What role did you play af­ter the June 12 elec­tion was can­celled?

I and Aji­bola went to Ibadan and were lis­ten­ing to elec­tion re­sults. Ev­ery­one was happy; peo­ple trooped in and ju­bi­lated over the re­sults but it was an­nulled. Not too long af­ter the elec­tion was an­nulled, we started the strug­gle against the an­nul­ment and fol­lowed him to High court, Abuja. I and Aji­bola al­most died on our way to Abuja in the mid­night with my driver. Ev­ery­one slept off and a trailer was in the mid­dle of the road around Makwa. But God saved us as we had to stop and sleep

Dur­ing the strug­gle, Abi­ola was al­leged to have been hi­jacked by NADECO. What re­ally hap­pened?

He truly sud­denly dis­ap­peared into thin air. Abi­ola was hi­jacked by NADECO and couldn’t be reached for over a week. One day, on the way to my of­fice in Su­rulere, La­gos, I saw Abi­ola in a van. So I asked what hap­pened to him. I was dis­ap­pointed when I saw him be­cause you can’t de­clare yourself king in the den of a lion. I have noth­ing against NADECO, but it shouldn’t have got­ten to the ex­tent of ha­rass­ing MKO. Abacha is the per­son with power and Abi­ola was sup­posed to travel out of the coun­try and de­clare him­self pres­i­dent over there. When he was ar­rested, I re­mem­ber Aded­ibu and Arisekola went to Abacha to plead for his re­lease. The plan was to get his re­lease first, and then fly him out of the coun­try to have him de­clare over there, but it ap­peared they were a bit im­pa­tient. He would have be­come the Pres­i­dent.

You said Ba­bangida and Abi­ola were friends. Do you re­ally think Ba­bangida killed your friend by an­nulling his vic­tory?

No I don’t know about that. It’s just un­for­tu­nate MKO died. They used to be friends in those days. They did con­tracts to­gether. He was able to raise money for Nige­ria through the World Bank when Nige­ria was in prob­lem in 1985.

Have you con­sid­ered doc­u­ment­ing your June 12 story?

I have a book on it called the story of June 12 which is yet to be pub­lished. Nige­ria is a beau­ti­ful place but they are busy steal­ing and not man­u­fac­tur­ing. The few in­dus­tries we had have closed due to poor man­age­ment and in­fra­struc­ture. God has blessed us with all we need, but we must put them to­gether and make it right. We have been blessed with nat­u­ral re­sources. We have to set our pri­or­i­ties right. I know Buhari and Os­in­bajo; they are good peo­ple but it is not get­ting to the masses yet. The masses should be en­joy­ing but ma­jor­ity are suf­fer­ing.

What do you con­sider the big lessons for Nige­ria on June 12?

Noth­ing good comes easy. We have learnt a les­son that to­gether we can build a great na­tion; we need each other. All of us have some­thing to con­trib­ute. All coun­tries have good and bad peo­ple.

What shared nos­tal­gic mo­ments do you re­mem­ber with Abi­ola?

We spoke a lot. He was a phi­lan­thropist. First of all, I was dis­ap­pointed when the elec­tion was hi­jacked af­ter go­ing through a lot. I just thought death can be a bless­ing in dis­guise, and that he had gone to rest af­ter go­ing through a lot. I was so sad all the strug­gle was for noth­ing.

What is your present re­la­tion­ship with Ba­bangida?

I haven’t main­tained a ro­bust re­la­tion­ship with IBB, as we haven’t seen in a long time. When he was pres­i­dent, I only saw him once. I was close to him be­fore he be­came pres­i­dent. It’s just that it’s a ter­ri­ble thing he did to Abi­ola, but we must put that be­hind us.

You are im­pas­sioned about this coun­try. What is the Nige­ria of your Dream?

A coun­try among the top 10 in the world, where we’ll love each other, work to­gether, and have the fear of God.

Ac­cept my sin­cere con­do­lences on the death of your cousin, Wale Aboderin. What was the re­la­tion­ship be­tween you both?

My late cousin Wale Aboderin and I had a good re­la­tion­ship. His death came as a shock to me. My fa­ther and his were very close. I still can’t get over his death.

Un­known to many, Abi­ola and Ba­bangida were very good friends, but the is­sue of Vice Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date caused the prob­lem. The Ba­bangida I knew was very much in­volved in Abi­ola’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Peo­ple we don’t know just came to hi­jack the strug­gle; they don’t know how we got there. Ba­bangida ac­cord­ing to Abi­ola gave two namesTofa and Maitama Sule to choose from as Vice Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date


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