June 12th: The beginning of Abiola’s “journey to death”

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By Benard Oche Ekwote
Before I dive into the main piece, let me reiterate the questions that remain unanswered, yet, remain on the leaps of many Nigerians: what or who killed Chief. M.K.O Abiola; the “tea” or the “hand” that served the tea?
Arguably, a year old baby knows the story of Chief M.K.O Abiola in Nigeria. Abiola won the presidential ticket of Social Democratic Party (SDP) and was perceived or suspected to have won the presidential election of 1993 which was acknowledged to be the most peaceful, free and fair election so far in Nigeria history.
Unfortunately, the elections were subsequently annulled, thus setting in motion a range of issues that led to endless legal battles, his subsequent incarceration and death.
However, Chief Abiola’s trouble intensified when in 1994, having fled the country, he returned from U.S.A and then, pressured by some of his political allies in the South-West, made a spirited attempt to reclaim his mandate by declaring and attempting to swear himself as the President of Nigeria in June 11th, 1994 in a rather innocuous location in Lagos. He was declared wanted by the then military government of Abacha, subsequently arrested and detained till his death in July 7th, 1998 while in custody.
The circumstances and events that led to the death of Abiola may forever remain in the womb of mystery and history since neither the Chief nor Gen. Abacha is alive to tell their own side of the story today but considering and relying on the “testimony” of an assistant superintendent of police, Theodore Zadok, the officer who oversaw Chief Abiola’s safety and security, including screening any food or drink before it was formally served to Abiola through out the period of his detention, one may easily guess  where the hands of death crept in.
We learnt Chief Abiola died while he was about meeting with a United State’s Government delegation led by Amb. Thomas Pickering but more light and revelations was made in the book of Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, a member of the OPUTA panel titled “witness to justice; an insider’s account of Nigeria’s truth commission”, ASP Zadok while responding to the petition brought before the “human right violation investigation commission” (HRVIC) set up by the then Nigeria President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo popularly known as “OPUTA PANEL”  by Abiola’s son; Mr.Kola Abiola stated that:
“On the day in question (the day Abiola died), July 7th, 1998, at about 11.30 a.m, the CSO to Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (then military head of state), Maj. A.S Aliyu called me on the radio set, asking me to see him in his office. I then proceeded to his office and he instructed me to bring Chief. Abiola to Aguda house for an interview to be held by 13:00hrs. I then went back to the base and informed Abiola of the interview and he asked me whether Maj. Al- Mustapha is aware of the said interview. I told him I did not know because Al- Mustapha was busy handing over and taking over but I will see if I can locate him…..Before we all left the base, Chief Abiola was in sound and healthy condition, he did not complain of any illness. About 100 meters to the door stand of Aguda house, the Controller from the control room called me on the radio set and said: 30 BRAVO, YOUR LOG. I ANSWERED, ALFA GOLFF UNIFORM DELTA ALFA (sic), HOTEL. And he said: MAIG SERIA (sic) GOLFF from the OSCAR  FOSTRO FOSTRO (sic) OF CHARLIE OSCA GOLFF SERIA. You should ROMEO PAPA TANGO to see the subject INDIA MIKE MIKE and I answered, RECEIVED. “
Mr. Zadok recalled that he then left Abiola in the custody of Maj. Aliyu and then proceeded to the office of the chief of general staff, Admiral Akhigbe. But, on coming back, he met Maj. Aliyu who told him that:
” Chief Abiola was not feeling fine after taking a cup of tea, he coughed and fell down (sic). I went inside and saw Abiola lying on the floor facing down. I called him and for the first time, he answered and I lifted him upside down and called him again a second time, he did not answer. At that time, Dr. Sadiq Sani Wali from Aso clinic arrived and after examining the Chief, I told him that we should rush the chief to the clinic (where he died) “.
In conclusion, Mr. Zadok posed 3 questions which he believed that Maj. Aliyu should be able to answer, namely;
Who gave Abiola tea in Mr. Zadok (the officer in charge of screening Abiola’s food) absence?
Who tasted the tea first before serving Abiola and, in whose presence was the tea tasted?
There are, of course, so many unanswered questions regarding the cause of the death of Chief Abiola. After his death, however, so many lay experts, supporter’s and detractors devised their own theories of the death of Abiola.
The conspiracy theorists argued that Chief Abiola had to die so as to even the balance created by the death of Gen. Abacha and thus create a favourable climate for the country’s return to democratic rule. Those who held this view accused the federal military government and the United States of complicity, arguing that Chief Abiola must have been poisoned. This is neither here nor there since the tea that Chief Abiola took was not the object of forensic analysis. It was to respond to these questions that the FG decided to appoint an international medical team to carry out an autopsy on Abiola. Although, some still argued that the appointment of int’l medical team by FG only goes to reinforce the belief in an int’l conspiracy to eliminate Abiola.
In the end, the international medical team returned the following verdict:
Cause of death: Arteriosclerosis and hypertensive heart disease.
Manner of death; Natural.
Whatever conclusion we may wish to draw as to how and why Chief Abiola died, in the final analysis, it is settled that chief Abiola has paid the supreme prize with his life for the foundation and existence of what we are experimenting today in Nigeria called democracy.
Secondly, Abiola was a Muslim, and as such, he and his family would be quick to  conclude that his death was the will of Allah and that it was his destiny.
His Yoruba kinsmen on the other hand would have sought refuge in the claim that in the history of the Yoruba, all Ar`e Ona Kakanfos, the famed “Yoruba war Commanders”, have always died either violently or in harness.
But it must be concluded that from wherever the hand of death crept in, the then military government of Nigeria that detained and jailed him irrespective of several court orders declaring their action unlawful ought to be held responsible for creating the favourable conditions that facilitated Chief. Abiola’s death.
Therefore, now that the federal government of Nigeria led by Muhammad Buhari has taken a bold step to make history by conferring posthumously, the highest national title in the land, Grand Commander Of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Chief Abiola today, and in line with the saying that an effective therapist requires opening of old wounds before dressing, it will therefore not be out of place for the Federal Government of Nigeria to seize the privilege and accept blame or responsibility for creating the favourable atmosphere that led to the death of Abiola and apologize to his family and the entire Yoruba race, declare him a one time President of Nigeria and pay all entitlement and benefits attached to the office of the President for a 4 years (one term) period to the family and also compensate the family so that the soul and heart of Chief Abiola may finally rest in peace wherever he is.
References; “Witness to justice; an insider’s account of Nigeria truth Commission” by Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah.

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