M.K.O Abiola's sudden death draws anger, disbelief
by Chido Nwangwu, with USAfrica correspondents
Special to USAfricaonline.com and The Black Business journal http://www.bbjonline.com
Anger, disbelief, and a strong current of suspicion has enveloped Nigeria following the death and burial of the man widely believed to have won the June 12, 1993 elections in Nigeria. Moshood K.O. Abiola, was reported to have died of a heart attack on Tuesday July 7, 1998 after falling ill during a meeting with a visiting U.S. delegation, the military government said. According to its statement, "The federal government regrets to announce the sudden death of Chief M.K.O. (Moshood) Abiola.'' The government of Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar said, "Chief Abiola was taken ill during a meeting which was being held by Nigerian and United States officials with him.'' His supporters and some family members, however, suspect foul play.
The statement from the president's office said an autopsy on the 60-year old Abiola, would be performed soon. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Nigeria last week and pushed for his release. Abiola was the apparent winner of the 1993 presidential elections that were canceled by the military. He was jailed the following year and accused of treason by dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, who died last month of a heart attack. A U.S. delegation led by Thomas Pickering was in Nigeria to meet with the new military leadership and lobby for the release of political prisoners. Abiola's family had repeatedly warned that his health had been failing after years in detention under harsh conditions.
The implications of his sudden and unexpected death will fundamentally impact the transition to civil rule promised by Gen. Abubakar who seemed to have been distancing himself from the late Gen. Sani Abacha's brutal regime. Also, the country's restive civilian populace, especially the key members of the much-assaulted Yoruba ethnic group, are said to be "extremely angry and feel violated" by the death of their kinsman.
At the time of this post, Nigerians were watching the world cup matches on local television and many of the persons we called did not know of Abiola's death.
A number of Nigerians who were reached by USAfrica Media Networks said the circumstances of his death suggest the military government must render a fuller explanation than its brief and terse announcement of Abiola's death.
Other pro-democracy activists across all ethnic origins are insistent that the death of Abiola marks "a crucial watershed in our quest for democratizing the country", says Anthony Igwe of The Coalition for Democracy in Africa during an exclusive interview with USAfricaonline.com.
George Agbakahi, a California based Nigeria graduate of political science told USAfrica "It's a terrible shame. What's going on in our country, he queried. Why all these deaths and imprisonments? I am really weary from all these events.
"Emmanuel Okoro, CEO of Petcon Energy Services said that it's unfortunate. I wish they released before death. Right now he died in custody. There is, in all these, a divine hand by God to change many things in Nigeria. May be it has averted another severe conflict around the June 12, issue." Okoro who consults on oil and energy related issues between Houston and Nigeria said "It's like Gen. Abacha's death which also removed the issue of his self-succession. Yet, Abiola did not deserve to die.
Ibrahim Musa, an Abuja businessman said "I personally regret Abiola death but we all have to obey and submit to the will of Allah. Only Allah knows why all these things are happening. May his soul rest in peace."
USAfrica interviews also suggest that Nigerians are suspicious because they said "the death seemed too tidy and make-believe for the visiting U.S delegation to witness" - in a manner that ostensibly absolves the Abubakar regime.
Raymond Sowemimo, president of the Nigerian-American Forum and former leader of the Yorubas in Houston, said "His death calls for serious action. We'll fight this tyranny by a section of the country. We're insulted and abused by these things. How long are we going to continue with these events?"
In another view, others see it as unfortunate but a factor that will make Nigerians deal with their continuing problems in a more serious manner. According to Eni P. Kanu, an engineer in Houston, "We're sorry Abiola is dead. It's unfortunate that it happened. Let's hope this tragedy will force Nigerians to pull themselves together and move forward to resolve once for all the issue of establishing a truly democratic and representative government."
The fact of the matter is that a majority of pro-democracy activists including Abiola's kinsmen have applauded Abubakar's efforts to create an atmosphere of harmony and goodwill by releasing the imprisoned activists and a firm move to free the late Abiola. Today, and in the next few months, Abubakar cannot count himself as lucky having Abiola die under his watch.
Inside Africa Index ,