Abiola's sudden death and the ghost of things to come
by Chido Nwangwu
The sudden death of the man widely believed to have won the June 12, 1993 elections in Nigeria, Moshood K.O Abiola, Tuesday June 7, 1998, will markedly alter the geometry of civilian-military power and the quest for a truly thoroughgoing transition to democratic, representative government in that country of nearly 110 million people. Abiola, who took ill during a meeting which being held by Nigerian and U.S officials led by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, had been slated for release, according to U.S secretary-general Kofi Annan "very soon."
It is important to note that one of the major difficulties of Abiola's death is the fact that one of Abiola's estimated 18 wives, Kudirat Abiola, was gunned down and slain by unknown persons (alleged to be agents of the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha) in the course of her fighting for Abiola's release from Abacha's detention, and promotion of the interests of a democratic Nigeria. Did she die in vain?
Second, Abiola's family and business empire which runs in multimillions of dollars from Ikeja in Lagos to Geneva, Switzerland, and from bread making factories to telecommunications services, has suffered severely without the politician-publisher of five newspapers.
Third, many Nigerians seem resolutely convinced that the way forward for them cannot be through military regimes which, lately and more rapidly, as in the past, eat its kind and friends. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua died late in 1997 under the watch of Abacha. Abacha himself died under his own misuse and abuse of mortal and state power. Now, Abiola, the multimillionaire businessman who enriched himself through his military friends (including late Gen. Murtala Muhammad who was assasinated by low-rank officers and sergeants on February 13, 1976, Abacha, Yar'Adua and retired Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who annulled Abiola's election).
Fourth, the so-called Southerners, an undisciplined and disparate mix o ethnically-driven and cowardly politicians of Yoruba, Igbo, Efik, Ijaw, Edo and other southern minorities have finally realized what Biafra's former leader Emeka Ojukwu and the Igbos called for in 1966: a loose federation where the center is not too powerful for any ethnic/religious/geo-political/ideological bloc to force its whims and agenda on other federating parts of the country.
Fifth, the other side of the coin is that Abiola, the army's former friend and social consort and financial heavweight who is reputed to have bankrolled two military coups in Nigeria and Yoweri Museveni's armed triumph in Uganda, may well turn out to be the ultimate rallying point for a truly nationwide coalition of pro-democracy forces in the country. Hitherto, the predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria power elite had used southern politicians like the departed chieftain with the Nigerian Army as its most violent arm to effect unpopular policies, pacify and eliminate opposition and enforce its agenda.
Sixth, all Africans believe we should not speak ill of the dead, but truth must be told that the most unrelenting and formidable opponent of the Northern Nigeria was Abiola's kinsman, the late Obafemi Awolowo. Awolowo, a socially progressive politician on Nigeria's ideological spectrum fought the northern oligarchy but was dogged and thwarted by Abiola's Concord newspapers and wealth.
Seventh, disgusted Nigerians argue that Abiola's death merely captures the so-called unwritten statement that only a dead Southerner will become Nigeria's next president. Abiola's death does not help those sentiments, however foolish or cynical they may sound.
Eight, on a more immediate implication, the transition to civil rule promised by Gen. Abubakar will become complicated. For those who never liked Abiola, they argue that Abiola, like Abacha, has been an obstacle to Nigeria's advancement. The events of the past month have merely been divine events to salvage their country from the hands of the army and its friends. Those who make this argument, believe it or not, ask the mortal question, seriously: since we cannot remove "those people" legally, who's death will be next? Such views reflect the depth of Nigerians' despair and disgust.
Today, and in the next few months, Abubakar cannot count himself as lucky having Abiola die under his watch.
USAfrica Media Networks http://www.usafricaonline.com and http://www.bbjonline.com will sustain daily news update and exclusive news insight and commentary by our team of editors and reporters in the U.S and Nigeria. From London, former managing editor of The Guardian newspapers in Lagos and insider to many events in Nigeria, currently contributing editor of USAfrica, Eddie Iroh, will write a column on the implications of Abiola's death under the USAfrica Insider column. Plus, USAfricaonline readers are invited to send their reaction to Abiola's death for publication.