Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (August 24, 1937 – July 7, 1998), often referred to as M. K. O. Abiola, was a popular Nigerian Yoruba businessman, publisher, politician and aristocrat of the Egba clan. He ran for the presidency in 1993, and won, but remained President-Elect till his death, as he was denied his mandate when the election results were annulled by the preceding military president Ibrahim Babangida.
Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State. His name, Kashimawo, means “Let us wait and see”. Moshood Abiola was his father’s twenty-third child but the first of his father’s children to survive infancy, hence the name ‘Kashimawo’. It was not until he was 15 years old that he was properly named Moshood, by his parents.
MKO showed entrepreneurial talents at a very young age, at the tender age of nine he started his first business selling firewood. He would wake up at dawn to go to the forest and gather firewood, which he would then cart back to town and sell before going to school, in order to support his old father and his siblings. He later founded a band at age fifteen where he would perform at various ceremonies in exchange of food. He eventually became famous enough to start demanding payment for his performances and used the money to support his family and his secondary education at the Baptist Boys High School Abeokuta, where he excelled. He was the editor of the school magazine The Trumpeter, Olusegun Obasanjo was deputy editor. At the age of 19 he joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons ostensibly because of its pan-Africanist agenda, preferring it to the Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group’s focus on economic and educational development for the Western Region of Nigeria, where the Yoruba were in the majority
In 1956 Moshood Abiola started his professional life as bank clerk with Barclays Bank plc in Ibadan, South-West Nigeria. After two years he joined the Western Region Finance Corporation as an executive accounts officer before leaving for Glasgow, Scotland to pursue his higher education. In Glasgow he received 1st class in political economy, commercial law and management accountancy. He also received a distinction from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. On his returm to Nigeria, he worked as a senior accountant at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital, then went on to Pfizer, before joining the ITT Corporation, where he later rose to the position of Vice President, Africa and Middle-East of the entire corporation, which was head-quartered in the United States. As a result Moshood Abiola spent a lot of his time and made most of his money in the United States, whilst retaining the post of chairman of the corporation’s Nigerian subsidiary. In addition to his duties throughout the Middle-East and Africa, Moshood Abiola invested heavily in Nigeria and West Africa. He set up Abiola Farms, Abiola bookshops, Radio Communications Nigeria, Wonder bakeries, Concord Press, Concord Airlines, Summit oil international ltd, Africa Ocean lines, Habib Bank, Decca W.A. ltd, and Abiola football club. In addition to these, he also managed to perform his duties as Chairman of the G15 business council, President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Patron of the Kwame Nkrumah Foundation, Patron of the WEB Du Bois foundation, trustee of the Martin Luther King foundation and director of the International Press Institute
Moshood Abiola sprang to national and international prominence as a result of his philanthropic activities. The Congressional Black Caucus of the United States of America issued the following tribute to Moshood Abiola:
“Because of this man, there is both cause for hope and certainty that the agony and protests of those who suffer injustice shall give way to peace and human dignity. The children of the world shall know the great work of this extraordinary leader and his fervent mission to right wrong, to do justice, and to serve mankind. The enemies which imperil the future of generations to come: poverty, ignorance, disease, hunger, and racism have each seen effects of the valiant work of Chief Abiola. Through him and others like him, never again will freedom rest in the domain of the few. We, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus salute him this day as a hero in the global pursuit to preserve the history and the legacy of the African diaspora”
From 1972 until his death Moshood Abiola had been conferred with 197 traditional titles by 68 different communities in Nigeria, in response to the fact that his financial assistance resulted in the construction of 63 secondary schools, 121 mosques and churches, 41 libraries, 21 water projects in 24 states of Nigeria, and was grand patron to 149 societies or associations in Nigeria. In this way Abiola reached out and won admiration across the multifarious ethnic and religious divides in Nigeria. In addition to his work in Nigeria, Moshood Abiola was a dedicated supporter of the Southern African Liberation movements from the 1970s and he sponsored the campaign to win reparations for slavery and colonialism in Africa and the diaspora. Chief Abiola, personally rallied every African head of state, and every head of state in the black diaspora to ensure that Africans would speak with one voice on the issues
The most widely known critic of Chief Abiola was Fela Kuti. In his twenty-five minute song “ITT” (International Thief Thief), although the song was not about Moshood Abiola, he mentioned the name of both Olusegun Obasanjo and Moshood Abiola at the very end. It is far less widely known that Fela had been signed to Moshood Abiola’s record label, Decca W.A. and had a dispute over royalties with him. When Abiola asked Fela to take him to court if he felt that he had been treated unfairly, he instead opted to destroy the studio’s of Decca. This may have been because Abiola’s influence and Fela’s unpopularity with the establishment would have made it unlikely that he received a fair trial.
Moshood Abiola is also criticised for his close relationship and support of some of Nigeria’s military regimes. He is known to have supported two of the many coup d’etats in the country. He received two oil blocks from the Federal Military Government, however he did not manage to begin extracting oil from them before he died, and therefore they were never a source of his wealth. The oil blocks were revoked by General Abacha, but have since been returned to the Abiola family who are only now developing them. Some people have accused Chief Abiola of looting Nigeria, however none of them are able to explain how and when he did this, especially given the fact that he made much of his money outside of Nigeria and from his private businesses that were independent of the government. The truth is probably more subtle and may likely surround Abiola’s decision to at times favour practicality over principle in his dealings with Nigeria’s military governments prior to the annulment of his election.
The most serious criticism of Moshood Abiola concerns his private life. He was a polygamist (which is not at all unusual in Nigeria), and since his death there has been much strife within his family due to the skewed distribution of his assets.
Moshood Abiola was twice voted international businessman of the year, and received numerous honorary doctorates from universities all over the world. In 1987 he was bestowed with the golden key to the city of Washington D.C., and he was bestowed with awards from the NAACP and the King center in the USA, as well as the International Committee on Education for Teaching in Paris, amongst many others. In Nigeria, the Oloye Abiola was made the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland. It is the highest chieftancy title available to commoners amongst the Yoruba, and has only been conferred by the tribe 14 times in its history. This in effect rendered Abiola the ceremonial War Viceroy of all of his tribespeople. According to the folklore of the tribe as recounted by the Yoruba elders, the Aare Ona Kakanfo is expected to die a warrior in the defense of his nation inorder to prove himself in the eyes of both the divine and the mortal as having been worthy of his title