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Tuesday, July 7, 1998 Published at 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK


World: Africa

Profile: Moshood Abiola

Chief Moshood Abiola in 1993 before his arrest

Chief Moshood Abiola was the presumed winner of the 1993 elections in Nigeria - annulled by the military. A year later he was arrested and has been in detention ever since. Former BBC West Africa correspondent Liz Blunt has this profile

Chief Moshood Abiola once told me the meaning of his middle name - the K in the MKO, his trade mark initials.


Last interview: Abiola talks to the BBC during his arrest in 1994
His birth came at the end of a long and heartbreaking series of failed pregnancies, still births and children who died in infancy.

Grimly, not wanting to tempt her fate, Moshood's mother gave him the name Kashimawo - let us see if this one too will die.

But this late baby proved tenacious of life and a determined fighter.


[ image: Abiola and his supportes were outraged when the election was annulled]
Abiola and his supportes were outraged when the election was annulled
Meeting Abiola in his prime, it was hard to imagine him as a sickly baby. He grew into a large, robust man, with a strong voice, a dominating physical presence and a flamboyant taste in clothes. And as he grew, he flourished.

Although from a modest family, he rode the crest of Nigeria's oil boom of the 1970s, and through involvement in a series of massive telecommunications projects with the American multinational ITT, became very wealthy indeed.

And in 1979, when an earlier military government kept its word, and handed over to civilians, Abiola went into politics and joined the National Party of Nigeria.

The NPN had the backing of Nigeria's powerful northern establishment, and it won the election. But it also had a zoning system for its main posts.

The President, Shehu Shagari, was from the north; his deputy from the east, and they were limited to two terms in office. After they were re-elected in 1983, Abiola, a Yoruba-speaker from the south-west, looked qualified to make a bid for the presidency the next time round.

Then the blow fell - a military coup swept away President Shagari, the NPN, and, for the time being, Abiola's political hopes. He went back to making money, his extensive business interests now including an airline and a shipping company, as well as the Concord newspaper, and a group of sister publications.

And when that military government in turn started moving, painfully slowly, toward a handover of power, Abiola came back into politics.

This time there were just two parties, set up by the military, and their leadership was carefully vetted. Moshood Abiola became the presidential candidate for the Social Democratic Party, with the government's blessing.

When the then military leader, Ibrahim Babangida, at a regional summit meeting, invited Abiola onto the platform to address the assembled heads of state on his pet project - the need for western countries to pay reparations for slavery - those present saw it as a discreet benediction, and imagined Abiola would be back at the next summit, as Nigeria's elected president.

That impression lasted through the campaign, the vote, and the count. Then, with Abiola well in the lead, General Babangida stopped the count, and annulled the election. Moshood Abiola and his supporters were outraged.

There was no question this time that he would sit down quietly and accept the decision. And when, on the first anniversary of the election, he publicly declared himself Nigeria's lawfully elected president, he was arrested, and charged with treason.

Even then he didn't give up. He could have been released on bail, if he had been willing to accept the annulment and stop claiming to be president. He refused, and stayed in detention.

Now the Nigerian political wheel has turned again, the man who detained him, General Sani Abacha, is dead, and the detainees are coming out of jail.

The question now is whether four years of confinement and isolation, and the killing of his wife Kudirat while he was inside, will have shaken even his powerful will to survive, and his tenacious ambition to lead Nigeria.



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