General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former Head of State, has narrated some of the things that happened after the death of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola.
Abiola, who was incarcerated by the regime of General Sani Abacha, died suddenly in detention, a month after Abacha’s death.
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In an interview with Trust TV, Abdulsalami, who was head of state at the time, said he was shocked by the death of Abiola.
Abiola was arrested by the regime of Abacha after he declared himself as president following the refusal of the military administration to acknowledge him as winner of the June 12, 1993 election that was annulled by former military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda (IBB) regime.
IBB had set up an Interim government headed by the late Chief Ernest Shonekan but Abacha toppled the government after three months.
He had subsequently thrown Abiola, some military and civilian leaders into detention.
Abdulsalami took over government when after Abacha died and he subsequently released most the detainees.
In the Trust TV interview, the retired General narrated the events after Abiola died, stating the role Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, Abiola’s running mate in the 1993 election, assisted in breaking the news to his family.
Now during the incarceration of Moshood Abiola, except his personal doctor, to my knowledge, no member of his family saw him. So when I became head of state, based on consultation and interaction together with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, I gave the family a date that they could come and see him.
“A day before he (Abiola) died, his family came to Abuja to see him. For one reason or the other, the whole family could not see him at the same time, so it was agreed that when this group of his family will see him today, tomorrow the next team will see him. So they saw him like yesterday, now this team from US came to see me and I said they could see him. Normally it was in the evenings the family go and see him. So, because I had authorised the American team to see him, the other part of the family were waiting to see him.
“So, it was at this meeting when the American team was meeting Abiola he fell sick and suddenly the security officers called the medical team to come and attend to him, and when they saw the situation they said it was severe and they needed to take him to the medical centre. So it was the medical team plus the American team that took him to the medical centre, unfortunately at the medical centre, he gave up.
“Then my security chief called and said “I have bad news for you”, I asked what it was, he said “Abiola is dead”. I was shocked. He told me he was there with the American team, at that time I was staying in the barracks, I had not moved to the villa, so I said okay, let him take the American team to my house, I will meet them at the house; so I closed from the office, and went there.
“The issue now was how do I break the news to Abiola’s family and how do we tell the world Abiola had passed on. I must be thankful to God and again to Ambassador Kingibe because we called on him and asked him to bring the family of Abiola. So when they came I broke the news, that unfortunately this is what has happened.
“As you would expect, the family broke down and they started crying, I can’t remember which of the ladies, I held her, she was crying, sobbing, it was then Susan Rice, that is why I always remember her, said “Mr President that is not your job, let me do it”, so she now held this lady until she settled down and she calmed down a little bit. Then we had to summon my second in command and other people and then strategized on how to break the news.
“That is why I always say I thank my God for guiding me, if I hadn’t said the American team should go and meet Abiola certainly I don’t know how I would explain to the world that Abiola had died, and the American team will they believe me that we had not killed Abiola at that time when they were requesting to see him?”