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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Video: June 12 in Nigerian History - The Stolen Victory and Mysterious Death of Moshood Abiola

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In June 1993, Chief Moshood (M.K.O.) Abiola, a Muslim businessman and philanthropist, ran for the presidency of Nigeria and appeared to win the popular vote in what was considered a free and fair election.  The vote was annulled by Nigeria’s military leader on the basis that the election was corrupt. When Abiola rallied support to claim the presidency, he was arrested for treason by the military regime led by General Sani Abacha and sent to prison for four years. Religious and human rights activists from across the globe called for his release.

In June 1993, Chief Moshood (M.K.O.) Abiola, a Muslim businessman and philanthropist, ran for the presidency of Nigeria and appeared to win the popular vote in what was considered a free and fair election.  The vote was annulled by Nigeria’s military leader on the basis that the election was corrupt. When Abiola rallied support to claim the presidency, he was arrested for treason by the military regime led by General Sani Abacha and sent to prison for four years. Religious and human rights activists from across the globe called for his release.

In June 1998, General Abacha was found dead under mysterious circumstances.  One month later, on the day that Abiola was to be released from prison, he met with a U.S. delegation in Nigeria which included Assistant Secretary Susan Rice and Under Secretary Thomas Pickering to discuss the country’s planned transition to democratic rule. During the July 7 meeting Abiola suddenly became ill, collapsed and later died in a hospital. Some claimed he had been poisoned by members of the U.S. delegation after drinking tea during the meeting.
Others said he had been beaten. Autopsy results showed he had died of massive heart failure. In an interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy in April 2003, Thomas Pickering offered a first-hand account of the incident and its aftermath.


In the spring of 1998, as Under Secretary [for Political Affairs], I had planned a visit to Nigeria probably in early summer. Susan Rice, who was Assistant Secretary [for African Affairs], and I were planning to go out [to Nigeria.] (Pickering is seen at left.)

I had applied for a visa, and General Sani Abacha, the last of the military coup guys, was still in charge. Sani Abacha’s most enduring – I guess – ‘attribute’ was that he took very large amounts of money and hid it well. We were going out to see whether we could get the Nigerians to straighten up and behave or at least become more responsible.

I was in Qatar on my way back from the Middle East when I was refused a Nigerian visa on a Thursday night. I’m happy to tell you that my tremendous influence in Nigeria was at work because on Saturday night Sani Abacha died of, presumably, a heart attack ‘visiting with’ two ladies of the night in the presidential residence.

A General [Abdulsalami] Abubakar took over, a northerner, someone we had known, of good reputation. It was obvious that the military had enough of Sani Abacha and his type and at last felt that it was time to straighten out and move toward elected civil government. We took that as a good signal and again we asked to come out, and in two months we went out with a visa…

[Chief Abiola] had run against Sani Abacha. He had, according to some vote counts, actually won the election and then been incarcerated by Abacha. He was a Muslim from Lagos, a Yoruba, with a newspaper empire as well as other entrepreneurial adventures…

I came about a week after UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan had been there. Sani Abacha had become president when he in effect stole the government after an election in which my friend Chief Abiola … had been elected. Chief Abiola was clamped into jail and spent four years there.

And so I’d asked General Abubakar, as Kofi Anan had, to see Chief Abiola, who was still in detention, where he had been put by Abacha after the election. We hoped we could use the meeting as a way to get him out of jail. His supporters were claiming that he was the legal and rightful president of Nigeria and this made the military just a little bit nervous and reluctant to move.

I think he was being held in somewhat gentler confinement than before. General Abubakar said, “Yes, of course,” to our request for a meeting with Abiola.

MKO-Abiola We met General Abubakar in the morning and in the afternoon at 3 o’clock he arranged for us to have Chief Abiola come to see us at a government guesthouse on the presidential compound in Abuja. I went there with the ambassador, Bill Twaddell, and Susan.  Abiola came in, and I don’t know whether he had been told who he was going to see, but he certainly recognized me, talked about, even before we sat down, the occasions in which we had met some years before…

He and I had been, in a sense, co-victims of what we believed to be a Soviet-inspired disinformation plot in which the effort was to link him to me in an effort to use subversion to influence Nigerian domestic politics…[during the time that Pickering was the ambassador in Nigeria, 1981-1983.]

We sat down. Tea was brought in. He drank tea, Susan drank tea and Bill drank tea, I didn’t — all from the same teapot. (This is important because there are continuing rumours that he was poisoned, presumably by us, with the tea). He sat next to me on the couch and the others were sitting … on another couch in the living room of this big guesthouse.

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