Accomplished and selfless are words that suitably describe Chief Abimbola Aboderin. Call him the face behindÂ June 12Â and you wouldnâ€™t be wrong. He is indeed a man of unsung glory in Nigeriaâ€™s nascent democracy. In the wake of the recent national honour done to the late MKO Abiola, Aboderin, who is the Chairman, Icon Group, shares the untold story of his alliance with late MKO, Adedibu, Shehu Yarâ€™Adua and Arisekola and his near-death experience during theÂ June 12Â struggle withÂ Adedayo Adejobi
Your late father was a very influential politician. Could that have spurred your interest in politics?
My father was the late Chief Olola Aboderin. He installed the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, who once worked for my grandfather. Being the sole agent of Shell for West Africa, my late father at a rather tender age, became wealthy and successful in petroleum business, and so he formed Ibadan Peopleâ€™s Party, which brought the likes of the late Akinloye and Adelabu to the fore. My dad was also a founding member of the Action Group and part of the delegation chosen by the Federal Parliament to represent Nigeria in England. Years later, my old man stopped politics and concentrated on his businesses. He spurred my interest in politics.
So, how did you meet the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola?
I got to know him through my dad. When I finished my A â€˜levels in England, I moved to have my first and second degrees in California. Prior to this, I came to my fatherâ€™s house in Apapa and met him and Abiola at the waterfront. Abiola came to appeal to my father to please help him talk to the Yorubaâ€™s because they were not happy with him being in the opposition NPN against Awolowoâ€™s party. Knowing fully well that my father was powerful in the political sphere, Abiola came to him, and that was how I met him. I didnâ€™t know who Abiola was at that time, but we spoke and we became friends.
When my father died in the early 80â€™s, MKO came for the burial. Later, I went to see him at ITT at Jibowu, Lagos. Fortunately, again we met politically at Ibadan when he came to see late Baba Adedibu. Adedibu, Abiola and IBB were all my friends. Abiola called me and said his problem was the forthcoming convention. He knew he was going to win the election because people knew him but the convention was a problem. I also met Abiolaâ€™s friend who doubled as his personal lawyer- Chief Abimbola Ajibola. Adedibu told me to go to my ward and let people know me so I started doing charity work and I got noticed by my people. They used to call me and Abiolaâ€™s lawyer the Presidentâ€™s men because it was assumed that Abiola was already the president. Anything Abiola wanted to do, I and his lawyer were always around together.
After Abiola told me of his desire to win the SDP convention, I geared up in full swing and went there as a special observer. With voting starting, there were fears that my friend Abiola was going to lose to the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was using Yarâ€™ Aduaâ€™s political structure. I, with MKO and the late Adedibu headed straight to meet with General Yarâ€™Adua in his house at the wee hours of the night, while voting was on-going.
Â For the records, the previously annulled convention was won by Shehu Yarâ€™ Adua. Adedibu stood with Yarâ€™Adua; he got his western delegates and won. For that reason and more itâ€™s safe to say the late Shehu Yarâ€™Adua owed Adedibu a huge favour at a time. After the meeting with Yarâ€™Adua, he finally asked Atiku to step down. That marked a watershed in Abiolaâ€™s life, as he coasted home to sweet victory at the convention in Jos.
The following day, jubilation rented the air, as supporters, Adedibu, Abimbola Ajibola, I and Shina Peters who came to serenade guests gathered in Abiolaâ€™s house. The next day Abiola and the three of us went to Yar â€™Aduaâ€™s house to thank him. Yar â€˜Aduaâ€™s remark was simple and loaded. â€˜That is all I can do for Nigeria,â€™ he said.
In what particular ways were you instrumental to raising money for Abiolaâ€™s election campaign?
With the convention done and dusted, preparations for the 1993 elections moved into top speed, as the financial team, comprising Arisekola, Olona and Bisi Abiola was led by me. I got saddled with the task of raising N360 million in less than four days. Because Abiola trusted me, the cash I raised for the election was kept in my custody. Although Abiola was a wealthy business man but as a member of SDP, it was imperative to raise funds for the general election.
You also worked closely with Abiolaâ€™s wives. What roles did they play in the scheme of things?
As a friend, brother and a self-made man, anywhere Abiola went from Ilorin to Kano, Enugu, I was sure to go with him. In a strategic move, Abiola divided his wives Kudi, Doyin and Bisi to the North, East and South respectively on the strength of their understanding of nuances of language, culture and customs in the North, East and Southern Nigeria. With this, he penetrated deeply into these regions. In all of this, I was simply rooting for a credible man to rule Nigeria.
The choice of selecting a Vice Presidential Candidate must have been a tough and frenetic one. What went down?
Choosing a Vice Presidential Candidate was a crucial period in Abiolaâ€™s campaign, as many interests and egos got bruised, leading to misunderstanding and feudal war amongst friends who possibly became sworn enemies. Babangida was a Brigadier general when I got back from the United States. Iâ€™d known him when he was a Major because I was doing business with the Army, Air Force and Police. Unknown to many, Abiola and Babangida were very good friends, but the issue of Vice Presidential Candidate caused the problem. The Babangida I knew was very much involved in Abiolaâ€™s political career. People we donâ€™t know just came to hijack the struggle; they donâ€™t know how we got there. Babangida according to Abiola gave two names-Tofa and Maitama Sule to choose from as Vice Presidential Candidate. On the contrary, Adedibu objected and rooted for Kingibe. That was the beginning of the rift between the two of them. Babangida felt since Abiola was his friend, he should have gone for his options, and they didnâ€™t handle it well. They went too far instead of sitting together to settle it, they allowed peopleâ€™s interference to escalate the disagreement.
What role did you play after theÂ June 12Â election was cancelled?
I and Ajibola went to Ibadan and were listening to election results. Everyone was happy; people trooped in and jubilated over the results but it was annulled. Not too long after the election was annulled, we started the struggle against the annulment and followed him to High court, Abuja. I and Ajibola almost died on our way to Abuja in theÂ midnightÂ with my driver. Everyone slept off and a trailer was in the middle of the road around Makwa. But God saved us as we had to stop and sleep there. I had no choice than to stand by MKO.
During the struggle, Abiola was alleged to have been hijacked by NADECO. What really happened?
He truly suddenly disappeared into thin air. Abiola was hijacked by NADECO and couldnâ€™t be reached for over a week. One day, on the way to my office in Surulere, Lagos, I saw Abiola in a van. So I asked what happened to him. I was disappointed when I saw him because you canâ€™t declare yourself king in the den of a lion. I have nothing against NADECO, but it shouldnâ€™t have gotten to the extent of harassing MKO. Abacha is the person with power and Abiola was supposed to travel out of the country and declare himself president over there. When he was arrested, I remember Adedibu and Arisekola went to Abacha to plead for his release. The plan was to get his release first, and then fly him out of the country to have him declare over there, but it appeared they were a bit impatient. He would have become the President.
You said Babangida and Abiola were friends. Do you really think Babangida killed your friend by annulling his victory?
No I donâ€™t know about that. Itâ€™s just unfortunate MKO died. They used to be friends in those days. They did contracts together. He was able to raise money for Nigeria through the World Bank when Nigeria was in problem in 1985.
Have you considered documenting yourÂ June 12Â story?
I have a book on it called the story ofÂ June 12Â which is yet to be published. Nigeria is a beautiful place but they are busy stealing and not manufacturing. The few industries we had have closed due to poor management and infrastructure. God has blessed us with all we need, but we must put them together and make it right. We have been blessed with natural resources. We have to set our priorities right. I know Buhari and Osinbajo; they are good people but it is not getting to the masses yet. The masses should be enjoying but majority are suffering.
What do you consider the big lessons for Nigeria onÂ June 12?
Nothing good comes easy. We have learnt a lesson that together we can build a great nation; we need each other. All of us have something to contribute. All countries have good and bad people.
What shared nostalgic moments do you remember with Abiola?
We spoke a lot. He was a philanthropist. First of all, I was disappointed when the election was hijacked after going through a lot. I just thought death can be a blessing in disguise, and that he had gone to rest after going through a lot. I was so sad all the struggle was for nothing.
What is your present relationship with Babangida?
I havenâ€™t maintained a robust relationship with IBB, as we havenâ€™t seen in a long time. When he was president, I only saw him once. I was close to him before he became president. Itâ€™s just that itâ€™s a terrible thing he did to Abiola, but we must put that behind us.
You are impassioned about this country. What is the Nigeria of your Dream?
A country among the top 10 in the world, where weâ€™ll love each other, work together, and have the fear of God.
Accept my sincere condolences on the death of your cousin, Wale Aboderin. What was the relationship between you both?
My late cousin Wale Aboderin and I had a good relationship. His death came as a shock to me. My father and his were very close. I still canâ€™t get over his death.