AbdulMumuni, one of the sons of the acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, fondly referred to as MKO, speaks on his efforts to revamp his father’s legacy, 20 years after his father’s untimely death.
Can you shed some light on the disagreement between you and your elder brothers over your father’s properties?
2018 makes 20 years since the passing of our benefactor, the late Chief MKO Abiola. I got back to Nigeria in 2007 and I started working. On my mum’s side of the family, I manage an NNPC mega station. I have been doing that since I got back to Nigeria. After that, I wanted to learn the way politics is played in Nigeria, I wanted to get some experience; so, I went to work with somebody I really respect and that is Governor Rauf Aregbesola. It was more on an unofficial capacity but I basically was able to get what I needed, like more experience and just knowledge about the political landscape.
Also, I have a young family and I used to go to Osun State where I was most of the time. After he got his second term, I wasn’t spending enough time with my family; so, I spoke to him about some plans that I wanted to rehabilitate some of my father’s properties that have been abandoned for a long time. It was a plan of mine, not necessarily for financial benefit. It had been about 16 years that my father had died; I looked round as you would for your older brothers. I know I have older brothers. Where are they? What are they doing?
I was getting depressed because my father was a great man. I would have expected that some of his children would have followed in his footsteps in terms of giving back to Nigeria or just doing something that is befitting of such a great man. Looking round, I wasn’t happy with what I was seeing. So, I started trying to discuss with my sisters and brothers, trying to figure out the issue. What exactly is going on? Why are we basically stuck in 1993? It was like the whole family is stuck in one day. Things have been destroyed but nobody looks at something, because it’s bad, and throws it away. No, you look at it and say, ‘This thing is spoilt. What can we do to fix it?’
That was my thinking and I have always had that solution-driven kind of mentality. So, talking to my brothers, I was trying to find out what exactly is going on, asking them simple questions. These are my siblings I did not even know when I was growing up in Nigeria. I was reaching out to some of my extended siblings. And it was the same response I was getting: ‘Things are not easy. We are working hard’. These guys are doing great things in their individual capacities and that is how you know that it is the story of Nigeria.
How did things turn out this way for your siblings?
We have a situation where, individually, we are excellent, but collectively, we think that we can’t all just get along and I don’t understand why it should be like that. So, I kept on talking to them, trying to see what their ideas were and they would say that there were some of Daddy’s properties had been abandoned and that nothing was being done about them. We then started the conversation, ‘Do we want to revive Concord Newspapers?’ And I was of the mindset that Concord was Daddy’s dream. We were kids (when it was established). I don’t even remember Concord that well but that was Daddy’s dream. It is sad that things have gone on for so long without anything being addressed. The best thing we can do for ourselves as the children of this man (MKO) is to repurpose it. Instead of trying to live on past glory, why don’t we try to create a new vision for the family? So, that was my thinking.
About two years later, I got my siblings involved. I got the extended family — my dad’s siblings — involved. I got the wives of my father involved as well because I knew that this thing was a collective thing. If I am the one saying something, then it would be like, what am I talking about? But if we all are saying the same thing and we’re working towards that goal, it might be easy for us to basically achieve it, and that’s what we did. So, I left Lagos State and started going around the country looking at Daddy’s assets, those of his assets that have been abandoned. I have been to Kwara and Lafia East (Nasarawa State).
I met with the Emir (of Lafia) who is the same emir that gave my father the land. The man (Emir) had tears in his eyes; he couldn’t believe it that this man (MKO) had children who are still alive because my father had invested so much money in that state and nothing was being done. He was shocked. He said my father made him a promise to bring life into that town. These are the kinds of things I am talking about. Those are the kinds of things I want to fix. I want us to go back to the farmlands and do something with that, even if it is just to redeem a bit of my father’s (pledge). When you say something, you should always execute. If I say I am going to do something, it’s not an ‘Insha Allah’ thing. And that is where I draw a line.
In how many other states are there properties that your father left behind?
I went to Taraba State. I saw some farmlands there too and the silo. I went round. We have properties in Ibadan, even in Ogun State, which we didn’t know we had despite the fact that my dad is from Ogun State. I have said it that there are so many other properties out there that we wouldn’t even know we have. It is like having a wife and you are never there with her, and you think she is going to be faithful. Somebody else is going to be doing your duties, whichever way you want to look at it.
So, I think the bottom line for me is that instead of staying on June 12, we are going to continue from where my father stopped. We’ve waited 20 years. When some of my brothers were saying they wanted to go to the public, I said no. We are not a public family; we’re a very private family. My father was public but my family was very private; we don’t like that kind of attention, so I didn’t want to be the one to bring this kind of attention. I wanted to give my brothers enough time to come to their senses. It is like doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. That is the recipe for madness. You can’t continue doing the same thing year in, year out, thinking things are going to change. You have to change something, and that is where I stand.
Have you sought intervention from respected family members and friends of the family?
Few years ago, after talking to and getting advice from people who are highly regarded as mentors and people who have been friends of the family for a long time, like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Dr. Wale Babalakin, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, Ogbeni Aregbesola and other leaders in the Yoruba community trying to talk to this man (Kola) and speak some truth to someone who is more like a son to them. The result we were getting at the time was not pleasing. It seemed like somebody was just hell-bent on keeping everything to himself.
Look, I am very practical in things. I am not a madman. What I did was, ‘You don’t want to have a conversation with me? Fine’. The properties that are being used and nobody even knows the amount of money that is being generated; I didn’t go to the public and start asking for any document. I didn’t go to these companies to start making a noise. No. I looked for the properties that were not being used — it is very important for people to understand this — properties that had been abandoned and forgotten for about 18 years. These were the properties I targeted because I knew that if I went to where things were happening, these people already had employed people there. Those people that have been employed don’t have anything to do with me and I am not going to prevent somebody from making ends meet just because I am trying to solve a problem. That would not be what my father would want anyway. So, I am looking for properties that are not being used. It is taken me a long time to even raise the funds for some of these things.
But God is good because, at the end of the day, when things like this happen, you find support from different places. I would never have thought I would have to deal with, these 20 years down the line. By now, I should be thinking, ‘What is your next step, Abdul? Are you going to run for (a political) office? Are you going to try to change something?’ But now, I am now stuck in a position where I am trying to find a way to uphold my father’s legacy. I actually don’t mind because I have been looking for what my purpose is and I think I have finally found something that I can throw my all into. I think this is the beginning of better things happening in this family as we go along.
If you’ve seen the reconstruction of Concord by the airport, that is going to be done, Insha Allah, by March, and then people can start working there. The money that is generated from there will be used to even pay back on a court judgment that was taken on that property because, apparently, my brother (Kola), in his ultimate wisdom, refused to pay the staff of Concord whose appointments were wrongfully terminated. These are the kinds of things that I was trying to redress. Things like this are not good. So, we are hoping that with some of the money generated, we will be able to offset some of these bills and move the family away from 1993 and into the future because what is done is done, so where do we go from here?
The property that was really in question is the property in Oshodi, which was supposed to be in the second phase of this Abiola Logistics and Transformation Agenda. We created Abiola Logistics Limited as a vehicle for my transformation agenda for the Abiola family. We were supposed to use that as the annex of Concord, trying to see if we can get people to invest in renovating it and turning it into a cold room perhaps. We have heard that the World Food Programme would like some warehouse space; that would have been a perfect location for it. We are just trying to rejig it and change the formula in little ways to get the proper end results. I think that is the most important thing.
Like I said, I am not alone in this. I have my brothers and my stepmums. After I’m done with Oshodi, I’m ready to go to Kwara farms. That would have been my next move. Even if it’s 100 hectares, you start with that. Next year, you can do 200; you start from somewhere. You don’t say because it is 10,000 hectares of land, I can’t do it. And from wherever I stop, my son can carry on. That is the most important thing.
So, your desire to uphold your father’s legacy is what is driving you to revive his assets?
Yes, like the property he (MKO) was building in the Government Reserved Area, Ogun State. I have been approaching professionals to see if we can build some kind of hotel or some kind of resort. I know that was not my dad’s plan. But what I also know is that he had a similar plan and that was his dream. The children too can come up with another dream that will sustain us. Like Concord, I know that they have some tenants that are shipping companies — and this is another way of repurposing that property. Okay, we are not doing a newspaper anymore, but what is the property doing? When that comes in, it will all be documented. I have a list of all my brothers, including Kola, Deji and Agboola, I just don’t have their account numbers. Everything will be split equally among all of them just like my father wanted. I don’t think I can do anymore other than that. Before you know it, maybe it will be N100,000 today, tomorrow N150,000. Some days, it could be N200,000; the sky is the limit. You start somewhere and that is what I’m trying to get across that we can’t continue the way we’ve been going. Things have not been easy for many of us, but it’s time that we started thinking about the bigger picture.
Are your elder brothers helping their younger siblings financially or otherwise?
What I do know is that the will, according to my dad, stated clearly what should go to each person. Basically, he addressed everybody in his family. To a certain extent, some aspects of the will have been delivered, for instance, the money for the wives had been executed. The money for the brothers has been executed. The thing that is left hanging since 1999, I think, is to sell everything and split the money equally among the children. That ws where it became a little dicey. And I, for one, know that my father did what was right by laying his life for his country.
My mum (Kudirat Abiola) was killed during the 1993 struggle and due to the fact that she wasn’t alive, we did not get any money (from the will) for my mum’s legacy. So, the money that was prescribed to my mum, according to British law, if the person in question is not around, it doesn’t go to the children, and apparently, it’s null. So, I’ve lost a lot, but that is not what it is. The problem is you can’t have a property like Concord just staying inhabited by 400 northerners that I don’t know from anywhere. When I got there, there were 400 northerners on the land which constituted a security hazard. Any government at the time could have revoked the land because anything that is happening in such close proximity to the international airport, even if it was a banger that went off, God knows what would have been said. They would say, ‘There are some criminal activities happening on the premises’. Then, Lagos State would have confiscated the land and we would have lost such a fine property. The idea is, before we start saying anything, let’s try to fix some things. If you noticed, I haven’t been saying anything. It is only until recently that I started getting some kind of unnecessary and undue harassment. And Like I said, I’m young; I don’t know what had transpired before. I’m just trying to rehabilitate some things. But if something had transpired before, then I don’t know. That’s when things start to become dicey. All I’m trying to do is fix properties that have been abandoned for years.
What is the last resort for you and your siblings? Is third-party intervention the way to go?
For me, I think that where we are now is more or less an impasse. I am hoping that this thing might be a good New Year’s present to the family where we can all start the conversation, in just being transparent. We are all brothers; they are my egbons (seniors). In our culture, you always respect your egbons. As a matter of fact, I remember a funny story that my mentor told me that your elders are your elders. Your elders are your elders and even if they are doing the wrong thing, you are not supposed to confront them. So, like I said, I am not here to fight anybody or even make anybody look bad. All I am here to do is carve out a future for me and my kids, and in the same vein, also do that for my brothers and their families to build a future that we can all be proud of. – Culled from Punch.