Interview

April 21, 2024

YORUBA NATION: Oyo invasion leader is a stranger — Jamiu Abiola

Jamiu Abiola

•Reveals how Kola Abiola, Kudirat row gave Abacha opportunity to kill his mum •‘Why we ignored family member who contested against Tinubu’

By Dickson Omobola

On Saturday, April 13, 2024, some Yoruba Nation agitators, armed with dangerous weapons and charms, invaded Oyo State House of Assembly and Governor’s Office in Ibadan, the state capital, in an attempt to secede from the Nigerian state. Minutes after their scheme was thwarted by security operatives, a middle-aged woman, Mrs Modupe Onitiri-Abiola, wife of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, who won the June 12, 1993 presidential election, in a video that circulated online, declared the South-West region a sovereign nation independent of Nigeria. Onitiri-Abiola, in the video, said: “With the awesome power that God used to create the sky and seven clouds, moon and stars, I, Modupe Onitiri-Abiola, proclaim the Democratic Republic of Yoruba. Yoruba has become a nation without any opposition.” The development, which sent shockwaves across the country, also startled late MKO Abiola family. In this interview, one of Abiola’s children, Jamiu, speaks on Onitiri-Abiola’s failed plot, the actions the Abiola family intend to take on the issue. The son, who is also the Special Assistant to the President on Special Duties in the Office of the Vice-President, also speaks on how the family manages their political differences among other issues. Excerpts:

What do you make of the Yoruba Nation agitators who invaded Oyo?

Most of them are not ideologists. They don’t even know what it means to have a vision, talk less of turning a region as dynamic as the South-West into a fruitful nation. God has made Nigeria one country so that it can use its diversity to prosper and pull up the rest of the African continent. Idle hands, as they say, is a devil’s workshop, hence most of these people have been idle for too long, even before this administration. That is why job creation for the youths featured high on the Renewed Hope Manifesto of President Tinubu during the campaign. He has long realised that the biggest problem we have in this country is the high number of idle youths. These are the people who easily become secessionist agitators, criminal bandits and ruthless kidnappers.

The agitators said they don’t regret their actions because nothing is working in Nigeria. Do you agree?

They might have a point because things were not going well in the country in the past. Now, things have completely changed and this fact is more glaring day after day. As we speak, the Naira is appreciating. As we speak, more and more terrorists and kidnappers are being killed. As we speak, government is clamping down on corruption more than ever before.

What can you say about your stepmom who, in a video that went viral, declared the formation of a Yoruba Nation after the invasion?

I have never met her in my life. It feels strange to hear you call her my stepmom. From what I know of her, she lives abroad and had contested for governorship a few years ago. She is not one of my father’s official wives, so I did not grow up with her in our house.

How many wives did your father have?

According to him, he had four official wives and other women people call his wives. He loved taking care of women and having children. His family life was the most complicated thing about him. There are times when I was introduced to my brothers and sisters by strangers. The first time that happened was a strange experience indeed. I was wondering whether I would have figured out on my own if the woman being introduced to me was my sister.

Did she inform any family members before making the move?

I don’t think that she told members of the Abiola family because the family members I spoke to are furious about what she did. They are shocked.

Why do you think she made that declaration?

Your guess is as good as mine since I don’t have a clue. But regardless of her motive, neither she nor anyone bearing the Abiola name has a right to do what she did. Our family patriarch, Chief Abiola, was well known for his strong belief in Nigeria’s unity and that was why it was easy for him to convince Nigerians from all regions to give him their votes. Even after his election was annulled by top army generals mostly from the northern part of the country, he never spoke about splitting Nigeria. It is sad that a woman bearing his name could have made such a declaration, particularly now that the Nigerian president, Bola Tinubu,  is a Yoruba man who is doing a lot of what my father wanted to do as Nigeria’s president.

Will the family take a joint stand against her?

Statements have already been issued here and there. Many people would not want to talk much more about this matter so as not to give the woman more attention than she deserves. That might not even be necessary since her action had no impact whatsoever.

Yours is a large family. How are family members managing their political differences?

In all honesty, the family is large and that has made it politically divided to some extent. In the past, it cost us dearly. After my father was arrested, the ideal thing would have been for us to unite, but the opposite happened. My step brother, Kola, made efforts to change my father’s lawyer against my mother’s wishes. He even went public with the row and gave the Abacha regime an opportunity to kill her and frame it on him. There was nothing my mother, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, had done in that democratic struggle that posed more threat to the Abacha junta than what Chief Gani Fawehinmi had done. Yet, he (Fawehinmi) was only arrested while she was killed because nobody in his family had sold him out. Nobody in his family had gone around running him down in public to the delight of his enemies. Unlike before, the most of my family members have closed ranks and are now part of the All Progressives Congress, APC, mainly out of love and respect for President Bola Tinubu and Chief Olusegun Osoba. We even voted for Tinubu and ignored a family member who had contested against him in last year’s presidential election.

Who are those empowered to speak on behalf of the Abiola family?

We have a principled matriarch in the person of Mrs Adebisi Abiola. She became our matriarch following the deaths of my stepmother and actual mother, Alhaja Simbiat Abiola and Alhaja Kudirat Abiola respectively. She (Adebisi) is a noble woman known to speak the mind of my father even after his death. My father also has his own siblings, most of whom, just like him, have done well in life. That part of the Abiola family is headed by his brother, Alhaji Sule Abiola. 

Across the regions, the calls for disintegration have become louder. What do you make of the calls for Nigeria to divide?

Many people believe that the United States is the greatest and most successful democracy in history. However, do you know that a number of states wanted to leave the union after the re-election of Barak Obama? Nigeria has always battled calls for separation. As far back as 1962, many opposed the census results, saying they favoured the Northern Region. When there was another census two years later, the same allegations were made. From the very start, the unity that enabled us to gain independence became shaky. So, calls for a split are almost as old as Nigeria itself, although I believe that God has made us a giant for a great purpose. And that is why whenever we think that we have reached the brink and are about to disintegrate, like in 1993 and 2023, a miracle that brings us back on track happens. As far as democracy goes in Nigeria, my father and President Tinubu are joined by destiny because while the former played the role of bringing about the return of democracy, the latter now plays the role of ensuring that democracy works.

With insecurity and calls for disintegration, don’t you think it is time the President set the country on the path to true federalism and state police as many eminent Nigerians have said?

Earlier in the year, Mr President and state governors discussed the issue of state police and agreed to the establishment of a committee that would look into it. With regard to federalism, the President has taken some steps that have given state governments more power. Recently, he signed an Electricity Bill which empowers state governments to generate and distribute power. As a former governor, he knows the strategic role of state governments, and that is why throughout his Renewed Hope manifesto, he always tied the steps his administration would take to a planned collaboration with state and local governments.

Another June 12 is around the corner. How do you feel?

It feels great. Frankly speaking, this is the first time that I am not moody when June 12 is around the corner. In the past, there had always been a voice inside me that kept repeating that the battle for democracy was not worth the lives of my parents since democratic governance at the federal level had not met public expectations. But now, that voice has been silenced by the giant strides of the Tinubu/Shettima administration. There is now light at the middle of the tunnel, not just at its end.

Does President Bola Tinubu render help to the family?

He is helping the family as much as he can. You know the kind of person he is, just like my father; he is generous to a fault with so many people depending on him. As a matter of fact, he is the only Nigerian president who has appointed any member of my family to work in the Presidency. He appointed both me and a younger sister. Aside from that, my siblings and I have fond memories of how he was the first governor to immortalise my mum, how he named streets and housing estates after her and how the Lagos State government under his leadership tried to bring her killers to book. This was at a time that many other beneficiaries of her democratic struggle were ignoring her memory as if she were a figment of our collective imagination.

How do you plan to add value to this administration?

In many ways. As a Special Assistant on Special Duties, I am active in many areas that touch the lives of everyday Nigerians. I have been to Saudi Arabia twice this year on pre-Hajj preparations on behalf of the Office of Vice-President along with members of the National Hajj Commission. We have been saddled with the delicate task to ensure that the upcoming Hajj operations are smooth. I have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, for an initiative aimed at empowering former drug addicts through vocational training. I am also about to begin publishing a donor-funded magazine that would be distributed free of charge in schools and universities with the objective of spreading awareness among young adults and teenagers about the dangers of drug abuse.