In this interview with Punch newspaper, one of Chief MKO Abiola’s sons, Abdulmumin, talks about his plans to revive the dreams of his father and his relationship with Kola, the eldest son
You said recently in an interview that you don’t consider Kola Abiola as a brother. What exactly is your grouse with your elder brother?
Let me state that I have no intention to demean Kola. The Abiola family is still one united family. But I don’t think apart from him other children of my dad are involved in the handling of the properties our father left behind. We are not involved in the decision-making of these properties. What I have been trying to do is to get my other siblings together to take decisions together concerning the property. I believe that one brain cannot be compared to 30 brains. I have brothers and sisters all over the world who are doing great things. But my thinking is that we all need to sit down and see how we can keep alive the legacy our father left behind. I don’t believe in selling (our father’s properties). My idea is that everything should be shared equally. I want us to develop ideas on how to move forward based on what Abiola has left behind for us. What I am asking for is just a basic way of handling things.
My father is dead, but there are things everyone should know. True, he (Kola) is the head of the family – he is the first son and he has responsibilities to shoulder. And these responsibilities go beyond his immediate family. I expected him to have taken up that mantle. We are like 30 boys. So, if he wants to be the head he could have delegated some of these responsibilities. His doing everything (concerning the properties) will not augur well for anybody. It’s like the problem we have in Nigeria: the man in Abuja wants to control what’s going on in Mushin or what happens in Zamfara or Taraba State. That won’t work. What I would have expected to have happened was once I graduated from the university and returned to Nigeria and (Kola says), ‘Okay, Abdul, handle this.’ I have been to some farmlands; it’s all over (the country) like in Taraba and Kwara. These were large farms properly set up (by our father). They are not just pieces of lands in the middle of nowhere. There are silos on them; they have tractors. Some of these farms were even well irrigated. So, all Kola has to do was just to continue with the formula that has already been working. But for some reasons – I don’t understand what those reasons were – he chose not to (do something about the farms). Eighteen years later, all that had happened was that we missed an opportunity to grow.
What do you want your brother to do now?
What I just said is: enough is enough. Some of my brothers and I have decided to do a couple of things. We are trying to renovate some properties. We are going to take things one step at a time. I am taking my time. I don’t want a situation whereby one starts something and cannot keep up with it. What is the reason behind what I am trying to do? The idea is to change the narrative. After Abiola died, there are other people who have ideas. The funny thing about ideas is: if I tried using my idea and it doesn’t work, then we can go back to the drawing board to fashion a new way out – why don’t we try it like this? It shouldn’t be a unilateral decision. Everybody should sit down to deliberate on issues. I have some of my brothers in the country. I have started reaching out to them. I have been getting information across to them and we are looking at how to move forward.
You see, the idea of speaking out about the issue of our father’s property is not to fight with anybody. I am not fighting anybody. I have no intention of fomenting trouble. My point is that I don’t believe in doing the same thing and looking for different results. If something has been done for 18 years and it has worked, then why don’t we try something different? That is all I care about – that is why I am calling my brothers together and say, enough is enough. Yes, our father is dead; he had his own faults just like every other human being. Nobody is perfect. But there are great things about my father that we should not allow to go down the drain. Concord Newspapers back then had 172 people working there; after two years it’s difficult to remember something like that once existed. When I was growing up I used to see workers queuing up to collect their salaries in our house. My father would be smiling when he was writing cheques because his employees were making profits. So, where have those profits gone? Even if we don’t have any money now, there are assets my father left behind – I went to Lafiaji in Kwara State; there was a silo sitting on a 10,000 hectare of land. This is something no one has followed up on. In a year like this when Lagos State is collaborating with Kebbi State on Lake Rice. With the farms we have we can collaborate with state governments and we can move forward from there.
Do you think your father, Chief MKO Abiola’s death, is responsible for the way things are at the moment?
I can’t be stuck in the past idealising my father’s death. One has to move on. My dad stopped at a certain point; from there I should continue with my own life. It is the same way I expect my own children to continue from where I will stop. One can’t just get stuck in a place and (preoccupy himself with) reflecting on the past. There should be a paradigm shift and we should start thinking about how we can all try to make sense of everything that has happened. You know the funniest thing about life is that five per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing. So, I don’t understand why people are always jostling for things that will only yield billions of naira. I am ready to make N100,000 (monthly) for the rest of my life and be happy with that. I believe there is enough to go around. I think people are just greedy.
Like I said, I am not going to sit back, being a son of a great man and drive along the road and see his (Abiola’s) properties in bad shape. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know maybe Kola thinks these things (Abiola’s properties) belong to him. They do not belong to him (Kola) alone and that’s one thing I am trying to make clear (to him). That’s one thing about a large family. If the eldest son said he doesn’t want to farm and the youngest said he wants to farm, I don’t think the former has any right to hold the latter from doing what he wants to do. If he’s not ready to go to farm, I am ready to go to farm. He should just let me go; he should allow me and my brothers who are interested to do so. It doesn’t mean the farms will translate into large sum of money now. But the fact is we cannot continue doing the same thing without positive results. If we try the farm and things do not work out we can look at something else. My point is that I am not going to wait for another 18 years. I am going to try something new and if it doesn’t work we will look for another way. But we can’t stay on one spot.
What do you think about your father’s uncompleted presidential lodge in Abeokuta?
My father had a dream before he died. Looking at all that he left behind tells me that, ‘Look, Abdul, you have to work very hard so that you can complete your father’s dream.’ And these things we are talking about are not hard. About the building in Abeokuta; even the house I stay in Ikeja, if we don’t stay there, it will be like the photo of the building you published in your newspaper. I am working hard to get my other siblings together – to form something like a company, like Abiola’s children association so that I can have a mandate to get some partners to do something with that building, for instance. That building is massive; I cannot go and live there. But we can turn it into a hotel and the money we get from it will be shared among the children equally. For me, if it is N100,000 that gets to each person, it is better. It cannot just be nothing. It is also a complex thing; one goes around, knowing who you are and who your father was and not being able to do something – it’s a complex thing. I understand how that thing is. So, for me we are starting something with Concord,Insha Allah, in some months there should some transformation about the place. We need to come together. We are stronger together and we have the number to become great. We need to figure out some things to improve on the legacy left behind by Abiola. I am not trying to demean anybody. I am just being optimistic. We need to change the narrative. My father left behind lands in Kwara, Taraba, and other places. My father had a plan. I know everything is going to be OK.
Have you and your brothers met with Kola to discuss this new direction you want to take?
Like I said, these things didn’t just happen. It’s a funny world you know: no one will tell a child, ‘This is where your father’s farm is.’ No one will tell you. It’s up to you. When you are roving about, running up and down, looking for something to take care of yourself, no one will tell you this is where your father built a house. They will just be watching you. I said I waited for 18 years – I appreciate the virtue my mum and dad taught me about patience. So, I was patient with Kola for 18 years. The other siblings were patient (too). We gave my brother (Kola) time to do his own thing. We wanted to see where he was going. You know (it’s like) when you try to talk to somebody and he doesn’t want to talk to you, you should give the person a long rope (so as to hang it around his neck). He is not somebody you’ll call his attention (to something). We (Kola and I) had a conversation recently, but he wasn’t forthcoming (on the issues discussed). I don’t need any further information.
And, it is clear in the will my father left – everything is stated clearly in the will – he (Abiola) said, ‘Everything should be split equally among my children.’ It’s vital everyone sits down to deliberate on the way forward. It’s not a fight. He (Kola) has some institutions he runs. I am not interested in those ones – I am not looking for trouble. I am looking for the ones (properties and investments) that are abandoned and I will try to revive them. One year, I took a trip to see the properties my dad had all over the country. I met pleasant people who welcomed me and everybody was saying, ‘When will the farms be revived?’ For me, it goes beyond reviving the farms. It is about restoring hope to the people my dad had made commitments to. These things go a long way. You don’t just go somewhere and change things – for 18 years, these people did not see an Abiola. It doesn’t look good. I spoke to them that I wasn’t in the country. And now, Insha Allah, I will try my best to bring in some investments.
How do you feel about what you saw?
If I didn’t see these things I will try to question how great my father was. You need to see what I have seen. In that trip I made, an emir I met in Lafiaji – Alhaji Aliyu –, who gave my father a land, was in tears when he saw me. He told me how my father came to him to get the land. The emir told me that my father promised him he was going to make that area beautiful and all that. My father’s going into such remote places reminds me of inspiration. It tells me he’s a great man with great plans. He invested so much money in areas and places one could hardly think of. All that gives me more hope about the present and the future – my father had a plan. If we (his children) can just follow that plan, things will be great again for the Abiola family. No matter what happens, we will always find a way – that’s being resilient. Nigerians are known all over the world for their resilience. We don’t give up.
I am very optimistic with 10 of my brothers and nine of my sisters signing up to this vision. We are also trying to reach out to some of them that are abroad. I just want to try to get them to understand that it’s about the future of our kids to do the right thing. It also gives us some kind of closure as well. Let’s forget about what happened in 1993. Let’s move on. We can’t use that as an excuse. True, it is part of our history and we appreciate it for what it is. But we need to think about our future. Nigeria is the only country we have – let’s stick together and listen to one another. I’m unhappy that Abiola’s properties are lying fallow. Look at what’s going on in the country today. Everyone’s calling for restructuring because that’s the way forward for the country. As citizens of Nigeria, we must not play politics with the need to restructure.
It was reported that the Abiola family will no longer celebrate June 12. Is that correct?
No. What was decided is that showing up at Abiola’s house to make some speeches and take photographs will no longer take place. We are going to tweak the (way the) anniversary (is done). What would Abiola and my mum have wanted us to do? They would have preferred we provide succour to the suffering masses. Starting from next year, we’re looking at going to the schools the duo attended and see if we can provide scholarship for some indigent children. It may be to provide library for a school. There should be new ways of doing things. We can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results. By going to schools to see how we can help some children, I may just be fortunate to make another Abiola – it doesn’t have to be me.