20 years after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election adjudged to be the fairest election in the history of Nigerian and 15 year after the winner of the election, Chief MKO Abiola controversial died while in detention, his personal physician, Dr Ore Falomo has given an exposé into what led to the annulment of the election and the subsequent death of Chief MKO Abiola. It is a must read…
Can you recall your last meeting with M.K.O Abiola. When was it, and what was the state of his health?
It was about two weeks before he died. But the visit before the last was more remarkable. It was arranged by the military government to dispel the rumour that Abiola had died in detention. They quickly arranged a meeting for me to go and see him.
They sent one captain from Aso Rock to me to tell me that I was needed urgently in Aso Rock. This was the penultimate meeting to the last meeting with him. I found the message strange because my previous meetings were arranged by the commissioner of police in Abuja, under whom Abiola was supposed to be. Whenever I visited him, I usually returned to Lagos by 6pm, but that day, it was not possible because immediately I got into the car, they started driving round Abuja to waste time so that it would be dark and I won’t recognise where they were taking me to.
When we got to the place, Abiola was there. It was a new place; I had not seen him there before. It was a bungalow. As soon as they opened the door and Abiola saw me, he came towards me and we hugged. We sat and unlike before, none of the guards waited to listen to our discussion. We spoke Yoruba all the time. They objected to it at first, later on they agreed. That day he was behaving like he was in the spirit. I told him there was a rumour that he had been killed. He said, ‘I know that I’m dead. They have dug the grave. They have put me in the grave except that they have not close me up.’ I asked, ‘What happened? Have they injured you or injected you?’ He said no, but that he just knew.
That means he had the premonition that he was going to die in detention.
Yes. As he was talking, his mood changed. He told me he had forgiven those who caused his incarceration; that it was left for them to ask for forgiveness from God. He said he forgave them because he wants God to forgive him his sins. All these were strange, because in my previous visits, he was always asking about the things that were happening in the country. Then he started singing, ‘Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee.’ He used to sing Christian songs. After signing the song in English, he started singing it in Yoruba. Then he got up; hugged me and we began to cry. It was very emotional. I tried to calm him down, because I didn’t know what he had seen. All through this period, the guards did not come to say time was up. I told him I will tell the story to the people, which was normal after every visit.
But did you observe any sign or symptoms of illness in him?
No. He was neither sick nor injured. You could say his spirit was low, but his body was good. There were no signs and symptoms of any illness. He spoke from a very conscious mind. That was the most poignant visit. The last visit was routine; to change his toiletries and so on.
The then Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, recently told us that when he visited Abiola few days to his death, he was in high spirits, because he was happily awaiting his release. How did he overcome the depression?
About two weeks to Abiola’s death, Abdulsalami Abubakar had started to send out word that Abiola might be released. So, the whole town started to rejoice. I don’t know how that one was done. They even got to me and said my trips to Abuja would soon end. I knew the government was not going to try him. Chief Rotimi Williams had already told us that they did not have any evidence against him. There was no point going to court. As far as I knew, Abiola knew that they would not allow him to come out just like that since they would not take him to court. Every time, they were asking him to denounce his mandate and prepare himself for another election, but he refused. During my last visit, I told him I had the rumour that Abubakar will release him but I did not want him to believe the rumour until there was concrete evidence.
How did you receive the news of his death?
That day, I was in the sitting room here. A call came from the personal physician of Abubakar. He said, ‘Doctor, get yourself ready and start coming to Abuja. The Head of State has sent his personal jet through Governor Buba Marwa, it would be at the VIP section of the airport.’ Of course, I was not going to enter that aircraft. But I asked him, ‘Why are you sending for me? I was given about two weeks appointment to come and see Abiola, so tell me what has happened that warrants me to come urgently.’ He didn’t want to tell me that Abiola had died, so that my reaction would not be, ‘Alright if you have killed him; eat him. I’m not the doctor for the dead, but for the living.’ That could have been my reaction, which was exactly my reaction when I finally learnt that he had died. After that, I called Kola Abiola and told him that something bad had happened but that I didn’t know the extent. The doctor also told me not to come alone; that I should bring any of my colleagues. I then thought, maybe he had not died. I told Kola and he said, ‘Doctor let’s go to the airport and take the plane to Abuja.’ I didn’t know Kola had heard. We boarded Kola’s car and he tuned to BBC news. At that time, it was about 15 minutes to 6pm. Then they announced that Abiola had died. I asked Kola, ‘Is that true?’ He wasn’t crying, I knew he had heard. I told him to turn back. And just before we got to Maryland, people had started rioting. We were lucky to escape without the car being damaged.
Did you eventually go to Abuja that day?
I refused to go. When we got back to the house, Kola asked me: ‘What is going to happen next?’ I said, ‘Nothing; I’m not going to Abuja.’ Then he said he must go. I said ‘Yes; go so that you take care of the body. One thing I want you to tell them is that they must not bury him because he is a Muslim. There must be a post-mortem.’ They were already talking to Abiola’s two wives about burying him immediately.
They arranged for them [the two wives] to come and see Abiola the day before he died. That was of course for them to say goodbye. They did all of these without my knowledge. Up till that time, I was the only one in five years, who was allowed to see Abiola.
Then I received another call. This time, the governor of Lagos, Marwa, said I should come, that the pilot and others were waiting, that he would send a car to pick me. I declined the offer and asked them to wait. I called Prof. Oye Adeniran to represent me. I told him to tell Abubakar’s physician that I want a post-mortem. When the doctor heard my request, he then called me back and said he would advise Abubakar that there must be a post-mortem. Then he said, ‘These are two deaths too many.’ He was referring to the death of Sani Abacha and that of Abiola. You remember in Abacha’s case, there was no post-mortem. How can a Head of State die so suddenly and he was hurriedly buried without a post-mortem. I told him that I would assemble a team of international pathologists to conduct the post-mortem. So, the body was embalmed and kept in the morgue waiting for the pathologists to arrive.
Some said Abiola was beaten to death, others said he was poisoned. As his doctor and member of the team that conducted the post-mortem, what were your findings?Abiola was not beaten. He died shortly after the American delegation got to Aguda House by 3pm. According to the written press conference given by Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who led the American delegation, Abiola died between 3:20 and 3:40pm that day. Nobody told Abiola that he was going to have visitors that day. So, they woke him up and he just brushed his teeth and came out to meet with them. He had not had his lunch. These were facts borne out of the autopsy. His intestine was clear. They exchanged banters, he told Susan Rice, who was part of the delegation, what she wore the first day he met her. Pickering said Abiola’s brain must be sharp to remember all that.
According to them, their mission was to convince Abiola to denounce his mandate and go for another election. By then Abacha had gone, one of their problems had been solved. Abiola was left.
They had brought that suggestion before and Abiola rejected it. So, their mission was unnecessary because they were not going to get him to say yes. It must have been for another purpose. When they came in, the chief guard that usually stayed with Abiola was not there because they didn’t tell him some people would be visiting. Abiola came unaccompanied to that meeting. Of course, they had been told he was a tea drinker. They brought a special flask, which Hamza Al-Mustapha described as multi-dimensional. They poured themselves tea and poured tea for Abiola. There was no precedence of a visitor bringing tea for the host. It is unconventional. It is not done anywhere in the world. Not only did they bring it, they offered someone in detention tea, with no guard around.
And Ambassador Pickering said in his press conference that shortly after he had taken the tea, he complained of pain in the chest and grabbed his chest. And later, he felt uncomfortable and then, he went to the convenience to ease himself, but he did not come back as expected. They called on him and he told them he was coming. By then, he had started feeling weak. They asked him if they should call the doctor but he said they should ask the guard to get his pain tablet. But he died before the pain tablet arrived. By the time the doctor came, Abiola had already died. They took him to Aso Rock clinic, where they tried to jerk his heart back to life, but he was gone. That was how he died.
Are you saying that the US had a hand in Abiola’s death?
Yes. It is necessary to note that death followed Pickering’s missions. A notable personality usually dies after his mission to any country. You can go and read about him. The question was: Why did he come? We know him as Central Intelligence Agency man and he was not the serving ambassador in the country then.
Abubakar was the one who gave them the appointment. During a cocktail to celebrate the US National Day, I asked the US Ambassador why they brought Pickering and others. I told him that Abacha, who was occupying Abiola’s position had died and why did they bring another military? We should also note that after Abiola died, Abubakar went to White House to visit the sitting American President and he went in military uniform. Can you recollect anybody who entered White House in military uniform? It is not done. He was given that exception. Up till now, nobody has repeated the precedence. What did he do? How long had he been on the throne here that he was received by the American President? Abacha was gone, Abiola was gone and they thought Nigeria’s problem was solved. But here we are.
The current American President has not found it important enough to come to the same country in which the previous governments took very big roles in taking those two actors out. I think it high time US apologised to Nigeria for the roles it played in the death of Abiola. The US also insisted on sending at least two pathologists just to protect its image, because there were rumours that it was the US that killed Abiola. Tony Blair sent a message to me through the British High Commissioner here that he was nominating Dr. John Shepherd, one of the top pathologists in England, and we made him the team captain. Human rights groups from Chicago sent in a pathologist. America insisted that they wanted to be well represented. So, they sent one Muslim doctor and one Christian doctor to me. I was there; Abubakar’s doctor was there; Dr. Coker, the owner of that hospital on Victoria Island was there and the team.
You believe Abiola was poisoned, but how come this team of highly qualified doctors, including yourself conducted the post-mortem and concluded that Abiola died from natural causes?
No, what they said was that there was not enough supply of blood to his heart because there was a collection of fatty materials in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. His heart did not get blood supply; that was why he died eventually. The question is, why did that happen? How could that happen to somebody who just woke up, had not done anything and was not doing any exercise. There are people who have worse conditions than that and they are still alive. Something must have engineered the heart to behave the way it did that Abiola could not survive more than 10 minutes. We took specimen from his intestine, took his blood and sent it to toxicologists in Canada and in London.
Another question to ask was where did Pickering type his press statement? Abiola died around 3:40pm and by 4pm, Pickering read his typed-written press statement and said he must have died of heart attack. The doctor that took Abiola’s body to Aso Rock clinic had not come when Pickering addressed the press. Could something have triggered the heart attack? The answer is yes. We also know that there are drugs that can affect the rhythm of the heart. Such drugs can disturb the rhythm of the heart to an extent that the heart can stop pumping blood. If you give it to anyone to drink in tablet or liquid form, it can make the heart to stop within minutes. Does this leave traces in the blood? Yes, because medical science has perfected all that now. They just conducted the post-mortem of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian man that died about five years ago. When he died, nobody suspected, but now they believe he was poisoned and they are trying to find out what type of poison it was.
So, you believe medical science can detect the poison now?
Yes, and that is why we are calling for a more detailed investigation into the cause of Abiola’s death. Why are the human rights activists here not pushing for further investigation into Abiola’s death? Our government did not even want to say that the man won the election, until President Goodluck Jonathan came.
But did Abiola have any health condition that could have resulted to sudden death?
Tell me who had a better health than Abiola. Before he was detained, Abiola was a globetrotter. If not because he was very healthy, he wouldn’t have lasted five years in detention. He was not exercising, not seeing people and so on. They even tried to injure him once in the office of the Commissioner of Police in Abuja. A police officer that came from Aso Rock threw Abiola against a pillar and he hit his back and his spinal cord protruded. We gave Abiola a newspaper, and the policeman wanted collect it from him, but he refused. Then we looked for CT scan and there was none in Nigeria but Abacha was ready to let him go abroad for treatment. But many people feared that if he left, they would not have allowed him back into the country. This was because he had gone once and the then interim President Ernest Shonekan, did not allow him back into the country. It was the same Abacha that ensured that Abiola returned. Abacha had to change the guards at the airport, replaced them with his own guards and asked them to fly Abiola in from Cotonou. I was close to Abacha to know all these. Abiola landed and trouble started. Then there was the afternoon coup, Abacha took over from Shonekan. As far as Abacha was concerned, his reign was not to be permanent, he had to remove Shonekan to foil Ibrahim Babangida’s plan to come back. Babangida’s intention was to transform into a civilian president.
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