BACKGROUND TO THE KILLING
In May 1996, the month before Kudirat Abiola was mercilessly gunned down, she had been briefly detained for a few hours for allegedly possessing publications critical of the Nigerian military government headed by General Sani Abacha. Although her husband and billionaire businessman, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, was already jailed over charges of treason, Kudirat became the tireless advocate for his freedom and return of his mandate. The beautiful woman soon became one of the most dreaded foes of Abacha.
On a Tuesday, 4th of June, 1996, around 3:05 pm one of the most senseless murders in Nigeria was carried out. A sparkling white Mercedes Benz V-Boot was cruising along the streets of Lagos. As the car slowed down around 7-Up Depot/Bus Stop in Ikeja, they were attacked by six men who suddenly opened fire on the German machine: Mrs. Abiola, her assistant (who had just been released by the police) and chauffeur were in the car.
The assassins approached her car and opened a volley of gunfire. The vehicle came to a screeching halt as the driver was hit. A bullet flying from nowhere lodged itself in Kudirat’s forehead, penetrating her skull and smashing her brain. The trauma must have been too much for the poor woman. She lost consciousness and was rushed in that state to the Eko Hospital for urgent medical attention. All efforts made by the medical team to save her life failed. Kudirat Abiola died, with a gaping bullet wound on her forehead. She was 44. Her driver too did not survive the attack. Both were shot at close range.
Mrs. Abiola was with her assistant and driver on the streets of Lagos, while in her white Mercedes Benz, they were attacked by six (some say three) men in a vehicle driven by Mohamed Abdulof, who rained bullets on them with a Belgium-made FN P90 submachine gun/compact assault rifle which is quite unconventional as the gun is used to combat terrorists not civilian targets.
Her driver was shot and he died while her personal assistant, Michael Adesina, was unhurt. Before the killing, Kudirat Abiola had complained of threats to her life and that she was being trailed by unknown men.
THE WEAPON USED IN KILLING KUDIRAT
Named for 1990, the year it was made by FN Herstal, the weapon is ideal for vehicle crews, support personnel, special forces and counterterrorist teams. Weighing 2.6 kg and just 50.5 cm long, it is in use by the US Secret Service and its standard variant is not available to civilians. It has an integrated reflector sight system, back-up iron sights, fully ambidextrous control meaning it can be easily used by right or left-handed shooters and can fire 900 rounds per minute to a maximum distance of 1,800m.
BUILDUP TO THE ASSASSINATION AND AFTERMATH
Sergeant Rogers (Barnabas Jabila) later confessed that the ‘contract’ to snuff life out of Kudirat was given by the Chief Security Officer to General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza al-Mustapha, to Rabo Lawal, who was in charge of the mobile police (MOPOL) force at the presidential villa. Rogers also said the killer team was then provided with Uzi rifles complete with silencer and cash for the operation, all in the presence of Mohammed Abacha, son of the head of state. He claimed to have had direct involvement in the assassination with Lawal. Rogers said he was sent to kill three times but succeeded only with Kudirat Abiola failing with NADECO chieftain Abraham Adesanya and Alex Ibru.
In order to penetrate the security network of the Abiolas, the killer squad went via Alhaji Lateef Shofolahan, Alhaja Kudirat’s personal assistant. There were two attempts to assassinate Kudirat, the first attempt was planned to take place right inside the residence of MKO Abiola but when the assailants discovered that would be too dangerous, they abandoned the plan only for them to continue their surveillance of their primary target, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
After the gunmen successfully got their target killed, each member of the killer team was reportedly given the sum of N50,000 ($250) by Major Al-Mustapha for a job well done. The announcement of Kudirat’s killing was made by Mudashiru, a brother to MKO Abiola, he said the very afternoon she was shot:
“I can confirm now that Mrs. Kudirat Abiola was killed from the gun attack this morning. She will be buried according to Islamic rites tomorrow at 4:00p.m.”
THE RESPONSE OF THE NIGERIAN MILITARY GOVERNMENT
Following the killing of Alhaja Kudirat, the Nigerian junta headed by General Sani Abacha. His government offered the sum of $45,000 as reward for information leading to the arrest of those who killed Kudirat. Abacha’s government placed the blame of Kudirat’s killing on the increasing spiral of violence and terrorism in the country. Before the assassination, Mrs. Kudirat had been complaining that there were threats to her life, that unknown men were trailing her. The military government would later send a ‘high-powered’ delegation to the Abiola family to commiserate with them over the brutal assassination of their matriarch.
- South Africa was vociferous in its condemnation of the killing of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola. The South African government called the assassination of the woman a horrifying event. The SA Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo while calling for the release of Abiola said: “It is all the more regrettable that this tragedy occurred while her husband remains detained.”
- The spokesman for the British Foreign Office called the shooting ‘tragic news’.
- Nigerian activists represented by Shina Loremikan, spokesperson of the Campaign for Democracy pressure group: “The Civil Liberties Organization calls for a judicial panel of enquiry for a thorough investigation of the circumstances leading to the brutal murder and prosecution of the culprits. This is a very bad omen for the nation. We need an immediate return to democracy because the military regime with all its might still cannot guarantee the safety of life.”
Femi Ojo-Ade analyzed the murder as follows:
Before her sudden, and speedy elimination, Kudirat had become one more victim of harassment in the hands of those holding the poor country in bondage. Everyone with a brain knew exactly why: Unlike many others echoing their master’s voice by calling for compromise, dialogue, and connivance as the best way forward, the woman kept insisting on her husband’s right to justice.
In Nigeria, if you insist on your right, you are adjudged to be confrontational. Since the military and their brothers and sisters from the North have been chosen by the Almighty to rule the country forever, it makes sense that, if you are oppressed, battered, butchered, or whatever, it is your duty to beg the oppressors who are simply acting out their God-given right. You must not resist, because Allah has decided the condition to which you must resign yourself. Maybe that is why Kudirat’s submissive family did not deem it necessary to cry out on her behalf while she was still alive.
Maybe another reason would be more pertinent. They were convinced she was being confrontational or, worse still, over-ambitious, obsessed with first ladyship (as Abiola’s most senior wife) and the power deriving from the position. Now, as far as the first ladyship is concerned, let us agree that, in the Nigerian context, particularly in the performance of those two namesakes who followed each other in proving their care for the Nigerian Woman and Family by piling up billions, there is reason to fear, or envy, Kudirat’s potential. Which does not mean that she was into anything unheard of, or beyond her right. For, whether the Abiolas or all of us like it or not, she was the man’s senior wife and, therefore, in charge of the household, and his affairs, while he remained in jail. Kudirat proved her mettle during the 1993 election campaign. Her husband never has any reason to doubt her competence. The very fact that, throughout his ongoing travails, she was the ONLY member of his family with enough courage to speak out, and to refuse to veer from the path of justice and fair play, shows that Kudirat was a superior human being.
Before she was killed, Kudirat was embroiled in a quarrel with Abiola’s first son, Kola, over the choice of attorneys. The case was, and still is, in court. The two lawyers are, G. K. O. Ajayi, and F. R. A. Williams, both of them well-respected in the profession. Kudirat stuck with Ajayi, the one handling the case from the beginning, while Kola preferred Williams who, according to him, and Falomo, Abiola’s personal doctor, has been chosen as replacement by Abiola himself. This last piece of information or, let us say, clarification of near- (now, total, with Kudirat’s passing) unanimity, is contained in a full-page advertorial by the family, published in several newspapers on June 16, 1996. The signatories are, Alhaji Mubashiru Abiola, the detainee’s junior brother, and Alhaji Adio Kassim, a close family friend. It is useful to make a comprehensive analysis of the published statement.
Firstly, the family members express their gratitude to the federal military government, ‘for sending a high-powered delegation to express heart-felt sympathies over the death of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.’
Although Kudirat was assassinated in 1996, it would not be until the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo that investigations would be properly launched into the affair. However, all the senior police and military chiefs implicated in the assassination denied having anything to do with it. Al-Mustapha said not once did he order Rogers to kill anybody and the former army chief, Lt. General Ishaya Bamaiyi washed his hands of any ‘illegal operations’. On his own, Mohammed Abacha said he only saw Al-Mustapha giving some weapons to Sergeant Rogers for an operation but that he was not aware of the operation and did not take part in the killing of anybody. Rogers maintained he was saying the truth and that he even got the weapons (to kill Alex Ibru) from General Bamaiyi, who was the Lagos Garrison Commander and even got cover from the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, who ordered the diversion of a police patrol team away from the premises of Guardian newspapers.
In November 2007, Mr. Mohammed Abdul, a driver to the defunct Presidential Strike Force aka Abacha Killer Squad narrated in court what happened that fateful day:
“Alhaji Mohammed called me and told me to go to Dodan Barracks in Lagos and work with the squad to carry out the said assignments.
“I went to Dodan Barracks and met Lawal, a Chief Superintendent of police and Rogers.
”I drove them to the places where we carried out the three operations. We carried out surveillance before each of the operations.
“We were aided in this task by the Personal Assistant to the late Mrs. Abiola, Alhaji Lati, who gave us the information and pointed many places to us.
”The places we visited during our preparation for the attack were Victoria Island, Igbosere, Dolphin Estate, Ikeja and Dodan Barracks, which we normally returned to after every operation.
”I am an experienced driver who knows Lagos very well. Five of us were in the team that carried out the operations.
“The five are myself, Lawal, Rogers, Aminu Mohammed, and Sunmaila Shaibu, who was later killed in a bomb blast at Abuja Airport. But Aminu only took part in the two of the operations.”
” Before the attack, Lati took us to Abiola’s house on Toyin Street, Ikeja.
”We actually drove in and entered the compound. Lati conducted us briefly round the compound and pointed to some vehicles before we drove out. We went to drop him (Lati) in his house at Surulere.
”On the day of the attack, we followed Kudirat Abiola’s white Mercedez Benz from Ikeja to Allen Avenue and then to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. When we got to the Toll Gate area, Rogers asked me to get close to the Benz and I did.
”Then, he (Rogers) leaned out of the window and started spraying the victim with bullets with the P 90 rifle. After, we immediately drove to Dodan Barracks.”
“In 1999, after the arrest of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and others, Alhaji Mohammed (Mohammed Abacha) called me and told me to go to Abuja and gather up everybody who took part in the operations for the purpose of leaving the country.
“He offered us money for the travel and later gave me $10, 000. I travelled to Abuja to inform two of those who participated- Aminu and Rogers. Rogers was not interested in leaving the country.
”I travelled to Niger Republic with Aminu, but I kept $9,800 out of the $10, 000 given to me by Mohammed with a friend and went to Niger with only $200 but I came back four days later.
”When I came back I collected the money, and changed it to naira. I intended to use the money to buy a car because that was the only thing I did not have then. I already had a house.
“But on my way to where I would buy the car, armed robbers attacked me and stole the money.”
He also claimed that the P90 rifle they used in killing Kudirat Abiola and the attempted assassination of Chief Abraham Adesanya was given to them by former Zamfara State military administrator, Bala Yakubu. He also came the order to assassinate Kudirat came from Abacha.
Rogers narrate in the video below how they assassinated Kudirat Abiola:
- On the 30th of January, 2012, Major Hamza al-Mustapha was sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of Kudirat Abiola. He was later freed.
REMEMBRANCE & LEGACY
- MONDAY, 27TH OCTOBER, 1997: The Kudirat Abiola Corner of the 44thStreet and Second Avenue in New York, United States of America was installed in 1997 in her honour. The name change faced serious opposition from the Nigerian government and far-right American leader Roy Innis.
- The Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) was set up by her daughter, Hafsat Abiola.
- Radio Kudirat was named in her honour.
Every year, Kudirat is celebrated by millions of Nigerians as an amazon of justice and a martyr of democracy.