M.K.O Abiola: From bank clerk to multi-millionaire CEO and national icon

  • Bank Clerk, Barclays Bank, Ibadan
  • Executive Account Officer, Western Region Finance Corporation
  • First Class Degree, Glasgow, Scotland
  • Distinction, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
  • Senior Accountant, University of Lagos Teaching Hospital
  • Controller, Agricultural Division, Pfizer Inc.
  • Controller, Operations, ITT Nigeria
  • Managing Director, ITT Nigeria
  • Chairman, ITT Nigeria

Moshood Abiola Kashimawo (24 August 1937–7 July 1998) is one of the few Nigerian nationalists who, during their lifetime and death, need no introduction. He became a household name after establishing and managing businesses which included a leading commercial bakery, an airline, a bank, and a publishing firm.

The life and times of Nigeria’s venerable politician Moshood Abiola Kashimawo, the business tycoon and philanthropist, is not only phenomenal but truly worthy of national celebration, as we now have it. The Abiola story is a tale of conviction, determination and demonstration of sagacity— how a young man who entered into business at the tender age of nine (selling firewood to neighbours) went on to study accounting, graduated with a first class degree and built a fortune worth millions of dollars doing business.

It could be said that Abiola’s character replicated his distinction in academics in business, and thereafter, in politics. Even outside his political profile, his philanthropic acts were enough to engrave his name in the sands of time.

Digging up fun facts

It will interest you to know:

  • Abiola was his father’s 23rd child but the first of his father’s children to survive infancy, hence the Yoruba name ‘Kashimawo’ meaning “let’s observe.”
  • He once founded a musical band to perform at parties in order to raise money to support his high school education and family.
  • Abiola once served alongside the Former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a writer for their school magazine, The Trumpeter, functioning as the editor, while Obasanjo was the deputy editor.
  • In 1960,  consequent to obtaining a government scholarship to study at the University of Glasgow, he earned a degree in accounting and later qualified as a chartered accountant.

Career: In 1956, Moshood Abiola started his professional life as a bank clerk with Barclays Bank in Ibadan, South-West Nigeria. Two years later, he joined the Western Region Finance Corporation as an executive accounts officer, before leaving for Glasgow, Scotland, to pursue his higher education.

From the University of Glasgow, Abiola received a first class degree in accounting. On the heels of this groundbreaking feat, he doubled the success by earning a distinction from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.

What happened upon Abiola’s return to Nigeria

Following his return to Nigeria, Abiola worked as a senior accountant at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital before swinging over to join the American multinational pharmaceutical corporation, Pfizer.

The employment that changed the story

With his stint in management and accounting, Abiola got employed by ITT Corporation, the American manufacturing company where he entered as a controller of operations and later rose to the position of Vice-President, Africa, and Middle-East. Unlike his previous employment characterised by short spans of service, Abiola spent a great deal of time serving ITT Corporation while also retaining the post of Chairman of the corporation’s Nigerian subsidiary.

Coronation Research

Abiola and his business fronts

Remarkable in his business acumen, Abiola invested heavily in Nigeria and West Africa. His name covered the business landscape, establishing more firms and creating thousands of jobs. Among these include Abiola Farms, Abiola Bookshops, Radio Communications Nigeria, Wonder Bakeries, Concord Press, Concord Airlines, Summit Oil International Ltd, Africa Ocean Lines, Habib Bank, Decca W.A. Ltd, and Abiola Football Club.


Hard work begets honour

Little wonder, before his foray into politics, he was already the Chairman of the G15 business council, President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Patron of the Kwame Nkrumah Foundation, Patron of the WEB Du Bois Foundation, trustee of the Martin Luther King Foundation, and director of the International Press Institute.

The power of collaboration

In 1983, the world saw Abiola collaborating with Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Bamanga Tukur and Raymond Dokpesi to establish Africa Ocean Lines. And in the following year, the firm began operations using chartered vessels before reportedly acquiring two cargo ships in 1986 with capacities for 958 TEUs. With this investment, business improved as the shipping firm’s route linked the major shipping ports along the West African coast with United Kingdom and Northern Europe.

The man and politics

After joining politics at a very young age of 19, he participated as a member and dedicated youth leader with his early engagement with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). In 1980, he joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). After displaying outstanding courage and high leadership attributes, he was elected the state chairman of his party.

Abiola eventually announced his interest to run for the presidency in 1993, thereby initiating the journey to what is today celebrated as Democracy Day. He contested two primaries and emerged winner, defeating Gana Kingibe. In what is rather considered unbelievable, Abiola picked his defeated opponent Gana Kingibe as his running mate.

The duo emerged victorious in what is also considered as Nigeria’s freest and fairest presidential election. To everyone’s surprise, the election was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida, which led to the unleashing of political unrest in the country. Following this, General Sani Abacha seized power.


The beginning of the end

With these events, Abiola refused to let matters slide. He stood to defend his mandate; in 1994 he declared himself as president and was accused of treason (i.e. going against the government). Abiola was arrested and detained, with the condition of his release based on him renouncing his presidency mandate. In 1996, just after Kudirat Abiola publicly announced her support for her husband, the world was greeted with the news of her assassination in Lagos.  

General Sani Abacha died June 8, 1998 and Abiola was due for release July 7, 1998. According to official reports, Abiola died a natural death. However, there were later reports from Abacha’s  Chief Security Officer, Al-Mustapha, who disclosed that Abiola was actually beaten to death.

His philosophy and philanthropy

If Nigeria had 10 Abiolas as citizens, the story would be that of a truly great nation living up to its Giant-of-Africa title. Digging up the records, between 1972 and 1998 when he died, nothing less than 197 traditional titles were conferred on Abiola for his generosity and community-concern spirit through several selfless services to the nation.

Since his death, Nigeria is yet to see a generous demonstration as that of Abiola. His philanthropic acts include the donation of funds to construct 63 secondary schools, 121 mosques and churches, 41 libraries and 21 water projects in about 24 states of Nigeria. It’s equally exciting to note that Abiola served as grand patron to about 149 organisations, and had cordial relationships with African heads of states and other world leaders.

Evidently, the Abiola story is a piece of motivation for his generation and later generations. That today is set aside to celebrate his life and stolen mandate is welcome.

Source: M.K.O Abiola: From bank clerk to multi-millionaire CEO and national icon

By Ridwan Adelaja

Techylawyer and its authors do not claim to have written this article, we acknowledge the works of the original author


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