Africa: How politics ruined Abiola’s shipping, aviation businesses
Many may not be aware that the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, GCFR, had deep business interests in the shipping, aviation and oil and gas sectors.
Abiola, with vast investments in maritime, banking, telecommunication, education, aviation, as well as oil and gas, was reputed to be Nigeria’s richest man in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Unfortunately, the late business mogul’s foray into politics did not only claim his life and that of his second wife, Kudirat, who was assassinated in Lagos on June 4, 1996; it also led to the ruin of all his businesses including but not limited to Africa Ocean Lines, Concord Airline and Summit Oil.
Raymond Dokpesi was Abiola’s partner in setting up Africa Ocean Lines before disagreements set in.
In 1983, late Chief MKO Abiola partnered some of his friends — the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and Chief Raymond Dokpesi — to set up the Africa Ocean Lines (AOL).
AOL commenced operations in 1984 using chartered cargo ships before acquiring two of its own in 1986. The ships had capacity to carry 958 TEUs of containers each.
AOL became Nigeria’s first indigenous shipping line trading along international routes, linking major shipping ports along the West African coast with the United Kingdom and Northern Europe.
Former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters under General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime from 1977 – 1979. Yar’Adua had interests in Abiola’s Africa Ocean Lines.
Unfortunately, the shipping line, which was managed by Dokpesi, was short-lived due to disagreements among the partners and alleged mismanagement of the company.
Despite its short life, though, AOL is believed to have made significant contributions to the Nigerian shipping industry as its promoters propelled the formulation of the Nigerian Shipping Decree 10 of 1987, which adopted the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 40:40:20 cargo sharing formula between developed and developing countries.
The UNCTAD 40:40:20 cargo sharing formula was aimed at enabling ship owners in poor nations play a more active roles in the movement of their countries’ foreign cargo. It allowed each of the two trading party states the right for its lines to carry up to 40% of liner conference cargo whilst the remaining 20% is left for cross liners (or third party countries’ liners) to carry. Unfortunately, despite the law backing it, the 40:40:20 rule was poorly implemented to the detriment of Nigerian ship owners.
Many maritime industry operators believe that AOL would probably have been revived by Abiola had he not lost his freedom after the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Abiola’s airline business, Concord Airline, also had a rather brief stint in the Nigerian aviation sector. The airline entered the market in 1990 with much funfair and expectations, apparently riding on the popularity of the MKO Abiola brand. But before it could be counted among the serious players in the sector, it flew into the storm that followed the 1993 presidential election and crashed.
The airline started with four Fokker27 aircraft and Abiola’s private jet in its fleet. Concord Airlines though did more of charter operations than regular flight schedule.
Abiola’s oil and gas business did not fare any better. Summit Oil International Limited, which is a pioneer oil company founded in 1990 by the late business mogul to take advantage of the clamour for increased indigenization of the oil and gas industry, is struggling to stay afloat. The company bidded and won Oil Prospecting Lease (OPL 205) located at the Anambra Basin, north of the Niger Delta.
At its inception, Summit Oil said it “established a slim but efficient staff of 50 professionals who operated the full range of exploration activity and moved the company rapidly towards planned early production”.
In 1991, the company said it acquired 2D seismic and drilled the first exploration well in the first quarter of 1992, which discovered the Otien Field on OPL 205, which is “arguably the first oil discovery ever by a private indigenous company in the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
The company’s success was, however, short-lived as Abiola began his presidential campaign to succeed General Ibrahim Babangida as Nigeria’s President the same year.
On June 6, 2019; the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) revoked Summit Oil’s Oil Prospecting Lease along with five others.
DPR said the revocation was based on a presidential directive to recover “legacy debts” owed by the companies operating the licences.
In 1994, one year after military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election; Abiola declared himself as the lawful president of Nigeria in the Epetedo area of Lagos island.
The Epetedo declaration happened after he returned from a trip to win the support of the international community for his mandate. After declaring himself president he was declared wanted and was accused of treason and arrested on the orders of Babangida’s successor, General Sani Abacha, who sent 200 police vehicles to bring him into custody.
Abiola was detained for four years in solitary confinement. He died in suspicious circumstances on July 7, 1998, the day he was to be released from detention. While the official autopsy stated that Abiola died of natural causes, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, Major al-Mustapha has alleged that Moshood Abiola was in fact beaten to death.
The final autopsy report, which was produced by a group of international coroners has never been publicly released.
Abiola was awarded Nigeria’s highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Order Federal Republic (GCFR) posthumously on June 6, 2018 by President Muhammadu Buhari, who also declared June 12 as Nigeria’s new National Democracy Day.