• Abdulsalami Abubakar Was Ready To Free Abiola
• I Was Surprised Over MKO‘s Sudden Death
• My Years At The Commonwealth
HAD the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, listened to the wise counsel of former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela, he would have spared the life of the Ogoni-born writer and rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Anyaoku, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, said he had pleaded with the late Abacha, and also got Mandela to prevail on the former head of state to temper justice with mercy.
The renowned diplomat, who turns 80 on Friday, however, hinted that the Federal Government, under Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, demonstrated willingness to release from detention Chief Moshood Kolawole Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 1993 presidential election, who died suddenly in prison.
Anyaoku and Admiral Mike Akhigbe, the then Chief of General Staff (CGS), were the last two people photographed with Abiola before his tragic death.
Anyaoku, as scribe of the Commonwealth during the heady days of the Abacha regime, said that Nigeria benefitted a lot from his Secretariat, as he was in regular touch with the Nigerian government.
He said that Gen. Abacha started out well, having attended the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa in April 1994.
Noting that, “relations between Nigeria and South Africa started off quite well,” he said that, “unfortunately, in 1995, there was a real rupture in the relations between the two countries.
According to him: “On the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, when information reached me that Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues had been sentenced to death, I telephoned Abacha myself, to plead with him not to do anything.
“I got Nelson Mandela to also telephone Abacha and plead with him not to do anything. But, unfortunately, Abacha proceeded to execute Saro-Wiwa and co; and that precipitated a rupture of relations between Nigeria and the Commonwealth and most of the Commonwealth leaders.”
Giving insight into his role as a mediator at the time, Anyaoku said he spoke with Gen. Abubakar and observed that the former head of state needed no serious persuasion to release Abiola.
“I must make this very clear; he (Abubakar) did not need any persuasion because he himself had reached the decision that Abiola should be released,” he said
Anyaoku said he was, however, surprised when Abubakar called him after his (Anyaoku’s) departure (along with former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan) from Nigeria, to say Abiola had died.
He said his first reaction was to advise Abubakar that foreign pathologists be brought in for the post-mortem for Abiola; an advice, he said, the general heeded.
Not being a medical person, Anyaoku said he thought Abiola died of a heart attack until Abacha’s former Chief Security Officer (CSO), Hamza al-Mustapha, cast doubt on his belief.
“Heart attack could come to the most healthy-looking individual at any time,” he said of Abiola’s death, adding that statements attributed to al-Mustapha “cast doubts.”
“Well, that was what he (al-Mustapha) said, and I am not in a position to argue about that, but I believed it at the time that the international pathologists had found that it was a heart attack,” he said.
Anyaoku added: “But I need say, also, that I was very concerned about Abiola, when I saw him. He looked very healthy, very excited and then, I thought back about somebody like Terry Waite.
“Terry Waite was the envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury — who was kidnapped in Beirut, Lebanon. He had gone to make peace, but was kidnapped and detained for over four years.
“When he was released, doctors attended to him for over a period of a couple of days, before he was exposed to the public. And I believe that the reason they did that was to slowly condition his system, including his heart, to the new circumstances.
“But Abiola had been told that he would be released and he was very excited.”