Reparation is a powerful cause with huge implications for those who committed crimes against humanity for centuries. It has often been argued that if the Jews can rightfully get reparations for the horrendous Holocaust they suffered for 12 years, reparations for slavery in Africa is a legitimate cause.
Often, when M.K.O Abiola is mentioned, he is usually associated with extraordinary philanthropy and being a successful international businessman. Most especially, he is remembered as the winner of the historic June 12, 1993 presidential elections that united Nigerians across ethno-religious divides. The posthumous Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) award by the Federal Government of Nigeria is the most recent feat associated with M.K.O Abiola. However, his role as a reparationist and his founding the reparations movement globally is not as celebrated.
M.K.O Abiola was a reputable international business mogul who had links with many organisations and highly influential people. In October 1990, Abiola attended the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) meeting in Washington, and was the recipient of the 1990 CBC Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Service. The Congressional Black Caucus eulogised M.K.O Abiola with the following words:
“Because of this man, there is both cause for hope and certainty that the agony and protests of those who suffer injustice shall give way to peace and human dignity. The children of the world shall know the great work of this extraordinary leader and his fervent mission to right wrong, to do justice, and to serve mankind. The enemies which imperil the future of generations to come: poverty, ignorance, disease, hunger, and racism have each seen effects of the valiant work of Chief Abiola. Through him and others like him, never again will freedom rest in the domain of the few. We, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus salute him this day as a hero in the global pursuit to preserve the history and the legacy of the African diaspora.”
In December 1990, Chief M.K.O Abiola sponsored a reparations conference in Lagos. The inaugural conference was themed, “Reparations for Africa and Africans in the Diaspora”.
By June 1991, this bold reparations initiative was backed by the then Organisation for African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU). Following a meeting by the member countries, a resolution was passed on the injustices of slavery and the need for reparations.
On June 28 1992, a 12-member Group of Eminent Persons on reparations was mandated by the OAU to actively pursue reparations. Chief M.K.O Abiola was the Chairman of the GEP and other named member included: Professor Ali Mazrui (Kenya), J. F. Ade Ajayi (Nigeria), Professor Samir Amin (Egypt), Professor Joseph Ki-Zerbo (Burkina Faso), Professor Amadou Mahtar M’bow (Senegal), Congressman Ronald Vernie Dellums (United States), Graça Machel (Mozambique), Miriam Makeba (South Africa), Former President Aristides Pereira (Cape Verde), Ambassador Alex Quaison-Sackey (Ghana) and Dudley Joseph Thompson (Jamaica).
In April 1993, the first Pan-African conference on Reparations was held in Abuja. The objective of the reparations conference was to formally institute a global movement to spearhead the reparations campaign. During the conference, a resolute communiqué was issued affirming the crimes perpetrated during the slavery era and the various manifestations of the protracted exploitation of Africa.
During a documentary on the legacy of colonialism and reparations by the U.K based broadcaster, Ferdinand Dennis, M.K.O Abiola visited the Slave Museum at Badagry. In the programme, Abiola was shown wearing one of the slave chains at the museum around his neck and was visibly distressed by the experience.
Reparation is a powerful cause with huge implications for those who committed crimes against humanity for centuries. It has often been argued that if the Jews can rightfully get reparations for the horrendous Holocaust they suffered for 12 years, reparations for slavery in Africa is a legitimate cause. However, there are associative challenges surrounding the complex relationship of ex-colonies with their colonisers in a post-colonial world.
Africa has generally been grappling with corrupt regimes embedded in anti-development neo-colonialist structures. Breaking the cycle of underdevelopment and tackling the factors hindering economic growth and infrastructural development is an ongoing effort. Also, the reality of dealing with neo-colonialist organisations like the Bretton Woods institutions remains an existential problem.
In 1992, during a speech on reparations in London, M.K.O Abiola stated:
“Our demand for reparations is based on the tripod of moral, historic, and legal arguments.”
“Who knows what path Africa’s social development would have taken if our great centres of civilisation had not been razed in search of human cargo? Who knows how our economies would have developed?”
“It is international law which compels Nigeria to pay her debts to western banks and financial institutions: it is international law which must now demand that the western nations pay us what they have owed us for six centuries.”
During a documentary on the legacy of colonialism and reparations by the U.K based broadcaster, Ferdinand Dennis, M.K.O Abiola visited the Slave Museum at Badagry. In the programme, Abiola was shown wearing one of the slave chains at the museum around his neck and was visibly distressed by the experience. Whilst interviewing Abiola, Dennis asked about the complexities surrounding the issue of Western countries paying reparations to Africa. M.KO Abiola responded:
There have been many theories about what really happened to M.K.O Abiola after winning a free and fair election in 1993. His experience highlights the international dimensions of the issue; it exposes the dilemma of navigating through the perilous terrain of demanding reparations and somewhat confirms the existence of local saboteurs…
“This is not a court of public opinion… When the time comes, those who did it are very clear. The ships that left Africa flew flags of their various countries, where human beings were packed like sardine. We are not even going to accuse anybody.”
“People are saying, and legitimately, why is Africa so backwards. We are saying, it is like asking why can’t you run when your leg has been broken. If my leg has been broken I will run, but mend the legs.”
Chief Abiola further stated that “Reparation in Oxford English dictionary means – from the Latin word Reparare – to make whole again” and concluded that “we have been damaged economically, psychologically.”
The indebtedness of developing countries to these financial institutions is as crucial as the reparation of funds looted by corrupt individuals stashed in foreign banks.
There have been many theories about what really happened to M.K.O Abiola after winning a free and fair election in 1993. His experience highlights the international dimensions of the issue; it exposes the dilemma of navigating through the perilous terrain of demanding reparations and somewhat confirms the existence of local saboteurs ready to scuttle plans that aren’t in tandem with certain powerful forces. The reparations debate continues as the world grapples with development challenges in Africa, the migration issue, and the ineffectiveness of foreign aid.
It’s been 20 years since M.K.O Abiola died under very mysterious circumstances on July 7, 1998, still, the reparations cause remains elusive.
M.B.O. Owolowo wrote from the UK; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.