Monday, 19 Aug 2019

Democracy Day: MKO Abiola’s passion for Islam and the quest for Shari’ah in Nigeria

The issue of Shari’ah is not a new development among Muslim scholars especially those of Islamic jurisprudence. Abiola became the first non Islamic scholar in Nigeria to publicly demand for the adoption of Shari’ah in Nigeria.

His campaign for the adoption of Shari’ah in Nigeria came into the fore when he joined Muslims from other regions of Nigeria to stage a walkout at the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly in 1977 over the rejection of Shar’iah provisions in the constitution being drafted by the Christian members of the Assembly.

Abiola devoted his attention in many public fora to educate the non Muslims on Shari’ah. In operationalizing the scheme to educate the adversaries of Shari’ah, an Association for the establishment of Shari’ah in Southern Nigeria was established in December 1985 under the leadership of late M.K.O Abiola. In furtherance of the objective for the establishment of Shari’ah, his Concord Newspaper donated a free space in the National Concord on every Wednesday to educate Nigerians on the issues of Shari’ah. The column started on the 4th of December, 1985.

Abiola recognised the danger pose by the evil of alcoholism and asserted that the malady of alcohol is so great that ‘it is easier in several parts of Nigeria to get a bottle of beer than a glass of clean water’. As a demonstration of his determination to arrest the tide of alcoholism and other social vices, his Concord group of Newspapers banned alcohol advertisement on the 2nd of December, 1984 and pool betting, gambling and lottery advertisements on the 24th January, 1986.

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He was concerned that the Noble Qur’an is not in the reach of many of those itching to be educated about Islam and hence sponsored the printing of ten thousand copies of the famous translated Arabic –English Qur’an of late Abdullah Yusuf Ali for distribution across the country.

The Concord newspapers commenced weekly Friday sermon on the 18th March, 1983. The newspaper also commenced the daily publication of the hijrah calendar side by side with the Gregorian calendar on the 22nd January, 1984 which was equivalent to 19th Rabiul Thanni, 1404.

The Newspaper through the assistance of Jamaatu Nasril Islam and the Meteorological services published accurate timings for sahur (early morning meal) and Iftar (meal for breaking fast) for Muslims in every parts of Nigeria during the months of Ramadan.


Abiola political apprenticeship began as a student in Glasgow (1961-1964) where he was a member of the Labour party and later member of the National Council of Nigeria Citizens during Nigeria first Republic. In 1977, he contested election into the Constituent Assembly and later joined National Party of Nigeria in 1978. He devoted enormous personal resources to the party but left the party on the 15th of July, 1982 due to party intrigues which were meant to frustrate him from getting the party presidential nomination.

Abiola worked tirelessly and aggressively hard to propagate the party prospects but yielded no political dividends in electoral in roads in the Abiola Yoruba country of Nigeria. The last decade of the 20th century witnessed the perceived wave of democratization in Africa. A significant number of countries in Africa have either gone through or made attempts to embrace the transition from military to civilian rule.

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MKO Abiola (front, centre) with Obasanjo (back, right) and others during their secondary school days


Nigeria was one of such African countries that attempted a transition from military dictatorship to civilian rule. The temptation for partisan politics was daunting for Abiola and subsequently became a member of one of the political parties and emerged as the presidential candidate of his party (Social Democratic Party).

On June 12, 1993, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola won a long-awaited presidential election which has been described as the fairest and freest election in Nigeria, a country that has witnessed a lot of uproars over election rigging in its democratic history. The country’s military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the election results.

The annulment led to protest across the country and a year after Abiola declared himself the country’s legitimate leader and was jailed for treason. As a political prisoner, Abiola became the rallying symbol for Nigerians’ democratic aspirations.

Hopes for his release from prison soared after Sani Abacha died suddenly in June 1998 and his successor, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, announced the release of many other political prisoners. However, Abiola, fell ill on July 7, 1998, while meeting with United States diplomats to discuss the terms of his release. He died several hours later. Abiola’s death in detention sparked anger and violence in parts of Nigeria.

By AbdulRazaq Abdulrazaq Kilani

Professor of Islamic Studies,

Department of Religious & Cultural Studies,

University of Port Harcourt.

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