Untold Story of the Pregnancy & Birth of MKO Abiola in 1937

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MKO Abiola; The Star Child

The British government was in firm control of Nigeria in 1900 but this was not to last for long because a pan-African wind, promoted by the likes of such bold personalities as W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, was blowing heavily. Its presence in Nigeria became obvious when political groups, which evolved with time to present a formidable opposition to colonial rule, began to spring up. Leaders of such groups, a large number of which had become disenchanted with foreign rule, saw their new political agitation not only as the best way to achieve national liberation but also as a vital means to attain ethnic unity. They had concluded that Nigeria’s colonialists were striving to disunite Nigerians in order to exploit Nigeria’s resources.

By 1922, a new constitution that motivated the cause of these activists came into being. It enabled Nigerians to hold seats as representatives in the legislative council. This was when visionary men like Herbert Macauley, who was later referred to as the father of nationalism, rose into prominence. It was he, along with others with like minds, that kick-started the long march toward independence.
It was this extraordinary atmosphere of change and enlightenment that marked the birth of Moshood Abiola. He was born into a humble family in Ogun State, Nigeria. His mother, Zuliat, sold kola nuts to support his father, Salawu, who despite having a flourishing business in crops and a formidable willpower to succeed was finding it hard to make ends meet. He was a polygamist with children from other wives apart from Zuliat whose children had always died from malaria after birth. Salawu, as a result, did not expect any child from her to live for long.
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Zuliat became pregnant again. But this time she decided to do things differently. She stopped her business months prior to her anticipated delivery. She had become very weak. She also wanted to devote all her time to prayers for her unborn child, whom she believed would be great if it survived. This was why she was able to easily endure staying at home even though it had become very lonely.
One day a good friend paid her a visit. After they had exchanged greetings, her visitor stared admiringly at her swollen belly. “I am proud of you for being such a fiercely determined woman. It is women like you who should lead men in war”.
Zuliat knew exactly what she meant. Her friend, like most other women in the village who were fond of mocking her, was surprised that she had not given up on having a healthy child. Some women even called her “asheju” the Yoruba word that describes someone who overdoes things and never knows where to draw a line. Zuliat smiled at her friend and remained silent, which was very unlike her.
Her friend panicked. “Don’t tell me that you’re developing cold feet! Not now, after coming so close to having a child”.
Zuliat broadened her smile and finally responded. “I’m not worried at all. I know I used to be and have admitted that to you several times. That has changed after I read a verse in the Koran that says, “God does not give anyone more than he or she can bear” Do you know what that means?” Zuliat asked with a low voice. “It means that God gave me this pregnancy because I am up to the task”

“The rising poverty of his family was his biggest concern. Times had gotten tough for his aging father. He was finding it more difficult to cope with his responsibilities. This put an enormous burden on his mother, who was quickly losing her sparkle because she was working too hard. Moshood was still young then but old enough to know that something had to be done to salvage the situation”

Her confidence was not exaggerated. She had prayed so much that she was certain that things would go well this time around. She often joked to her husband that she would not be surprised if she even prayed in her sleep.
Her friend was relieved. She rose up energetically and showed her a bag of fruits. “This bag has all the nutrients that your baby needs at this critical stage. Apples are known to make children wise, oranges make them strong, and pineapples make them sweet.”
Zuliat burst out laughing. “Where do you hear all these things from? Your funny character has always been your trademark. Anyway, I hope you are right”.
She continued laughing as she watched her friend take the bag to the kitchen.

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By the time she returned, their conversation shifted to town gossip. Zuliat wanted to know everything after being isolated for so long. They spent at least three hours together. It would have been longer if Salawu had not returned home that day earlier than he usually did. He was already fifty- eight years old but still had to work hard to provide for his large family. Zuliat received him warmly then bade her friend farewell. She immediately dashed into the kitchen and returned with some rice, plantain, and fish, which he ate hurriedly before going to sleep. She cleaned up after him then prayed for a long time and fell asleep on her prayer mat.
Moshood Abiola was born a few weeks later, on the 24th of August 1937. He seemed healthy at birth but his loud cries fueled his father’s concerns. Salawu still feared that he would not survive, which was why he added the word Kashimawo, a Yoruba word that meant, “Let’s wait and see”, to Moshood’s name. Salawu did wait and saw his son grow to become an active and clever boy. Moshood hardly ever fell sick. Salawu was soon sending him on errands and saddling him with responsibilities.
Salawu was already sixty-five years old when Moshood began school. Moshood was excited about school at first, but became discouraged because he stammered, which had turned him into a laughingstock in school. He became reserved and had only a few friends. But one day things got out of hand. A classmate bumped into him on his way into the classroom and instead of apologizing to Moshood, he punched him and yelled, “Being poor and a stammerer is obviously not enough for you. You now want to be blind as well.” Moshood was furious but found it easy to control his temper. Out of fear for his survival, his father had always told him not to fight in school. Moshood ignored the boy and returned to his desk but on his way, some of his classmates had taken sides with the other boy and were calling him a stammerer. He sat down, devastated.
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His class teacher had heard the chanting when he entered the class. He threw a furious look at the students and shouted at them harshly. “Keep quiet now, all of you!” There was a heavy silence. He put his bag on his desk. He focused his gaze on Moshood then on the others before declaring mockingly, “I would rather stammer and come first than talk normally and come last”. A sly smile appeared on his face before he added, “This boy whom you are all making fun of gets the highest grades in all subjects. Should he not be the one making fun of everybody else?” He paused briefly then threw an encouraging and apologetic glance at Moshood. “Come forward my son and tell us your secret!”
A shy Moshood walked slowly to the front of the class. He thanked the teacher who shook his hand then said, stammering of course, “The secret is to study. But not when you are tired.
Make sure you study only when you are wide, wide awake”
The entire class laughed and clapped for him. From that day all his classmates respected him. He became a role model in school but this came with additional responsibilities. He had to begin helping other students with their homework. He also had to participate in almost all school activities, which put enormous pressure on him. But that was not his biggest problem. .
He felt a need to drop out of school in order to support his parents. He dreaded the idea but felt that he did not have a choice. He pondered about what to do for two years and when he was nine years old, jolted by a further deterioration in his family’s finances, he decided that it was time for him to work and go to school at the same time.
(Excerpts from the book, The President Who Never Ruled by Jamiu Abiola; get copies in any book shop across the world or write Jamiu Abiola through jamiulinguist@yahoo.com. Read Story of the Cocoa deal that turned MKO’s Dad to a Pauper in our next post on this blog)

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