By Emeka Anaeto, Babajide Komolafe, Yinka Kolawole, Charles Kumolu, Lawani Mikairu, Godwin Oritse, Godfrey Bivbere, Udeme Akpan, Sebastine Obasi & Princewill Ekwujuru
•FG mulls plan to intervene — Son
•Concord Press, Wonder Loaf, ITT, Summit Oil, others in limbo
•Ralph Obioha lost brewery, bank, cement firm, others to June 12
•Dan Suleiman, Akinrinade, others had houses burnt, businesses destroyed
LAGOS — As accolades over restoration of Abiola’s political credentials trend in national political discourse, his business empire, a key victim of his political crises, seems to be all but dead, going by Vanguard’s findings. Also affected were the business interests of many pro-June 12 agitators, most of whose businesses suffocated as they fled into exile.
With investments cutting across key sectors of the nation’s economy, including but not limited to banking, telecommunication, education, aviation, oil and gas, he was reckoned as a successful businessman, almost all the businesses were thriving.
However, twenty five years after his death, almost all his businesses have collapsed.
Vanguard’s inquest into the business empire also led to inside information that the Federal Government may be moving in the direction of restoring strength to some of the businesses.
A casual tour of a few of them last week by Business Vanguard indicated that most are either closed or in skeletal operation.
But speaking to Vanguard about the state of affairs of the businesses, a son of the late politician, Alhaji Jamiu Abiola, said the Minister of Justice recently had a meeting with the family on the matter.
His words: “MKO stood for so many things. He wanted prosperity for all Nigerians. The money Federal Government owes him is different. What we want to see is a Nigeria where all the things MKO stood for will be present. When we achieve that, the government can now look into its books and know what to do.
“I don’t know what other members of the family think, but this is my opinion. On his businesses, the President is actually interested in it. Recently, the Minister of Justice called the family members to know what to do. MKO had legal people and the government are trying to help to see what we can do. I believe everything is going to happen because what happened was tragic. The government of General Sani Abacha purposely wanted to kill everything about MKO.”
Habib Bank, now defunct
Abiola with late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, had floated Habib Bank of Nigeria Limited which thrived while both were around and even after Yar’Adua’s death.
Late Yar’Adua was the elder brother of the former president, late Umaru Yar’ adua, and was also the former number two man under Olusegun Obasanjo’s military government.
Habib Bank was founded in 1982 and started operations in 1983. The bank was formed in partnership with Habib Bank of Pakistan, which holds 40 percent shareholding of the bank while Late Chief Abiola and late General Shehu Yar’Adua were the largest Nigerian shareholders.
While the value of late Abiola’s holdings in Habib Bank could not be ascertained, he was however chairman of the Board of Directors till his death in 1998.
Upon his death, his first child, Mr. Kola Abiola was appointed chairman of the bank.
Habib Bank acquired Bank PHB in 2005, in a bid to meet the December 2006 deadline for the N25 billion new minimum capital base, with Kola Abiola, retaining his position as chairman of the bank.
The bank rose to become the fifth largest financial services provider in the country with subsidiaries in four African countries namely, Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The bank was affected by the impact of the global financial crisis in 2008, which occasioned huge non-performing loans in the banking sector.
The bank eventually lost its operating license on August 5th 2011 following its failure to meet the September 30th 2011 recapitalisation deadline of the CBN. With this development, the Abiola family investment in the bank was wiped out.
Summit Oil failed to produce
With the call for increased indigenization of the oil and gas industry, previously dominated by the international oil companies, IOCs, and others, Chief MKO Abiola took a bold step to invest through his Summit Oil International Limited in 1990.
The company bidded and won Oil Prospecting Lease, OPL 205, located at the Anambra Basin, north of the Niger Delta.
Summit Oil, as it was popularly called, invested huge funds, deployed suitable technologies and competent human capital to carry out exploration in the area.
In its report obtained by Vanguard, the company stated that: ‘’Summit 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.
‘’Summit acquired 2D seismic in 1991 and drilled the first exploration well in the first quarter of 1992, which discovered the Otien Field on OPL 205 – arguably the first oil discovery ever by a private indigenous company in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
A few days later, Chief Abiola presented a sample of the oil grade to the then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Prof. Jibril Aminu, in Lagos, promising to do more to enable the company go into commercial production.
But investigations by Vanguard showed that not much steps were taken to drive the operations of the company, especially as a result of Chief Abiola’s active involvement in politics.
After the death of Abiola, not much came out from the OPL 205 in terms of actual production till date. Some industry experts say the licence would have expired by now.
There was no activity when Vanguard visited its office at Zulikha Wuraola House, Yaba, Lagos, yesterday.
The telephone numbers listed at the website which has not been updated for years were also not functional.
Concord Airlines: Brief stint in Nigeria aviation market
Concord Airline entered the market in 1990 with much funfair and expectations in the Nigerian aviation industry, 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 had about Four fokker27 aircraft and Abiola’s private jet in its fleet. According to a Lagos airport official, who was in active service then, and does not want to be named, Concord Airlines was more into charter operations than regular flight schedule.
Several reasons have been adduced for its early demise, principal among these is Abiola’s foray into politics and his incarceration and eventual death. Rev. Olumide Oyediji, a top official of Abiola Farms, was quoted as saying: that “the difficulty in gaining access to the chief executive officer of the enterprises, while Abiola was in detention, brought untold hardship to the businesses”.
According to Oyediji , “all of Abiola’s enterprises came under suspicion and close watch by the then military government of General Sani Abacha. Major businesses such as Concord Airlines and Concord Press were closely monitored. It was not profitable to continue.” He also said they could not raise loan facilities because “Abiola could not be reached, even when he was needed to sign cheques.”
Since the airline was built around the owner and it was operating under unfavourable government policies and poor management structure, it was bound to collapse.
Abiola Bookshop: Hanging on to past glory
A visit to No. 362 Herberth Macaulay Way in Yaba area of Lagos for a first timer would reveal an unkempt and almost abandoned building housing the once famous Abiola Bookshop.
The opinion of any visitor will be that the bookshop has folded up as building which last painted many years ago is begging for a touch of a paint brush.
Vanguard reporter who visited saw that it is still functional, but not like it used toAnother staff who does not want his name on print told Vanguard that “we are operating skeletally but we are definitely still open for business.”
“We are not allowed to speak concerning the company,” he noted.
Concord Press, shadow of its old self
Concord Press, one of the once thriving business concerns of late MKO Abiola added flavour to the practice of journalism when it came on the media scene in the early 1980s.
In fact, at a time, Weekend Concord, one of the publications of the media house was the highest selling newspaper in Nigeria with copy sales of well above 400,000.
But all that came to an end with the June 12, 1993 debacle that led to the collapse of the media empire.
When Vanguard visited the premises located between the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and local terminals, last week, it was a shadow of its old self. The buildings were dilapidated and the place deserted.
The only thing linking the premises with the once thriving media empire is a billboard at the entrance to the compound with the name of the publishing firm, Concord Press of Nigeria Limited.
Unconfirmed reports revealed that the property and the company are currently under litigation arising from internal family squabbles.
There have also been attempts to acquire the media outfit by some businessmen but the attempts failed largely due to the same issue of ownership controversy amongst the family members.
Efforts to get some of the family members of the late business mogul to comment on the state of affairs in the media outfit proved abortive, as calls made to one of the children were not answered.
Banuso Fisheries, Berec Batteries, taken over
Vanguard investigation on its agricultural businesses which included Banuso Fisheries, and Wonder Bakery, producers of ‘Wonder Loaf’, brand of bread revealed that the businesses have all closed down.
A former employee of Banuso Fisheries Limited, Bayo Ogunsanya, who said he was in charge of operations confirmed to Vanguard that the company was one of the businesses of MKO Abiola that went moribund after his death.
Vanguard also visited the former premises of Berec International, a battery company at Iyana-Isolo, along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. When the battery maker, Berec, shut down its Lagos operations and relocated to Kaduna, Bashorun Abiola bought the property and relocated another of his companies there, the Abiola Bookshop Press. During Vanguard’s visit, activities of truck drivers and mechanics have dorminated the premises and environs. Labourers were sighted loading bags of cement in trucks.
A resident, Mufutau Goriola Amao, who said he has lived in the area for about 30 years, informed that some companies are using the property as warehouse.
He said that companies like Dangote Cement, Bajaj Three-Wheeler, manufacturers of tricycles and a plastic chair company use the premises.
Amao stated: “As of now, I cannot say if this place still belong to the Abiola family. Before his children are always around here. We do not know much about the agreement between the family and other users, but what we know is that Dangote Cement uses part of the warehouses in the premises for storage of cement coming from Ibese, Ogun State.”
In addition, he stated: “When Berec was functioning it was a beehive of activities. Then, Berec was producing at full capacity.”
ITT company failed to recover
Information available to Vanguard indicated that the telecom giant, International Telephone and Telegraph, otherwise known as ITT, was an American telecom firm brought into Nigeria by the late Chief M K O. Abiola. The company was already having problems before June 12, 1993 and eventually could not recover after the demise of the promoter, MKO Abiola.
For many years the firm tried to fix the nation’s deficiency in tele-communication services but could not make a headway until it went moribund .
A recent visit to the office at the Jibowu Bus-Stop on Ikorodu Road showed that the building housing the former ITT company is still standing but with a new occupant.
The former ITT building is currently occupied by Inspire Vocational Academies where all kind of vocations from shoe making to cookery, tailoring, welding and other vocations are taught.
Efforts to reach the new occupants of the building were futile as a security man at the gate refused to allow our correspondent into the building.
The security man however told Vanguard that the building still belongs to the Abiola family, adding that the property was leased from them (The Abiolas).
Besides Abiola, other agitators in the movement for the actualisation of the June 12 mandate also had their businesses crushed.
The leader of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), in Canada and the United States, Chief Ralph Obioha, said his business empire was crushed in his absence.
I lost my bank, brewery, other firms to June 12 — Obioha
In an interview he told Vanguard:
“In the course of the struggle, I lost a bank, a commercial bank, First African Trust Bank; I lost a brewery, Safari Brewery, that was brewing Hercules beer; I lost a cement bagging plant in Port-Harcourt, Castle Cement, and a vegetable oil company. I was employing at least 2,700 Nigerians and about 17 expatriates in my factory. Most of us who went on exile lost everything we had here.”
My house burnt down, businesses destroyed
Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, the national vice chairman of NADECO, on his part told Vanguard:
“It happened to all of us. In my own case, I was arrested and charged for treason. My house in Lagos was burnt down and all my businesses were destroyed by the Abacha regime. But I have no regrets being part of the struggle to restore democracy in Nigeria. I’m proud that I participated in it.”
Gen. Alani Akinrinade, a former chief of army staff and chief of defence staff was chased abroad and his house, library and farm were razed.
Several others including Chief Alfred Rewane paid with their lives in the bid to actualise the June 12 mandate.