Hundeyin’s Abiola angle to Tinubu’s alleged drug story

By Kennedy Emetulu

I love David Hundeyin. I think he’s one of the bravest journalists and writers around today. I love people who have real, uplifting convictions and stand by them, come rain, come shine.

I read his report on Bola Tinubu and his drug-trafficking links. There really is nothing new in the story, except that it has a little more detail than we had in SaharaReporters and the Daily Beast, both of which had reported on this in the past. I think everything he wrote about Bola Tinubu is professionally proper.

Where I disagree with Hundeyin is in him bringing MKO Abiola’s name into it. MKO Abiola has been dead for 24 years. He cannot come out to defend himself. We all know Abiola’s history and we know he was never publicly linked to drugs by all his powerful enemies, home and abroad, who fought him till his death.

Now, the only thing Hundeyin has on this is a supposed report by the Daily Beast published on April 27, 2015 and updated April 14, 2017. Titled “Nigerian Pres’ Svengali Tied to Heroin,” the report was by Michael Weiss, the Contributing Editor.

Here is the brief portion in the piece Hundeyin relied on, second to the last paragraph of the report:

“Drug charges do indeed appear to be the sine qua non for Nigerian high office. The year 1993, when Tinubu’s assets were seized, was a turbulent period for Nigeria following the cancellation of a national election and the establishment of a military dictatorship. Moshood Abiola, the rightful winner of that election, was accused of narcotics trafficking according to Campbell.

So too is “Prince” Buruji Kashamu from the People’s Democratic Party, who has faced extradition back to the United States since 1998. Kashamu was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago for being the elusive “Alaji,” a globetrotting drug kingpin who smuggled heroin into O’Hare International Airport from Europe and Asia.

Piper Kerman, the memoirist who inspired the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, famously worked for Alaji. Kashamu denies the charges and insists that he was purportedly a counterterrorism informant to the U.S. government before and after 9/11, and that the real trafficker was his now-deceased brother.”

Sure, the report was about Tinubu and his links to drug-dealers and drug money. But, Michael Weiss took the liberty to claim that drug charges “do indeed appear to be the sine qua non for Nigerian high office” on the strength of only Tinubu and Buruji Kashamu’s charges in the US. He mentioned that “Moshood Abiola, the rightful winner of that election, was accused of narcotics trafficking according to Campbell.”

But, as a serious journalist, why did Michael Weiss not tell us when John Campbell, a former American Ambassador to Nigeria, said what he claimed and who it was that accused Abiola of trafficking narcotics? At any rate, Campbell is not a fellow I would trust. As American Ambassador to Nigeria between 2004 and 2007, he was a complete disaster. Nowadays, he moonlights unashamedly as image launderer for the Aso Rock cabal. But this is not even about Campbell and his character; I’m talking simple journalistic propriety to be sure of a source of a claim or story.

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As far as we know, nobody accused Abiola of trafficking narcotics while he was alive. He was never arrested or questioned by the United States authorities or authorities of any other country over drugs. He never faced any drug charges in Nigeria. So, where did Weiss get his info? If, as he claimed, this came from Campbell, he ought to have given the reading public more information on the source of Campbell’s claim because it certainly did not originate from the Department of Justice or the State Department where Campbell worked.

Fela and Abiola

My view is that reading through the piece, there is a decidedly forced attempt to create a parallel between Abiola and Tinubu via the drug charges. But there really is no parallel. I believe that once David Hundeyin had decided to add this evidence-free information on Abiola by Weiss into his piece, he should have followed up with asking Campbell where he got the information on Abiola being accused by whoever of trafficking in narcotics.

Hundeyin said he reached out to everyone he could think of with some knowledge, but that most declined to speak, “citing unspoken concerns.” This is the first red flag for me. Why would people with information on Abiola’s drug dealings not be able to talk now? Abiola has been dead for more than two decades, what are they afraid of? And, if indeed they have information or evidence, why couldn’t they speak to Hundeyin anonymously and present the evidence?

The second red flag was the only person Hundeyin says was willing to talk, Prof Gary K. Busch. I have encountered Busch in public space in his many unconvincing commentaries on Nigeria. What he offered Hundeyin in what Hundeyin called a “lengthy comment” is really nothing but cheap gossip and plain lies.

Here is what Busch said as published by Hundeyin:

“The Nigerian military on the Council were adamant that the Babangida government should never allow Abiola to run for office and told President Babangida so during the aborted runoff primaries before the election. The basis for their concern about Abiola was the information and documentation being circulated in Washington, London and Lagos of Abiola’s alleged ties to the drugs business.

“The US, in particular, had expressed its strong opposition to IBB about the candidacy of Abiola as President; not because of his politics or allegations of corruption, but rather for the evidence they felt was correct about Abiola’s alleged drugs connections.

This issue was raised in the Military Council on three occasions and Babangida was warned. He refused to take a decision until it was almost too late. US Ambassador Lannon Walker and the British Consul visited IBB and warned him about Abiola but Babangida dithered which made the impact worse as the polling had begun.

“When he finally decided to intervene and stop the election, he precipitated the crisis of June 12. His friends in the military supported him but were felt let down by IBB’s lack of decisiveness. While there was consternation in Nigeria about the ouster of Abiola, the major international partners of Nigeria were not upset or concerned because they know what the reasons were for the development.

First, we know as a fact that there were no “aborted runoff primaries” before the June 12, 1993 election that Abiola participated in. Perhaps, Busch is referring to the earlier primaries organised by the parties and cancelled by Ibrahim Babangida at the time he was banning and unbanning the so-called “old brigades.”

But if those are what he is referring to, the fact is Abiola never participated in any of them and never indicated any interest in the presidency at the time. Ambassador Lannon Walker he claims warned Babangida about Abiola left his post as Ambassador of the US to Nigeria on July 10, 1992, seven months before Abiola declared to run for president. There couldn’t therefore have been any polling involving Abiola that Lannon went to ask IBB to cancel or stop.

So, the account of some “Nigerian military on the Council” expressing opposition to Abiola participating in the election is simply a farce. The only time the military was brought into the affair was after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election when Babangida was desperately trying to give traumatised Nigerians a reason for the annulment. He notoriously said those in the military opposed to Abiola would eliminate him and Abiola if he were to reverse the annulment and declare Abiola winner.

There was no known case of the US expressing any opposition to IBB about the candidacy of Abiola as President based on “information and documentation being circulated in Washington, London and Lagos of Abiola’s alleged ties to the drugs business.”

That never happened because if it did, the Nigerian and international press would have been agog with the news. I mean, what documentation and information were they circulating in Washington, London and Lagos that didn’t get into the national and international press?

Would stopping Abiola from contesting the election not have been easier if there really was such information? What we knew and witnessed was that the United States Ambassador, Walter Carrington who took over from William Lacy Swing as US Ambassador to Nigeria in August 1993, was a solid, solid Abiola supporter who helped mobilize international support and Nigerian civil society against the annulment. He was one of the most strident voices against the annulment.

For some of us at the time, we had no doubt that the United States was opposed to Abiola becoming president, but not for the reason being bandied by Busch. The US was opposed to Abiola because he was not the type they could control. Abiola’s history within the American multinational, International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), was one of defiance to foreign control of Nigerian businesses.

He was the first Black man to occupy the position of Vice-President ITT and he used his wealth to advance Black causes internationally. He was a well-known supporter of the Congressional Black Caucus and a powerful force in African liberation struggles, the anti-Apartheid and reparations movement, all of which the US fiercely opposed.

Abiola, even though a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, was a fierce Pan-Africanist and men like him are not friends to US and Western authorities. In fact, some of us still strongly believe that the US is complicit in the death of Abiola in detention at a time they were part of the negotiations to release him after Sani Abacha’s death.

Actually, Busch’s note is an insult on our intelligence and a complete rewrite of history that some of us witnessed live. How can anyone say that the international partners of Nigeria were not upset or concerned about the annulment of June 12 because they knew that the reason for the annulment was Abiola’s involvement in drug trafficking?

Did we not witness how the international community descended on the Babangida government as it ran helter-skelter dredging up silly reasons for the annulment, including claims that Abiola was working for some foreign concerns against Nigeria’s national interest? Was it not international pressure that finally led to Babangida “stepping aside”? Was it not lack of foreign support that made the Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government a sitting duck for the Abacha coup?

Did the international community not declare Nigeria a pariah state under Abacha because of his refusal to recognize the winner of the June 12 election? Was it not the international community that worked to protect pro-democracy activists within Nigeria and those who found themselves in exile in the days the Abacha killing machine was prowling everywhere?

Honestly, we cannot take Busch seriously because everything he states is unreasonably counterintuitive and clearly a lie. When the US government and its agencies go against drug traffickers in other countries, especially in countries they have good relationships with the leaders, they do so openly.

Abiola would not have contested for the presidency at all if the US thought him to be involved in drug trafficking and if they had the evidence. Babangida and his military boys would have made a song and dance about it in public space because that would have been the best get-out-of-jail card they could have produced. Abacha would have called a world press conference to “expose” Abiola. None of these happened because it is not true.

But, let’s focus on what Hundeyin did in his piece. He has no evidence of Abiola’s involvement in drug trafficking from anybody or any US or foreign institution. He only repeated a claim made by Michael Weiss of the Daily Beast that John Campbell claimed Abiola was accused of drug trafficking. He did not ask John Campbell, who is still alive, to explain who accused Abiola of drug trafficking and when and whether this accusation was known to Abiola before his death. He did not seek out Lannon Walker who Busch claimed went to IBB to warn him about Abiola to confirm when he did this and what exactly he warned IBB about with regard to Abiola.

Hundeyin says he questioned people he thought would know and none would speak, except Busch. He’s gone on to reproduce for us Busch’s laughable piece merely making a preposterous claim of documentation and information about Abiola’s drug dealing flying around in Washington, London and Lagos and yet no journalist, press house or any person anywhere has seen these documents or can produce these documents.

This is in spite of the fact that the military leaders who fought Abiola till death made copious statements about why they annulled the election and why they were not going to reverse the annulment and in none of their statements or comments did they mention that Abiola was involved in drug trafficking.

In my view, once David Hundeyin couldn’t get anything to corroborate the piece by Busch, he should not have brought Abiola into it. Anyone reading Hundeyin’s piece can see that he fully believes the account of Abiola’s involvement in drug trafficking and he has used it to indicate a parallel between 1993 and 2003 when in fact, there is absolutely no evidence that there is a parallel.

For me, Hundeyin did a good job on the Tinubu angle to the story and he should have strictly stuck to that. Bringing Abiola into it unfortunately undermines the report, apart from being unfair to the memory of the great man. No, this is not me saying you can’t speak ill of the dead. I’m saying if you have a case of this nature against a man, dead or alive, make sure to have the evidence to back it up.

Don’t rely on claims that this said or that said. If you are going to bring any information into public space that undermines June 12, the most important thing to happen in Nigerian history since the Nigerian Civil War, then you really have to be sure of it. People lined up to die for the cause of June 12, so that we who are alive today can enjoy democracy. To say all that was based on support for a drug trafficker is to undermine our national consciousness. Nigerians knew what they fought for. They didn’t fight and die to restore the mandate of a drug dealer.

Now, let me make something clear: I have not written this to criticise David Hundeyin. I have only written this to point out what I think he should have done better. What he has done with the Tinubu story at this point is brave and ground-breaking and must be commended. Every patriot must ensure that Tinubu does not become the President of Nigeria and Hundeyin is doing his bit by providing us with valuable information.

Nothing he has written about Tinubu in this piece can be doubted. In fact, I have always been a fan of David Hundeyin and I consider him a great Nigerian. Yes, I disagree with the aspect of his report I have pointed out here, but it takes nothing away from his greatness.

He certainly did not lie against Abiola; he only reproduced the comments of Weiss and Busch that cannot pass muster. If he did anything wrong, it is that he, like many others who read his piece, believe the things he said about Abiola when there is really no evidence to support such a belief that Abiola was a narcotics trafficker.

*Emetulu, a prominent Nigerian lawyer and journalist in the United Kingdom, is a former staffer of The Guardian in Lagos.

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