Susan Rice, a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, has revealed the chronological incidents that culminated in the death of MKO Abiola, the deceased Nigerian Presidential aspirant.
Rice made this disclosure via her memoir, stating; “to this day, many people in Nigeria think I killed him.”
That was the opening line in the riveting account of the last hour of the late Abiola as told by Rice.
Rice was one of the visiting American diplomats in whose presence the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election died on 7th July 1998.
Rice was the one who served Abiola the famous last tea.
But in her memoir, TOUGH LOVE: My story of the things worth fighting for; Rice recounts not only how Abiola died.
She also confirmed the street gossip about the last hour of the late General Sani Abacha.
In the memoirs, Rice also disclosed how she was conceived in Lagos during the two years her parents spent in Nigeria; at a time her father was helping in the establishment of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) after independence.
She recalled, “In early July 1998, I traveled to Nigeria with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Pickering, who was then among the most senior career Foreign Service Officers. As assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, I had gotten to know Pickering, my immediate boss, as a wise, fast-talking, and deeply knowledgeable diplomat.
“Having served as ambassador to six major countries and the United Nations, Pickering had seen and heard almost everything. The purpose of our trip to Nigeria was to encourage a responsible political transition.
“The nasty former dictator, Sani Abacha, had died a month earlier in the company of prostitutes. Viagra was reportedly involved.
“A primary objective of our visit was to meet the wrongfully imprisoned opposition leader, Moshood Abiola. He was the presumed winner of Nigeria’s 1993 election. But the results were annulled, and he was later arrested. We hoped to negotiate his freedom so that he could participate in the upcoming election.
“Abiola, robust, and happy to see us, sat on the couch and began to tell us how poorly he had been treated during his four years in prison. He was wearing sandals and multilayered traditional Nigerian dress. I noted that his ankles were swollen.
“About five minutes into the conversation, Abiola started to cough, at first mildly and intermittently, and then wrackingly with consistency. He said he was hot, so I asked his dutiful minder, “Please turn up the air-conditioning.” Noticing a tea service on the table between us, I offered Abiola, “Would you like some tea to help calm your cough?”
“Yes,” he said, with appreciation, and I poured him a cup. He sipped it but continued coughing. Increasingly uncomfortable, Abiola removed his outer layer, leaving one layer on top. I shot Pickering a worried glance.
“Abiola asked to be excused and went into the bathroom of our meeting room. When he emerged, he was bare-chested and sweating profusely, barely able to talk. He lay down on the couch writhing and then rolled facedown onto the floor.
“The doctor arrived promptly, took a quick look at him, and declared that Abiola was having a heart attack and must be transported to the hospital immediately. The men labored to lift the heavy Abiola into a small car, and we rushed to the nearby, rudimentary presidential hospital.
“I grabbed his eye-glasses off of a side table where he left them, his only belonging, thinking of his daughter Hafsat in the U.S whom I’d met before we left. The doctors worked on him, furiously, but within an hour they pronounced him dead.”
Rice revealed the USA diplomats were braced for violence.
“Abiola’s sudden and mysterious death would hit like a bombshell in Nigeria’s political tinderbox. Serious unrest throughout Nigeria was possible. Washington would hyperventilate since it’s not every day a major figure drops dead with senior U.S officials.
“We stayed overnight in Nigeria to try to calm things, offer any needed assistance to the government, and make an orderly departure. Fortunately, despite the deep public upset, no significant violence occurred.
“The autopsy eventually confirmed the cause of death as a heart attack. Nonetheless, it was Nigeria where conspiracy theories abound. The most popular, which still has currency over twenty years later; is that I killed Abiola by pouring him poisoned tea.”