Today, the 7th of July marks the 18th anniversary of the day my father, MKO Abiola, ended his mortal journey. As I celebrate him today, I would like to share what I continue to carry forward from the privileged years of being raised as his daughter in his household.
First and foremost is that my father’s religion was love. He was a true philanthropist because he loved people. All people. He was happiest when he was able to help others.
Second, he didn’t play small. The older I get, the more I realize that this is a major feat. It is much easier to play small, to focus on your narrow concerns and interests, ignoring the larger concerns and needs. It is easy to be overwhelmed with what is already in front of us. Yet I learned from watching my father that the more we take on, the greater our capacity becomes. Small will only ever remain small, and large-heartedness opens the way to greatness.
Third, he was ever humble. As a father, he was incredibly permissive except on the issue of humility and politeness. They were related. He required that his daughters knelt down to greet elders, that his sons prostrated, signalling humility and politeness as required by the Yoruba culture of which we are members. Condescension towards poorer people could only earn his anger, and so we learned the importance of being polite towards everyone.
Fourth, he seems to be constitutionally unable to bear a grudge. Time and again, my mum would have quarrelled with someone that did something that hurt her husband only to find the same husband cracking jokes and laughing with the perpetrator. After a while, we learned that it wasn’t worth it to bear a grudge because someone had wronged MKO when MKO himself forgot the incident with the rising of the sun on a new day.
Fifth, while he could not be trusted to sustain fights with people, he could be counted on to fight for causes. He fought for the poor and as such invested in student scholarships and endowments in universities and polytechnics and much more. He was a pan-Africanist and as such a supporter of the ANC and for reparations for Africans and black people around the world. In the end, it was in the struggle to ensure that the democratic mandate given to him by the people of Nigeria would be honoured that he paid the supreme price.
As I reflect on his incredible life, I can’t help but see how it continues to offer important lessons on how to approach life. We cannot ignore the desperate needs around us. To do so only creates the ground that breeds violent extremism. Instead, we must make ourselves available to the vulnerable. We must look beyond personalities and identities, which may be affected by prejudice, and identify the fundamental causes of the challenges that we confront. Prejudice towards individuals and groups can be countered by pragmatism as we work together to solve these challenges. Ultimately, it is by our actions to solve our common problems, not by the fact of our positions, that we determine our legacy.
Continue to rest in peace, dear daddy. And thank you for your clear example.
** Hafsat is the founder of Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND).