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How Abiola Died, Theodore Zadok reveals

By Assistant Superintendent of Police, Theodore Zadok on Thursday, July 19, 2001 at the Oputa panel.

“I was the head of the detention base of Abiola with 13 other bodyguards. I was responsible for collecting N800,000 quarterly from the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Gen. Abacha, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, through the Commissioner of Police, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command, for the feeding of Abiola. I was also responsible for taking care of his health.

Abiola would never eat any food until I had tasted it in his presence. Even when I wanted to give him bottled water, I had to drink from the same cup before giving him to drink. I used part of the quarterly allocation for his toiletries, bedsheets and other needs.

While in detention, we gave him papers and biros with which to write. We also gave him a copy of the Bible and the Quran. When I was asked to take over his security, Lt. Col. Ibrahim Yakassai, head of the Strike Force introduced me to Abiola as Lt. Usman and that was what he called me till he died. At a point, Abiola never knew I was a security man from the Villa. He saw me as his son.

On December 10, 1997, before the (Diya) coup, Mustapha ordered that we should move Abiola to a safer place in Wuse. Later after the coup, he said we should move him to Kado Estate.

On the day Abacha died, (June 8, 1998), Mustapha ordered that Abiola be moved to Gado Nasko Barracks. On this day, the security was unusually heavy but we did not know why.

General Sabo told me that General Bamaiyi called him aside after the death of Abacha and told him (Sabo) that since Abacha was dead, Abiola too should be killed in the same manner.

(This was corroborated by General Sabo when he said that Bamaiyi had begun underground moves to get Abiola killed, saying “he called me and told me”. I started looking for Mustapha to alert him of the plan. Mustapha too had been looking for me.

By the time we saw, Mustapha told me that he had arranged to move Chief to a safer place.”)
After General Abdulsalami was sworn in as the Head of State, all the bodyguards attached to the detention camp of Abiola were withdrawn except the driver and one other person. But I was still serving him food.

When Abiola heard of the death of Abacha, he wrote a letter of condolence to Mrs Abacha, as well as the widow of Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.

After the N800,000 I collected for the second quarter expired, I approached the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Abubakar, Major A.S. Aliyu, for reimbursement. But he never gave me the money.

On the day Abiola died, the 7th of July, 1998, at about 11.30 hrs, the Chief Security Officer to General Adbdulsalami Abubakar, Major A.S. Aliyu called me on the radio set, asking me to see him in his office. I then proceeded to his office and he instructed me to bring Chief M.K.O. Abiola to Aguda House for an interview to be held by 1300 hrs.

I then came back to the base and informed Chief M.K.O. Abiola of the interview and he asked me whether Major Hamza Al-Mustapha was aware of the said interview. I told him I didn’t know because Major Hamza Al-Mustapha was busy handing over but I would see if I could locate him to inform him. He asked me to bring his dresses which he would wear and give him 30 minute to enable him get dressed.

At about 13:30hrs, the Chief Security Officer to General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Major A.S. Aliyu, came to the base. That was the first time he knew the place. He wanted to know if we were ready and I replied him that we were almost ready. As we opened the door, the Chief was already waiting for our arrival. Together we went out and headed for Aguda House, the venue of the interview.

Before we all left the base, Chief M.K.O. Abiola was in sound and healthy condition, he did not complain of any illness. About 100 metres to the gate of Aguda House, the control room called me on the radio set and said and I quote “30 bravo your log”, I answered “Alfa Golff Uniform Delta Alfa, Hotel” and he said “Maig Seria Golff from the Oscar Fostro of Charlie Oscar Golff Seria.

You should Romeo Papa Tango to see the subject India Mike Mike”. I answered “Received” Meaning “2i/c (second in command) Prescot where is your present location, I answered Aguda House and he said message from the office of the Chief of General Staff and that you should see the Chief of General Staff, Admiral Mike Akhigbe immediately please, and I answered noted please”.

As we arrived the Aguda House door step, I led Chief M.K.O. Abiola inside the house and I took permission from the Chief Security Officer to General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Major A.S. Aliyu with whom I left the custody and care of Chief M.K.O. Abiola.

He asked me to use his vehicle, leaving my vehicle at the door step as it was parked. I then took his vehicle as instructed and left to see the Chief of General Staff, Mike Akhigbe, at about 1310hrs. And I came back from seeing Admiral Akhigbe at 1350hrs, only to discover that my vehicle was not there at the parking spot. On arrival, I saw one of my body guards, Sunday Pada, standing by the side of the door. I asked him where have they gone to, he replied that they were inside, the Chief Security Officer only sent your vehicle to Aso Clinic. And as I was about to enter the room, I met Major A.S. Aliyu who told me that Chief M.K.O. Abiola was not feeling fine, that after taking a cup of tea he coughed and fell down.

I quickly went inside and saw him on the floor face down. I called him for the first time, he answered and I lifted him up and turned him upside and called him again for the second time, he did not answer. At that time, Dr. Sadiq Sani Wali from Aso Clinic arrived and was about examining the Chief. I told him we should rush the Chief to the Aso Clinic for proper treatment. Myself, Major A.S. Aliyu, Sadiq Sani Wali and the two white men standing lifted Chief Abiola to my vehicle outside for onward movement to Aso Clinic.

Before we got to Aso Clinic, I saw Doctor Sadiq Sani Wali pressing his stomach up and down resuscitating him. As we arrived the clinic, Chief M.K.O. Abiola was rushed to the emergency room where I stood by with doctors including the two white men and Major Aliyu until Doctor Sadiq confirmed to us that Chief M.K.O. Abiola is dead.

Thereafter, the CSO phoned the villa and he asked to speak with the C-in-C, (General Abubakar) but that for three minutes, they continued the discussion while I moved towards the car.

The question is who gave Chief M.K.O. Abiola tea in my absence? Who tested the tea before giving it to him and in whose presence was the tea tested? These questions are for the Chief Security Officer to General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Major Aliyu to answer.”


ASP Theodore Zadok was cross-examined by Mr Femi Falana.

Falana: Would you agree with me that Abiola was with his senses throughout the duration of his detention to your knowledge?

Zadok: Yes my Lord.

Falana: That Mr Twaddel. He also said that Abiola was given tea but that he (Twaddel) didn’t take it. Now the autopsy report prepared by the foreign doctors.. ‘After a few minutes in the meeting, he suddenly complained of illness. He was offered some tea which was poured by US embassy personnel.’ To your knowledge as a senior security officer, do you know of any situation in Nigeria, where a foreigner had given tea or food or water to any detainee?

Zadok: No, my Lord. To the best of my knowledge, anytime I’ve taken Abiola several times to Aguda House for an interview and anytime I got there, we have our personnel who are there in Aguda House. It’s their duty to prepare tea and they have to prepare this tea in my presence and once they taste it, then, it is my duty to taste it in front of Chief before I hand it over to him.

Falana: Would you agree that since Abiola was detained, this was the only occasion you did not taste the tea he was offered? Is that correct?

Zadok: It is very correct my Lord. I used to buy water for Abiola. The whole water he drinks is Swan water. And there is never a time I just removed an unsealed bottled of Swan water without opening it and tasting it in his presence before passing the rest to him for drinking.

Falana: Usually that is done by security men and women to prevent any harm to your subject. Is that correct?

Zadok: Yes, my Lord.

Falana: Now you were tricked. Would you agree with me that you were tricked to the Office of the Chief of General Staff so that you would not be around when the situation would occur, from the benefit of hindsight now.

Zadok: It may be so but I had that confidence that I was leaving him with somebody more senior than me.

Falana: You mean Major Aliyu.

Zadok: Yes, my lord.

Falana: Chief was arrested and detained for two days in Lagos, are you aware of that?

Zadok: Not aware, my lord.

Falana: From Gashua Prisons, he was brought to Abuja in a Black Maria where he was arraigned before a Federal High Court, are you aware of that?

Zadok: I am aware of his arraignment, but not aware of from where he was brought.

Falana: As a matter of fact, you took over his affairs in 1996?

Zadok: Yes, my lord

Falana: And for those two years, you were fully in charge of him?

Zadok: Yes, my lord.

Falana: Now officer, those documents you handed over to the government through Alhaji Kingibe, are you aware if those documents have been returned to the family?

Zadok: My Lord, I have a copy of the property here with me.

Falana: Thank you very much.

Zadok: When I met Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe, in my presence he made a contact call with the wife of the late Chief, telling her of some of the property that were in the possession of Chief MKO Abiola that were now with him, and that he would like somebody to come forward and collect them.

Falana: Now, do you have the inventory as you call it.

Zadok: Yes, my lord.

Falana: (addressing Justice Oputa) Sir, we seek to tender the inventory.

Zadok: Why I handed them over to Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe was that, when the family of Chief MKO Abiola and the son came down to Abuja, I was told they were with him, so I believed they had a cordial relationship.

Falana: Between 1996 and 1998, that was the only time the family members were allowed to see Abiola, is that correct?

Zadok: Yes, my Lord.

Falana: Won’t you therefore agree with me that they were allowed to see Abiola to bid him farewell?

Zadok: Well, I wouldn’t say.

Falana: But that was the only time?

Zadok: I wouldn’t say so.

Falana: Now, if you wouldn’t say so, let’s look at this other scenario for this your subject. The head of the American delegation that met Abiola, Under Secretary Thomas Pickering…

Zadok: Yes, my lord.

Falana: He addressed a press conference in Abuja later that day, saying that Abiola died of natural causes, are you aware of this?

Zadok: I am not aware, my Lord

Falana: Are you also aware that before the so-called autopsy was carried out, the US President, Bill Clinton, said that he was sending a condolence message to Nigeria and to the family of Abiola because Abiola died of natural causes, are you aware of that.

Zadok: I’m aware of it, my Lord.

Falana: You have been following the proceedings before this August Commission, particularly with respect to Abiola’s case?

Zadok: Yes, my Lord.

Falana: You know in Lagos, Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Sabo gave evidence to the effect that on the very day the Late General Sani Abacha died, that General Bamaiyi in Aso Rock said, now that Abacha is dead, can’t we also kill Abiola in the same manner to balance the equation?

Zadok: I heard it, my Lord.

Falana: When you later learned that Chief MKO Abiola died in those circumstances, won’t you agree with me that he was killed from all the circumstances?

Zadok: My Lord, that very particular time that this incident happened, in fact, I was not myself because as Abiola said, I am holding him as a father.

Falana: And he took you like a son?

Zadok: Yes, and he took me like a son… I want to tell you one story today. Major Aliyu informed me that the same seventh day of July, by 4’0’clock.

Falana: 1998?

Zadok: 1998, that I should make arrangements for a plane to move Abiola to Lagos and that he would be free. So that is why I told you that I was not myself when I discovered that Abiola was dead on the same day.

Falana: Officer, that plane eventually carried Abiola’s dead body to Lagos

Zadok: Yes, my Lord.

Falana: Is that your answer? What was carried to lagos was Abiola’s dead body.

Zadok: But not the same day because Abiola was kept like two weeks before his dead body was taken away.

Falana: Taken to Lagos…. Now, you said you had to send message to Aso Rock to fetch Doctor Wali, that is from Akinola Aguda House. Didn’t you have radio or walkie talkie?

Zadok: My lord, I didn’t know why the Chief Security Officer had to do that because he was in possession of cellular, and Dr.Sadiq Wali was also in the possession of a cellular and a telephone on his table at the Aso Clinic. So, why he decided to send a driver and vehicle to pick him, he is to answer the question, my Lord.

Falana: Now, while this rigmarolling was going on, going to Aso Rock Clinic to bring the doctor, Abiola was reeling in pains on the floor?

Zadok: Yes, my Lord…

Falana: Finally, officer, don’t you agree with me that the car, your own car, was left behind for the purpose of using it to convey Abiola to Aso Rock clinic?
Zadok: My Lord….
Falana: Because it was tinted.

Zadok: Yes, my Lord. At any given time, I have a security vehicle on the ground because of any eventuality. So, I wouldn’t have even liked to use my vehicle to see Admiral Akhigbe because I have a BC (body guard) who is behind and whom I can pass the same instruction to.

Falana: Now, this other one you said. Who ordered the stoppage of the feeding allowance for Abiola?

Zadok: I wouldn’t say a particular person ordered it. As I said in my statement, I do collect this quarterly, and at the end of June, I expected another quarter to materialize.

Falana: Yes, first week of July. But because Abiola was going to die on the 7th of July it was no longer necessary.

Zadok: I think so, my Lord.

Falana: Thank you sir.

Global Gist Nigeria

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