BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Irrespective of any opposing view, the Nigerian Federal Executive Council scored a major goal by the honour and recognition given Bashorun MKO Abiola, the late presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 election.
Perhaps more than most other Nigerians, Bashorun MKO Abiola’s influence loomed large on the Nigerian and African sports scene. He was for a long time strongly associated with sports, both as participant and sponsor.
Between the ages of 18 and 19, he won the All Nigeria School Athletics Championship awards and the middleweight amateur boxing title.
His interest cut across many sports which he sponsored even with other Nigerians’ names. For instance, he was the sponsor of the Asekun national swimming competition and also that of the then AAA Junior Athletics Championships among others. Many Nigerian sports personalities and national teams were beneficiaries of MKO Abiola philanthropic gestures.
He raised the bar in football clubs’ ownership making his Abiola Babes FC to have magnetic pull on outstanding footballers across the nation and almost concurrently ran three football clubs that included the Concord FC and ITT FC while also encouraged the late wife, Simbiat to float the Kakanfo female football club.
He was the chairman of the committee that raised fund for Nigeria to feature at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1994 and the remaining money from the fund was invested in building the gymnasium at the National Stadium, Lagos which is a legacy of the fund drive.
Similarly, he worked tirelessly as the chairman of the Presidential Monitoring Committee that worked to improve facilities leading to Nigeria hosting the then World Youth Championships years later in 1999.
MKO Abiola sponsored various sports activities in Nigeria and 14 other African countries. Among them are Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia and Tunisia.
Such was his unparalleled support for sports that no other African has been able to fill his position as Africa’s First Pillar of Sports since 1980 when the then African Sports Journalists Union (ASJU) bestowed the honour on him.
On January 11, 1992 in Dakar, Senegal, he entered the African football Hall of Fame when the Sports philanthropist-extra ordinary was honoured by CAF with an award of Order of Merit in Gold. This is the confederation’s highest honour. Abiola at the occasion donates the CAF Cup trophy endowed with $100,000.
Not many deeply involved in business and political activities have the kind of devotion that Abiola had for sports.
His commitment was beyond the mere donation of money, materials and trophies. He graced sports arenas with his presence. Although, he was best associated with the national passion, football, Abiola’s interest cut across the broad spectrum of sporting activities.
He rendered such tremendous support to boxing that the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) made him a member of its World Business Commission.
He donated the CAF Cup trophy in 1992 for the confederation and was the sole-sponsor of the African Footballer of the Year award until his death in 1998 when CAF had to seek corporate sponsorship for the event.