Daughter Steps into Abiola's Political Shoes: Still Mourning 4 Months after Death, She Could Become a Force in Nigeria

Article excerpt

LAGOS, Nigeria - Lola Abiola-Edewor enjoys a certain power these days. Four months after her father, Moshood Abiola, collapsed and died in a jailhouse meeting with U.S. diplomats in July, she and her family still mourn his death.

But his passing also has energized the 36-year-old daughter of Nigeria's former president-apparent. Although she hasn't officially announced her intentions, she is the most politically active member of the Abiola clan and has inherited his legacy. She now courts three political parties and could become kingmaker as Nigeria stumbles toward democracy.

Local council elections Dec. 5 went off smoothly, and national elections scheduled for February, could usher in the first civilian government in 15 years.

"I want to see all the contenders and then I'll show my hand," said Mrs. Abiola-Edewor as she rushed to open windows each time the power died and the air conditioning faded into silence in her comfortable upscale home.

A painting of Mrs. Abiola-Edewor hanging in the nearby den bears an uncanny resemblance to her father. She shares his dark skin and affable smile.

In the portrait she wears colorful African dress, but today the U.S.-educated woman wears a pair of slacks and a light blouse.

Mrs. Abiola-Edewor received a master's degree from Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif.

"My father was the one man who brought the whole country together," she said. "He was the most detribalized man," Mrs. Abiola-Edewor said while monitoring her 12-year-old son doing his homework and keeping an eye on foreign reporters during an informal interview.

She said she likes the manifesto of Alliance for Democracy, which won handily in Yoruba areas of the southwest but concedes "anyone can print a manifesto."

"It's difficult to tell which party will be closest to my father's legacy," said Mrs. Abiola-Edewor noting that she would not have been in the catbird seat a year ago.

After her father's death, she hinted toward playing an active role in politics to continue the struggle her father died fighting.

And like her father she does not hold her tongue. However, his candor is what caused him to be kept in a small cell with a window that lacked glass or a screen, or a mosquito net to keep away malaria-causing mosquitos.

Mr. Abiola was widely believed to have won the 1993 elections - the first time a Yoruba man from southern Nigeria had also won backing in Hausa and Ibo areas. But the military annulled the results and a year later jailed Mr. Abiola.

Mr. Abiola was offered release from jail if he would abandon his claim to have won the presidency, but he refused.

That year the Hausa-dominated army, fearing to hand power to a Yoruba from the south, annulled the election and kept Nigeria under military rule the next five years.

The military regime also stole nearly half the revenue from the 2 million barrels of oil exported each day according to U.S. officials in Lagos.

An interim government was installed, and later that year dictator Gen. Sani Abacha became Nigeria's new leader.

"My father told me, `General Abacha has dug my grave, and the only thing is he has not yet done is to cover it with sand,' " she said.

Yet before Mr. Abiola's death, he told his daughter he bore no hatred toward his jailers. …