DNA test, Abiola's Will and those 'bastards' It's a fact my brother that some bastards want to rubbish this family. We won't allow them to live with us -Mubashiru Abiola, Champion, August 8, p. 6. PERHAPS the most exciting story of the week is that of the result of the DNA test conducted on late Chief MKO Abiola's children as reported fully and with suspicious ceremony in the ThisDay newspaper of Monday, August 6. There are many lessons to be learnt from the entire episode. And let it be noted that since the Abiolas have chosen to wash their dirty linen in public, no one should complain about the invasion of privacy, (please), to the extent that the DNA politics in the Abiola family is now a matter of public interest. Chief MKO Abiola is known as the martyr of the struggle for democracy in Nigeria; he was the man who won the June 12, 1993 election but who the military denied the benefit of victory. This resulted in a long-drawn out battle between the military and civil society forces, the killing, maiming and incarceration of many progressives and the eventual detention and death of Chief MKO Abiola, while still in government custody, on July 8, 1998. But MKO Abiola was also a great Nigerian: a billionaire philanthropist, a man of the people, a supporter of sports and other social causes, a publisher of great newspapers (all sadly defunct). In his private life, he was also quite a phenomenon. He married women by the dozens (over fifty of them!) and allegedly sired 113 children. Abiola was so rich, he himself once boasted that his wealth could never dry up. He was the Croesus of our time and the people who benefitted from his many acts of generosity across Nigeria called him "Baba Alaanu" ( the generous, kind-hearted giver). He had a chieftaincy title from every corner of Nigeria, including churches, mosques and traditional conclaves. He was both man and legend. This background is necessary because I have heard in the last few days someone asking the question: what about the Abiola family? It is painful that nine years later, some Nigerians are already forgetting how important this man is to our contemporary history. In the African tradition, the worth of a man' s life is often assessed by the character of his household after his departure. In Abiola's case, there has been turmoil in his household. The catalyst is his Will dated October 25, 1989, in which he had insisted that all the children bearing his name and who have been presented to him as his biological children should undergo DNA testing before they can inherit any part of his estate. He made exceptions for only six of his children; the five children from his childhood love and first wife, and one other child. This caveat in the Will immediately caused so much furore within the family with the wives divided into associations of pro-DNA wives and anti-DNA wives, But once a man has written a Will, it is axiomatic that his last wishes should be respected. For nine years, not much was heard from the Abiola family on the matter of the man's estate, until this week, when Thisday and the administrator of the late Abiola's estate shared the result of the DNA test with the public. It is quite an interesting report. A quick summary: 25 of the children (already about 25 per cent) failed the DNA test, forcing younger brothers of the late business mogul and politicians to declare that bastards will not be allowed in the Abiola family! About 21 children are yet to undergo the test but they have been advised by the administrators to do so post-haste (only God knows how many of them will pass the test). And there are at least two children who had been disowned by Abiola himself, I guess by merely looking at them, and seeing that they do not look like him in any way! So far, 37 children have been confirmed as DNA compliant, plus the six exempted children, and another seven who passed but are excluded from the Will. It means that for now under the terms of the Will, there are 50 MKO Abiola children, the final figure to be derived subsequently from the results of the DNA testing of an outstanding figure of 21 children. Curiously, there are also 15 other children who are described as not qualifying under the terms of the Will. We are not told whether these 15 children passed the DNA test or not, their classiification is uncertain. Hun, orisirisi! Now the lessons: it should be clear to everyone that if Abiola had died intestate (that is without writing a Will), his estate would have been shared among both rightful heirs and bastards with everyone pretending to be a principal member of his family. MKO Abiola must have attracted so many children not his own because in his lifetime he was the great philanthropist who helped anyone that came along. It was even said that any woman who had a child for him got a handsome gift calculated in real estate and millions of money. This was an incentive for any woman at all to dump a child on him. At least two women on the DNA list have some children passing the test and one in each instance failing the DNA test. In his lifetime, MKO Abiola accommodated both the bastards and his own children, but he has now used his Will to show that he was not stupid at all, and that philanthropy has its limits. It is a powerful statement from the grave. Only God knows how many men in our society are fathering and nurturing children who are not their own. And I guess this is not limited to polygamous situations like MKO Abiola's. The effect of the Abiola case is that more men are likely to write Wills, and are likely to ask for DNA testing. Thus, what the MKO Abiola Will has done is not just to make the writing of Wills advisable, it has also popularised DNA testing. First established in 1985 by Sir Alec Jeffreys, DNA testing or DNA fingerprinting has become a popular means of establishing identity and a useful tool in criminal investigations. Methods adopted include polymerase chain reaction and fragment length polymorphism but in simple language, through DNA testing, accurate genetic information can be established. The interesting thing is that it is cheap: between $99 and $125, the more expensive options are not more than $500, but the results in all instances are reportedly accurate and conclusive. The MKO Abiola DNA report also shows the dangers of polygamy. The man was an investor in all fronts. He was so prolific on the home front he even had children whose mothers' identities could not be established. In the report, some children were identified as "possibly" belonging to some women, and in at least six instances, the children 's mothers were described as "unknown to the administrators". This all things considered is not a good advertisement for motherhood. The only women who can stand tall in the Abiola household today are the ones whose children passed the DNA test particularly the ones who scored 100 per cent. But tell me, what kind of woman would give another man's child to some other lover just for pecuniary gains? Such a woman deserves no respect at all. And what kind of woman would claim to have a child within a family and no one would know either her or her children. Such a person is despicable. There have been cases at burial grounds in which women just showed up with children that no one had ever seen claiming that they belong to the deceased. Did this happen in the Abiola case? All the women who are tempted to behave like the discredited mothers in the MKO Abiola list should learn a lesson from this. But there is another lesson for men too. MKO Abiola was a fantastic entrepreneur in the romance department: he gathered the women and he was determined not to waste anything that he shot across in the heat of romance. He alone, with over 50 children at the present count? He makes other men look like weaklings, who are busy wasting useful biological weapons all over the place! But it is better to be prudent to avoid his kind of collection of bastards: 25 per cent and still counting! The MKO Abiola family DNA report is a melodramatic collection of heroes and villains, but the poor victims are the innocent children who have now been saddled with an identity crisis. The list as earlier reported is full of DNA rejected and failed children who have been bearing the MKO Abiola name and have been told by their mothers all along that they are indeed children of the late legend. The publication in ThisDay has placed s stamp of stigma on their heads. They could be scarred for life. They will be taunted by their friends in school; society will treat them with suspicion. They can no longer go near the Abiola family either. That family is meeting in Abeokuta on Sunday to separate the bastards from the real ones. These children will need counselling. But because there are no illegitimate children in Africa, many of them will confront their mothers and ask them to identify their real fathers. Those women have explanations to give, and they had better start preparing their stories. But what kind of women are these? What kind of mother would lie about her child's paternity for mercantilist reasons? Men have to be careful too about the kind of "away" games that they play. The greater burden that all MKO Abiola children would now have to bear is that when anyone comes along bearing the name, we are likely to rush to the DNA list to be sure that we are dealing with a rightful representative of that family. I suggest that the family should come up with a roll of honour. All the children who passed the DNA test should henceforth have behind their names in brackets, the suffix (DNA). For that family, DNA is now after all, a badge of honour. But the story is not over yet. Some of the women whose sons passed the DNA test but are classified as disinherited are threatening to go to court. Isn't it better to keep one's home-front simple to avoid this kind of messy situation? Here is MKO Abiola:: a man of history who ought to be remembered in more elevated light, but whose legacy has been reduced to the ugly politics of the chamber of desire and fatherhood. Unfortunately, that was his life, but the living are still free to make their own choices or make possible amends.
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