Oputa: Susan Rice served Abiola his last tea, says Abdulsalami's CSO (Wednesday, 26th September, 2001)
By Sufuyan Ojeifo & Lemmy Ughegbe, Vanguard
ABUJA ó MAJOR Abdulrasheed Aliyu, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the immediate past Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar told the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIV) in Abuja yesterday that the controversial tea taken by Chief M.K.O. Abiola shortly before his death in 1998 was personally served him by the then US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ms Susan Rice.
Ms Rice was on the American delegation that visited Chief Abiola in detention when he suddenly slumped and died.
Major Aliyu in his evidence-in-chief in respect of a petition filed by Mr. Kola Abiola, eldest son of the deceased politician gave a graphic picture of how Chief Abiola died but drew the ire of members of the commission when he consistently denied knowledge of the conditions of Abiola until death by saying" "I donít know."
That was after claiming that he was fully in charge of the up-keep of Abiola. Expressing the displeasure of the commission, its chairman, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa remarked:
"Major Aliyu, we have heard you; in your evidence-in-chief, you gave a vivid description of what happened to Chief Abiola and how he died. It is now time for you to be cross-examined and you go on saying you donít know.
"You were a Chief Security Officer and we have at least seen one and we can make our assessment of him. Donít tell us you are so daft. Please help us, help this commission. You keep answering I donít know. What do you know?"
Major Aliyu had informed the commission that "on 7th July, 1998 an American delegation came to see the C-In-C (Gen. Abubakar); the C-In-C called me and said I should make arrangement for the delegation to see Chief M.K.O. Abiola. I called ASP Zadok and told him to prepare Abiola to see the delegation at Aguda House.
"I went to where Abiola was detained and together we headed to Aguda.
"On our way to Aguda, there was a call requesting for the keys to office of the Chief of General Staff. I directed Zadok to go and attend to the CGS' request before he will come back. I instructed him to leave Abiolaís car behind as if we finished before him with the delegation, Abiola would be taken back to his place.
"Members of the American delegation at the meeting were Thomas Pickering, Susan Rice and Ambassador Williams Twadell and at the meeting Chief Abiola cracked some jokes with them. When they asked him if he was in good health condition, Abiola said I am well expect for my swollen legs.
"At this juncture, the steward came in with some refreshment, tea and coffee. Pickering and Twadell took coffee, Susan Rice opted for tea while Abiola declined taking anything. After few minutes, Abiola started coughing continuously. Susan Rice urged him to take tea. I got up from the point I was watching with the intention to go and serve Abiola the tea, but Susan Rice, being the only woman present decided to serve him the tea and when she did I went back and sat down.
"Even after the tea, his coughing continued. He then went into the toilet and as I was about going in to meet him, he was coming out. He looked very tired and was sweating. He asked me if he could get his cough syrup and I asked the body guards to go and fetch Abiolaís syrup. He then entered back to the delegation and said he was feeling cold. We put off the air conditioner, he then said he was feeling hot and we in turn, opened the windows.
"Susan Rice suggested that he be taken to the hospital and I called Dr. Wali on my mobile phone and told him there was an emergency that the chief was very sick and he should come immediately. It took him (Dr. Wali) exactly seven minutes and 40 seconds to get to us.
"When Dr. Wali arrived, Abiola was still lying on the floor coughing. We fanned him, put him in a vehicle and drove straight to the emergency ward in the Aso Clinic. All of us were in the room, we forgot about the protocol that this was an emergency room restricted to only doctors and nurses. We were all in there.
"I informed the C-In-C of Abiolaís sickness and he was very worried. While we were there (hospital), I saw the CGS arrive without his cap and a driver; he was asking what is it? Not this hour. Seeing the condition he was in, I did not want him to give a wrong impression to our visitors, delegation, so I asked him to go back.
"I informed the C-In-C that the medical team was at work and he directed that we should contact Babagana Kingibe to bring the family to see what was happening to him (Abiola).
"At exactly 1 hour 20 minutes, Chief Abiola gave up and Susan Rice asked us to accept our (their) condolence. We have seen what happened and all the efforts you have made to treat him (Abiola). We knew they were going to leave the country and we wanted the news to first be broken to his (Abiola's) family before the press and so we requested the American delegation to allow us. She told us that there were pressmen scheduled to interview them at the airport when they arrived. She agreed to our request.
"When I informed Gen. Abubakar of the death of Abiola, he shouted: "Oh! my God!í What can I tell his family? Susan Rice, being the only woman, offered to break the news to the family and she told them of the efforts we made to save them and as such said there was no foul play in his death.
"After Abiolaís death the C-In-C ordered the Permanent Secretary, Foreign Affairs to procure some visas for American and British doctors invited to come and conduct an autopsy on his corpse. Dr. Wali told me that the family wanted an independent autopsy.
"I made arrangement for a Donia airplane and I ordered that the condition for their receiving the corpse of Abiola was only at night because the situation was very tense in Lagos. I ordered that ambulance and several vehicles be arranged. Nobody knew why except the Governor of Lagos. The reason was to divert attention.
"One of the multinational doctors came with Kola Abiola to Aso Rock and we released the corpse to them to go accompanied by Dr. Wali. They arrived Lagos at 3.30 and the autopsy was concluded at 6.00 a.m.
"During the autopsy, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) was represented, the Federal Government was represented by Dr. Wali while Abiolaís family was represented by his personal physician, Dr. Ore Falomo. After the autopsy, they issued a press statement.
"According to the international medical team's autopsy report, they discovered that Abiola had severe lung disease of the heart which could cause sudden death. They also discovered that he had narrowing and enlargement of the heart which could cause sudden death. The report therefore stated that a heart disease caused Abiolaís death as he suffered a rapid deterioration of health due to chronic congestive heart failure because of long standing hypertension."
Under cross-examination by counsel to Brig.-Gen. Ibrahim Sabo, Umar Shittien, Major Aliyu who had, in his evidence-in-chief informed the commission that Susan Rice told Abiolaís family that "there were no foul play," withdrew the statement.
According to Major Aliyu; "It was a slip. I am withdrawing that statement. Susan Rice never said there was a foul play. She merely condoled the family of Abiola, expressing the sympathy of the delegation."
Quizzed by the commissionís counsel, Mrs. Chinwe Uwandu as to how he was able to keep a close tab on the time between when he called Dr. Wali to come and attend to Abiola and when he arrived, Major Aliyu responded:
"We were all very confused, I was so confused so I kept on looking at the time in anticipation of when the doctor would arrive."
Major Aliyu who had declared that he was in total control of matters relating to Abiola, however, informed the commission, that he never knew that ASP Zadok was to taste Abiolaís food.
Aliyu, contrary to his earlier conviction that he believed in the autopsy report which attributed Abiolaís death to natural cause, said during cross examination that the autopsy report could be faulty if it did not make any reference to the tea taken by Abiola.
Asked by a member of the commission to confirm if he meant that the autopsy report was faulty and as such the cause of cause of Abiola's death was unknown, Major Aliyu said he stood by the autopsy report.
During his evidence-in-chief, he said the international autopsy team spoke to the witnesses at the point of Abiolaís death, denied speaking with any member of that team, even though he was a principal witness.
"I was not spoken to," said Major Aliyu.
Contrary to his statement that they made some request from the American delegation that visited Abiola, the then CSO to Gen. Abdulsalami said "no, we did not make any request from them. Susan Rice only offered to help break the news of Abiolaís death to his family since she was a woman and as such understands women better."
Major Aliyu who had displayed sufficient knowledge and control of Chief Abiolaís welfare while in detention has in his evidence-in-chief made a dramatic u-turn declining knowledge of the health condition of Chief Abiola.
Falana: "The doctors who conducted the autopsy said there was no food in his system when the intestine was broken, only mucus was found. When was the last time Abiola was fed?
Aliyu: I donít know. They normally feed him.
Falana: Did you know that Zadok was to taste Abiolaís food?
Aliyu: I donít know.
Falana: Did you know that a detaineeís food is supposed to be tasted before it is given to him?
Aliyu: I donít know.
Falana: Who prepared the tea that was send?
Aliyu: The steward prepared the tea, a foreigner, Susan Rice served Abiola the tea.
Falana: As an intelligence officer, can you remember one incident when a foreigner served a detainee his meal?
Aliyu: I donít know.
Falana: Are you aware that Chief Emeka Anyaoku after his visit to Abiola addressed a press conference in Abuja saying that Abiola has given up his mandate?
Falana: For a month, you looked after Abiola who were his doctors?
Aliyu: I donít know.
Falana: You said you were very close to Chief Abiola, did he tell you he had hypertension?
Aliyu: He did not tell me.
Falana: Do you know the doctor that gave him the drugs found on him?
Aliyu: I donít know."
The case was adjourned to October 3 when the commission is scheduled to give its ruling on whether representation of witness by counsel constitutes an appearance as being canvassed by counsel to some former heads of states.
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