LAGOS, Nigeria (Jun 4, 1996 3:05 p.m. EDT) - Unknown gunmen Tuesday shot and killed the outspoken senior wife of detained Nigerian presidential claimant Moshood Abiola, the family said. "I can confirm now that Mrs. Kudirat Abiola was killed from the gun attack this morning," Mubashiru Abiola, the brother of her husband announced to waiting reporters at the family home. "She will be buried according to Muslim rites tomorrow at 4 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT)," he added. Wailing by members of the family greeted the announcement at the Abiola home in the Ikeja suburb of Lagos. Mrs Abiola, the 44-year-old businesswoman who has been campaigning for the release of her husband, was shot with her driver and fatally wounded while driving along a Lagos street.
The United States, which has repeatedly criticized the Nigerian government for its treatment of Abiola and other political figures and has imposed a series of economic sanctions, said it deplored the murder and called on the Nigerian government to catch and prosecute the killers. State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said it was too soon to tell whether Tuesday's killing was politically motivated, "but it does appear to have been an assassination, not an intended robbery."
Mubashiru Abiola said Mrs. Abiola's driver had also died. Witnesses said the two were shot at close range by three men in a car. Mrs. Abiola's personal assistant Michael Adeshina, who was also in the car, was not hurt and had been detained by police. "Maybe he will help them in their investigations," said Mubashiru Abiola.
Doctors said Mrs. Abiola was taken unconscious and with a bullet wound to the forehead to the Eko Hospital in Lagos where they battled in vain to save here life.
Rumors that she was assassinated swept Lagos, the center of opposition to Nigeria's military government.
"There was an incident in which some hoodlums fired at their car," the police spokesman said.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of about 100 million people has been in crisis since June 1993 when a presidential election deemed to have been won by Abiola, a millionaire businessman, was annulled by the then ruling generals.
In November 1995, writer Writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight members of his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples were hanged for the murder of four Ogoni chiefs.
The Commonwealth immediately suspended Nigeria, and the United States, along with South Africa and the European Union, imposed arms and visa restrictions and called for a quick restoration of democracy. Abiola has been detained on treason charges in the capital Abuja since June 1994 when he proclaimed himself president of Nigeria based on the results of the annulled poll.
Mrs. Abiola was a prominent figure in the campaign to secure the release of her husband from detention and to install him as president in order to restore democracy immediately. She had been detained by police overnight in May and charged with false publication.
Nigerian activists reacted angrily to the killing. "The Civil Liberties Organization calls for a judicial panel of enquiry for a thorough investigation of the circumstances leading to the brutal murder and prosecution of the culprits," the group said in a statement. "This is a very bad omen for the nation," said Shina Loremikan, a spokesman for the umbrella Campaign for Democracy pressure group. "We need an immediate return to democracy because the military regime with all its might still cannot guarantee the safety of life," he told Reuters.
South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo called the attack horrifying, and urged the military government to free Abiola. "It is all the more regrettable that this tragedy occurred while her husband remains detained," Nzo said in a statement. A British Foreign Office spokesman called the shooting "tragic news." Mrs. Abiola is the second public figure to be attacked in Lagos traffic this year.
Alex Ibru, the publisher of Nigeria's leading independent newspaper, was similarly shot in February. He survived and was flown for treatment in England, but has since not returned home. Abiola has several other wives and dozens of children.
Coordinator, The Coalition Against Dictatorship in Nigeria (CADN). CADN is affiliated with the National Liberation Council of Nigeria.
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