General Sani Abacha is probably the most notorious president Nigeria has ever had. I remember as a little girl hearing the grown ups in my house always complaining about Abacha. I was too little to understand but from what I heard he was a bad guy. People were very careful not to criticize him in public for fear of their lives. I also remember vividly the day his death was announced on NTA news in 1998, there was so much jubilation everywhere and being a child I joined in the jubilation not knowing the full implications of what this all meant. Well dear readers due to popular demand I bring you the last personality of our most evil series, General Sani Abacha. Let’s delve a bit more into who he was and what he stood for shall we?
10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ABACHA
- Abacha was born on September 20, 1943 in Kano state. His parents were Kanuri and indigenes of Borno state, but they raised Abacha in Kano. Abacha spent most of his early life in Kano where he attended City saviour primary school and his secondary school in Provincial secondary school. After this, like most young ambitious Nigerian men of those days, Abacha joined the army. .He attended the Nigerian and British military training college in Kaduna and was sent to the UK for the officer of cadet training in Mons. By 1963 he received his first appointment as second lieutenant. He also subsequently in his career attended the national institute for policy and strategy studies in Plateau state in the year 1981. In 1965 he married his wife Maryam Abacha and they went on to have seven children.
2 . After Nigeria got her independence, the first republic leaders [meaning the first set of leaders nigeria had after independence] headed by popular personalities like Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa the prime minister and Nnamdi Azikiwe the president was characterised by immense corruption. Ministers and people who held federal office were known to parade and flaunt their ill gotten wealth in the face of dissatisfied Nigerians. This recklessness set the stage for the first coup d’etat. A group of middle rank army officers sacked and took over power from the politicians of the first republic on January 15th, 1966. This coup d’etat was headed by General Aguiyi Thomas Ironsi which ushered in the military regime.However his rule was short lived. There was a counter coup in 1966 headed by General Yakubu Gowon. It is believed that Sani Abacha as a second lieutenant was involved in this coup and other coups that occurred subsequently. Over the years Abacha rose in the military ranks and by 1980 he was made brigadier.
- 3. Nigerian politics during this time was characterised by coups with one military regime seizing power from the other. On December, 1983 General Muhammadu Buhari overthrew the second republic of Shehu Shagari. Abacha was thrust into the limelight for the first time because he was the one who announced Buhari’s coup over the radio. Again on August 27, 1985 Abacha announced another coup on Nigerian television. This coup was staged by general Ibrahim Babangida who seized power from Buhari just two years into his reign. During this regime, Abacha was promoted to the office of Chief of army staff, meaning he was the second in command, the second most powerful man in Nigeria.
4. By 1993 Babangida had ruled for eight years. He promised that his regime will hand over power to a civilian/democratic government. This led to the 1993 elections where MKO Abiola won the majority vote, but Babangida couldn’t accept this and cancelled the election. This act of his led to an outcry and nationwide protests. It also created a ripe opportunity for Abacha to seize power. In order to quench the protests which almost brought the Nigerian economy to a halt, Babangida handed over power to an interim/ un-elected civilian government on the 26th of August, 1993. This interim government was headed by Ernest Shonekan. Abacha once again was appointed as minister of defence, but after just less than a hundred days in office, Abacha overthrew the interim government. He seized full control as the supreme military leader of Nigeria.
5. The next day after Abacha took over he dissolved all the organs of government that was set up by the interim government . These consisted of national and state assemblies, local governments, state executive councils. Below is an excerpt from the speech he gave when he was announcing his takeover of power to the Nigerian people; “The Interim National Government is hereby dissolved.
The National and State Assemblies are also dissolved.
All Local Governments stand dissolved. The Directors of Personnel are to take over the administration of the Local Governments until Administrators are appointed.
All former Secretaries to Federal Ministries are to hand over to their Directors-General until Ministers are appointed.
The two political parties are hereby dissolved.
All processions, political meetings and associations of any type in any part of the country are hereby banned.
Any consultative committee by whatever name called is hereby proscribed.
Decree 61 of 1993 is hereby abrogated.”
6. Its no surprise that Abacha turned out to be worse than his predecessors He was very corrupt and embezzled up to USD 4 billion according to the international center for asset recovery. He opposed and imprisoned anyone that criticised his government. Abachas regime was characterised by gross violation of human rights which was recognised even by the international communities. By 1994 MKO Abiola who came back from a six month trip abroad announced himself as the rightful president of Nigeria. Abiola while away overseas had garnerred support from Britain and the United states of America.However, this did not stop Abacha from charging Abiola for high treason and had him arrested.
7. Abacha also caused an international uproar when he executed Ken Saro-wiwa and eight other Ogoni chiefs. Ken Saro-wiwa was an activist who spoke on the behalf of the Ogoni people of the Niger delta. He criticized oil companies like Shell and other multi national companies whose reckless actions led to gross environmental degradation of that part of the Niger delta. Abacha’s regime and policies with these companies were also criticized. So its not hard to see why Abacha had him done away with. Nigeria faced sanctions from the international community because of this act and was suspended from the common wealth for three years.
8. Despite pleas for human rights reforms and also for the release of MKO Abiola from the international community, Abacha ignored them all. Abacha is also widely believed to be behind the assassination of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola (MKO Abiola’s wife). She was a staunch and vocal supporter of her husband while he was imprisoned. Among others that spoke up against Abacha’s regime was the playwright Wole Soyinka who was also charged with treason. However Soyinka had already fled to America and wasn’t subjected to an arrest.
9. Surprisingly Abacha’s regime despite its glaring atrocities did lead Nigeria through a period of economic achievements. Under his rule Nigeria’s foreign reserves increased from $500 million to $10 billion within four years. Nigeria’s debt also reduced from $36 billion to $27 billion within four years as well. Inflation also dropped from 54% in 1993 to 8.5% in 1998.
10. After three years into his regime, Abacha made promises to give democracy another chance. In April 1998, he commanded that all five political parties in Nigeria that existed at that time recommend him as their only presidential candidate. Thus it became more clear to the Nigerian people that Abacha planned on sitting on the presidential seat perpetually. But several weeks after this was made known, on June 8 1998, Abacha died unexpectedly at his home in Abuja. The official records say that he died of a heart attack, but rumours continue to this day that he died in the hands of Indian prostitutes who fed him poisoned apples.
To be honest no one knows for sure how Abacha died as its all still shrouded in mystery and propaganda. Its also safe to know that the billions that Abacha and his family stole were held in the bank of Switzerland and other European banks. During Obasanjo’s regime in 2002, there was a settlement in which Abacha’s family returned most of the stolen money back to the government in exchange for dropped criminal charges.
Phew what a story!!! guys I learned so much putting this piece together and I hope you have learned something too. Sadly we have come to the end of the most evil series, thank you for coming this far with me. Fret not though, more juicy historical content is coming your way. Also, the website has been upgraded so you can now leave comments in the comment section. Till next time guys!!!
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Michael M. Ogbeidi (2012) ‘Political Leadership and Corruption in Nigeria Since 1960: A Socio-economic Analysis ‘, Journal of Nigeria Studies , Fall 2012 , Volume 1, Number 2(), pp. 6-9 [Online]. Available at: http://www.unh.edu/nigerianstudies/articles/Issue2/Political_leadership.pdf (Accessed: 30 June,2018).