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Abacha What you probably didn't know about Nigeria's most infamous General

Abacha's death still remains a mystery till this day. And numerous are the stories that surround it.

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Gen. Abacha play

Gen. Abacha


Gen. Sani Abacha became Nigeria's Head of States from November 17, 1993, to June 8, 1998, as a result of the November 1993 coup.

A brief history of Gen. Sani Abacha

Born in Kano state September 20, 1943, Gen. Abacha was raised in that same state which he made his home.

But originally, he was from Borno state-- a Kanuri to be precise.

Abacha was commissioned in 1963 after attending Mons Officer Cadet in Aldershot England. He attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna before then.

Particularly, Gen. Abacha's military career is distinguished by a string of successful coups.

And being part of every successful coup, record has it that he is the most successful coup plotter in the history of Nigeria’s military.

At the age of 23, Abacha then a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion in Kaduna, took part in the July 1966 Nigerian counter-coup from the conceptual stage.

17 years later, in the orchestration of the 1983 coup d’etat that brought Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to power, Abacha was more than prominent.

He would later partake in the coup that ousted the same Gen. Buhari in August 1985.

And owing to the successfulness of that coup, Abacha was named Chief of Army Staff; as General Ibrahim Babangida became the head of states and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

20 years after the death of General Sani Abacha play

Gen. Sani Abacha ruled Nigerian with fear

(The news)

He would be appointed as the Minister of Defence in 1990.

Abacha's seizure of power

The coup that brought Abacha into power in November 1993 was not carried out against a military head of state.

On 26 August 1993, Chief Ernest Shonekan was appointed as interim president of Nigeria by General Ibrahim Babangida.

And this was as a result of the pressure Babangida was under to cede power to a democratic government.

However, it would take the coup master only three months to seize power from Chief Ernest Shonekan.

Abacha's impact on Nigeria

It is wrong to assume that Gen. Abacha's administration only had a negative impact on Nigeria.

Yes, there were several cases of human rights abuses of which the hanging of Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa was foremost of them all; and coupled with other dark vices that cannot be separated from his dreaded administration.

Yet, it cannot be denied that Abacha's regime was not only outstanding in economic achievement, it was also unparalleled.

The most compelling evidence is that, in the space of four years (1993 to 1997), the country's foreign exchange reserve rose from $494 million to $9.6 billion.

In addition to this, the external debt of the country was reduced from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion in 1997.

The economy prowess of Abacha’s led administration became undisputed when it reduced an inflation rate of 54% inherited from Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida to 8.5% between 1993 and 1998. 

Interestingly, all these were achieved at a time when the price of crude oil was at an average of $15 per barrel.

Added to the above achievements, Abacha practically demonstrated the role of Nigeria as Africa’s giant by supporting the Economic Community of West African States.

He would also send Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help restore peace.

Abacha inspecting a guard of honour play

Abacha inspecting a guard of honour

(Naira land)

However, despite these tremendous achievements, it cannot be refuted that Abacha's administration was void of corruption.

In fact, in 2004, Forbes listed Abacha as the fourth most corrupt leader in history; after Mohamed Suharto of Indonesia, Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines, and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now DPR Congo).

And this claim is being justified with reports stating that during his regime, he and his family stole a total of £5 billion from the country's treasury.

Although some military generals like Gen. Buhari discredit the claim in 2008 during Abacha’s tenth-year remembrance, it has not changed the fact that he is still perceived as the country’s highest looter of all time.

ALSO READ: 'Buhari not grounded in economy, foreign affairs,' OBJ says

Abacha's death

Before his death in June 1998, Abacha had announced in early 1998 that with the intention to cede power to civilian rule in October 1, elections would be held that August.

However, when in April of that same year Abacha had succeeded in forcefully conniving with the country’s five parties to endorse him as their presidential candidate, it became clear that the election would have no element of fairness.

But two months before the election, June 8 to be precise, Abacha passed away mysteriously in the Presidential Villa-- Abuja. And in accordance with Islamic tradition, he was buried that same day.

Abacha's death still remains a mystery till this day. And numerous are the stories that surround it.

Some say he was in the company of two Indian prostitutes imported from Dubai. Others said that he was poisoned with an apple.

But according to Al-Mustapha, Abacha's Chief Security Officer, Abacha's death was planned.

Here is his account:

"Contrary to insinuations, speculations and said rumours initiated by some sections of the society, I maintain that the sudden collapse of the health system of the late Head of State started the previous day (Sunday, 7th June, 1998) right from the Abuja International Airport immediately after one of the white security operatives or personnel who accompanied President Yasser Arafat of Palestine shook hands with him (General Abacha).

"I had noticed the change in the countenance of the late Commander-in-Chief and informed the Aide-de-Camp, Lt. Col. Abdallah, accordingly. He, however, advised that we keep a close watch on the Head of State.

Al-Mustapha play


(Daily post)


''Later in the evening of 8th June 1998, around 6 p.m; his doctor came around, administered an injection to stabilize him. He was advised to have a short rest.

"Happily, enough, by 9 p.m; the Head of State was bouncing and receiving visitors until much later when General Jeremiah Timbut Useni, the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, came calling.

"He was fond of the Head of State. They were very good friends. They stayed and chatted together till about 3.35a.m.

"A friend of the house was with me in my office and as he was bidding me farewell, he came back to inform me that the FCT Minister, General Useni was out of the Head of State’s Guest House within the Villa.

"I then decided to inform the ADC and other security boys that I would be on my way home to prepare for the early morning event at the International Conference Centre.

"At about 5 a.m; the security guards ran to my quarters to inform me that the Head of State was very unstable. At first, I thought it was a coup attempt.

"Immediately, I prepared myself fully for any eventuality. As an intelligence officer and the Chief Security Officer to the Head of State for that matter, I devised a means of diverting the attention of the security boys from my escape route by asking my wife to continue chatting with them at the door – she was in the house while the boys were outside. From there, I got to the Guest House of the Head of State before them.

"When I got to the bedside of the Head of State, he was already gasping. Ordinarily, I could not just touch him. It was not allowed in our job.

"But under the situation on the ground, I knelt close to him and shouted, "General Sani Abacha, Sir, please grant me permission to touch and carry you." I again knocked at the stool beside the bed and shouted in the same manner, yet he did not respond.

"I then realized there was a serious danger. I immediately called the Head of State's personal physician, Dr. Wali, who arrived the place under eight minutes from his house.

"He immediately gave Oga – General Abacha – two doses of injection, one at the heart and another close to his neck. This did not work apparently as the Head of State had turned very cold. He then told me that the Head of State was dead and nothing could be done after all…"

It's been over five decades since Abacha was commissioned; and until this day, the coup legend is remembered as the first and only military head of state who never skipped a rank to become a full-star general.

ALSO READ: I decided to put an end to these incessant coups - ex-President

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