Nigerians remember brutal dictator, Sani Abacha, 20 years after death

Former Head of State, Sani Abacha
Former Head of State, Sani Abacha

Today marks 20 years since the death of Nigerian military ruler, Sani Abacha was announced.

The late dictator was Nigeria’s 10th Head of State. He served as the de facto President of Nigeria from November 17, 1993 till June 8, 1998.

Mr Abacha’s government was marred by human rights abuses, especially the hanging of activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, one of several executions of Ogoni activists who opposed to the exploitation of resources in their enclaves.

Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election and ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo were jailed for treason. Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka was charged in absentia with treason.

Mr Abiola was recently honoured by the Muhammadu Buhari administration while June 12, the day he presumably won the election has been penned a Nigeria’s new Democracy Day.

Mr Abacha’s regime was met with stiff opposition by pro-democracy activists.

During his regime, it is estimated that he and member of his family stole over £5 billion from the country’s coffers.

In 2004, Abacha was listed as the fourth most corrupt leader in history.

Ironically, during a service marking the 10th year anniversary of the death of the dictator, Mr Buhari dismissed claims that Mr Abacha looted the country. Mr Buhari served in Mr Abacha’s government.

On the flipside though, Mr Abacha was celebrated by some for supporting the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) when he sent Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help restore democracy.

Mr Abacha died in June 1998 while at the presidential villa in Abuja.

He was buried on the same day, according to Muslim tradition, without an autopsy. This gave rise to speculations that his death may not have been normal.

The government however identified the cause of death as a sudden heart attack.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2014, honoured Mr Abacha as ‘‘one of Nigeria’s greatest heroes in Nigeria during the centenary awards’’. This did not go down well with the civil society.

Mr Buhari, has also credited Abacha for building roads and improving education and healthcare although many still dispute this.

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Timeline of key events in the late dictator’s life:

  • On September 20, 1943, Sani Abacha born in Kano state, northern Nigeria.
  • In 1963, in Kano, Nigeria, he passes out of the Nigerian Military Training Centre in Kaduna, receiving further training in the UK.
  • 1965, he married Maryam Jiddah. The couple have 10 children, one of whom later dies.
  • 1967-72, Southern Nigeria, the late Abacha fights for Nigeria in the country’s civil war against Biafran secessionists and continued to rise through the army ranks.
  • 1983, in Lagos Nigeria. He entered national spotlight because of his role in the December 31 coup that toppled the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari. General Muhammadu Buhari is installed as military ruler.
  • In 1985, Lagos, Nigeria. Mr Buhari is overthrown in a coup supported by Abacha. He helps install General Ibrahim Babangida and is promoted to major general.
  • June 12, 1993, Lagos, Nigeria. The long-promised democratic elections held. With preliminary results showing victory for wealthy businessman Moshood Abiola, Mr Babangida annuls the results to widespread outcry.
  • August 1993, Abuja, Nigeria. Abacha was appointed Minister of Defence after Babangida steps down and creates an interim government headed by civilian President, Ernest Shonekan.
  • 17 November 1993. Mr Shonekan resigns and transfers power to Abacha, in a move widely believed to be another coup. His regime is marred by human rights abuses and the crushing of dissenting voices.
  • 1994, Presumed election winner Moshood Abiola declares himself president and is imprisoned.
  • 1995, the Abacha regime comes under worldwide condemnation and Nigeria is suspended from The Commonwealth after the execution of the Ogoni Nine, environmentalists who were protesting against the activity of the government and oil giant Shell. Among them was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet and Nobel Prize nominee.
  • 1996, Mr Abacha is elected chairperson of The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional economic bloc.
  • February 1998, Mr Abacha deploys Nigerian forces to Sierra Leone in a bid to oust the military regime and restore the civilian government overthrown the year before.
  • June 8,1998, Abacha dies from a suspected heart attack and is buried the same day. Nigeria transits to democratic rule one year later (Credits_BBC).

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