8 June 2016
Eighteen years ago on June 8, 1998, I was probably, huddled up with some other kids at nursery or fighting over biscuits or maybe turned over for my nappies to be changed.
Same as all other millennials who were oblivious of the significance of this day in the history of Nigeria, I heard the streets swarmed with celebrants, which is ironic; why would people rejoice over the death of another human being? a ruler for that matter?
In my curiosity, being one of those who didn’t witness the rule of Army General Sani Abacha, I asked those who witnessed the rule why Nigerians, as good as they are, celebrated the death of their ruler.
The answers I got were quite interesting. The first one goes thus: “He was a maximum ruler who was only set to seize the people’s freedom of speech and movement. He manipulated all cravings of Nigerians to end military rule and usher in democracy by defiantly forming five political parties which simultaneously endorsed him as their sole presidential candidate.”
Another answer I got said: “He was an authoritarian and autocratic ruler who was no respecter of human rights. He was also responsible for the death of Ken Saro Wiwa , Kudirat Abiola and many others.”
On the day many Nigerians celebrated another human’s death with no second thoughts; Nigeria’s military ruler, General Sani Abacha had died of heart attack.
If anyone is to go down memory lane and profile Nigeria’s “most notorious icons”, the late Gen. Abacha would probably come top or very close.
Gen. Abacha was born in 1943 in Kano, north-west Nigeria, to a merchant family of Kanuri descent. He went to school at Kano Provincial Secondary School from 1957 to 1962.
Like so many of his contemporaries and ambitious peers, he joined the army and passed out of the Nigerian Military Training Centre in Kaduna in 1963. He later proceeded to the Mons Officers Cadet School, a British military training institution in Aldershot and was commissioned in 1963.
Within one year in 1966, he was promoted to the position of a Lieutenant and Captain. In two years he became a Major. He marked time for seven years as a Colonel before he was promoted a Brigadier in 1980.
In 1990, Abacha became the first Nigerian soldier to attain the rank of a full General without skipping a single rank.
Abacha had just turned 40 when he was promoted General. Too junior to have seen much command service in the Biafran War (1967-70), he improved his military qualifications by attending the School of Infantry at Warminster in 1971, the Nigerian Staff College at Jaji in 1976, and in 1981 the prestigious Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) at Kuru, near Jos. Finally, he attended the U.S. Senior International Defense Course at Monterey, California.
Abacha’s military career was distinguished by a string of successful coups. He was by some records the most successful coup plotter in the history of Nigeria’s military.
Abacha, then a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion in Kaduna, took part in the July 1966 Nigerian counter-coup from the conceptual stage. He was speculated to have been a participant in the Lagos or Abeokuta phases of the coup the previous January as well.
He was also a prominent figure in the 1983 Nigerian coup d’état, which brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power in 1983, and the August 1985 coup which removed Buhari from power.
When General Ibrahim Babangida was named President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1985, Abacha was named Chief of Army Staff. He was appointed Minister of Defence in 1990.
Although his achievements in the military was quite impressive, he was notorious for his participation in coups – as listed above, erratic seizure of power, several human rights abuses, corruption allegation bothering on looted funds that was agreed to be partly returned by his family in 2002.
On how Gen. Abacha died, the Cable.ng wrote: “His death is shrouded in mystery: the most popular version is that he died in the midst of Indian prostitutes flown in from Dubai but the official version is that he died of heart attack. A more likely story is that he was “eliminated” to end the political crisis in Nigeria.”