All you need to know about Nigeria’s Sani Abacha [Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler]

Nigerian President Sani Abacha arrives at the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone for a ceremony marking the return of Sierra Leone's ousted President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah Tuesday March 10, 1998. A Nigerian-led peacekeeping force drove Sierra Leone's military junta from the country allowing Kabbah to return after ten months in exile. Abacha, widely criticized for alleged human-rights abuses at home, has been welcomed as a hero in Sierra Leone. (AP Photo/James Fasuekoi)
What if I tell you that General SANINEGERIA MOHAMMED ABACHA, Nigeria’s seventh military head of state and the most popular Kanuri person in the world was regarded as the most patient man on earth? My Mum, the Ogidi Abiyamo herself never forgets her airport encounter with him, she was thoroughly stupefied at his height. It was fifteen years ago. A man of diminutive stature (5ft, 6inches). A man of fire, iron and steel, the General lorded absolute power and unbridled authority over 120 million souls.

Life History Biography Family Photos Pictures Image Children Wealth SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler 5

A man of diminutive stature (5ft, 6inches). A man of fire, iron and steel, the General lorded absolute power and unbridled authority over 120 million souls.

Nigerian President Sani Abacha arrives at the airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone for a ceremony marking the return of Sierra Leone's ousted President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah Tuesday March 10, 1998. A Nigerian-led peacekeeping force drove Sierra Leone's military junta from the country allowing Kabbah to return after ten months in exile.  Abacha, widely criticized for alleged human-rights abuses at home, has been welcomed as a hero in Sierra Leone. (AP Photo/James Fasuekoi)

Not even Generals dare cross his path. Those who did, knelt and wept before him while he offered them tissue paper to wipe their salty tears. Not even a plea from the Pope could melt his heart. Mandela begged him to no avail. No one messed with Abacha. He was gentle. Listening. Cunning. Daring. Attentive. Dangerous. Brave. Brutal. When an American ambassador was irritating the late maximum tyrant, he almost paid with his life. But who was SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s most enigmatic ruler, and the first head of state to die in office without violence (a man of many firsts as you will soon see)? Why and how he almost blew General Diya out of existence? Why his last son was shot in 2011? His links with America’s most secretive Christian group, Boko Haram and Imam Abubakar Shekau, its leader and Nigeria’s most wanted man? And many more…

SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler

Known to many as an incorrigible kleptomaniac who will stop at nothing to succeed himself in power, Abiyamo invites you on a spellbinding journey into the rise, rise and fall of the dictator and lawn tennis lover whom IBB called the Khalifa. When IBB was leaving the ‘throne’, he retired all the service chiefs with the exception of this man: Sani Abacha. Adjust your chair, stretch your legs and let’s learn more about the gripping story of a soldier of audacious strategies who proudly bore his Kanuri tribal marks beneath the darkest of goggles.



Unlike other leaders who had ‘humble’ backgrounds, Abacha was not born into squalid poverty. As a matter of fact, his was a prosperous family with his father owning a successful trucking business in Kano State, while two of his brothers also later had their own businesses. The family which migrated to Kano in search of greener pastures, also had a bakery they named ‘Canteen Abacha’.


– A Kanuri man (Abacha is NOT Hausa or Fulani, that is quite important as some people tend to lump the entire north together as ‘Hausa-Fulani’ bloc, Hausa is not Fulani and vice versa), he was born in Borno State on a Monday, the 20th September, 1943, grew up in Kano and blended so well that he lies in the soil of the ancient city after he gave up the ghost on another Monday half a century later.


His father was positioning him to take over the family’s bread baking business and he ensured he got a good education so as to stem the tide of illiteracy in the family although young Sani would be notorious for his truancy rather than astronomical academic wizardry. At about the same time, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was promoting a ‘northernization’ campaign which saw the influx of many eager and enthusiastic lads into the military and other institutions. One of them was a Kanuri boy. Sani.

SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler


-City Senior Primary School, Kano.

-Kano Provincial Secondary School (finished in 1957). 

-Government College, Kano (1957-1962), now called Rumfa College. 

-Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC) (now called the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA), Zaria, Kaduna State (1962-1963) Alongside Major General Rabiu Aliyu (an army engineer who refused to accept any political appointment throughout his career and Lt. General Oladipo Diya, Abacha was of the pioneer set of the NDA).   

-Mons Defence Officers Cadet Training College, Aldershot, England.

-General Sani Abacha also had further training:

-School of Infantry, Warminster, UK (1966, 1971)

-Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State (1976)

-National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos (1981)

-Senior International Defence Management Course (SIDMC), US Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Monterey, California (1982). IBB also attended NPS and finished in 1980. NPS is a fully accredited research university operated by the United States Navy. In a thesis written by Daniel A. Castro in the same institution in 2007, he accused the US of backing Abacha in a clandestine manner. He wrote: 

In addition to Al Qaeda, the U.S. also has to contend with the endemic hatred for U.S. foreign policy around the world. U.S.-backed repressive rulers such as the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, Suharto in Indonesia, and General Sani Abacha in Nigeria, while discreetly making deals with their American patrons and often enriching themselves from oil revenues, have proven their piety to the masses by encouraging the state-controlled press to demonize America. 

Abacha's signature.

While in the Nigerian Army, Abacha held the following posts:

-Commander, 2nd Division Training Depot

-Commander, Support Wing

-Chief Instructor, Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji (1971-1975)

-Commander, 2 Infantry Brigade, 1975-1978

-Commander, 9 Mechanized Division, 1981-1983

Life History Biography Family Photos Pictures Image Children Wealth SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler 4

-General Officer Commanding (GOC), 2 Mechanized Division, 1984

Abacha as a major-general.

-Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Nigerian Army, August 1985 – April 1990

Lieutenant General Sanni Abacha as the Chief of Army Staff, circa 1987.

-Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, December, 29, 1989 – September 2, 1990

-Chief of Defence, September 3, 1990 – November 1992

-Secretary of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff, 1992 – November 16, 1993

General Ibrahim Babangida, AVM Ibrahim Alfa and Sani Abacha at an event. Image credits: Amanda Kirby Okoli.

While a student his academic exploits become murky as some reports indicate that the former Nigerian ruler did not graduate from high school before proceeding to NMTC. The intellectual height and the depth of Abacha’s sagacity is a subject of intense debate with colleagues like General Olusegun Obasanjo dismissing him a dull personality, an ‘expendable brute not expected to rise beyond the rank of a warrant officer.’ Some even cited his not attending Sandhurst Royal Military Academy as evidence of an intrinsic lack of intelligence. But Abacha had a way of stupefying his opponents and those who underestimated him. He eventually became the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most populous black nation. That doesn’t sound like what a stupid dimwit can achieve.



Sani Abacha receives MKO Abiola, Bola Tinubu and others at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in 1994.

-Once he took the reins of power on the 17th of November 1993, Abacha announced to the dazed nation that Shonekan had resigned and that he has graciously accepted his resignation and dutifully taken over so as to prevent the country from drifting further into collapse. He then let the whole nation realize he was in for serious business and his choice of words meant Nigerians were in big yawa, and not before long, the yawa kukuma gas. He had no illusions to being popular and was out to please no one. He made it abundantly clear that if you step on a scorpion’s tail, you will limp home.

-Abacha overthrew the fidihe (interim) government of Chief Ernest Shonekan in a palace coup that was received with mixed feelings. A section of the populace feared the dangerous trend of a new coup and this included the 67 federal senators who wrote a letter to Nigerians urging them not to accept another dictatorial regime. Some others, wanted to give General Sani the benefit of the doubt, hoping that he would just stabilize the political condition and hand over to MKO. Even Abiola himself believed this and was deceived by Abacha’s promise to just set up a ‘provisional’ ruling council and that he would not stay long in office. #Daaah! #Yinmu! MKO was too trusting and he was eventually stabbed in the back.

In a book written by Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Abiola knew of and approved Abacha’s overthrow of Shonekan from the very beginning. Bashorun underestimated the man from Borno who would later pull the rug from under his feet and remove the wool from his eyes. Abiola ‘thinks that Abacha will not last up till a year and that his end will be ignonimous.’ But it was too late by the time MKO realized Abacha’s real game of power. Damn too late! Abiola thought there was an agreement but man proposes and God is the best Disposer of affairs.
Abiola made another disastrous move: members of his party, the SDP tocked’s Abacha’s first cabinet: Ebenezer Babatope (Osun), Lateef Jakande (Lagos), Abubakar Rimi, Jerry Gana, Iyorchia Ayu, Solomon Lar (Plateau), Silas Daniyan (Kogi), Mrs. Bola Osomo (Ondo), Tunji Adebayo (Kwara) and others. That step nailed Abiola’s political coffin.
-Abacha then proceeded to assume the title of the Nigerian Head of State, renamed IBB’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and formed the 27-member Provisional Ruling Council (PRC, the word ‘provisional’ was used to give an illusion of him staying temporarily in power but his actions would hint at a more sinister agenda). He immediately annulled the 1989 Constitution, which was supposed to be activated with the elected President. He thundered that there were no ‘sacred cows’ in his government and had no sleepless nights jailing a former head of state and his deputy.

-He even did what was long considered unthinkable: he dethroned the 18thSultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, Nigeria’s most influential monarch and the Spiritual Head of her millions of Muslims. Abacha did not stop there, he declared Dasuki’s son who was away on a course in the United States a conspirator and had ‘wanted’ posters plastered all over the Sultan’s palace and in April 1996, had him exiled. According to the deposed Emir of Gwandu, Abacha had Dasuki deposed for so many reasons, some boiling down to personal ‘beefs’ and of course, money. Dasuki’s son, Sambo, ADC to former military president IBB, was appointed the National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan battling a festering insurgency that claimed over 13,000 lives.

-When he locked up Abiola, prominent people intervened, Nelson Mandela pleaded for MKO’s release and even demanded that if he was not going to release Bashorun, that he should at least do him the personal favour of putting him under protective custody in his Lagos residence. But for where? Alagidi ni Oga Soja. That was Abacha, he no send anybody and na omo ma woju uche, ko ran Baba nla any baga…lol! Mandela would later describe the junta as an ‘illegitimate, barbaric, arrogant dictatorship.’

-He set up the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) as the highest decision-making body, of which he was the Chairman. Then there was the Federal Executive Council (FEC) which functioned as the executive cabinet body. But it was quite clear power was concentrated in his hands. We will talk about his style of rule and leadership in a short while. Other members of the PRC included the Minister of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Service Chiefs of the Nigerian Armed Forces, top military officers, national security advisers and other ministers.





Abacha got married to Maryam Jidah in 1965 and they raised ten children together (seven sons and three girls). One thing with the Abacha family, like it or not, is that all of his children are very cute and good-looking. You can’t take away the cuteness.

Abacha introduces his family to Pope John Paul. Kneeling to greet the Pontiff is Zainab while Abdullahi and Mustapha look on.


Maryam Abacha as Maryam Jiddah.

Life History Biography Family Photos Pictures Image Children Wealth SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler 7

Young couple.

Maryam Abacha and her father.

ABACHA'S MOTHER-IN-LAW: This is Maryam Abacha's mother.


Maryam Abacha as a young lady.

Maryam Abacha as the First Lady of Nigeria (1994 - 1998).

Back in the days with his wife.

As head of state with his first lady.

His children are as follows:

Ibrahim Abacha

According to Binta Yar’adua, Shehu Yar’adua’s wife in an interview with Tell published in July 2000, there were some issues regarding Ibrahim ‘Gaji’ Abacha’s paternity. She said: 

He is Shehu Usman, Sarkin Musa from Funtua district in Katsina. And he happens to be my father. He was the district head of Funtua , and one time, a cabinet minister in Sardauna’s government. He happened to marry Maryam. He was a minister. I think in the middle of 1965. And Shehu’s father (Yar’adua) had nothing to do with my father’s marriage to Maryam.” 

When TELL pressed her further about the speculated issue of paternity, she replied: 

I wouldn’t know. I don’t know. He could be my father’s son. He could be Abacha’s son. I don’t know…I wouldn’t say it’s forceful marriage because it didn’t look like it was a forceful marriage….maybe about two years. One and a half or two years Ibrahim Abacha was born in our house. (TELL, July 3, 2000, p 14-17).

To put this issue in proper perspective, it is good to understand that Abacha jailed Shehu Yar’adua who eventually died in Abakaliki Prisons.

Life History Biography Family Photos Pictures Image Children Wealth SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler

Maryam Abacha as a young lady.


On the 18th of January, 1996, a presidential jet, a BAe-125, ferrying the son of the late maximum ruler, Ibrahim Abacha crashed at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, just minutes before landing. He perished alongside Julie, his girlfriend, Aliko Dangote’s younger brother (Bello Dangote) and other friends which included Julie Osolukoya, Onieba Dan Princewill, Audu Baba, Abubakar Abdullahi and Lema Ibrahim. 14 people died in that crash. They were coming from Lagos. Although some fingers were pointed at the late Head of State, the United Front for the Liberation of Nigeria (UFLN, formed in 1996 and classified as a terrorist group, now believed to be inactive) claimed responsibility for blowing up the aircraft.

TELL  also published a damning article on 15th February, 1999 that the plane crash that killed Ibrahim was based upon Abacha’s orders, and that in itself is a very controversial claim. That aside, Ibrahim has been described as a most humble and kind personality. Upon his tragic death, Maryam Abacha was shattered and had to leave for Saudi Arabia where she stayed temporarily, prayed, meditated and sought for consolation in her faith and God. The Ibrahim Sani Abacha Vocational Centre in Maiduguri, Borno State was named after him.


The best known of the Abacha sons, Mohammed was incarcerated alongside al-Mustapha after his father’s death by the Obasanjo presidency but his mother was said to have consulted with powerful traditional rulers in the north to prevail upon Obasanjo. He was later released and denied having any deal to return any money to the Federal Government. He made attempts in 2011 to be the Governor of Kano State under the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) but lost. Reports indicated he may run again in 2015 but pulled out at the last minute. He is married with five kids to two ladies: Fatima and Samira. At a ceremony in Bayelsa State to honour his late father, he was given a new Ijaw name: Izonebidou-owei. His father had created Bayelsa State in 1996.

Lawal Wada Nas and Mohammed Abacha.

  1. SADIQ: Nicknamed Damu Sarkin Hakuri, he is described as nice, calm and patient.
  2. MAHMUD: He is Abacha’s 4th son.

Mahmud with his wife, Hamama.

Hamama, Mahmud Abacha's wife.

5- ABBA:A fan of Keri Hilson , he attended Command Day Secondary School, Ibadan, Oyo State where he finished in 1987.


Zainab Abacha with her baby.

Mohammed’s younger sister and a carbon-copy of their mother, Hajiya Zainab Lado was married in 1999 to her father’s minister of power and steel, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu. The wedding, a classic talk-of-the-town, was attended by the glitterati and high-class clique of Nigeria, but the union ended in a divorce. The marriage produced a child. Zainab turned not a few heads during her father’s reign when she had her own office designated as the Office of the Daughter of the Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Not too long ago, she had her second marriage, with Senator Yakubu Lado.

  1. GUMSU (FATIMA GUMSU aka G_sparking): Of all of Abacha’s children, Gumsu is the most sociable and visible. Quite jovial and funny, she responds with maturity to people on Facebook and Twitter who pour vituperations upon her family. She tweeted once: The buttocks are like a married couple though there is constant friction between them; they will still love and live together. 

Gumsu back in the days.

Gumsu as a child.


Gumsu is happily married with kids to Mohamadou Bayero Fadil, one of the richest and most powerful men in Cameroon where he may emerge as the President in future. If that happens, Gumsu will become the first Nigerian woman to become the First Lady of another nation.

Dele Momodu with Zainab, Rakiya and Gumsu.

  1. RAKIYA: She is popularly referred to as Mami. She got married in Kano in August 2009.

The Abacha girls: Rakiya, Zainab and Gumsu.

Rakiya and her husband.

9 – ABDULLAHI ‘MOGLEE’: In September 2012, he was splashed on the pages of Nigerian newspapers when one of the suspects, a telephone operator in their house, arrested for stealing her mother’s jewelry stated Abdullahi gave him the gold to sell and use the money to get him cocaine in Sabon Gari quarters.

Abdullahi Abacha as a kid.

Abdullahi today.


Abdullahi (in red cap) with friends and relatives as a kid.

He also accused Abdullahi of almost killing him when he refused an earlier directive. However, Abdullahi has emphatically denied having anything to do with the robbery incident and unknown to many, he was even in Abuja at the time but believed that the suspect named him believing that it would be easier to make Abdullahi an easy target. He studied History at the University of Maiduguri, Borno State and happens to be an easy-going young man now studying for his advanced degrees in South Africa.

  1. AL MUSTAPHA ABACHA:Nicknamed Musty, he was born while his father was still the head of state, Al Mustapha is the last child of the Abachas. He was named after Abacha’s late elder brother, Mustapha Abacha. On 7th December 2011, the 17-year-old Al-Mustapha was shot by armed robbers while at the home of his sister, Zainab, in Kano State. He was shot by one of the robbers who saw him making a call for help on his mobile phone and left for dead. He survived the ordeal.

At a family ceremony of the Abachas.


Below are videos of General Sani Abacha:

General Sani Abacha at a meeting of West African Heads of State

General Sani Abacha Giving Salutes & Inspecting A Parade

Kudirat Abiola Watching General Sani Abacha on TV 2

Kudirat Abiola Watching General Sani Abacha on TV


The face of terror. Abacha terrified millions of his country people.

-Some Nigerians claim that Abacha was a Chadian, some even say Niger (Naiwu Osahon states that Vatsa told him Abacha was from a neighboring republic shortly before he was killed). Well, this rumour about the Borno general seems to be based on the fact that many members of his Kanuri ethnic group are also found in Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic (former President Mamadou Tandja is Kanuri while the current one, Mahamadou Issoufou is Hausa).

Abacha with some leaders from northern Nigeria.


However, about 80% of all Kanuris are found in Nigeria, Bornu State to be precise. Other prominent Kanuris in Nigeria include Sir Shettima Kashim Ibrahim, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff (former Bornu State Governor), Shettima Ali Monguno, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe (former minister under Abacha, MKO Abiola’s running mate (he actually defeated MKO at the first round of nomination at the SDP Jos Convention in 1993 but later agreed to support MKO) and Secretary to the Federal Government before he was fired). He loves referring to himself as King I Be and is known for his incredible thirst for power.

Abdulsalami Abubakar, Abacha and Al-Mustapha.

It is also quite interesting to know that the most wanted man in Nigeria and leader of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, Imam Abubakar Shekau is Kanuri, who also speaks Hausa and Arabic but no English, according to reports by the BBC. He was born in Shekau village in Yobe State, where al-Mustapha also comes from. Boko Haram’s hottest spots are the two states with the most significant Kanuri population: Yobe and Borno. The founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf who was killed extrajudicially was a Kanuri from Borno State. The two senators also named in connection with the sect, Senator Ahmed Khalifa Zanna (now late) and Senator Ali Ndume are also Kanuris. While this is not to malign the Kanuri ethnic group, this aspect of the saga is not too apparent. When Mohammed Abacha berated the Federal Government for insecurity in the land stating that his father would have suppressed Boko Haram, his words made perfect sense. When the spokesperson for Boko Haram, Abu Qaqa (also known as Abu Dardaa, Mohammed Shuaibu and Abu Tiamiyu) was arrested, he stated:

What was bad about those handpicked for the suicide mission was that all of them were non-Kanuri. They were always Chadians, Nigeriens, Camerounians, Hausa, Fulani and others. No Kanuri. That was why some of us had divided opinion on it.”

Abacha during pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

– Also, Habib Bama (Shuabu Bama, Habib Mamman), an ex-soldier and Boko Haram member declared wanted by the Federal Government is also a Kanuri from Bama, Borno State. He was accused of being the mastermind behind the 2011 Nigeria Police Force Headquarters bomb attack, the United Nations building bomb blast and the Christmas Day bombing of the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State in which over 40 people died. In June 2012, Bama was reported to have died in his cell in Damaturu, Yobe State from gunshot injuries. He was captured in an ambush by the Joint Task Force and then whisked off to a military facility for interrogation. He didn’t survive it.

Abacha and MKO Abiola at an event in Lagos in 1986.

– Whatever is said about the late Abacha, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever about his incredible guts and the stupefying level of bravery and courage he possessed . What he lacked in height, the General had abundantly in sheer fearlessness. On many occasions, the General stared at Death right into his eyeballs. He fought in the Nigerian Civil War and in 1978, Abacha, then was the commander of the Nigerian troops in Chad during the border skirmishes.

Life History Biography Family Photos Pictures Image Children Wealth SANI ABACHA, Nigeria’s Most Enigmatic Ruler 3

When IBB was almost killed in a coup attempt, it was General Sani who launched a daring counterattack against the coup plotters and almost singlehandedly saved IBB’s life. It was in April 1990, when middle-ranking officers led by Major Gideon Ngwozor Okar made attempts to topple IBB, and what ensued was a very bloody encounter. The gunbattle in Lagos was so heavy that Lt. Col UK Bello, IBB’s ADC was killed. Rebellious soldiers and loyal troops battled for the soul of the nation’s capital, then Lagos, but a brave Abacha saved the day, and IBB’s life. With the rattle of heavy gunfire and exploding mortar shells all over the State House and the military headquarters, he also organized a safe passage for the Minna general and his traumatized family while the ordeal lasted. He saw to their welfare and dutifully briefed his C-in-C from time to time as to the situation of things. Babangida would later state to reporters:

“The unfortunate situation in Lagos this morning has been brought under control.”

Generals Babangida and Abacha holding hands.

In Ibadan, thousands of students trooped out in support of the coup plotters. Eleven hours after the heavy gunfight, Abacha, then a Lieutenant General and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced to the nation that the attempt has been quashed. Once again, Abacha proved himself to be a soldier of ruthless bravery and legendary courage. That singular act cemented the relationship of the two buddies and IBB would later promote him to a full general, a rank meant for the Head of State alone, for the first time in the nation’s history, there will be two full generals at the very helm of affairs. IBB would later refer to Abacha as the Khalifa, an Arabic word meaning ‘Successor’ or can be loosely translated to mean ‘King-In-Waiting’. Give it to him, Abacha was a man.


Here is an overview of Abacha’s rise through the ranks in the Nigerian Army:

Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant: 1963 -Lieutenant: 1966 -Captain: 1967 -Platoon and Battalion Commander, Training Department, Commander, 2nd Infantry Division, Major: 1969 -Lieutenant Colonel: 1972 -Commanding Officer, 2nd Infantry Brigade, Colonel: 1975 -Brigadier: 1980

Chief of Army Staff: 1985

-Member, Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC): 1985


1987 -Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: 1989

-Minister of Defence: 1990 -Secretary of Defence: 26th August, 1993

-Head of State & Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces: 17th November 1993.

There was virtually no coup in Nigeria that Abacha did not have an input or involvement. He took active part in the bloody but successful countercoup (Operation Aure) of July 1966 organized by northern military officers and was also believed to be one of the participants the January 1966 coups with him taking part in either the Lagos or Abeokuta phases of the saga although the extent of his role is not too lucid. When Shagari with the skyscraper cap was shoved aside, Abacha was one of the masterminds. By the time Buhari was also ‘axed’ and ‘exed’, Abacha was one of the planners. He operated silently, stealthily and steadily until 1993, when he took over the reins of power himself in a dramatic and action-packed palace coup.

On the 17th of November, 1993, at around, three generals: Abacha, Oladipo Donaldson Diya and Aliyu Gusau stormed the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Nigeria’s most fortified complex. They were followed by army trucks full of heavily-armed soldiers. The soldiers were under the control of Brigadier Bashir Magashi of the Brigade of Guards and Colonel Lawan Gwadabe of the National Guard.

The three ‘guys’ then calmed but smartly strolled into the fortress with the swagger of an Alexander the Great and settled down for a ‘private meeting’ with Chief Ernest Shonekan who  agreed to vacate the position since it was very clear he was in no position to command any troops. Here was his own chief of defence staff telling him to surrender and a court just declared the interim government illegal.

Shonekan bowed to their pressure and they treated him like a gentleman: he was allowed to give a farewell speech. After that, he was on the next flight to Lagos. Shonekan’s reign remains the shortest in Nigerian history: 84 days.

He even did what was long considered unthinkable: he dethroned the 18th Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, Nigeria’s most influential monarch and the Spiritual Head of her millions of Muslims. Abacha did not stop there, he declared Dasuki’s son, Sambo (later appointed National Security Adviser by Goodluck Jonathan), who was away on a course in the United States a conspirator and had ‘wanted’ posters plastered all over the Sultan’s palace and in April 1996, had him exiled. According to the deposed Emir of Gwandu, Abacha had Dasuki deposed for so many reasons, some boiling down to personal issues and of course, money.

Upon getting to power, Abacha dismantled all existing democratic institutions, from the Constitution to the National Assembly. He went ahead to replace the state governors with military administrators and placed a ban on all political activity. Then he embarked on an unprecedented wave of clamping down on the opposition and advocates of democracy. Some of his opponents and critics of his regime just woke up one day and discovered that the four walls of their cosy bedrooms had magically transformed into that of a jail.

His aides too towed his path with the Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie releasing a statement: “Any person, whether a politician or a retired military officer or a pro-democracy crusader who thinks he is in a position to install another government is advised in his own interest to tread with caution as security agencies are prepared to act decisively on such matters.” The irony of life, Abacha was a dictator but spared nothing to ensure that democratic regimes in Sierra Leone and Liberia (he saw to the Abuja Peace Accord of 1995, to which Charles Taylor was a signatory) had a strong foothold.

Under Abacha, the refineries were working to a degree but towards the end of his regime, the refineries collapsed and Nigeria had to import refined petroleum, and the external debt stood at a headache-inducing $30 billion and foreign reserves were about a third of that. Abacha’s government was realizing an average of $10 billion per annum from oil revenues.Even though Abacha was shunned by many world leaders in a bid to isolate him like Robert Mugabe, Abacha found a way to make bold statements on the international arena, even while he was holed up in his Aso Rock.

In 1994 and 1995, Abacha was battling a toxic combination of political unrest and a plethora of economic crises. It was so serious Abacha could not attend the ECOWAS summits and other crucial events in the subregion. But by 1996, things fared better and he was made the Chairman of ECOWAS. For many analysts, that was just one of his moves aimed at his grand ambition of becoming a civilian president come August 1998 But he never saw July.



It is quite interesting to know that despite the fact that he wielded incredibly vast powers, Abacha operated a complicated style of leadership, and he gave a free hand to all those working under him. He allowed them to carry out their duties without interfering (he was a master at delegating duties), disagree with one another and even debate during meetings (at a time, the Finance Minister, Anthony Ani and the Petroleum Resources counterpart, Dan Etete (who also argued and tussled with Buba Marwa, Lagos State Military Administrator) would blast themselves and argue in the cabinet meeting but Abacha let it all slide, or let me say he obviously enjoyed all the drama and all three served him till the very end).

Abacha himself very rarely spoke during the meetings, and when he did, it was almost in whispers, and aides said you had to strain your ears to pick his words. He was also described as a very attentive listener who enjoyed listening to others rant. Atimes, he dozed off during cabinet meetings or as his best friend Lt. General Jeremiah Timbut Useni put it: he seemed to sleep off during meetings but he was not asleep, he was listening. 

With one of his best friends, Jeremiah Timbut Useni.

It was said:

Abacha spoke softly, almost inaudibly, like in a whisper and you have to strain your ears to hear him. Perhaps this was a strategy, the strategy of a consummate wielder of power to get his listeners to truly listen…Some who know Abacha think he is a shy man but that may not be the reason for his near-whisper level of discussion. They think he is not a man of emotion, that he never really raises his voice even when he is angry but that he lets actions, not thunderous words, speak for him. Which is why some who don’t know him well, but who have listened to him talk softly are surprised by his tough guy actions. (Newswatch, 24th November 1997, page 10-11). 

Like other maximum rulers, Abacha was extra cautious and did not joke about his personal security. Most of the time, he was holed up in his fortress, the Aso Rock Presidential Villa and rarely travelled out of the country. He was comfortable in his cocoon and left General Diya, also a trained lawyer and an eloquent Odogbolu man, to do much of the travelling, holding press conferences and other functions. He was protected by three rings of impressive security made up of officials and operatives trained to take bullets for him, and trust me, they were fiercely loyal to the Head of State.

These were the Strike Force (SF), Brigade of Guards (BGs) and the Military Police. Around the nation’s leader, these three concentric rings of brute force shielded him from the prying eyes of 120 million Nigerians. -The Strike Force, derisively referred to as ‘Abacha’s assassination squad’ had its members trained in North Korea where Lt. General Jeremiah Timbut Useni visited them, Israel (teams of Israeli forces were in the country to train members of the squad, and between June 1993 and June 1996, there were fourteen major bombings in various parts of the country, with the Southwest of the Yorubas bearing the heaviest hit) and Libya, it was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Ibrahim Yakassai, a medical doctor (would later fall out of favour with Al Mustapha in 1997), and Ibrahim Umar (former deputy commander of the sophisticated who would later accuse Al Mustapha of orchestrating his exit and implicating him in the 1997 coup plot) while the Brigade of Guards and the Strike Force were both referred to as Al Mustapha’s army (Yakassai took orders from Al-Mustapha even though he was his inferior in the army).

-To be in Abacha’s good books, the Minister for Works and Housing, Major General Abdulkarim Adisa spoilt the Strike Force silly with gifts and was supergenerous with funding the unit. Although these were the three main visible rings of security, it has been estimated that the force marshalled for Abacha’s personal security alone was up to 3,000 men. The soft-spoken Al Mustapha, now with a death penalty hanging upon him (he was later freed in 2013), eventually became the most dreaded man in the regime with generals melting at the mention of his name and accused of being the brain behind the orgy of killings and bomb explosions around the terrified nation. The graphic details of the torture, incarceration and harassment that many Nigerians faced in the hands of Abacha’s men are better left unveiled.

According to Lt. General Oladipo Diya, the former Chief of General Staff (CGS) and de facto Vice President, ‘the fear of Al Mustapha is the beginning of wisdom.’ For those who were perceived or confirmed to be the General’s foes, they were silenced by the lethal weapons of an assassin. During this time, Kudirat Abiola (4th June 1996), Pa Alfred Rewane (October 6, 1995), Alhaja Suliat Adedeji (14th November, 1996) and Toyin Onagoruwa were all murdered in cold blood. Alhaja Adedeji was a well-known Ibadan political activist and businesswoman. Although, her death is often linked to Abacha’s forces, the whole scenario becomes quite confusing when one realizes that she was actually on good terms with Abacha, and had collected a sum of N50 million to organize a rally in support of the dictator. She was even one of those who established the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) which encouraged Abacha to become a civilian president. (If you are wondering how the two met and how he cultivated his relationship with Adedibu also, remember that Abacha was the GOC in Ibadan.)

YEAA: Youths Earnestly Ask For Abacha was one of the many groups urging Abacha to hang on to power. Daniel Kanu was the brain behind YEAA.

There was also the unresolved daylight murder of an 80-year-old grandmother, prominent Abeokuta businesswoman, the third Iyalode of Egbaland and Nigeria’s first female industrialist, Chief (Mrs). Bisoye Esther Tejuoso OON (nee Karunwi) on the 29th September, 1996.

Many others like Gani Fawehinmi and Beko Ransome-Kuti were flung into gulags while others like Professor Wole Soyinka negotiated with their legs and escaped via the famed NADECO route.

Gani Fawehinmi in front of the prison in Bauchi where General Sani Abacha caged him.

Major Hamza al-Mustapha was the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Abacha. Al-Mustapha took his work very seriously, and his zealousness was quite visible. At a point, he even hired a marabout (spiritualist) who instructed Abacha to remove Ismaila Gwarzo as the National Security Adviser. Abacha never read any publications, forget the newspapers and magazines, he primarily relied on the information given to him by his security officers, Al-Mustapha and Gwarzo in particular. Al Mustapha is also a Kanuri man hailing from the Nguru District of Yobe State.

Al Mustapha, was so incredibly powerful that according to General Diya, he single-handedly reversed the decision of the Provisional Ruling Council to release MKO Abiola not once or twice but FOUR times. He was so powerful that not even state military governors (MILADs) messed with him. He decided who would see the C-in-C and even scheduled when the C-in-C is to venture out of the Presidential Villa. Abacha and others also respected him as it was believed that he was gifted with certain spiritual powers to the extent that the General himself consulted him for spiritual matters, turning Abacha into a recluse holed up in the Villa, cutting him off from the rest of the world, creating a new world for the late dictator.

Although he rarely appeared in public, his image was everywhere and you always knew who was El Jefe (The Boss). There were also countless plainclothed security operatives working assiduously to fish out dissenters and enemies of the Khalifa.  -The Recce (reconnaissance) units of the Nigerian Army proved to be very crucial to the success of the many coups in the past. Thus, when Abacha came to power, he ensured that there was the restructuring of the armoured units so as to decrease the risk of coup plotting that came with the Recce Units. As a result, the Recce Units 241, 242, 243 and 245 were relocated to relatively unknown locations like Nguru, Badagry, Monguno and Ikom. Cameroon and Chad might also have been factors behind Abacha’s decision to relocate these units.

MKO Abiola, General Sani Abacha, Sir Michael Otedola and Major-General Abdulkareem Adisa.

Abacha tolerated no opposition and brooked no dissent in any form. As for the Yorubas who formed a massive bloc of opposition against him, he dealt with them decisively, at the same time making their son, General Oladipo Donaldson Diya, his Chief of General Staff and de facto Vice President. Diya would later be roped in a coup attempt and escaped death by whiffs of the white patch of his hair. MKO Abiola was flung into jail and did not make it out alive. When Obasanjo was becoming too loud and irritating, he simply locked up the former military head of state.

Abacha welcoming MKO Abiola to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in 1994.


Formed by 49 Nigerians, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) proved to be the greatest thorn in Abacha’s smooth skin. Members and allies of NADECO included Pa Abraham Adesanya (who was almost assassinated), Anthony Enahoro (the man who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence was charged for treason and detained for 121 days by Abacha and later forced into exile), Bola Ige, Olabiyi Durojaiye (former Senator and lawyer, jailed for 18 months), Senator Cornelius Adebayo, Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (went on exile but heavily funded NADECO’s activities), Michael Adekunle Ajasin (dared Abacha to the very last), Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (in 1994, gunmen tried to kill him in his car while there were attempts to set his house on fire while his family was asleep, he denounced the attempts as ‘state-sponsored terrorism’ ), Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, John Odigie Oyegun (later emerged as the chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC), Segun Osoba, Chief Bisi Akande, Ayo Adebanjo, Olu Falae, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue (Ohanaeze Ndigbo President)Christian Onoh, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Dr. Frederick Fasheun, Chief Great Ogboru, Professor Ade Segun Banjo, Lady Kofoworola Akerele-Bucknor, Chief Ralph Obiora, Chief Lai Balogun, Ayo Opadokun, Professor Ben Nwabueze and Arthur Nwankwo. They got support from nations as Norway, USA, United Kingdom, Canada, Uganda and Burkina Faso.

Professor Olusegun Banjo amassed weapons to overthrow Abacha.

Other vocal opponents of the Abacha regime included Shehu Sani (now a senator representing Kaduna State), Christine Anyanwu (then a journalist, later a Senator representing Imo State ), late Chime Ubani (rights activist), Kunle Ajibade and Ben Charles Obi (journalists), Adewale Adeoye (also a journalist and now Senior Special Assistant to Ekiti State Governor on Public Affairs). Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth was also in the opposing camp. He had a proposal for Abacha on how MKO would become President but he rejected it.

– He also dealt with other organized opposition groups: the National Union of the Nigerian Students (NUNS) was proscribed and the Academic Staff Union of Universities was severely restricted with many professors losing their jobs (some fled overseas). The Nigerian Bar Association was also proscribed. Strikes broke out and there was general unrest in Africa’s greatest hope.

Even though it was said that Abacha manufactured coup plots against himself to cage some individuals, it is not out of imagination for some to rebel against his authority and orchestrate his toppling. As expected, there were some people who felt that Abacha was too dangerous for them to  watch him rule the nation with absolute power. They needed to clip his wings, and attempts were (reportedly) made. But trust Abacha, himself a master strategist and a dyed-in-the-wool coup plotter, he nipped all the attempts (and assumed attempts) in the bud with a degree of mercilessness. One of the said plans of the coup plotters involved storming the Aso Rock Presidential with troops loyal to and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Happy Kefas Bulus with other principal actors being Colonel RSB Bello-Fadile and Colonel Lawan Gwadabe.


-On the 14th of July1995, an announcement was made as to their conviction. The trio would face the death penalty. But that was not all . General Olusegun Obasanjo, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’adua (both arrested in March 1995), Christine Anyanwu, Ben Charles Obi, Shehu Sani (Vice Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy) were given long jail terms.

-Others that included Major Akinloye Akinyemi, Colonel Emmanuel Ndubueze, Lieutenant Colonel I. Shuaibu, Alhaji Sanusi Mato (said to be an in-law of Gwadabe), Julius Badejo (State Security Service Officer) and Quinnet Ajogo (a girlfriend of Gwadabe). As for Bayo Onanuga, Chief A.M. Adisa Akinloye, Chief (Mrs.) Titilayo Ajanaku and about six others, they were released without charges. It was a dark time upon the nation. Amnesty International launched salvos of appeals to Generals Abacha and Diya, Alhaji Aminu Saleh (then the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of Nigeria, he was later fired by Abacha in October 1995 for exercising powers beyond his office, and was replaced by Gidado Idris, the former Director-General (DG) of the Finance Ministry) and Chief Tom Ikimi (Foreign Affairs Minister). -A total of 40 defendants convicted were tried secretly by the Special Military Tribunal Three more people were sentenced in absentia.

Abacha's foreign minister, Tom Ikimi arrived the Lungi International Airport in Sierra Leone. In the background is a jet of the Nigerian Presidential Fleet.

-Owing to the fact that the Tribunal did not disclose the exact details of the rulings (but was later learnt that Bulus was convicted on two accounts of conspiracy to commit treason and concealment and was sentenced to death by firing squad on both accounts), number of those reportedly sentenced to death ranged from 12-15 (with that of Gwadabe, Bello-Fadile and Bulus as sure banker). Some of the others like Generals Obasanjo and Yar’adua, Anyanwu and Obi were dashed life imprisonment or 25 years in prison. Sani got seven years after he was convicted of ‘managing an unlawful society’. Sani refused to disclose the other leaders of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) in exchange for his freedom. Fadile reportedly made numerous contacts and met with Yar’adua and later Gwadabe and Obasanjo to get his support.

Professor Wole Soyinka also formed the National Liberation Council of Nigeria (NALICON) in opposition to Abacha. Those who contributed to this goal included the late activist, Beko Kuti, Chief Harry Akande, Prince Dipo Eludoyin, Ambassador Antonio Oladehinde Fernandez, Major Cletus Obahor and Ilemakin, Wole Soyinka’s son.  At a point, he accused Maryam’s wife of her complicity with her husband’s crimes. He blasted: ‘She knew her husband could not earn up to half a million naira in a year yet she was acquiring properties worth millions.’ For daring to launch scathing verbal assaults against the Commander-in-Chief, the late Gani would become a regular face in squalid prisons and a special guest in terrible jails.

Kenule KEN Saro-Wiwa. Poet, writer, environmentalist and activist, it was the execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight others (called the Ogoni Nine) that cemented and sealed Abacha’s place in the minds of millions of Nigerians as a most ruthless leader. He was arrested in connection with the killing of four pro-government Ogoni chiefs. He alongside others were arraigned for murder. Abacha was said to have stated who any man who killed another citizen was not fit to live.

And to worsen matters, Abacha chose a most inauspious time to hang the Ogoni Nine. On the eve of the 14th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1995 in New Zealand, Ken Saro-Wiwa and others were sent to the Great Beyond. In a fit of fury, the Commonwealth suspended Nigeria for over three years but like President GEJ, Abacha did not give a damning damn!

The UN, US and Canada issued high-sounding condemnation, with the American government placing travel restrictions on senior members of the junta and President Clinton ordered US weapon sales to Nigeria halted, US Britain, France, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa and Germany all recalled their ambassadors, and the Time magazine branded Abacha ‘Thug of the Year’. Even Zimbabwe and South Africa condemned the brutality of Saro-Wiwa’s execution. Nigeria effectively became a pariah nation. Mandela, Bill Clinton and John Major, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom were some of the world leaders who pleaded with Abacha to spare the lives of the nine Ogoni men .


Nigeria won gold at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA during Abacha's regime.

Restoring President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone back to power. He had said he would send the entire Nigerian Army to Sierra Leone if that was what would bring peace.

Under Abacha, serious efforts were made to decrease the amount of the raw materials that were being imported into the country by increasing domestic production. The government, represented by the Minister of Industries encouraged the manufacturers and industrialists to make use of raw materials sourced locally. In order to ensure that this goal was achieved, a Talc Processing Company in Niger State was commissioned in1995, (a result of public-private joint venture; between the Raw Materials Research Development Council of Nigeria and business executives).

Abacha with Saldu Gidado Idris.

The plant was supposed to take care of all the talc needs of the industrial plants in Nigeria and put an end to the revenue spent on the importation of 3,000 metric tonnes of talc every year. Abacha made the exports of Nigerian goods and commodities a priority throughout his time in power. In trying to achieve this, there was the Iwopin Pulp and Paper Project, commissioned in Ogun State by his Defence Chief, Major-General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Plans were in place to construct more Export Processing Zones (EPZ) while concerted efforts were made to complete the Calabar EPZ.

-Abacha established the Ministry of Solid Minerals Resources which was mandated to explore and market Nigeria’s vast natural minerals. He would later reactivate the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill but till date, that complex is one huge stinking cesspit of corruption. His government also did some dredging of the River Niger and established the Aluminum Smelting Company.

-Construction of the Federal House of Representatives Complex in Abuja and introduced the National Constitutional Conference.

He was regarded as a devout Muslim and he is shown here with a prayer bead.

-At a time in 1996, in order to address skyrocketing prices of food, Abacha ordered the massive importation of rice, and Dangote flooded the entire market with so much rice that the price crashed.

-Abacha also established the Federal Character Commission (FCC) which sees to it that the allocations of appointments are fairly distributed all over the country. The FCC also was to address the imbalance and lopsided appointments in the civil service and parastatals.

-Abacha also established the National Reconciliation Committee to quell disputes via diplomatic resolutions. He also saw to the establishment of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, and it must be noted that his junta made funds available for the National Programme on Immunization (NPI).

-Abacha also saw to the construction of an international natural gas pipeline network between Nigeria, Togo and Ghana. This ensured that Nigerian gas products could be sold to these nations. Work on the pipeline network started in September 1995.

-On the 2nd of April, 1996, Abacha commissioned the Nigeria Police Academy, Kano with the hope that the institution will be affiliated to a degree-awarding university. He also saw to the establishment of the National War College and embarked on renovation of barracks.

-In order to address the problem arising from foreign exchange, he introduced the Autonomous Foreign Exchange Market (AFEM) policy while also keeping the Official Exchange Rate which was N22.05 to $1 in 1993 but jumped to N85 in 1998. Professor Sam Aluko and Chief Ani were the brains behind Abachanomics (Abacha’s economic policies)Abacha did not collect a penny of foreign loans, and that’s quite impressive. In January 1994, he dumped IBB’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and embarked on his own populist economic policies. He also established the Economic Intelligence Commission (EIC).

-The Chairman of ECOWAS from 27th July 1996 until he died, he gave a solid backing to regional plans and fully supported innovations like the ECOWAS Traveller’s Cheque. The cheques were released in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 West African Unit of Account (WAUA) and were to serve as legal tender in the sub region. They had indigenous designs such as the ECOWAS logo and the flags of the Member Nations. The WAUA was convertible to any of the currencies in the ECOWAS subregion.

Abacha saw to the creation of six new states: Ebonyi, Bayelsa, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Gombe and Ekiti, and a total of 182 new Local Government Areas (LGAs). He was also the one who introduced the concept of the six geopolitical zones we have today and the rotational framework on October 1, 1995 when he announced a transition to civilian rule in three years. The new package also provided for a President, Prime Minister, Vice President and a Deputy Prime Minister.

-Ostensibly responding to increasing calls for democratic changes, he had the ambitious plan of succeeding himself in power, forming five political parties (Democratic Party of Nigeria, DPN, United Nigerian Congress Party, UNCP, Congress for National Consensus, CNC, Grassroots Democratic Movement, GDM and the National Center Party of Nigeria, NCPN with opposition parties carefully excluded) after setting up the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON), which Bola Ige referred to as the ”five fingers of a leprous hand.’

Even before Abacha declared his intention to run for the Presidency (death never gave him the opportunity), all the five political parties adopted him as their flag bearer and presidential aspirant on the 20th of April, 1998. with Abacha positioned as a sole candidate, most retraced their steps and only Tunji Braithwaite and Alhaji MD Yusufu, a former police chief, were bold enough to also declare their interest in running for the Nigerian presidency. The five parties were shunned by most Nigerians and the participation rate was embarrassingly low, less than 5% in some places. He had planned a handover date of October 1998 and even had a draft constitution kept in secret but later revealed by Abdulsalami.

-Alongside the redesigning and completion of Abuja Phase II, Abacha saw to the construction of Gwarimpa Housing Estate, Abuja, the largest of its type in Africa and also established the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) and there was reasonable trickle-down effect of the benefits of the removal of fuel subsidy in addition to stabilizing fuel pump prices at about N25 per liter. Overall, he was also able to reduce Nigeria’s external debt profile. Foreign reserves stood at about $10 billion but fell rapidly months after his death to $4billion during the Abdulsalami regime. PTF proceeds went to the building of schools, barracks, roads and bridges across the nation and also funded the Drug Revolving Scheme and the construction of the International Trade Fair Complex in Kaduna.There was also the establishment of Nigeria’s first natural gas superficiality, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) which commercialized Nigeria’s vast natural gas reserves and reduced flaring. In addition to this, there was the exploration of crude oil in other places like Gombe, Borno and Bauchi states.

-Abacha also embarked upon the rehabilitation and modernization of the railway system. Abacha also launched the Federal Urban Mass Assisted Bus Service all over the country at subsidized rates.

BOMB EXPLOSIONS: During Abacha’s era, a series of explosions were also recorded. In January 1996, a small bomb went off inside the public toilet on the ground floor of the Durbar Hotel, Kaduna. A man was killed in the blast and he was with a copy of Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died, which he just purchased from the hotel’s bookshop. The police said the bomb went off as the man was trying to assemble it even though many thought he was just an innocent victim. The dead man, according to the police, was Bagauda Kaltho, a journalist with TheNEWS magazine. As the man’s face was already blown off, it created some degree of doubt as to the identity of the man. Kaltho’s family insisted the government was still detaining their child but this was strongly denied.

-Later on, there was another explosion at the car park of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. By the time the smoke disappeared, the Chief Security Officer of the airport, Dr. Sola Omatshola was dead. The police, under Biu, accused him of being a NADECO member. Someone had called Omatshola on the phone, he went out of his office, entered his car and the bomb exploded. Former Police Commissioner for Lagos State under Abacha, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav narrated: There was a time when I was Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, there was this bomb blast that killed Dr. Omatsola, the Security Officer of the Murtala Mohammed Airport. My command was directly involved in the investigation. So from what happened during the investigation, I knew that the security units of this country were the ones throwing the explosives. They will throw the bomb and go and tell lies to Abacha that it was NADECO.

“In the case of Omatsola, for instance, my command was directly involved in the investigations. The evidence we had was that somebody telephoned Dr. Omatsola, he went out of his office and entered his car and the bomb went off and killed him. So I minuted the file that they should go to NITEL, because there was no GSM then. I asked them to go to NITEL and find out who telephoned him, from what number and from where. We were working on this when they took the file away from us and handed it over to a unit they called anti-terrorist squad (headed by Biu).


It is widely believed that General Abacha is one of the most corrupt leaders not only in Nigeria but in the history of mankind and the first allegations against him had to do with skimming from Army contracts in the 1980s when he became GOC, and continued over time. The amount he was alleged to have stolen is on such a massive scale that no definitive figure has been given yet. Today you hear $1 billion has been recovered, and tomorrow the Swiss government is talking about one tranche of 700 million pounds sterling.

An old portrait of Abacha.

But according to many sources, Abacha spirited an estimated $3-$5 billion from the Nigerian treasury shooting him into the same league as Muhammad Suharto of Indonesia, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. Interestingly, there are those who vehemently deny that Abacha was corrupt, and these include his widow, Maryam, who stated that he was just saving the money for Nigeria in overseas accounts and during the 10th year remembrance prayers for the soul of Abacha, former military heads of state, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari wanted Nigerians to believe that Abacha was closer to sainthood than cardinals of the Catholic Church. But that is an extremely difficult thing to do, to convince the world that Abacha never took a dime will be much more difficult than advanced nuclear physics.


-Just days before General Abdusalami left power, one of the last things that he did was to issue the Forfeiture of Assets, Etc (certain Persons) Decree No. 53 of 26 May, 1999 which provided legal backing for the illegally acquired cash, properties and other cash seized from the Abacha family. The same General Abdusalami Alhaji Abubakar on the 23rd of July 1998 set up the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) whose sole purpose was to probe corrupt deals in the Abacha government (although he was also part and parcel of the cabal). The report of the SIP was damning and by the time it released its preliminary report in November 1998, the whole nation was shocked at the ‘systematic pillage of the Central Bank of Nigeria.’

It submitted that the usual mode of operation was for Abacha to direct his National Security Adviser, Ismaila Gwarzo to present phony requests for security operations or equipment, of which the power of authorization was with him. Then the CBN would be ordered to remit the millions or billions to Gwarzo either in cash or travellers cheques which were then taken to the dictator for further laundering abroad by his sons, Mohammed and Abba and his younger brother, Abdulkadir. Other associates fingered in the money laundering include Abubakar Bagudu and the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, Alhaji Arisekola Alao, whose son was recently embroiled in the fuel subsidy corruption saga.

-However, it must be stated that the investigations done by the SIP also accused Abacha of collecting up to $50,000 before approving any contract, and the evidence of corruption unearthed were linked to financial transactions in offshore banks, and not in Nigeria. On the 18th of September 2000 under the Obasanjo presidency, the Attorney-General of the Federation slammed a 115-count charge suit against receiving stolen property against Mohammed Abacha and Abubakar Bagudu.

In 2009, Abacha, alongside Olusegun Obasanjo and Abdulsalami Abubakar were named as beneficiaries of bribes running into millions of dollars handed out by Halliburton in exchange for contracts to build Nigeria’s liquefied natural gas plant, with Abacha alone pocketing $40 million (former US Vice President and Halliburton chief Dick Cheney was also mentioned). Whatever the case, the fact is that Nigeria has not been blessed with blessed leaders, and that we are where are today is a reflection of their ‘leadership’.

sani abacha corruption chart


The steps that eventually led to Abacha’s death might never be fully and truly unravelled. In the absence of a lucid account of his sudden passing, there are various narrations, but with common denominations. Said to suffer from liver cirrhosis, Abacha succumbed to a heart attack on the 8th of July, 1998 and died in circumstances that were clearly controversial with different kinds of tales being spunned and vehement denials released.

Several people are not supposed to take viagra (sildenafil citrate) which has been mentioned in Abacha’s sudden death, especially those with kidney failure, recent stroke or hepatic (liver) disease as it was reported Abacha did. It is not supposed to be taken more than once a day between 30 mins and four hours before the show begins. What show? Ask Google. LOL!

Abacha was said to have gone into convulsions while in the midst of two (some say six) imported Indian (others say Egyptian) prostitutes (some reports indicate they were actually trained undercover agents) flown in from Dubai, United Arab Emirates in one of the Nigerian presidential jets, the identity of whom has never been established giving credence to news of a well-orchestrated murder (but remember that Viagra itself is capable of triggering a heart attack, so the whole scenario is muddled up). Abacha is believed to have given up the ghost by 6.15 am, not long after he retired to bed at 4.30 am.

One of the ladies came rushing out of the bedroom screaming. Several people including his widow, Maryam,”believes that her husband was killed by his best friends”. Considering the circumstances, that is not impossible. Some, like the late Senator Uba Ahmed, Abacha’s former minister believed that his Viagra was spiked with poison.

The corpse of Abacha being carried.

The Newswatch and DailyMailUK reported the maximum ruler died after a heart attack induced by an overdose of Viagra (sildenafil citrate) before an orgy. Viagra has actually killed over 5,600 men since it was launched in 1998, the same year General Abacha died. Viagra, is a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction and pulmonary arterial hypertension but it has numerous adverse effects, such as stroke, sudden hearing loss, severe drop in blood pressure (hypotension), ventricular arrhythmias and heart attacks (myocardial infarction).

Some, like the late Senator Uba Ahmed, Abacha’s former minister believed that his Viagra was spiked with poison. Maryam Abacha was said to have grabbed Useni after Abacha’s death accusing him of being complicit. She reportedly ordered the Police IG, Ibrahim Coomassie to effect his arrest, forgetting that whatever authority she had had died with the late Commander-in-Chief, her dear husband. Abacha was just 54.

-Another report stated there were four ladies: two Nigerians and two Indians, all presumably prostitutes. According to Kehinde Olaosebikan, the Vanguard journalist who was the first to break the news of Abacha’s death, the two Indian girls were from Mumbai and were detained and not released until August 6, when a government investigation showed that ‘General Abacha did not die of poison.’ The names of the Indian girls, aged 17 and 19 could not be ascertained and they were released to the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Satinder Uppal. When Indian Express called Mr. Uppal, he flatly denied: `I have no information, no knowledge about the incident. I don’t know about any girls, I don’t even know if they were Indian.”

Vanguard asserted that the girls were flown in on the 4th of June without proper travel documents and were received at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, and from there to a five-star luxury hotel and kept in the Presidential Suite. Thereafter, they were taken to the Head of State’s Guest House, where the two Nigerian women were already waiting. The thing here is that the exact circumstances surrounding his death have never been investigated. So many unresolved murders and deaths in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

-Upon Abacha’s sudden and surprising death, countless Nigerians took to the streets and danced like they had just won the World Cup. The irony of the matter was that outside the country, the loss of General Abacha was considered a huge tragedy. African leaders flew to Nigeria to condole with the Nigerian government, citing Abacha’s efforts, especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Some of the first African leaders to visit the country to commiserate included: President Idris Deby Itno of Chad, President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, President Ibrahim Bar? Ma?nassara of Niger Republic and President Ange-Felix Patasse of the Central African Republic. The outpouring of grief by other African leaders was very noticeable, and more leaders were to pay condolence visits. Shortly after his passing, not less than seven African heads of state were in Abuja to express their grief. Many of them described him in glowing terms, he was described as a man who gave ‘his body and soul to his country’ and he was even regarded as ‘Africa’s most illustrious son‘.

-As at the time of his demise, Abacha’s death was the last thing people expected. The Sunday night before, Abacha was very healthy on the TV, the press had no news of his impending death and on the 8th of June when he died, activities were already lined up for him. He was supposed to open the Plenary Session in Abuja of a conference on the National Information Trust, organized by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and he was supposed to grace the OAU Summit later in the day at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. But man proposes….

Here is a dramatic narration by veteran journalist Orji Ogbonnaya Orji on what happened at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa the day Abacha died. Orji worked as a journalist at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa for Radio Nigeria and later wrote an enchanting book on his experience, Inside Aso Rock. The author served as Radio Nigeria State House correspondent in Aso Rock from 1993-2000. During that period, five different Heads of State presided over Nigeria – three military, and two civilian. He accompanied the leaders to all major events within and outside Nigeria, and this book is his diary on people and events during that period. Excerpts:

It was indeed a big tragedy for the members of former first family as they packed their belongings to join the convoy which took the corpse of the once powerful General home. I wept when I saw Madam, Mrs. Abacha being helped into the waiting car. She stared at Aso Rock in tears, a most difficult and tragic way to say good-bye. Tears rolled freely from all gathered as Madam was driven out of the Villa with her husband’s corpse in front of her in a moving ambulance. The ambulance is normally one of the last vehicles in the usually long Presidential convoy. But on June 8, 1998, the ambulance was in the front with General Abacha’s corpse. All other vehicles lined behind in a day-light reversal of history. The ambulance drove through the IBB bye-pass connecting the airport link road as the entourage made its way to Nnamdi Azikiwe airport. I was surprised that there was instant jubilation by passersby. Taxi drivers lined up at major junctions shouting shame! shame!! as the convoy drove past. Men and women ran after the convoy in utter disbelief of the turn of events.

Some other people formed queues in groups with green leaves in their hands singing solidarity songs in a loud tone that suggested liberation from bondage. It was a day in which my biro refused to write and the lines in my jotter went blank. The journalist in me was overtaken by emotions as most of us in the convoy found it difficult to speak to one another. We simply lacked the words or the topic for discussion as our minds went blank and our brains went asleep. On our arrival at the airport, the body of General Abacha, which was still wrapped in white cloth was carried into the hold of the presidential aircraft, zero-zero one.

There was no particular arrangement on who should be in the aircraft, except that members of the first family and some PRC members were given priority. I however noticed that most PRC members at the airport were not even keen in accompanying the corpse of the late General to Kano. While the aircraft was being positioned, Madam and her children waited at the Presidential Lounge with a cluster of relatives and very few associates. The usual crowd around the first family had begun to disappear. That day, it was as though the Abacha family was for the first time in many years on a lonely journey to an unknown destination, even though the aircraft was heading for Kano. It was incredible to imagine the Abachas without General Sani Abacha. As the saying goes, “when the big tree falls, all the birds will fly away”.

The aircraft ready, Madam and her children left the lounge with the heavy burden of making their last flight on the presidential jet, with the corpse of the former Head of State on board. Mrs. Abacha climbed into the aircraft in tears with measured steps. Her children joined too, then some few friends and relations. Inside, the plane was taken over by grief, tears and open weeping.

We had already boarded the aircraft and almost getting set to take-off when General Abubakar curiously asked, “where is the corpse?” He was told that it was kept in the hold. “No, no, no, bring it inside!” the General commanded. And it was brought in and kept few seats away from where I sat. As the journey progressed, whenever there was turbulence, the body would shake, exposing the legs, which were partially covered. I sat in that aircraft speechless. My reflections were on life, death, power, influence and the vanity of human desires.

Our flight to Kano was barely thirty minutes, but I felt it was more than two hours. The usual conversation and jokes in zero-zero one was overtaken by subdued silence, grief, pain and weeping. Everybody on board was on his own. I could imagine how other people’s mind worked at that sober period. But mine went into a comprehensive review of the Abacha era beginning from the night of November 16, 1993 when the General took over. Within my reflections, my mind was everywhere, the good, the bad, the very bad and the ugly.

My mood was interrupted by a sudden announcement from the cockpit that we were few minutes away from Aminu Kano International Airport. The situation on our arrival at Aminu Kano International Airport was rather chaotic. There was no precise arrangement to receive the corpse on arrival. Apparently, our arrival caught Kano and the people unaware. Apart from the first family, and few officials, everybody was expected to sort out his/her own transport arrangement out of the airport. Eventually I had to arrange for an airport taxi to convey me and two others to the private residence of the late Head of State.

Unfortunately, there were few taxis at the airport. While this arrangement was on, the main convoy had left with the corpse. We therefore quickly hired a taxi at a high fare dictated by the driver, who was very rude and uncooperative. We were shocked that the driver showed little or no sympathy, but was rather quick to explain that he never benefited anything from the Abacha regime. In his view, his condition had even worsened. We discontinued the discussion as it was becoming volatile. The Abacha family house on Gidado street, GRA, Kano is a modest twin duplex located in a rather small compound. By the time we arrived there, the place was already besieged by a large number of sympathizers struggling to gain entry.

As there was no time to start identifying who was who, we were all being pushed by the security officials who had a very hectic time trying to contain the rapidly surging crowd. In the midst of the pushing. and kicking, I suddenly realised that the person who was being pushed against me was the highly respected Governor of Lagos State, Col. Buba Marwa. It therefore became clear to me that at that moment, everybody was regarded as equal, courtesy of the security at the gate. I was then encouraged to continue pushing, until I finally managed to squeeze myself inside the compound. Inside the compound, I observed scanty presence of newsmen, because security was deadly. I also discovered that the grave was still being prepared, an indication that no proper arrangement was made. Earlier, the body of General Abacha was taken to Kano Central Mosque for prayers.

From the Central Mosque, the body was laid on the floor of his private mosque just by the gate with two soldiers standing on guard. I peeped several times to assure myself that it was actually the former powerful Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces that was on the bare floor. One was expecting a more dignified presidential burial, with due respect to the modest way the Muslims conduct their burials. Even at a point, a soldier asked, “Why is there no burial party here?” I immediately wanted to know what burial party was all about. I was told that it was the usual twenty-one gun salute line-up of soldiers will give to a fallen officer as his last military respect. But before any of such arrangement could be made, the body of General Abacha had been lowered into the grave. There was certainly no fanfare in the burial, it was simple and brisk.

In simple comparison, I had accompanied General Abacha himself to the burial of a top military officer and member of the Provisional Ruling Councils who had died sometime ago and was buried in Minna during his regime. I observed that all the procedures at that burial in all consideration was better managed, more respectful and dignified than that of the former Head of State, their difference in rank and position notwithstanding. There were quite a number of very important personalities who witnessed the burial. But I particularly took notice of former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida and his wife Mariam, who were seen talking with Mrs. Abacha, probably trying to console her. There were also some Emirs and other top Northern leaders who were able to make the trip at such short notice.

At about 9.48 p.m. when Abacha’s grave was being covered with sand, a powerful businessman from one of the South Eastern States who was very prominent in Abacha’s campaign for self succession arrived and broke down weeping and wailing openly. Some faithful Muslims who dominated the burial reacted negatively to such an un-lslamic approach to the dead. They threatened to whisk the man out of the premises if he failed to comport himself. The businessman was among those who threatened to proceed on exile or commit suicide if General Abacha failed to become President.

As the burial ended at about 10.05p.m., we hurriedly left for Abuja. I expected that there could probably be some other ceremonies. But I was wrong as we left barely twenty minutes after the body had been interred. We arrived Abuja a few minutes to twelve midnight and drove straight to Aso Council Chambers in the Villa for the swearing-in of General Abdulsalami Abubakar as the new Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces.


A lot has happened after Abacha’s unexpected demise. From endless probes to court cases with the Federal Government, Nigerian people have been treated to a lot of drama. While General Abdusalami had his own probe of Abacha’s government (of which he was also part of), Olusegun Obasanjo came with the Human Rights Violations Investigation Committee (HRVIC) better known as the Oputa Panel. Out of a total of 10,000 petitions submitted to the Oputa Panel, a staggering 80% were connected to the Abacha junta. Well, under the Yar’adua Presidency things calmed down a bit and under Goodluck Jonathan, the heat on the Abacha family is not the same as it was under OBJ, except for an occasional shout that some of Abacha’s ‘trillions’ have been discovered.

Quite a number of places and structures have been named after Abacha within and outside Nigeria:

-Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano: A multipurpose 25,000-seater stadium which also serves as the base for Kano Pillars FC. It served as the venue of several international competitions including the 2000 African Cup of Nations and the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2009.

-Sani Abacha Barracks, Abuja: Named after him. In December 2010, an explosion ripped through the Mammy Market inside the barracks killing people who gathered there to celebrate the New Year. Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin blamed ‘devilish people’ for the attack. Formerly called Mogadishu Cantonment, Sani Abacha Barracks has been renamed and is now Mogadishu Barracks.

-Sani Abacha Way, Old Kiyawa Road, Dutse, Jigawa State.

-Sani Abacha Way, Gusau, Zamfara State. -Sani Abacha Expressway, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State

-Sani Abacha Youth Center, Kano State.

-Sani Abacha Way, Abuja, Federal Capital Territory (for lovers of Yahuza Suya Spot…lol!).

-Sani Abacha Way (formerly Kano Road), Kano State, Nigeria.

-Sani Abacha Road (formerly Lagos Road).

-Sani Abacha Junction, Robinson Street, Enugu State.

-Sani Abacha Way, GRA (Government Residential Area) Phase 3, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

-Sani Abacha Way, Sokoto State.

-General Sani Abatcha Specialist Hospital, Damaturu, Yobe State, shown below:


Sani Abacha Roundabout, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State.

-Sani Abacha Mosque, Maiduguri, Borno State.

Sani Abacha Mosque, Maiduguri, Borno State.

-In Freetown, Sierra Leone, there is the Sani Abacha Street also named after him. This road lies between Wilberforce Street and Fourah Bay Road. Sani Abacha Street is one of the most densely-populated areas of Freetown, and is a major business area. There, Abacha is a folk hero, and held in much reverence as people do in Kano where sugarcane sellers plaster their wheelbarrows with Abacha stickers. In Kano, you can still see the maishayis (tea sellers) talking about Abacha in the most glowing terms. Surely, he is very well-loved in Kano, even in death.

Sani Abacha Street in Freetown, Sierra Leone as at May 2007.

Today, Abacha is gone, the fiery general of Nigeria’s armed forces is no more, he lies powerless in an enclosed marble tomb in Kano. There are those who will remember him and burst into tears. Tears for a man who lifted them from nothing to great achievements, or tears for a being who made them pass through the most unspeakable horrors of life. But whatever the case, the enigmatic Kanuri general was a typical human being, full of the good, bad and ugly. The name Abacha means different things to different people and the same will be of us when we are gone. Think of when you will also become history for that is the certain final bus stop of all humans.

The resting place of General Sani Abacha, Nigeria's most enigmatic ruler.


Source: Naija Archives


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