Abacha, Sani


Abacha, Sani
▪ 1999

      Nigerian military leader (b. Sept. 20, 1943, Kano, Nigeria—d. June 8, 1998, Abuja, Nigeria), participated in the overthrow of three successive military governments before gaining control of the country himself in 1993. Having entered the army at age 18, Abacha was educated at military schools in Nigeria, England, and the United States and rose to brigadier by 1980. He participated in the ouster of Pres. Alhaji Shehu Shagari (December 1983) and was chosen to announce the new leadership of Mohammed Buhari, who named Abacha to the Supreme Military Council. In August 1985, however, Abacha helped to overthrow Buhari's government and install Ibrahim Babangida, who named Abacha army chief of staff (1985), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989), and minister of defense (1990). When Babangida annulled the 1993 general election—in which Moshood Abiola (Abiola, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale ) (q.v.) was the apparent winner—Abacha took advantage of public outrage to depose Babangida. In late 1993 Abacha declared himself president and promised restoration of democracy. His presidency, however, soon turned into a ruthless dictatorship. Under his rule Nigerians saw profits from the country's vast oil supply dwindle as their leader's own wealth grew. Abacha siphoned off as much as $4 billion, and those who spoke out against him were either executed or jailed. He eliminated all elected institutions and assemblies, fired a significant portion of the military, hired a personal security force of approximately 2,000 men, and took control of the press. Though he sent troops to restore democracy in Liberia and Sierra Leone, he was unwilling to support it at home. The elections he had promised for 1996 did not take place. One by one the parties contesting the elections scheduled for August 1998 declared Abacha their candidate for president. He died following an apparent heart attack.

▪ 1998

      Many found it downright curious how in 1997 Gen. Sani Abacha, who had ruthlessly seized power in Nigeria in a coup four years earlier, was sending troops to Sierra Leone in an effort to defend democracy there. Earlier he had assisted peacekeeping forces in Liberia, and it was thought that Abacha was also providing economic aid to support democracy in that country. At home, however, Abacha oversaw a dictatorial regime that suppressed political parties, gagged the press, violated human rights, and pushed the country in the direction of economic and ecological ruin.

      Abacha was born on Sept. 20, 1943, in Kano, the major city in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria. A career military man, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1963 after attending Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna and Mons Defence Officers' Cadet Training College in England. He rose through the ranks of the military and was serving as a brigadier when he assisted (1983) Ibrahim Babangida in overthrowing elected Pres. Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Two years later Babangida staged another military coup against Muhammadu Buhari and installed himself as leader of the nation. Abacha served as army chief of staff and later, in the post of defense minister, as second in command to Babangida. General elections were held in 1993 and were apparently won by the Social Democratic candidate, Moshood ("MKO") Abiola, a Yoruba businessman from the southwest, but the military government soon annulled the election results. Abacha managed to weather the political and civil upheaval that ensued, and in November 1993 he declared himself president.

      Though Abacha promised a return to civilian rule by 1995, he dismantled democratic institutions, banned political activity of any kind, and shut down several independent publications, stating in an address, "Any attempt to test our will will be decisively dealt with." In June 1994 Abiola tested that will by publicly declaring himself the rightful elected ruler of Nigeria. He was promptly jailed and charged with treason. Unfavourable attention came to Abacha again in November 1995 when writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and a number of other ecological activists from the oil-rich Ogoniland area in the southeast, were executed for treason. In March 1997 Wole Soyinka, self-exiled Nobel laureate and Nigeria's best-known writer, was also formally charged with treason.

      In October 1995 Abacha had again promised national elections, this time for 1998, and said that he would step down at that time. In early 1997, however, as new political parties were being formed under the government's careful scrutiny, Abacha even hinted that he might want to run for president himself.

ANTHONY L. GREEN

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▪ Nigerian military leader
born September 20, 1943, Kano, Nigeria
died June 8, 1998, Abuja

      Nigerian military leader, who served as head of state (1993–98).

      Abacha received his formal military training at Nigerian and British military training colleges. He rose through the ranks in the Nigerian military and by 1983 had achieved the rank of brigadier when he assisted Ibrahim Babangida (Babangida, Ibrahim) in overthrowing Shehu Shagari (Shagari, Shehu), who had been elected to his second presidential term in 1983. Muhammad Buhari (Buhari, Muhammad) became Nigeria's leader, but just two years later Babangida overthrew Buhari and installed himself as leader with Abacha second in command. Elections were held in 1993 and were won by Moshood Abiola, a candidate supposedly supported by Babangida, who, however, annulled the elections and set up a civilian interim government, which Abacha quickly overthrew.

      Although Abacha promised a return to democracy, his actions were anything but democratic. He banned political activity of any kind, fired a large portion of the military, controlled the press, and assembled a personal security force of some 3,000 men. While he supported the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its military arm, ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), in sending troops to restore democracy in Liberia and Sierra Leone, he brutally suppressed dissent at home. Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo (Obasanjo, Olusegun), a former military leader of Nigeria (1976–79), were jailed for treason. Wole Soyinka (Soyinka, Wole), Nigeria's Nobel laureate, was also charged with treason, although he had voluntarily left the country. Perhaps Abacha's most brutal act was the imprisonment, trial, and subsequent execution for treason of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists who were concerned with the environmental exploitation of their region by multinational petroleum companies.

      Abacha's sudden death in June 1998 moved along the process of returning the country to civilian rule. His military successor, Abdusalam Abubakar (Abubakar, Abdusalam), oversaw the return to an elected civilian government in 1999. After Abacha's death, it was rumoured that he and his family had enriched themselves by some $3 billion, most of it held in European banks. In 2002 a settlement, which returned most of the money to the government in exchange for dropping criminal prosecution, was reached between the Obasanjo government and the Abacha family.

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Universalium. 2010.

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