Today, on November 17, 1993, late General Sani Abacha, edged out the Transitional Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan and announced himself the new Head of State.
He became the Head of State at a time Nigeria was in turmoil on account of the annulment of the 1993 presidential election said to have been won by late business mogul and politician, Chief MKO Abiola.
From pretending to be an agent of stabilization, General Abacha went on to become what many say is Nigeria’s most corrupt and feared dictator till date.
Under his administration, between 1993 and 1998, looting of state funds almost became an art.
There is no concise list of what has come to be termed the Abacha loot, as new discoveries are being made from time to time, even till now. It is, however, alleged that the late Head of State amassed wealth in the region of £9.1billion, 4.09 billion Swiss Francs, $200 million and 500 million German Marks.
Out of these alleged looted funds, the Nigerian government is said to have recovered between two and five billion US dollars and still looking to recover more.
General Abacha was, however, not alone in this rape of the Nigerian treasury, and his sons, friends and associates, including members of his administration were alleged to have been either accomplices or co-looters.
Aside, the bespectacled late soldier has also been celebrated as a terror and dictator. The period between November 17, 1993 and June, 1998 is one many Nigerians, especially pro-democracy activists, journalists and many others would not want to remember, not to think of reliving.
Soon after shooting himself to power, he promulgated a decree that placed him and all his actions above the scrutiny of the courts, effectively giving him full and unquestionable powers over the Nigerian state. Thereafter, he also enacted another decree that gave him and his government the right to detain anybody for up to three months without trial.
State sponsored terrorism, extrajudicial killings and official assassinations, as it came to light after his death, were the order of the day. One Sergeant Rogers was allegedly the junta’s chief marksman.
The list of those who were either killed or attacked included Mrs Kudirat Abiola, Alhaja Suliat Adedeji, Pa Alfred Rewane, Olorogun Ibru, Chief Abraham Adesanya and General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, amongst several others.
Under Abacha’s watch, quite a number of military officers were murdered on trumped-up charges of coup plotting with the likes of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Oladipo Diya, Col Fadile Bello lucky to come out alive of Abacha’s hell.
But for his sudden death in June 1998, General Sani Abacha would have stood for election and most likely won as the sole candidate of the five state-sponsored political parties of his time. The five parties already adopted him as their candidate!
The parties, famously called the five fingers of a leprous hand by late Chief Bola Ige, were obviously arm twisted to adopt Abacha using state instruments of coercion.
However, fate played a fast on him, as he died on June 8, 1998, in circumstances that have not been fully explained.
Decades after, massive corruption still rules Nigeria with President Buhari even admitting before the world that Nigerians were ‘fantastically corrupt,’ in apparent response to a rude remark by former British Prime Minister, David Cameron. There are also increasing fears that democratic structures under the present administration are being threatened with serious breaches on rule of law.
By Timothy Enietan-Matthews
RipplesNigeria ….without borders, without fears
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