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Abacha, Sani

Sani Abacha

1943-1998

Military ruler

Even by the standards of an era during which military coups and dictatorships were the norm in many post-independence African countries, the rule of Nigeria's General Sani Abacha is considered to have been particularly brutal. Responsible for the imprisonment and executions of scores of perceived political opponents, Abacha also was believed to have amassed a fortune from his personal dealings in Nigeria's oil reserves and to have embezzled several billion dollars from the central bank of his own administration, which he placed in accounts overseas. After Abacha's death in 1998, the missing money became the subject of an international lawsuit involving the government of Switzerland—where the bulk of the money was discovered—and Abacha's surviving family members. Further scandal erupted when Abacha's widow's name became associated with a now-infamous Nigerian e-mail scam; while Maryam Abacha was not believed to be directly responsible for the "spam scam," the family's notoriety only increased because of it.

Found Success in Military

Abacha was born on September 20, 1943, in Kano, Kano State, Nigeria. From 1957 to 1962 he was a student, first in the City Senior Primary School of Kano and then in the Provincial Secondary School (later renamed Government College). During the years immediately following its independence, from 1960 to 1966, Nigeria was governed by a civilian regime, the First Republic. In these years Abacha trained for the military and received his first appointment in the Nigerian Army. He attended the Nigerian Military Training College in the northern city of Kaduna from 1962 to 1963 and received his appointment as second lieutenant in 1963. Following was a series of promotions within the Nigerian military.

When the nominally democratic First Republic fell to a military coup in 1966, Abacha received his first significant promotion, from second lieutenant to lieutenant. The military hoped to stem the tide of strikes, work-to-rule actions (a bargaining tactic whereby employees continue to perform the duties of their jobs but refuse to perform any extra duties), demonstrations, and riots by workers and peasants that had erupted across the country in protest against the civilian regime, which had unleashed an unchecked police force against Nigerian citizens and had failed to maintain public services. Meanwhile, individual politicians displayed their enormous wealth arrogantly in the face of abject poverty, massive illiteracy, unemployment, and hunger. The military proved unable, however, to impose order on the nation.

During colonial times Nigeria had been divided into three regions, roughly corresponding to the areas of its largest ethnic groups, specifically the predominantly Muslim Hausa and Fulani peoples of the North, the largely Christian Yoruba people of the West, and the largely Christian Igbo people of the East. In 1967 the East seceded and formed the Biafran Republic; the ensuing civil war, lasting until 1970, caused the deaths of approximately one million people, according to journalist Peter da Costa in Africa Report. At the beginning of that war in 1967, Abacha assumed the position of captain; over the next three years he rose in the Nigerian Army from platoon and battalion commander to commander of the training department, 2nd Infantry Division, and to major in 1969. In 1972, soon after the war ended and the boundaries of the nation were restored, Abacha gained the post of lieutenant-colonel. During the next few years, Abacha received subsequent promotions to colonel in 1975 and to brigadier in 1980.

Commensurate with his military positions, Abacha received further training and education in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the United Kingdom he studied at the MONS Defense Officers' Cadet Training College in Aldershot in 1963, and at the School of Infantry in Warminster in 1966 and 1971. In Nigeria he attended the Command and Staff College in Jaji in 1976, and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, Jos, in 1981. In 1982 Abacha studied at the Senior International Defense Course in Monterey, California.

Played Key Role in Military Coup

Abacha first entered the national spotlight at 7 a.m. on December 31, 1983, in a broadcast over Radio Nigeria announcing the overthrow of the civilian regime. Citing the "Text of Coup Broadcast to the Nation, 31 December 1983" in their book The Rise and Fall of Nigeria's Second Republic, 1979-84, historians Toyin Falola and Julius Ihonvbere quoted Abacha as having stated, "I am referring to the harsh intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged. We have become a debtor and beggar-nation." For these reasons, Abacha said, the armed forces "in discharge of [their] national role as the promoters and protectors of our national interest decided to effect a change in the leadership of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."

After announcing the first coup in what would become an eleven-year-long series of military rulers, Abacha participated centrally in succeeding coups and continued to move ever closer to holding ultimate power himself. With the first coup on December 31, 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari became head of state and Abacha became both a member of the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) and a general officer commanding of the Second Mechanised Division in Ibadan, Nigeria. Next, on August 27, 1985, Abacha appeared in camouflage on Nigerian television to announce another coup. Having been promoted to major-general before the coup, afterward he moved up to chief of army staff and became a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC). General Babangida took the absolute lead as Nigeria's first military president, promising an eventual return to civilian rule.

Throughout Babangida's subsequent eight-year rule, Abacha maintained his position through several high-level reorganizations and steadily gained power, concluding finally with the lead of the entire military upon Babangida's departure in August of 1993. Promoted to lieutenant-general in 1987, Abacha survived Babangida's cut in the AFRC from twenty-eight to nineteen members in 1989, and in the same year received another promotion to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When Major Gideon Orkar attempted a coup on April 22, 1990, Abacha defended Babangida and announced the crushing of the coup on Radio Nigeria. In September of 1990 Babangida shuffled Abacha out of the chief of army staff position and into the head of the ministry of defense.

At a Glance …

Born on September 20, 1943, in Kano, Kano State, Nigeria; died on June 8, 1998, in Abuja, Nigeria; married Maryam Jidah, 1965; children: six sons, three daughters. Religion: Muslim. Education: Provincial Secondary School (now Government College), Kano, Nigeria, 1957-62; Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna, 1962-63, 1964; MONS Defense Officers' Cadet Training College, Aldershot, United Kingdom, 1963; School of Infantry, Warminster, United Kingdom, 1966, 1971; Command and Staff College, Jaji, Nigeria, 1976; National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, Nigeria, 1981; Senior International Defense Course, Monterey, CA, United States, 1982.

Career: Nigerian Army, commissioned second 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, announced coup, December 31, 1983, appointed general officer commanding, 2nd Mechanized Division, 1984-85, major-general, 1984, announced coup, August 27, 1985; appointed army chief of staff and member, Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), 1985, lieutenant-general, 1987, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1989, ministry of defense, 1990, secretary of defense, August 26, 1993; seized head of state in coup, November 17, 1993, and ruled Nigeria, until 1998.

In 1993 Abacha survived even the exit of Babangida himself. When Babangida handed over the reins of government on August 26, 1993, to Ernest Shonekan, a civilian appointee, Abacha assumed the lead of the military as defense secretary. Babangida resigned amid a series of strikes and protests sparked by his annulment of the results of the presidential election held June 12, which most likely was won by businessman Moshood Abiola, according to the New York Times. Babangida reportedly voided the elections for fear that Abiola, a wealthy Yoruba-speaker from the Southwest who ran on the Social Democrat ticket, would upset the hold on power formerly wielded by military generals from the North. When he declared himself president anyway, Abiola was accused of treason and put in prison, where he died in 1998, one day after Abacha's death.

Deposed President and Seized Power

In an attempt to gain legitimacy for his term as president of the Interim National Government (ING), the civilian president Shonekan freed political prisoners, lifted press restrictions, and dismantled the oil bureaucracy, which had been accused of squandering the nation's substantial oil revenues. Shonekan, however, also imposed a fuel price increase of 600 percent at the urging of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to the New York Times. That increase precipitated a national general strike. Police fell into clashes with pro-democracy demonstrators across the Southwest while banks, major shops, and factories remained closed for one week. Finally, the Lagos High Court declared the ING an illegal government. In the midst of this civic unrest, on November 17, 1993, Abacha requested Shonekan's resignation and seized control of the state himself.

Abacha initially offered a few concessions to pro-democracy forces, Abiola supporters, and Yoruba contenders for power, but over the course of his first year in power those actions lost their substance. He also immediately dissolved all remnants of democratic structures inherited from Babangida's transition to democracy. Existing political parties, gatherings, the National Electoral Commission, and federal, state, and local governments were all banned and slated for replacement by military commanders. With no political parties allowed and no campaigning admitted, Abacha's calls for a constitutional conference met with abysmally low voter turnout and boycotts from every region except the North.

In Abacha's first year of governance, his attempts to chart a new economic course for Nigeria were unsuccessful. He had turned away from the economic suggestions offered by the IMF to Babangida and reimposed controls on the economy. Nigeria, however, lacked the infrastructure to achieve the exchange and interest rates Abacha mandated, and production costs skyrocketed. In addition, petroleum workers went on strike to protest Abiola's imprisonment and to press for higher wages, leaving the country's industrial outfits with no raw materials for production.

Violated Human Rights

Gradually succumbing to paranoia, Abacha rarely appeared in public, refused to grant interviews or allow the publication of any personal information about himself, and developed a habit of working only at night. According to Howard W. French—writing in the New York Times the day after Abacha's death—the leader regularly purged his staff and the military of perceived political opponents, frequently jailing and threatening to execute his trusted former advisers and, at his death, leaving the Nigerian military in a shambles of suspicion and demoralization. Abacha's persistent crackdowns on civil rights created an atmosphere of terror among the civilian population as well. Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian human rights advocate and winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for literature, was a vocal dissenter of Abacha's policies. Encouraging the international community to take action, he said in the New York Times: "It is a regime of infamy and it should be isolated…. This is going to be the worst and most brutal regime that Nigeria ever had. This regime is prepared to kill, torture, and make opponents disappear." A number of organizations pressed for democratic government, including the National Democratic Coalition (Nadeco), the Campaign for Democracy, and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

The leader of MOSOP, Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, was another highly visible opponent of the Abacha regime. In 1990 Saro-Wiwa launched a massive environmental campaign against the ecological degradation and loss of human life and livelihood in the Niger Delta widely perceived to be caused by international oil companies, most notably Shell and Chevron. Saro-Wiwa accused the Abacha government of instituting genocide against the Ogoni people by refusing to regulate the companies' activities—which included using private police forces to batter and even kill protesters—and profiting handsomely. As the protests in the region continued, the violence increased. Dozens of Ogoni protesters were injured, and Abacha's military government confiscated Saro-Wiwa's passport and arrested him on numerous occasions. According to the Web site Remember Saro-Wiwa, the international community was growing more and more alarmed by events in Nigeria; after a particularly violent clash between protesters and Shell Oil's security force, "Amnesty International … issued an ‘Urgent Action’ request, concerned about possible extra-judicial executions by the military against Ogoni protestors."

The request proved prophetic. After the mysterious deaths of four pro-government Ogoni leaders in the spring of 1993, Abacha sent troops into the region and had Saro-Wiwa and four others arrested for murder. Witnesses would later tell of mass rape and terrorism committed by Abacha's soldiers against the antigovern- ment Ogonis. Saro-Wiwa was kept in prison without counsel until 1995, when he and fourteen others were finally given a trial before a military tribunal. Despite international outcry pleading for clemency—even representatives of Shell Oil had written to Abacha asking for leniency—Saro-Wiwa and eight of his codefendants were executed. In response, Western governments instituted sanctions including the suspension of Nigeria's membership in the Commonwealth of Britain, a halt of U.S. military sales to Nigeria by President Bill Clinton, and the recall of ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and South Africa. Time magazine named Abacha "Thug of the Year." Abacha continued to promise, however, to hand over power to a democratically elected government on October 1, 1998, according to a report in USA Today, and to cede power to civilians.

Before he could act on his promises, though, Abacha died of a heart attack on June 8, 1998, allegedly while in the company of Indian prostitutes. Conspiracy theorists maintained that he was in reality killed by the women with a poisoned apple in an elaborate assassination plot. One day later, Abiola died in his prison cell—again, of a supposed heart attack. When news of Abiola's death spread, Nigeria erupted in violent riots centered on ethnic hatred that had been simmering for years. Followers of the would-be president-elect Abiola, who had been a Yoruba, accused the northern Hausa and Fulani tribes, who counted among their numbers Abacha, of assassinating Abiola.

Embezzled Billions

A decade after Abacha's death, his family and associates remained incriminated in several international scandals. Abacha's successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, discovered the extent of Abacha's corruption and secured the return of $1 billion to the Nigerian government from the Abacha family, according to the Basel Institute on Governance. Abubakar also restored democratic governance to Nigeria, allowing the country's first free elections in eleven years. Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president in 1999, and his administration continued to press for the money's return.

In 2000 Nigerian authorities appealed to the governments of countries to which the money had been traced—including Lichtenstein, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Luxembourg, but especially Switzerland—for mutual legal assistance in the case. By 2002 the remainder of the funds still had not been restored. Obasanjo's administration forged a deal with the Abachas that would have let the family keep a portion of the money that had thus far been traced and frozen in European accounts. Abacha's son Mohammed—who had just been released from prison in Nigeria for fraud and money laundering—turned down the agreement, however, continuing to claim that all the funds had been legally acquired.

Further judgments by Swiss courts and subsequent appeals by the Abacha clan held up the case for another three years. BBC News reported in February of 2005 that Switzerland had agreed to return $458 million of the money it held frozen to Nigeria, with the caveat that the money be used for the improvement of services and infrastructure. Yet in April of 2007 Sonala Olumhense wrote in Nigeria's Guardian newspaper that the transfer of money had not gone smoothly. Olumhense reported that of a total of $700 million returned by the Swiss to Nigeria, $200 million had allegedly been siphoned off before reaching its destination in Nigeria's public works projects. Charges of corruption in the Obasanjo administration arose. Furthermore, Olumhense quoted then-executive chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, as putting the total known amount pilfered by Abacha at $6 billion. "He confirmed that $2 billion has been recovered. ‘The rest is still hanging there outside and we're trying to get it,’ he said."

Meanwhile, another of Abacha's surviving sons, Abba Sani Abacha, was implicated in criminal activity in April of 2005. Accused of money laundering, embezzlement, and fraud, Abba was extradited to Switzerland from Germany. In 2007 Mohammed Abacha's name resurfaced in legal proceedings concerning the senior Abacha's personal security team—known as the Strike Force—for the 1996 assassination of Kudirat Abiola, a wife of presumed presidential election winner Moshood Abiola and a vocal civil rights advocate in her own right. During the trial a witness identified Mohammed Abacha as having been a key player in the murder.

Sources

Books

Falola, Toyin, and Julius Ihonvbere, The Rise and Fall of Nigeria's Second Republic, 1979-84, Zed Books, 1985, pp. 229-30, 254-57.

Osso, Nyaknno, editor, Who's Who in Nigeria, Newswatch Communications, 1990, p. 9.

Periodicals

Africa Report, January/February 1994, pp. 47-49; July/August 1994, pp. 62-64; September/October 1994, pp. 38-41.

Detroit News, November 12, 1995, p. 5A.

Guardian (Nigeria), April 2, 2007.

New York Times, November 18, 1993, p. A15; November 20, 1993, p. A5; November 25, 1993, p. A10; June 9, 1998.

Newswatch (Lagos, Nigeria), November 22, 1993, pp. 12-16; November 29, 1993, pp. 15-17.

Time, December 25, 1995, p. 40.

Times of Nigeria, November 28, 2007.

USA Today, October 2, 1995, p. 3A.

West Africa, September 12-18, 1994, p. 1594; September 19-25, 1994, p. 1627; October 3-9, 1994, p. 1705.

Online

Basel Institute on Governance, "Chronology (draft): Efforts in Switzerland to Recover Assets Looted by Sani Abacha of Nigeria," Intermediate Training Program on Asset Tracing, Recovery and Repatriation, Jakarta, September 2007, http://www.assetrecovery.org/kc/download?node=78488349-a33e-11dc-bf1b-335d0754ba85&service=afs (accessed August 7, 2008).

Basel Institute on Governance, "Sani Abacha," Asset Recovery Knowledge Center, International Center for Asset Recovery, http://www.assetrecovery.org/kc/node/52f770df-a33e-11dc-bf1b-335d0754ba85.html (accessed August 7, 2008).

Foulkes, Imogen, "Nigeria to Receive Abacha Funds," BBC News, February 16, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4271245.stm (accessed August 7, 2008).

"The Life of Ken Saro-Wiwa," Remember Saro-Wiwa, http://www.remembersarowiwa.com/lifeksw.htm (accessed August 7, 2008).

"Swiss Fraud Charge for Abacha Son," BBC News, April 15, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4449587.stm (accessed August 7, 2008).

—Nicholas Patti and Nancy Dziedzic

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Abacha, Sani 1943—

Sani Abacha 1943

Nigerian military ruler

Rose in Rank During Civil War

Entered National Limelight

Usurped State Reigns

Directed Uneasy Ship of State

Sources

General Sani Abacha, long hovering close to the central power base of successive military governments in the coastal West African nation of Nigeria, finally assumed that countrys center seat with a coup in November of 1993. Trained in Nigeria, Great Britain, and the United States, Abacha began his career as second-lieutenant in the Nigerian Army in 1963, rose through the ranks to the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) and eventually assumed the head of state. Although back-up plans, including tanks and soldiers were in place, the transition occurred quickly and without bloodshed. An Associated Press (AP) report in the Boston Globe credited Abacha with having forced the former military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, to resign in August of 1993--two months after Babangida annulled the results of the national presidential elections of June 12, an election that the wealthy industrialist Moshood Abiola was widely believed to have won.

While continuing to assert his intention to bring democratic civilian rule to Nigeria, Abacha has received criticism from prominent Nigerian democracy campaigners, human rights advocates, civil rights lawyers, and world-renowned authors. These critics doubt his sincerity and commitment after 11 straight years of virtually uninterrupted military rule, all accompanied by promises made by other dictators for a return to democracy. Except for the four-year period of the Second Republic in 1979, Abachas command of the state represents a final ascendence for him in successive military governments dating back to 1966, six years after Nigerian independence in 1960.

Rose in Rank During Civil War

Abacha was born on September 20, 1943, in Kano, Kano State, Nigeria. Kano had been a part of the British colony of Nigeria until the nation won independence in 1960. From 1957 to 1962 Abacha was a student, first in the City Senior Primary School of Kano and then in the Provincial Secondary School (now Government College). During the years immediately following independence, from 1960 to 1966, Nigeria was governed by a civilian regime, the First Republic. In these years Abacha trained for the military and received his first appointment

At a Glance

Born September 20, 1943, in Kano, Kano State, Nigeria; married Mariam jidah, 1965; children: six sons, three daughters. Education: City Senior Primary School, Kano, Nigeria; Provincial Secondary School (now Government College), Kano, Nigeria, 195762; Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna, 196263, 1964; MONS Defence OfficersˊCadet Training Col lege, Aldershot, United Kingdom, 1963; School of Infantry, Warminster, united Kingdom, 1966, 1971; Command and Staff College, Jaji, Nigeria, 1976; National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, jos, Nigeria, 1981; Senior International Defence Course, Montery, CA, USA, 1982.

Nigerian Army, Commissioned Second Lieutenant, 1963, promoted 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, announced coup, December 31, 1983, appointed general officer commanding, 2nd Mechanized Division, 198485, major-general, 1984, announced coup, August 27, 1985. Appointed army chief of staff and member, Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC, 1985, Lieutenant-General, 1987, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1989, ministry of defense, 1990, secretary of defense, August 26, 1993; seized head of state in coup, November 17 , 1993.

Member: National Institute (mni), 1981.

Addresses: Office c/o Ambassador Zubair Mahmud Zazaure, 1333 16th St., NW, Washington, D.C., 20036.

in the Nigerian Army. He attended the Nigerian-Military Training College in the Northern Nigerian city of Kaduna from 1962 to 1963 and received his appointment as Second Lieutenant in 1963. Following was a series of promotions within the Nigerian military.

When the nominally democratic First Republic fell to a military coup in 1966, Abacha received his first significant promotion from second lieutenant to lieutenant. The military hoped to stem the tide of strikes, work-to-rule actions, demonstrations, and.riots by workers and peasants that had erupted across the country in protest against the civilian regime which had unleashed an unchecked police force against Nigerian citizens and had failed to maintain public services. Meanwhile individual politicians displayed their enormous wealth arrogantly in the face of abject poverty, massive illiteracy, unemployment, and hunger. The military proved unable to impose order on the nation, however.

During colonial times, Nigeria had been divided into three regions, roughly corresponding to the areas of the largest ethnic groups, specifically the predominantly Muslim Hausa and Fulani peoples of the North, the largely Christian Yoruba people of the West, and the largely Christian Igbo people of the East. In 1967 the East seceded and formed the Biafran Republic; the ensuing civil war, lasting until 1970, caused the death of approximately one million people, according to journalist Peter da Costa in Africa Report . At the beginning of that war in 1967, Abacha assumed the position of captain; over the next three years, he rose in the Nigerian Army from platoon and battalion commander to commander of the training department, 2nd Infantry Division, and to major in 1969. In 1972, soon after the war ended and the boundaries of the nation were restored, Abacha gained the post of lieutenant colonel. During the next few years, Abacha received subsequent promotions to colonel in 1975 and to brigadier in 1980.

Commensurate with his military positions, Abacha received further training and education in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the United Kingdom, he studied at the MONS Defense Officers Cadet Training College in Aldershot in 1963, and at the School of Infantry in Warminster in 1966 and 1971. In Nigeria he attended the Command and Staff College in Jaji in 1976, and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, Jos, in 1981. In 1982 Abacha studied finally at the Senior International Defence Course in Monterey, California.

Entered National Limelight

Abacha first entered the national limelight at 7 a.m. on December 31, 1983, in a broadcast over Radio Nigeria announcing the overthrow of the civilian regime. Citing the Text of Coup Broadcast to the Nation, 31 December 1983 in their book, TheRise and Fall of Nigerias Second Republic, 197984, Nigerian historians Toyin Falola and Julius Ihonvbere quoted Abacha as having stated, I am referring to the harsh intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged. We have become a debtor and beggar-nation. For these reasons, Abacha said, the armed forces in discharge of [their] national role as the promoters and protectors of our national interest decided to effect a change in the leadership of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria....

Falola and Ihonvbere criticized Abachas ambitions for the new administration in the light of previous military governments in Nigeria. Experience has shown however that... the military can hardly be seen as a solution, the authors wrote. The populist approach often adopted as soon as power is seized--hard statements, imprisonment or dismissals, even execution of corrupt businessmen and politicians and a few popular actions, soon die down.... Immediate and more popular actions were often passed whenever new military governments faced the limited position of the country internationally and the enormous difficulty of enacting substantial reforms across the whole of society. Military administrations frequently backed off from early reforms and generally just imposed the basic institutional status quo--once again raising the ire of the people.

After announcing the coup to initiate what became 11 years of military rule, Abacha participated centrally in succeeding coups and continued to move ever closer to holding ultimate power himself. With the first coup on December 31, 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari became head of state and Abacha became both a member of the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) and a general officer commanding, Second Mechanised Division, Ibadan, Nigeria. Next, on August 27, 1985, Abacha appeared in camouflage on Nigerian television to announce another coup. Having been promoted to major-general before the coup, afterward he moved up to chief of army staff and member of the AFRC. General Babangida took the absolute lead as Nigerias first military president.

Throughout Babangidas subsequent eight-year rule, Abacha survived high-level reorganizations and steadily gained power, concluding finally with the lead of the entire military upon Babangidas departure in August of 1993. Promoted to lieutenant-general in 1987, Abacha survived Babangidas cut in the AFRC from 28 to 19 members in 1989, and in the same year received another promotion to chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. When Major Gideon Orkar, attempted a coup on April 22, 1990, Abacha defended Babangida and announced the crushing of the coup on Radio Nigeria. In September of 1990, Babangida shuffled Abacha out of the chief of army staff position and into the head of the ministry of defense.

In 1993 Abacha survived even the exit of Babangida himself. When Babangida handed over the reins of government on August 26, 1993 to Ernest Shonekan, a civilian appointee, Abacha assumed the lead of the military as defense secretary. Babangida resigned amid a series of strikes and protests for annulling the results of the presidential election held June 12 and apparently won by Abiola, according to the New York Times . Babangida reportedly voided the elections for fear that Abiola, a wealthy Yoruba-speaker from the Southwest, would upset the hold on power formerly wielded by military generals from the North.

Usurped State Reigns

In an attempt to gain legitimacy for his term as president of the Interim National Government (ING), Shonekan freed political prisoners, lifted press restrictions, and dismantled the oil bureaucracy, the target for accusations of squandering the nations substantial oil revenues. However, Shonekan also imposed a fuel price increase of 600 percent at the urging of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), world financial development institutions, according to the New York Times .That increase precipitated a national general strike. Police fell into clashes with pro-democracy demonstrators across the Southwest while banks, major shops, and factories remained closed for one week. Finally a Lagos High Court declared the ING an illegal government. In the midst of this civic unrest, on November 17, 1993, Abacha requested Shonekans resignation and seized control of the state himself.

Abacha initially offered a few concessions to pro-democracy forces, Abiola supporters, and Yoruba contenders for power, but over the course of the first year those actions lost their substance. He also immediately dissolved all remnants of democratic structures inherited from Babangidas transition to democracy. Existing political parties, gatherings, the National Electoral Commission, and federal, state, and local governments were all banned and slated for replacement by military commanders. With no political parties allowed and no campaigning admitted, Abachas calls for a constitutional conference met with abysmally low voter turnout and boycotts from every region except the North, from where Abacha hails. Next Abacha bypassed civil rights lawyer Olu Onagoruwa, who was his appointment from the pro-democracy movement, in drafting and implementing a decree to dissolve a militant union. When Onagoruwa complained, Abacha fired him.

Directed Uneasy Ship of State

In 1994, his first year of governance, Abachas attempts to chart a new economic course for Nigeria according to a three-year plan were not successful, West Africa reported. He had turned away from the suggestions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), headed by Babangida since 1986, and reimposed controls on the economy. Specifically, he stabilized the exchange rate between the Nigerian naira and the U.S. dollar, imposed interest rate ceilings on deposits and savings at between 12 and 15 percent and on loans at 21 percent, and banned the free repatriation of export revenue. The Nigerian economy lacked the infrastructure to achieve those rates, however, and production costs skyrocketed. In addition, the petroleum workers went on strike to protest the annullment of election results that projected Moshood Abiola to be head of state and to press for economic demands. The unions also contributed to the failure of the budget by grinding the economy to a halt, the general manager of Belhope Plastics, Chief Alapuye Isokariari, said in West Africa . How could we perform with basic industrial materials locked at Lagos seaports?

In addition to economic concerns, Abacha has been wrangling with the pro-democracy movement. Much of that movement opposed his military rule from the beginning. Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian human rights advocate and winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, was one such dissenter. It is a regime of infamy and it should be isolated, Soyinka said in the New York Times . This is going to be the worst and most brutal regime that Nigeria ever had. This regime is prepared to kill, torture, and make opponents disappear. A number of organizations pressed for democratic government including the National Democratic Coalition (Nadeco), the Campaign for Democracy, and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOS-OP).

In his own defense, Abacha continued to maintain that he still intended to bring democracy to the country. In West Africa for instance, Abacha appealed for noninterference from Western governments and for sympathy from Western media. Africa is faced with strident calls for democratisation, he was quoted as saying. Nigeria is an integral part of this global quest for democracy, contrary to what our detractors feel. The international media and the West must admit that their nations had gone through similar or even worse problems than what we are currently experiencing. In late 1994, as head of state Abacha was concerned primarily with refining his direction for Nigeria and resolving the deep political crises gripping the West African nation of approximately 90 million people.

In 1995, international pressure on Nigeria increased. Nigerias military rulers were criticized by Western and African leaders after the execution of playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other anti-government activists, the Detroit News reported. Sanctions included the suspensions of Nigerias membership in the Common wealth of Britain, a halt of U.S. military sales to Nigeria by President Clinton, and the recalling of ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and South Africa. Time magazine even voted him Thug of the Year. Abacha promised, however, to hand over power to a democratically elected government on October 1, 1998, according to a report in USA Today, and to cede power to civilians.

Sources

Books

Falola, Toyin, and Julius Ihonvbere, The Rise and Fall of Nigerias Second Republic, 197984, Zed Books, 1985, pp. 229-30, 254-57.

Osso, Nyaknno, editor, Whos Who in Nigeria, Newswatch Communications, 1990, p. 9.

Periodicals

Africa Report, January/February 1994, pp. 47-49; July/August 1994, pp. 62-64; September/October 1994, pp. 38-41.

Boston Globe, November 19, 1993, p. 2.

Detroit News, November 12, 1995, p. 5A.

Newswatch (Lagos, Nigeria), November 22, 1993, pp. 12-16; November 29, 1993, pp. 15-17.

New York Times, November 18, 1993, p. A15; November 20, 1993, p. A5; November 25, 1993, p. A10.

Time, December 25, 1995, p. 40.

USA Today, October 2, 1995, p. 3A.

West Africa, September 12-18, 1994, p. 1594; September 19-25, 1994, p. 1627; October 3-9, 1994, p. 1705.

Nicholas Patti

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"Abacha, Sani 1943—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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