The Life and Times of General Sani Abacha


Introduction SANI ABACHA

November 17, 1993 is one of the most notable dates in Nigerian history. That day, General Sani Abacha seized the government and became Nigeria’s seventh military dictator. This, however, did not stop the Nigerian government from its believe that although late General Sani Abacha’s regime was one of the most controversial in Nigeria’s history, the military dictator deserved some honour. The citation and reasons were read during the Centenary honours Award night held at the Presidential Villa in Abuja under the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2014.

The federal government said Mr. Abacha was also a Nigerian soldier and former leader. The government said his regime recorded unprecedented economic achievements in Nigeria’s history. The Federal Government also said Mr. Abacha oversaw an increase in the country’s foreign exchange reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997; and reduced the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion in 1997.

The government noted that Mr. Abacha had brought all the controversial privatisation programs of the Babangida administration to a halt, reduced an inflation rate of 54 per cent inherited from the Ibrahim Babangida administration to 8.5 per cent between 1993 and 1998, while the nation’s primary commodity, oil, was at an average of $9 per barrel. Mr. Abacha’s administration was also credited with creating the most ‘comprehensive and realistic blueprint’ for Nigeria’s development through Vision 2010 committee chaired by his predecessor, Ernest Shonekan.

Despite these, however, in a statement entitled, ‘The canonisation of terror,’ Professor Wole Soyinka, one of the 100 persons to be honoured said it was an insult for him to be listed alongside Abacha for the award, more so when killings of innocent citizens by the Boko Haram sect was ongoing in the North-East. “I regret my share of this National insult” Soyinka said.

People in History holds no doubt about the fact that Mr. Abacha’s regime was characterised by massive corruption, state-sponsored murder and assassination, and random imprisonment of persons seen as critical of government. Of course, many Nigerians of the time, hunted by the government worked in secret and sought exile abroad.

Some of those who died either directly in the hands of the state or believed to have been murdered by the government including Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders, Shehu Yar’Adua, and Kudirat Abiola, as well as those imprisoned including Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, journalist Kunle Ajibade, Chief MKO Abiola and others, are agreed to be undisputedly part of the heinous crimes Mr Abacha’s regime had committed or have been accused of committing. Bringing us to the big questions: who is a hero? What are the yardsticks from which heroes emerge in Nigeria and in the world at large? When a supposed “hero” dies and is talked about years after dying, is he remembered hugely for evil or for good? This week’s edition of People in History takes a nostalgic look at the life and times of General Sani Abacha.

General Sani Abacha, unlike other leaders who had ‘humble’ backgrounds, 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. The family which migrated to Kano in search of greener pastures also had a bakery they named ‘Canteen Abacha’.


A Kanuri man born in Borno State on a Monday, the 20th of 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 Abacha. 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 for a big grip.  He had no illusions to being popular and was out to please no one. Abacha made it abundantly clear that if you step on a scorpion’s tail, you will limp home.

General Sani Abacha was a Nigerian soldier who took power through a coup and ruled as the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998. Abacha’s regime is one of the most controversial in Nigeria’s history. His regime was dictatorial and struck terror in the hearts of many Nigerians. His Chief Security Officer, Hamza al-Mustapha was the point man of an alleged murderous triumvirate that comprised Ismaila Gwarzo, National Security Adviser and Frank Omenka of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. They had as their henchmen Sergeant Barnabas Jabila Mshiela aka “Sergeant Rogers”, Muhammed Abdul (a.k.a Katako), Alhaji Danbaba, and Rabo Lawal amongst others.


General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in recent memory. In collaboration with his family and close associates, he embezzled billions of public funds, while millions lived in poverty. The proceeds of his loot, many stashed away in foreign countries, are still being recovered. Despite the international shun his government endured, he oversaw an increase in the country’s foreign exchange reserves from $494 million dollars in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997 and reduced the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion by 1997. The end of his administration marked by his sudden demise was widely celebrated in Nigeria. To much public dismay and condemnation, he was awarded a Posthumous Centenary Award by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.

Early Life and Education

Kanuri from Borno by tribe, Abacha was born and brought up in Kano, 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. He attended the Nigerian Military Training College and Mons Officer Cadet School before being commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in 1963.[2]

 Military Career

Abacha was commissioned in 1963, after he had attended the Mons Defence Officers cadet Training College in AldershotEngland. Before then, he had attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna. Abacha’s Military career is distinguished with a string of successful Coups, He is by some records the most successful coup plotter in the history of Nigeria’s Military, He took part in the countercoup of July 1966, from the conceptual stage, and may have been a participant in the Lagos or Abeokuta phases of the January 1966 coup. 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.

He was a prominent figure in every single successful coup in Nigerian history two of which brought and removed General Muhammadu Buhari from power in 1983.

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 him, 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.

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 antigovernment 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.

Abacha obviously was not interested in the direction of relinquishing power to Abiola once he took it in 1993. And from then on, soon after he became head of state, he began a bloody tyranny that Nigerians who lived under his rule would never forget.

Mustapha says, “If there’s anything that Abacha would be remembered for, it is that his regime was a regime when blood flowed freely. They imprisoned. They killed. Abacha had people killed either because they were opposition or because he needed them for human sacrifice as his witches wanted. You’ll just see a brand new car park, people would step out and shoot someone and drive away. That was the end. He was merciless.” Bose says: “By then, life was tortuous for the common Nigerian. That time, things were not as costly as now. If you had 100, you could cook a potful of soup with a lot of meat and all that.

But how would you get that 100? You couldn’t even get kerosene. It got to a time, because of the hardship, people invented a stove called Abacha stove (everyone remembers it till today). That stove, you get an empty tin and stuff it with saw dust. Then you add a little kerosene and light it. You’re ready to cook. Such was the poverty that we suffered.”

Sani Abacha came at a time Nigerians were praying for a change. When he ascended the throne in 1993, it was with an air of discreet gentility. But five years later, Nigerians were writhing in pain. anniversary (June 8, 1998) of the day General Sani Abacha became history. The first thing Abacha did, assuming power, was to trick the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, to send representatives that would serve in his regime. No doubts, he was clever, but he never pretended to be in the class of an academic professor.


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), he allowed them to 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 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. At times, 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. 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.
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

Sani Abacha never told anyone that he had the intellectual capacity to solve Nigeria’s problems. He was, first and last, a soldier. A crude one for that matter. His hold on Nigerians was unquestionably colossal, brutal and maximum.


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.

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.

20 Things to Remember about Abacha

  • A Kanuri originally from Borno state. General Sani Abacha was born and brought up in Kano state, which he made his home.
  • He married a Shuwa Arab, Maryam, also from Borno state, in 1965 and they had six boys and three girls. The first child, Ibrahim, died in a plane crash in 1996.
  • The last of their children were born in Aso Rock in 1994 when Abacha was 50 and his wife 47. The boy was named Mustapha, supposedly after Abacha’s chief security officer, Hamza al Mustapha.
  • Abacha was the first and only military head of state who never skipped a rank to become a full-star general.
  • Abacha announced the coup that brought an end to the government of President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983, and brought Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to power.
  • After Buhari was overthrown in a palace August 27, 1985, it was Abacha that announced the Chief of Army Staff, Major-Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, as the new military president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces in an evening broadcast (the coup speech was read by Brigadier Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro)
  • On appointment as chief of army staff in 1985, he caused a stir when he said the issue of “second in command” to Babangida had not been resolved, even though Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, as chief of general staff, was understood to be holding the position. It was later resolved in favour of Ukiwe.
  • Abacha was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in 1963 after he had attended the Mons Defence Officers Cadet Training College in Aldershot, England.
  • He was believed to have participated fully in the July 1966 countercoup, which led to the death of the head of state, Major-Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, and subsequently resulted in the civil war.
  • Officially, he did not overthrow the interim national government in 1993. The head of government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, resigned and Abacha, being the secretary of defence and the most senior member of government, took over. Unofficially, it was a bloodless coup.
  • He was known as a man of “few words and deadly actions” and he demonstrated this as head of state with one of the most brutal regimes Nigeria has ever had. There was massive crackdown of the media, civil rights group and pro-democratic campaigns.
  • Two of the most important recommendations of the 1995 constitutional conference he set up are: 13% derivation for oil-producing areas and six geo-political zones.
  • He never held a non-military appointment in his career until he became minister of defence in 1990. (later re-designated secretary of defence in 1993). He was a Lieutenant General then.
  • His supporters describe him as a good economic manager and that he stabilised exchange rate at #22/$1 but the unofficial rate was #80/$1. This created colossal rent-seeking, with many chosen associates buying at the official rates and reselling at four times the rate in the black market.
  • It was under Abacha that Nigeria became a perpetual importer of petroleum products, as all the refineries packed up. However, 17years after his death, Nigeria is still heavily dependent on fuel imports.
  • An uncomfortable phenomenon under Abacha was the importation of

“foul fuel” which had an offensive odour and damaged car engines.

  • He was instrumental to the restoration of peace and democracy in Sierra Leone after years of civil wars.
  • He increased fuel price just once in his four-and-a-half years in office and set up the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, which was widely acknowledged to have performed well in infrastructural development and intervention programmes in education, health and water.
  • His wife set up what is now known as the National Hospital for Women and Children before it was upgraded into what is intended to be Nigeria’s no. 1 public hospital.
  • His death is shrouded in mystery, the most popular version being that he died in the midst of Indian prostitutes flown in from Dubai. The official version is that he died of heart attack. A more likely scenario, however, is that he was “eliminated” to end the political crisis in Nigeria.

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.

Human Rights Abuses

Abacha’s government was rank with human rights abuses and assassinations, His military dictatorship executed the Ogonienvironmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose homeland, Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and which has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. He jailed the winner of the fairest democratic election Nigeria has seen in recent memory; Moshood Abiola for treason. Abiola subsequently died in prison and his wife, Kudirat Abiola was assassinated during Abacha’s reign of terror. The High Court of Lagos State under Hon. Justice Mojisola Dada had on January 30, Barnabas Jabila and Muhammed Abdul testified that they were “directed to murder Alhaja Kudirat Abiola by Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha (Abacha’s Chief Security Officer) and that they were given information on her movements by Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan.


An active critic of his government, Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate was also charged in absentia with treason. His regime suffered opposition externally by pro-democracy activists He however supported the Economic Community of West African Statesand sent Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone as part of a peace keeping force during the civil war in those countries. Despite being repeatedly condemned by the US State Department, Abacha did have a few ties to American politics.

In 1997, Senator James Inhofe (ROklahoma) travelled to Nigeria to meet with Abacha as a representative of “The Family“, a group of evangelical Christian politicians and civic leaders. Abacha and The Family had a business and political relationship from that point until his death.Abacha also developed ties with other American political figures such as Senator Carol Mosley Braun, Rev. Jessie Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Several African American political leaders visited Nigeria during his reign and Farrakhan supported his administration.

Corruption allegations

During Abacha’s regime, a total of £5 billion was reportedly siphoned out of the country’s coffers by the head of state and members of his family. At that time Abacha was listed as the world’s fourth most corrupt leader in recent history. Abacha’s national security adviser, Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, played a central role in the looting and transfer of money to overseas accounts. His son Mohammed Abacha was also involved. A preliminary report published by the Abdulsalam Abubakar transitional government in November 1998 described the process. Sani Abacha told Ismaila Gwarzo to provide fake funding requests, which Abacha approved. The funds were usually sent in cash or travellers’ cheques by the Central Bank of Nigeria to Gwarzo, who took them to Abacha’s house.Mohammed Abacha then arranged to launder the money to offshore accounts. An estimated $1.4 billion in cash was delivered in this way. In March, 2014, the United States Department of Justice revealed that it had frozen more than $458 million believed to have been illegally obtained by Abacha and other corrupt officials.

Recovery of stolen funds

After Sani Abacha’s death, the Obasanjo government implicated Abacha and his family in aWHOLESALE looting of Nigeria’s coffers. The late dictator’s son, Mohammed Abacha, continues to maintain that all the assets in question were legitimately acquired.

In 2002, Abacha’s family purpotedly agreed to return $1.2 billion that was taken from the central bank.


General Abacha is credited with restoring Nigeria’s standing as an African Power when he twice ordered the Nigerian Military to Intervene and restore the civilian and Democratic governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia after a series of Military Coups in both countries.

False representation of name

The names of Sani Abacha, his wife Maryam, and son Mohammed are often used in advance fee fraud (419) scams; he is “identified” in scam letters as the source for “money” that does not exist. One website that is dedicated to exposing advance fee scammers and similar schemes,, exposed one use of the Abacha family name—resulting in a wider exposure and awareness of these types of scams in general.


Abacha died in June 1998 while at the presidential villa in Abuja. He was buried on the same day, according to Muslim tradition, without an autopsy. This fueled speculation that he may have been executed extrajudicially by way of being poisoned by political rivals via prostitutes.

On the contrary, the government cited his cause of death as a suddenheart attack.It is reported that he was in the company of two Indian prostitutes imported from Dubai. It is thought that these prostitutes laced his drink with a poisonous substance, making Abacha feel unwell around 4:30am. He retired to his bed and was dead by 6:15am.

A report stated there were four ladies: two Nigerians and two Indians, all presumably prostitutes. According to Kehinde Olaosebikan, the 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. He said: “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.

After Abacha’s death, Maj. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Nigeria’s defense chief of staff, was sworn in as the country’s head of state. Abubakar had never before held public office and was quick to announce a transition to democracy, which led to the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Abacha was married to Maryam Abacha and had seven sons and three daughters. He has fifteen grandchildren — eight girls and seven boys.

In a nutshell, Gen Abacha was a tough no nonsense sort of guy, who brooked no opposition and came into power three months after the seemingly first ever authentic elections in Nigeria, which was to bring in Chief MKO Abiola was ruled kaput. Many of his critics were exiled, jailed or even executed.

General SaniNegeria Mohammed Abacha, the most popular Kanuri person in the world was arguably regarded as the most patient man on earth. A man of diminutive stature: just 5feet, 4inches. You would be thoroughly stupefied at his height. A man of fire, iron and steel. The General lorded absolute power and unbridled authority over 120 million souls. Not even Generals dared 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 then, in a resigning tone, Mandela described him as an arrogant brute. No one messed with Abacha. He was gentle. Listening. Cunning. Daring. Attentive. Dangerous. Brave. Abacha was Brutal. It will thrill you that for all his evils, he accepted who and what he was. Indeed, the history of Nigeria is incomplete without a succinct recourse to the man SaniNegeria Mohammed Abacha. To some he is a hero, to others he is a tyrant. To many more, he just had flaws that he was too carefree about protecting. Many believe there are worst administrations than that of Sani Abacha. They just succeeded to push fresh sands over traces of their corrupt feet, thereby covering their tracks to extinction. Golden question is, who was Sani Abacha to you?




Leave a Reply