Sani Abacha
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Sani Abacha

Sani Abacha
Sani Abacha.jpg
10th Head of State of Nigeria

17 November 1993 - 8 June 1998
Ernest Shonekan
Abdulsalami Abubakar
Chief of Defence Staff

August 1990 - November 1993
Oladipo Diya
Chief of Army Staff

August 1985 - August 1990
Ibrahim Babangida
Salihu Ibrahim
Personal details
Born(1943-09-20)20 September 1943
Kano, Northern Region, British Nigeria
(now Kano, Nigeria)
Died8 June 1998(1998-06-08) (aged 54)
Aso Villa, Abuja, Nigeria
Political partynone (military)
Spouse(s)Maryam Abacha
Military service
Allegiance Nigeria
Branch/serviceFlag of the Nigerian Army Headquarters.svg Nigerian Army
Years of service1963-1998
Battles/warsNigerian Civil War

General Sani Abacha (About this soundpronunciation ; 20 September 1943 - 8 June 1998) was a Nigerian politician and military general who served as the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998. He was also Chief of Army Staff between 1985 to 1990; Chief of Defence Staff between 1990 to 1993; and Minister of Defence. In 1993, Abacha became the first Nigerian soldier to attain the rank of a full military general without skipping a single rank.[1] Abacha is also the first and only military head of state to have taken part in all the military coups in Nigeria.

Abacha is seen as the most enigmatic leader the country ever had.[by whom?] His rule saw the achievement of several economic feats and also recorded human rights abuses.[2]After his death corruption allegations marred the unprecedented growth rates and indices recorded by his administration. Abacha is still a popular figure in Northern Nigeria. Many praise him for the various establishments he laid around the country and for bringing back security to the region.[weasel words]

Early life

A Kanuri from Borno, Abacha was born and educated in Kano, Nigeria.

Military career

Abacha was commissioned in 1963 after he had attended the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England. Before then, he had attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna.[3] In 1969, he fought during the Nigerian Civil War as a platoon and battalion commander. And later became, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division in 1975. In 1983, Abacha was general officer commanding of the 2nd Mechanised Division, and was appointed a member of the Supreme Military Council.

Coup d'états

The military career of Abacha was marked by involvement in all the military coups in Nigeria. When he was still a second lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion in Kaduna, he took part in the July 1966 Nigerian counter-coup from the conceptual stage.[4] He could well have been a participant in the Lagos or Abeokuta phases of the coup the previous January as well.[]

In addition, Abacha played a prominent role in the 1983 Nigerian coup d'état which brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power; and the 1985 Nigerian coup d'etat which removed Buhari and brought General Ibrahim Babangida to power.[5] When General Ibrahim Babangida was named President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1985, Abacha was named Chief of Army Staff. He was later appointed Minister of Defence in 1990.[6][7]

Military ranks

Year Rank
1963 Second Lieutenant (Commissioned)
1966 Lieutenant
1967 Captain
1969 Major
1972 Lieutenant Colonel
1975 Colonel
1980 Brigadier General
1983 Major General
1985 Lieutenant General
1993 General

Seizure of power

On 17 November 1993, Abacha took over from the transitional government - being the Minister of Defence and most senior official he forced interim president Ernest Shonekan to resign. In his nationwide broadcast, Abacha cited the stagnant nature of Shonekan's government being unable to manage the democratic process in the country as a cause of his resignation.


Consolidation of power

In September 1994, he issued a decree that placed his government above the jurisdiction of the courts, effectively giving him absolute power. Another decree gave him the right to detain anyone for up to three months without trial.[8]

Moshood Abiola proclaimed himself president, he was jailed for treason, tortured and subsequently died in custody. Also, former military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo was jailed for treason and accused of plotting a coup together with General Oladipo Diya.[9] In 1997, General Shehu Yar'Adua who was also jailed died in custody.


Abacha imposed an authoritarian police state controlled by Hamza al-Mustapha. The state cracked down ruthlessly on criminals and dissidents. Abacha heavily disincentivized crime on the streets and the formation of any insurgent groups. Abacha assembled a personal security force of 3,000 men trained in North Korea; and the Nigeria Police Force underwent a large scale retraining. Crime drastically reduced by a significant margin and the country became safer as a result of Abacha's pacification. The success and efficiency of security during Abacha's administration is unparalleled with the present conundrum of the democratic Fourth Nigerian Republic.


Abacha administration became the first to record unprecedented economic achievements:[10] he oversaw an increase in the country's foreign exchange reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997, reduced the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion by 1997. He is largely revered for achieving this, in comparison no other administration before or after the inception of the Fourth Nigerian Republic had been able to achieve this. Abacha also constructed between 25-100km of urban road in major cities such as Kano, Gusau, Benin, Funtua, Zaria, Enugu, Kaduna, Aba, Lagos, Lokoja and Port Harcourt. Abacha brought all the controversial privatisation programs of the Ibrahim Babangida administration to a halt, reduced an inflation rate of 54% inherited from Ernest Shonekan to 8.5% between 1993 and 1998, all while the nation's primary commodity, oil was at an average of $15 per barrel.[11]


The unprecedented economic achievements coincided with the rapid expansion of corruption. Abacha's national security adviser, Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, was accused by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo to have played a central role in the looting and transfer of money to overseas accounts.[12] Abacha's son, Mohammed Abacha and best friend Alhaji Mohammed M. Sada were also involved. A preliminary report published by the Abdulsalam Abubakar transitional government in November 1998 described the process. The report mentioned that Sani Abacha told Ismaila Gwarzo to provide fake national security 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 Sada then arranged to launder the money to offshore accounts. An estimated $1.4 billion in cash was delivered in this way.[13]

In 2004, a list of the ten most self-enriching leaders in the previous two decades was released;[14] in order of amount allegedly stolen, the fourth-ranked of these was Abacha and his family who are alleged to have embezzled $1 billion - $5 billion.[15] In 2002, false rumours circulated that Abacha's family purportedly agreed to return $1.2 billion. Sources in the Obasanjo administration disclosed that the whole Abacha loot was a politicised by the administration for his re-election bid.[16]On 7 August 2014, the United States Department of Justice announced the forfeiture of US$480 million, the largest in its history, to the Nigerian government.[17]Jersey discovered more than $267 million dollars in funds that were allegedly laundered through the U.S. banking system and deposited in a Jersey account (£210m in British pounds). The U.S. Justice Department, Jersey courts and the government of Nigeria completed a civil asset forfeiture against the funds and they will be divided between those countries.[18]

National politics

Further information: Geopolitical zones of Nigeria

Abacha reorganised the entire territory of Nigeria into six geopolitical zones, in order for economic, political and educational resources to be shared across the zones;

Abacha held a constitutional conference between 1994 to 1995. Early in 1998, Abacha announced that elections would be held on 1 August, with a view toward handing power to a civilian government on 1 October. It later became apparent that Abacha had no intention of relinquishing power. By April 1998, Abacha had coerced the country's five political parties into endorsing him as the sole presidential candidate.

Human rights

Abacha's regime was accused of human rights abuses, especially after the hanging of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa (only one of several executions of Ogoni activists opposed to the exploitation of Nigerian resources by the multinational petroleum company, Royal Dutch Shell). [19]Wole Soyinka was charged in absentia with treason.[20] Abacha's regime suffered opposition externally by pro-democracy activists. Ironically, he sent Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help restore democracy to those countries.

Foreign policy

Following the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations.[21][22] While hosting Nelson Mandela, Abacha admitted he was advised against interfering with the Saro-Wiwa's trial--but made assurances that he would use his rank in government to commute the sentence if death sentence was pronounced. Justice Ibrahim Auta was the judge presiding over the proceedings, and sentenced Saro-Wiwa to death by hanging. Abacha did not commute the sentence.

Directly infringing UN Sanctions on Libya, Muammar Gaddafi's West African Tour in 1997 to Sani Abacha to mark the new islamic year was greeted by thousands of Abacha's supporters whom came out to demonstrate their loyalty to Abacha and the Libyan leader in Kano.[23] The Libyan leader made no commitments to Nigeria but merely sought to strengthen relations with the country, many saw the visit as a way to strengthen his agenda of Pan-Africanism.

Abacha intervened in the Liberian Civil War. Through the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, Abacha sent troops to Liberia to fight against the rising insurgency in the country and political tensions. The Civil War, which began in 1989, saw an influx of Nigerian troops from 1990 when Abacha was defence minister.

Despite being repeatedly condemned by the US State Department,[24] Abacha did have a few ties to American politics. In 1997, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) 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.[25][26] Abacha also developed ties with other American political figures such as Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Several African American political leaders visited Nigeria during his reign and Farrakhan supported his administration.


On 8 June 1998, Abacha died in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja. He was buried on the same day, according to Muslim tradition, without an autopsy. This fuelled speculation that he may have been assasinated.[27] The government identified the cause of death as a sudden heart attack.[28] It is believed by foreign diplomats, including United States Intelligence analysts, that he may have been poisioned.[29] His chief security officer, Hamza al-Mustapha, believed he was poisoned by Israeli operatives in the company of Yasser Arafat.[30]

After Abacha's death, General Abdulsalami Abubakar became head of state. General Abubakar's short tenure ushered the Fourth Nigerian Republic into existence.

Personal life

Abacha was married to Maryam Abacha and had seven sons and three daughters, he became a grandfather posthumously; as of 2018 he had thirty-three grandchildren.[31]


  1. ^ Paden, John N. (2005) Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict Resolution, Brookings Institution Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-8157-6817-6.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "NEW CHAPTER IN NIGERIA: THE OBITUARY; Sani Abacha, 54, a Beacon of Brutality In an Era When Brutality Was Standard". The New York Times. 9 June 1998. Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ Siollun, Max. Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966-1976). Algora. p. 97. ISBN 9780875867090.
  5. ^ "Nigeria: Palace Coup of 1985 By Dr. Nowa Omoigui". Retrieved 2019.
  6. ^ Oyewole, A. (1987) Historical Dictionary of Nigeria, Scarecrow Press. p. 385. ISBN 0-8108-1787-X.
  7. ^ "Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia".
  8. ^ "Nigerian Military Ruler Assumes Absolute Power". AP. 7 September 1994 – via The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Why we honoured Abacha - Nigerian government - Premium Times Nigeria". Premium Times Nigeria.
  11. ^ "Why we honoured Abacha - Nigerian government - Premium Times Nigeria". Premium Times Nigeria.
  12. ^ Elizabeth Olson (26 January 2000). "Swiss Freeze A Dictator's Giant Cache". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011.
  13. ^ Lewis, Peter (2007). Growing apart: oil, politics, and economic change in Indonesia and Nigeria. University of Michigan Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-472-06980-2.
  14. ^ "Introduction to Political Corruption" (PDF). London. 25 March 2004. p. 13.
  15. ^ "Late Nigerian Dictator Looted Nearly $500 Million, Swiss Say". The New York Times. 19 August 2004. Retrieved 2010.
  16. ^ The Worldwatch Institute. (2003) Vital Signs 2003, The Worldwatch Institute. p. 115. ISBN 0-393-32440-0.
  17. ^ "U.S. Forfeits Over $480 Million Stolen by Former Nigerian Dictator in Largest Forfeiture Ever Obtained Through a Kleptocracy Action". The United States Department of Justice. Retrieved 2015.
  18. ^ "Dictator's £210m seized from Jersey account". 4 June 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  19. ^ Arnold, Guy (2005). Africa: A Modern History. London: Atlantic Books. p. 789. ISBN 9781843541769.
  20. ^ "Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia".
  21. ^ "Commonwealth Suspends Nigeria Over Executions". New York Times. Retrieved 2015.
  22. ^ Falola & Heaton. A History of Nigeria. Cambridge University Press, 2008. p. xix. ISBN 9781139472036. Retrieved 2015.
  23. ^ AP Archive (21 July 2015), Nigeria - Gaddafi arrives to celebrate holiday, retrieved 2019
  24. ^ "Return of the ugly American".
  25. ^ "Junkets for Jesus". Mother Jones.
  26. ^ "A Different Perspective On 'The Family' And Uganda". 22 December 2009.
  27. ^ "General Sani Abacha Profile". Africa Confidential. Retrieved 2012.
  28. ^ Weiner, Tim (11 July 1998). "U.S. Aides Say Nigeria Leader Might Have Been Poisoned". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Opejobi, Seun (19 June 2017). "Details of how Abacha died in 1998 - Al-Mustapha". Daily Post Nigeria. Retrieved 2020.
  31. ^ ""Newsmaker Profiles: Sani Abacha Nigerian President"". Archived from the original on 8 April 2004. Retrieved 2014., CNN.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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