GENERAL SANI ABACHA (Adapted from Naiwu Osahon's book, The Viper's Den)
I danced on the streets when I heard of the Nigerian military ruler, Gen. Abacha’s death. I almost went berserk with joy when the BBC first confirmed the news that Monday 8th June, 1998, in the afternoon. I rushed to the street screaming the news and a mammoth impromptu party soon formed around me singing, “we don win o!,” (meaning the people have won), along the streets of my community in Apapa. Of course, I heard someone say, even the devil deserves to be mourned at death but Abacha was worst than the devil. I asked my detractor, “would we not have celebrated if he had been killed in a coup?” I insisted that hypocrites could mourn to their hearts’ desire but that Abacha’s death saved the lives of millions of Nigerians. That genuine patriots do not mourn just for the sake of being seen to be mourning. From the moment Abacha, the kalifa, bribed (I heard that millions of dollars paved the way), his way into Aso Rock, (the Presidential Palace); Nigerians succumbed to the dialogue of deceit, in the hope of national reconciliation. Abacha used our patent naiveté to ensconce himself deeply in the Rock. As the scales fell from our eyes, we launched into protest marches, seeking justice through the courts and writing biting articles in the press, but he was too deep in the Rock to listen, care, read, or see us. He immediately set about appropriating our treasury on a massive scale for personal gains. To tame our penchant for strike action and protests, he deprived us of all basic amenities. Water, electricity, petrol, housing, good roads, and jobs, became rare commodities. Our currency was not worth the paper it was printed on. Hungry people are too weak to fight for their rights, so with dark goggles and a mean look, he thought he could rule forever. Abacha had no stakes in Nigeria. He was a foreigner, so, he couldn't care less if Nigeria disappeared from the face of the earth the morning after he was done with us. If you challenged him he killed you. I had become helpless and frustrated but I didn’t want my country to disintegrate. I didn’t want more deaths and yet I had written myself out of ideas. My pen had run dry writing suicidal satire the junta could neither read nor understand. Lack of basic education is a terrible curse. It robs the victim of class. To compensate, the demy-god settled for the company of sycophants, imported teenage prostitutes, and alcohol. When he wasn’t drunk he was robbing the treasury dry until he screwed himself out of existence without mourners. Luxuries have their tolls too on the soul, but the real tragedy was the helpless nation on a tameless wild fire. Occasionally, in their revelry before oga’s (boss’) death, his grovels whispered in his ears that some incorrigible subjects were resisting being tamed and he closed down our newspapers. We begged. He loved to see us on our knees begging because this intoxicated him into sending his private army to kill, maim, and bomb out critics. Escapees recaptured, were taken as prisoners of war into the dungeons of his satanic fringes, while others scampered into exile abroad. Mr. Superman was unstoppable, framing and locking up our leaders to thoroughly mess up our collective dignity in the international arena and individual self-respect at home. Fear gripped the nation but not before we had totally lost respect for our tyrant. A man who shits on his stool of office does not deserve the stool. He cannot be normal by any stretch of the imagination. How to remove the mad man from Aso Rock became the principal national refrain. Christians settled for night vigils and endless prayers; Muslims fasted or were indifferent; Africanists reached out to their gods in groves at mid night and soothsayers had a field day predicting doomsday. We all had a hand in his death. Abacha had to die to save Nigeria from a second civil war and certain death. Abacha’s acceptance statement (speculated for late June 1998), of his nomination as consensus presidential candidate, was to trigger the mayhem proper. Recent Indonesian experience would have been child’s play. Nigeria would have become ungovernable before Abacha’s October 1st 1998, swearing in date. Abacha would have had to swear himself in as President in his Aso Rock bedroom surrounded by war machines. The people’s army would have started sneaking in by then from across the West African terrain, and also the Cameroon. Just as Taylor achieved quickly in Liberia, some cities and states would have fallen before nightfall, while others would have declared their independence of Nigeria by the morning. Millions of lives would have been lost because the mad man at Aso Rock preferred to die there than outside it. He wasn’t sure of the hundred percent loyalty of the Federal army so he kept shuffling and retiring senior officers, particularly the southern ones. He had secured Libya’s support in men and materials. The deal was finally sealed during his overnight strategizing meeting with Gadaffi in Chad just before he died. To try to avert the looming doom, I tried a last ditch effort. I do not think this particular old school mate likes me but I ran to him for help. Not too long ago, he was a deputy military head of state. Why don’t you talk to your stubborn, arrogant friend bent on destroying our country? Are we to watch him destroy us? Why don’t you tell him to release our leaders and relax the palpable tension in the country a bit, I said? “Why should I?” he said, and went into a diatribe about his perceived sins of the Obasanjos and the Abiolas. Yes but if they had locked you or your boss up without civilized court trial, our human rights tribe would have stopped at nothing to defend you despite our collective low regards for your regime,” I said. My ex-school mate smiled and said nothing. We would enter Nigeria from the borders with the Cameroon. We would even solicit their military backing, I said. “We would turn any part of Nigeria you enter into a desert. If you take Taraba, we would bomb Taraba out of existence,” he said. So you want to rule over a graveyard? We will meet again on the battlefield, I said and left him. That night, I remembered what Mamman Vasta had told me about Abacha before he (Vasta) was killed over an alleged coup attempt by President Babangida. Vasta said that Abacha was not a Nigerian. He was from a neighbouring republic and his wife is a Lebanese. I wrote the article entitled: Papa’s Dream, before I went to bed that night. When the Guardian newspaper of Nigeria, failed to publish Papa’s Dream, after 4 weeks, I let ThisDay newspaper have a copy of the article. ThisDay was excited, but six weeks after accepting to use the story, they still had not published it. On Sunday June 7th 1998, the Guardian newspaper of Nigeria, out of the blues damned the consequence and published Papa’s Dream. Abacha died that Sunday night. PAPA’S DREAM. There is an old man next door who, at 82, looks 60 years old. In fact, he is so full of life that he physically competed with young men. Anyway, he likes me a lot; he says that of all the people in the neighbourhood, I am the only one that listens to him. Well, I listen because I learn a lot from him. He is an encyclopedia on Nigerian political history and I being a writer gain scoops from him now and again. One evening last week, papa insisted I come to his room right away that he had urgent information to pass on. He wasn’t always so insistent so I feared it might be his premonition about his imminent peg-off. Soon as I sat down in his room, he offered me some kolanuts. I begged to be excused because of the need to have a good night sleep after the meeting with him. “What about my herb concoction?” he asked. I have drunk some of that in the past and I can tell you, it is as black as charcoal and as thick and bitter as squeezed fresh bitter leaves. He swears it is the secret of his longevity and zippy life style. He was hardly ever sick. I insisted that I did not want to go to bed with a bitter taste in my mouth that night. He took offence to what I said and threatened to terminate our meeting right then. “But papa, you invited me here. You said it was urgent for me to come. I am your friend, your best friend, am I not?” I pleaded while he sulked like a child and turned his back on me. “I have never rejected your concoction before so why do you want to burn down the house now because I said (no) for the first time,” I asked? “Okay,” he said after a while and began to tell me the story. “Yesterday night, I had a very vivid and disturbing dream. I don’t always remember details of my dreams in the mornings but this one was different. It was about a poor family that emigrated from their wretched border village a generation or two ago to seek their fortunes in a larger, economically more buoyant neighbouring country. “Life was rough for the immigrant family initially but they eventually settled down and through gangster type subterfuge, blackmail, and some amount of luck, a son of the immigrant family succeeded in usurping the throne of their host village. As king, he immediately set about marginalizing and pauperizing the entire community. “He unleashed a reign of terror on the people, particularly the sophisticated, better educated, and materially more successful ethnic groups. Owners of land became tenants, and employers became employees or applicants for jobs that were no longer available. Unemployment soured unbearably and yet the king caused more and more people to be sacked from their jobs. “Factories began to close down for lack of sales of their products and foreign investors started deserting the community in droves. Water, power, and petrol, were either non-existent, or were being diverted to the king’s original home village across the border. The local currency was not worth the paper it was printed on. The king would not respect his own laws, so law and order broke down every where. Robbers, sexual perverts, assassins, were having a field day, and religious bigotry ran rampant.” I interrupted the old man to say he was sounding familiar and he said I had not heard the worst yet. “That all the elite of the community who were in opposition to the king were either driven into exile or put behind bars. Pleadings from leaders far and near fell on deaf ears. The king was a virtual prisoner in his own palace, concentrating his total acumen (which was not much), and the resources of the village on his personal security, alcohol (which he indulged in all day long), and a retinue of sycophants spurring him on.” I asked the old man for the name of the village and he said it was not clear in the dream. I suggested Zambia where former President Kaunda was being accused of coming from Malawi, and papa said that the village was nearer home than that in his dream. It can’t be Ghana, I said? Rawlings’ father was from Scotland but Scotland is not Ghana’s neighbour by any stretch of the imagination. Papa wasn’t helping much with unraveling the dream but we agreed that robbers attacking from neighbouring countries always tended to be more vicious than the local robbers. That while the foreigners raped, maimed, and murdered, without any feeling of guilt or kinship, the native rogues sometimes felt pity for the fellow natives they were robbing. We also considered the typical characteristics of a king. Usually, they are dictators and they hardly ever have deputies. They never have to hand over power to anyone. They die on the job only for their wives, sons, or relatives from their extended family tree, to take over. Could it be Gowon then? I asked with a sudden sense of revelation. He did not want to hand over. He caused a civil war that nearly dismembered our country. His regime was as corrupt as hell, and he gave chunks of our land to the Cameroon. I suspect he is a Cameroonian, I concluded. Papa said our country was awash with petro-dollars when Gowon was in power. That our problem then was how to spend our oil windfall. That, in any case, Gowon has since been atoning for his sins by going around the country praying for our unity and survival. Papa said I should stop interrupting him and let him finish narrating his dream. That life in the village began falling apart soon after the foreigner imposed himself as king on the people. There was an unprecedented revolt of the masses triggered by the thousands of army of the unemployed, the armed robbers, social perverts, and quietly strengthened by the king’s own civil security agencies. Initially, the people turned their anger on each other, burning homes, properties, and maiming and killing hundreds of their innocent kith and kin daily, because they could not reach the king. After two weeks of the mayhem, a senior member of the king’s private army suddenly turned against the monster king. He claimed that he could no longer continue to turn a blind eye while his people were dying in their hundreds daily and their land was being destroyed by greedy foreign interests without stakes of any sort in the well-being of the people. He organized the people’s rag-tag army and stormed the king’s fort against formidable resistance that included Libya’s men and machine. The war dragged for ten days, and thousands of innocent people died on both sides, until the king’s army was put under severe siege. The village was in total shambles, and since the king had achieved his ambition to reduce the people and their economy to nothing, he tried to escape to his home village across the border. He had diverted considerable resources, and built an intimidating bunker of a paradise palace there for that eventual escape. The people’s army caught up with the escaping king’s family just before the border. The king was held by the crowd to watch the humiliating and painful death of members of his family before he was tied to the back of a moving vehicle and dragged on the ground around the village streets, bleeding and screaming blue murder until he gave up the ghost. The young patriotic leader of the people’s army was hailed as a hero and appointed regent for saving the village at the nick of time from total disintegration. The immured rightful native prince was crowned king after three months while the regent became the head of the re-organized people-oriented friendly army. Of course, the immured rightful native prince never made it alive from Abacha’s gulag and if Abacha had not died in the night following the morning the above article was published, I probably would have been dead since too, and the Guradian newspaper premises would almost certainly have been burnt out of existence or closed down indefinitely. The civilian contraption Babangida slammed in place on August 26th 1993, to save face, facilitated the Defense Minister of the ING, General Abacha’s ascendance, without bloodshed. The ‘Interim nonsense’ lasted from August 27, 1993 to November 17, 1993. Impostors were bought off with millions of dollars in foreign accounts for Abacha to consolidate hold on power and punish us with the most heartless, unimaginative, and destructive leadership in our history. The nightmare under Abacha began on November 17, 1993, with Abacha pretending to have come to right the wrong of the June 12 annulment. He gathered members of the June 12 lobby into his government for the purpose of identifying them for eventual emasculation or elimination, and retired the Babangida Boys such as Dogonyaro, Halilu Akilu, David Mark etc, from the army. In an interview published at the time, David Mark revealed that Abacha was planning an indefinite stay in power. Abacha refused to give the terminal date for his regime, and when the agitation for the actualization of June 12 became unbearable, he removed the June 12 Ministers, such as Chris Alli, Madueke, etc, from his Provisional Ruling Council (PRC). Abacha locked up Abiola for declaring himself President and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and charged him with the offence of treasonable felony. Then to distract the rest of us, he put a contraption he called a Constitutional Conference together and tasked it with determining his regime’s terminal date. Election to the Constitutional Conference was boycotted; fewer than 300,000 people participated compared with the more than 14 million voters in the Babangida’s ill-fated June 12 elections. At the Conference, Oba Dapo Tejuoso, in what appeared to be the Yoruba position, called for the de-annulment of June 12, and the installation of Abiola as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This was countered by the Hausa/Fulani members of the Conference, who argued that the sacking of the Shehu Shagari regime by the military was no less unjust, and that Shehu should be re-instated to complete his second term in office. The Igbos were divided, with some supporting the June 12 lobby and others insisting that the pogrom, the civil war, and Igbo marginalization, are evidences of injustices going round. The Southern minorities called for justice over the June 12 issue and their marginalization over oil wealth share. The Conference settled for the release of Abiola to head an interim government to conduct new elections. The Conference also recommended Federalism of the State structure type; rotational presidency between North and South; punishment for coups, and the pruning of the army to a small and lethal size. The issue of revenue sharing was down played but the Conference gave January 6, 1996, as the terminal date for the Abacha’s regime. Abacha was miffed, causing a stalemate and unceremonious end of the Conference, thus freeing himself to deal mercilessly with us. With dark goggles and a mean look, Abacha sat behind a large desk to chip away relentlessly at our common patrimony, which he diverted to his various private accounts abroad. His ambition was to out perform his military predecessor’s record in the area of self-perpetuation in office and how much could be stolen from the national coffers in what time? The book, The Sink, by Jeffrey Robinson, tells us that even before becoming the head of state in 1993, Abacha and his family had begun to move money abroad. In 1988, as army chief for instance, he sent his two eldest sons, Ibrahim and Mohammed, as his agents to IPB in New York, where three accounts were opened in coded names. Before the bank could discover who they were dealing with, Abacha had moved his money to Switzerland, where 20 different banks operated more than 140 different accounts of his stolen money. Abacha died in 1998, and left behind in his accounts abroad, over $4.3 billion. The $2.3 billion of the amount came directly from the state treasury, the remaining were proceeds from contracts awarded to himself and members of his family. The wife, Mariam Abacha, commenting on the fraud said her husband was saving the money in his accounts abroad for Nigeria. Mariam too tried to save money abroad for Nigeria after her husband’s death. According to the book: The Sink, she was caught with 38 suitcases containing foreign currency, at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, while trying to escape to Saudi Arabia. The money which was put at between $50 - $100 million, was being taken away on the pretence that she was going for Hajj in Saudi Arabia. A very weird family indeed. One of Abacha’s sons, after Abacha’s death, took a trailer vehicle to a Nigerian bank to use to cart away one billion naira cash he was attempting to withdraw on the spot. Of course, Babangida and Abacha frustrated Yar Adua, who kept screaming that it was his turn to rule, until Abacha’s medical agent terminated his life in prison through lethal injection in early 1998. Obasanjo who was in prison for involvement in a coup plot at the time, was to have been eliminated exactly three weeks before Abacha’s death by the lethal injection of Abacha’s doctor of death, the same way Yar Adua was dealt with earlier but he was lucky. Obasanjo was warned by Chief Bola Ige in good time not to allow himself to be injected by any government agent. Obasanjo bribed his way to be taken to a hospital feigning some ten serious and complicated ailments that included malaria and typhoid. He was rushed to the hospital with guards and all, and put on drips etc, as if he was close to death. The government’s agent of death could not administer his lethal dose in the hospital in the condition Obasanjo was visibly in. Obasanjo, to all intents and purposes looked like he was dying so why not let nature do its work, the government’s agent (or doctor of death), must have thought. When Abacha was not busy killing his opponents or emptying our treasury he was drunk or relaxing on taxpayers’ money with a bunch of Egyptian delights or Indian ‘succulent’ apples, until he enjoyed himself to death without mourners. Abacha died through doctored drink while frolicking with imported teenage prostitutes, in the early morning of June 8th 1998. Abacha was preparing at the time to transit from military head of state to civilian President. Abacha was set up with six Indian prostitutes imported from Dubai and housed in his guest house. They were wriggling sexually and provocatively to Abacha’s favourite ‘Makosa’ music in the guest house dance hall, while Abacha was swaying in titillation on his seat to the rhythm, and drinking his favourite Gulder beer, laced with some ground tablets, by the girls. Oseni’s drink was spared, although he was drinking to keep his friend’s company. At exactly 4.30 am, Abacha started feeling tired so he retired unceremoniously to his bed in the guest house. Oseni immediately left the scene and drove straight to Jos. By 6.15 am, the drugs had eaten up Abacha’s entire intestines and he was dead. Oseni, who was one of the most senior officers in the Nigerian Army then, and (who Abacha himself described as his best friend), when asked about apples by the Sun newspapers in 2003 where I first published this story, said: “So, we don’t have apples in Nigeria?” He denied involvement in Abacha’s death, but when he was told that Abacha died on top of an Indian teenage prostitute, he replied: “is it only from the top? What about sideways and from the back?” Generals Oseni and Bamayi battled each other to take over the leadership of the country. Major Mustapha, who was head of security at the time, frustrated both of them out of a strong sense of patriotism. He could have taken over the leadership of the country because the entire security apparatus was under his control. Instead, he maneuvered the system to hand over leadership to Abubakar, who was the Chief of Staff and the most senior in the force at the time. He handed over 800 million naira security vote, and other properties and documents to Abubakar, some of which were never accounted for.
Naiwu Osahon is a renowned author, philosopher of science, mystique,and leader of the world Pan-African Movement.