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ABACHA’S LONG SILENCE

“Anyone who feels nothing serving in a tyrannical state where he is shielded from accountability over his actions and words cannot be expectant of, or join others to demand for, a democratic government where Parliament is wise enough to ask questions.”

Did you know that a man's mind is like a parachute that can only function or malfunction if and when it is open? This much was brought home to the erudite Nigerian philanthropist, author, publisher, social critic, politician and human and civil rights lawyer, Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, S.A.N (1938-2009) exactly eleven years before he departed this 'sinful world'.

Gani, as he was fondly called, had approached the Federal High Court of Lagos to challenge the adoption of Nigeria's 10th Head of State, General Sani Abacha, GCON (1943-1998) as consensus presidential candidate by the then five political parties which the former attorney general and minister of justice, Chief Bola Ige (1930-2001), mockingly and rightly, described as the “five fingers of a leprous hand.” But on Monday, 25th May, 1998 (exactly 74 days to Abacha's death), his suit was struck out for lack of Jurisdiction by the presiding judge, Justice Babatunde Belogore (1934-2010), who became the longest serving Chief Judge of the Federal High Court (having been appointed the fourth Chief Judge of the Court on Thursday, 22nd September, 1988).

Without bathing an eyelid, Belgore told the activist-lawyer that it was utterly impossible for General Abacha to prevent those who nominated him from doing so. The judge spoke matter-of-factly:

“If other people in their wisdom decided to nominate him or confer an honour on him, he is not bound in law to react. The greatest fundamental human right is that a man cannot be prosecuted or held liable for his thought or even his wishes. A man's mind is like a parachute; it can only function or malfunction when it is open.”

Belgore ruled that Abacha's long silence should not and cannot be used against him, declaring with finality:

“I cannot see how a declaration can be made or injunction can be issued on a mere speculative conclusion.”

Gani tried to speak, at least to say “As your Lordship pleases” as counsels normally do say at that point, but for once, his voice had left him. Trouble actually started around early 1997 when Nigerians noticed that General Abacha had persistently refused to be categorical about his intention, as he had consistently been between 1994 and 1996, that he was least intentioned to transmute himself into a civilian president come 1st October, 1998, at the end of his transition programme. The dark-goggled head of state did not help matters at all when he abandoned “the logic of his argument” and cleverly told the Washington Post in an interview on Sunday, 9th February, 1997 that his action would not amount to anything novel on the continent or in the sub-region if he eventually chose to run. Said Abacha, shamelessly, to the American newspaper:

“The decision is my own constituency's. It is not new in Africa, neither is it new in the sub-region, where people have stepped into politics.”

By this statement, the General may have been sending feelers. As television programmes are essentially bait to attract an audience for advertisements, so did Abacha's statement elicit mixed reactions across the nation. While the political class mostly viewed the idea of his self-succession favourably, NADECO and civil society were definitely averse to it on grounds of “morality and propriety”, and they did not delay to tell him so. On the same day, Democratic Alternative (DA) said in a statement read by its president, Chima Ubani (1963-2005):

“We have always known that the General had the ambition of installing himself president through the instrumentality of the transition programme. He is bound to manipulate the process to his own advantage thus prolonging his rule.”

Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) picked it up from there, charging that General Abacha was economical with the truth and that he should desist from pulling wool over the eyes of Nigerians by saying he had not given the matter any thought, yet he could:

“go ahead to state that the idea of soldier turned president is not a new one in the sub-region.”

Only a week before this, Alhaji Abdulrahman Okene, Chairman of the Federal Character Commission, had decided to lend his voice to the subject in favour of Abacha when he said straight-faced humourlessly:

“If citizens clamoured that General Abacha should come out and contest the presidential election under the civil rule programme because of the good work they have seen so far done by this administration, the General can retire and contest.”

From then on, the Abacha for President campaign began to spread like wild fire. DPN strongman in Ibadan, Lamidi Adedibu (1927-2008), who backed the army general, sighted United States' first president and war general, George Washington (1732-1799) and Britain's World War II prime minister, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), to send home his point:

“I do not see anything wrong with General Abacha contesting and I am supporting him.”

At a pro-democracy rally organised by Adedibu in Ibadan on Wednesday, 15th April, 1998, he struggled and declared humiliatingly:

“True sons and daughters of Yorubaland are in support of General Sani Abacha and those opposed to him are anti-God. The Yoruba must not be left out of the mainstream of Nigerian politics. They must support the self-succession plan of the head of state. ”

Former National Publicity Secretary of Congress for National Consensus (CNC), Chief Chris Maduabrochukwu Okolie (1949-2007), who had since cross-carpeted to the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). Okolie would be remembered for his proprietorship of Newbreed, a monthly magazine which “became synonymous with the pursuit of justice, probity and responsible governance.” For being offended by the mid-January and mid-March 1977 editions of the publication, the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979) banned the magazine for two years and promulgated the enabling decree on Wednesday, 14th June, 1978 (more than a year after the ban). Okolie, who may have grown forever fearful of the “khaki boys” as a result of this, or more probably that he saw an opportunity to make some money, quickly chose to discard his personal qualities of courage and incorruptibility. He too pressed home his support for Abacha like this:

“If tomorrow it is clear that General Abacha can actually contest and that his presidency will bring national unity and will promote stability, I am asking you, would you say no?”

The campaign to have General Abacha transform into a civilian President by Thursday, 1st October, 1998 was no doubt the most profitable and lucrative business in Nigeria at the time, which explained why Abacha's foot soldiers swelled by the day, trapped in a humdrum but well-paid job. The 'what's in it for me' syndrome was to grip the political landscape almost entirely.

The following politicians and businessmen represented those with the conviction that supporting the Abacha ambition remained the surest way to easy money, juicy contracts and ultimately power. Check out their humongous but unpatriotic stuff and calibre: Alhaji Mohammed Gambo Jimeta, Maitama Bell Yusuf, Senator Chuba Okadigbo (1941-2003), Lt. Gen. Jeremiah Useni (Jerry Boy), Pat Abbi, Daniel Kanu (of YEAA), Dr. Olusola Saraki (1933-2012), Barnabas Gemade, Chief Arthur Nzeribe, Chief Emmanuel Iwayanwu, Chief Bode Olajumoke, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Senator Jubril Martins Kuye, Isa Mohammed, Ismaila Gwarzo, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, Sergeant Awuse, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, Chief Alex Akinyele, Chief Paulinus Akpeki, Dr. Abel Ubeku, Alhaji Dan Kabo and Alhaji Azeez Alao Arisekola, who said at the Ibadan rally of 15th April, 1998 that:

“General Abacha is God's chosen leader. He is a leader endowed with perfection; not arrogant with power. If God decreed that Abacha will be President, no human rights activist can stop him. Only Abacha can hold the armed forces together. The influence of Afenefere (Yoruba socio-political Group) and Solomor Lar Group [G-34] cannot stop Abacha from becoming the civilian President. It is in the interest of our children and future generation for Abacha to continue.”

Other Abacha supporters include Chief Arthur Eze, Chief Tom Ikimi, Chief Tony Anenih, Alhaji Abdulrahman Okene, Chief Barnabas Gemade, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, Dr. Sule Hamma, Chief (Mrs.) Titi Ajanaku, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, Brigadier Abba Kyari (Rtd.), Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Chief Dan Etete, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, Prof. Auwalu Hamisu Yadudu, Mr Laz Unaogu, Sir Emeka Offor, Mr. Sumner Dagogo-Jack, Prince Eze Nwauwa, Mrs. Joy Emordi, Josiah Odunna, Saminu Turaki, and Evangelist Bamidele Isola Olumilua, among others, who said at the Ekiti rally for Abacha:

“General Abacha as a human being may have his shortcomings, but he has definitely done a lot not only to stabilise the country but to prove to the outside world that Nigeria is capable of managing her own affairs without depending much on outside dictation and also able to take her rightful position.”

The other side of the coin, that is, those who opposed and challenged General Abacha's transmutation into a civilian president at considerable risks to their lives and livelihood, were: Chief Adekunle Ajasin (1908-1997), Chief Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010), Chief MKO Abiola (1937-1998), Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti (1940-2006), Chief Rotimi Williams (1920-2005), Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Solomon Lar (1933-2013), Alhaji Abubakar Rimi (1940-2010), Alhaji Sule Lamido, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Muhammandu Dikko Yusuf, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, Chief Alex Ekwueme, and Chief Abraham Adesanya, then Deputy Chairman of NADECO, who told Newswatch that:

“Nigeria had been reduced to the unacceptable status of a banana republic where a transient despot called Abacha is greater than the state.”

Others Nigerians who blanched at Abacha's 'democratic' miscalculations include: Prof Wole Soyinka, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade, Rtd. Air Commodore Dan Suleman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Onasanya, Alhaji Lam Adesina (1939-2012), Chief Olu Falae, Ayo Opadokun, Prof. Isawa Elaigwu, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, Otunba Gani Adams, Omoyele Sowore, Comrade Ola Oni, Moshood Erubami, Prince Oyeniyi Omotosho, Alhaji Abdulkarim Daiyabu and Tunji Abayomi of Hunman Rights Africa (HRA), among others, who equated Abacha's adoption to a coup against the people's sovereignty:

“If Abacha concedes to this proposal, it would be the most wicked conspiracy against the citizens of Nigeria.”

From right, left, and centre, the military apologists had a field day. Dating to their registration, officials of each of the five political parties, Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM), Congress for National Consensus (CNC), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), and United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP), have been trying to outdo one another in their campaign to “conscript” Abacha as their parties' candidate. One of them is Chief Nathaniel Zome, whose tenure as Post Master-General of the Federation (1989-1993), marked the first real attempt to turn NIPOST's fortunes around, which paid off when the Universal Postal Union (UPU) tremendously boosted his radical approach. Zome, too, was on hand to use his CNC platform to promote “the Abacha-must-run campaign”. Hear him:

“Abacha is there because his constituency put him there. Now if his constituency decides he should contest then what do you think we the politicians can do?”

By Sunday, 20th April, 1997, the shenanigans of the run-Abacha-run campaigners had become one huge embarrassment to the military regime of General Abacha that its chief propagandist and special duties minister, Alhaji Wada Nas (derided in the South as 'Wadnoise' and 'Wada Nas(ty') had to disabuse the mind of the general public that the government had no hand in it. Said Nas in a release titled Do Not Confuse The Public:

“These activities are clearly prejudicial to the political transition programme of the Federal Government as well as the sincerity of its leadership in pursuit of the avowed commitment to a democratically-elected civilian administration in October 1998.”

In fact, by the same token, the international community had already concluded that Abacha's transition programme had failed abjectly. Britain spoke forcefully through its Foreign Office:

“Our view is that the transition process has reached the end of the road. It has failed. It has not proved to be a democratic exercise.”

The United States, through former diplomat and journalist, James Rubin, 53, who served in the State Department during the administration of President Bill Clinton, spoke in a similar vein:

“What we have seen so far is the manipulation of the democratic process by General Abacha and his cronies.”

Despite their pretences, the General and his handlers were upset and worried to death by these criticisms. But since they were using the politicians and their parties to serve purposes that were far from being democratic, these politicians and military apologists alike did not relent. Rather, they intensified their campaign and spoke “the language of war”, like did Pat Abbi, DPN's national publicity secretary, who threatened that:

“There will be war in Nigeria if Abacha does not become the president because June 12 ghost is still very much around. In fact, I am telling you now that whether Abacha likes it not we shall conscript him to continue as civilian president. Even if he joins other parties, DPN will still support him.”

Also Alhaji Saleh Hassan, DPN's embattled National Chairman, said 'No Abacha, No Nigeria,' and quickly added that, well, his party had no plans to monopolise the General, contrary to the fears of the other four leprous parties. However, by a decade later, on Independence day, Wednesday, 1st October, 2008, the Plateau-born politician had been safely converted to trust in the indivisibility of the country. In an interview with Daily Trust, Saleh debunked insinuations by some countries that Nigeria will disintegrate by the year 2015; especially when the North, which majorly constitute Nigeria (according to him), planned no such thing. Nobody told Saleh that if he had had his way ten years earlier, Nigeria would have vanished with General Abacha at his unexpected denouement. God is, indeed, an ironist. He told the newspaper:

“There are many things that we have in common as a people despite our differences which will not yield any positive result if the country is divided.”

On Monday, 2nd March, 1998, Nigerians were roused from their slumbers by the voice of Colonel Abubakar Umar, former Military Governor of Kaduna State, when he chivvied the choleric General with a few well-directed words, and with a ring of prophesy, cautioned Nigerians to end the charade already choking the nation. Umar added:

“I have always asked people what happens if today we wake up and find out that this man is no more. How can they say there is nobody who can rise up to be President out of over 100 million Nigerians?…General Abacha should save this country and himself the trouble of his candidature…I hope he will not accept to be turbaned as the traditional ruler of Nigeria because it is not a contest…Will Nigeria disappear if this man is gone? There is always an end to human life and it will be pretty dangerous if we continue to believe that General Abacha is the only man that can rule this country.”

Could it be that Colonel Umar's caution was taking a while to sink in, or was it just a case of the proverbial dog that was destined to go astray for heartening to ignore the hunter's whistle? Because the following day, Tuesday, 3rd March 1998, 74 carefully-choreographed traditional rulers, drawn from across the country and led by Sultan Muhammadu Maccido (1928-2006); whom Abacha had installed as Sultan of Sokoto on 21st April, 1996, following his deposition and banishment of Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki a day earlier (Saturday, 20th April), paid General Abacha a visit in Aso Rock to give him their mandate to become the next president based on the 'achievements' of his government, which needed to be consolidated if Nigeria was truly desirous of peace and prosperity. Maccido reeled out his blarney to the General, who pretended to be listening with rapt attention. He was obviously loving their royal blandishments:

“Your Excellency, we have carefully looked around and with all humility, we hasten to say that you are a person fully qualified to occupy that seat. The entire membership of the Traditional Rulers Forum has, therefore, decided to humbly but strongly appeal to you to consider contesting the post of civilian President in the October 1998 election so that you can continue the good work you are doing.”

The willy General, who continued to maintain his long silence as he was still bidding his time, merely expressed his gratitude to the royal fathers and sealed his lips forthwith. Despite all their usual humbug and obligatory compliments, Abacha would, yet, not commit himself whether he had hearkened their royal call.

In the meantime, Daniel Kanu, who, ordinarily, managed Agura Hotel in Abuja, which belonged to his father, got smart with his ilk, floated Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA) and with it, organised a two-million march (bankrolled by the military government and given full coverage by the Nigerian Television Authority) in the nation's capital “to 'persuade' Abacha to run for the Presidency.” Interestingly, even Tom Ikimi's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had, a week to the rally (Friday, 27th February, 1998), invited the Dean of Diplomatic Corps to the event, via a letter referenced 1-131/98. The letter, which enjoined the DDC to spread the 'good news' to his colleagues, read:

“On Tuesday 3, and Wednesday March 4, 1998, two million youths will march in Abuja in support of the call on the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief to be a consensus candidate for President during the next election.

“Moreover, over 300 Nigerian musicians and entertainment groups will feature for forty-eight hours non-stop. To this end, the Dean of Diplomatic Corps is being enjoined to encourage members of the diplomatic and consular corps, as well as international organizations to be present in Abuja in order to witness first hand, as observers, in this epoch-making event.”

Speakers at the well attended rally include: Dr. Joseph Wayas, Alhaji Maitama Bello, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir (1938 -2009), Comrade Uche Chukwumerije, Chief Sam Mbakwe (1929-2004), Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Alhaji Bukar Mandara (1932- 2013), Chief Jim Nwobodo, Senator Evan Enwerem (1935-2007), Hajia Zainab Maina, Alhaji Saidu Umar, Chief Segun Odegbami, and John Fashanu. Also, one of speakers, Chief Arthur Eze, a military apologist and one of Abacha's foot soldiers, who caused a stir recently when “he splashed a personal donation of N1.8billion” at the fund raising of President Goodluck Jonatnan's country home church, declared:

“Youths gathered here today will not leave this parade ground until a positive response is received from the Head of State, General Sani Abacha. He is the guardian of lives and security in Nigeria. Our blood is on his head. He is the chief security officer. He has laid a solid foundation for the growth of democracy in Nigeria, so he should continue with his good work.”

Olisa Agbakoba must have calculated that if Daniel Kanu could hold up his two-million-man march FOR Abacha in Abuja amidst pomp and pageantry, his own five-million-man rally AGAINST the General in Lagos will be twice applauded. He was wrong, for it suddenly became 'different strokes for different folks.' Nigerians were aghast. They wondered whatever happened to justice in the way and manner people were treated. Surely, something terrible had impaired the military regime's overall sense of justice and fairness. As witnessed, it was selective justice intoto in Lagos, where the state's Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav and his men descended heavily on the Agbakoba-led United Action for Democracy (UAD) and other pro-democracy demonstrators with tear-gas and horse-whips. The same Nigeria Police that had provided support and security for Daniel Kanu in the FCT, Abuja, now rushed to arrest, detain, and brutalise Olisa Agbakoba in the former capital, Lagos for the same 'crime'. Agbakoba was arraigned in court with a battered face subsequently, but the courageous magistrate freed him and threw out the case immediately. The Nigeria Police had become the proverbial dog which protected and pampered its own offspring, whereas attacked and maimed those belonging to other parents.

On Monday, 11th May, 1998, Chief F.R.A. Williams, QC, SAN (1920-2005), through his interview published in the Guardian, consoled a near hopeless and helpless nation to take heart because the charade called Abacha's self-succession bid was likely to end in crisis. Said 'Timi the Law':

“We all know from experience that 'wuruwuru' (dubious plan) inevitably leads to 'katakata' (catastrophe)…In my own view, the political parties ought to know that General Abacha is simply not qualified under the law as it exists today, to be put in office as the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In the first place, he cannot be a candidate at any election. This is because section 34 of the Political Parties (Registration and Activities) Decree no 28 of 1996 defines a candidate as follows: 'candidate' means a member of a political party nominated by the party and accepted by the Commission to contest an election organised by the Commission.”

Williams concluded that both the political parties and the electoral body, NECON would not touch General Abacha even with a long pole knowing they will be “breaking the law of the land.” Later that day, the Foreign Minister, Chief Tom Ikimi, described Williams and other opponents of General Abacha's self-succession bid as just being their normally loquacious selves. He said Nigeria could not be perturbed, and so, dismissed their glasnost ideas with a wave of the hand. Said Ikimi:

“Nigeria has heard a lot of noise in the past and what has it come to? Nothing. Why should Nigeria care?”

Ikimi's 'bold face' notwithstanding, just as pictures add interest to painted walls, this latest incident added to the pressure on the government. Moreover, on that same Monday, 25th May, 1998 that Gani lost his suit before Belgore, a statement calling upon the incumbent Head of State, General Abacha, “to urgently break his long silence and publicly reject the pleas of those self-serving individuals and groups calling on him to contest” the presidential election fixed for Saturday, 1st August that year because “doing so will complicate rather than resolve the political crisis in the country” among other reasons given, was issued in Kaduna by some 200 northern lecturers, who strongly felt that the interest of Nigerians and Nigeria would be better served if everyone publicly declared their stand on the matter. The lecturers were mainly drawn from the following universities: Ahmadu Bello, Bayero, and Uthman Dan Fodio. They called themselves 'Concerned Academics and Scholars.' Part of their said statement, which was signed by Dr. Attahiru Jega, former ASUU President and current INEC Chairman, Dr. Jubril Bala Muhammed (d. June 2001) and Dr. Mohammed Bulama, emphatically read:

“We are deeply worried about the future of our beloved country, Nigeria, under the much touted self-succession agenda.… It is our considered opinion, Abacha should not contest the Presidential election under any guise.”

For Dr. Christopher Shuaibu Abashiya, one of the lecturers clutching the statement, it was unfathomable. Abashiya was the Registrar of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and later a Commissioner in Kaduna State, who became famous for blacklisting contractors that brought him gratification at festive periods, chastising them “I don't need your thanks, I just came here to serve.” On this occasion, he wondered aloud before newsmen, with a query and a subtle threat:

“How can any person of sound mind justify the emergence of Abacha as President of Nigeria at the end of a programme initiated by him, supervised by him and executed and implemented by people appointed by him? It is a case of a referee taking part in a game in which he is supposed to be the judge. Abacha has nothing more to offer anyone in this country. Only God knows the dimension and intensity of the looming calamity if Abacha remains at the helm of affairs under whatever arrangement a day after October 1, this year.”

By Wednesday, 27th May 1998, it had become more than obvious that the Abacha government had been so unprepared for the challenge which the northern lecturers' statement portended as its military handlers clandestinely plotted “a response by mobilizing their own 'lecturers'.” By then Jega, who said because Ghana's strongman Jerry Rawlings manipulated his country's process and succeeded did not mean Abacha would also succeed in Nigeria, was already a step ahead, reinforcing the stand of his colleagues on the BBC. He outlined:

“If Abacha is interested in becoming the next President, he should resign his position, join a political party, campaign, then if the Nigerian electorate feel okay with him, they can elect him. The way things are going now, everything is being planned and schemed in order to ensure that General Abacha succeeds himself. My opinion is that General Abacha should not contest the election. ”

But, two days later (Friday, 29th May, 1998), not minding whose ox was gored and completely deafened to calls that he should not contest in the coming election, General Abacha, while commissioning the Sani Abacha International Trade Development Centre in Kaduna, defiantly said:

“I am further encouraged to re-dedicate myself to the service, welfare and progress of our great nation. ”

Apparently, the general's hunger for the presidency was bottomless. Later that day in Abuja, UNCP National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Ibrahim Nasiru Mantu, who later became Deputy Senate President (2003-2007), claimed that his party was having fruitful discussions with the dark-goggled dictator, based on favourable reports received from across the country which attested to his electability and popularity. Said Mantu:

“We made contacts with our state and local government branches nationwide and everybody came back with a reply that he (Abacha), more than any other Nigerian at this point in time, is electable and most popular.”

Earlier on Sunday, 17th May 1998, Abacha's arrogant Finance Minister, who occupies a place of his own on World Bank's List of Nigerian Looters, Anthony Ani, and whose cloning as a military apologist turned full circle when he roared before guests seated at a get-together party of the University College London Alumni Association, unmindful that democracy and development go hand-in-hand like demand and supply. Ani needed to be told that the two ought to be treated as non-negotiable if Nigeria truly placed any premium on her being reckoned with in the comity of nations. You would think either a Lamidi Adedibu or a Sabo Barkin Zuwo (1934-1989) probably wrote Ani's lousy speech for him, or worse still, that the “over-publicised and under-scrutinised” finance minister had his tutelage under both men working together, and that's the real nightmare. Ani told his audience:

“Democracy does not make food available at the dining table. Democracy does not make food for the hungry man. It (democracy) cannot feed an empty stomach. All we have to do to meet our basic needs are to put hands together to make the economy work, democracy or no democracy.”

Ani, our “foremost political scientist,” simply missed the point and failed to understand why it is important for Nigerians to decide who rule them at any point in time. It could not have been otherwise because the man remained blindly preoccupied with his own interests as well as those of his master. Political jobbers like Ani, who work for a tyrannical regime like Abacha's, will eternally confuse political economy, “a specialised area of study” with ordinary technical accounting, where a balanced book is tantamount to a problem solved. Anyone who feels nothing serving in a tyrannical state where he is shielded from accountability over his actions and words cannot be expectant of, or join others to demand for, a democratic government where Parliament is wise enough to ask questions.

Former presidential spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi, has, indeed, done us, Nigerians, a world of service (apology to Dele Olojede) by chronicling in his 236-page book The Last 100 Days of Abacha, (The Bookhouse Company, 2005, upon which this piece is based), the political drama in the country under General Sani Abacha, whom he described as one of Africa's most corrupt and brutal dictators, as well as exposing Nigeria's crisis of leadership since the unprincipled but willing agents of dictatorship that surrounded Ababa then, are still the same people masquerading as Nigerian leaders, having cornered a hunk of positions of power and authority in democratic capacities as senators, representatives, governors, assemblymen, ministers, commissioners, and advisers, etc. Truly, God must be an ironist. Well, concerning Ani's primitive political economy, Adeniyi reproached him bluntly, ibid, page 198:

“It is a tragedy that a civilian of Ani's status, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) can, at the threshold of the 21st century, argue that there can be development without democracy when it is self-evident that Nigeria is being held back from prosperity that ought to be if the civil society had been allowed to play its crucial role…Ani's thesis is not only self-serving, it is fraught with danger… The people reserve the right to demand for leaders of their choice. And they will.”

However, on Monday, 1st June 1998, two UNCP chieftains jolted Abacha and his cronies when they resigned from the party in opposition to the adoption of a serving soldier. The first was the former Governor of Kaduna State (1983) Alhaji Lawal Kaita, 81, who helped the NPN to impeach Second Republic governor of Kaduna State (1979-1981), Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, 77, to whom Kaita narrowly lost the election for Governor in 1979. The other person was Alhaji Iro Abubakar Danmusa (1934-2010), a former minister of the FCT, Abuja, Deputy National Chairman and member of the PDP Board of Trustees. Danmusa, who co-ordinated Governor Victor Attah's failed presidential campaign in 2007, spoke to reporters in Kaduna at the time about his resignation from the UNCP:

“I cannot see how I will reconcile my stand against self-succession with the decision of the UNCP to adopt Abacha as its Presidential candidate.”

On the same day, the egregious and incorrigible Alhaji Wada Nas (1939-2005), Abacha's chief propagandist and minister of special duties, accused the “United States, Ghana, and South Africa of engaging in acts capable of subverting” Nigeria's cherished “peace and unity”. The reader will recall that Nas came to national limelight after the cancellation of the presidential election of Saturday, 12th June, 1993, won by business mongul, Bashorun Moshood Abiola (1937-1998), the aftermath of which threw up the Abacha regime in that bloodless coup of Wednesday, 17th November 1993, that consigned the Ernest Shonekan Interim National Government (ING) to the dustbin of history. Nas was equally vehement in his accusations of the EU of subversive activities and particularly mentioned the Leader of United Action for Democracy (UAD) Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, OON, SAN; Dr. Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a Senior Lecturer in the Political Science Department of Lagos State University (LASU) and former General Secretary Campaign for Democracy (CD); and Chima Ubani, Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) – all prominent civil and human rights activists as well as pro-democracy crusaders, who organised the five million man march against Abacha- as those who received foreign grants “to destroy government facilities like oil pipelines, NEPA, and NITEL installations around the country in the hope of destabilising the Abacha government and installing Chief Abiola on the strength of the Saturday, 12th June 1993 election which he undoubtedly won. Nas further claimed that the trio were present at a meeting chaired by Senator Abraham Adesanya and held at Chief Gani Fawehinmi's Chambers at Anthony Village, Lagos.

This is very typical of Wada Nas. Remember playwright and environmental activist, Kenule “Ken” Beeson Saro Wiwa (1941-1995), who led a non-violent campaign against environmental degradation of the lands and waters of the oil-rich Ogoniland by the operations of the multinational petroleum industry, especially the Royal Dutch Shell. Wiwa was hastily tried and hanged by the military regime of General Abacha on Friday, 10th November, 1995, just as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) was billed to take off in Auckland, New Zealand, the following day (Saturday, 11th November). This singular incident fetched Nigeria a three year suspension from the august body in the face of international outrage and condemnation which Wiwa's execution provoked. It was this same Wada Nas that quickly waded in and took Abacha's critics to the cleaners. Sola Adenekan, in the Guardian online post of Friday, 11th February, 2005, corroborated Nas' typicalism:

“Nas defended the government's action accusing foreign governments of supporting insurgency. The next year, Nas accused Amnesty International of troublemaking, and three of its staff were arrested en route to a reception hosted by the US ambassador Walter Carrington. When Carrington's own farewell party was broken up by soldiers and riot police in 1997, Nas blamed him for the incident, and US-Nigerian relations reached their nadir.”

Earlier, in a Wednesday, 20th May, 1998 edition of JEUNE AFRIQUE, a French publication, General Abacha was asked how long he planned to stay in office. Perhaps, forgetting that he had told members of the 1995 Constitutional Conference, and by extension Nigerians in particular and the watching world in general, that he would not be a participant in his own transition to civil rule programme, Abacha replied:

“The Nigerian people will decide. It is not a decision that an individual can take alone. Power and authority belong to God and only Him can decide the future with certainty but I do not, absolutely speaking, have the intention to perpetuate myself in power.”

He didn't. Doubtless, power and authority belong to God. And so, like all good and bad things that must come to an end eventually, on the morning of Monday, 8th June, 1998, General Sani Abacha, GCON blandly kicked the proverbial bucket in Abuja from what the government described as a sudden heart attack, and surrendered his “power and authority” to his Creator. Being a Muslim, he was hurriedly buried by 9 p.m same day in Kano, without an autopsy and without a 'burial party' (the usual 21-gun salute line up of soldiers normally given a fallen officer as his last military respect).

At that point, nothing else matter anymore; the fears and complaints of the other four political parties, GDM, CNC, DPN and NCPN, cum their threats to boycott the remaining transition programme if the National Assembly election 'won' by UNCP was not cancelled, suddenly did not matter anymore. Ditto for the G-34 politicians, whose position, like NADECO's and other pro-democracy activists', was for General Abacha not to transmute himself into a civilian president. Ditto for the national seminar advert placed in all national newspapers by Movement for National Stability (MNAS) and titled Should General Sani Abacha, GCON, contest the Presidency?, billed for that same 8th June, 1998. Nothing mattered anymore. The stubborn general, who said “he had finished consultations with his constituency on the matter and would make his decision known within a matter of weeks,” did not get around to fulfilling his date with history. He died suddenly while Aso Rock remained 'calm and quiet'. He died without ever getting to decide his acceptance or rejection of his sole-candidacy adoption, thereby becoming a victim of his procrastinating ploy. Mudiaga Ofuoku wrote in his piece, Abacha's Last Days, posted at Online Nigeria:

“General Sani Abacha, late Nigerian head of state, perfected a policy of silence and deceptive indifference to crucial government decisions. There were two things the public wanted him to decide on: his long speculated self-succession, and the death sentence passed on the alleged coup plotters led by Oladipo Diya, a lieutenant general and his former second-in-command. These two issues and other thorny ones formed part of the agenda of a meeting of the provisional ruling council, PRC, which the late general was to convene that week.”

As it turned out, whatever evil plans General Abacha had for Nigeria, went to hell when he died. His well known “penchant for taking decisions that bear heavy consequences on himself and his family,” according to Dr. Sule Hamma, his Political Adviser, had proved “to be self-fulfilling.” Yet, Nigeria did not disappear with the dictator as the Pro-Abachaists had wished. The country did not even shake or tremble one bit. Like the gigantic First Bank, Nigeria stands 'gidigba' after the entombment of the army tyrant, till this day. Nas was in no position to paraphrase Goebbels:

“The heart of Nigeria has ceased to beat. The General is dead.”

The heavens seem definite in their verdict – 'No Abacha, Yes Nigeria.' The late general's poor regard for the people's basic rights, undemocratic posturing and pariah status combined to make him unpopular. Anthony Kirk-Greene, author and Emeritus Fellow of St. Anthony's College, Oxford, whose publications include Glimpses of Empire: A Corona Anthology (I.B. Tauris, 2001) and Symbol of Authority: The British District Officer in Africa (I.B. Tauris, 2005), concludes that:

“His brutal contempt for democracy at home, combined with his deepening isolation on the international scene on account of his miserable record on human rights, meant that despite the campaign for him to stand for the presidency in 1998, Abacha died with a low level of popularity ratings to his credit. It must be in his legacy rather than in his leadership that the true worth of Nigeria under its ninth head of state in 38 years will in the end be revealed.”

Relief, shock, disbelief and spontaneous nationwide jubilation greeted the news of General Sani Abacha's death and early reactions, which captured the mood of the nation as well as that of the international community, were not anywhere near mixed. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, then a NADECO exile, who later become the Governor of Lagos State, spoke from London in a sombre mood, saying:

“It is a relief that he died a natural death. I do not rejoice over his demise neither do I regret it. Through his rule, many people lost their lives. It is a lesson to those greedy discredited military leaders.”

For then Super Eagles' 23-year old Sunday Oliseh, who was in training with his team mate (and Yugoslav coach, Bora Milutinovic), at their Resson-sur-Martz training ground near Chateau on the run-up to their France 98 World Cup opening match against Spain in Nantes on Saturday, 13th June, 1998:

“I just remember before afternoon training, I saw something on the television about Abacha, and then I suddenly heard he was dead. It was a real shock as Abacha was a great football fan. However different players are taking it differently – a mixture of shock, disbelief and sadness.”

A former Minister of Petroleum, Dr. E. Akobo, fired his own salvo from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in this manner:

“Abacha's death is God's solution to Nigeria's political stalemate. It is God's own coup and although we send our condolence to the family and the military, the fact remains that this is a heavenly coup.”

Broadcast journalist, Orji Ogbonaya Orji, Radio Nigeria's correspondent, who covered the State House for seven years, wrote in his book, Inside Aso Rock (Spectrum Books), that as General Abacha's corpse was being conveyed to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport en-route to Kano:

“I was surprised that there was instant jubilation by passersby. Taxi drivers lined up at major junctions shouting shame! Shame!! As the convoy drove past. Men and women ran after the convoy in utter disbelief of the turn of events. Some other people formed queues in groups with green leaves in their hands singing solidarity songs in a loud tone that suggested liberation from bondage.”

In London, The Right Honourable Robin Finlayson Cook (1946-2005), Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1997-2001), who resigned from his positions as Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons on Monday, 17th March 2003, in protest against the invasion of Iraq by the Allied Forces from Wednesday, 19th March 2003 to Thursday, 1st May, 2003, which deposed the Ba'athist government of Saddam Hussein (1937-2006), also said:

“We hope that following the death of General Sani Abacha, there will be an opening for a stable transition to an early return to democracy with elections of an accountable civilian government which will restore human rights.”

After Abacha's sudden death, Nas, who used to see NADECO in every shadow lurking in the corner, who labelled every 'Kaaaro-oo-jiire's son as a bomb thrower, and who mischievously and repeatedly cried wolf where none existed, “remoulded himself as a human right campaigner and champion of free speech, while still protecting Abacha's posthumous reputation”. On Saturday, 8th June 2002, on the occasion of the 4th year remembrance prayer for Abacha, the former education minister (1995) even sought forgiveness for his late boss' family, which President Obasanjo had already allowed to keep $100 million (after refunding over $1billion or 80% of their liquid asset in exchange for Mohammed Abacha's freedom from litigation). OBJ did this not because the money did not derive from criminal act, but because it can be proved that the money was removed from Nigeria before General Abacha came to power, as explained by Ambassador Knoblauch in his rejoinder to THISDAY editorial of 30th May, 2002, “Obasanjo's Deal With the Abachas.” Nas had pleaded:

“Nigerians should sympathise with the family of the late Head of State. They (the family) have lost their bread winner and now, the eldest son has been in detention for three years. This is a lot of agony for any family. So, I call on everyone to assist them with prayers.”

Na wah o, Nigeria eye don see o: Both before and after Wada Nas(ty), we had the alarmist and propagandist Comrade [now Senator] Uche Chukwumerije of Shonekan's ING; Dr. Walter Ibekwe Ofonagoro in the early years of the Abacha administration, and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode under Obasanjo, Chief Michael Kaase Aondoakaa under Yar'Adua, and today, Dr. Ahmed Gulak under Jonathan. Indeed, like it is said, every administration, every regime, every government with omnipresent and effective propaganda to unleash on their largely rural and illiterate population, usually manages to produce its own Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), a German politician and Adolf Hitler's minister of propaganda, whose death is still shrouded in mystery; William Joyce [nicknamed Lord Haw-Haw] (1906-1946), an Irish-American fascist politician and Nazi propaganda broadcaster, who was hanged for treason by the British; or even Mildred Gillars (1900-1988), nicknamed “Axis Sally”, a World War II propaganda proliferator, who was convicted of treason by the U.S. in 1949 after her capture in post-war Berlin. According to Robert Conquest (b. 1917), an Anglo-American historian and poet best known for his influential works of Soviet history, which include The Great Terror: Stalin's Purges of the 1930s:

“All in all, unprecedented terror must seem necessary to ideologically motivated attempts to transform society massively and speedily, against its natural possibilities. The accompanying falsifications took place, and on a barely credible scale, in every sphere. Real facts, real statistics, disappeared into the realm of fantasy.”

Conquest, currently a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, might as well be writing about Nigeria under General Sani Abacha's jackboot (1993-1998).

In Weathering The Challenges Of The Golden Age (II) Babangida and Abacha Era, the Osun Defender of Sunday, 12th October, 2011, published an apt summation of the Abacha years thus:

“The entire Abacha years were replete with killings and unlawful detention of innocent citizens. It took divine intervention, luck and timely flight to foreign lands for a large number of our best brains to escape unscathed. For a number of others who were less fortunate, it was a tale of woe which many of them never survived to narrate. The entire years of Abacha as helmsman in Nigeria were full of intrigues and indictment.”

Nigerians, indeed, sympathise with the Abacha family. We really do. The question is: With billions Nigeria's stolen wealth in their family kitty, do the Abachas sympathise with millions of our teeming population, who wallow daily in abject poverty? I very much doubt that they do.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Ajiroba Yemi Kotun and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Ajiroba Yemi Kotun