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Sani Abacha


10th President of Nigeria In office

November 17, 1993 – June 8, 1998

Preceded by Ernest Shonekan Succeeded by Abdulsalami Abubakar

General Sani Abacha (Kano, 20 September 1943 – Abuja, 8 June 1998) was a Nigerian military leader and politician. He was the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998.

Abacha was a Muslim of Kanuri extraction. As a young man, he was trained at various Nigerian and British military colleges. He joined the Nigerian military and had been promoted to brigadier by 1983. He was instrumental in the two bloodless military coups d'état that brought and removed General Muhammadu Buhari from power in 1983 and 1985. 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.

Abacha took over power from the caretaker government of Chief Ernest Shonekan, which was put into place by General Ibrahim Babangida after his annulment of the 12 June 1993 elections (won by Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola) caused a massive popular uproar. Abacha's government was accused of human rights abuses, especially after the hanging of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Auta tribunal (only one of several cases against Ogoni activists opposed to the exploitation of Nigerian land by multinational oil companies); Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo were jailed for treason, and Wole Soyinka charged in abstentia with treason. His regime suffered stiff opposition internally and externally by pro-democracy activists who made the regime unpopular, and responded by banning political activity in general and by controlling the press in particular; a significant fraction of the military was fired, and Abacha surrounded himself with approximately 3,000 armed men loyal to himself. His foreign policy was inconsistent: he did not oppose and even supported the Economic Community of West African States when troops were sent to Liberia and Sierra Leone (to restore democracy).

General Abacha died allegedly of a heart attack in June 1998 while at the presidential villa in Abuja. He was buried on the same day without an autopsy fueling speculation that he may have been poisoned by political rivals. He was 54. After his death, Maj. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Nigeria's defence 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 democratic civilian rule which led to the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The government of Obasanjo has implicated the deceased general and his family in a wholesale looting of Nigeria's coffers. The extent of his venality seems to have surpassed even that of more notorious African rulers, such as the late Mobutu Sese Seko.

According to post-Abacha governmental sources, some $3 or $4 billion USD in foreign assets have been traced to Abacha, his family and their representatives, $2.1 billion of which the Nigerian government tentatively came to an agreement with the Abacha family to return, with the quid pro quo being that the Abachas would be allowed to keep the rest of the money. Although this proposal caused a massive outcry at the time for seeming to reward the theft of public funds, it was subsequently rejected by the late dictator's son, Mohammed Abacha, who continues to maintain that all the assets in question were legitimately acquired. Although in 2002, Abacha's family accepted to return $1.2 billion that was taken from the central bank. Abacha was listed as the world's fourth most corrupt leader in recent history by Transparency International in 2004. Abacha had also literally laughed in the face of any possible sanctions by the United States against his government, arguing that the Americans would not do that on account that the oil companies are taking care of the Republicans and the Congressional Black Caucus takes care of the Democrats, and that all American blacks have a dual loyalty to African leaders.

The names of Sani Abacha and his widow, Maryam, are often used in 419 scams; he is “identified” in scam letters as the source for “money” that does not exist.

General Abacha served during the controversial execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. On 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa was hanged by Abacha, resulting in the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations.

Abacha died while in the company of two Indian prostitutes. Though the official cause of his death was a heart attack, according to a widely held belief amongst Nigerians and Western diplomats he overdosed on Viagra or Burantashi (a native Hausa-Fulani virility drug).


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