Sani Abacha

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sani Abacha
Sani Abacha.jpg
10th Head of State of Nigeria
In office
November 17, 1993 – June 8, 1998
Preceded by Ernest Shonekan
Succeeded by Abdulsalami Abubakar
Chief of Defence Staff & Minister of Defence (Nigeria)
In office
August 1990 – November 1993
Chief of Army Staff (Nigeria)
In office
August 1985 – August 1990
Preceded by Ibrahim Babangida
Succeeded by Salihu Ibrahim
Personal details
Born (1943-09-20)20 September 1943
Kano, Nigeria
Died 8 June 1998(1998-06-08) (aged 54)
Abuja, Nigeria
Nationality Nigerian
Political party none (military)
Spouse(s) Maryam Abacha
Religion Islam
Military service
Service/branch Nigerian Army
Years of service 1963–1998
Rank General

Sani Abacha (20 September 1943 – 8 June 1998) was a Nigerian Army general and politician who served as the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998.[1] Abacha's regime is controversial: although it saw dramatic economic growth, it also witnessed widespread human rights abuses.

Early life and education[edit]

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

Military career[edit]

Abacha was commissioned in 1963 after he had attended Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England. Before then, he had attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna. Refusing to accept a single political appointment throughout his military career, Abacha has been described as the epitome of military discipline. Abacha's military career is distinguished by 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. He was also a prominent figure in every single successful coup in Nigerian history, two of which brought and removed General Muhammadu Buhari from power in 1983. 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 appointed Minister of Defence in 1990.[3][4] In 1990, Sani Abacha became the first Nigerian soldier to attain the rank of a full General without skipping a single rank. On November 17, 1993, Abacha overthrew the short-lived transitional government of Chief Ernest Shonekan. 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.[5]

Participation in the Nigerian Counter-Coup of July 1966[edit]

Abacha, then a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion in Kaduna, was one of the many officers of northern Nigerian origin (including 2nd Lieutenant Ibrahim Babangida, Lieutenant Muhammadu Buhari, Lieutenant Ibrahim Bako, and Major Theophilus Danjuma among others), who staged what became known as the Nigerian Counter-Coup of 1966 because of grievances[6] they felt towards the administration of General Aguiyi Ironsi's government which quelled the January 15, 1966 coup.


The Abacha administration became the first to record unprecedented economic achievements:[7] 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, brought all the controversial privatization programs of the Babangida administration to halt, reduced an inflation rate of 54% inherited from Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida to 8.5% between 1993 and 1998, all while the nation's primary commodity, oil was at an average of $15 per barrel.[7] His administration is also credited with creating the most comprehensive and realistic blueprint for Nigeria's development through the Vision 2010 committee chaired by his predecessor Ernest Shonekan.[8]

Human rights abuses[edit]

Abacha's government was accused of human rights abuses, especially after the hanging of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Oputa Commission (only one of several executions of Ogoni activists opposed to the exploitation of Nigerian resources by the multinational petroleum company, Royal Dutch Shell Group); Moshood Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo were jailed for treason, and Wole Soyinka charged in absentia with treason.[9] His regime suffered opposition externally by pro-democracy activists. He however supported the Economic Community of West African States and sent Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help restore democracy to those countries. Despite being repeatedly condemned by the US State Department,[10] 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.[11][12] Abacha also developed ties with other American political figures such as Senator Carol Mosley Braun, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Several African American political leaders visited Nigeria during his reign and Farrakhan supported his administration.

Corruption allegations[edit]

During Abacha's regime, he and his family reportedly stole a total of £5 billion from the country's coffers.[13] In 2004, Abacha was listed as the fourth most corrupt leader in history.[14][15] Abacha's national security adviser, Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, played a central role in the looting and transfer of money to overseas accounts.[16] 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.[17] An estimated $1.4 billion in cash was delivered in this way.[18] 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.[19]


Early in 1998, Abacha announced that elections would be held that August, with a view toward handing power to a civilian government on 1 October. It soon became apparent, though, that Abacha had no intention of permitting an honest election; by April he had strong-armed the country's five parties into endorsing him as the sole presidential candidate.[20][21]

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.[22] The government identified the cause of death as a sudden heart attack.[23] It is reported that he was in the company of two Indian prostitutes[24] imported from Dubai. It is thought that the 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.[25]

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.[26] He left fifteen grandchildren: eight girls and seven boys.

Recovery of stolen funds[edit]

After Sani Abacha's death, the Obasanjo government implicated Abacha and his family in a wholesale looting of Nigeria's coffers. The late dictator's son, Mohammed Abacha, continues to maintain that all the assets in question were legitimately acquired.[27][28] In 2002, Abacha's family purportedly agreed to return $1.2 billion that was taken from the central bank.[29]

False representation of name[edit]

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.[30][31]


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.[8] According to Oliver Okpala, during the Abacha regime, many political parties and associations flourished without let or hindrance. Like-minded politicians held meetings freely and formed a plethora of associations. After the Constituent Assembly, Abacha’s government democratised the local government by conducting peaceful and credible elections of councilors and chairmen. Abacha’s government also conducted House of Assembly and National Assembly elections in the country.[8] In February 2014, during Nigeria's centenary celebrations, the Nigerian government honored Abacha for his immense contribution to the nation's development.[32]


  1. ^ Paden, John N. (2005) Muslim Civic Cultures and Conflict Resolution, Brookings Institution Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-8157-6817-6.
  2. ^ "Biography". Sani Abacha. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Oyewole, A. (1987) Historical Dictionary of Nigeria, Scarecrow Press. p. 385. ISBN 0-8108-1787-X.
  4. ^ "Abacha, Sani."
  5. ^
  6. ^ Siollun, Max. Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture (1966 - 1976). Algora. p. 97. ISBN 9780875867090. 
  7. ^ a b Usamn, Talatu. "". Retrieved 201/06/2014.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  8. ^ a b c Oliver, Okpala. "vanguard". vanguard nigeria. Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  9. ^ "Abacha, Sani." Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 February 2007
  10. ^ Shapiro, Bruce. "Return of the Ugly American" November 9, 1999.
  11. ^ Sharlet, Jeff. "Junkets for Jesus" Mother Jones, November/December 2010
  12. ^ "A Different Perspective On 'The Family' And Uganda" December 22, 2009
  13. ^ "Late Nigerian Dictator Looted Nearly $500 Million, Swiss Say". The New York Times. 19 August 2004. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ TI press release Introduction to Political Corruption pg. 13, London, 25 March 2004. Interestingly, during a service marking the 10th year anniversary of the death of the dictator, several former Nigerian heads of state, including Gen. M Buhari(rtd.), refuted claims that Abacha looted the country, claiming such accusations are "baseless".id=113628, [1]]
  16. ^ Elizabeth Olson (January 26, 2000). "Swiss Freeze A Dictator's Giant Cache". accessdate=2011-06-24. 
  17. ^ Pieth, Mark (2008). Recovering stolen assets. Peter Lang. pp. 43–44. ISBN 3-03911-583-9. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ Reuters. "US freezes $458m hidden by Nigerian ex-leader". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ "General Sani Abacha Profile". Africa Confidential. Retrieved 19 June 2012. 
  23. ^ Weiner, Tim (11 July 1998). "U.S. Aides Say Nigeria Leader Might Have Been Poisoned". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  24. ^ Malhotra, Jyoti. "Did Indian girls see Nigerian dictator die?". The Indian Express. Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  25. ^ Osahon, Naiwu (28 October 2010). "GENERAL SANI ABACHA (Adapted from Naiwu Osahon's book, The Viper's Den)". The Nigerian Voice. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  26. ^ "Newsmaker Profiles: Sani Abacha Nigerian President" at the Wayback Machine (archived April 8, 2004), CNN
  27. ^ Norris, Floyd (21 April 2002). "Ideas & Trends; A Nigerian Miracle". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  28. ^ Easterly, William. (2002) The Elusive Quest for Growth, MIT Press. p. 245. ISBN 0-262-55042-3.
  29. ^ The Worldwatch Institute. (2003) Vital Signs 2003, The Worldwatch Institute. p. 115. ISBN 0-393-32440-0.
  30. ^ Zuckoff, Mitchell. "The Perfect Mark." The New Yorker. [2], page 3.
  31. ^ Who wants to be a millionaire? – An online collection of Nigerian scam mails
  32. ^ Usman, Talatu. "Premium times". Retrieved 2014-06-20. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Ibrahim Babangida
Chief of the Army Staff
Succeeded by
Salihu Ibrahim
Political offices
Preceded by
Ernest Shonekan
Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council of Nigeria
Succeeded by
Abdulsalami Abubakar
Preceded by
Jerry Rawlings
Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States
Succeeded by
Abdulsalami Abubakar