Sani Abacha

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General 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
In office
August 1990 – November 1993
Preceded by Domkat Bali
Succeeded by Oladipo Diya
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
Alma mater Mons Officer Cadet School
Religion Islam
Military service
Allegiance  Nigeria
Service/branch Nigerian Army crest.gif Nigerian Army
Years of service 1963–1998
Rank General

General Sani Abacha (20 September 1943 – 8 June 1998) was a Nigerian soldier who took power through a coup and ruled as the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998.[1] Abacha's regime is one of the most controversial in Nigeria's history. His regime was dictatorial and struck terror in the hearts of many Nigerians. His Chief Security Officer, Hamza al-Mustapha was the point man of an alleged murderous triumvirate that comprised Ismaila Gwarzo, National Security Adviser and Frank Omenka of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. They had as their henchmen Sergeant Barnabas Jabila Mshiela aka "Sergeant Rogers", Muhammed Abdul (a.k.a Katako), Alhaji Danbaba, and Rabo Lawal amongst others. General Abacha was one of the most notorious kleptocrats in recent memory. In collaboration with his family and close associates, he embezzled billions of public funds, while millions lived in poverty. The proceeds of his loot, many stashed away in foreign countries, are still being recovered. Despite the international shun his government endured, he oversaw an increase in the country's foreign exchange reserves from $494 million dollars in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997 and reduced the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion by 1997. The end of his administration marked by his sudden demise was widely celebrated in Nigeria. To much public dismay and condemnation, he was awarded a Posthumous Centenary Award by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.

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 the Mons Defence Officers cadet Training College in Aldershot, England. Before then, he had attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna. Abacha's Military career is distinguished with 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 later appointed Minister of Defence in 1990.[3][4]

On November 17, 1993. while he was Chair of the Joint Chiefs, General Abacha Overthrew the Short-lived Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan.

Human rights abuses[edit]

Abacha's government was rank with human rights abuses and assassinations, His military dictatorship executed the Ogoni environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose homeland, Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and which has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. He jailed the winner of the fairest democratic election Nigeria has seen in recent memory; Moshood Abiola for treason. Abiola subsequently died in prison and his wife, Kudirat Abiola was assassinated during Abacha's reign of terror. In the High Court of Lagos State under Hon. Justice Mojisola Dada had on January 30, Barnabas Jabila and Muhammed Abdul testified that they were “directed to murder Alhaja Kudirat Abiola by Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha (Abacha's Chief Security Officer) and that they were given information on her movements by Alhaji Lateef Sofolahan. An active critic of his government, Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate was also charged in absentia with treason.[5] 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 as part of a peace keeping force during the civil war in those countries. Despite being repeatedly condemned by the US State Department,[6] 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.[7][8] Abacha also developed ties with other American political figures such as Senator Carol Mosley Braun, Rev. Jessie 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, a total of £5 billion was reportedly siphoned out of the country's coffers by the head of state and members of his family.[9] At that time Abacha was listed as the world's fourth most corrupt leader in recent history.[10][11] Abacha's national security adviser, Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, played a central role in the looting and transfer of money to overseas accounts.[12] 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.[13] An estimated $1.4 billion in cash was delivered in this way.[14] 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.[15]


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.[16] On the contrary, the government cited his cause of death as a sudden heart attack.[17] It is reported that he was in the company of two Indian prostitutes[18] imported from Dubai. It is thought that these 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.[19]

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.[20] He has 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.[21][22] In 2002, Abacha's family purpotedly agreed to return $1.2 billion that was taken from the central bank.[23]


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.

False representation of name[edit]

The names of Sani Abacha, his wife Maryam, and son Mohammed[24] are often used in advance fee fraud (419) scams; he is "identified" in scam letters as the source for "money" that does not exist.[25][26] One website that is dedicated to exposing advance fee scammers and similar schemes,, exposed one use of the Abacha family name—resulting in a wider exposure and awareness of these types of scams in general.[27]


  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. ^ "Abacha, Sani." Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 February 2007
  6. ^ Shapiro, Bruce. "Return of the Ugly American" November 9, 1999.
  7. ^ Sharlet, Jeff. "Junkets for Jesus" Mother Jones, November/December 2010
  8. ^ "A Different Perspective On 'The Family' And Uganda" December 22, 2009
  9. ^ "Late Nigerian Dictator Looted Nearly $500 Million, Swiss Say". The New York Times. 19 August 2004. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ 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]]
  12. ^ Elizabeth Olson (January 26, 2000). "Swiss Freeze A Dictator's Giant Cache". accessdate=2011-06-24. 
  13. ^ Pieth, Mark (2008). Recovering stolen assets. Peter Lang. pp. 43–44. ISBN 3-03911-583-9. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Reuters. "US freezes $458m hidden by Nigerian ex-leader". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  16. ^ "General Sani Abacha Profile". Africa Confidential. Retrieved 19 June 2012. 
  17. ^ Weiner, Tim (11 July 1998). "U.S. Aides Say Nigeria Leader Might Have Been Poisoned". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  18. ^ Malhotra, Jyoti. "Did Indian girls see Nigerian dictator die?". The Indian Express. Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ "Newsmaker Profiles: Sani Abacha Nigerian President," CNN
  21. ^ Norris, Floyd (21 April 2002). "Ideas & Trends; A Nigerian Miracle". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  22. ^ Easterly, William. (2002) The Elusive Quest for Growth, MIT Press. p. 245. ISBN 0-262-55042-3.
  23. ^ The Worldwatch Institute. (2003) Vital Signs 2003, The Worldwatch Institute. p. 115. ISBN 0-393-32440-0.
  24. ^ "Nigeria recovers Abacha's cash". BBC News. 1998-11-10. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  25. ^ Zuckoff, Mitchell. "The Perfect Mark." The New Yorker. [2], page 3.
  26. ^ Who wants to be a millionaire? – An online collection of Nigerian scam mails
  27. ^ is where the entire documented interchange between the scammers and the website can be found.

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