|Seyi Oduyela||Monday, October 4, 2004|
Hyattsville, MD, USA
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OWNERS OF NIGERIA (VI)
LATE GENERAL SANI ABACHA
he event before and after the 1983 re-election of Alhaji Shehu Shagari was a very turbulent one. The ruling NPN did everything to "capture" the UPN controlled States- Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Lagos. It was a lost battle in Lagos as the then action Governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande could not be displaced by the NPN. In Oyo State, late Chief Ajibola Ige lost to Dr. Victor Olunloyo; there were allegations of rigging, especially at Modakeke where votes counted were more than registered voters. The Oyo State election was preceded by violence. Alhaji Busari Adelakun "eru-obodo" switched from UPN to NPN, late Chief Sunday Afolabi, and Bola Ige's deputy left for NPN. Though I was young then, I was 17, though could not vote but watched the political scene then with keen interest.
It was an era of "Ovie Whiskey and Ovie Liman". In Oyo State, after the "victory of Olunloyo," it was difficult for Ijebus to live in Ibadan, a lot of them in Oke-Ado; Oke-Bola had to flee. Many of them who went back to their hometown never returned to Ibadan. The Mobile Police were used to haunt the Ijebus. Whether this was this was an agenda of a group of people I cannot say. In Ondo State, Akin Omoboriowo, Chief Adekunle Ajasin's deputy decamped to NPN, contested for the Ondo State House and was declared winner but the person who declared Omoboriowo winner of the election did not come out of the studio alive. The violence was more pronounced in Ondo. Many notable personalities lost their lives and property. The Fagbamigbes and some others lost their lives. It was a repeat of the 'wetie era.' While the people fought for Pa Ajasin, he went to court and won back his mandate. On 31 December 1983, Nigerians woke up to hear the marshal song and the usual "Fellow Nigerians." A dark-goggled man in his Army uniform announced that the Military has taken over power from the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu.
Though we started austerity measure under Shagari's government, but I remember then as a student at the Ibadan Grammar School that we buy comic magazine from abroad and exchange $1 for 53 kobo. Yes it was getting bad economically. Nigerians seemed to have needed a change then. They called for a change. It was a time when Alhaji Arisekola and Umaru Dikko said Nigerians have not seen anything yet, that they are not hungry since they have not been eating from the dustbin.
The change of baton from one oligarchic ruler to another affected a lot of things, at least it affected the party at Chief Adisa Meredith Akinloye, the then National Chairman of NPN, who had over 9 cows tied , waiting to be slaughtered in front of his house in Ibadan. Umaru Dikko, Joseph Wayas (Senate President) and a host of others escaped. Many politicians were arrested and detained.
The man in dark goggle, who announced the coup, was late General Sani Abacha. He was Brigadier Sani Abacha. He later became the General Officer Commanding the 2 Mechanized Division, Ibadan. This was his first contact with the public.
After the ouster of Buhari/Idiagbon, Abacha became the Chief of Army Staff, while Ebitu Ukiwe became the Chief of General Staff, a new office created by Babangida. The Chief of General Staff played less role than the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, a position the late Idiagbon held under Buhari. Ukiwe's position was political and Administrative. Babangida was fully in charge. Ukiwe did not found it easy holding that position and the problem of interpretation of duty and office came up. As far as Abacha was concerned, Ukiwe could not the second-in-command to Babangida. This was because Ukiwe was a Commodore and Abacha and Aikhomu, who was the chief of Naval Staff then, were Major-General and Rear- Admiral. But the truth is that but for the Civil war, Ukiwe would not still be a Commodore at that time. Nobody heard Abacha talked, but Ukiwe was asked to leave for Abacha and Aikhomu took that position. Ukiwe was a non-conformist, outspoken and vibrant. He was too much for the like of Abacha and their plan. Aikhomu on the other hand is a yes man. All he needs is an opportunity to make money. A conformist to the core. He was in office throughout with Babangida and his slogan throughout that time was 'my boss is always right.'
Sani Abacha took a lot of people by surprise. Not many people think he could do what he did between 1993 and 1998; though some of what they ascribed to him were done by his boys using his names 'for security reasons.' He eventually became their prisoner.
As Chief of Army Staff, Abacha with Babangida had the agenda of disarming the Southern Nigeria. This, according to the planners of the April 20, 1990 revolution, caused their action. At least Major Mukoro, now Professor said in an interview that he heard and witness the shipment of ammunitions and weapons from the Ikeja Cantonment to the North. During this time, there was movement of military hardware from the south to undisclosed locations at nights. There was an unwritten and unconfirmed agreement between the two that Abacha will take over five years after Babangida's rule. So in 1990, Abacha had expected to succeed Babangida but it did not happen. He had all opportunity in the world to do this during the April 20 1990 revolution but he did not. Not much was known about this man until 1993 when he drove Ernest Shonekan out of Abuja. That did not even show anything until 1994.
Who is Sani Abacha? What manner of a man was he? That he took everybody by surprise is a fact. Nobody gave him any chance. We thought he was going to be a walk-over, but he proved us wrong.
Sometimes ago, Brig-Gen Adetunji Olurin said in an interview with This Day newspaper of what made him to distance himself from Abacha. During Buhari's regime, Olurin's unit (I cannot recollect the location) was to host a conference of the Nigerian Army. He called Babangida to know his choice of room mate for the conference lodging; he asked if he could pair him Abacha. According to Olurin, Babangida did not mind being paired with anybody, but advised Olurin not to pair Abacha, but give him a room to himself, because, Abacha does not forget nor forgive. The second instance was events after the 1990 coup, Abacha was complaining to Olurin over insinuations by the head of the C&S Church, Baba Aladura Otubu, Olurin advised Abacha to call Otubu since he Abacha's friend. Abacha's response shocked Olurin. According to Olurin, Abacha said he does not have any friend, because it is a sign of weakness to have friends. Olurin said he could not sleep throughout that night.
Abacha never pretended to be brilliant or intelligent, according to reports, he was recommended for retirement but Obasanjo removed his name from the list. He was not a man of many words. He does not like to talk. He exhibited all this even when he reads speeches. I have watched Abacha and listened to him many times during national broadcast, skipping lines in the address when he could not pronounce the words. It was from Abacha's regime that Finance Minister took up the duty of reading the budget, the man does not just have the time for that. He hates long sentences; everything about him is short and precise. To see him as a Military Administrator, you have to wait for as long as 10 days in Abuja. There was a story of a military administrator of one of the northern states who went to see him, the man waited for more than 7 days, and when he eventually got to see Abacha and told him how long he had been waiting, Abacha just to him to go if he thought he could not wait that long.
Abacha also hated seeing figures. If you want him to approve anything, don't write too much notes, he won't read, what he does most of the time is to go to the total and see how much you are asking for.
After the announcement of the first results of the June 12 1993 presidential elections, crisis erupted in Aso Rock. We were told that the Armed Forces was against Abiola, but the result of the election showed that the Military in various barracks voted for Abiola, he won in the barracks too, and then who are these Armed Forces men against Abiola? Though Babangida never answered the question, but Col. Abubakar Umar gave an insight in one of his press interviews to Tell Magazine when he Diya rode on tiger's back and ended in his belly. Who did he say killed June 12? How?
In the midst of the election annulment crisis, Abacha invited young officers close to General Babangida namely, Col. Abubakar Umar, Col. Lawan Gwadabe, and other vocal officers, that Babangida may not want to hand over power to Abiola. He wanted these officers to prevail on Babangida to hand over power to MKO Abiola. On the other hand he told Babangida that some officers were not disposed to Abiola becoming the President. While Abacha was scheming to take over power, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was also making moves. He had invited Gen Oladipo Diya to support him against Abacha, this was reported to Abacha and as soon as Abacha kicked Shonekan, he retired Gusau, Dogonyaro, was posted out on a peace keeping operation, he refused and got the news of his retirement on the Network news that he has voluntarily retired. Diya became Abacha's deputy; Abdusalami Abubakar became the Chief of Defence Staff, Chris Ali, now Administrator was Abacha's first Chief of Army Staff.
Under Sani Abacha, the Nigerian military suffered great neglect. The Military was reduced to nothingness. The military became more idle; officers could not go for training. Most promotions were done without regard for merit. The neglect of the military by the military during these periods is unimaginable. Professionalism was thrown into the wind as officers became politicians in uniform. What Nigerians experienced under Abacha for five years as a result of the foundation laid by his predecessor, Babangida.
The period between 1993 and 1998 was adjudged the darkest period in Nigerian history. If his predecessors were diplomatic in unleashing terror, Sani Abacha had no temperament for that. He ruled Nigeria with iron hands relying on his street wisdom with the able assistance of Major Hamza Al Mustapha and Brigadier-General Sabo.
Abacha's government brought out the ugly side of the military, especially the Army. It was an era of unbelievable happenings. There was something unique about this man. He came in and touched the untouchables. He destroyed what we have seen in Nigeria as political dynasty and created a new class of oligarchs. He acted like a nemesis. Dasuki, Sultan of Sokoto, who was imposed on the Sokoto people was dethroned and detained in far Taraba State. In the history of the North, the North West has been claiming supremacy not only on the south but also on the other part of the north, especially the north east. There has been some unpronounced rivalry between the Hausa/Fulani and the Kanuri.
This was based on the re-written history that Uthman Dan Fodio brought Islam to Nigeria for the first time through Sokoto, but this is not so. As a Graduate Student, I discovered that Islam first came to northern Nigeria through Kanem Bornu Empire, but Uthman Dan Fodio came later with the intention of reforming Islam. In actual fact one of the places condemned by Uthman Dan Fodio as a shrine of Idol was used as mosque. It was in this region that Abacha sent Dasuki, to for incarceration. Not only that he also divided Sokoto State, carved out Zamfara from it.
Era of dirty intrigues, when officers planned to out do each other for power and money. An era when Generals prostrate to Major, a midriff officer! Many brilliant officers were clamped into jail on the trumped up charge of plotting against Abacha.
The Directorate of Military Intelligence during that time dropped its primary duty of intelligence gathering for intrigues and dirty politics. Obasanjo and Yar'Adua tasted doses of Abacha's bitter pills. General Olusegun Obasanjo, the man who removed Abacha's name from retirement list when he was the Military Head of State, was arrested by Abacha in 1995 with Musa Shehu Yar'Adua for alleged involvement in coup plot. Like a child play they were arraigned before Brigadier-General Patrick Aziza and Mujakpero, these were junior officers and in the history of the military, junior officers do not try their superiors. While Obasanjo survived, Yar'Adua was unlucky.
Under Abacha, Abiola was detained, Kudirat Abiola was murdered, and Suliat Adedeji was also murdered. Though it was a state sponsored murder, but it was with the assistance of an Ibadan-based politician who felt threatened with Suliat's political influence. Suliat lost her life to Ibadan politics power play. Pa Alfred Rewane was killed with the help of an Abacha ally, who is a governor in one of the south-south state. The governments of Babangida and Abacha produced the like of Halilu Akilu, David Mark, Mike Akhigbe, Usman Ahmed, Sam Ewang (who donated most of his loot to the Redeemed Christian Church of God), Al Mustapha, Ishaya Bamaiyi, Patrick Aziza, Mujakpero, Ibrahim Ogohi, Sabo Ibrahim, Ideheren, Col. Kolawole, Frank Omenka, among several others that the military anywhere in the world cannot be proud of.
On 15 January 1995, there was a plane crash in Kano that Killed 15 people, but only 14 bodies were recovered, what happened to the 15th body? Why did Abacha not allow the families of the victims of the plane crash bury their dead? Who killed Ibrahim Abacha and why?
How was Fodey Sankoh of Sierra Leone arrested in Nigeria? With the Nigerian Military guarding the State House in Freetown, fully armed, Johnny Koroma gained access, toppled Tedjan Kabba. How did this happen? Was there any betrayal? Who made it possible for Koroma to gain access to the State House? What was the motive?
Who is Abubakar Atiku Bagudu? What role did he play in the Abacha regime?
The Lebanese who co-ruined Nigeria with Abacha?