Remembering Abacha and Abiola


By Lawal Jet Kaugama

Today, June 8, 2021 marks 23 years since former military head of state, General Sani Abacha, died in office. Thus, a lot of memories come to mind.

As ardent follower of the late General, it is necessary to clarify some misconceptions about his death, but the person to do so with authority is Major Hamza Al Mustapha, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer.

In an interview with Leadership Sunday, he spoke on sundry issues surrounding the deaths of Abacha and the winner of June 12, 2023 presidential election, MKO Abiola, and I deem it important for Nigerians to listen to Al-Mustapha on why Abacha took some decisions. Al-Mustapha’s said:
Abacha’s government was sworn in virtually with empty coffers: it had nothing in foreign reserves; a government that was struggling to even pay salaries – that was what Abacha inherited.

When Chief Ernest Shonekan came, he inherited $200 million as Nigeria’s foreign reserves and for the three months he presided over Nigeria, I don’t think there was anything that came in because it was all along crisis time. But at the end of the day.

Abacha succeeded in inventing numerous policies that clearly helped in taking Nigeria to another level. General Abacha stepped on toes for the decisions he took. Those who believed they had the authority and money polluted our media with wrong information about his death and foreign accounts. There was machinery that sustained the propaganda against his person. Abacha died seated on the chair, his cap by his side, with his head looking up, and foaming in the mouth the same way Abiola died.

“Looking at that transition in retrospect, it was something very dangerous because at that time there was truly a leadership vacuum. Abacha the head of state and General Diya, the chief of general staff (CGS), were not on the throne, so how we did what we did (for hierarchy within the military) is something that people will not know the value yet.”

There were numerous interest groups for whom to succeed him, and the truth here is that Abdulsalami Abubakar was not in the inner caucus, meaning the team that brought in the government. So within them, there was shock, tension, uncertainty, some misgivings, questions without answers about what happened. There was the need for preliminary investigation of the death itself.

There was the need to know whether the burial should take place or some medical tests were to happen. So we announced that the medical test should have a specimen from the body and that happened. Then we did so many things personally and privately using the physician to go to some certain countries to come up with results.

These are also matters for tomorrow. So we did all these details under the tension; this was the time that if you pick a match and put it in the air it can spark fire. So at the end of the day, if it’s a mistake for the emergence of Abdulsalami, like many of those within the kingmakers used to accuse me of being the cause of the suffering we have had. If it’s a mistake I made, I am a human being, I can make mistakes, but I did my very best for the country.

When General Abacha died, the way he died foaming and gasping for air, and with a swollen heart was exactly how Abiola died too. And you know what took me to prison? Let me for the first time tell you this: the question that took me to prison, with all the attempts to kill me, was where was the tape?
Let me tell you some facts here. First of all, the transition he was running – at least I am one of those who can speak very well on this – gave me an opportunity to have initiated, created and pushed for and on behalf of the youths of this country a political party – the GDM. The Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) was for the youths and so it became the fifth political party. GDM on their own also was looking for candidates. The convention of that party took place in Maiduguri in 1997 and then General Abacha, according to the youths, was the one they wanted.

But then, General Abacha, if there is any person, whosoever he is, that says he confided in him of interest of transmuting himself into a candidate for that election, that person is a liar! General Diya at one time, when parties were being considered for registration, the chairman was General Diya, and in all the meetings we had, I was involved because of national security. So the meetings that took place along with a certain team cutting cross ministers, security chiefs were headed by him (Diya) and I was there, and that is why when I realised the criteria, I also sat down and thought very hard and brought some youth leaders from the south and north and assembled them together and asked them to now meet the requirement and I did all I could to, I got them through, and I was able to justify and defend it – as a means of maintaining peace and order in the country. When you engage your youths politically, don’t worry whether they learn or they succeed or they do not. Once you know how to keep the youths of your country busy, you have done a great job for your country.

And thank God, today some of the major actors in APC, in PDP, in APGA, and some other parties were once my candidates that I brought and taught them politics. So, to me, that is one aspect; the issue of General Abacha transmuting himself was another thing entirely. Each party had its own leadership. There were five of them. Then at that material time, you saw the two-million-man March.

The march was not aimed at campaigning for General Abacha; it was I that initiated it. Why did I do that? It was for the youth of this country to realise who they were.

There were two policies on the ground, in the Ministry of Youth and Sport and the Ministry of Employment. In the aspect of politics, youths were to sensitise themselves and to know that there was the need for them to participate and vie for political offices, so that Nigeria can have a departure from the mistakes of the past. If that was the mistake I made, I did make it.

The government of Abdulsalami Abubakar deliberately, after knowing what I did – because they were part of Abacha’s government and they knew what I was doing, because I brought an idea from Togo. The then president of Togo was classified in 1984 as the president with the fastest intelligence flow in the world, and what we required in Nigeria was also having modalities for speedy intelligence flow for the management of the country, and the youth are the most important segment in any country. That is why any country that abandons the youth does not know what it is doing. So I galvanised and invested in the youth.

Abacha loot
As of 1994 when the first coup was foiled, Libya was exactly 11 years old with sanctions on them, and so managing sanctions depending on the type was something for Nigeria to learn. Coincidently, I was one of those sent to Libya to study why after 11 years of sanctions of all kinds, yet Europeans countries – Italy, Spain – prefer coming to Tripoli to do shopping and go back across because they were buying things cheaper. How Gaddafi did it was something to learn from. That was a preemptive measure for a country that had just been taken over by a new government without money and with threats of sanctions from G7 countries. It was a herculean task because the country should first of all work in a way that it should survive it; so we went, bought some things and returned. In fact, our second trip to Libya on modalities of containing sanctions was equally at the very material time that the Prime Minister of China was on a tour.

So while I was there, because the threat was serious – to block many things coming to Nigeria and also to blackmail the government – Gaddafi in his wisdom spoke to the Chinese president and the premier was told to come to Nigeria for a two-or three-day visit and General Abacha should begin to engage China. Before we could return, he had arrived. He stayed in Nigeria for two and half days. That was when railway contracts were initiated, that was when the issue with NNPC in terms of China buying our oil directly was also signed, that was when the Ministry of Agriculture sought for some certain support and China signed with them. That was when there was some ratifications on international trade in favour of Nigeria from Chinese and some of their allies. Soon after this, the United Kingdom became disturbed, America became disturbed and they began to look towards adjusting their sanctions.

There were threats to Nigeria’s survival, threat to Abacha’s survival. And the government, for pegging Naira at N82 and pegging oil at N22 officially, there was a fight from the World Bank, G7, IMF. With all sense of humility, I don’t think there is anyone among the past leaders that could absorb that, knowing well that at any moment anything could have happened, but he did it on behalf of Nigeria and Naira remained stable at the expense of his life.

There was a threat, visibly open (to Abacha’s life). Some other countries that became friends as a result of the way we managed the transition now began to help us with details and we got to know what they were doing and what they were planning – all against the survival of the government. So at Camp W.U. Bassey, numerous decisions were reached by stakeholders to collect accounts against the next line of action, and then modalities were worked out how Nigeria could be importing things through them directly. So for those things coming into Nigeria then, that could push away the effect of any form of hardship that the sanctions inflicted before. The essence of the sanctions – or all they were doing – was to inflict punishment on Nigerians and when they feel pain they will now support any force to uproot him out of office, nothing else. There were the psychological, diplomatic, monetary, security aspects of it, among others. At times, you could see on CNN, BBC things that never happened. You see all the exaggerations as if there was fire springing out of Nigeria, if you can remember.

So for us to manage that, this idea was given by these elders and it happened. This was in 1997, no sooner did money begin to go outside to the best of my knowledge and then Abacha died. So here, there are numerous types of dirty politics. If you are to open an account outside Nigeria, what are the requirements? Name, company name (even if it is a codename), thumbprint, passport size photograph, signature, address of place of movement of funds from and to, amount deposited initially, by who, to who, through which company, so it is endless, particularly, in international banks. I am asking these questions. Bring banks where all Abacha’s picture appeared, all that Abacha thumb printed, all that Abacha signed and deposited, how much was it? Bring the documents and show it to Nigerians.

The question I ask is, where are they? Question number two I kept asking: General Abacha was Chief of Army Staff since 1985, his foreign account should be submitted to people to know the year he opened the accounts, it will show how much was it; give it to Nigerians to see. When money was deposited, was it before he became the head of state or was it when he was the head of state?

The question is, why is it that the government found it difficult to mention any of the above? Another question is, after Abacha’s death, some of these accounts where counter sanctions funds were kept emerged, where are the documents? The monies that are there, were they returned to Nigeria’s coffers? The moment you ask that, there are some certain groups that are ready to shoot you. I wasn’t involved in anything monetary; I wasn’t consulted; I wasn’t involved. I had a business of keeping Nigeria afloat and in peace. If you must know, right at the beginning it was not money that took me to the army.

Kaugama writes from Kaugama, Jigawa state.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily


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