Sani Abacha GCFR (20 September 1943 – 8 June 1998) was a Nigerian military general who served as the military head of the state of Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998.
He was also Chief of Army Staff between 1985 and 1990; Chief of Defence Staff between 1990 and 1993; and Minister of Defence. In 1993, Abacha became the first Nigerian Army officer to attain the rank of a full military general without skipping a single rank.
His rule saw the achievement of several economic feats, and also recorded human rights abuses and several political assassinations. He has been dubbed a kleptocrat and a dictator by several commentators.
Abacha was born and brought up in Kano. He attended the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna, and was commissioned in 1963 after he had attended the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England.
In 1969, he fought during the Nigerian Civil War as a platoon and battalion commander. He later became commander of the 2nd Infantry Division in 1975. In 1983, Abacha was general officer commanding of the 2nd Mechanised Division, and was appointed a member of the Supreme Military Council.
Rise to power
The military career of Abacha was marked by involvement in all the military coups in Nigeria. When he was still a second lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion in Kaduna, he took part in the July 1966 Nigerian counter-coup from the conceptual stage. He could well have been a participant in the Lagos or Abeokuta phases of the coup the previous January as well.
In addition, Abacha played a prominent role in the 1983 Nigerian coup d’état which brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power; and the 1985 Nigerian coup d’etat which removed Buhari and brought General Ibrahim Babangida to power.
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.
On 17 November 1993, Abacha, being the Minister of Defence and most senior official within the military hierarchy, forced interim president Ernest Shonekan to hand over. In his nationwide broadcast, Abacha cited the socio-political uncertainties under the Interim National Government as a cause of his resignation.
Head of state
He ruled as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 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. He further abrogated Decree 691 of 1993.
On 8 June 1998, Abacha died in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja. He was buried on the same day according to Muslim tradition and without an autopsy, fueling speculation that he may have been assassinated. The government identified the cause of death as a sudden heart attack.
It is believed by foreign diplomats, including United States Intelligence analysts, that he may have been poisoned. His chief security officer, Hamza al-Mustapha, believed he was poisoned by Israeli operatives in the company of Yasser Arafat.
After Abacha’s death, General Abdulsalami Abubakar became head of state. General Abubakar’s short tenure ushered the Fourth Nigerian Republic into existence.
Abacha was married to Maryam Abacha and had seven sons and three daughters, he became a grandfather posthumously; as of 2018 he had thirty-three grandchildren.