Sani Abacha, (born September 20, 1943, Kano, Nigeria—died June 8, 1998, Abuja), Nigerian military leader, who served as head of state (1993–98). He is also the first Nigerian soldier to attain the rank of a full star General without skipping a single rank. He was from the Kanuri ethnic group, from Borno State, North East, Nigeria.
Abacha received his formal military training at Nigerian and British military training colleges. He rose through the ranks in the Nigerian military and by 1983 had achieved the rank of brigadier when he assisted Ibrahim Babangida in overthrowing Shehu Shagari, who had been elected to his second presidential term in 1983.
Muhammad Buhari became Nigeria’s leader, but just two years later Babangida overthrew Buhari and installed himself as the leader with Abacha second in command. Elections were held in 1993 and were won by Moshood Abiola, a candidate supposedly supported by Babangida, who, however, annulled the elections and set up a civilian interim government, which Abacha quickly overthrew.
Although Abacha promised a return to democracy, his actions were anything but democratic. He banned political activities of any kind, fired a large portion of the military, controlled the press, and assembled a personal security force of some 3,000 men. While he supported the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its military arm, ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), in sending troops to restore democracy in Liberia and Sierra Leone, he brutally suppressed dissent at home.
Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military leader of Nigeria (1976–79), were jailed for treason. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, was also charged with treason, although he had voluntarily left the country. Perhaps Abacha’s most brutal act was the imprisonment, trial, and subsequent execution for treason of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists who were concerned with the environmental exploitation of their region by multinational petroleum companies.
Abacha’s sudden death in June 1998 moved along the process of returning the country to civilian rule. His military successor, Abdusalam Abubakar, oversaw the return to an elected civilian government in 1999. After Abacha’s death, it was rumoured that he and his family had enriched themselves by some $3 billion, most of it held in European banks. In 2002 a settlement, which returned most of the money to the government in exchange for dropping criminal prosecution, was reached between the Obasanjo government and the Abacha family.
Below are some key fun facts about Late Gen. Sani Abacha:
- General Sani Abacha was born in Kano state, northern Nigeria on September 20, 1943
- Although he was born in Kano, Sani Abacha was from the Kanuri ethnic group in Borno state, in the North-Eastern region part of Nigeria.
- In 1963, he passed out of the Nigerian Military Training Centre in Kaduna, receiving further training in the UK.
- In 1965, Abacha married Maryam Jiddah. The couple had 10 children, one of whom later died.
- From 1967-72, Abacha fought for Nigeria in the country’s civil war against Biafran secessionists and continued to rise through the army ranks.
- In 1983, Abacha entered national spotlight because of his role in the 31st December coup that toppled the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari. Gen Muhammadu Buhari is installed as military ruler.
- In 1985, Gen Buhari is overthrown in a coup supported by Abacha. He helps install Gen Ibrahim Babangida and is promoted to major general.
- On the 12th of June, 1993, the long-promised democratic elections held. With preliminary results showing victory for wealthy businessman Moshood Abiola, Gen Babangida annulled the results to widespread outcry.
- On August 1993, Abacha was appointed Minister of Defence after Babangida stepped down and created an interim government headed by civilian President, Ernest Shonekan.
- On the 17th of November, 1993, Shonekan resigned and transferred power to Abacha, in a move widely believed to be another coup. His regime is marred by human rights abuses and the crushing of dissenting voices.
- In 1994, presumed election winner, Moshood Abiola declared himself president and was imprisoned.
- In 1995, the Abacha regime came under worldwide condemnation and Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth after the execution of the Ogoni Nine, environmentalists who protested against the activity of the government and oil giant, Shell. Among them was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet and Nobel Prize nominee.
- In 1996, Abacha was elected chairperson of The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a regional economic bloc.
- In February 1998, Abacha deployed Nigerian forces to Sierra Leone in a bid to oust the military regime and restore the civilian government overthrown the year before.
- On the 8th of June, 1998, Abacha died from a suspected heart attack and was buried the same day. Nigeria transitioned to democratic rule one year later.