On June 8 1998, Gen. Sani Abacha, 54, the reclusive Nigerian who drew worldwide condemnation for his authoritarian rule over Africa’s most populous nation, reportedly of a heart attack.
For a man who spent years on the world political stage, Gen. Abacha died a remarkable unknown, even in his own country. He appeared infrequently in public, and when he did, he said little.
Little is known of Gen. Abacha’s early military career. Like many Nigerian officers of his generation, he pursued training courses in the United States and Britain. He first came to public attention in 1983 as the officer who broadcast the announcement of the military coup by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.
After seizing power in a 1993 coup, Gen. Abacha brushed aside the condemnations and economic sanctions of Western governments. When his chief civilian rival, Moshood Abiola, challenged him by claiming to be the rightful ruler of Nigeria, Gen. Abacha jailed him and again ignored the protests.
The next year, 1995, Gen. Abacha oversaw the execution of nine political and environmental rights activists, including the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who opposed the government’s oil production methods in the Niger delta.
Buhari’s successor, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, made Gen. Abacha his defence minister and relied on him to control the ambitions of younger military officers. Babangida began losing control in 1993 when he, with Gen. Abacha’s help, scuttled a promised return to a civilian government.
Gen. Abacha died in the middle of a political struggle over his campaign to remain in power by having himself elected as a civilian president.
Abacha is mostly noted for his massive embezzlement of state funds and properties. Even till this day, some of his loot is still being returned to Nigeria in tranches.