You probably learned of the news just like I did the other day that retired generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar, who all ruled Nigeria while in uniform, not only absolved their late “brother-in-arms”, Sanni Abacha, of corruption, but also poured encomiums on him on the 10th anniversary of his demise. And if you are at least 30 years old, you probably are angry that your sensibilities were insulted by your former rulers since you are old enough to remember a little bit about Sanni Abacha.
For the benefit of readers who might have missed the “three musketeers”’ comments, let me re-cap some.
Buhari: “All the allegations leveled against the personality of the late Gen. Sanni Abacha will remain allegations. It is 10 years now. Things should be over by now.”
Babangida: “It is not true that he looted public treasury, I knew who Abacha was because I was close to him.”
Abubakar: “It is quite unfortunate and unfair to accuse the family of the late Sanni Abacha of looting public funds.”
I want to remind the reader that Abacha, unlike Yar’Adua, did not come from a wealthy family. Until he became President, he never had any gainful employment other than being a Soldier. Abacha, like all his three praise singers mentioned above, was not a spectacular Soldier either. Unlike former military rulers like Obasanjo, Ojukwu and Gowon, there is no record of any remarkable, stellar war-time achievement credited to Abacha. Neither was there any war-time fable credited to Buhari, Babangida or Abubakar. Of course, there are plenty of stories extolling the dexterity of Babangida in coup planning and (to a lesser degree) Buhari’s fifth sense in overthrowing legitimate, democratic, but spineless civilian administrations like that of Shehu Shagari. But there is nothing on Abacha. By his own account, he did not read the newspapers. Neither did he watch the television. And there is no literature of any sort (either that he wrote, or that someone else wrote) about him.
Abacha, we all know, ruled for all of 5 years before ignominiously kicking the bucket in office. So, from what venture did he earn the over $1.3 billion (billion U.S. dollars, please!) that his family has so far forfeited to the government of Nigeria?
The government of Switzerland alone returned $505.5 million to the government of Obasanjo as part of Abacha’s laundered loot. And from local institutions in Nigeria, Obasanjo garnished $800 million of Abacha’s money. It has been widely reported that the Abacha family paid no less than $12 million in legal fees to avoid coughing up more of its ill-gotten wealth.
My questions, when I heard of the shameful (or is it shameless?) congregation of the retired Heads of State were: Does a Nigerian four-star general make up to $1 million per annum as salary? Does a Nigerian Head of State make $1 million as salary per annum? Of course, the answer to those questions are “no.” Even these days, when oil prices are through the roof, the Nigerian president does not make such a stupendous income, unless, of course, he is stealing it. Where then did Abacha get all those billions of dollars?
My immediate default reasoning is that Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar are acutely discombobulated. But you can attribute their rejuvenated reverence of Abacha to a more cynical motive – the need to rehabilitate one of their own – “their”, meaning a fellow military despot or a fellow northerner. Yes, I said northerner, for at that irreverent congregation that eulogized and deified Abacha were eminent northerners like the Emir of Gumel, Alhaji Ahmed Sani, the Emir of Ringim, Alhaji Sayyadi Muhammadu Ringim, the Sarkin Jama’a, Alhaji Muhammadu Isa Muhammad and the Sa’in Daura, Alhaji Ahmad Daura, and a laundry list of other Kano personalities of note. It is noteworthy that no past military personnel or civilian of note from the Eastern, Southern or the Western parts of Nigeria “graced” the occasion. You are bound to ask the taboo question: is this a calculated attempt by the North to rehabilitate the most despotic entity that ever ruled a part of sub-Sahara Africa?
What does the rest of Nigeria know about Abacha that the trio of Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar did not know? Or what does the trio know about Abacha that the rest of us have missed? Were we all living in this same Nigeria when Abacha ruled? Whose government sanctioned the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa? Under whose government did the business of hired assassination blossom? Whose government killed Pa Alfred Rewane? Whose government almost killed Alex Ibru? Whose government sent hired killers after Pa Anthony Enahoro, forcing the old man to flee to the US in the twilight of his life? Whose government had the temerity to break all military decorum, customs and courtesies by arresting and jailing a former four-star general and Head of State in the person of Olusegun Obasanjo on false coup plotting charges? Whose government had General Oladipo Diya literally begging for his life on trumped-up charges of coup plotting? And whose government killed Kudirat Abiola, arrested and jailed her husband, Moshood Abiola, the man widely believed to have won the freest and fairest election in Nigeria? Are Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar suffering from contagious stupidity or is it senility? Did they live on planet Pluto while the rest of us occupied Nigeria?
I hate to think that the clean bill of health they posthumously gave to Abacha was a function of “ethnic solidarity”, since Abacha was from the North. Even though it does not improve the depth of absurdity, I will be more comfortable if they tried to rehabilitate Abacha because he was a Soldier. Nigerian military rulers, we now know, were intellectually pedestrian, and the trio can be forgiven for their intellectual bankruptcy.
What do we remember the most about Buhari? He was the meek face of his lack-luster administration, while his side-kick, Tunde Idiagbon was the “action” face. Buhari toppled Shehu Shagari’s rudderless and hapless but democratically elected government, imposed virtual martial laws and ruled like Nigeria was a banana republic. Under Buhari, the infamous Decrees 2 and 4 that authorized the interminable detention of Nigerians without trial, amongst other despicable atrocities, were enacted and promulgated. Ask The Guardian’s former journalists – Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor – about life in incarceration for no offense. Under Buhari, the hitherto strong and virile National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) were all decimated. If their leaders did not dance to the government’s tunes, they were accused of some phantom offences and carted off to jail in some boondocks.
Then Babangida came and effortlessly overthrew the so-called powerful Buhari administration while Idiagbon was on pilgrimage to Mecca. It is still widely believed in Nigerian military (and some civilian) circles, that were Idiagbon around when Babangida struck, a sea of blood would have been shed during Babangida’s “vaulting ambition” coup. But Buhari tucked his tail between his legs and cowardly scampered out of Ribadu Road (then the seat of government), giving Babangida a carte blanche for 9 years of horrendous and unmitigated assaults on the psyche of Nigerians.
And what do we remember the most about Babangida’s administration? The accusation of his bosom friend – Mamman Vatsa – of planning a coup, his conviction by a kangaroo military panel and his prompt execution; the introduction of the infamous Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) that began the consignment of Nigerians to the Stone Age of development; the flooding of university campuses with State Security Services (SSS) personnel to harass student leaders and clobber them into submission; the assassination of foremost Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa, in a novel assassination technique of a parcel bomb, the glorification of corruption and its elevation to a new height, the brazen annulment of Abiola’s election and the ignoble exit of Babangida from power under intense local and international pressures.
Because of the non-traditional manner in which Babangida left office, he was forced to install Ernest Shonekan as the leader of a sham Interim National Government (ING). That interregnum was quickly disbanded by Sanni Abacha, who spent the next 5 years perpetuating him in power, constituting himself into the sole authority on the fate of Nigerians, stuffing his face in the coffers of the nation and siphoning mind-boggling amount of money overseas.
With this display of arrant insensitivities to the injured Nigerian pride and psyche by the three ex-generals, one is forced to wish for the “Rawlings Solution.” Flight Lt. J.J. Rawlings, we recall, was that young Ghanaian Air Force officer that came to power in Ghana in December 1981 via a second coup. His first coup attempt in 1979 had been unsuccessful and he had been sentenced to death for the act. When Rawlings successfully overthrew Hilla Limann, he arrested three former military rulers of Ghana, namely, Ignatius Acheamphong, Akwasi Afrifa and Fred Akuffo and ordered them shot, along with five other senior military officers and judges that he deemed had constituted themselves into retrogressive institutions in Ghana. The world, especially the Western world, screamed “barbarism”. But today, Ghana is better off, devoid of dead-wood senior military officers whose stock-in-trade is to stoke the embers of ineptitude and celebrate graft and indiscipline in the military. While it is non-Yoruba to wish death on fellow human beings, Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar make themselves easy candidates for Rawlings-like guillotine.
It is only in Nigeria…only in Nigeria…would people like Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar be seen in public, let alone speak at any public forum, and let alone have their speeches recorded by the media. Some day, we will be rid of these incorrigible entities that have bestridden our society like lecherous colossuses.
PS: As I conclude this piece on June 12, 2008 in South Korea (June 11, 2008 in Nigeria), I received a phone call from Nigeria about the passing of Chief Lamidi Adedibu. I have had more than a few occasions in the past to write scathing criticisms of Baba Adedibu for the chaos into which he had plunged Ibadan and Oyo State. My initial reaction is to commiserate with his immediate family members for the loss of one of their own and to pray that they receive abundant strength and fortitude with which they would bear the huge loss. But I celebrate with the rest of Ibadan people and Oyo State indigenes in general, for being delivered from the strangle-hold of the man who lived life as if it was interminable. The lesson here for his hangers-on, from governor Alao-Akala to former deputy-governor Azeem Gbolarumi and the entire collection of Molete thugs, is that we are all mortals, and that the evils men do, live long after they are dead. May Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu enjoy the peaceful rest that he actively denied the people of Oyo State.