How Sani Abacha died, by Jerry Useni (2)

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*Useni

*’The road map to end killings in Jos’
*Wonders why Nigerians cannot see President Yar’Adua

Last week, we brought you the first part of this interview. In this second part, General Jeremiah Timbut Useni (rtd) says Abacha was not poisoned but died of natural causes. His words: “They cut his body and sent to Germany. “The report that came back said Abacha died of natural causes. “They cut his body again and sent to the United Kingdom, the report that came back said he died of natural causes.
“The man had been ill any way”. Useni also speaks about the Jos killings and insists that for as long as the problem in Jos is treated differently from others, then the Federal Government may not be ready to solve the problem.”

Excerpts:

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor

The coup of 1995 was said to be a phantom coup, that Abacha merely set people up and forced some to give evidence?

What was fake about the coup? There was a proper panel set up. The procedure for setting up the panel was proper. The panel did a very thorough job. Proper charges were brought against the plotters.
It investigated the allegations against those involved. And people say it was a fake coup.
Nobody in his right senses would just call people together and say they should come and frame up somebody.  The head of the panel has said it that if it happened again he would do what he did.  When it suits people they say Obasanjo was framed. It was a proper coup but Abacha didn’t kill Obasanjo; but Obasanjo killed when he was head of state.

Abacha’s last 24 hours before his death, how were they like.  It was no secret that you always had your time with him in the evenings. What actually killed Abacha?
Well, it is true that I always saw him in the evening.  And one thing I made sure was that I never took official matters to him.  I never went there to gossip.  As I said, we had been long time friends.  Some times I would wait up till 11pm or 12 mid-night so that he would have finished with all those people who would normally take their problems to him. I think that day I just came back from Gusau and I was feeling tired and I’d thought I would take the evening off.  But once I came in, I got a telephone call from the Villa that they were waiting for me there. I think it was the day Yasser Arafat (late) came to Nigeria and Abacha was to receive him. In fact by the time we finished Abacha himself was very tired because he slept all through the evening on our way back from the airport. So I told people that the man was tired they should allow him rest for some time.  So I went back to meet him around 10 pm or so and I left him around 2:30 am. The next morning around 10:30 I think I had two administrators with me in the office when another call came.  They said they were waiting for me at the Villa and I got a bit upset that ‘why must they always wait for me at the Villa – every time they are waiting for me, they are waiting for me’. When I got to the Villa, they said Abacha died. I said, ‘died? But I was with him till very late’.

What time did they say he died?
May be around 5 am or so.

Who and who did you meet when you got to the Villa?
I was surprised: The Inspector General of Police was already there. The service chiefs were also there already.

They were all contacted before you?
Yes! I even asked why were all these people contacted before anybody called me to tell me?

They all knew I was the closest to him. Even the Chief Justice was also there before I got to the Villa.  I met all of them there. But the important thing at that time was how to bury him.

The story people have refused to let go of is that you were both out till very late, enjoying and drinking with some women and that he ate apple and died of possible poisoning from the apple?
People said all that, about apple poisoning him; some women poisoned him and all that. There is an autopsy report on what killed him.

But the autopsy report could be doctored to protect him?
Doctored how? They cut his body and sent to Germany. The report that came back said Abacha died of natural causes. They cut his body again and sent to the United Kingdom, the report that came back said he died of natural causes. The man had been ill any way.

How did family members relate with you on the day of his death?
It wasn’t just how they related to me, I was even being suspected of a possible culpability in his death.
If you remember during the Oputa Panel in Lagos, where Mustapha said if there was anybody that was owed an apology, it was General Useni because I was suspected. Though I was the most senior military officer but politically then I wasn’t. By political appointment, the Chief of Defence Staff was the most senior but even at that, the suspicion that I had a hand in his death also played a role in the whole thing and that was why I was bypassed. But Mustapha told them in the court there that if there was anybody to apologise to it was General Useni. And the autopsy report was very clear about the cause of death.

They by-passed you because they felt you had a hand in his death and, therefore suspected you?
Yes!  I was suspected, and they made Abdulsalami head of state, though militarily, I was the most senior officer at that time.

What would have been your agenda as head of state had you been the one the mantle of leadership fell on.  Would you, for instance, have continued with the five fingers of a leprous hand, the political parties?
I couldn’t have worked alone as an individual. Of course, there would have been the need to consult and find out if there were things that were wrong and if there were good reasons for changing, we would have changed and you have to understand that you do not just change for the sake of changing. I do not think I would have just taken over and started doing things to upturn what I met as if I was fighting with somebody before and I suddenly discovered an opportunity to get back at the person.

We have seen this happen over and over. Look at the Oputa Panel sitting, rather than go and find out what was happening, some of the panelists were putting words in peoples mouth and making them say things. Look at the conduct of some service chiefs when they appeared before the Oputa Panel.  Some of them said they did not know what Abacha was doing – these were Service Chiefs who were members of the Defence Council, saying Abacha did not take them into consultations, saying this after Abacha’s death.  I say they will never see better.

That’s a curse?
I’m not cursing them, I say it was   bad. If the brief of the government was that they should go and find out what happened but the panel ended up putting words in people mouth. People were saying they were not involved.  How can you be members of the highest ruling body and say you were not involved in what was happening?

We also heard that Madam Mariam Abacha became angry with you after the death of her husband, that you were a very bad influence on Abacha and that you did not do anything to restrain his excesses even knowing that he wasn’t in the best of health?
I don’t know about that but you know how women are. Definitely you can’t take that out on me.
Abacha was not a small boy. We were about the same age. He was head of state and even at anytime of the night he still had the right and power to summon me to come over.  So nobody can accuse me of seeing him at night or any time for that matter.  That is wrong. Abacha didn’t start keeping late nights when he became head of state or in Abuja here, nor did he start it from Lagos. I had always known this man for a long time and he had great capacity to stay late.

For most Nigerians who never knew Abacha other than that he was the head of state in dark glasses, what qualities would you say he possessed, the Abacha you knew?
Abacha was a tough officer. Abacha was very humane when it came to dealing with fellow human beings. Abacha was a very thorough military man and head of state. Even when we met at the National Council of States, where state administrators were in attendance, the service Chiefs were also in attendance, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT was also in attendance, Abacha would listen to everybody and allow them to talk.  Even when some people would be talking nonsense, Abacha would just be chewing his kolanut and be listening; even when some people would just be repeating what somebody else had said earlier, he would just continue chewing his kolanut and listen to you. He would not shout you down by saying ‘you’re talking nonsense’ or ‘don’t waste my time’.  At least we’ve seen a former president do that over and over because he thinks he knows everything in this world. Abacha was also a good economist although he was not a graduate of economics.

Good economist?  How do you mean?
During Abacha’s time, what was the exchange rate? It was N80 or at worst N84 to the dollar.
Abacha made it clear to everyone that we had enough naira; ‘we do not want your loan, World Bank’.  That was also the time the World Bank and IMF closed all their offices in Nigeria.  Abacha made it clear that he didn’t want their loan because when they gave you loan, they would use your loan and spend it for you, but he rejected the idea. Of course the western countries were not happy because they felt that the way Abacha was carrying on, he might cause other African countries to follow suit and for the western countries that would be a big blow to them. There were meetings we held with some of them and they did confess.

But then again there was this issue of self-succession by Abacha?
Don’t mind these people from the western world. Let me tell you, some of them came to my office once and asked about Abacha and self-succession and I asked if he told them that he wanted to succeed himself. Some of them said all they wanted was democracy and that even if he would organize dummy elections; let people just come out and contest and if he won he would just continue as president.

Who are these people you’re talking about?  Diplomats from the western world; western powers!
Yes.  They always came to my office.  They knew that the man was doing well and their concern was just some form of democracy. The minister of finance at that time, Ani (Michael), go and ask him.
Whenever the western powers thought the economy would collapse, it would rise, whenever they thought it would collapse, it would rise again. They were surprised too.

Let me take you on regarding the self-succession issue.  You asked the diplomats if Abacha told anyone he wanted to succeed himself but all the five political parties had adopted him as their candidate.  If Abacha had not died, he would have become civilian president.
All the parties, yes, just like 2007 elections when political parties were adopting Babangida as candidate for the presidential elections but Babangida never said a word, he never even contested.  These things are not new. Did Abacha come out, had he a political party? No!  He never did.

Of course we tried to regulate the activities of the political parties – at least there was a time when we had just two political parties in this country. What we did was to put ministers in charge of the political parties. I was the co-ordinator because we didn’t want the parties going to the head of state to do anything directly. We also ensured that retired officers who wanted to contest had good records.

We also ensured that politicians with questionable character were not allowed to join the race.
There was no time Abacha himself went about telling political party leaders to adopt him as their sole candidate. But look at today, Obasanjo wanted third term but when the thing failed he said he didn’t ask for third term. Who financed third term project?  Was it not the same Obasanjo who financed himself?  But when the thing failed he said he did not ask anybody to campaign for third term for him.

Look at what the state governors too are doing now.

Even this Obasanjo matter, as a military man, didn’t you ever serve under him?
Well, should I say that I served under him or that I worked with him. I served him briefly when late Mamman Vatsa, who was the commander of the Brigade of Guards, went to Staff College, I was given the responsibility of looking after the brigade for the period of 12 months that Vatsa was away and this was around the time of the Festival of Black Arts and Culture, FESTAC.

There were rumours at that time that the Arabs were planning to do something against the black race since blacks were going to assemble in Nigeria for the festival. So, I used to go to Dodan Barracks to assure him as head of state that everything was okay. I wasn’t even allowed to go to my house and stay with my family. I was given No. 10, Okotie Eboh Street, Ikoyi, a walking distance from Dodan Barracks. My official house was at Yaba.  It was when I closed for work in the evening that I would rush home, eat and then before 10pm, I had to be back in Ikoyi. Any time they heard anything, they would telephone me to ask if everything was okay.

Those days when you went to see him and brief him, what type of person did you make out of him then?  Nigerians are still at a loss as to why someone who was said to have served well as a military head of state returned as a failure when he served as a civilian, and even having served a jail term?
That is what surprised many of us too! We were surprised and we don’t even know whether there is something in that prison that made him become what he became.

You were in the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP?
(Cuts in).  Yes but I left the ANPP. It was funny when your party members who are state governors are doing the bidding of people outside the political party.  Most of the state governors were not sincere; they supported third term.

During one of our meetings I got so angry and I asked one of our governors:  ‘Were you not in Aso Rock Villa on so, so date and you were hiding in the library in the Villa.  You went there to discuss third term. That was why myself and Bafarawa (Attahiru) left ANPP and formed Democratic Peoples Party, DPP.  Bafarawa was the only governor in ANPP who did not support third term.  We opted out. Our DPP was catching fire so much that Obasanjo and the PDP were scared and they put the electoral law aside and started dealing with us. Can you believe that Bafarawa did not even win his local government area.  One day they went to Government House in Sokoto and surrounded the house, searched everywhere and claimed they heard there were two trailer loads of electoral materials.  A sitting governor, being humiliated like that!

Look at what is happening in Jos, Plateau State:  What solutions would you proffer?

The first thing the federal government should do is to treat every state equally.

When this thing happens in Jos and you make it appear as if it had never happened in any other part of the country before and you begin to treat Jos differently, then there is a problem.
Boko Haram happened.  The leader who was captured was killed in Police cell and nothing happened.
In Bauchi, how many times has it happened?  What did the Federal Government do?
What happened in Kano? What happened in Kaduna. Look at the Niger Delta: government is paying people for carrying arms against government. But in Plateau State, because some people have some forces working at the federal level, they simply treat it as if it is the worst in the history of this country.
The Jos crisis of 2008, people were arrested and what happened. The federal government requested for the case files and the persons arrested were granted bail and up till today, we have heard nothing of the incident.  Something that happened in Jos! Are you not encouraging people to act recklessly.

The federal government set up an enquiry in 2008 headed by Emmanuel Abisoye. The state government set up its own enquiry, headed by a renowned lawyer and jurist, Bola Ajibola who has done its work. The Abisoye Panel just started sitting in December. When we were invited to the Villa to seek our opinion on what was happening I told them what Papa Awolowo said:  He said if things like this happen when a new law has fallen on top of an old law, you remove the new law first to get to the old law.  When you settle that, then you can begin to move forward.

When were you invited to the Villa?
After the January uprising and the committee the federal government set up to look into the matter was given two weeks to look into the matter but even up till now, the report has not been submitted and that was before the latest crisis again. An this latest one was so bad that the security agencies were accused of complicity because there were so many people in uniform. The federal government has its own faults.

I wouldn’t say the state government doesn’t have its own fault. But again, the state government’s hands are tied.  The state governor who is supposed to be the Chief Security Officer of his state and if the police or the security agencies refuse to cooperate with the state governor, what will he do?

The Police Commissioner came out with a statement that some people were the cause of the problem, some other people wrote that the man had taken sides and they immediately caused him to be redeployed.  So people should not come out and speak the truth again. Some of the reports they are sending out regarding what happened in Jos are doctored reports because the truth is bitter.

What is the way forward?
Treat every state equal. All cases or offences committed in the state should be tried in the state.  People were brought to Abuja and released.  So what do you think you’ve achieved?

Moammar Ghaddafi gave a suggestion about breaking the country into two?
Ghaddafi’s suggestion is a useless suggestion. How do you divide the country? Is there any place where you don’t have Christians or Muslims? This one is even between people of Hausa stock but of different religions, so how do you handle that? He’s talking as if the north is harmonious.  We are all in the North, it’s not the Muslim North versus the Christian South. Ghaddafi was just talking nonsense.

The situation in the country today with a president that we have not seen for so many months, how does that bode?
In the beginning, it did not mean much. But when it started taking long then a problem arose. We read in the papers that a letter was written but somebody hid it. We have a problem on our hands.
The National Assembly had to act and it acted because the EXCOF members did not want to act.
When we were in government, Babangida was not around for a while but governance was continuing.  We even signed a card and we delivered it to him where he was receiving treatment. In this case you can not even see the man.  During Babangida’s time things moved and we were in touch with him.
In this case we have not even seen him at all since he left. I do not know how a situation came about when the wife decided to hide him. Yar’Adua is the property of Nigerians and Nigerians deserve to see their president. But let us also look at the state governors too.  We have seen a situation where state governors refused to hand over to their deputies, they even hand over to some other people.
And people will come out to say what are the leaders doing about it?  What should the leaders do?  Are we to chase them out and put our children in there to take over? This is our country and everybody has a duty to do something to salvage the situation. Look at the amount of money state governors are stealing, billions. In our time even some of our budgets were not as much but that is what some people are stealing now.

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