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Al-Bashir: Remembering Abacha

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Imagine Gen. Sanni Abacha ruling Nigeria for 24 straight years. Then consider the lot of the politically benighted people of Sudan in the hands of Gen. Omar Al-Bashir.

It was indeed remarkable that it was just days after Abacha’s powerful Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza al-Mustapha was released from jail that President al-Bashir burst upon Nigeria’s political consciousness.

Critics who had in the past derided the present administration as clueless were quick to point at the presence of President Bashir in the country as another example of the insipidity of the administration.

There were nudged on by the fact that Nigeria is only the fourth African country to have allowed the embattled Sudanese president to visit since the International Criminal Court, ICC issued an arrest warrant on him in 2009.

Late Sani Abacha and Omar-Al-Bashir
Late Sani Abacha and Omar-Al-Bashir

The only exceptions are Djibuoti, Chad and Kenya. Many others including South Africa have kept him away.

Bashir was indicted by the ICC upon conclusions of his personal culpability in the acts of genocide, crimes against humanity including forcible deportations and other war crimes in the Darfur region of his country.

He is alleged to have supported ethnic cleansing of minority groups, and all these, are besides politically orchestrated schemes and crimes that have sustained him in power for 24 unbroken years. Arresting the wanted Sudanese leader was, however, out of the question. If not, then for the repercussions on the millions of Nigerians living in Sudan, a country which arguably harbours more Nigerians in the Diaspora than any other country on the continent.

In allowing him into the country, President Jonathan has boldly told the West that he must not always cavort to their instructions. It is remarkable that the al-Bashir fuss happened just days after the president returned from a five day trip to China.

The visit to China by the president and the first lady was interpreted in some circles as Nigeria’s response to the continued snub by President Barack Obama who in two straight African trips has avoided the continent’s biggest democracy and upcoming economic power.

Al-Bashir, however, would remind many Nigerians of the deceased former head of state, Abacha in the same way that his country once reminded Nigerians of the political and religious divides of their own country.

The Sudan before its recent partition, was divided into an Islamic North and a Christian-cum-animist South almost reflective of the demographic shape of present day Nigeria.

Al-Bashir came to power in 1989 after taking power from an unstable civilian government just as Abacha grabbed power from a wobbly “interim” government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan.

Just as Abacha pretended to consult the civilian political power brokers like Chief Moshood Abiola and Shehu Musa Yar‘adua in his first days in power, al-Bashir in Sudan, also had a popular honeymoon with the civilian political leader in The Sudan at that time, Hassan al-Turabi.

The romance between Al-Bashir and al-Turabi led to the promulgation of harsh Islamic law as favoured by the latter, who also became speaker of the  parliament.

But just as Yar‘Adua scented Abacha quite early not to have any democratic leaning as he espoused, al-Turabi was to also discover the same trait in al-Bashir. It was not surprising that after al-Bashir settled himself in power he quickly dissolved the parliament and put his one time ally, al-Turabi in jail in the same way that Yar‘Adua and Abiola were jailed by Abacha in Nigeria.

Like Abacha who turned a deaf ear to the voice of the international community, al-Bashir similarly scorned the international community going as far as providing succour for America’s Enemy Number One, Osama Bin Laden in the 90s. For his act of defiance, his country was placed on the United State’s list of sponsors of terrorism.

Sponsors of terrorism
With all the negatives attached to him, President al-Bashir would, however, be remembered for his bold step in allowing the separation of Southern Sudan and as such, bringing to an end the more than 40 years of conflict between Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan.

That was, however, something Abacha simply wouldn’t have allowed. Abacha in his days in Nigeria would not allow one foot of his territory to be taken from him and it is not for nothing that the people of Bakassi till date cherish the memories of the man many others like to forget!

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