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Reminiscing on Abacha’s years of evil

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By Yinka Odumakin

THERE are so many frightening points in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s explosive release on the state of our country on Sunday, with the scariest being the virtual return to the days of the evil ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha.


For those of us who were highly involved in resisting that murderous regime and suffered untold consequences, how a country rolls back into the same within 17 years after the expiration of the maximum ruler through a democratic choice is a sad commentary  on this unfortunate polity.

I recall  how on May 28, 1999 how some of us, including Festus Keyamo(SAN) marched from Maryland in Lagos to Oyingbo on the eve of handover to civilian administration to bid farewell to the military with a song on our lips:

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“A le koko nile yi”(It shall be tough in this land)!

A le koko nile yi o(It shall be tough in this land)!!

Bi soldier  pada wa(If soldiers  come back)!

A le koko nile yi”(It shall be tough in this land)!!!

It is heart wrenching that soldiers are  virtually back in our political space only they are not in uniform and many of the forces who opposed military rule in those days are now their cheerleaders.

“Today, another  Abacha Era is here. The security institutions are being misused to fight all critics and opponents of Buhari and to derail our fledgling democracy.  EFCC, Police and Code of Conduct Tribunal are also being equally misused to deal with those Buhari sees as enemies for criticising him or as those who may not do his bidding in manipulating election results.”

Only dishonest folk and the vultures feeding on the carcass of Nigeria will dispute this poignant observation by the former with the repressive atmosphere under which we live in a supposed democratic dispensation.

Since history is not taught in our schools anymore and children born after the death of Abacha would constitute a sizable percentage of those who will decide the next President of Nigeria, it is a patriotic duty to recall those terrible years of our history.

When this government developed a weird sense of humour to honour Bashorun MKO Abiola while also celebrating Abacha, Professor Wole Soynka at the national honours investiture  said that although he understood Buhari’s official loyalty to Abacha, it shouldn’t take pre-eminence over the preservation of democracy

“Dear Mr. President, you cannot honour Abiola in one breath and admire his tormentor in the same breath,” he said.

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I shook my head watching Jamiu Abiola,Kudirat’s son on TVC campaigning for the re-election of this government because the father was given some cynical honour !

November 17, 1993: General Abacha took over power following the ‘resignation’ of Chief Ernest Shonekan. However, this is seen in many quarters as a palace coup by General Abacha (the most senior secretary (minister) in the Interim National Government, ING) amidst mixed reactions and feelings.

The Abacha coup had all the subtlety of creeping evil coming at the peak of the resistance against the annulment of June 12 elections.The planners had reached out to the winner of June 12 Bashorun MKO Abiola through some pseudo progressives who claimed to be part of the pro-democracy movement  and others whom they would plot a coup with and then hand over to him.

It has been alleged that they even drafted the coup speech of Abacha with a promise to appoint ministers from the June 12 movement  and make some of the emissaries civilian Deputy Governors. A key member of the group already resumed in Alausa with the Military Administrator until Abacha changed his mind; the perfidy leaders  of today masquerade as champions of democracy .

Abacha had shown a flash of his real self when as Chief of Defence Staff, he moved the tanks against peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Lagos on July 7,1993. We counted three hundred and sixty five dead bodies on Ikorodu Road mowed down by rampaging troops.The killings of Shi’ites and IPOB members in recent time have been reminders of that dastardly mowing.

By the time Abcaha settled down fully, the most terrible military tyranny emerged in the history of Nigeria with the scars all around us till today.

It became a capital offence to oppose Abacha’s infamy with many prominent Nigerians paying the supreme sacrifice. They include Chief Alfred Rewane, Arc Layi Balogun, Maj-Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Admiral Omotehinwa, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Alhaja Suliat Adedeji, Bagauda Kaltho and Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 to mention just a few.

There were those shot on the streets but managed to keep their lives like Senator Abraham Adesanya and late Publisher of The Guardian, Mr. Alex Ibru.

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The prisons were operating at more than their installed capacity with  many leaders incarnated by the evil junta. Chief Frank Kokori,  Senator Abraham Adesanya, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Mr. Femi Falana, Baba Omojola, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Col. Lawan Gwadabe, Ms. Chris Anyanwu, Mr. Kunle Ajibade. Our prisons today house citizens incarcerated in spite of court orders to the contrary, like Col. Sambo Dasuki and Shi’ites leader, Ibrahim El- Zakyzaky among others.

The media became so endangered under Abacha such that newspaper houses  like The Punch,  The Guardian, TEMPO/THE NEWS were shut randomly the way soldiers sealed up Daily Trust recently. Journalists suffered deprivation of liberty in those years as some have experienced recently.

The Nigerian state under Abacha became a criminal outfit setting ablaze homes of opponents. The home of Lt General Alani Akinrinade, Nigeria’s former Chief of Defence Staff was burnt to ashes. He is alive today, unlike one of his successors Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh who was killed on the streets weeks back.

It was an agonising season in Nigeria when exile became home for citizens like Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, Dr. Amos Akingba,Gen. Alani Akinrinade and Prof. Wole Soyinka. I have heard many people say they will leave Nigeria if this regime returns.

It was a reign of terror, unbridled despotism and repressive season. Abacha marched over Nigeria and trampled on all liberties and it was at the point of succeeding himself that God intervened and he dozed off eternally.

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The fact of the matter is that a lot of forces that worked with Abacha include the President who headed PTF now control our lives today. A member of the panel that sentenced  Saro-Wiwa and others to death is our C-G Customs,  Abacha’s ADC is the D-G of NDLEA, our current Education Minister, was Abacha’s speech writer among other key operatives now presently in the saddle.

It must be some irony of history that a lot of those who were at the receiving end of the Abacha infamy are now at the forefront of 4+4. Stockholm syndrome?

Obasanjo however said it all with these declarations “Today, as in the days of Abacha, Nigerians must rise up and do what they did in the time of Abacha. Churches and mosques prayed. International community stood by us Nigerians. I was a beneficiary and my life was saved.

Well-meaning Nigerians took appropriate actions and made sacrifices, some supreme, some less than supreme but God had the final say and He took the ultimate action.”

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