By Nehi Igbinijesu.
On 31stDecember 1983, the shrill voice of a relatively unknown army officer was heard over the radio. A Brigadier at his debut, Sani Abacha is reputed in Nigeria’s history with making the most coup speeches on air.
Starting at his first in 1983, the untethered caprices of this generalissimo culminated in his 1993 speech that announced him as Nigeria’s maximum leader:
“Fellow countrymen and women,
I, Brigadier Sani Abacha, of the Nigerian Army address you this morning on behalf of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years. I am referring to the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged; we have become a debtor and beggar nation. There is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people who are now fed up with endless announcements of importation of foodstuff; health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment.
Our educational system is deteriorating at alarming rate. Unemployment figures including the undergraduates have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions.
In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to twelve months and in others there are threats of salary cuts. Yet our leaders revel in squandermania, corruption and indiscipline, and continue to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities.
After due consultations over these deplorable conditions, I and my colleagues in the armed forces have in the discharge of our national role as promoters and protectors of our national interest decided to effect a change in the leadership of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and form a Federal Military Government. This task has just been completed.
The Federal Military Government hereby decrees the suspension of the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 relating to all elective and appointive offices and representative institutions including the office of the President, state governors, federal and state executive councils, special advisers, special assistants, the establishment of the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly including the formation of political parties.
Accordingly, Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari ceases forthwith to be the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. All the incumbents of the above named offices shall, if they have not already done so, vacate their formal official residences, surrender all government property in their possession and report to the nearest police station in their constituencies within 7 days.
The clerk of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, within two weeks, render account of all the properties of the National Assembly. All the political parties are banned; the bank account of FEDECO and all the political parties are frozen with immediate effect. All foreigners living in any part of the country are assured of their safety and will be adequately protected.
Henceforth, workers not on essential duties are advised to keep off the streets. All categories of workers on essential duties will, however, report at their places of work immediately.
With effect from today, a dusk to dawn curfew will be imposed between 7pm and 6am each day until further notice. All Airways flights have been suspended forthwith and all airports, seaports, and border posts closed. External communication has been cut; the Custom and Excise, Immigration and the Police will maintain vigilance and ensure watertight security at the borders. The area administrators or commanders will have themselves to blame if any of the wanted people escapes.
Fellow countrymen and women, the change in government has been a bloodless and painstaking operation and we do not want anyone to lose his or her life. People are warned in their own interest to be law abiding and to give the Federal Military Government maximum cooperation. Anyone caught disturbing public order will be summarily dealt with.
For avoidance of doubt, you are forewarned that we shall not hesitate to declare martial law in any area or state of the federation in which disturbances occur.
Fellow countrymen and women and comrades at arms, I will like to assure you that the Armed Forces of Nigeria is ready to lay its life for our dear nation but not for the present irresponsible leadership of the past civilian administration.
You are to await further announcements.
On the morning of Sunday, April 22, 1990, there was another coup led by one Major Gideon Orkar to oust the Babangida regime. The insurrection was quickly quelled in the afternoon of the same day with an announcement by Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha:
“I, Lieutenant-General Sani Abacha, Chief of Army Staff, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, have found it necessary to address you once again in the course of our nation’s history. In view of the unfortunate, development early this morning, I’m in touch with the CGS, Service Chiefs, GOCs, FOCs, AOCs, of the armed forces and they have all pledged their unflinching support and loyalty to the federal military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who is perfectly safe and with whom I am in contact.
“Early this morning there was sporadic firing by a few disloyal and misguided soldiers in some isolated parts of Lagos, followed by an embarrassing radio broadcast.
“Fellow Nigerians, you will all agree with me that the reasons given for this grave misconduct are significantly motivated by greed and self-interest. The soldiers involved decided to constitute themselves into national security nuisance for no other cause than base avarice.’
‘Most of these disloyal elements have been arrested and are already undergoing interrogation. The remaining dissidents are advised in their own interest to report to the nearest military location and hand over the arms and ammunition in their possession. All formation and unit commanders are hereby directed to exercise effective command and control. “At this stage, let me reiterate our commitment to pursue vigorously the transition programme. No amount of threat or blackmail will detract the federal military government’s attention in this regard. We are set to hand over power to a democratically elected government in 1992. I wish to assure all law-abiding citizens that the situation is now under control and people should go about pursuing their lawful interest.
“Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In his last speech on November 17, 1993 after ousting Chief Shonekan, General Abacha’s words announced a return to ruthless military rule. The General had concluded the truncation of the Third Republic initiated by his former boss, General Babangida on the 23rd of June 1993, when the infamous June 12 Elections were annulled.
The General, in his self-styled,“no-nonsense” demeanour, shoved these words down the throats of millions of Nigerians in one of our country’s darkest moments:
“Fellow Nigerians, sequel to the resignation of the former Head of the Interim National Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Chief Ernest Shonekan and my subsequent appointment as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, I have had extensive consultations within the armed forces hierarchy and other well meaning Nigerians in a bid to find solutions to the various political, economic and social problems which have engulfed our beloved country, and which have made life most difficult to the ordinary citizen of this nation.
Chief Ernest Shonekan took over as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces at a most trying time in the history of the country. Politically, economically, and socially, there were lots of uncertainties. Things appeared bleak and the atmosphere was heavy with uncertainties. However, driven by a belief in himself, his countrymen, and love for his country, he accepted to face the challenges of our time. I will, therefore, like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for his selfless service to the nation. He showed great courage at taking on the daunting task of heading the Interim National Government and even greater courage to know when to leave.
Many have expressed fears about the apparent return of the military. Many have talked about the concern of the international community. However, under the present circumstances the survival of our beloved country is far above any other consideration. Nigeria is the only country we have. We must, therefore, solve our problems ourselves. We must lay a very solid foundation for the growth of democracy. We should avoid any ad hoc or temporary solutions. The problems must be addressed firmly, objectively, decisively and with all sincerity of purpose. Consequently, the following decisions come into immediate effect:
The Interim National Government is hereby dissolved.
The National and State Assemblies are also dissolved.
The State Executive Councils are dissolved. The Brigade Commanders are to take over from the Governors in their States until Administrators are appointed. Where there are no Brigade Commanders, the Commissioners of Police in the State are to take over.
All Local Governments stand dissolved. The Directors of Personnel are to take over the administration of the Local Governments until Administrators are appointed.
All former Secretaries to Federal Ministries are to hand over to their Directors-General until Ministers are appointed.
The two political parties are hereby dissolved.
All processions, political meetings and associations of any type in any part of the country are hereby banned.
Any consultative committee by whatever name called is hereby proscribed.
Decree 61 of 1993 is hereby abrogated.
A Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), is hereby established. It will comprise:
The Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the federal Republic of Nigeria as Chairman.
The Chief of General Staff as Vice-Chairman
The Honourable Minister of Defence
The Chief of Defence Staff
The Service Chiefs
The Inspector General of Police
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice
The Internal Affairs Minister
The Foreign Affairs Minister
Also, a Federal Executive Council will be put in place.
Our security system will be enhanced to ensure that lives of citizens, property of individuals are protected and preserved. Drug trafficking and other economic crimes such as 419 must be tackled and eliminated. On the current strike throughout the nation following the increase in the price of fuel, I appeal to all the trade unions to return to work immediately. We cannot afford further dislocation and destruction of our economy. On the closed media houses, government is hereby lifting the order of proscription with immediate effect. We, however, appeal to the media houses that in this spirit of national reconciliation, we should show more restraint and build a united and peaceful Nigeria.
Fellow Nigerians, the events of the past months, starting from the annulment of the June 12 presidential election, culminating in the appointment of the former Head of State, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who unfortunately resigned yesterday, are well known to you. The economic downturn has undoubtedly been aggravated by the ongoing political crisis.
We require well thought-out and permanent solutions to these problems if we are to emerge stronger for them. Consequently, a constitutional conference with full constituent powers will be established soon to determine the future constitutional structure of Nigeria. The constitutional conference will also recommend the method of forming parties, which will lead to the ultimate recognition of political parties formed by the people. While the conference is on, the re-organisation and reform of the following major institutions will be carried out:
The Banking Industry
Higher Educational Institutions
This regime will be firm, humane, and decisive. We will not condone nor tolerate any act of indiscipline. Any attempt to test our will be decisively dealt with. For the International Community, we ask that you suspend judgment while we grapple with the onerous task of nation building, reconciliation and repairs. This government is a child of necessity with a strong determination to restore peace and stability to our country and on these foundations, enthrone a lasting and true democracy. Give us the chance to solve our problems in our own ways.
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The General’s reign catalyzed dissent in a most unprecedented manner; Radio Kudirat and Tempo Newspaper were responses to the regime’s censure of the press. The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was formed on May 15, 1994 to vent the public’s resistance to the tyranny of the military junta.
The Abacha regime was characterized by crackdowns on dissidents, “headliner” coup plots, bombings and far too many assassinations including those of Pa Alfred Rewane and Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.
Apart from his ruthlessness, General Abacha could be remembered for his dual-currency exchange regime and his open defiance of the West. He died in office on June 8, 1998.