Nigerians as a people had hardly ever been on such frenzied jubilation on receiving the news of the death of the despotic ruler, General Sani Abacha. This happened on June 8, 1998. Streets went wild with celebration, people shook hands and hugged one another while declaring bottles of alcohol at beer parlours.
Rumours followed suit and then circulated nationwide that Abacha had died after eating an apple fed him by an Indian prostitute. Up until today, that rumour has never been adequately refuted by parties close to Abacha before his death. Both Major Al-Mustapha and Gen. Jeremiah Useni claimed different things concerning the autopsy report which should have enlightened Nigerians better on the cause of death.
Strangely enough, Nigerians neither cared nor dwelt so much about what exactly killed the man. As long as he was out of the way and done with, Nigerians believed it was the beginning of a new dawn for them. How he allowed himself to be hated this much by the country is not farfetched. During Abacha’s presidency, Nigerians witnessed unprecedented hardship for a long stretch of time. There had been doses of economic collapse and poverty reign in Nigeria’s past before Abacha assumed power. But the way with which he handled leadership carelessly while mortally hunting down critics of his government was worse than the economic hardship experienced under him.
Nigerians felt unsafe in their own country. Some were assassinated, others were killed on trumped up charges and even many others were damned to self-exile running for dear life. Everything was being policed. Free speech and other fundamental human rights became a luxury.
Depression set in, as a shadow of gloom perpetually lingered like a sword of Damocles over Nigerians. Even the international community could do nothing tangible; all they could manage was to impose sanctions on Nigeria which effectively further worsened the already unfortunate state of the citizens. Kudirat Abiola, Pa Alfred Rewane, the Ogoni 9 and many others unaccounted for were martyrs who fell from the murderous canons of Abacha and his henchmen’s evil schemes. M.K.O Abiola too was jailed because of his rightly claim to the presidency. And so at Abacha’s death, the people who remained alive and sane muttered under their breath – NEVER AGAIN!
Nigerians waited – some prayed endlessly for deliverance from the despot, until that fateful day in June 1998 when news finally reached the streets that Abacha had died. We may never know if the muted notes of an autopsy being done were cunningly switched or planted to make his death appear natural and not engineered by enemies who may have wanted to poison him. The rumours never died still; most of his family, after their patriarch’s demise, withdrew into a cocoon lest they witness perpetual anger of victimised citizens.
In a sane environment, where rule of law and the love of the people is primal in the heart of a leader, Abacha’s death as Head of State was supposed to be a saddening event but ironically, people rather celebrated. So what shall we say to military interventions, such as that which brought Abacha into power? In our nascent but shaky democracy – NEVER AGAIN!