In 1998, Nigeria’s head of State died at the state house, with the cause of his death becoming an international debate.
Gen. Abacha was born in 1943, a member of the Kanuri ethnic group, based in northeast Nigeria. Some official sources list him as having been born in Kano, which, as the traditional political power center of the north, would have been a more auspicious origin. But Nigerian scholars and foreign diplomats say he and his family came from the northeast, near the city of Maiduguri.
Little was known of his early military career. Like many Nigerian officers of his generation, he pursued training courses in the United States and Britain. He first came to public attention in 1983 as the officer who broadcast the announcement of the military coup by Gen. Muhammad Buhari.
The late General died in the middle of a political struggle over his campaign to remain in power by having himself elected as a civilian president.
Since his death, one major conspiracy theory was that Abacha died in the midst of some hired Arabian prostitutes who fed him with injected apples.
However, over 2 decades after, there is a clear light as to the events of his last days on earth.
Conflicting reports on his death
First, in the early years of his death, a leading diplomat claims the late head of state was murdered.
“I know for a fact he was poisoned,” a diplomat with close contacts in the Nigerian military told The Irish Times. “My sources in the army have confirmed this. A small group of officers thought the only solution was to poison him and this is what they did.”
A Nigerian newspaper, however, reported that autopsy results showed Abacha died of natural causes.
The independent Thisday said “blood, urine and tissue samples” taken and analyzed in Germany soon after his death revealed no evidence of poisoning. “This. . .may douse fears in some quarters that General Abacha might have died of unnatural causes,” the newspaper said.
The Nigerian government said Gen Abacha died of a heart attack on June 8th. But there was widespread speculation that he was poisoned with spiked apple juice while with prostitutes.
“I can tell you Abacha left the presidential villa in the early hours of the morning to go to one of two guest houses in Abuja [the capital],” says the diplomat, who asked not to be named. “This was something he did regularly. He went there to meet two Indian girls in the morning of June 8th and that is where he was poisoned.”
The US government says it has received reports that Gen Abacha was poisoned but that the information is not conclusive.
Real truth about his death
What seems to be a close account of Abacha’s death was given by his former Chief Security Officer Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, who for the umpteenth time debunked the insinuations that his boss died on top in the midst of prostitutes or after eating a poisoned apple.
Al-Mustapha explained that contrary to the insinuations, Abacha’s health challenges started after the late leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yassar Ararat, paid him a visit.
According to Al-Mustapha, the former Head of State problem began on:
“Sunday, 7th June 1998 right from the Abuja International Airport, immediately after one of the white security operatives or personnel who accompanied President Yasser Arafat of Palestine shook hands with him, Abacha.”
Al-Mustapha said shortly after the handshake, he said:
“noticed the change in the countenance of the late Commander-in-Chief and I informed the Aide-de-Camp, Lt. Col. Abdallah, accordingly. He, however, advised that we keep a close watch on the Head of State.”
“Later in the evening of 8th June 1998, around 6 p.m; his doctor came around, administered an injection to stabilize him. He was advised to have a short rest. Happily, enough, by 9 p.m; the Head of State was bouncing and receiving visitors until much later when General Jeremiah Timbut Useni, the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, came calling. He was fond of the Head of State. They were very good friends.
“They stayed and chatted together till about 3.35a.m. A friend of the house was with me in my office and as he was bidding me farewell, he came back to inform me that the FCT Minister, General Useni was out of the Head of State’s Guest House within the Villa. I then decided to inform the ADC and other security boys that I would be on my way home to prepare for the early morning event at the International Conference Centre.
“At about 5a.m; the security guards ran to my quarters to inform me that the Head of State was very unstable. At first, I thought it was a coup attempt. Immediately, I prepared myself fully for any eventuality. As an intelligence officer and the Chief Security Officer to the Head of State for that matter, I devised a means of diverting the attention of the security boys from my escape route by asking my wife to continue chatting with them at the door – she was in the house while the boys were outside. From there, I got to the Guest House of the Head of State before them.
“When I got to the bedside of the Head of State, he was already gasping. Ordinarily, I could not just touch him. It was not allowed in our job. But under the situation on the ground, I knelt close to him and shouted, ‘General Sani Abacha, Sir, please grant me permission to touch and carry you.’
“I again knocked at the stool beside the bed and shouted in the same manner, yet he did not respond. I then realized there was a serious danger. I immediately called the Head of State’s personal physician, Dr. Wali, who arrived the place under eight minutes from his house. He immediately gave Oga – General Abacha –two doses of injection, one at the heart and another close to his neck.
“This did not work apparently as the Head of State had turned very cold. He then told me that the Head of State was dead and nothing could be done after all. I there and then asked the personal physician to remain with the dead body while I dashed home to be fully prepared for the problems that might arise from the incident.
“As soon as I informed my wife, she collapsed and burst into tears. I secured my house and then ran back. At that point, the Aide-de-Camp had been contacted by me and we decided that great caution must be taken in handling the grave situation.
“Again, I must reiterate that the issue of my boss dying on top of women was a great lie just as the insinuation that General Sani Abacha ate and died of poisoned apples was equally a wicked lie,” he said.
Since his death, the Federal Government of Nigeria has recovered a total of $3.6 billion stolen by the former Head of State, General Sani Abacha from 1998 to 2020
The recovered monies were principally stashed away in four major countries: Switzerland, Jersey Island in the United Kingdom, United States, and Liechtenstein. During the Abdulsalami era in 1999, $750 million was recovered. Under the Obasanjo administration, $1.2 billion was recovered in 2002; $149 million from Jersey Island, UK in 2003; $500 million recovered in 2004 from Switzerland and another $458 recovered in 2005 from Switzerland. During the Jonathan administration, $1 billion was recovered in 2012 and $380 million in 2015, both tranches from Switzerland. The Jonathan administration also recovered $227 million from Liechtenstein in 2014 and $48 million from the United States the same year.
The government of Buhari government recovered $322 million from Switzerland in 2017 and $308 million from Jersey Island, United Kingdom in February 2020 which is the most current. Of the four countries, Switzerland tops the list of recoveries. A total of about $2.6 billion of the funds so far repatriated to Nigeria was from Switzerland while the other recoveries came from UK and the USA.
Significantly, in 2014, the Abacha family entered into an agreement, forfeiting several billions of dollars to the Federal Government, following plea bargaining to drop charges against the late military ruler’s son