By Sylvester Asoya
Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s former military dictator is on his way to a crucial vote for sainthood. To many, especially those who remember his evil regime, this is scandalous. After all, a saint is someone known for his or her exceptional measure of holiness, goodness and closeness to God. Abacha was everything but holy or good.
He did not even share any enduring likeness with the Almighty, another important requirement for sainthood. But our country is an unusual place where anything is possible. So, in the minds of some people, including our powerful political leaders desperately working to immortalize the tyrant, Abacha lives!
Nigeria has suffered unthinkable tragedies since 1960 when the colonial masters departed. The reasons for these troubles are not far to seek but the primary one is purposeless leadership. From the look of things, it is now evident that Nigerians have not seen the worst of directionless rule yet. If Abacha the rogue, generally regarded as Nigeria’s biggest tragedy, is already receiving undeserved flattering remarks and reverence in our life time, then much still remains to be done in our struggle for nationhood. But there is an interesting angle to our horrifying story as a people forever burdened with the search for meaning. And this has to do with the fact that finally, the scales have fallen from everyone’s eyes, including those who promoted the false integrity narrative of 2015. This is heartwarming for many reasons.
Is anyone still surprised that Abacha is making headlines again for all the wrong reasons? However, the shocker for many people across the world is the official complicity and the spirited efforts by some people to change a well known story very late in the day. Suddenly, a dictator’s loot and unbridled raid during his tumultuous reign are now assets. What a joke! Like other past leaders in Nigeria who remain unchallenged even in death, Abacha is in good company. But this despot is exceptionally lucky; Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice is unmistakably on his side. This Chief Law Officer is a power broker and his unconcealed position and attempt to alter the Abacha well known story, have added legitimacy to the ongoing charade.
Last week, this unusual law officer decided to further offend our sensibilities with his gibberish account of loot and asset, two unrelated words that are now interchangeably used by this minister and the people who speak for him. According to him, all the stolen funds traceable to Abacha and Company are now assets and no longer loot. Malami even made an already bad situation worse by speaking to Nigerians on this important issue through his aide who provided insight on the spiritual and purification journey of the Abacha loot. “Beyond the issues of verbal dexterity and vocal acrobatics, Nigerians should focus more on the effective utilization of the recovered funds in accordance with the content of the signed tripartite agreement in the interest of Nigeria”, he says.
However, many Nigerians believe that the beatification process of Abacha, the providential comeback kid, actually began in June 2008 at the memorial prayers making 10 years of his death. At that prayer session in Kano, President Muhammadu Buhari who served under Abacha as the Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) had countered those who accused Abacha of corruption. He also supported the “no evidence” claim by other admirers’ of the despot. But the president who was at the time, the presidential candidate of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) went a step further. He declared the former head of state irreproachable even in the face of mounting evidence. “Ten years without the late Abacha, the said allegations remain silent because there are no facts. All the allegations leveled against the personality of the late Gen. Sani Abacha will remain allegations. It is 10 years now, things should be over by now”, the president was quoted to have said.
Those who desperately desire Abacha’s official admission into sainthood should first read the terrifying stories of the people who were at the receiving end of his brutality. Naturally, this clamour to immortalize Abacha will not be good music to the ears of some journalists, activists and families like the Abiola, Olusegun Obasanjo, Chris Anyanwu, Shehu Yar’Adua, Oladipo Diya, Alex Ibru, Ben Charles Obi, Kunle Ajibade, Baguada Kaltho, George Mba, Olu Onagoruwa, Alfred Rewane, Olisa Agbakoba, Suliat Adedeji, Olu Omotehinwa, Tunde Elegbede and others who passed through the tyrant’s highway of death.
It should be noted that long before Buhari’s return to power in 2015, a sizeable chunk of the Abacha loot had already been recovered. For instance, as at 2013, the government of the day had announced the recovery of $1.3 billion. At different times, the previous government also declared that it had recovered 22.5 million euro of the Abacha loot, this is in addition to the 175 million euro seized from the family of the late head of state by the Supreme Court of Liechtenstein. The Swiss government also announced that it returned 700 million dollars received from different Swiss banks. Before then, in 2004, Abacha’s name and whatever remained of his already damaged reputation came under attack again as he was ranked fourth among ten most corrupt and self-enriching heads of government in the last two decades. Under this administration, the mind-boggling recoveries of the Abacha loot spread all over the world continue unabated despite attempts to play down the seriousness of this disaster. Already, some Nigerians who like to make a joke of every serious issue are even calling Abacha a benevolent ancestor because of this embarrassing and never-ending flow of stolen funds from different parts of the world. Interestingly, at no time did we see so much of Abacha’s vanity and brazen corruption. Indeed, this is instructive and disquieting.
Abacha’s metamorphosis reminds one of another scoundrel who murdered nearly one thousand innocent civilians in Asaba as the commander of Nigeria’s Second Division during the Civil War. Today, critical national monuments and other important memorabilia in his name, remind us of this brutal dictator who brought unparalleled cruelty to the peace loving people of Asaba. Like the Asaba executioner, there are also memorials and public infrastructure like sporting centres, hospitals, parks, markets and roads in Kano and other parts of Nigeria in Abacha’s name. There is even a major road named after Abacha in Port Harcourt, the beloved city of Ken Saro-Wiwa, one of his victims. What a calamity!
Nigeria is almost certainly, the weirdest country in the world. Many things that are considered normal in our country are elsewhere, nothing but strange occurrences that are likely to remain incomprehensible. It is bad enough that our political space is dominated by ineffectual and rogue leaders who represent pain, dishonesty, misery and bad memories. But to permit this growing culture of beasts coming from the land of the dead to torment us again with their criminal importance and ubiquitous presence is unacceptable. This rising problem of incredulous ghosts as unwanted guests in our country is an ill wind; the earlier we tackle it, the better for all. We need to change Nigeria’s image of a lost country under the control of a decadent governing class that is inept, timid, confused and perverted. If we all agree that there is no hope for a country that openly rewards bad behavior, then this is the time for us as citizens, to rethink our vision and values. We must raise our voices against this evil in our society or expect the worst in the years to come.