Abacha, Sani (Nigeria)

Reference work entry


Abacha claimed the Nigerian presidency in Nov. 1993 following the army’s refusal to acknowledge the results of the presidential election held earlier in the year. Though voicing a desire to reintroduce democracy to Nigeria, his tenure was marked by civil rights violations and the dismantling of democratic institutions. He died while in office.

Early Life

Sani Abacha was born on 20 Sep. 1943 in Kano. He entered the army at the age of 18 and received his military education in Nigeria, England and the United States. Having achieved the rank of brigadier, he was a leading figure in the military coup of 1983 led by Ibrahim Babangida that removed Alhaji Shehu Shagari from power. Babangida himself seized the presidency 2 years later and Abacha served as minister of defence in this government. Following the victory of the social democrat Moshood Abiola at the 1993 elections, the army declared the elections void and Abacha nominated himself president in Nov.

Career Peak

Abacha vowed to reintroduce civilian government by 1995 and provided economic aid to democratic organizations in Sierra Leone and Liberia. His domestic record was not impressive, however. He banned political gatherings and instigated media censorship. When Abiola reaffirmed his democratic claim to the presidency in June 1994 he was imprisoned. Members of the opposition National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) were arrested and in 1995 several environmental activists, including the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, were executed for protests that resulted in the death of a pro-government chief.

Further civil rights violations followed. Having abolished several democratic institutions, Abacha postponed the elections scheduled for 1996. In 1997 the charging of Nobel Prize-winning exiled writer Wole Soyinka with treason was met with international outrage. Then Abacha promised elections for 1998, paving the way for his nomination as sole candidate for the presidency. He died suddenly in June 1998, reportedly of a heart attack.

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