How the man who saved for rainy days, became a thief

What has really changed since Abacha passed away?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

/ by National Pivot

If late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari is regarded as one of the most misunderstood individual in Nigeria's history, then late Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, arguably fits the bill, at least, according those who claim the late General is being unfairly addressed.

In Nigeria's recent history since Abacha passed away, there's the popular belief that the late military dictator was the greatest thief in Nigeria's history, with billions of dollars scattered across banks in Europe, America and other yet to be discovered locations across the world.

But according to those who dare to disagree with the popular narrative that Abacha was one of the worst thing to ever happen to Nigeria, the only reason Abacha is as bad as he is being portrayed, is because he is not alive.

Former Chief of Army Staff, General Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi (rtd.), makes the list of high profile individuals who share a different view on Abacha.

While launching his hagiography entitled 'Vindication of a General', Bamaiyi said that references to ‘Abacha’s loot’ were farcical and a media creation. Abacha, he said, merely deposited the money in those foreign countries to meet “international obligations.”

President Muhammadu Buhari who was at the time, appointed by Abacha as head of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a special fund (account) where proceeds from petroleum price increase were kept much like today's Excess Crude Fund, is also one of those who speak highly of his former boss.

Speaking while receiving a delegation of Buhari Support Organization (BSO) which held at the Presidential Villa, Buhari literally said he didn’t care what opinion the whole world may have about Abacha but that the late General was worthy of societal role of honour. “No matter what opinion you have about Abacha, I agreed to work with him and the roads we did from PTF exist from here to Port Harcourt, to Onitsha, to Benin and so on,” he had said.

In 2008, at the tenth anniversary of the death of Abacha held in his home state of Kano in 2008, Buhari and his successor, General Ibrahim Babangida, claimed contrary to popular beliefs, Abacha never stole Nigerian money but was rather, a man who gave his all for Nigeria's survival. In other words, the late General should be seen as a hero and not the thief people are made to believe.

In a facebook post shared by Chidi Obi, a Buharist from Porthacoirt, he claimed after making a research on the reigns of Abacha, that most of the things written and spoken about the late General, are false and unreasonable.

He said, "Going through General Sani Abacha's profile on Wikipedia, though dominated by negative accusations, enlightened me to so many of his positive achievements that are hardly spoken of by the mainstream media, particularly his efforts in reviving our economy and his MULTIPLE INFRASTRUCTURAL Projects. The mainstream media instead mostly circulated the many 'accused' negatives about him.

"I quote his economic achievements from his Wikipedia page: 'Abacha's administration oversaw an increase in the country's foreign exchange reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997 and reduced the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion by 1997. Gen. Abacha also constructed between 25–100 km of urban road in major cities such as Kano, Gusau, Benin, Funtua, Zaria, Enugu, Kaduna, Aba, Lagos, Lokoja, Port Harcourt.

"Gen. Abacha brought the privatisation programs of the Ibrahim Babangida administration to a halt, reduced an inflation rate of 54% inherited from Ernest Shonekan to 8.5% between 1993 and 1998, all while the nation's primary commodity(oil) was at an average of $15 per barrel and GDP growth, despite being estimated to be higher than the 2.2% growth in 1995 was largely limited to the petroleum sector."

"Please tell me, how could someone achieve this whilst looting?" he questioned.

According to a 2018 article by The Cable, 'estimated theft of Nigeria’s looted fund by Abacha, under the guise of purchasing ammunition to fight the Sierra Leone war, is put at between $2 to 5 billion dollars. Which according The Cable, amounts to approximately about 10% of Nigeria’s five-year oil earnings.

But what has really changed since the death of Abacha? Did corruption ended with the late military dictator?

Buhari came to power with the pledge to rid the country of corruption starting from 1999 to the day he became president. He claimed no act of corruption in Nigeria's history, can match that of PDP's 16 years of looting.

However, 5 years since taking over from the party he said stripped the country bare, and left on a life-support, his administration is also being accused of corruption at a monumental scale.

Some critics recently drew contrast between Buhari's Presidency and Abacha's regime, and concluded that Abacha was a saint compared to Buhari's 5 years of corrupt leadership. Others think Abacha's loots could be said to be a strange kind of savings for rainy days since years after his death, his predecessors starting from Obasanjo to Buhari, have each enjoyed shares from the recovered loot.

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