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Sani Abacha
Nigerian President

Sani Abacha
Nigerian President
Born: September 20, 1943; Kano, Nigeria
Education: Nigerian Military Training College, 1962-64; MONS Defense Officers' Cadet Training College, Aldershot, England, 1963; School of Infantry, Warminster, England, 1966, 1971; Command and Staff College, Jaji, Nigeria, 1976; National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, Nigeria, 1981; Senior International Defense Course, Monterey, CA, 1982
Military Service: Commissioned, Nigerian Army, 1963; Appointed army chief of staff, 1985; Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1989; Ministry of defense, 1990; Secretary of defense, 1993
Occupation: Soldier
Family: Wife, Mariam Jidah; 6 sons, 3 daughters
Religion: Muslim
Early Years: Moved steadily up the ranks of Nigerian army after his commission; Instrumental in two previous coups, 1983 and 1985
Political Career: Assumed presidency after staging bloodless coup against civilian head of government, Ernest Shonekan, 1993.
Office: Office of the President, Abuja, Nigeria

Related Site:
Nigeria Home Page

Sources: Current Biography, 1996; Newsmakers, 1996; Who's Who in the World, 1996

Sani Abacha was born September 20, 1943, in Kano, Kano State, Nigeria. Abacha has spent his entire career in the military. He was trained in the Nigerial Military Training College in the 1960s and commissioned a second lieutenant in the Nigerian army in 1963, where he worked his way up through the ranks.

He became chief of staff in 1985 and minister of defense in the Babangida government.. It had originally been the intention of the Babangida military government to establish a new political culture by holding free multiparty elections and turning the government over to civilian rule. But when an opposition candidate took the lead, the military council annulled the election. The army killed more than 200 people in the ensuing demonstrations, arrested human rights and pro-democracy activists and shut down opposition newspapers.

Babangida stepped down, and a civilian, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was chosen to head the interim government. He likewise could not cope with the turmoil caused by the annulment of the elections. On November 17, 1993, Abacha deposed Ernest Shonekan and took control of the Nigerian government.

Abacha took his place in a long succession of military men who have headed Nigeria's government since the country gained its independence from Britain in 1960. Ironically, Nigerians have usually welcomed military takeovers, seeing them as necessary to restore order after messes caused by corrupt and incompetent civilian governments. This was not the case with Abacha's takeover. Abacha brutally repressed citizens under the two preceding governments, and Nigerians were not happy to see him take over.

Abacha promised to return the government to civilian rule within two years, but then dismantled all elected institutions, terminated all national and state assemblies, closed independent publications and banned all political activity. Abacha's government announced a constitutional conference for May 1994, but nearly one-third of the delegates to the proposed conference were to be Abacha's own appointments, and the government retained the right to reject decisions made by the conference.

In June 1994, Chief Mashood Abiola declared himself president of a government of national unity. The Abacha regime accused him of treason, arrested him and held him incommunicado. The constitutional conference postponed civilian elections indefinitely and voted for an open-ended term of military rule. The government also issued a series of regulations giving itself absolute power to promulgate any decree without judicial oversight.

Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka fled Nigeria and now is leading the National Liberation Council, a movement to set up a Nigerian government in exile. It is unlikely that opposition groups will be able to overthrow the military regime, but the government is vulnerable to sanctions on its oil sales.

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