Son of Dead Nigerian Dictator Sani Abacha Defends Father's Legacy

Former First Lady Maryam Abacha receiving the Nigeria Centenary Award for her deceased husband from President Jonathan [Image by Reuben Abati. Used with permission.]

Former First Lady Maryam Abacha receiving the Nigeria Centenary Award for her deceased husband (Sani Abacha) from President Jonathan [Image by Reuben Abati]

Nigeria celebrated 100 years since British colonialists united the north and south into one nation in 1914. As part of activities to mark the anniversary, the Nigerian government honoured 100 Nigerians with a Centenary Award.

However, some Nigerians rejected the award, top among them being writer and 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Professor Wole Soyinka. Soyinka rejected his award due to the inclusion of General Sani Abacha, Nigeria's deceased dictator, believed to have stolen between three and five billion dollars in five years, in the honours list.

In a letter published on news site Vanguard titled “Canonisation of Terror“, Soyinka described Abacha thus:

General Sanni Abacha, a vicious usurper under whose authority the lives of an elected president and his wife were snuffed out.  Assassinations – including through bombs cynically ascribed to the opposition – became routine. Under that ruler, torture and other forms of barbarism were enthroned as the norm of governance.  To round up, nine Nigerian citizens, including the writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-wiwa, were hanged after a trial that was stomach churning even by the most primitive standards of judicial trial, and in defiance of the intervention of world leadership. We are speaking here of a man who placed this nation under siege during an unrelenting reign of terror that is barely different from the current rampage of Boko Haram [a Jihadist group in northern Nigeria]. It is this very psychopath that was recently canonized by the government of Goodluck Jonathan in commemoration of one hundred years of Nigerian trauma.

The writer, playwright and poet rejected the award on this note:

[…] a murderer and thief of no redeeming quality known as Sanni Abacha, one whose plunder is still being pursued all over the world and recovered piecemeal by international consortiums – at the behest of this same government which sees fit to place him on the nation’s Roll of Honour! I can think of nothing more grotesque and derisive of the lifetime struggle of several on this list, and their selfless services to humanity. It all fits. In this nation of portent readers, the coincidence should not be too difficult to decipher. I reject my share of this national insult.

However, son of the ex-leader Sadiq Abacha wrote an apologia on online newspaper Daily Post, “An Open Lecture/Letter to Professor Wole Soyinka“:  

Late General Sani Abacha (Image by  AfricanSuccess and released to the Creative Common Licence)

Late General Sani Abacha. Image by AfricanSuccess and released under Creative Common Licence

Here I find myself defending my father 15 years after his death because some of you have no one else to pounce on, or rather, you have chosen a dead person to keep pouncing on over and over again when you have more than an array of contestants. A coward’s act I believe. “A common writer” is what I have heard you being referred to lately, and I believe a mature mind would now agree to such referrals. With all due respect, there is a great challenge that faces the country, we have to put our heads together, rather than clashing, our collective ships must sail in the same direction, let us leave the ghosts of past contention and face the future bravely as one, criticizing the past does not help the present or define a path to the future.

Sadiq Abacha told Soyinka that his late father deserved the award:

You are a learned man, you would have to undo all your learning to knowingly wish to undo all these achievements! I will be the first to proclaim that my father’s leadership was not pitch perfect or spot free, that does not exist, maybe in utopia but not here on this earth, so let us keep our discourse set in the sphere of reality please, he deserves the award, and he did not campaign for it, let it go, Sir…and allow Nigeria to at least bask in our survival and endurance in our growing prosperity and development in these trying times.

Abacha's letter to Soyinka precipitated a storm on Nigeria's blogosphere and Twittersphere. Blogger Ayo Sogunro replied in “To Sadiq Abacha – On Behalf of Wole Soyinka“:

Dear Sadiq Abacha, 


Your letter started with logical principles, which is a splendid common ground for us. So let us go with the facts: General Sani Abacha was a dictator. He came into power and wielded it for 5 years in a manner hitherto unprecedented in Nigerian history. Facts: uncomfortable for your family, but true all the same.

Now, for my personal interpretations: between 1993 and 1998 inclusive, when your dada [father] was in power, I was a boy of 9 to 14 years and quite capable of making observations about my political and cultural environment. Those years have been the worst years of my material life as a Nigerian citizen. Here are a few recollections: I recollect waking up several mornings to scrape sawdust from carpentry mills, lugging the bags a long distance home, just to fuel our “Abacha stoves” because kerosene was not affordable — under your father. I recollect cowering under the cover of darkness, with family and neighbours, listening to radio stations —banned by your father. I recollect my government teacher apologetically and fearfully explaining constitutional government to us — because free speech was a crime under your father’s government. Most of all, I remember how the news of your father’s death drove me — and my colleagues at school — to a wild excitement, and we burst into the street in delirious celebration. Nobody prompted us, but even as 13 and 14 year olds, we understood the link between the death of Abacha and the hope of freedom for the ordinary man.

Many Twitter users expressed their vehemence against Abacha's letter to Soyinka:

Nigerian writer Tunde Leye wrote: 

Chimabiala, a public commentator asked Abacha a question:

Area_Boy faulted Abacha's logic:

However, some expressed support for Abacha. For instance, lawyer Uzoril said: 

Abigail, a teacher and writer, asked:  

It's a filial duty, said Pierre:  

Oluwatony Adepoxy, an engineer and social commentator, referenced the discussion of the matter on Twitter:

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