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Those nostalgic days of Abacha

By Lawal Jet Kaugama

As the 2023 general election is drawing closer, and the cost of living is skyrocketing, Nigerians of all walks of life, young and old, businessmen and women, professionals, students, artisans and the like, who are not blind to late Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s unparalleled legacies, are filled with nostalgia.

In our recent history, no leader had felt and appreciated the pains of Nigerian masses as Abacha did. Even though a section of Nigeria who controls the media hates him in life and in death, truth will always come to the surface. History will give him the deserved place in its anals as a leader who raised the standard of living of his citizens, who ensure the security of his citizens, and who embarked on projects without borrowing a kobo from outside world. This, undoubtedly, is a very fair assessment of the leadership style and quality of the Abacha regime.

However, enemies of the state and
their foreign collaborators never relent in demonizing him. Remember, the Scriptures ask us to tell the truth so that we may be set free. I am sure a dispassionate assessment of Abacha’s regime in relation to his successors will vindicate him. I wish the Federal Government or academics; researchers in democratic institutions will do that.

It is disappointing that the Abacha era is left unsung, and not only that but despised. But I believe Nigeria’s history will not be complete without a dispassionate assessment of Abacha’s leadership qualities that saw Nigerians’ meteoric rise in standard of living.

May I use this medium to appeal to the family of Abacha to document his legacies without leaving the job to foreigners or domestic enemies. A day is coming when people be will forced to sing and honour him, because his legacies of prudent management are yet to be broken decades after his death.

The coming of Abacha saved Nigeria from collapse. His coming to power
was necessitated by his desire to keep Nigeria united by taking the
government from the shaking hands of Chief Ernest Shonekan, who was
serving as president of an interim government that had no constitutional backing.

Despite the ‘Abacha loot’ fairy tales and propaganda against him and
his family, he is a hero and a visionary leader; this is what history is now revealing. In just four years, Abacha executed a number of projects without taking any loan from USA, UK or China. The National Assembly Complex, Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG); Federal Medical Centers (FMC) across the federation; National Hospital Abuja; Gwarinpa Housing Estate and Apo Legislative Quarters, are all his brainchild.

Talk of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) drugs and beds in all the federal government hospitals, roads, and water projects across Nigeria. School buses and buildings in high institutions across Nigeria built by PTF are cases under reference.

Furthermore, Nigeria’s foreign reserve under Abacha grew fast. It was $494 million in 1993 when Abacha took over, but with crude oil swinging between eight dollars and nine dollars per barrel, Abacha still grew it to $9.6 billion by of 1997. He reduced Nigeria’s debt profile from $36 billion to $27 billion, reduced an inflation rate of 54 per cent inherited from his predecessor, Chief Ernest Shonekan, to 8.5 per cent between 1993 and 1998.

Even though Abacha was and is being demonised in some parts of Nigeria, especially in the southwest, the truth is, he was a great leader, whose leadership traits always fill Nigerians with nostalgia. Abacha, a true soldier, believed in action instead of vain promises of the present leaders. He was a leader who knew the country and her needs. During his time, Nigerians slept with their two eyes closed.

During his time a thousand naira was a fortune. But now it is for children’s lunch biscuit in the kindergarten.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, fighting corruption starts and ends with the repatriation of Abacha loot. Apart from ‘Abacha loot’, all other loots are legal. Political leaders sponsored propaganda of Abacha loot to win
elections, labelling themselves as saints, but they are devils in angel’s apparel. If Abacha is corruption personified, has corruption been buried with him when he died? No. it grew even worse under his successor’s nose, despite his holier-than-thou posture.

In the present dispensation, the so-called incorruptible leaders became billionaires while the masses who vote them into office, continue to languish in penury. In 2001, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) were enacted, but the result has been greater corruption and financial crimes.

Fighting corruption is not done by mere propaganda but leadership by example. A Washington based Global Integrity Group, a corruption monitoring watchdog, hinted that $129 billion was stolen in 10 years under Nigeria’s democratic rule since 1999. While corruption cannot be justified under any leader, the perpetuation of corrupt practices by governments that are proponents of incorruptibility is not defensible either.

This democratic dispensation has produced more corrupt public officers
than Nigerians have ever known under the military. I ask my compatriots to drive through Abuja streets to see
multi-billion naira projects bequeathed to Nigerians by Abacha regime, taking note of the world-class National Hospital in Abuja. Even though the name was changed by his traducer, it still remains as intimidating as it was under Abacha.

Bias comes out live when your life history is written by your enemies, because fairness would have been hidden from limelight. General Abacha is unarguably a controversial military ruler, but a good leader. As Father Kukah once said, Nigeria does not need an honest leader but one who will turn around the fortunes of his compatriots. Rest in peace, my hero. Your shrewdness in financial management and administrative acumen will remain unbroken for centuries.

Kaugama writes from Dutse, Jigawa state.

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