RECENT attempts to launder the image of the late General Sani Abacha, Nigeria's maximum ruler between 1993 and 1998 smack of invidious revisionism, apart from being insensitive. First was the press conference by Mrs. Maryam Abacha, wife of the late General Abacha on Wednesday, June 4, a few days to the 10th anniversary of his death.
She spoke to the effect that her husband has been wrongly accused and that there is no conclusive proof that he looted the public treasury as has been alleged. Her reason: the man is not 'around to (either) say "yes I did this (or) to deny it." Mrs. Abacha, perhaps oblivious of where the buck of responsibility stops in governance, even thinks that it is the ministers in her husband's administration that should be held accountable. Next were the comments, credited to three former military Heads of State, which echoed, one way or the other, Mrs. Abacha's defense of her husband. This was on June 8 at a lecture in memory of the late dictator.
Said Gen. Muhammadu Buhari who together with his colleagues, overthrew, in 1983, a popularly elected government, in violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, "All the allegations levelled against the personality of the late Gen. Sani Abacha will remain allegations...'. General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who led a revolt against his commander-in-chief in a 1985 coup d'etat insisted that 'It is not true that (Abacha) looted public treasury, I knew who Abacha was because I was close to him.' General Abdulsalami Abubakar who inherited the mantle of leadership following the death of Abacha in 1998, was also full of praises for his former boss.
Not a few people see self-interest as the driving motive for the views expressed by these former rulers of Nigeria. In the typical nature of the disciplined forces, esprit-de-corps requires that one stands by his colleague through thick and thin. It runs unfathomably deep within the services. But esprit de corps should not become an excuse for insensitivity. There are military officers who have been known to stand firm on the grounds of principle and defend the truth. Obviously, Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar do not belong in this category. There must be something so morally wrong with citizens, regardless of ranking, to try to turn history on its head so bare-facedly. We think that the interest of Nigeria should override any other interest, private or sectional. If self-interest is the justification to insult our intelligence and so brazenly challenge our sense of history, we feel constrained to qualify this act as despicable and most unworthy of people in leadership positions.
Revisionism is a common strategy of those who seek to tamper with the facts of history. In the specific case of Abacha's handling of public funds, the evidence, as established during the Obasanjo administration is indeed damning. At the time, it was established that General Abacha had stashed away public funds illegally in banks across the world running into about $3 billion.
Part of the money, kept in Swiss banks was returned to Nigeria by the Swiss authorities. Abacha's son, Mohammed, was also put on trial by the Federal Government although charges were later dropped and the Abacha family agreed to return money to government. Besides, General Abacha's name features prominently in Transparency International's list of most corrupt leaders in the world. General Buhari spoke about unproven allegations. What is unproven if we may ask, about Abacha's reign of terror, his violation of human rights and the sheer sadism of his government, which brought grief to many families? Where is the justification for the image laundering by Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abubakar?
Perhaps the sub-text to the Generals' opinion on Abacha was provided by Gen. Abubakar when he said: "It is quite unfortunate and unfair to accuse the family of the late Sani Abacha of looting public funds. But now, we have been seeing what is happening...". General Abubakar seems to be saying invariably that there is greater corruption in the country now than was the case under the military. But how does that translate into the confirmation of Abacha as a man of integrity? It does not lie in the mouth of the three Generals to comment so expertly on the delicate subject of integrity.
What is beyond dispute is that the present malaise that pervades the polity would not at all have been so widespread if the military, and particularly the three Generals, did not run Nigeria so badly. General Muhammadu Buhari ran a totalitarian government, which trampled upon basic human rights and paid scant regard to the people's welfare. The Babangida regime introduced anti-people policies, which ruined the economy and resulted in the dispossession of Nigerians.
In June 1993, that same government annulled a democratic election and threw the country into a long season of trauma. General Abubakar's tenure was short but it was essentially a military government. Surely, it is not a credit to the capabilities of these Generals that a quarter of a century of their leadership provided the foundation for the comprehensive mess that confronts the nation today. This fact alone is enough to keep the Generals from insulting our collective psyche.
We have no reason to think that the opinions of the trio are shared by other Generals of the Armed Forces of our country, serving or retired. Furthermore it need not be assumed that their comments reflect the feelings of any group in any part of the country. Generals Buhari, Babangida, and Abubakar have spoken only for themselves. But they are wrong. And it is strange that they have failed to realise that they may be unwittingly endorsing corruption as acceptable, a gesture that is most unbecoming of statesmen.