A picture of Sani Abacha

Sani Abacha was a Nigerian Army general who served as the Nigerian Military Head of State from 1993 to 1998. Abacha rose to power after he staged a palace coup that removed the transitional government under interim president Chief Ernest Shoneken

Sani Abacha is highly respected and remembered as a strong leader who prioritized the Nigerian and African affairs very seriously. However, his government is characterized by the dictatorship in which opposition was not tolerated.

Early Life of Sani Abacha

Sani Abacha was born in Kano, Kano State, on 20 September 1943. His parents were Kanuri who originated from Borno State.

Abacha attended primary school in Kano. While between 1957 to 1962 he attended the Government College (now Rumfa College), Kano.

Military Career of Sani Abacha


In 1962, Sani Abacha joined the Nigerian Army. In the year, he enrolled in the Nigerian Military Training College. He trained in the College until 1963.

Between June to November 1963, attended Mons Defence Cadet College, Aldershot, England. In 1971, he was trained at the Warminster School of Infantry, England. In 1976, Abacha attended Command and Staff College, Jaji. And later he attended National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, in 1981.


Sani Abacha passed through different military ranks before he lastly reached a four-star general. These ranks were as follows:

  1. Second Lieutenant 1963
  2. Lieutenant 1966
  3. Captain 1967
  4. Major 1969
  5. Lieutenant Colonel 1972
  6. Colonel 1975
  7. Brigadier 1980
  8. Major General 1984
  9. Lieutenant General 1988
  10. General 1990

As Sani Abacha passed through the aforementioned ranks, served at different military positions as follows:

  • Platoon Commander in 1969
  • Commander at the 2nd Division Training Depot
  • General Staff Officer at the 2nd Division Headquarters
  • Battalion Commander
  • Assistant Quartermaster General at the 2nd Division
  • General Staff Officer at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry
  • Commander 2nd Infantry Brigade
  • Commander 9th Mechanized Brigade
  • General Officer Commanding 2nd Mechanized Division, Ibadan.
  • Member Supreme Military Council 1984-1985
  • Chief of Army Staff and a Member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council 1985-1989
  • Minister of Defence 1990-1993

Rising to Power

After the annulment of the June 12 election, the then Military President General Ibrahim Babangida was pressurized to leave power. However, in the process of leaving power, Babangida established an Interim Government and appointed Chief Ernest Shonekan as the Interim President. But, Ernest Shonekan received no respect from the top Nigerian Army officers specifically Sani Abacha who was the Minister of Defence and most senior officer at the time.

On 17 November, 1993, Sani Abacha backed by many of the top Nigerian Army officers staged a peaceful palace coup in which they forced Shonekan to hand overpower.

In his nationwide broadcast of takin power, Abacha gave the reasons for toppling the government. He also declared that his government would be disciplined and would not tolerate any nonsense.



During his presidency, Sani Abacha proved very effective in changing the face of the Nigerian economy. Abacha found the Nigerian foreign exchange reserves in 1993 at $494 million, but by 1997, the reserves increased to $9.6 billion. He was highly commended for this achievement.


Sani Abacha promised the Nigerian return to democracy. In the process, he organized a National Constitutional Conference in order to provide a drafting report on returning to democracy. The Constitutional Committee sat for one year between June 1994 to June 1995 and provided a report.

However, the report of the 1995 Constitutional Conference was later dissolved, but the date for the transition to civilian rule was arranged to be on 1st October 1998.


In 1996, Sani Abacha created more states that made the number of Nigerian States to 36. These newly created states included: Gombe, Zamfara, Ebonyi, Nassarawa, Bayelsa, and Ekiti.

On the other hand, he also divided or categorized Nigeria into Six Geopolitical Zones as follows:

North West : Kano State, Kaduna State, Sokoto State, Katsina State, Kebbi State, Jigawa State, and Zamfara State

North East : Borno State, Adamawa State, Bauchi State, Yobe State, Taraba State, and Gombe State

North Central : Niger State, Benue State, Plateau State, Kwara State, Kogi State, Nassarawa State, and Abuja Federal Capital Territory (FCT)

South West : Lagos State, Oyo State, Ogun State, Osun State, Ondo State, and Ekiti State

South East : Anambra State, Imo State, Enugu State, Abia State, and Ebonyi State

South South : Rivers State, Cross River State, Edo State, Akwa Ibom State, Delta State, Bayelsa State.


Sani Abacha never tolerated opposition to his administration. He crushed many of his opponents in different ways. In the process, Abacha imprisoned famous retired military leaders as well as some political leaders. In 1995, former Nigerian military head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo and former chief of army staff Lt.General Shehu Musa Yar’adua were all sentenced to life imprisonment on an alleged coup conspiracy. Also, Chief MKO Abiola was also detained for declaring himself the legitimate Nigerian president who won the June 12 election.

Foreign Relations

During the regime of Sani Abacha, diplomatic relations between Nigeria and some other nations more especially western powers have deteriorated. When Abacha came to power, he showed no respect for many countries by ignoring their appeal.

The first diplomatic breakaway was with South Africa due to the execution of some activists such as Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Abacha Administration. Also, there were no good diplomatic relations with the United States throughout Abacha’s rule. He was even never visited the country.

Preparation for return to Democracy and Abacha’s death

In the process of fulfilling his promise for the return to democratic rule, Sani Abacha allowed the formation of new political. As a result, five different political parties were formed and registered. In April 1998, four out of these five parties chose Sani Abacha as their presidential candidate. However, many political movements such as the United Action for Democracy (UAD) opposed Abacha for trying to make everything in his favor.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, Sani Abacha died on 8 June 1998, in the State House, Aso Rock, Abuja. Up to date, the cause of Abacha’s death remained unknown.

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