Tijani writes on the unforgettable day that former Head of State, General Sani Aabaha died, leaving Nigerians in shock.
Today, I write as a child. I am no longer as happy as I was on June 8, 1998, when the great General Sani Abacha died. I was only eight years old, and the majority of what should have pre-occupied my mind at the time should have been my books and how to “lift” white rice from mother’s pot.
It was Monday, and I had just returned from a very tiring day at Air Force Primary School, Ibadan. Trying to settle in and get some rest, but the heat in our wing of a “four-flat” in Alakia, Ibadan, would not let this school boy find sleep.
Suddenly, I heard screaming and shouting from the main road. For context, our house was one of those houses where you could see the main road from the “sitting room”. I thought it was NEPA who had done the needful. You know that feeling when NEPA restores power after a week, the whole neighbourhood goes into some sort of short-lived frenzy.
This time, it was not NEPA. It was not NEPA. It was more; ladies and gentlemen, the dictator is dead! The streets soon burst into singing and dancing and drumming and drinking.
I did not know much about Abacha, I just knew him as a “wicked leader”, as one of my “egbons” had explained him to me. I also knew he was responsible for my mother’s meagre salary at the time, and some people often heaped very bad things on him, including killing those who loved us, and loved the nation.
Can you remember how you celebrated his death?
There was a Coca-Cola Depot just adjacent our house on the Alakia-Isebo road that year. It was run by one of those drug traders we called “chemists” growing up. But the name of the shop itself was “FT Pharmacy”. This FT is definitely not Financial Times.
FT, as we called the owner of the shop, was one “wicked and stingy” woman. My apologies, that was how I perceived her then. Obviously, I know better now. I feared her, and never wanted to be sent to buy anything from her.
Back to the story, I looked on from our balcony as people gather around FT’s “coca-cola” depot. Word got to me quickly that FT had declared free drinks for the boys, and people could drink to Abacha’s death. I ran out of the house, damning the consequences to have a Bottle of Solo coke. It was bliss!
After that bottle, I loved Abacha for dying on such a stressful day. You did not die while we were in church on Friday night or children’s choir rehearsals on Saturday, you died on a weekday. God bless you. On a second thought, the wicked and stingy FT was giving free drinks to celebrate your death, you must have been worse than I thought.
We were told he ate an injected apple given to him by some sex workers or “prostitutes” from India. This must be the fastest story to travel around Nigeria that year.
Alagbara l’Olorun mi,
Alagbara ni Jesu mi,
Oba to pa Sani Abacha lai lo kondo,
Ko ma soun ti ko le se.
We sang this song so heartily as we dropped the death of Abacha at the footstool of the Most High.
ABACHA IS DEAD! SO WHAT?
After all the celebrations that night, I went home thinking about two things; the next president, and if my parents were back, you probably know what that means.
Abacha is dead. what happens next. I knew MKO to mean money, kudi, owo, — thanks to King Sunny Ade’s influence on my childhood. I also knew MKO Abiola was supposed to be president in stead of Abacha.
So I thought it was simple, now MKO Abiola, the man who means money, will become the next president. Everything will be good. My mother had told me a story of her university days, and how things were cheaper because of this money man. I thought the days ahead were definitely better days. But did that happen?
You can take the story from here.
But before I leave you to it, I thought about a few things today, as I remembered that evening. The joy in the country was palpable. Hope was alive again, the people expected a radical difference in Nigeria’s operations, but that hope and expectation has been a stillbirth.
I am not old enough to give primary information from Nigeria’s turbulent military years, and I acknowledge that the country is way better today than it was under Abacha’s rule, at least as far as human rights are concerned. But we still see his handwritings in the playbook of our democracy.
The closest national celebration I have seen since Abacha was April 1, 2015, when former president Jonathan conceded power after President Muhammadu Buhari won the historic election. That palpable hope fades; it dies — Nigerian rulers seem to perpetually kill hope.
So maybe the next time, we have a national breakthrough, we should celebrate, but hope with caution. For the presence or absence of no one man in Nigeria’s history has been able to fix the country.
Today, I feel very young and happy re-living that day Abacha died; it was special one in the annals of my childhood. So while I feel this way, I’m glad democracy– hybrid or not — is on a full throttle in Nigeria.
My condolences to the Abacha Family.
For those who loved June 8, 1998, make sure you grab “solo coke” today.