Gen. Sani Abacha

Key moments in the late dictator's life
It's been 20 years since the death of Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha.

He ruled Nigeria with an iron grip and his regime was marred by gross human rights abuses.

Abacha remains a divisive figure in his home country. Current President Muhammadu Buhari, a one-time military ruler himself, has credited him with some achievements such as building roads and improving education and healthcare.

Here is a timeline of key events in the late dictator's life:

  • 20 September 1943
    Location Kano, Nigeria
    Kano, Nigeria image
    Details General Sani Abacha born in Kano state, northern Nigeria.
  • 1963
    Location Kaduna, Nigeria
    Kaduna, Nigeria image
    Details Passes out of the Nigerian Military Training Centre in Kaduna, receiving further training in the UK.
  • 1965
    Location Nigeria
    Nigeria image
    Details Marries Maryam Jiddah. The couple have 10 children, one of whom later dies.
  • 1967-72
    Location Southern Nigeria
    Southern Nigeria image
    Details Abacha fights for Nigeria in the country's civil war against Biafran secessionists and continues to rise through the army ranks.
  • 1983
    Location Lagos, Nigeria
    Lagos, Nigeria image
    Details Enters national spotlight because of his role in the 31 December coup that toppled the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari. Gen Muhammadu Buhari is installed as military ruler.
  • 1985
    Location Lagos, Nigeria
    Lagos, Nigeria image
    Details Gen Buhari is overthrown in a coup supported by Abacha. He helps install Gen Ibrahim Babangida and is promoted to major general.
  • 12 June 1993
    Location Lagos, Nigeria
    Lagos, Nigeria image
    Details Long-promised democratic elections held. With preliminary results showing victory for wealthy businessman Moshood Abiola, Gen Babangida annuls the results to widespread outcry.
  • August 1993
    Location Abuja, Nigeria
    Abuja, Nigeria image
    Details Abacha is appointed Minister of Defence after Babangida steps down and creates an interim government headed by civilian President, Ernest Shonekan.
  • 17 November 1993
    Location Abuja, Nigeria
    Abuja, Nigeria image
    Details Shonekan resigns and transfers power to Abacha, in a move widely believed to be another coup. His regime is marred by human rights abuses and the crushing of dissenting voices.
  • 1994
    Location Nigeria
    Nigeria image
    Details Presumed election winner Moshood Abiola declares himself president and is imprisoned.
  • 1995
    Location Ogoni, Nigeria
    Ogoni, Nigeria image
    Details The Abacha regime comes under worldwide condemnation and Nigeria is suspended from The Commonwealth after the execution of the Ogoni Nine, environmentalists who were protesting against the activity of the government and oil giant Shell. Among them was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet and Nobel Prize nominee.
  • 1996
    Location West Africa
    West Africa image
    Details Abacha is elected chairperson of The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a regional economic bloc.
  • February 1998
    Location Sierra Leone
    Sierra Leone image
    Details Abacha deploys Nigerian forces to Sierra Leone in a bid to oust the military regime and restore the civilian government overthrown the year before.
  • 8 June 1998
    Location Abuja, Nigeria
    Abuja, Nigeria image
    Details Abacha dies from a suspected heart attack and is buried the same day. Nigeria transitions to democratic rule one year later.


Produced by Yemisi Adegoke

Development by Olawale Malomo

Design by Olaniyi Adebimpe

Photo credits: AFP, Getty Images, Nigeria High Commission.

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