General Abdulsalami Abubakar, a former military ruler, handed over power to civilians in 1999. Abdulsalami came to power after the death of former President General Sani Abacha. In an exclusive interview with Daily Trust, he described the turmoil at the Presidency after the death of General Abacha before the announcement of his death, and the reasons why Abdulsalamin chose to step down and hand over power to civilians. only six months after his ascension.
WT: Sir, can you tell us about the day Abacha died and the turmoil that followed and how you became President? I think he died on the day he was scheduled to travel to Togo, to attend the ECOWAS or AU summit. Then I got a call from the Presidency, that General Abacha wanted to see me. I immediately began to think that I hoped he would not change his mind about going to Togo. . So I think the General will change his mind and send me, because I am often called upon to represent the President. When I went to the bathroom, I told my wife, “I think I am going to the AU summit.
Please help me pack my bags,” but before I could finish I saw another call. Is it in the morning? Yes, it is morning. Then there is the call that; “The president is waiting for you.” I said, “See you later.” I only wear a gym suit, since there is no time to put on a uniform and so on, because it is pressed that it is urgently needed. I went with the gym, I feel like I was wearing slippers. When I entered they said, “The general is in the office.” I used to say that when I went to the office, whoever was with General Abacha, I would go in and find him. Surprisingly, when I arrived, I was upstairs, and someone said, “No, he said wait in the reception area.” And to my surprise, I sat in the reception area for 30 or 40 minutes, wondering what was going on.
Whenever I decided to go upstairs, they would say, “No, the General said, ‘Wait.’ After about 40 minutes of waiting, the late [Ibrahim] Coomassie, the Inspector General of Police, came to me and said, “Sir, come.” And instead of going to the office we went out and he said, “We’re going to the house.” “It is unfortunate that General Abacha died last night,” he told me. So we went to Abacha’s place, and we went in and they showed me his body, I went in and I prayed for forgiveness and so on. Then we went into the living room where I found some people inside, Coomassie where the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I feel Ambassador Babagana Kingibe and one or two security officers I can’t remember anyone. Is the death of God because there are so many accusations? So when I was told he was dead, these allegations did not come up.
Our concern at the time was that the President was dead, how could we inform the country and so on. We were led by the Chief Justice when he said, “You see it has taken time for Nigerians to be informed of the death of the President, the gap will not be left open, there must be a President before you can proceed. other things. ” I think this laid the foundation for other things. So immediately as the Chief of Defense Staff I immediately convened a meeting of the National Assembly. Are you in gym or changed at the time? I was wearing gym clothes, because there was no time, and because we found ourselves in shock and panic. It was only after we had organized a meeting that I returned home wearing a uniform.
At that time it was decided whether there would be a debate over who would be the next President? When I returned, I was well dressed, and when the members of the Military Council began to arrive, we met, and we went to the meeting. We told them what had happened even though all the members knew that His Excellency General Abacha was dead. We informed the House of Representatives of his death and the decision of the Chief Justice before we did anything that there must be a successor. It took a long time for the legislators to reach a decision. There was a lot of debate in the hall. In the end it was said that we had General Useni who at that time was the chief of staff, but he was in the executive branch, he was the Federal Minister, and I was the Chief of Defense Staff, so one of us would be the President.
Unable to reach an agreement, someone said, “You see, we have to tell the world that General Abacha is dead, before it is too late, we should go and bury him before we can reconcile.” During this time his family decided to bury him in Kano, so we are discussing plans to bury him in Kano. I think this took us through the night, when we all left this subject and said go and bury him and come back, this is what happened. We went to Kano and greeted him and came back to the issue of who would take over. Of course, as the Chief of Defense Staff, I am chairing the meeting; Finally, after the vote, the other members of parliament decided to take over the presidency. And you are ruling the controversial death of MKO Abiola.
There are still those who think there are some hidden things that have happened. Can you clarify the facts, tell us what you know? Yes, there are several allegations that we killed Abiola. As always when I talk about the late Abiola, I thank God for showing me some things when He gave me the rule of this country. On the day Moshood (Abiola) died, God bless his grandson, two or three things made me always thank my Lord. I first hosted a delegation from the United States led by Pickering (Ambassador Tom Pickering) who at the time, I think was the US Secretary of State or something like that. In his entourage I remember there was Susan Rice.
I remember her very well because of the role she played later. So after our visit and talks, when they were about to leave my office, Pickering said, “Mr. President, we have asked to see Moshood Abiola but we have been denied.” I said, “Why are you banned? Who stopped you? ” I decided, “You will see Moshood. I have revoked the order of anyone who said you could not see him.” I called the Chief of Defense Staff and said, “Arrange for this group to meet Abiola,” and that was it. And while Moshood Abiola was being held, apart from his doctor to my knowledge, none of his family members saw him. So when I became President, in consultation with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, I gave the family a day to come and see him.
The day before he died, his family came to Abuja to see him. For some reason not all the family could see him at the same time, so it was agreed that if this group of families saw him today, tomorrow another group would see him. So they saw him like yesterday, and today this delegation from the United States came to meet me, and I said they could see him. Normally in the evening the relatives come to see him. So because I allowed this group from the United States to see him, one group of families waited to see him. At the time of the meeting, Abiola became ill, security officials immediately called for a medical check-up, and when they saw his condition, they said he was in critical condition. take him to a health center. So he was taken to the hospital by a convoy of American and American doctors.
The Chief of Defense Staff called me and said, “Here’s a strange story.” I said what? “Abiola is dead,” he said. I was shocked. He told me he was there with the US convoy, when I was staying in the barracks, I did not go back to the Presidential Palace, I said then he came with my American convoy, I will meet them at the house. So I left the office and went there. All that remains now is how to announce Abiola’s death to his family and how to tell the world that Abiola is dead. I have to thank God, and then to Ambassador Kingibe for calling him and saying he came with Abiola’s family. When they arrived, I told them about the tragedy. As you can imagine, the family cried. I could not remember who the women were. “Dear President, this is not your job, let me take you,” she said, holding her hand for a moment.
Then we called my helpers and other people and made a plan to present the story to the world. That is why I always say thank you to God for guiding me. If I had not told the American delegation to go and meet Abiola, I certainly do not know how to explain to the world that Abiola is dead. Would the US delegation agree that we did not kill Abiola when they wanted to see him? When you come to power, you say you are going to hand over power to the people, that surprised many people, because we know that the coup leaders in Africa are now looking for ways to stay in power. What is the real reason for your decision to leave the government immediately? Well, I still thank God who initially gave me the responsibility of leadership and helped me to communicate with my colleagues until we got this decision.
When he came to power, Nigeria was in the middle of a crisis. There have been repeated calls from civilians for the military to hand over power, if you remember, at the time there were protests and riots including the destruction of government property and so on. What happened in the political arena he got involved in the military. We, the military, must uphold the constitution and the dignity of the country. So when I came to power, the military was in trouble. First, the status quo in the military is declining, you can see a junior officer giving orders to his predecessor, because he is one of the country’s political leaders. Second, then you will find that instead of talking about Nigerian unity, we go back to discussing our regions; we support our fellow civilians. In the army? In the military, and this is a big risk that I find myself in in the military.
Another thing is that some of us who fought in the Nigerian Civil War to ensure the sustainability of the country as a nation have begun to wonder how in front of us we can let the work we have done to ensure the survival of this country be destroyed before our eyes. ? So these are the things that have happened to us in leadership; We said, “Let’s make sure this country does not disintegrate. Let’s try to restore the values of the military and restore the status quo.” So we sat down and decided what was best in a short period of time was to give civilians only what they wanted; They should be allowed to run the country, the army should return to the barracks and continue their military service. So these are some of the reasons why we did what we did. It is not an easy task, there are many suggestions, that let us take a long time, it is not easy to organize elections, for this and that, but in the end some of us with the help of others who are with I said, “No, we must hand over power in a short time.
In fact, we wanted to do this in less than six months, but we were told that organizing the election was not an easy task, it would take some time for the political parties to be registered, and then after the elections at least there would be take 60 days to ensure the completion of cases and so on. So we did all these calculations ranging from forming political parties and organizing elections to preparing for any challenge to the election results in the courts; we finally decided that we should do all these things in nine months.