A former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, has revealed how Nigeria’s late dictator, Gen Sani Abacha, died in 1998.
In an interview with Daily Trust TV, Abdulsalami noted that the former dictator died during the night he was to travel to Togo for an African Union (AU) Summit.
The former Chief of Defence Staff said the news of Abacha’s death was relayed to him by a former Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Coomassie.
Abubakar, however, revealed that the council members decided that he should take over as the head of state.
He said: “A lot happened the day General Abacha passed away. He died I think the day he was to travel to Togo for, I think, the ECOWAs or AU summit.
“Now I got a call from the Villa that General Abacha wanted to see me. So, immediately what came to my mind, I said; I hope he had not changed his mind about going to this Togo and was going to send me because at that time when he passed away, already I was the de facto number two man because at that time General Diya and others were having a problem on this alleged coup.
“So I suspected that the General had changed his mind and he was going to send me because, in a lot of times, I am called upon to go and represent the head of state. So I took my time, when I went to the bathroom and I told my wife, “look I think I might be going to this AU Summit, so help me prepare my bag” but before I finished then there was another call.
“Yes, in the morning. Then there was another call; “look the president is waiting for you,” I said, “okay I am coming”. So I casually put on my tracksuit since there was no time to dress in uniform and so on since there was agitation that I was wanted immediately.
“So I came with my tracksuit, I think I was even wearing slippers. When I entered they said, “General is in the office”; so naturally when I come to the office, no matter who was with General Abacha I normally just go in and meet him and maybe he would say “Okay, wait, let me finish with this gentleman” or he will ask the fellow to give us chance.
“To my surprise when I came, as I was climbing the steps, somebody said “No, he said you have to wait in the waiting room”. To my surprise, I was in the waiting room for over 30, 40 minutes, then I kept wondering what was happening. Any time I wanted to go up, they said no, the General said I should wait.
“So after about 40 minutes waiting, then Late Coomassie, (Ibrahim Coomassie), who was the Inspector-General of Police came to where I was sitting and he said “Please come”. Instead of going up to the office, we followed out, he said “No, we are going to the house”.
“It was in that process he told me, “Look, unfortunately, General Abacha has passed on in the night”. So that was how we went to the villa where General Abacha was living and as we entered, they showed me on the right where his corpse was, so I entered and prayed for his soul and so on.
“Then we entered the parlour where I found some gentlemen including I think…Coomassie of course was there then the chief justice of the federation, I think Ambassador Babagana Kingibe and one or two security operatives, I can’t remember everybody.
“Well at that time I was told he passed away and so on and at that time all these speculations did not arise until later on. All we were concerned was that okay, that the head of state has passed on, how do we now break the news to the country and so on and so forth.
“We were guided by the then chief justice of the federation saying that “Look, so much as there is the need to inform Nigerians about the passing away of the head of state, you cannot leave a vacuum, there must be a substantive head of state before you can go ahead with other things”. So I think that set up the chain of events.
“So immediately, as the chief of defence staff then, I quickly summoned for the council of state meeting. I was still in my tracksuit because there was no time, because it was really a shocking and devastating period we found ourselves. So it was later when we set up the meeting, that I had to go home and really get properly dressed.
“So now when I came back well dressed, by that time members of the military ruling council had started arriving, when we all assembled then we went to the meeting. Of all course we had to break the news although it had become a common knowledge between the members that his Excellency General Abacha had passed on.
“We had to tell the council of his demise and the advice given by the chief justice of the federation, that before we did anything there must be somebody to take over, so that he is in charge.
“It took time before the members of the council of state arrived. Of course in the chamber, there was a lot of interactions. Finally, it was decided that okay we had General Useini who was then the most senior officer, so to speak, but he was in the administration, he was then minister of FCT and I was the chief of defence staff, so the issue was one of us should emerge as the head of state.
“There was a stalemate in the discussion, somebody raised an issue, “Look, we should tell the world General Abacha has passed on, before it was too late, let’s please go and bury the gentleman before we come back and sort out ourselves”.
“Meanwhile, as all this was going on, it was decided by the family he was going to be buried in Kano and while we were still talking, arrangements were being made for his burial in Kano. So I think this took us to night time, when we all then decided, okay, let’s leave this and then go and bury him and come back and this was what happened.
“So we went to Kano and buried him and came back and resumed the issue of who will take over. Of course, as the chief of defence staff, I was presiding on the meeting; so finally after votes and so on, the council members decided that I take over as the head of state.”
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