Tribute to Late General Sani Abacha
Muhammad Nourah Bamalli
In 1990 I was opportuned to have met with General Sani Abacha (then a Major General and Chief of Army Staff) at No. 7 Probyn Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. The meeting was a sheer co-incidence. I had gone to see the then Managing Director of United Bank for Africa (UBA), Alhaji Suleiman S. Baffa, who was also the Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the Kano State Foundation, where I served as the Secretary of the Chapter. As a duty I used to go to him frequently to discuss matters relating to the operation of the foundation in the State. That Sunday, I was with him from about 11: 00 in the morning up to about 5: 00pm, when his house boy came in a rush to announce the arrival of some important personality in the house.
Immediately, our host rushed to receive the guest, while I remained seated getting ready to take my leave as soon as the important guest came in. While I was wondering who it would be, General Abacha came in together with another gentleman (an elderly Kanuri man who simply came in and remained quietly seated throughout the period of the visit and was not even introduced). I immediately stood up to receive General Abacha, who came in directly to me, as the next only person, and shook my hands and urged us all to sit down. At this point I indicated my wish to take my leave. To my surprise he objected to my request and insisted I remained seated. I then requested to move to another sitting room, to give them a chance to discuss, but still Alhaji Baffa insisted that I remained seated, and even added that the visit was mainly to say "hello" and nothing more. So I remained seated. This was a rare opportunity to see General Abacha in close contact. My mind kept telling me that this was the man who announced the 1983 coup against the Shagari government, and yet he took time to visit his friends just to say "hello". How amazing! I snatched a close look once again at the smallish man, who by now had started asking his host about the family and other related matters. So this was the "I Brigadier Sani Abacha of the Nigerian Army?" The Abacha, who, in 1987, (then the Chief of Army Staff) had decorated my brother (then Major) late Gen Bamalli with the coveted Chief of Army Staff Award. The no-nonsense Abacha? The Abacha who, for the second time in less than two years (1984 - 1985), announced yet another successful coup of President Ibrahim Babangida? Simply sitting down in a friend's house to say "hello"? Well, here he was doing exactly that. Our (Or I should now say Abacha's host) went in to the inner house and announced the presence of his august visitor to his wife, who immediately came to the living room and exchanged greetings. General Abacha asked the whereabouts of almost all the members of the family, and went on to discuss family matters that I thought only the lesser mortals remember, or have time, to discuss. Otherwise, I said to myself, how could General Abacha ask about the well being of anybody's family? So coup plotting and planning still allows for such human consideration? But indeed here was General Abacha exhibiting elements of human feeling. That done, Abacha began to speak. My attention was immediately drawn to him. He was watching the life sized TV screen in the living room of his host. The TV programme, which was a news item on CNN, was about the dismantling of the Berlin wall, between the East and Western Germany. General Abacha recalled when he visited Germany and insisted in seeing the Berlin wall and even in crossing (from the western side), to the other side, to see for himself. He narrated that he was denied the opportunity, but he insisted, so much so that the adventure turned into a showdown; which he said, was settled by the officials of the Nigerian embassy, who intervened by identifying him to the German officials. In the end he was allowed to pass through and even had the opportunity to ask questions. He narrated the episode so well and so interesting that, even afterwards, I developed interest in the Berlin wall affairs, before it became stale.
After the news report, Alhaji Baffa introduced another topic to his guest. He presented to him some invitation cards in which his family was inviting well-wishers to the opening of a saloon, belonging to one of his daughters at Ikoyi Hotel. He told General Abacha that the cards were actually meant to be sent to Hajiya (meaning Hajiya Maryam Abacha) for her attendance. After carefully reading (I noticed how carefully he read and without glasses (not even his trade mark of dark goggles!) He then asked his host why wouldn't the girl get married instead of opening a saloon? Alhaji Baffa replied that the girl (his eldest daughter I believe) was already married with a child, that she only needed this venture as a business. The relief on General Abacha was great and he went on to remark that:
I have always preferred the girls to marry, particularly
after they graduate from school. I wonder why girls nowadays don't get married. Or is it that the right husbands don't come forward?
He made a fairly long statement on the issue of marriage,
to which his host complemented and supported.
Then came the introductions. The host introduced me to the General, thus:-
Alhaji Baffa: This is Nourah Bamalli.
Gen. Abacha: (Shaking hands once again) How are
Alhaji Baffa: He is the brother of Major
Gen. Abacha: Are you his junior or elder
Nourah: (Laughs) No sir I am his
Gen. Abacha: (Smiles) Because you have this beard.
After being served some soft drinks and cakes, General Abacha offered to take his leave. We all stood up to bid him farewell. We again shook hands and he departed. At the time the host was seeing off his guest, I felt I should also see him off to his car, as a mark of respect, instead of just remaining in the living room. So I followed them out. At the door, the two men paused for a while, and I heard General Abacha telling Alhaji Baffa that his brother (referring to me and to late Gen Bamalli) is one of the best officers we have in the army. Just then he turned and saw me and he retreated. And for me, I also quickly turned back to the living room feeling rather embarrassed, but quite happy inside me, for having the singular opportunity to hear General Abacha's true feeling about his younger officers. Talk about General Abacha being insensitive! After a while, my host came back and met me waiting for him. I asked him if General Abacha was his classmate, for him to undertake to pay him such a visit. Alhaji Baffa replied that at the time he left school, General Abacha had not entered, so he was not his classmate. They happened to be friendly through the relationship of their wives, and they have maintained it all along.
Since then I continued to see General Abacha only on TV and on the pages of newspapers. However, the second time I came in close contact with General Abacha was also quite memorable to me. It was in December 1992 on the morning of yet another Sunday, when he came to condole our family over the death of our father, late Alhaji Muhammadu Bamalli Nuhu. General Abacha was amongst the early callers to the house, at about 6.30am, and took part in all the burial arrangements of our dear father (May his soul rest in peace, Amin). He came in like an ordinary man and condoled the family sincerely and immediately left for Lagos. General sani Abacha, the man who was generally misunderstood during the time he lived!
May Almighty Allah grant his soul eternal peace and give
his family, in particular and the country at large, the fortitude to bear his irreparable loss, Ami