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Feb
27

ABACHA’S LOOTOCRACY


How the grand lootocracy beggared Nigeria`s people
By CAMERON DUODU
The [London] Observer
November 22, 1998

The scale of Sani Abacha`s theft from his country is so staggering that Africans had to invent a new word to describe it, Cameron Duodu reports….

Abacha Sani Abacha

A-butcher of Abuja

In life you were an autocrat

In death you’ve become a lootocrat

No wonder Kama Sutra

Led you into reciting death’s mantra!

Ho! — how deadly for you was Viagra!

(Copyright Cameron Duodu 1998)


FIVE months after the death of Nigeria`s military dictator, General Sani Abacha, the amount of money revealed to have been stolen by him and his family has become so staggering that his name now stinks more richly even than that of Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

Mobutu hid all his stolen money in secret bank accounts abroad, but the Abacha family trusted in ready cash. According to the government that took over from him on 8 June, [1998] no less than $750m in foreign currency has been retrieved from the family [inside Nigeria].

As a result, Abacha is already being commemorated in songs of abuse such as the one quoted above. The reference to the `Kama Sutra` alludes to reports that Abacha met his end during an overzealous tryst with two Indian courtesans, and that he had imported Viagra pills for the occasion.

Abacha`s wife, Maryam, [it is being inferred] was more interested in making money. A few weeks after his death, she was stopped at Kano airport trying to leave Nigeria for Saudi Arabia `to rest` after the ordeal of her husband`s funeral. She was carrying 38 suitcases!

As a Muslim woman, she would have been expected to go into purdah when she arrived in Saudi Arabia. So the amount of luggage she was carrying for such an austere rite aroused suspicion. The suitcases were seized and found to be stuffed full of — foreign currency.

One of Abacha`s sons was also caught with about $100m on him. During his father`s reign, the young man drove two differently coloured Ferraris cars – despite the `go slow` (traffic jams) in Lagos and most other Nigerian cities.

A further two to three billion dollars are estimated to be in the hands of Abacha`s foreign frontmen. Abacha utilised the services of Lebanese merchants, particularly the Chagoury brothers, for his overseas financial operations.

The Washington Post reported on 22 November last year [1997] that Gilbert Chagoury made `a contribution of $460,000` to ‘Vote Now 96’, an organisation closely associated with the Democratic National Committee in the United States. As a result, Chagoury was able to `attend a White House holiday dinner with President Clinton` in 1997 for 250 top Democratic National Committee donors, although Chagoury was `not a party contributor and could not legally give to the Democrats`.

Mallam Mohammed Haruna, chief press officer for the new head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, told reporters in Abuja that full-scale investigations are going ahead to try to locate any of Abacha`s money that is hidden abroad.

His greed has added a word to the African political dictionary – lootocracy. Abacha deliberately starved Nigeria`s two oil refineries of the funds they needed to stay operational. As a result – and even though it is one of the world`s most important oil-producing countries – Nigeria regularly ran short of petrol. Abacha would wait for riots at petrol stations, and then give licences to his business cronies to import refined fuel into the country. They could charge whatever they liked because of the `short notice` they had been given [and the rowdy scenes at petrol stations that deterred all but the brave from going to buy petrol].

The recovery of the $750m from the Abacha family was made possible by the squealing of Abacha`s former [national] security adviser, Ishmael Gwarzo. Gwarzo himself has also handed over $250m, which he had withdrawn a few days before Abacha died.

The money was to have been taken to a conference of the Organisation of African Unity, to be distributed to African heads of state [whom] Abacha wanted to influence.

Newspaper reports in Nigeria have forced Ghana`s president, Jerry Rawlings, to deny that Abacha gave him $5m through Gwarzo in November 1996, an election year [in Ghana.]

Abacha wanted him [Rawlings] to win so that he could continue to plead Abacha`s cause in the Commonwealth and oppose Nigeria`s expulsion, after Abacha`s brutal execution of the Ogoni writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni environmental activists on 10 November 1995.

Another West African president whose electioneering was bankrolled by Abacha is said to be President Matthieu Kerekou of Benin.

In providing information to the new authorities, Gwarzo is trying to protect himself, for he, too, is no novice in the lootocratic stakes. According to [General] Abubakar`s chief press officer, Gwarzo owns `a total of 28` choice properties in the federal capital, Abuja.

Gwarzo was also found to own 16 trailers which were filled with fertiliser – a commodity that is always in short supply in Nigeria. He has since been placed under house arrest.

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