When President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his admiration for late Head of State, Sani Abacha, many Nigerians accused the President of celebrating a dictator and an alleged looter of the Nation’s treasury, but Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, conferred an award on Abacha, with less backlash.
Speaking to a delegation of the Buhari Support Organization (BSO), at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, President Buhari said regardless of what anyone thinks about Abacha, he was responsible for constructing tremendous infrastructure while in office.
“No matter what opinion you have about Abacha, I agreed to work with him and the PTF road we did from here to Port Harcourt, to Onitsha, to Benin and so on.
“On top of other things in the institution, education, medical care and so on. And you know more than I do the condition of the roads and some of them were not repaired since PTF days.”
His comment received criticisms even from ex-aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan on New Media, Reno Omokri, who lampooned the President for calling Abacha a “hero”.
“What was the point of Chief MKO and Kudirat Abiola’s sacrifice if Abacha is today the hero of our President? Why stop at Abacha? President Buhari should also declare Anini and Shina Rambo as National heroes. How unfortunate for a Nation when a thief is the President’s role model”
“When I schooled in England, my University had a module on Abacha’s thievery. This is the man Buhari aspires to be? The man who exiled Tinubu and NADECO!”
In another interview with Punch, Omokri said it is someone “who has no sense of decency or decorum or even shame, that can idolise such a thoroughly nasty piece of work like Abacha!”
Unknown to many or maybe due to forgetfulness, ex-President Jonathan conferred Abacha with the “Outstanding Promoter of Unity, Patriotism, and National Development” during the Centenary Award in 2014.
He was awarded alongside Muhammadu Buhari, Yakubu Gowon, Ernest Shonekan, Theophilus Danjuma, Murtala Muhammed, Ibrahim Babangida, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Olusegun Obasanjo.
Abacha’s inclusion in the Award made Nobel Laureate; Wole Soyinka, reject his nomination in the category for “Internationally Acclaimed Artists, Literary Icons, and Journalists”
According to him, “I rejected my share of this National insult” as he cannot share an award with a “murderer and thief of no irredeemable quality.”
Same defense as Buhari, but more convincing
The reasons the Federal Government awarded these personalities were stated in the awardees’ brochure with a brief citation written for each recipient and reasons given why he or she deserved the award.
On Abacha’s recognition, the citation read that the late Head of State halted the Ibrahim Babangida’s controversial privatisation programs, reduced inflation rate of 54% to 8.5% between 1993 and 1998, while the Nation’s primary commodity, oil, was at an average of $9 per barrel.
It also stated that Abacha’s Government saw an increase in the Country’s foreign exchange reserves from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by mid-1997; and reduced the external debt of Nigeria within four years from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion.
Also Justifying why Abacha was honoured, the then Spokesman to Goodluck Jonathan, Reuben Abati said Abacha’s regime witnessed unprecedented development in the Country.
“I think it is important to make the necessary distinction here. The Centenary award, like every award, has its own criteria. That Centenary award was in relation to the amalgamation, the National unity, the history of Nigeria and the roles played by certain individuals.
“He took over power when the Nation was on the brink of precipice. He mobilised the nation’s most prominent political class into his cabinet and succeeded in ensuring the continued unity of the nation.
“You will find out that under that category, there were largely former Heads of State, persons who have at one time or the other presided over Nigeria and under whose watch, in spite of whatever challenges they might have faced, helped to sustain the unity of the Country and helped to defend the integrity and sovereignty of the Country. That was a specific criterion in this particular category. Of course, every award at all, be it for beauty or any other thing has its own criteria,” Abati added.