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Abacha was instrumental in the two bloodless military coup de tats that brought and removed General Muhammadu Buhari from power in 1983 and 1985. When General Ibrahim Babangida was named President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1985, Abacha was named Chief of Army Staff. He was later appointed Minister of Defence in 1990.
Abacha seized power from the caretaker government of Ernest Shonekan, which was put into place by General Ibrahim Babangida after his annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections won by Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola caused a massive popular uproar. Abacha's government was guilty of many human rights violations, with his hanging of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa on what were widely believed to be trumped-up charges being perhaps the best known in the international press. His regime's brutality made it deeply unpopular with most Nigerians.
Abacha died at age 54 of a heart attack at his villa, allegedly from cardiac strain brought on by the use of Viagra. He was said to have been in the company of Indian prostitutes at the time of his death. Subsequent investigations of Abacha's regime by the Obasanjo government have implicated the deceased general and his family in wholesale looting of Nigeria's coffers, and the extent of his venality seems to have surpassed that of even that other African ruler most notorious for his corruption, Mobutu Sese Seko.
Thus far, some $4 billion dollars in foreign assets have been traced to Abacha, his family and their representatives, $2.1 billion of which the Nigerian government tentatively came to an agreement with the Abacha family to return, with the quid pro quo being that the Abachas would be allowed to keep the rest of the money. Although this proposal caused a massive outcry at the time for seeming to reward the theft of public funds, it was subsequently rejected by the late dictator's son, Mohammed Abacha, who continues to maintain that all the assets in question were legitimately acquired.
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