Skip to main content

‘Abacha was a student of school of assasins’- The NATION, Lagos

June 6, 2009

Prof. Taiyewo Ogunade, a musicologist at the City University, New York was a close friend of Late Abacha, he spoke of his experiences to Wole Adeoye of the Nation newspapers in Lagos

General Sanni Abacha died exactly a decade ago, what does that mean to you?

Image removed.Prof. Taiyewo Ogunade, a musicologist at the City University, New York was a close friend of Late Abacha, he spoke of his experiences to Wole Adeoye of the Nation newspapers in Lagos

General Sanni Abacha died exactly a decade ago, what does that mean to you?

 To me, I feel I lost a friend, but then, as a democrat, I don’t lose too much because I believe in democracy and then Abacha didn’t believe in that. That is the dividing point between the two of us. I met him immediately Babangida took over in 1985. And they invited all of us to Kuru, near Jos, most of us intellectuals, for a debate on Nigeria’s foreign policy. And we were put in a famous hotel called Hotel Thirty. While the conference was on, the Department of Political Science of the Ahmadu Bello University, led by Professor Bala Usman came with a document in which they catalogued all the rich Nigerians. They called it from Balewa to Babangida and they were distributing it to selected people.

But, the security got angry and wanted to recover it while we were in the conference hall. That was how I met Abacha. They were trying to struggle and take it from me and Abacha said, ‘leave him alone’. I never met him (Abacha) before, I didn’t know who he was. So, he gave me protection and by the time I got it, he said well, are you going to drive with me to town? I never even asked who he was. It was when we got to his car that I saw it was a military car. Babangida was there and we were talking about Nigerian political affairs. So, he took me to town. That was how I was able to escape with my two copies without them being confiscated like others. And from then, we became friendly.
Image removed.
I use to go to his office when I had the time and from there to his guest house. By the time we would get to the gate of his guest house on Raymond Njoku, girls would be at the gate, as many as twenty of them. When they see his car, all of them would stand up. As he is driving in, he would bring down his glasses, point to about six or eight of them for security to allow them come into the house. He is a person who likes women all the time. It was a daily routine that he does. And so, when I wrote a musical on Cyprian Ekwensi’s ‘Passport of Mallam Ilia’ which I turned into an opera, I needed a band to perform it. Abacha was able to give me a note to the army band. So, I went to the army band and then, I started rehearsing with the Nigerian Army band that played the music for me. But, then, Tunde Akogun was giving us so much trouble. He didn’t want us to rehearse at the National Theatre. Each time we wanted to have rehearsal there, he would turn us down. He was driving away my artistes. So, I went to Sani Abacha again that Akogun keeps disturbing us. Abacha would say, ‘don’t worry, I would talk to them which he would do’. When Fela Anikulapo Kuti finally came out of prison, I was doing the Fela musicals and he heard that Fela was coming once in a while when we were rehearsing. So, he came to meet Fela and they had a very wonderful rapport. For about two or three days, he was coming because Fela was coming there to rehearse. And finally, he gave me money to pay for the theatre and do the musical. That was the last thing I did before I left Nigeria.

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content1'); });

Can you give psychoanalysis of Abacha?

You see, Abacha has a very reserved mentality. Abacha would listen to you; he would make very little comments or none. But, therein, he has known what he wants to do. But, he is a very jovial person who plays around with teasing you and doing everything. But, he is not an outspoken person. Abacha never discussed Nigeria with anybody as far as I know. He never discussed Nigerian politics, but he likes to discuss entertainment, films and what not. I’m amazed that he ended up acquiring that kind of money that he did. But, I know from my own judgment that being product of the ’College of Assassin’, that is what they are trained to do.

What is the history of that college?

The college was established in the 1940s in Fort Benning, Georgia. It’s a big college. I think it’s about 22 miles radius. And they have all kinds of things there. All the Latin American dictators went through there. Like Argentina’s Pinochet, Panamas’ Noriega, most Vietnamese military leaders went there, Kagame of Rwanda went there. I was there when Kagame graduated and we became good friends. And the young Kabila went there. But he didn’t finish. I think he was a year there before Collin Powell took him out and made him head of state in the Republic of Congo. But Abacha went there.

Is he the only person that went there from Nigeria?

I believe he is the only one. Bolaji Johnson went to the Rangers College in Indiana. He was the first military person to go to America for military training. Abacha is the only one that went to the Fort Benning School that I know.

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content2'); });

What is the kind of training?

They train them how to disorganise a whole country and become dictators. They train them how to kill people. There was a series of twelve tapes made by Edward Kennedy that showed what type of activities went on there. He was the one that got the American Congress to call it the ‘College of Assassin.’ They teach you to fight lions barehanded, to fight crocodiles, so, you become quite fearless. They show you lots of blood activities, so that shedding people’s blood don’t move your emotions anymore.

Image removed.At what period in time did he attend the school?

It must have been the early eighties because he was given the Grand Order of that school by Collin Powell in 1986. They gave him a best student award. And we tackled Collin Powell because he was a product of my school at the City University. And he said that he was a good student. And I am amazed today I am reading in the papers that he said he warned him about what he was doing. So, they were very good buddies. They related well.You and Abacha were very friendly, when did it all turn around?

I was out of the country when he became head of state. When Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed, I lost confidence in him. He killed Ken Saro-Wiwa. For that, I don’t think I wanted to relate with him. I knew Ken as a good friend and I didn’t feel comfortable that he should have been killed. Abacha knew Ken well too. They were very good friends. So, it is not that he doesn’t know who Ken Saro-Wiwa was. But, if it happened to Ken, it could happen to me.

Did you get close to any of his children, or family?

No. Like I said, he has a routine when he leaves the military headquarters at 1:00pm. It is either you see him at the office or at the guest house. By 11:00pm, he goes home to sleep. So, his family is never in the guest house. They don’t come there at all. Himself, Jerry Useni, Gwadabe and some other people are the ones always there.So, you were not surprised about the story that he was killed by women.

No. Even at my playhouse, we used to joke about it because when he comes for rehearsal, he would be asking me, which of these girls I should take away. I would say, sir, these girls are artistes. I cannot order anyone of them to go with you. One of my girls slapped him one day and I was shocked. I don’t know what he did to the girl, but the girl smacked him. He must have done something stupid to the girl.You said that Abacha and Babangida were all together….

Yes, actually I knew two people before I knew Abacha. I knew Mamman Vasta and Babangida. I knew them during the war. They were both colonels and I knew their wives. They were three girls - Ada who became Ada Vasta, Maryam who became Maryam Babangida, and another girl we knew as Chinyere. She became the famous Gloria Okon. She was married to Jeff Chadler a Tiv who was a Lieutenant Colonel of Tiv extraction. He was the one who killed Nzeogwu when Nzeogwu was captured at the Nsukka sector. They were bringing him to Kaduna but when he heard, he went on the road and killed him. And he too was killed that night that he killed Nzeogwu. Now, the wife, I knew her as Chinyere. The three of them (Babangida’s wife, Vasta’s wife, and Chinyere) were staying at No. 27 Adeniji street in Surulere. So, when her husband was killed, she started trading and going to London. Something happened and she was arrested by the Customs for trying to take money out of the country. Mrs. Babangida had to intervene and got Vasta to go there and deceive journalists that she died. And they took them to the Kano mortuary and showed them the body of a dead woman.

How do I know this?

When Vasta was arrested for coup, Vasta refused to talk to interrogators because he was a Major General. But, he said he would give his testimony at the trial. So, at his trial, he gave a four hour testimony and made sure that the tape of that testimony was sent to me to take to his wife. From that tape, we were able to get information that Gloria Okon did not die and that Gloria Okon had just had a baby with somebody in England.

Now, for you journalists, the aspect that will interest you is that Dele Giwa got to know that I had the tape of Vasta’s testimony. So, he came to me and I loaned him the tape. He listened to the tape and commissioned somebody in England to trace Gloria Okon. And fortunately for them, Gloria Okon and Maryam Babangida were celebrating the child naming of Gloria Okon’s baby. They got the pictures and Kayode Soyinka brought the pictures to Giwa in Lagos. Dele Giwa then took the pictures and went to Babangida and said, ‘I want to be minister of information or I will destroy you. These are pictures of your wife doing this with Gloria Okon.’ And so, they tricked him and got rid of him in 48 hours.

Vasta testified for four hours and sent the tape to me. I was there the day he was killed. His wife called me early in the morning and said they were going to move them and that I should go to Kirikiri. Then, I was living in my house at Festac. And I took the waterside by the Vanguard Newspapers. As I was arriving at Kirikiri, at about seven o’clock in the morning, I saw Black Marias moving off. They told me, ‘that’s Vasta and his people. They just killed them.’ They shot them at 6:00am. So, I followed the Black Marias in a taxi. By the time we got to Iyana Isolo, we lost them. At that time, there was no okada. I knew they were going to Atan Cemetery. So, when I got to Atan Cemetery, they had already buried them in a mass grave and threw acid on them. Then, Tunji Abayomi, a Lieutenant Colonel who led the corpse there, drove back and said, ‘where is Vasta’s watch?’. Vasta had given instructions that if they killed him, they should send his watch to his wife so that his wife would know that he is dead. He had a Rolex watch.’ The attendants were relunctant to open up. So, he just said, line them up, and let me shoot all of them. So, one of them threw the watch down. Then, another guy was trying to hide Martin Luther’s chain, a gold chain that had the number of his bank account in a Swiss bank. So, he threw the chain to my direction and I just put my foot on it and I was looking at them. So, the guy took the watch and drove away and I took the chain. I went to Daily Times. Titus Soyombo was the Evening Times editor. So, I told him that they have killed Vasta. He asked me, ‘are you sure’? I said yes. He withdrew his paper and made the first headline, ‘Vasta would die today if Babaginda does not intervene.’ Less than forty minutes after, the military came and started ransacking the whole of The Times. So, we went opposite The Times where they sell food those days and sat down there. That day, he sold about 400,000 copies of the paper because they made five editions of the paper. So, when the government got to know that the newspaper was in circulation, they sent Admiral Aikhomu to go on the air by 2:00pm to say that by 4:0pm today, Vasta would be executed. Whereas, they had been executed in the morning.

Is it true that he (Vasta) was IBB’s best friend when he (IBB) got married?

Not only was he his best friend, IBB grew up in his father’s house. Now, he was the one who christened one of IBB’s daughter. They are very, very close, because hardly would you see Vasta without seeing Babangida. It is Abacha that I got close to later. But, with IBB and Vasta, I knew them from the time Sir Harold Wilson (former British Prime Minister) came. The day Adekunle killed the guy in the Delta, Isaac Boro. We went with the observer team to Port-Harcourt. Isaac Boro was the leader of the group that liberated Port-Harcourt and then declared Republic of the Niger Delta there. And then, Adekunle was taking. You know, Adekunle was always stealing money then. He would come and blackmail Gowon. Gowon would tell him to go to Central Bank and carry four or five lorries to Central Bank, load them with money. Halfway, he would divert it back to Lagos, he would then take half to the front. So, the British Prime Minister came on that day. We were on the observer team with Harold Wilson when we got to Port-Harcourt. Boro did not allow the British team, so when Adekunle came, he was so furious and then they fought for about thirty minutes before they captured him.


googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('comments'); });