Sani Abacha was a military dictator who led Nigeria from 1993 to 1998, and is remembered for the ruthlessness and corruption of his leadership. He and his family siphoned over $1 billion USD from the state, and he oversaw a level of unprecedented state-directed violence, most notably captured in the execution of peaceful environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa on trumped-up charges.
Abacha had been a participant in two previous coups, the first in 1983 leading to the military rule of Muhammadu Buhari, and in 1985, which replaced Buhari with General Ibrahim Babangida (who appointed Abacha minister of defense in 1990). Abacha staged a third coup in 1993 after Babangida annulled the results of a democratic election, and henceforth Abacha dissolved Nigeria’s democratic institutions, including the national assembly, banned political parties, and replaced state governors with military commanders.
Though a Muslim from the northern city of Kano, his death prompted wild speculation as to Abacha’s religious practices, with claims that the grounds of his home contained numerous shrines containing human and animal body parts used in religious rituals—linking images of corruption, violence, libidinal excess, and the occult.
Eric Bennett, “Sani Abacha,” Encyclopedia of Africa, eds. Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 1.
Ruth Marshall, Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).