How General Abacha Dethroned & Imprisoned Sambo Dasuki’s Father (Sultan of Sokoto) In Solitary Confinement Over Missing Millions In 1996
On the 20th of April, 1996, something happened in Nigeria that sent shock waves all over the country. It had never happened before in history and many did not believe it the first time they heard the story. The Sultan of Sokoto, head of Nigeria’s only caliphate and the sole spiritual leader of the country’s tens of millions of Muslims was unceremoniously removed from the throne of his forefathers. After spending eight years as the Sultan, Ibrahim Dasuki was deposed on the orders of the country’s maximum military ruler, a ruthless despot named Saninegeria Abacha. And that was the beginning of a real nightmare for the Fulani king. But what really happened behind the scenes, what were the real reasons and the intrigue behind this drama and why did Abacha kick out one of Nigeria’s most powerful monarchs and even clamp him in a jail? Abiyamo brings all this to you; enjoy this trip back in time. So follow me!
Even before he became the Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki was already one of the richest and most influential people in Nigeria. With vast business connections and access to the corridors of power, he lived a life of unparalleled luxury, grandeur and splendour. But he was not too popular in his home state of Sokoto. However, because he was close to the military president of that time, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Dasuki was made the sultan in November 1988. It was a violent affair as many in the caliphate did not want him; they declared he was an unpopular choice being foisted upon them by the military junta. Babangida had to deploy troops to protect his friend who was now the newest king in northern Nigeria heading an enduring empire.
Babangida did not stop there. He was not going to let his friend and good ally live like the kings of the old. So IBB got across to Julius Berger Nigeria Limited and gave them a mouthwatering contract to majestically upgrade the 192-year-old palace of the Sokoto Caliphate. Babangida ordered that the palace had to be upgraded to what truly befitted a modern king. And it was done. Tens of millions of naira of government money went into the project and Dasuki settled in to commence life as one of Africa’s most famous kings. His life was so grand that no one would have imagined that less than 10 years later, he would be languishing in abject squalor in a village in the middle of nowhere under the orders of another military dictator who funny enough, was one of the closest friends of Babangida.
INSIDE THE JAIL
The late General Sani Abacha was a man who dealt with his enemies in the nastiest of manners. He never pretended to like his enemies and went to great lengths to finish them off. So when it was time to depose the Sultan, Abacha did not only remove the revered monarch, he also made sure he was going to be banished from the caliphate, exiled and imprisoned in a location remote and far away from now only Sokoto but from civilization itself. Abacha, the maximum ruler of Nigeria declared that the sultan be whisked away to Zing, a dusty, rocky and sleepy rural community in Taraba State.
In Zing, the king was kept like a common prisoner inside a horrible three-bedroom bungalow outside the Government Reservation Area. Painted in white, the bungalow was hidden from public view by a tall fence. The townspeople jokingly referred to the bungalow as Dasuki Lodge. Before Abacha exported Sultan Dasuki to Zing, the bungalow was known as the local government guest house Number 6. It was located between two other guest houses, Numbers 7 and 11. Guest houses 7 and 11 were used by the heavily-armed Nigerian troops attached to watch the caged traditional ruler. The soldiers were always on a 24-hour vigil.
The villagers jokingly referred to the soldiers as Dasuki’s dogari meaning palace guards just that this time around, these dogaris were not there to entertain the Sultan but to make life as difficult as possible for him. The head of the military unit guarding the sultan was usually a major and they were given executive orders from above that no one, not even the soldiers themselves, was to entertain or even hold any discussion with the deposed ruler of Sokoto Caliphate. In order to ensure that this was strictly adhered to, the soldiers were often changed every 14 days before any one of them would even form any bond of familiarity with Dasuki.
Not far from the Dasuki Lodge as it was called, less than 100 metres, no loitering was allowed. A dusty road led to the ‘lodge’ and it was not far from the palace of the Kpanti Zing who is the traditional ruler of the town. This road led to the farms for many of the old women in the community and they too were aware of the very important prisoner (VIP) held in the ‘military zone’. So anytime they moved close to the area, they would increase their speed, talk in hushed tones or shut up all together until they were within a safe distance of the jail.
Inside the prison, it was sheer horror for a man used to a life of opulence and unlimited luxury. Kept incommunicado without contact with any living being, Sultan Dasuki endured the crushing suffering of solitary confinement. To kill off boredom, he spent his hours reading the Quran, the Muslim holy book and faithfully said his five daily prayers. At that moment, he knew the only thing standing between him and his murderous enemy was probably his faith so he clung to it. But he was terribly worried.
At night, the fallen king would stroll round the bungalow and slip into meditation, wondering what became of his life, his family and his kingdom. It was all like magic to him, no sultan had been disgraced like that before by a Nigerian head of state in history. It was a fall worse than that of Humpty Dumpty. Another reason Dasuki had to take those evening strolls was that his nights were absolute terror, especially whenever NEPA decided to strike, and trust NEPA, they did strike regularly. According to one of the sources who spoke to TELL that time:
‘Heat envelopes the bungalow as if it is an oven. Mosquitoes, too, have a field day.’
So it was not just the heat alone, brutal African mosquitoes decided that it was time to be sampling the fresh blood of the Sokoto monarch. For the mosquitoes, it was the real fura de nono. And you know that the mosquitoes in this part of the world are as wicked as our rulers, they do not have any human feelings at all.
If you think that was the peak of the suffering meted out on the old man, then you must be underestimating Abacha’s capability for evil. When it came to food, he made sure that Dasuki did not even choose what he was being fed with. The junta fed him whatever they felt like. From the towering heights of the Sokoto palace, Dasuki was reduced to a simpleton, at the mercy of the cook at the local government secretariat. Taraba State Government picked the bill. Whenever the meal arrived, one of the three soldiers at the gate of the bungalow would collect it and take to the sultan. In order to prove to him and reassure his aging mind that the ‘delicious’ meal was not poisoned, the soldier would take a bite from the food. But even at that, Dasuki had lost much of his appetite, he was not in the mood to eat most of the time, and when he did eat, he ate very little. As a result, he lost weight and became a skeleton of his former frame.
But that was not the end. When it came to water, there was nothing like potable water in Zing so when the sultan first arrived, he had to drink water from the rijiya (traditional well) or from one of the many streams across Zing. There was nothing like pipe-borne water for him. But for someone who was not used to such horrible treatment, his body reacted violently to the water and he went down with typhoid fever for a while. As a matter of fact, some of the sources at that time indicated the typhoid was so serious he was hospitalized at the Aso Rock Presidential Clinic for many days but that relief was not to last for long. He was soon discharged and exported to Zing to resume his suffering.
The only gain that came from his sickness was that by the time he was re-exported back to Zing, an order came that he should be given bottled water and this package was brought to him from Jalingo, the state capital, bill picked by the state government. So it was so bad that even bottled water was sheer luxury for him. If General Abacha had wished that the old man should continue drinking from streams and dirty wells and eventually die from typhoid after his intestines must have been dangerously perforated, that was precisely what was going to happen. But Abacha was ‘merciful’, he allowed the deposed sultan to be given bottled water.
But for the family of the disgraced Dasuki, that was just too little, they argued that their patriarch was in a very bad state of health and might die soon if he was not given prompt attention. They made numerous appeals to General Abacha, the Nigerian head of state and military strongman in 1996, they begged that Abacha allow Dasuki’s personal physician, Professor C. O. Abengowe, to see him. Abacha refused. Appeals upon appeals and Abacha ignored them all.
But in October 1996, the Abacha regime asked Abengowe to prescribe some drugs based on Dasuki’s medical history for him. The doctor quickly prescribed one bottle of Omega 3, two bottles of vitamin C, one bottle of vitamin E, one bottle of Fresh Royal Jelly capsules, one bottle of vitamin A, one bottle of Ecotrin Aspirin tablets, one bottle of Zyloric, four bottles of Megadon and three packets of Norvasc. These drugs were deposited in the office of the secretary to the Taraba State government because the doctor was barred from seeing his patient. Since then, the family had not heard anything about their patriarch.
While Dasuki languished in Abacha’s jail, his loved ones did not keep quiet. One of his grandsons, Umaru Dahiru, was the family’s spokesperson and he said:
‘We have genuine reasons to really fear for his health. Dasuki is a hypertensive patient. In fact, he had been receiving medical treatments in that regards, to the extent of going abroad, and now, he is aged. He was 73 on December 31, 1996. We are so much worried. Unconfirmed reports at a time said he had been taken to this or that hospital, we are actually worried. Yet all our pleas and applications are unapproved. Nobody has access to him. ’
The disturbed family members complained that they were not sure if he got the drugs or two sets of kaftan they sent to him. According to Dahiru, the last time any member of the family saw the sultan was in August 1996. He said that was even made possible because of the endless lobbying by Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji Abubakar, the Sardauna of Sokoto. That month, the family team that went to pay the sultan a visit in Zing included his four wives, a son, a daughter and Abubakar Alhaji. But when they got to where the sultan was locked up, they got the shock of their lives. They were told that the order from above was that they had just a maximum of five minutes each to speak or discuss with their incarcerated patriarch.
But even at that, the five-minute grace period given to each family member was not going to be one-on-one or private in any way. Five fierce-looking soldiers were right there in the room to hear whatever it is they had to say. Thus, the dazed family members could not say more than the usual ‘yaya de’ (meaning ‘how are you’ in Hausa). Instead of the relief and joy they had looked forward to, all the seven family members felt thoroughly humiliated and frustrated after meeting the sultan. One of them was so angry that he said:
‘It is better not to see him than to visit him under that kind of humiliating and harassed condition.’
But even as little as that permission to see him was, the family was a bit hopeful and they felt the government would soon allow them to see him again. They were badly mistaken. Shortly after the initial visit, eight members of the Dasuki family applied to the Sokoto State military government to visit Dasuki. Their applications were processed and they were given the green light to proceed in two batches. The government of Taraba State was also duly notified in advance. But the first batch to arrive Zing was met with the shocker of their lives and the treatment they got that will linger in their minds forever.
At the gate of the Dasuki Lodge were armed soldiers who flatly refused entry or access to any of them. Dahiru narrated what happened that day:
‘When they arrived where he (Dasuki) was being held, the security men asked them to go back because they have no clearance from Abuja. Even when the government of Taraba State intervened, the soldiers insisted that since there was no clearance from Abuja, there was nothing they could do. They claimed the Sokoto State government could not give clearance to anybody to see the former sultan.’
It is interesting to note that while the deposed king was rotting away inside the jail in Zing, he was actually embroiled in a huge scandal. A suit had been filed against Dasuki and other directors of the Afro Continental Nigeria Limited. Why? The sum of N775 million was owed two distressed banks by their company. The sultan, however, was denied access to his lawyer, Chimezie Ikeazor, and he could not speak over the debt scandal.
This was in spite of the fact that one of the reasons for his dethronement was his possible trial at the Failed Banks Tribunal (some banks had collapsed and Abacha decided to get to the root of it, Dasuki was one of those implicated). But interestingly, Dasuki’s lawyer got the consent of the Sokoto State government and even order of court by Justice TA Odunowo to be able to see his client but Ikeazor was denied access. On the 30th of August, 1996, Justice Musiliu Ope-Agbe of the Failed Banks Tribunal Zone 1 granted the prayers of Dasuki and other directors that they should not be joined as co-defendants in the suit involving their two companies, Niger Café (W.A.) Foods and Afro Continental Nigeria Limited.
But that was not the end of the saga because the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC, appealed against the judgment, forcefully claiming that Dasuki and his co-directors have a case to answer.
WHY ABACHA WENT BALLISTIC ON SULTAN DASUKI
So how did Dasuki find himself inside such a dark valley of doom? How did he fall from grace to weed? Well, it was not always like that and to answer these questions, we will need to rewind to the 15th of December, 1993. It was less than a month after Sani Abacha had overthrown Ernest Shonekan and took power himself. An immensely-powerful Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki of Sokoto led an equally-impressive northern delegation of traditional rulers to pay General Abacha a solidarity visit at the Dodan Barracks in Lagos. You know, the usual visit stuff. They had all come to congratulate the new dictator, pray for him and pledge their undying loyalty to him. The visit was widely-publicized and Abacha was so grateful (or he was probably pretending) that he forgot he was a four-star general and had to stoop and bow to welcome the great Sultan. For Nigerians viewing the drama, Abacha was a son paying homage to his father. Very few knew that Abacha was only stooping to conquer and consolidate his power before stinging like a crazy desert scorpion.
The sultan did not suspect a thing. He prayed to Allah to grant Abacha the wisdom and the peace to rule the most populous black nation on earth. He did not stop there. Dasuki also communicated the worry in the north on why Abacha chose to stay in Lagos since the federal capital had been moved to Abuja two years earlier. They said they wanted their son to consolidate quickly and grip Abuja within his iron fists. And less than a month after the visit by the northern monarchs, Abacha packed his load and moved into Aso Rock. Terror was about to descend on Nigeria and even the sultan did not know what was about to hit his turban.
For those who are familiar with the character of Abacha, he was not a man to forget or even forgive easily. He was very clear when it came to identifying his foes. And he never forgot what happened when Babangida was military head of state. Unknown to the sultan, Abacha’s memory was still very fresh with what his son, Sambo Dasuki (now in trouble with Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari over missing billions of dollars meant for weapons under the Goodluck Jonathan administration) did to him. That time, Sambo Dasuki was a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian Army and he was also the aide-de-camp to the head of state, General Babangida while Abacha was the chief of army staff. But these two men (Abacha and Sambo Dasuki) were mortal enemies. But why?
On numerous occasions, Sambo Dasuki ensured that he prevented Abacha from seeing the commander-in-chief. Sambo Dasuki felt Abacha was an unserious person who only came to waste Babangida’s time and discuss useless issues while more crucial issues of national importance were unattended to. So the ADC made sure other people had access to Babangida while blocking Abacha. In addition to that, Abacha had reportedly neglected the army and swallowed all the money budgeted for the military. Thus, equipment did not only breakdown, the morale of the rank and file had reached its lowest point. Angry army commanders and furious senior officers complained relentlessly to Babangida and his response was always:
‘I will talk to Sani. Don’t worry, I will take care of the problem.’
Lieutenant-Colonel Sambo Dasuki was so irritated by Abacha’s neglect of the army that he convinced Babangida to pay an unscheduled visit to the Ojo Cantonment in Lagos to see for himself how bad things were so it would not be like he was just complaining for nothing. So the self-styled military president went to the cantonment and he was heartbroken with what he saw and confronted Abacha. Babangida was obviously pissed off with what he saw because from that moment, he began funding the army formations directly, totally bypassing his chief of army staff. Abacha knew this was the handiwork of Sambo Dasuki and for that, he would never forgive him.
Shortly after, Lt. Col. Dasuki was removed as Babangida’s ADC following immense pressure from Abacha himself. Abacha argued that Dasuki should be deleted from the army for gross insubordination. Babangida agreed. So Dasuki was first posted to a non-descript post in Onitsha, Anambra State but because he himself was a very stubborn and strong-willed person, Dasuki told all who cared to listen that he would rather resign his commission than to be reduced to nothing in the military. For a man who was crucial to Babangida’s coming to power (Dasuki was one of the four army majors who arrested Muhammadu Buhari in August 1985) and a man whom he owed a lot (Abacha) IBB had to reach a compromise between these two sworn enemies who happened to be his allies. So the agreement was that Dasuki would be sent overseas for a military course and he was there for over five years. Dasuki did not return to Nigeria until shortly after Abacha became the head of state. Dasuki might have thought that after five years, Abacha would have forgotten the disagreements of the past, but he miscalculated and underestimated Abacha’s passion for vengeance. Abacha embarked on a house cleaning exercise which involved the removal of the so-called ‘Babangida Boys’. Dasuki was one of the first to be compulsorily retired from the army. That was the basis of the major offence number one.
Offence number two to Abacha from the Dasuki family was that when Ibrahim was made the sultan with Babangida’s support (some reports indicate that it was actually the installation of Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji as the Sardauna of Sokoto), Abacha was supposed to lead the federal government’s delegation to his installation ceremony in Sokoto. The event was to start by 10:00 am but by 1:00pm Abacha had not arrived and all the other guests were waiting so they decided to just continue with the installation. Several hours behind schedule, Abacha arrived at the Sokoto airport and he was told that the event was already over. Come and see explosion that day. The Nigerian army chief Abacha was so angry that right there and then, he turned back and returned to his base. He took that event extremely personal and never forgot it. For him, it was probably one of the greatest insults ever. In his mind, they could not wait for him, a whole Abacha, and they went ahead to install the sultan in his absence. Seething with anger and fury inside the aircraft, Abacha must have thought to himself that the day would come when the opportunity to ‘deinstall’ the sultan they just installed. That was crime number two.
Crime number three? Well, it had to do with the death of Aliyu Dasuki, a younger brother/relative of the deposed sultan in 1991. The late Aliyu was very well-connected and he was the business adviser to many top military officers, including Abacha and Babangida. So a few weeks after his death, General Abacha approached Sultan Dasuki and told him that his late brother owed him some money, proceeds from a business transaction. The sultan replied Abacha that he should either show proof of evidence of transaction or take an oath with the Holy Quran. Ah! The spirit of anger once again took over Abacha and he stormed out, he neither provided any proof nor did he swear with the Muslim holy book. In fact, Abacha took it as a massive slap on his face that the sultan had the audacity to actually doubt his claim.
For the Dasuki family at that time, they said it was not impossible for Abacha and their late son to have done business together but if he had owed Abacha any money, he would have told them. They corroborated this by saying that shortly before Aliyu slipped into a coma, he had told a relation that the new Mercedes Benz S-Class saloon parked in his garage belonged to Abacha and if he should die, the vehicle should be returned to its rightful owner, Abacha. The family did so when he passed on.
Crime number four? Yes, there was another ‘crime’ of the Dasukis against General Sani Abacha and this did not even involve cash. Shortly after Babangida annulled the June 12 1993 presidential elections, the private secretary of Sultan Dasuki had released a press statement in which the sultan called for the revalidation of the June 12 elections. He wanted MKO Abiola to be given his mandated because so many Nigerians were traumatized and bewildered with the annulment. This statement from the sultan was like a blessing from heaven for the pro-democracy forces like Bola Tinubu, Wole Soyinka and so many others. But within the military circles, there were some hawks who were dead against revalidation of the annulled elections and these included people like General Sani Abacha (who was plotting how to grab power for himself) and David Mark. These hawks blasted the sultan and told him that he was crying more than the bereaved (Yorubas). They told him that even many prominent Yoruba monarchs had gladly collected bribes to do away with any struggle for the revalidation of the June 12 mandate. They were more than angry with the sultan and leading this pack of angry generals was none other than Abacha.
Several weeks later, the pressurized sultan issued a recant of the earlier statement made by his private secretary but it must be noted that this statement of recantation was issued by someone else, Muhammad Haruna, publisher of the defunct Citizen magazine. He claimed in the weekly that the sultan never authorized the pro-June 12 statement, he also said that the said statement was never even issued by the private secretary. But as far as Abacha and other anti-June 12 forces in the military were concerned, the recant was a piece of crap. They said the damage had been done already and accused the northern oligarchy actually wanted a Southern president. Like a grand game of chess, the Abacha camp silently slipped into the background and waited for the perfect time to strike.
In the months immediately after Abacha seized power after a palace coup, he negotiated some kind of truce between himself and the sultan. Unknown to the sultan, Abacha was merely consolidating and waiting for time to properly consolidating before landing his devastating blows on this long-term enemy of his. But Abacha was quite smart; he was not going to fight all his enemies at once. Thus, goodwill messages flowed nonstop between Sokoto and Abuja and the northern kings thanked Allah for the mercy of a new Muslim leader. Abacha had his own devious plans.
Before the 1994 strike which crippled the nation and paralyzed the economy under Abacha, MKO Abiola, the president-elect was arrested. By the time Abiola was spending his third year in prison, more crises confronted Abacha, the workers were relentless and the democracy forces kept pummeling him and his tyrannical regime. Then came crime number five!
At that point, the relationship between Dasuki and Abacha took a great turn for the worse with the military despot accusing Dasuki of causing some of the troubles he was facing because he did not give him his unalloyed support, tacitly accusing the monarch of internal sabotage and subterfuge. But their relationship would not totally collapse until February 1995.
In the middle of January 1995, a committee meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Because the Sultan was the Amir al Muminin (Leader of the Muslim Faithfuls) in Nigeria, he attended the meeting and the focus was on the controversial fatwas of death penalty. When Dasuki returned to Nigeria, he made a big mistake: he reportedly wrote to Abacha and the content of the letter was a meeting he held with two officials of the British Foreign Office, David Wright, deputy under-secretary and R. I Drummond, head of the Nigeria and Central Africa Section. Dasuki was said to have been followed to the said meeting by Major-General MD Jega (retired) who was then the deputy secretary-general of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. The meeting was an idea of the British government via the Nigerian High Commission in London.
In the letter, Dasuki said his discussion with both Drummond and Wright focused on the endless political crisis in Nigeria and communicated the frustration of the British government with how the Abacha junta was handling everything. Sultan Dasuki also said the British government advised that:
‘…Nigerian leaders of all sectors to come together and find solutions to their own internal problem.’
According to Dasuki, the British complained that Abacha’s refusal to listen to the counsel of friendly countries of USA, Germany and France made it difficult for Britain to help Nigeria. They also lamented that the sham called constitutional conference was not going to bring anything positive and also blasted Abacha’s human rights record and poor handling of the economy which was worsened by crippling British sanctions. They also said Nigerians want democracy by the end of 1996. All these points were contained in the letter.
After reading the letter, Abacha lost it.
He was absolutely enraged and it must have been at that point that he must have decided to bottle the robed king once and for all. As far as Abacha was concerned, no such meeting occurred and the sultan manufactured everything in his head. A furious Abacha said the emirs of Kano, Katsina and Daura met the same people and they returned with ‘very good and patriotic messages.’ Abacha queried where Sultan Dasuki got his own version of the story from. He angrily summoned a high military council meeting and the arguments started. The moderate generals said they should even be grateful to the sultan for having the guts to tell them the naked truth. The moderates had barely finished talking when the hawkish generals aggressively shouted them down saying they were talking nonsense that the sultan had to be ruthlessly dealt with in a way that he will never forget in his entire life. The hawks carried the day and Abacha agreed.
Without wasting time, the hawks selected Colonel Yakubu Muazu who was then the military administrator of Sokoto State, later the head of the Brigade of Guards defending Abacha, he was chosen to carry out the hatchet job of messing up the sultan. Muazu did not waste an extra minute. Shortly after, he started laying the foundation for his offensive against the head of the caliphate. On the 28th of March, 1995, he fired a memo to the sultan. It was full of enquiries and prayers for good health for Dasuki followed by accusations of some ‘crimes’ emanating from the palace. According to the military administrator, he said:
‘…my other purpose of writing you is to express our concern over the recent development regarding your travelling outside your domain as well as the receptions you accord to foreign dignitaries without the usual courteous notice to the state government…I find it necessary to implore his eminence to keep the office of the secretary to the state government well-informed and in advance about his movements both within and outside the state. His eminence may also wish to be reminded of the need to seek and obtain clearance before receiving foreign visitors to the palace.’
That was the first shot.
Seventy-two hours later, the sultan replied. He said there was no trip he undertook without telling the state government and that apart from the trips he went on behalf of the federal government; all his trips always had the blessing and financial backing of the Sokoto State government. As for the foreign diplomats, he reminded Muazu that all the diplomats visiting anywhere in the country had the blessing and approval of the foreign affairs ministry and that some of these dignitaries decided to pay him visits unannounced. He also said some of them were his long-term friends. He then said the state government should advise him which of these groups he should seek clearance for before receiving them. Muazu did not reply the sultan’s letter.
Shortly after, the problems of the sultan started to reproduce all of a sudden. The paranoid Abacha junta was looking for the so-called coup plotters of 1995 and Sambo, Dasuki’s son who had fled Nigeria after his retirement was one of those accused of plotting to overthrow the Abacha government. They said his sacrilegious offence was that he visited Major-General Shehu Musa Yaradua (retired) shortly after his retirement and discussed the state of the nation with him (Yaradua would later be killed under Abacha regime inside Abakaliki Prisons). Sambo knew he was in trouble and did not return to Nigeria. His aged father, the sultan was arrested and interrogated. His brash military interrogators accused the old man of definitely knowing what his son was up to but the sultan replied saying his son Sambo was over 40 years of age and that he was an adult who could take independent decisions without telling anyone.
From that moment on, Aso Rock decided to embark on a cold war, Aminu Saleh who was the secretary to the federal military government, attended an event in Sokoto to represent Abacha and at the event, he completely ignored the sultan, it was as if the monarch never existed. After landing Dasuki the stinging insult, Saleh left Sokoto that day without the usual call to the Sultan’s palace. But that was not the climax of the cold war. In 1995, Abacha himself was on a one-day official visit to Sokoto State and he did not only refuse to visit the sultan in his palace, he also made sure the Sultan’s gift for him was the only one left behind at the airport. Through all these barrage of direct and indirect insults, the sultan was said to have maintained his cool.
But things took a turn for the worse in November 1995. Not long after the Abacha regime executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, Nigeria became the number one recipient of condemnation from all over the globe. Abacha tried to counter this stem of hostile criticism by launching a book and documentary titled ‘Not In Our Character’ and all the first-class traditional rulers were invited via the state’s military administrators. However, the governor of Sokoto State, Muazu, decided to withhold the invitation of the sultan. Unknown to him, the organizing committee had sent another invitation to the deposed sultan making him a special guest at the event. When Dasuki got the invitation, his private secretary wrote to inform the state government but they told him at the Government House in Sokoto that:
‘…because of the situation in the country all programmes have been rescheduled, hence there is no need for his eminence to make the Abuja trip.’
So the sultan did not bother to go and it was such a huge surprise and shock for him when on the evening of 17th September, his royal colleague and the Shehu of Borno, Mustapha El Kanemi placed a call across to him asking why he was absent at the launching event in Abuja. The flustered sultan sent a letter to Abacha two days later demanding to know why he was not present at the launching when other traditional rulers were in attendance. It was not sure if Abacha ever replied him. At that point, all of sultan’s fears were confirmed and he knew he was in a big mess.
REMOVING THE SULTAN
In April 1996, something else happened that made Abacha hit another nail in Sultan Dasuki’s coffin. This time around, it had to do with religion. Just as Nigerian pilgrims were getting set to fly out to Mecca, having arrived at the hajj camps prior to airlifting, the authorities of Saudi Arabia dropped a bombshell. They said Nigerian pilgrims were not going to be allowed to proceed for the pilgrimage because of the outbreak of cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM). That was not the first time there would be a CMS outbreak in Nigeria and Abacha tried to make some diplomatic moves to make the Saudis have a change of heart.
He sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia to meet directly with King Fahd. The delegation was supposed to be led by the sultan of Sokoto but Abacha bypassed him and made sure the delegation by the emir of his adopted state of Kano, Ado Bayero. To add more Dangote salt to Dasuki’s injury, leaflets started appearing in Abuja accusing Dasuki of being the brain behind the Saudi clampdown on Nigerian pilgrims. Thus, on the evening of Saturday, 20th of April, 1996, military governor Muazu of Sokoto State took to the air and announced to all Nigerians that the 18th Sultan of the Sokoto Caliphate had been sacked from office. Lobatan.
In his broadcast, military administrator Muazu accused the deposed sultan of unbecoming conduct, poor leadership, unauthorized journeys, alleged misuse of funds, causing disaffection among Muslims, demeaning the exalted throne through failed banks trial, decline of Islamic religion under him, and inviting foreign diplomats without government’s knowledge. Some days after the deposition, the state government set up a committee to audit the accounts of the Sokoto Emirate Council for the period Dasuki was on the royal seat. Muazu said of the sultan:
“He is self-centred…and unable to account for all the donations and fund given by individuals or organisations for the construction of mosques and religious activities.”
According to him, the deposed sultan is likely to appear before the failed banks tribunal. “It is shameful to see a Sultan in a witness box to answer some charges. This ugly development is totally unbecoming of either the Sultan or the revered Sokoto caliphate,” he explained.
By the next day, 69-year-old Muhammadu Maccido was already the new sultan. He was the one who had bitterly slugged it out with Dasuki eight years earlier before IBB stepped in.
Four months later, the committee, which was headed by Garba Gumi, submitted an interim report to the government. In the report, which dripped with indictment of Dasuki, the deposed sultan was accused of misappropriating the sum of N18.2 million, a sum it said would rise by the time they submitted the final report. The two-and-half-page report stated that in his eight years as Sultan, the Emirate Council got a total sum of N102,518,178.11 from the state government and that out of this, N54,755,232.64 was released between March 1993 and April 1996.
The audit committee said that sum was meant for the services of the council including the cost of habitual overseas trip by the sultan on the alleged medical ground with members of his families, district heads, staff of the council, Dogari, and even the cooks who often accompanied him on rotational basis. They said this helped in depleting the council’s scarce resources in the form of estacodes, cost of air tickets and medical fees for minor sickness and diseases which could be treated locally in Nigeria and even in Sokoto.
A couple of weeks after the report was submitted; the sultan’s family sent a letter to the military administrator in which it stated the numerous pitfalls in the interim report. The deposed sultan was not allowed to explain himself, he was not a signatory to the accounts of the Emirate Council he argued and that he was never a member of the council’s finance and general purposes committee which authorizes all the expenditure, that four key accounts staff – accountant, finance clerk, storekeeper and transporter – are all sons of the late Sultan Abubakar Siddiq III and the brother to the new Sultan, Muhammadu Maccido. The son of the latter is the cashier and none of these key staff of the council was either invited or interrogated by the police.
Rather, the four others who do not handle cash – secretary to the emirate council, the private secretary and personal assistant of the deposed sultan and one other – were all arrested and flung into prison. Abacha was not interested in any of these talks and to Zing, he exported his enemy and the father of his enemy. He was first flown to Yola in Adamawa State then taken to Jalingo and from there, he began his dark journey to Zing.
In 2006, the deposed Emir of Gwandu, Mustapha Jokolo had stated in an explosive interview with Sunday Sun that Abacha had actually deposed Dasuki because of Swiss money. He said:
“Aliyu Dasuki, his (Ibrahim) nephew and son-in-law who is married to his daughter was classmate to General Abacha in Kano. I don’t know whether primary or secondary. They were classmates and friends. It was Abacha who introduced Aliyu to General Babangida. And through him, Aliyu was getting contracts, military contracts. He was a businessman. Now, Aliyu was very close to Abacha.
“Only God knows what went on between the two of them. So, any business that was going on, Aliyu was the front. So, Aliyu became sick, terminal illness, he eventually died. Abacha came to claim that there was some money that Aliyu was keeping for him in a Swiss account. Sultan Dasuki was then the Sultan of Sokoto. Sultan Dasuki told him that if it was true that he had any money with Aliyu, he should swear to an oath, then he would arrange for them to get the money. That is the Qu’ranic injunction, that if a person dies and you want to make any claim out of his possession, you have to swear an oath. Sultan Dasuki was justified in that.
But Abacha felt this was business between two friends which was an illegal business which did not require oath. They did not swear to any oath because it violates the Qu’ranic injunction. If you did business, you should record it in writing, but they did not. There was no evidence for Sultan Dasuki to give this money to Abacha.”
That brought bad blood between the two of them. Another thing was that Alhaji Alhaji was to be made Sardauna of Sokoto by Sultan Dasuki. It was on a Friday and Abacha was to represent General Babangida and he came late. It was getting to 12 noon and the ceremony was supposed to have started around 9. 0’clock. At 12 noon, we had just two hours to go to mosque for the Friday prayers. And the ceremony could not have been finished within that time. It was after 12 noon that Abacha arrived. They were waiting for him up to 12 noon. When they saw that the time was not on their side, they started the ceremony. So, Sultan Dasuki was justified by asking them to proceed with the ceremony and Abacha did not take kindly to that.
Immediately he (Abacha) came and discovered that the function was taking place, he just gave Babangida’s letter to somebody to deliver to the Sultan. He turned round, went to the airport and flew back to Abuja. That again infuriated Abacha. Again, there was bad blood between Sambo Dasuki and Abacha because Sambo was telling Babangida the true picture of the situation of the Army. Sambo was ADC to Babangida and things were now going wrong within the military and Sambo was telling Babangida what problems there were, occasionally driving Babangida, the two of them alone, to the Barracks to show him what short coming there were.
Abacha was Chief of Army Staff. Abacha got to know that Sambo was reporting what was going on to Babangida. Maybe, IBB confronted Abacha. By the time he knew Sambo was responsible for that, Babangida and Sambo were on medical check up in France. That was when Babangida was with Radiculopathy or whatever it is called. Abacha got Sambo posted out of Dodan Barracks without even Babangida knowing to somewhere in Onitsha or Ohafia or somewhere in the East. When they came back, Babangida rescinded the posting and that was a stab in the back for Abacha as far as he (Abacha) was concerned. I am trying to make you see the problem did not start overnight. Eventually, they got Sambo removed from the position and Sambo was lucky to go to Ameica to do his Staff College and degree programme there.
Did Abacha collect the money he said was in Aliyu Dasuki’s account?
I don’t know. Ask Dasuki when you see him. Now, when Abacha became Head of State, Ibrahim Dasuki was still the Sultan of Sokoto. The relationship between Abacha and Dasuki was already at its lowest ebb. The first person Abacha posted to Sokoto as the Military Administrator was his Military Assistant, Lieutenant Yakubu Muazu, who was very close to him and by coincidence, my course mate in NDA. He became my course mate also in Young Officers’ course in Jaji. He was my personal friend. At that time, I was the Chairman of Cement Company of Northern Nigeria located in Sokoto. I was relating with Mua’zu very well. So, when eventually my father died, it was Mua’zu and co, as I told you earlier, who prevailed on Abacha to allow the choice of the kingmakers to stand as they made it. Eventually, I became the Emir of Gwandu. But we were not having a very good relationship with Sultan Dasuki because I was not his choice.
So, I was not very forthcoming with him. Even though his son Sambo was my closest friend, he (Dasuki) and I were not the best of friends. There was a day Abacha sent for me and when I went there, Gwarzo confronted me with some documents. Mua’zu was also called. When I looked at the documents, they were from NDIC. The NDIC is supposed to be the policeman of Banks. In it, they found there are two companies-Afrofin and Afro-Continental which Sultan Dasuki had some interest in and he was a Director in one of the two companies. Aliyu Dasuki was the Chairman who was his in-law and nephew. One Mr. Goorn, a Jew from Switzerland was also there in the business. In the documents from NDIC, it was shown that they secured some facilities from NEXIM –Nigeria Export, Import Bank to provide some Agricultural machineries to the then Gongola State and also to set up a food processing company in Lagos. They did not do that; the bank was having problem and NDIC was investigating them. They collected the money from the bank, but did not pay back and the bank was collapsing and having problems.
As a result of this, NDIC, in the course of investigations, found out these short-comings. The Managing Director of NDIC now wrote to Gwarzo. Under normal circumstances, they will just take people to court without reference to the National Security Adviser (NSA). But because Sultan’s name appeared as a Director in these companies they now wrote to Gwarzo asking, ‘Please what do we do? We want to take these people to court but the name of Sultan is involved.’ So, Abacha had an opportunity which he has been looking for. Dasuki was then the Sultan of Sokoto and Abacha was the Head of State. So to Abacha, the golden opportunity had come for him to hit back and that was the point I was called in. Abacha said he was going to arraign Sultan Dasuki before a tribunal; the Failed Banks Tribunal that his company was involved in a problem with NDIC and NEXIM. That was when they said I was next in line of the caliphate, so I should be briefed that they were going to ask people to take him to the tribunal.
When I saw it, I said ‘Over my dead body. I would not accept that. I would not have anybody take Sultan to tribunal. If you do that, I am not the Emir of Gwandu. You look for somebody else and make him the Emir of Gwandu. I will not have that’. Gwarzo is alive, Mua’zu is alive, only Abacha is dead. Then, they said ‘Well, we are not going to let go this matter’. That was how they decided that he was going to be removed as the Sultan of Sokoto. They removed him so as not to take him take him to the Failed Banks Tribunal. That was my involvement in his removal. Everybody kept saying that I was responsible. Yes, I was aware of it, but I did not initiate it and I did not facilitate his removal. But I was there when this thing happened. Even when they said they were going to remove him, I asked them to give me time to think about it.
I drove to Zaria and mentioned this thing to the Emir of Zazzau. I called the Etsu Nupe, late Etsu Nupe. I told him about this too and told him that Sultan Dasuki was going to be removed. I told the Emir of Zazzau too that the Sultan of Sokoto was going to be removed. The Emir of Zazzau told me he would consult with the Emir Kano on this issue. I did not hear anything from them again. The Etsu Nupe drove to Sokoto to discuss this with Sultan. He mentioned this to him. The next thing I knew was that Sultan Dasuki sent my auntie that he married to my house that this was what they were told. I said ‘I don’t know anything about it because I can’t discuss this with her’. I don’t discuss official matters with women. Maybe my mistake was that I didn’t go to him to talk to him. But I had no business talking to him.
Aged 92, the deposed sultan lived at his Miyetti Allah residence on Kabir Road, Unguwan Rimi GRA in Kaduna State until his death on the 14th of November, 2016. He survived Abacha’s gulag but his troubles were far from over. His son, Sambo, is in a similar confinement under the Buhari administration. He begged for leniency for his son but it does not seem he will have any luck with that. In July 2015, his Sokoto residence was invaded by agents of the State Security Service (SSS) and he cried out calling the raid an illegal and unlawful operation. Only time can tell when the clashes of the Dasukis and successive governments will end.
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
- Ayodele Akinkuotu, Osa Director, Tough Times for Dasuki, TELL, January 27, 1997, pages 9 – 16.
- Ibrahim Dasuki, the 18th Sultan of Sokoto, Naijarchives http://naijarchives.com/ibrahim-dasuki-the-18th-sultan-of-sokoto/
- Deposition, Banishment of Sultan Dasuki, National Mirror http://nationalmirroronline.net/new/deposition-banishment-of-sultan-dasuki/
- The Jokolo Interview: Abacha Deposed Dasuki Over Swiss Money http://nm.onlinenigeria.com/templates/?a=9177&z=12
- Former Sultan Dasuki, Angry, Calls SSS Search of His House ‘Unlawful’ http://saharareporters.com/2015/07/20/former-sultan-dasuki-angry-calls-sss-search-his-house-%E2%80%9Cunlawful%E2%80%9D