June 1998 is a memory that lives on. That was when our president died.
I was at the back of the car heading home from school, dreaming of lunch. Suddenly people began to gather. They yelled and clapped their hands Nigerian-style. When my Dad slowed down to ask what was happening, we were told Sani Abacha was dead. Dead!
The news was too random to absorb. But it had to be true because it rang out everywhere. The streets heaved with celebrants, as if we had just won the world cup. At home people gathered round excitedly to discuss the incredulous news.
General Sani Abacha's deeds had caught up with him at last. Before his death, life in Nigeria was changing into a nightmare. He had become so intoxicated with power that he had lost his head. Nine opposition activists were sent to the hang man's noose despite an international outcry. Dissenting voices were banished behind bars, where some died. Press freedom was stifled. He wouldn't listen to the United Nations, didn't care about international sanctions or being suspended from the Commonwealth. He was driving Nigeria to the brink.
Then he died. As the days went by details seeped out: he had a heart condition, which he had masterfully concealed. Unfortunately he couldn't fly abroad for treatment like most ailing officials do because he had isolated himself from the international community. Rumour has it his heart gave way while he was engaged in some illicit activity. Not surprisingly he was buried hurriedly like a common man.
Following his death General Abdulsalami Abubakar stepped in for ten months. Thankfully he did the right thing and returned Nigeria to civilian rule. Today Nigeria remains a democracy in the making. Not perfect by any means, but making significant progress. Living under the shadow of a pseudo-dictator is water under the bridge.
So much has changed since General Abacha died.