Abdulsalami Abubakar

27.04.2016 ( Last modified: 14.06.2016 )
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Abdulsalami Abubakar was born on 13 June 1942 in Minna, Nigeria. He was educated at the Technical Institute in Kaduna and later joined the military and became member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council in 1993. Abubakar is married to Fati Lami Abubakar with whom he had six children.

Abubakar became Major General and Chief of Staff to General Sani Abacha in November 1993 and President of Nigeria between November 1998 and May 1999.

Since 1983, Nigeria had been ruled my military rulers, gaining and losing power through bloody coups. This cycle continued when, in 1993, General Sani Abacha cancelled the presidential elections and seized control declaring himself President. Abacha’s regime has been marred with claims of torture and the suppression and assassination of opposition activists including Ken Saro-Wiwa and Chief MKO Abiola is recognised as winning the 1993 election.

Major General Abukabar was Chief of Defence Staff during Abacha’s rule. On June 1998, after Abacha’s unexpected death, Abubakar became president of Nigeria. Abubakar led the military junta until May 1999 when he handed power to the first democratically elected President in 15 years. Whilst President, Abubakar released political prisoners, began a programme of reform and adopted a new constitution.

However, the military junta which Abubakar enjoyed a prominent role in and then presided over has been linked to claims of the torture, inhuman treatment, false imprisonment and wrongful death of opposition activists.

The case brought against Abubakar centres on his position as Chief of Defence Staff under Abacha’s military rule from November 1993, and his Presidency between November 1998 and May 1999. Abacha is accused of wrongfully imprisoning hundreds of opposition activists and critics and stealing millions of dollars from the rich oil reserves in Nigeria. Kudirat Abiola and Chief MKO Abiola’s daughter Hafsat claims that Abubakar is responsible for the deaths of her parents. She argues that the military junta which Abubakar enjoyed a prominent position in between 1993 and 1999 was responsible for keeping her father in inhume conditions, denying him access to lawyers and his family and torturing him. Chief MKO Abiola’s death occurred shortly after Abubakar assumed control of the military regime. Hafsat Abiola Costello accuses the military regime for the assisination of her mother, Kudirat Abiola, who was shot in her car in Lagos in the middle of the day. She contends Kudirat was threatened with phone calls when she started campaigning for her husband’s release.

In 2001, whilst Abubakar was in the US touring a lecture series, he was served with summons from Illinois Federal for his culpability for the crimes carried out by military junta.

legal procedure

In 2001, whilst Abubakar was in the US touring a lecture series, he was served with summons from Illinois Federal for his culpability for the crimes carried out by military junta. The case against Abubakar was brought by Nigerian pro-democracy activists. This included the daughter of the presidential candidate Chief MKO Abiola who was assassinated in 1998, and the son of the activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed in 1995.

On 23 May 2005, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act 1976 (FSIA) could not provide protection to individuals, and dismissed Abubakar’s defence of sovereign immunity for charges of torture and murder.

However, the Court also held that a claim under the Torture Victim Protection Act 1991 (TVPA), precludes the use of the Alien Tort Claims Act 17 (ATCA). The Court stressed caution in applying the ATCA, an international law instrument, to private action against torture where Congress had already provided a cause of action under the TVPA. The preference of using the ATCA however, is that the TVPA may only be applied when the plaintiffs have exhausted all remedies available in Nigeria.

The Court of Appeal referred the case back to the Federal Court to consider whether the plaintiffs had passed the procedural threshold and could use the TVPA against Abubakar.

On 6 June 2006, the United District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that the Nigerian judicial system could not provide adequate remedies for the charges against Abubakar. Based on report and expert witnesses, the Court held that the plaintiffs satisfied the burden of proof that legal action taken against Abubakar in Nigeria would have been futile. Any judgment or remedy would have been ineffective and ignored by the military regime, and therefore the plaintiffs could claim civil remedies under the TVPA in the US.

Abubakar however, failed supplied his deposition in preparation for litigation and in March 2007, the Federal High Court of Nigeria restrained Abubakar from giving evidence or testifying in the US courts. On 28 September 2007, the United District Court for the Northern District of Illinois imposed sanctions against Abubakar for failing to present his deposition. The Court ordered Abubakar to appear at Court on 13 April 2007 to supply his deposition, and warned that if failed to do so the Court would enter a default judgment against him.

However, neither a deposition nor a default judgment was ever entered, as the case was eventually settled out of court. It is reported that in 2008 the plaintiffs settled the case for $650,000.

On 30 January 2011, a Lagos High Court found Al-Mustapha, the former Chief of Security Office to General Sani Abacha, and Lateef Sofolahan, Mrs Abiola’s former aide, guilty of her murder. The Court sentenced them the maximum penalty of death. During Al-Mustapha’s testimonies in the trial he had accused Abdusalami Abubakar of keeping him in prison to stop him from revealing the circumstances of Kudirat’s death.