Former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and right hand man of former head of state, late General Sani Abacha, General Jeremiah Timbut Useni (rtd), has said though he was the most senior military officer in the country and the appropriate person to succeed Abacha after his death in June 1998, he could not do so because some people did not want him on account of his Christian faith.
Useni, who later became a politician serving as senator representing Plateau South Senatorial District of Plateau State from 2015 to 2019, noted that ideally he should have been Abacha’s successor, but was denied the opportunity, paving the way for General Abdulsalami Abubakar to emerge as head of state.
The langtang, Plateau State born former military officer who spoke on Arise TV evening programme, The Arise Interview on Wednesday, also explained that contrary to widely held speculations, Abacha died of natural causes, having been sick for periods before his death.
Useni dismissed insinuations that the late head of state was poisoned, even as he said he was not partying with women, as alleged, the night before his death.
“Abacha was sick,” he said. “He was taking his medication at the time. I was with in the evening before his death, I was always with him. Sometimes I left him past midnight. He was not partying with women. There were two women, but he was not partying with women. He died of natural causes.”
Asked why he couldn’t succeed Abacha even when he was the next in line, and the late head of state’s trusted ally, Useni said, “They did not want me as head of state when Abacha died. The family did not want me, and some people brought religion into it. They said how can Useni, a Christian be allowed to succeed Abacha? I was sidelined but I didn’t bother.”
Narrating what transpired after Abacha’s death, Useni said he was not aware of the death until about nine hours later, because some people did not want him to know.
“I got a call at about 10am that there was a security council meeting. I said I was not aware. When I went eventually, the soldiers at the gate did not allow me to enter. I was surprised, such thing had never happened before. I didn’t know at the time that Abacha was dead.
“It was while I was at the gate that another soldier came and asked them to open the gate for me; that Abacha was lying dead. He threatened to shoot if they didn’t open the gate for me. That was how I managed to enter.
“When I went in I saw service chiefs already there. I was the last person to be informed to attend the meeting.”
Recalling the person Abacha was, Useni who was also military governor of the defunct Bendel State from January 1984 to August 1985, insisted that he was not corrupt as people think he was.
“Abacha was not a criminal; he was not as bad as people make him out to be. He did not steal money.”