She hardly speaks to the press. Since her husband died in 1998, she has been living a very quiet life, at first in Kano and now in Abuja. In this rare interview with TheNEWS’ ABUBAKAR HASHIM, Maryam Abacha speaks on key national and international issues, paying tribute to the late President of Sierra Leone, Tejan Kabbah, whom her late husband, Gen. Sani Abacha, restored to power in 1998.
How has life been with you since the death of your husband?
We thank God for His kindness and love for us. We also thank those that have been around us in these moments of grief. We are still waiting for those that have distanced themselves from us to reconcile and come back. We are not angry with anybody. We are still friends to everybody. We look forward to the Almighty Allah to provide us the fortitude to bear this loss. So life has been quiet and peaceful with us. We are one and a happy family.
When you heard of his sudden death, how did you take it? How did you feel?
My husband’s death was like a coup. It was sudden and shrouded in confusion. General Abdulasalami [Abubakar] just called me, telling me to come and collect the dead body. We buried him like any other ordinary Nigerian. It was quite unfortunate the way he died. Allah knows best and unto Him we shall all return. May his soul rest in peace. I’m yet to fully recover from the shock of his death.
And how did you both meet?
Like any other would-be couple. He was a charming, handsome and likeable personality; a loving father who liked his children and loved ones. We became friends and got married. Here are pictures in the family album; before, during and after our wedding day. He was a caring husband, a dedicated father and an affectionate grandfather.
President Goodluck Jonathan awarded your late husband a centenary award. How did you feel receiving the award?
We felt happy. Maybe this is the beginning of good things to happen to Nigeria; maybe reconciliation… President Jonathan is a young man, he is using his time and energy to bring peace and reconciliation. I think it is high time we all come together to lift the country and stabilise ourselves. I hope it is the beginning of good things to come.
Do you still continue with the pet projects you embarked on when you were first lady?
I did those projects on government basis. They are still there. Obasanjo did not change the names, neither did subsequent Presidents. The African First Ladies Peace Mission is still there, the Poverty Alleviation Programme, the National Programme on Immunisation, the Family Support Programme, the Family Support Basic Education Programme and the Family Economic Advancement Programme are all there. These are projects and programmes that touched the lives of the people, particularly women.
The National Hospital is there and so are the other hospitals around the country. I never did any programme for my personal benefit, but for the government and the people of the country. So today, in my personal capacity, on whether I’m still embarking on these projects, I’m no longer in government so I’m not embarking on such projects. I tried my best as the then first lady to bring about all-round development, particularly for women in the rural areas. We did extensive reach-out to the rural populace and touched lives in the remote areas of the country.
Do you have any political ambition?
No, I don’t have any political ambition.
For the presidency, at least; the first woman President of Nigeria?
Not at all. I was a first lady. I just want peace for the country. Stability and development are not achieved by one person. There are governors, ministers, local chairmen, civil servants and the like. It is a cluster of people. The President alone does not make a government.
What is your assessment of General Muhammadu Buhari, and by extension, the All Progressives Congress, APC?
I brought General Buhari into politics; It’s not that I want to expose him. We did everything to support and encourage him. He called my son Mohammed to join the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. They rejected Mohammed by force during the governorship race. This was the trend, not only in Kano, but also in Katsina, Bauchi and other states. I think it is not healthy for democracy; not just because of Mohammed but for the smooth play of democratic norms and values. Democracy is the choice of the people. But when people put their own personal interest first and they interfere [in the process], then it is no longer democracy. It is unfortunate that elders like them could belittle themselves in the race.
For the APC I cannot comment. It is not yet time for me to do so. However, it is good for democracy to have competition and opposition. It enhances democratic values, norms and stabilises the country’s image, and will eventually uplift our democratic credentials in the international comity of nations.
Your son, Mohammed, wanted to be governor of Kano State.
It is the people of Kano that wanted my son to be governor. They still want him to be governor. They’ve been calling us to come and intensify his campaign. In fact, they are even campaigning on his behalf. So it is people of Kano that want him as governor because they appreciate his father’s contribution to various fields of endeavour.
They also appreciate the little projects and programmes I did in Kano and in the country. They say he should come and continue the projects and programmes in Kano.
The late General Sani Abacha contributed to the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone. Could you comment on the role he played in the process.
I cannot tell you exactly how he played this role as I was not a soldier, I was just a housewife. But he tried his best for Sierra Leone and thank God it was a success and indeed, peace returned to Sierra Leone. The late Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was restored to power. It was indeed a tragedy to hear about his death recently. He was an African statesman of international repute.
I remember one of his visits [to Nigeria] after he was restored to office; he was so calm, amiable and indeed, supportive of a just pan-African solution to African crises. He was indeed, a true democrat of continental proportion. My late husband honoured him and appreciated him.
What message do you have for the people of Sierra Leone on the death of Kabbah?
I send my sympathy, my condolence and my prayers. May God give them peace, may God give them the fortitude to bear the great loss of the father of democracy in that country. May God give the present president, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the power to emulate what the previous president had done, particularly entrenching stability, peace and democracy in Sierra Leone. I wish President Koroma all the best. He is a young man.
I wish the people of Sierra Leone all the best. I have never been there but I hope to be there in my lifetime. I learnt it is a small and beautiful country with about six million people, with lots of natural resources including diamond and oil. May God Almighty grant the late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah eternal rest. May Allah also grant my late husband eternal rest. Nigeria and Sierra Leone have a long, historical relationship.
We look forward to building on the strong ties that have cemented us for so long a period. That was why my late husband stood by Sierra Leone in the time of her crisis; to restore democracy, sanity and stability in the country. We couldn’t stand by and watch Sierra Leone fall into anarchy, because the entire West African region would have been affected. So we moved in to bring back normalcy and sanity to the country.
So my wish for Sierra Leoneans is that they maintain peace and stability, especially the peaceful democratic course we’ve seen in past elections. We want this to continue so that other countries will emulate it.
This interview was first published in TheNEWS magazine. We have the magazine’s permission to republish here.