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Friday, August 21, 1998

Did Indian girls see Nigerian dictator die?

Jyoti Malhotra  
NEW DELHI, Aug 20: The story of the two Indian girls, said to have been at the bedside of Nigeria's former dictator General Sani Abacha when he died in June, is getting curiouser and curiouser. The Nigerian press says they were there. The Indian high commissioner in Nigeria disclaims knowledge of any Indian connection.

His is a story with incredible elements: a dictator who peremptorily annulled the result of the presidential elections in 1993, threw its winner Chief Abiola into jail, then concentrated power in his hands. A debauch, who thought little of sending presidential jets to pick up women for pleasure. A corrupt head of state, who made a personal fortune of at least US $ 5 billion in his five years of power. A family man, with one wife and at least two sons. Someone who liked fresh fruit.

The story of the unusual and mysterious circumstances in which General Sani Abacha died in the early hours of the morning on June 8, was first broken by Kehinde Olaosebikan, a journalist with the Vanguardnewspaper of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

He claimed that four women, two Nigerian and two Indian -- all of them, presumably prostitutes -- were at the bedside of Gen. Abacha when he collapsed, allegedly after sex with them, and subsequently died. That the two Indian girls had been detained since the death of the general and released on August 6 after ``government investigation confirmed that General Abacha did not die of poison.''

Olaosebikan went on to add that the ``Indian girls, whose names could not be ascertained, were released to the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Satinder Uppal.'' Nigerian officials independently told Reuters that the girls, aged 17 and 19, were from Mumbai.

But here's what Uppal told The Indian Express on the phone from Lagos, Nigeria. ``I have no information, no knowledge about the incident. I don't know about any girls, I don't even know if they were Indian.'' Uppal added he'd seen stories about the Indian girls in the local papers, but really had no other commentto offer.

The Vanguard seems, however, to be more definitive than Uppal. ``The Indian women were said to have entered Nigeria without proper travel documents. Documentation of their entry into the country was also not made. They were said to have been flown into Nigeria in a presidential jet (on) Thursday, June 4.

``On arrival, the women were specially received at the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport. Thereafter, they were taken to a five-star hotel in the city where they were accommodated in a presidential suite. They later left for the late Head of State's guest house, where the Nigerian women were also waiting in one of the rooms,'' the newspaper says.

The general's death seems to have really shaken up Nigeria's establishment. Thisday, a Sunday newspaper, chronicling the June incident in minute detail, talks about how there is a ``whiff of anger in the air...A pained nation and a bereaved family are licking their wounds, from what is a great loss.''

On the day of hisdeath, says Thisday, Abacha had received PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and later went with a top general to a secured guest house in Abuja. There he met two women and another general. ``The identities of the two women could not be immediately confirmed or ascertained but sources say they were not Nigerians,'' the report says.

General Abacha is believed to have then ``socialised'' with his friends. ``He was said to have eaten some fruits which turned out to be apple...Some accounts say that after taking the apple, the Head of State fell ill.'' At this point there was probably a telephone call for the General, when a friend found him in ``terrible shape, almost foaming in the mouth,'' says Thisday.

Speculating over the cause of death, the newspaper quotes sources close to Abacha's doctor in the United States saying, though the General, ``generally enjoyed a good heart...heart attack can come from anywhere and anytime even if you are manifesting robust health.''

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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