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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK

World: Africa

Abacha widow breaks her silence

General Abacha's corrupt military rule lasted four-and-a-half years

The widow of the former Nigerian military ruler, General Sani Abacha, has broken nearly a year of public silence to defend the record of her husband.

Nigeria elections
Although Maryam Abacha admitted her husband had not been an angel, she appealed to Nigerians to forget the past. "Certainly nobody is perfect," she said.

General Abacha led Nigeria into international isolation after taking power in November 1993, following annulled elections, which were widely thought to have been won by Chief Mashood Abiola.

BBC Focus on Africa's Sola Odunfa in Lagos
The former military ruler died in June last year, and since then the Nigerian authorities have been trying to recover some of the several billions of dollars embezzled by the general, his relatives and his ministers.

'Agonising experience'

Mrs Abacha says she has had to endure "difficult and painful" criticism of her husband's record, finding it an "agonising experience".

"His name and legacy [has been] subjected to the most malicious attack and bitter denigration ever visited on any former Nigerian head of state," she said.

She said she hoped Nigerians would "overlook the past and look into the future with hope and courage".

Abacha 'really loved' Nigeria

"No matter what may be said about my husband, I know for a fact that General Abacha really loved his country," she added.

Correspondents say her statement also contained a thinly veiled attack on General Abacha's former government and military colleagues.

"Government is a collective reponsibility," she said, adding that her husband did not work alone.

However, a senior government official dismissed Maryam Abacha's comments as a calculated attempt to win a reprieve from the incoming government of General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was jailed by General Abacha.

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