Sani's death before wicket

Miles Kington on a brutal dictator who so loved cricket and swift executions
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The Independent Culture
I HAVE received many letters of tribute to General Sani Abacha, the late leader of Nigeria, some of which are well worth reprinting.

From General Sir Nigel Curmudgeon MC

Sir, In all the rather half-hearted farewells to the late General Sani Abacha, I have seen no mention of his deep-rooted love of cricket. I knew of this at first hand, as I was summoned from early retirement from the British Army to a highly-paid post as chief cricket adviser to the Nigerian Government. General Abacha had noticed that none of the cricket-playing nations was ever suspended from the Commonwealth, and was convinced that if Nigeria joined the Test circuit he would be safe from opprobrium.

However, as I pointed out to the General, there was no cricket infrastructure in Nigeria and no players. "Fear not - I will give you the players!" he said, in that slightly Old Testament/Churchill/Eric Morecambe way he had.

The next day 11 players came round to my place, sent by Sani Abacha. None of them had ever played cricket before. They were all majors or brigadiers in the Nigerian Army. I knew then that I had problems. I resigned the next day.

yours etc

From General Sir Norbert Frobisher MCC

Sir, I can vouch for everything said by my old friend Nigel Curmudgeon in the previous letter, as I was appointed in his stead as chief cricket adviser to the Nigerian Government, and I inherited the Nigerian officers from whom Abacha wanted to create a Test cricket team. I tried a few sessions with them, and could see that some of them had talent and natural aptitude, but some were quite physically inept.

"Look here, Abacha," I said to him - as a fellow general, I felt we were on equal terms, though he never did any fighting - "I feel this team doesn't draw on the wealth of talent you have in this great country of Nigeria. What about the talented civilians...." He cut me short. "Civilians you cannot trust. Military men will do what I say. Go, and tell them what to do," he said, in that Alec Douglas-Home/Hitler/Ernie Wise way he had.

"Is there any of them you do not approve of?"

"I think Major Galari is a bit past the cricketing age," I said, hesitantly.

"Very good," said Abacha.

I never saw Major Galari again. I later heard he had been executed an hour later. That is how seriously "Sonny" (as we called him) Abacha took cricket. Our selectors could learn from him.

yours etc

From General "Sir" Nosbert Frantock, MCC and bar

Sir, it was my privilege to follow Norbert as chief cricket adviser to the Nigerian Army. I welded a Nigerian Test cricket team from the available military talent, and ended up with quite a decent unit. Then the General came to see me one day.

"So, Nosbert, can we beat the enemy?" he asked. "In a cricketing sense, of course."

"I think we have here a team that can take on any in the world, as long as the other team is also composed of army officers," I said.

"Good," he said. "Next Saturday you will be playing General Abacha's XI, which I have got together. Let us see how you do, mercenary white man," he said in that Peter Ustinov/Idi Amin/Ade Edmondson way of his.

I was in an impossible situation. If we won, then "Butcher" (as he was known) Abacha would have his side liquidated. If they won, he would have my Nigerian Test team arrested and shot. I fled the country with as much cash as I could carry.

yours etc

From Lady "Generalissimo" Noreen Tolpuddle

Sir, I can vouch for the truth of all the above, as my late husband, General Sir Nestor Tolpuddle, succeeded Nosbert as the next and final cricket adviser to the Nigerian Government.

I actually saw "Botcher" Abacha playing cricket. He came in to bat for his own XI against the Nigerian Text XI in a friendly match, when my husband was umpiring. When Abacha came to the wicket, he said to my husband (in that Jack Hawkins/Douglas Hurd/Al Capone way):

"Don't forget, Nestor, I could have you shot."

My husband smiled: "But I could give you out lbw first!"

The next ball my husband gave Abacha out lbw. We fled Nigeria on a special flight that night.

yours etc

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