Names have an extraordinary ability to resonate down the ages; Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Churchill, Martin Luther King. Many are famed for noble deeds, great inventions or laudable qualities and it is for this reason that in any capital city you will discover names of distinction adorning avenues, streets, squares and public buildings. Whilst the origins and associations of some may have become obscured over the years, others connote questionable motives and deserve to be changed. It is for this very reason that I believe that the time has come for the good people of Sierra Leone, and especially those of Freetown to give thought to changing the name of Sani Abacha Street.
All who are familiar with Freetown know Sani Abacha Street to be a slightly shabby, yet bustling commercial thoroughfare, full of noise, pungent aromas and colourful characters. This key arterial road connecting the heart of the capital with Kissy and the port district plays a vital part in the economic life of the capital. Yet it disturbing that such a vibrant place, a street of entrepreneurial hope and exuberance should be named after a reviled West African dictator, who plundered his nation’s wealth, terrorised his people and whose name is forever associated with the murder of the celebrated Nigerian writer and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Surely, a land connected with the likes of Granville Sharp, William Wilberforce and Bai Bureh cannot allow this to continue.
General Abacha may well have been a robust supporter of ECOMOG, but his record elsewhere was appalling. The events surrounding the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa speak volumes of his tyranny. When Saro-Wiwa and eight associates were hanged on 10th November 1995, the event was described by John Major, the then British Prime Minister as “judicial murder” and was condemned by Nelson Mandela as “this heinous act”. Sani Abacha in common with other murderous thugs had nothing but contempt for the Rule of Law and international opinion, and used his period of ‘rule’ to siphon off Nigeria’s oil revenue for himself and his henchmen. To have a main thoroughfare named after a military despot sends out the wrong message to a people who have themselves suffered so much brutality and horror in recent years.
The name Sani Abacha sullies the reputation of Freetown and it is high time action was taken to right this wrong. I have no doubt there will be those who will employ sophistry to maintain the status quo, well they must be resisted. No amount of excuses; bureaucratic, diplomatic or otherwise should be allowed to stand in the way of this name change. As for the name, well Saro-Wiwa Street would be an appropriate choice that would be applauded around the world, Martyrs Street could salute all who have suffered or maybe it could revert to its original name prior to troubled times and military intervention. One thing is for certain, the people of Freetown and Sierra Leone deserve better and I for one trust their judgment to do the right thing. It is time to consign the name of Sani Abacha Street to history.