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Gen.’s Death Prompts Mixed Emotions

June 8, 1998

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ State-run radio played doleful martial music at news of Gen. Sani Abacha’s death but the sound on the streets was a joyous cacophony: Nigerians honked horns and burst into cheers.

The people of Lagos, the commercial hub of the oil-rich but impoverished West African nation, celebrated openly when word came Monday of the 54-year-old dictator’s fatal heart attack.

``Today is another independence day for Nigeria. Suddenly, we are free again,″ said Bisi Ajayi, a university graduate who has been unable to find work since leaving school.

His sentiments, shared by many, were in stark contrast to the official reaction. The radio announcement was followed by broadcasts of solem military dirges.

Military and civilian members of his junta paid tribute to Abacha, saying his death was a loss for the country.

State radio called his five years of rule a ``national rescue mission,″ citing Abacha’s 11 military decorations and other career achievements.

Abacha’s death evoked only unease in many other Nigerians, who for years had been waiting for their military dictatorship to hand power back to the people.

``I know not everybody liked him, but I don’t like his death,″ said taxi driver Silas Nwogu. ``He had been running the country, and he said he would hand over power, and we were waiting for that to happen.″

In the western city of Owerri, streets were virtually empty.

No additional military presence was evident, but people rushed home after learning the news, fearing Abacha’s death could trigger violent demonstrations.

In the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt, one oil executive said Abacha’s death would have little impact on his work.

``We try not to get involved in politics,″ said Victor Dania, the director of community affairs for Shell Oil’s Nigerian joint venture. ``There won’t be an impact on our production.″

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