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5 months ago | Pop Culture

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Section: Pop Culture

Sani Abacha: Is it cool to wear a T-shirt of the late dictator?

Would you rock a Sani Abacha T-shirt?

General Sani Abacha should not be made into a pop culture hero.

Pop culture has a way of putting bad guys and anti-heroes on a pedestal.

Walter White, Tony Montana, The Joker, Hannibal Lecter (even Scar from 'Lion King'), have their faces on countless merchandise all across the world.

These guys (and African lion) are fictional characters. They only exist on the big screen.  For what it is worth, Walter White never killed men in real life to keep his empire going. Tony Montana did not flood Miami with kilos of cocaine, destroying lives in the process. 


Idolizing and glorifying these Hollywood manufactured bad guys can be seen as escapism. It's a way for the masses to channel their inner bad-'assism'.

But what happens when pop culture puts dictators and tyrants on a pedestal? What happens when a fashion brand takes a real-life baddie and puts his face on one of its t-shirts? Is it right to put the faces of human rights violators and mass murderers on T-shirts without proper context?

Derin Fabikun, a Nigerian fashionista was recently at the centre of the ethical crossroad. She recently shared a photo of herself rocking a white T-shirt with General Sani Abacha's face on it.


Twitter NG picked up on that picture and it became woke discourse soon enough. Why should a brand associate itself with such a controversial figure like Abacha?

For context, General Sani Abacha was Nigeria's most brutal military dictator. Widespread allegations of corruption and human rights were hallmarks of his regime. Abacha died on June 8, 1998. Many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief. The Pharaoh that tormented the children of Israel was no more.


Nigerians regard 1993-1998 as one of the country's darkest periods, five years of terror. It is in this context that people wonder why Abacha's face is on a T-shirt.

"Not to knock anyone's style expression but I don't think the subject is appropriate," wrote a woman under the Instagram post. "...I don't think it's healthy to lend his image to pop culture iconography"  she further wrote.


Derin Fabikun says she meant no harm when she rocked the T-shirt. "Obviously I did not mean any harm. Now thinking about it and people's opinion, I can get where they are coming from"  she told Meets Media.

"My friend made a T-shirt that was really nice and I bought it. That's all it was. I have had it over like five years" she further said.  Popular fashionista Noble Igwe also has the same T-shirt. 


The T-shirt itself is was designed by Garbe Life but it is no longer in stock. Meets Media reached out to the designer for his thoughts on why he designed such a T-shirt and is waiting for comments.


Garbe Life isn't the only urban line using the imagery of General Sani Abacha. Waffles N Cream, the popular Lagos skate crew, has an online store that sells merch. 

One of its T-shirt designs features the image of General Sani Abacha but this one has a twist. "Common Corruption" is written in Gothic fonts under the picture of Sani Abacha. Now, this brings some context to the image.

Does still justify using Sani Abacha as pop culture iconography even when there is context? A lot of people would baulk at the idea. Abacha was bad and I really mean bad and Nigerians know this.

This scenario reminds me of the famous Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. His imagery has been used on countless T-shirts. Even JAY-Z once rocked a Guevara shirt. Wearing a Che Guevara shirt is seen as cool and rebellious but not in Cuba.


To Cubans, Che Guevara was a murder and a tyrant. Cubans don't wear Che Guevara shirts they have a proper context of what he stood for. To cool tourists, Guevara was nothing more than a rebel who stood up to America but to his own people, he was a dictator.

The tendency to glorify dark and edgy elements has always been there in pop culture. The problem with this, however, is that these dark and edgy elements are stained with the blood of innocent people.

Would you want to a wear a t-shirt that features an oppressor, dictator and human rights violator?

Faith Obadan Photo

Faith Obadan is a Associate at Meets Media, a digital journalist who reports on Pop Culture and some other section of our website.

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