Do you guys remember that inconspicuous fellow called Sani Abacha? Believe it or not, he was something of a key speech maker. I’ve found this golden nugget video of him making his first broadcast as Head of State in 1993. This is the night he overthrew Ernest Shonekan and took the top job himself. Video footage of this speech was rare back then. So watch and enjoy the wordsmith Abacha. Have a great weekend everyone.
An oldie but a goodie. As Babangida prepares for a political comeback and possible contesting of the 2011 presidential election, I have posted an updated link to the great documentary about the trial and death of Major-General Mamman Jiya Vatsa in 1986 for an alleged coup plot agaist General Babangida’s government in 1985. Great videos with interviews with Vatsa’s widow, children and the other convicts, and photos of Babangida acting as Vatsa’s Best Man during his wedding. Watch and learn….
Oil, Politics and Violence: “A Breath Taking Narrative….Mr. Siollun’s book must be considered something of a miracle”
Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) – “A Breath taking Narrative“
After a long hard slog, my book is finally available.
The book can be purchased from:
Oil, Politics and Violence is also available to read in e-book format, and on mobile devices such as iPad, tablets, Android, iPhone and even your internet browser. You can get the e-book from Google Play at:
“What is the book about?” I hear you say. Well, read on….
Review by Anote Ajeluorou – published in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper
Oil, Politics and Violence: Revisiting military adventurism into politics
Monday, 13 September 2010 00:00 By Anote Ajeluorou Art – Arts
MAX Siollun’s new book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966 – 1976), (Algora Publishing, New York; 2009) is a historical treatise on military adventurism in Nigerian politics as the infant nation took its first tottering steps shortly after independence. That intervention was to last almost forever, and at a staggering cost to the nation and its quest for democracy.
Himself a historian, Siollun takes his readers through a breath-taking narrative of the socio-political setting of 1960 to 1966, when the tables turned. The ouster of politicians who had behaved badly from power led to the enthronement of a military that was not prepared for the enormity and subtlety of political office. What was worse, the coup, which was led by the majors in the army, was perceived to be sectional because of those killed. Then there was a counter-coup that led to retaliatory killings of one section within the army. The Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu’s first coup had failed because of several factors. His was purely an idealistic coup to give the reign of leadership to Obafemi Awolowo, who was imprisoned at the time following the corruption of the Abubakar Balewa-led government. His colleagues in Lagos had failed to execute their own part of the coup as he had done in Kaduna leading to Major-General Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi rallying the army to squash the coup in Lagos.
Aguyi-Ironsi assumes the office of head of state to stem the breakdown of law and order. But a counter-coup stops him dead in his track following some controversial decrees he promulgated, and the sectional slant to the coup. Northern soldiers go on the offensive and target Igbo soldiers. It spirals into the streets and the consequent infamous pogroms of 1966 that led to the civil war. Siollun also looks at the next nine years following the end of the war and how the military badly fared.
In providing the festering climate for the political logjam that led to the fall of the first republic, Siollun writes, “Underestimating the win-at-all-costs mentality of the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA), the UPGA unwisely decided to bycott the elections on the ground that the NNA was planning to rig it… Due to the widespread electoral malpractices, President Azikiwe refused to call Balewa to form a new government following the elections. For several days, Nigeria teetered on the edge of an abyss as the President and the Prime Minister tried to scheme each other out of power”.
Events in the Wild Wild West did not help matters with Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola locked in their own political struggles to warrant the declaration of a state of emergency in the region. And then onto the coup that was to unsettle Nigeria for most of its political life.
“THE DEPTH OF RESEARCH….IS STUNNING”
Siollun’s Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is a well-researched book on Nigeria’s military experience. The book is unique in many ways. The depth of research into the events, activities, personalities involved in the planning, execution, who did what, how and its implication is stunning. The author meticulously accessed every record that needed to be accessed to bring to the reader a dense meal of military adventurism into the politics of the most populous black nation on earth.
Also, Siollun brings a measure of balance and accuracy that has eluded many a writer on the touchy subject to bear on his writing. A lot has been written on the subject but most of it with a given mindset to colour and taint the facts. Some writers on the subject have often contradicted themselves on points of facts and sequence of events or personalities involved. Siollun brings all these to bear on his writing as he harmonises them to create an authentic recreation of a critical period of Nigerian political history.
In a sense, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture resituates the horrendous adventurism of the military and places it starkly for what it was: a political aberration that should never have been! The ills the military set out to cure sooner came to haunt them as the military soon compromised itself, and performed a lot badly than those they deposed from power.
One point in favour of Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is its pace of narrative. Although, it’s a historical account of what most readers already know, yet it turns out a fascinating read on account of its detailed and accurate reconstruction of events. With the planning, shootouts and executions and murders on such a large scale, it tends to read like a thriller of sorts. This indeed is its strength.
Indeed, but for the horrendous killings of real life persons that accompanied the coups, and the tragic loss of lives during the civil war with the distortion of the polity, the coups as detailed by Siollun would whet the palate of lovers of thrillers with the dexterity of narrative he employs. The book is well worth a rereading for its cinematic affect!
Review by Kaye Whiteman
This first review of the book was very kindly written by Kaye Whiteman, whom many of you will recognise as the former Editor of the esteemed magazine ‘West Africa’. He is one of the leading writers on West Africa and has also written for the UK’s Guardian newspaper. This review was published in Business Day magazine.
Unpacking the Past
As we approach the great stock-taking of the fiftieth anniversary of Nigerian independence (which is going to be continuing all year), there is going to be a growing consideration of the history of these past fifty years. This is bound to include a re-examination of the coups and civil war of the 1960s. If this decade brought to a head the post-independence trauma of national identity, as a shakedown of the British-engineered independence settlement, it made a profound mark on subsequent decades.
There are so many aspects of Nigeria’s recent history that cannot be studied without reference to the 1960s – for example, the onset and collapse of the idea of military rule; or the effect on society, economy and political culture of the ‘curse of oil’, a central factor in the war for Nigerian unity. There was the phenomenon of the creation of states, initiated with the first twelve states of May 1967, mainstay of fiscal federalism, and the campaign for local resource control. Behind lay the scourge of corruption, and the electoral fraud whose worst manifestation in the Western Region led to the January 15 coup of 1966.
These thoughts arise from a book titled Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-76) by Max Siollun (published in New York this year by Algora publishing). For those interested in a detailed and objective study of these particularly sensitive moments, I cannot commend this book too highly.
For an old-timer like myself, who was partly around at the time, this book is a revelation. For this is a period which, for understandable reasons, has all too often been buried. After the books written by journalists at the time, and Professor Tamuno’s official history published in the 1980s, it has not been a subject that has been much written about, other than in a series of memoirs, or lately in novels such as Half of a Yellow Sun. This shows that the interest is there in unpacking the hidden legacy.
Siollun’s is not a full history of the crisis and the war, however. He restricts himself very much to the military, and although you cannot escape the politics, his self-imposed framework is sometimes a limitation. July 29 has to be seen in the context of the massacres in the North which lasted from May to October. Again, the important neutrality of Major General Welby-Everard in the 1964 federal elections (who now recalls that there was still a Brit commanding the Nigerian army at that time?) perhaps benefits from being seen in a more fully described political setting.
The author’s military priority does permit him, however, to go into his subject matter with a great depth of detail. He is also able to mobilise a spectacular range of sources, some of which your columnist was not aware of, and would love to have in his own collection of Nigeriana. There are tables of which officer was where and when, and many potted biographies, although only of members of the armed forces. Space does not permit exploring further subjects such as the “classmate syndrome” or the theory that January 15 was an “UPGA coup”, and there are odd little details from exceptional sources, like Welby-Everard’s eulogistic commendation of Brigadier Ogundipe.
In such an amazing mastery of detail, it is not surprising that there are the occasional minor errors – for example he says there was but one Igbo among the civil servants that took part in the July 29-31 negotiations in Ikeja barracks, but from his own list there are three. It may be that those that participated personally in these events will find more to quibble with – just as he already pinpoints some of the controversies that have been raised in the memoirs of the period that have emerged.
There are also mysteries that not surprisingly he is unable to solve, and myths that he cannot penetrate, although I would have liked him to have examined more thoroughly the legend that it was Captain Dickson (who does get a brief reference) who led the Middle Belt rank-and-file objection to Murtala as leader of the coup, and ended up as the self-styled airport commandant, carrying on for months before his final removal. Was it Dickson who indicated that power must go to Gowon, or else…? This is tantalising, because the author does describe the absolutely historic moment when Murtala abandoned his ambitions and suddenly says to Gowon “you are the senior, go ahead”, and is most instructive on the extent of secessionist sentiment among the far-northerners (although the raising of the flag of the north at Ikeja was Biafran myth-making).
Review Two – By Ohsee of Toronto, Canada.
In the West, considerations of truth and objectivity in history are seen in some quarters as marks of a lack of sophistication. In Nigeria, however, they are matters of life and death. People there die as a result of history forgot, of lessons not learned. Many people die.
Such questions loom large in Nigeria’s violent political history of the first two decades after independence. The most problematic have been, what really happened during the first two coups and the resultant civil war? It is here that Nigerians need to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because such reliable knowledge has proved useful in the past. But most Nigerian histories of those turbulent times, are often clouded by the malodorous presence of ethnic chauvinism and hatred of the Other, and the need for self-aggrandizement.
Many readers despaired of ever seeing an unbiased history from Nigerians themselves, and sought such objectivity from outsiders who often had little understanding of the subtleties of the Nigerian political milieu.
Thus Mr. Siollun’s book about the first four coups (1966-1976) must be considered something of a miracle. Unlike prior writers on the topic from that country, the Nigerian-born historian successfully checked at the door the ethnic biases he surely must have, in order to combine the dispassionate objectivity of the outsider with the nuanced knowledge of the insider. The result is a truly insightful book that is highly accessible to the general reader. The book also has enough new information to serve as a starting point for future investigators who wish to tackle some of the issues in greater detail.
Mr Siollun, whose essays about the first two coups are familiar to those who visit Nigerian websites, has tackled the four coups sequentially, and shown how they are related in terms of personnel involved and lessons to be learned. For instance, some of the participants in the second coup—such as Babangida, Abacha, Yaradua, and Buhari—dominated Nigerian coup-making culture for thirty years. Mr. Siollun shows how failing to punish murderous putschists can and did come back to bite coup beneficiaries in the arse, since “unpunished coup plotters will re-offend. The coup plotters behind Nigeria’s military regimes were repeat offenders—often with fatal consequences for themselves. They were men who lived life on the edge, snacked on danger and dined on death. For them, coup plotting was in the blood.”
Mr. Siollun’s summary of the pre-coup political situation is concise and lucid, and looks at the events in new ways. For instance, most people probably do not see the Nzeogwu coup as the second attempt at overthrowing the Balewa government by force. While many followers of Nigerian history may know that Awolowo—leader of the Action Group, one of the opposition parties in the First Republic—was jailed for treason in 1964, few are aware that it was not a trumped up charge, and that three decades later, Action Group General Secretary, S.G. Ikoku, confirmed that there was a genuine AG plot to topple the federal government.
Mr. Siollun is at his strongest where he skillfully cuts away the myths that have grown weed-like around the more controversial of those 1966 events. One of the more pernicious of these is the lie that the January 15 1966 coup was an effort at Igbo domination organized by the Igbos. Mr. Siollun demonstrates that there is a very strong case for seeing January 15 as an UPGA (United Progressive Grand Alliance) coup, or in other words, a second attempt by the South or southern political parties to wrest power from the North. By examining the national character of the Igbos, and the stereotypes that grew around their business activities, he carefully shows us the historical process via which the Igbos became the national scapegoat; we see how one section of the country practiced what he calls “transferred malice,” where the Igbos were singled out for punishment during troubles in which they only played a bit part.
In this absorbing and fascinating work, there is a good deal of new and startling information: who knew that in private moments, the genial Ironsi, the first military ruler, liked to refer jokingly to his fellow Igbos by the pejorative Northern term “Nyamiri?” We learn of the enormous family pressures on Northern officers and men after January 15 demanding vengeance for the Northern officers killed. The blood relationships between Northern People’s Congress (NPC) politicians, and some of the July 1966 plotters are revealed—Inua Wada, defence minister in the Balewa government during the First Republic, was Murtala Muhammed’s cousin, for example. We begin to understand the Machiavellian Ibrahim Babangida—military president from 1985 to 1993—better when we find out his closest friends were among the Dimka coup plotters of Feb 1976, a coup in which those very friends marked him for liquidation. We learn that Gen. Obasanjo wept when the poisonous chalice of leadership would not pass him by. Such brief character and biographical sketches of principal players inject life into the narrative, and make the historical protagonists more than just names on a paper.
The book of course has its flaws, some quite minor and perhaps fixable in later editions. The footnoting seems somewhat haphazard and sparse. To some, this may be considered a benefit, but it could be frustrating to the reader or researcher who wants to learn more by exploring sources. And one of the more vexatious things is that the footnoting, like Carlyle’s History, “is silent where you most wish her to speak.”
More egregious are the omissions and failures to explore some controversial areas. We do not know the extent of Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi’s involvement in January 15 even though Mr. Siollun was involved a few years back in a debate about it with someone on the Internet who went by the moniker “Arthur Unegbe”. Perhaps there is nothing to know or find out, but Mr. Siollun’s complete silence—no discussion of rumours, or analysis of possibilities—is troubling. Also surely we could learn from a brief exploration of the contradictions in the public statements of Gowon’s apologists and the actions of the man that suggest some foreknowledge of the July horrors? However, in light of the importance and intelligence of this work, it would be churlish to carp about these matters.
I admit to being skeptical before reading this work, expecting the typical tendentious and ethnically jaundiced approach that colours most Nigerian commentaries on the coups of 1966. What Mr. Siollun has given us rather is a deft, measured, and just examination of those tragic events, all done in very accessible prose. All Nigerians owe him a debt of gratitude. I wish I could find a way to get a copy into the hands of every educated Nigerian.
The book can be purchased from:
Review Three:by Australia’s Former High Commissioner to Nigeria During the 1966-1967 Crisis
This book, by an industrious, questing and objective historian, brings together the most comprehensive and authentic documentation on the Nigerian coup and counter coup of 1966 and the Biafran War that I have ever seen.
The author does not “make a case” for anyone. Rather he sets out the evidence, gives a variety of parties their say and, by and large, then leaves you to make a judgement on the very best evidence available.
I do not think that any of us can responsibly write about the Biafran War and the steps leading up to it unless they have first read and thoroughly digested Max Siollun’s book. I say this against the background that I was Australian High Commissioner in Nigeria at the relevant time and I knew the principal players personally.
In early October 1966, I embarked on a Mission to Enugu to talk to Ojukwu – with General Gowon’s blessing – in an effort to find a negotiated resolution of Nigeria’s deep constitutional, political, racial and tribal problems. Above all, I wanted to avoid the brutal and bloody conflict that, in the event, became known as the Biafran War. In the wake of my meeting with Ojukwu, agreement was reached between Ojukwu and the Federal Nigerian Government at a meeting in Aburi in Ghana in January 1967. However, the agreement fell to pieces shortly afterwards and the first shots in the Biafran War followed within a couple of months or so.
With this background, I can responsibly and, I think, reliably assess the authenticity of what Siollun has to say and recommend his outstanding book to those who want to know, understand and be familiar with Nigerian history of that troubled period.
Review Four: by Iwedi Ojinmah for Nigerian Village Square
Once in while there comes a book that makes us either sit up straight or reflect on our lives… past and present. It is even more appreciated and of importance when such a book is a serious one and about a subject matter, that even 4 decades after it engulfed Nigeria in arguably Africa’s most vicious war pitching suspicious cousin against each other , it is still rife with so much controvesy and emotional debate that one can seriously question if true National reconcilation has not remained deferred.
Max Siollun, has produced such a wonder in Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) Algora Pub Hardcover : $33.95 Softcover $23.95
Right out the gates the English born Nigerian but US based Professor, separates himself from the rest of the pack of historians that have feebly tackled early Nigerian Politics with his pronounced objectivity and absolutely impeccable research. In a detailed chronological sequence of events he locks the door on many a propagated myth and exposes among others how for instance the Igbo’s became political scapegoats not by choice but by default. He also amazingly shows how for the better part of 3 decades it was pretty much “old wine in new bottles” as the same vagabonds in power continued -just like some morbid spoke of a wheel- to keep in place Nigeria’s wobbly and corrupt coup culture.
Each of the 268 pages is saturated with such intricate fact that you often have to pinch yourself back into reality to realize again that all this stuff really did occur, and is not the draft of an up till now unknown Shakespearean tragedy. The man really names names and one has to virtually munch on a mint to supress the subsequent but delicious bite.
Things Fell Apart and Have Never Been the Same Since
However while his book will serve hopefully as salve on the deep festering wound inflicted on Nigeria, it does not address the more dangerous and ever present infection that lingers on still robbing her of her full potential; because it summates just ten years out of almost 45 years. Since there is an undeniable thread linking the past to the present and vice versa ; we salivate at the possibility……NO I take that back …..“ we implore” the absolute need of a part 2 that will continue to explore the murky dysfunctional rot that is Nigerian Politics. The story after 1976 must also be examined with as equal objectivity and openness and till then we will remain hungry at the table like guests denied of a spectacular entrée after being treaded to array of amazing o’dourves….pounding our forks and just like Twist – asking for more.
The book can be purchased from:
A very interesting story. Will this apply to ALL convicted coup plotters in Nigeria’s history? If this is true, then this will wipe the slate clean for ex-convicted coup plotters like Vatsa, Orkar and Bissalla. I wonder how those plotted against will feel about this? e.g. IBB, the family of Murtala Muhammed etc.
UPDATE: What is being proposed is actually a more watered down amnesty applying only to the 1995 an 1997 coups against Abacha. http://www.sunnewsonline.com/webpages/news/national/2009/june/25/national-25-06-2009-01.htm
- Yar’Adua may pardon coup plotters on Thursday
Submitted by admin on Wed, 06/24/2009 – 21:37
From: Source: http://zumarockreports.com/node/79
There are strong indications that President Umaru Yar’Adua will on Thursday exercise his constitutional prerogative of mercy when he announces the state pardon for all those who had committed acts of treason against the Nigerian state and had been convicted for coup plotting.
Most prominent among those who will receive the state pardon is dismissed Lieutenant General Oladipo Diya who was arrested in December 1997 alongside other generals and put on trial for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime of General Sani Abacha in which administration he had served as the second in command.
Diya who had been in detention at the Jos Prison at the sudden death of General Abacha on June 8 1998 was set free alongside other high profile accused felons by the intervening government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, but had never been pardoned. The short-lived Abubakar regime also released all those who had implicated in 1995 along with Obasanjo and were serving different terms of imprisonment in different prisons across the country.
Notably, the only person in Nigeria who had been pardoned for plotting a coup in the history of country was General Olusegun Obasanjo who was implicated in an abortive coup of 1995, arrested, tried and jailed for life but later had his term commuted to 25 years. He was at the Yola Prisons when Abacha died.
The special pardon which he received in 1998 was to enable him contest for the presidential election of 1999. He, however, failed to pardon those who were convicted and jailed along with him all through his eight years in office.
Zumarockreports.com reliably learnt that the wholesale pardon that would be extended to all those who had been found guilty of coup making was being made as part of the amnesty exercise for the Niger Delta militants which President Yar’Adua is expected to announce and bring into effect on the same Thursday.
It was also learnt that the pardon to be granted to coup plotters is in reaction to what our correspondent learnt is the complaint among the military high command that the activities of militants are tantamount to waging wars against the state of Nigeria and were said to have argued that they should be treated more severely than coup plotters.
Observers, therefore, believe that the government is extending the amnesty to former coup plotters at the same time as the militants, in the recognition of the spirit de corps feeling of the military.
This is an interesting series of interviews. The first one is with Major Abubakar Adamu Mohammed, former Chief Security Officer to former President, General Ibrahim Babangida. The second one is a rebuttal interview with Lt-Col Tony Nyiam, one of the surviving executors of the Orkar coup. Intrigues…read on…
From the Sun.
Why Orkar coup failed
From Dennis Mernyi, Abuja
Monday, May 11, 2009
Photo: Sun News Publishing
Major Abubakar Adamu Mohammed, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to erstwhile military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, has given an insight into why the bloody Orkar coup of April 1990 failed.
Major Mohammed in an exclusive interview with Daily Sun in Abuja on the coup, which almost terminated the Babangida regime cited confusion among the coup leaders, Major Gideon Orkar and Lt Col. Tony Nyiam over the killing of the Aide-de-camp (ADC) of the president, Lt Col. U.K. Bello, as one of the flaws, which caused the plotters’ failure.
“Orkar was pretty close to ADC’s wife. When she saw him (Orkar) because she told me later that she was in a good hand. He (Orkar) was there before the coup started and I went out and came back and he was taking her along to FRCN and they saw a dead body. So, he (Orkar) asked Col. Nyiam, who is this person you killed. Col. Nyiam said ‘that is the ADC to General Babangida, UK Bello’.
“He (Orkar) said why should you kill him because Col. Nyiam did not know Zainab. UK Bello’s wife was standing there and she knelt down and started begging. He (Orkar) said no; nothing will happen to you. So, there was a kind of misunderstanding there because deep down in his (Orkar’s) heart, ADC was not meant to be killed. They were only aiming at destroying the regime.
“There was confusion between Orkar and Nyiam when UK Bello’s wife broke down in tears and begged them not to kill her. And I think that was partially what caused the failure of the coup,” he explained.
Abubakar said the coup was also put down easily because the coup plotters used those he described as inexperienced soldiers, most of whom had just left the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and recruitment depots.
He disclosed that Gen. Babangida’s nonchalance to advice on sensitive security issues, coupled with the late Lt. Col. UK Bello’s confidence in his course mate, Major Gideon Orkar, caused the lapses that enabled the coup plotters to gain access to Dodan Barracks.
Abubakar also spoke about the Vatsa coup from the benefit of a soldier who arrested the late FCT Minister and noted that the coup was real and borne out of envy.
He also said Babangida knew his friend and late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, would succeed him two years before he stepped aside.
Speaking on Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the CSO to the late Gen Abacha, Major Mohammed said the security chief would not have been in the mess if he had not defied his (Mohammed’s) warning.
Major Al-Mustapha is currently in prison custody in Lagos for his alleged complicity in the murder of some prominent Nigerians during the era of the late General Abacha.
He said an innocuous advice he gave to the aides of the late Head of State which he said was based on his knowledge of their boss, was jettisoned but that General Sani Abacha confirmed his fears when he arrived to assume duty as Head of State.
“And that was the period I was able to see the way Hamza (Al-Mustapha was almost teleguiding everybody. Then, I called him and cautioned him to be careful. I said you are too wild. I have seen where Generals were kneeling down to beg for appointments but in the end, they will nail you.
“He was surprised and looked at me. He said this is a new time and I said no problem and that was the last time I saw him,” he said.
Excerpts of the interview:
You might have been very close to IBB. But many people used to hold divergent views on the IBB as a person. As his former CSO, can you tell us the IBB you know?
Well, from my observation and from what I have seen in him, he is someone that reaches out to even his enemies, with open heart and open mind but most Nigerians believe that even if he comes with an open mind and heart, he is still the IBB they called Maradonna. That name was given to him, from my understanding, by someone who tried to get him, but couldn’t get to him but was always getting to the ADCs and he gave him that name and the name sticks. But the fact remains that you can’t compare him with any other president in this country. He has thick skin to welcome insults, because I remember one time, he was insulted on pages of newspapers when he was the president and commander-in-chief.
This took place before we moved to Abuja.. He was to give a lecture and when he saw the same person, he was telling him that there were certain points you did not tell Nigerians about me and everybody laughed including the same person. The guy knew that this is not somebody I should insult, somebody who should be hard on him but he still welcomes him in public. I have never seen him getting annoyed and that is why I am always afraid, when he gets annoyed, it will be too hard and the God Almighty will be guiding him not to be annoyed with his enemies because I cannot stand what he can stand.
For the period you served him as the CSO, was there any time he really grew angry with anyone, at least, in your presence and what was the cause?
That was only once and that happened to one of you. Muhammed Haruna, I don’t know whether you know him. He was one-time MD New Nigerian Newspaper. He wrote an article insulting IBB’s wife and the same guy came into the house in the evening, and I remember I heard IBB saying you are like a junior brother of mine, how dare you go and write what you don’t know about. You could see the annoyance in him and I said I think we can deal with him. I remember I asked one of my boys close to me to take him to the reception and that I will deal with him later. I think he (IBB) saw him (Haruna) immediately we came out of Maghrib prayers, before he even entered. He said Abubakar (because that is how he (IBB) used to call me), he said don’t do any harm to him. I said yes sir’, I am only going to have a chat with him. When I came out, I knew he has warned him, I said Oga, next time, please know what you write, have a nice time sir. And that was the only time I believe I saw him really annoyed because you can see from his voice and eyes and his staring at Haruna’s eyes. That really told me that man had annoyed the president.
But did you ask him about his mission to the house after he had even done the report?
I did, but I don’t need to tell the world. He was not even redeployed. He went there as a normal person, and he continues coming until today. Anytime he wants to see the General, he moves into the house. IBB gets annoyed and he forgets easily. That is how some people were built.
As the CSO, you must be aware of some of the extra judicial killings during IBB’s tenure, like murder of Dele Giwa that was linked to him and some others.
I cannot comment on this but the little I know is that Dele Giwa hardly even talked about IBB. But I think Dele Giwa had his own problems. It is just unfortunate that IBB was the president and the Commander in Chief. It is just like when you talk about the assassination of Bola Ige. Some people can easily jump and say it was Obasanjo possibly who masterminded it. But the question is in every society, when there is something that has to do with the Press, they will always go back to the principal who was then the Head of State and there was this rumour about who killed Dele Giwa. On what ground? Dele Giwa should have known what he had done. And here they were talking of a letter bomb. At that time, how many intelligence officers can handle letter bomb?
That is the question. When Dele Giwa’s issue came, I think being the head of State and being the belief of Nigerians that it was a military regime, and then it could always be blamed on whoever was the head of state. But I am glad if you have been going through the court hearings, there was a Major General Togun (retired). I think he cleared almost all about the controversies surrounding the issue. The question is Nigerians are not ready to believe any explanation on this matter. Nigerians just want to hear that something bad happened to a leader. That is why till the end of the world, others will blame Dele Giwa’s death on Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. The only death I can tell you happened was the execution of those coup plotters which is in the military gazette. Once you attempt to topple a regime and you fail and the same regime is able to get hold of you, the answer is execution.
You mean there were no indiscriminate killings during IBB’s regime, to your knowledge as the CSO or you never went after his perceived enemies… (Cuts in)
If there was any, tell me. Even if there was any, definitely not to my knowledge because I cannot hear such thing and keep quiet, I must find a way of letting him know through someone. There are certain things I don’t need to go and tell him. I tell someone that can tell him because the gap between him and I was too much.
You did not authorize any torture of someone that resulted to death?
I have mentioned it to you that the highest I have gone was to tell the next officer that, please take Muhammed Haruna to the reception on C-in-C’s directive. But before he moved on, what he (IBB) said was that he should not be manhandled, you can ask him this.
Now, where were you during Major Gideon Orkar’s coup, as a CSO because we did not hear much of you, rather it was Lt. Col. Bello who became a hero at the end of the coup, where were you during this strike?
Lt. Col. Bello was my immediate boss and at that time I was second in command during Orkar coup but what I saw in Orkar, he was so trusted by Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. He trusted him to the extent that Orkar could come into that house without being questioned by anybody. He can walk straight to the ADC’s office, sit and chat and ADC will tell him to go and see the president in his office. He sent him on a course abroad, when he came; Orkar was an armored officer, General Babangida is also an armored officer, when Orkar came back, he came back with a model armored tank and then he gave it to ADC and luckily enough, I went into the office because Col. U.K. Bello and I were very close even before I joined the military. I picked it up and I said oga what is this, he said it was Orkar who brought it to the General. The same U.K took it up and I followed him, so, when he gave it to the General, the General placed it on his table in his own office to show you the love he had for Orkar. When he placed it, I asked my immediate boss, U.K. Bello, I said how long is it going to be here sir. He said, what concerns you? I said no sir, this could be a bugging device. Why should we leave it here, then the General looked and said ‘he is my boy’. Some two weeks before the coup, I discovered that there was some erratic behaviour. I only had a pistol and all my boys were trained on anti-tank. I told UK Bello, you have collected the key to the gate through the FRCN and given it to oga, what about if these people just turned against us sir. What are we going to do? UK and Orkar, I think were course mates. He used to come into the house and play draught, based on the love I have seen in him, you dare not challenge your senior against someone that is close to him. Actually, U.K. respects me and my feelings, I said no, no sir, it is not the best. He said no, forget about the key. Somehow, we have some armored tanks about three deployed in the house, all commanded by the same Orkar, his boys are all inside, they sleep with us. What happened along the line, during fasting period, he came in and out, and the next thing, the former IG, Gambo Jimta came to see the president and left and I was second in command, I left for my house, only for the late General Hassan Usman Katsina from Kaduna to wake me up and say something is happening in Dodan Barracks. I could not come with my car. I parked my car along the road and I trekked. The gates were all over but you could hear some shouting and shootings around the ADC’s office. I know we have bunkers, I went into the bunkers and met two of my boys and I sat with them, and I made telephone call to the president and he asked me, what are you doing there? I said I came in late and somehow the gates and everything were opened. He said did you hear they have killed my ADC? I said no sir. So, Orkar was pretty close to ADC’s wife. When she saw him (Orkar), because she told me later she was in a good hand. He was there before the coup started and I went out and came back and he was taking her along to the FRCN and they saw a dead body, so, he asked Col. Nyiam, who is this person you killed. Col. Nyiam said that was the ADC to Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. He said U.K. Bello. He said why should you kill him because Col. Nyiam did not know Zainab, U.K. Bello’s wife was standing there and she knelt down and started begging. He said no, nothing will happen to you. So, there was a kind of misunderstanding there because deep down in his (Orkar’s) heart, the ADC was not meant to be killed. They were only aiming at destroying the regime. There was confusion between Orkar and Nyiam when U.K Bello’s wife broke down in tears and begged them not to kill her. And I think that was partially what caused the failure of the coup. They ran into the bush along Ikoyi cemetery and that was the end of the coup. They used inexperienced soldiers. Most them were just leaving NDA and recruitment depots. But today Col. Nyiam is a hero in this country. He killed U.K. Bello in cold blood. Today, he comes into the PDP trying to think he was one of the persons that brought in democracy.
This means you were not around to avert the coup or to be in charge as the CSO at the time the coup was staged? You only came in when the damage to the house had been done. Could this mean you were not in total control of the security of your boss IBB at a time? This is more so as there were rumours that sometime IBB was in Ilorin and it was reported that his ring got missing in the crowd.
Well, if I tell you I am hearing this for the first time from you, you may not believe. May be it is one of you guys that actually mentioned this and it became a story. But I am not aware of it, honestly speaking. But it is pretty difficult for a ring to be off a hand without you possibly knowing unless if one is unconscious. But I don’t think that is true anyway.
Still talking about coup, can you still remember the incidents of the night before Mamman Vasta’s execution? How was the feeling of your boss as his friend was about to be executed?
I can, but there is no need for me to go back to it. I think I have said it in one of my interviews. He planned to stage a coup. He was an officer and a gentleman but let me be honest with you, he did not deny it and from my understanding, there was a kind of envy, that is just all I can see. I happened to be one of those that got him arrested and where we kept him and even when he was trying to escape, I had to remind him, I said, you once told me you were an officer, he said yes, and I said, you said you were better off than IBB at school in Bida, why are you trying to escape now? Do you now believe that he is better than you? He is gone. May his soul rest in peace.
During Abacha regime, the name Major Al-Mustapha was a household name, but many people did not know you as the CSO then.
If you remember, when I was talking to you, when I saw my boss was annoyed and I gave an order that somebody should be kept in the VIP, he called me immediately, he said he should not be molested. So, from what I have observed from our own regime and that of Abacha, was that during IBB’s, regime, there were checks and balances. And these came directly from the top. But from what I have observed when I was arrested up till the time I was released after about nine months or one year, I discovered that somebody gave the orders, not General Abacha because a few days after I was released, he called me, I don’t know how he got my number and said you know what politics is, we all have to forgive one another, I said sir, I will never hold you responsible for this because I know who the enemies are. I still respect him. May his soul rest in peace. Al-mustapha was given a free hand to possibly do what he wants and to stop what he wanted to stop.
Could it be that you were not given enough powers to operate or the office, then during Abacha era Al-Mustapha got more powers?
Definitely, his boss might have given him that power or as a result of his boss’s quietness, you know Abacha was not the speaking type. For you to see the late General, and if you cannot see him possibly you would tell who sees him regularly, and who was that, it was either the State Chief of Protocol or Chief Security Officer or the ADC. So, they could tell him what they wanted and not possibly what he wanted. I may be wrong but what I observed was that Hamza Al- Mustapha has almost all the powers within him because he does the work of the NIA, SSS, DMI and all along. He was not checked. I stand to be corrected but I can see that is what really led him to do what he really wanted. Why am I saying this? I was arrested by a Brigadier General, I think when Abacha was barely three days in power and from the telephone conversation, 090 network then. The General that came to arrest me was not talking to Abacha. He was talking to Al-Mustapha and I looked at the General and I said don’t forget sir, the same person you are speaking with is my junior and I would never live in this world to be taking directive as a General from a major or from a captain and since you have taken this, sir, do whatever you want with me. Surprisingly, I was flown to Lagos and I was taken to another General’s office. That same general called the same guy. I looked at the General and I said sir, when did Generals start taking orders from their juniors?
You had served as CSO before Major Al-Mustapha, was there any time you cautioned or advised him against the excesses of his powers?
To be precise, on the 20th of November, 1993, Abacha flew back to Abuja and if you remember, he took over on the 17th of November 1993. Then ADC, Gen. Bamali, the PSO to Gen Babangida, Gen. Abubakar, were standing, when they came, I tactically told the ADC who said we should open the office of Gen. Babangida that you don’t seem to know Abacha. He would not climb upstairs. He said don’t tell me what I know and what I don’t know. And when Abacha came, the ADC said sir, the president’s office is open. He said no, I am not going in there. I will sit in the waiting room. And that was the period I was able to see the way Hamza was almost teleguiding everybody. I called him and cautioned him to be careful. I said you are too wild; I have seen where Generals were kneeling down to beg for appointments but in the end, they will nail you. He was surprised and looked at me. He said this is a new time and I said no problem and that was the last time I saw him. But I tell you, now that I am highly disappointed about the way he is being treated. It is disheartening.
Can we say that if he heeded your warnings and advice, he would not have been in jail up till this moment?
No, being in jail, I see it as political. His actions to me at that time did not bother me that much because I know he will get tired with sycophants and lobbyists who will come to tell him heaven and earth will come down if so, so things should happen. But his intention was what disturbed me because if people like Harry Marshal, Dikibo, Bola Ige were assassinated in this nation and the culprits were arrested and let loose, moving freely on the streets, you should know that there is every dishonesty, misunderstanding, misinformation about possibly how that lady or the attempted assassination of Ibru was all stage-managed by the last regime because when we were in detention, those who were giving the orders to move Obasanjo, Shehu Yar’Adua or Lawal Gwadabe were all coming to tell those being detained that it was so, so that gave the order.
Is his long stay in detention not justifiable, given his alleged involvement in several killings during his time as the CSO to Abacha?
No, he doesn’t deserve to be held in prison. Like I said earlier, he has commandeered most of the security intelligence of this nation, all alone. They could plan a lot of things that is now leading him to spend so many years in jail. It is not fair. If you look at what is happening in the Western world today, the so-called Guantanamo, with the new changes in the regime, they even said those who were detained should be set free. If you look at what happened, he was not in Lagos when the assassination was carried out. That is why I said earlier, it is political but the Nigerian government should have to look inward because, you can imagine if it is any of their sons or daughters that is in that same situation. They could have let go since. Today, there is no single person that is being detained for the assassination of Bola Ige. Check the Nigerian prison. You will never find someone being connected with the assassination of Harry Marshal or Dikibo or Bola Ige. There are lots like that. Why? Is it because the godfather has gone? The current regime led by President Musa Yar’Adua should look into that.
In the military hierarchy, the CSO is supposed to be answerable to the ADC, but in the era of Abacha regime, Major Almustapha and his office swallowed that of the ADC. What reasons could you adduce were responsible to this?
If you are not in the military, you might not understand. Being with the general for so long does not make you more powerful than the other person. But I think it depends on the discipline of the officer because if you disrespect your immediate boss, then you will all have a problem. Let me tell you one thing, when we moved to Abuja, the late Gen. Bamali and I never agreed but the boys who worked under us, even though I worked under him could not understand the situation. When I retired, he remained in the military. I don’t want to go into details. We remained like that because I am still loyal to him. I can be loyal at the same time disloyal. Loyal in the sense that I can come and tell you what is happening. If you refuse to understand my own way of thinking, then I will go and do it my way. Al-Mustapha and I never agreed with each other. Throughout the time I took over as the CSO to President Babangida, Al-Mustapha never entered my office because I knew who his boss was.
Who was his boss?
His boss was the late Gen Abacha.
Did you have that kind of relationship with IBB before he made you CSO?
Yes. I was the CSO, like second in command to Lt. Col. UK Bello when he was the Chief of Army Staff in Ministry of Defence. But then, he was a Major when I was a Captain. I worked in the Army Headquarters, Provost Battalion but I was deployed under IBB when he was Chief of Army Staff. He didn’t see me but he saw my boss only but anytime he was going home, he waited and we talked.
How often did you meet to brief, him on security issues, or how much did he take you into confidence?
No, No. I always briefed the ADC or the NSA. We were to go to Saro-Wiwa’s town, the information I heard from those who were there earlier was that it is likely they are going to throw stones at us. I could not look at my boss and tell him that. So, I went to the Director-General of State Security Service. When he told him he said we must go and we did. They threw stones at us but he ordered us not to shoot and that was how we passed.
Did you ever ride in the car with him?
Yes. I always do unless I am sick and I have never been sick in my life but anytime he is going out when I was the CSO, I was always in the car with him. I know him, you cannot tell me anything against him and I will keep quiet because I will always tell you certain things.
How long did you serve in the military?
I served the military for 18 years and 20 days and that is the best profession I have ever known in my life.
When were you actually retired and in what circumstance?
As a matter of fact, I was not retired alone. Sisteen of us were retired and that time Abacha was barely one week old. Why I was pretty annoyed with the retirement, I was only told about my retirement. My retirement letter only came to me when Abdulsalami Abubakar was head of State, about five years after my retirement was announced. I was not given official letter. When I wanted to go to NDA, I saw my name in New Nigerian. I went for the interview. They said my name was published under Kano State and when I was to be commissioned, there was appointment letter of commission that was given to me by President Shagari. So, how can I be thrown out by somebody I least expected and being one of the persons I least expected to tag us 16 officers as IBB boys. Some people were behind this.
And did you find out who they were?
Yes, I did, only three boys. Let me leave it that way and they are still living. One of them apologized for misunderstanding me. All those who put down my name did not know me at all.
So what did you think were those reasons for your early retirement?
Just because I served IBB and I did it with open eye not with blind loyalty and they went against me
Do you think they were afraid you may go against Abacha?
No, I had gone against Abacha before he became the president. He knew. The NSA knew and the President too knew. I don’t need to go to details of the reasons.
Was your boss aware of this?
Yes, but whenever we told him he waived it. He knew two years before he stepped aside, that Abacha was coming but he always waived it. He always disarmed him verbally. He moved towards his enemy.
And you his boys were not happy that the man you suspected had been accepted by your boss then?
Immediately he took over, I knew I was gone from the military
Did you blame your boss for not taking your advice?
I could not because if not for the little information we do pass to him, possibly IBB and I and few others could have been dead long time ago. We don’t need to go into that.
Any regret putting in all your life serving him?
No regret. Not at all.
Your boss is still alive. How much did he acknowledge your loyalty, in other words, did you get any compensation from him.
I don’t need any, the compensation I have is that he still welcomes me into his house. We are in Abuja and I did not come to Abuja to beg and you saw my position yesterday and that is enough to tell you that this one is only retired in the military because I am not a weak person.
As one of the IBB boys, were you also told how deadly powerful your principle was and how his regime was?
When you say deadly, I am confused whether I have killed or attempted to kill people. I move freely. I don’t go to where I need not to be and wherever I am going I always tell someone. There is no iota of regret from serving that General and I still believe most people that worked under him, somehow, he changed their lives. Some Generals were retired by IBB, like Governor of Plateau, Gov. Jang. Does he want to remain in military. He possibly could have gone by the way. I know some guys who came inexperienced and dived into blind loyalty, today they are not in this country. One of them is Nuhu Ribadu. He served Obasanjo with his eyes closed and the second was El-Rufai. They served Obasanjo with their eyes closed. The same situation they are in, the same Obasanjo cannot save them because they didn’t know who they were working with.
TONY NYIAM’S REBUTTAL
•IBB’s ADC, UK Bello, pretended to be with us and was killed in crossfire — Col. Nyiam replies Major Mohammed on Orkar coup
By EMERSON GOBERT, JR.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Col. Tony Nyiam
Photo: Sun News Publishing
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Though he maintained a philosophical stoicism expected of a disciplined military officer, it was apparent recently that fiery Col. Tony Nyiam, the most senior officer involved in the April 1990 military coup against the government of General Ibrahim Babangida, was furious.
What provoked his spirit this time is what he saw as calculated plots to distort facts on the Major Gideon Orkar coup.
Major Abubakar Mohammed, who said he was Gen. Babangida’s Chief Security Officer (CSO), recently spoke on why the Orkar coup failed. Among the reasons he gave were that Col. Nyiam and Major Orkar, the coup leaders, disagreed on the killing of Col. U.K. Bello, Aide-de-camp to Gen. Babangida, which Abubakar alleged was carried out by Col. Nyiam. Also, the CSO said that Nyiam used inexperienced soldiers to execute the coup.
Reacting to these, Nyiam did not only shoot down Abubakar’s allegations, he even questioned his identity and competence as a CSO to Gen. Babangida.
“I find it ridiculous that a so-called Chief Security Officer could misrepresent the facts of the matter and indeed, if he was a CSO, as he claims, why was he not at his duty post at that critical moment? What is his knowledge of the standard operational procedure of a military officer in such a strategic security position? Why did he Abubakar Mohammed not get into action in time?,” Nyiam fumed.
Nyiam used the opportunity to reveal, for the first time, some secret details of that bloody coup, the specific assignments of the participants, how UK Bello was killed and why the Orkar coup failed.
It’s a Saturday Sun hot exclusive.
In a recent interview, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to ex-military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, Major Abubakar Mohammed, touted reasons the Major Gideon Orkar coup of April 1990, which you were the most senior officer involved failed. He said confusion between you and Major Orkar over the killing of Gen. Babangida’s Aide-de-camp (ADC), Lt. Col. U.K. Bello, was one of the flaws, which caused your collective failure.
He said that Orkar did not want Bello killed. How do you react to this?
Thank you for this opportunity and I thank The Sun for giving me a chance to respond to an interview that was done through The Sun. Before I start, let me just make a brief remark. Major Abubakar’s interview, in his reliance on concoction and wanton misrepresentation of event, is reminiscent of that given not too long ago by a dubious 419-nish character through a national paper. This self-styled ex-soldier claimed, in a wicked attempt to malign Major Orkar’s name and reputation, that the late officer and gentleman was a regular visitor to a hemp-smoking den in Ilorin. This is patently false. Even more revealing of the man’s utter unreliability to his claim to be close to Major Orkar’s family as a friend and yet did not know the ethnic group of the late Major’s wife. I find myself compelled to speak again and again in defence of our dear patriots’ memory in order that these various falsehood are not perceived as truth.
As to the specific response to your question, it is completely false. I did not wish my friend and course mate, Col. U.K. Bello,(may him soul rest in peace), dead. Such a disagreement with Major Gideon Orkar wouldn’t have and did not happen. Major Orkar’s area of operational responsibility (AOR), both in the plans and the execution of the plan of action was not FRCN or Dodan Barracks sector. He was not at all in Ikoyi. He was instead operating in Bonny Camp, Victoria Island. That is the second lie. The third lie: Some may have thought Major Gideon Orkar was in the FRCN on that night because of the broadcast. The broadcast was pre-recorded and Orkar was not there in person. Orkar’s operational area was in Bonny Camp; so Orkar could never have been there.
Just to show you the fourth lie, Orkar is not U.K. Bello’s mate at all. I am U. K. Bello’s mate. We are course mates in the 9th Regular Combatant Course of Nigerian Defence Academy. We went into the NDA in 1971 to 1973. Orkar came in almost a year and a half or two after us. The first lie that Orkar was close and was taking U.K. Bello’s wife to FRCN for his broadcast sounds ridiculous. To start with, the timing of the action; broadcast started long before U.K. was even woken from sleep and misled into the action, which had already been joined almost two hours after U.K. Bello was woken up from sleep and sent into operation by his boss, Gen. Babangida.
What is sad is that Gen. Babangida shouldn’t have misled U.K. Bello to go into an already charged war situation because he had already sent his scout, who had come and seen how overwhelming our force was. So, to have sent U.K. Bello to come into such operation and he ran away is the problem.
As to the lie that I killed U.K. Bello, far from it. U.K. Bello, as I’ve said over and over, came into a charged situation; he came in and purported to be part of us and in the crossfire, he was shot. I never shot a pistol or any gun on that night.
Mohammed claimed that U.K. Bello’s confidence in Orkar, who you have said was not his course mate, caused the lapses that enabled you people to gain access to Dodan Barracks. How true is this?
First of all, all are completely false. To start with, he gave the impression in that interview that Major Orkar was serving in Lagos. Orkar was actually serving in Shaki. He was commanding the Armoured Battalion. Babangida knows that. Everybody knows that he was commanding a unit outside Lagos. He was not based in Lagos and this is why I find it ridiculous that a so-called Chief Security Officer, because I don’t believe he was, could misrepresent the facts of the matter. Indeed, if he was a CSO, as he claims, why was he not at his duty post at that critical moment? Two: What is his knowledge of the standard operational procedure of a military officer in such a strategic security position? Three: Why did the Abubakar Mohammed not get into action in time? It seems to me that here was a serious dereliction of duty; that he was nowhere to be found when his presence was most required.
The way the chap has relayed the whole information does not tally because, first of all, the Chief Security Officer, as you see in the days of Mustapha and Abacha, was actually the senior. Here, U.K. Bello was the de facto Chief Security Officer; so there was no purported Chief Security Officer to the president.
He also said in the interview that you people ran into the bush along Ikoyi cemetery and that that was how the coup ended…
We fought until about I o’clock when the main battle tanks were brought against the light battle tanks, which had changed sides and were in action with us. When we were overwhelmed by the arrival of the main battle tanks, we could not resist. Otherwise, we had control of most of Lagos till about 1 o’clock. One of the flaws I’ve said over and over is our failure to have captured Ikeja cantonment, where those main battle tanks were stored. If we had captured them, as planned, we would never have had the problem.
Major Mohammed also said that the coup failed partly because you people used inexperienced soldiers, as most of them were just leaving the NDA and recruitment depots.
This is completely false! Again, the guy has no clue. If he was indeed the Chief Security Officer to Babangida, he would have been privy to the Board of Enquiry, which Gen. Abdulsalami chaired, prior to the court martial. He would have also read Gen. Ike Nwachukwu’s court martial and also would have read Gen. Y.Y. Kure’s court martial. He would have seen, from there, that his facts are completely not in tune and I’m surprised for a Chief Security Officer to be completely unaware of these facts. The action was, in the main, full of civilians. The few officers and soldiers that we mobilized for the action were experienced and competent officers and that was why they were effective. Take, for example, the actions of Major Empere and Dakolo in Ikeja cantonment. They were so effective that the commander, Bamaiyi, as I said before, had to run away into the bush and the commander of the Armoured Corps ran away into the cassava farm in the cantonment. It was later in the morning when it was realized that these chaps weren’t many in number that they were overwhelmed.
And what is the reason we were few in number? As I’ve said repeatedly, the coup was a pre-emptive action we had to take because there was a leakage and we had to take that pre-emptive action before people started rounding us up. That’s one. Secondly, all the soldiers we used were experienced soldiers. We also used, as records would show and it was public knowledge, ex-service men – people who fought the civil war and who were experienced. So, the idea of us getting inexperienced officers and recruits just shows that the so-called Major Mohammed Abubakar is speaking like a civilian. He is completely ignorant. If he was a Chief Security Officer, he would have had access to all those documents that I have mentioned.
He bluntly said you killed U.K. Bello and that you are trying to make people believe you are one of the persons who brought in democracy.
First of all, I’m no hero. The Lord Jesus Christ is the hero. If there are any mortal heroes in our action, they are Major Gideon Orkar, Major Empere, Major Charles Idede, Captain Dakolo, Lieutenants Odey, Mukoro, Akogun and all others who lost their lives fighting for the restoration of free and fair elections, transparent national census, freedom and properly elected federal democratic order to Nigeria. Those are the true heroes and among those, I would include people like Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, Brigadier Ibrahim Bako, Gen. Yar’Adua, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Isaac Boro, M.K.O. Abiola, Kudirat Abiola, Dele Giwa, Bola Ige, Fela and Beko Kuti.
You’ve been writing some books. When are you coming out with your documented account of this coup?
A lot of people have been putting pressure on me to write this book. I’m going to give it some thought. What has happened is that for the last six years, I’ve, instead, been concentrating my efforts in trying to unravel the deep reasons we are deep in the hole we are and in that enquiry, I begin to find that it is our lack of true spirituality that is the problem. And on discovering that, I then asked myself a question. And the question led me into going back to the scriptures, to be reading the Bible and reading the Quran and other books and in so reading, the more I read, the more I realize the greatness of the Holy Bible. In that discovery, I discover that those who are supposed to be our men of God are themselves not well aware of themselves; not well aware of the real teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and of course, I will say the same for those who are leading our Muslim brothers too, because if it weren’t so the Christians and the Muslims would always be Christ-like or Mohammed-like, in the sense of living the life of peace, truth and unconditional love.
I’ve been writing and I have a column in the National Life and the two or three books, which are basics of spirituality for thinking humans, will soon be out. After that, I will then consider doing a book on the pro-democracy action.
You overtly supported the candidacy of Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State. How do you take the outcome of the re-run election?
Very sad for the country and a big shame for President Yar’Adua’s government because here is a government that purports to be based on the rule of law and order. Rule of law and order, like I have written in a column once, cannot exist without free and fair elections. Clearly, what one personally witnessed in Ekiti is the greatest injustice that has been done to President Yar’Adua’s government. Take, for example, Ido/Osi. You don’t need to be a genius to know that the total votes in that area cannot amount to the figure being claimed. In fact, I would say that out of the total votes of 18,000 being claimed, I’d rather argue that 6,000 would be the true picture.
Why is it that Ido/Osi, which is one of the smallest local government areas, has three times the strength of those who voted compared to the other local governments, which are bigger? Isn’t that ridiculous? In any case, this lie will be exposed soon in the law courts. That’s one.
The other point is that the attempt, which is continuously blackmailing and using paramilitary or threatening to use military to rig election for people, has a limit. What is the difference between one who comes into power illegally, by depriving the people of their right to vote and one who comes by the use of other means? What is the difference? I think people should not be inviting inadvertently what we do not want for Nigeria. We want democracy to stay. People should not be pushed to the wall.
April 22 2009 marks the 19th anniversary of the bloody and violent coup against the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. On April 22, 1990, radical junior officers attempted a coup which nearly toppled Babangida’s regime. The coup failed after the dissidents excised five northern states from the Nigerian federation. One of the few surviving ringleaders of the coup was Lt-Col Anthony Nyiam. This interview with Nyiam gets his perspective on the coup, nearly 20 years on….
Nigeria: April 22 Coup Was Pro-Democratic Action – Nyiam
21 April 2009
On April 22, 1990, a group of young army officers carried out what turned out to be an abortive coup. Many of these officers and other ranks including the man that broadcasted the ostracising of five core Hausa-Fulani states from Nigeria have been executed after being court-marshaled. There were some survivals including the coup leader, Col. Tony Nyiam, formerly of the Nigerian Army Engineers Corps, who escaped prosecution in the wake of the putsch’s futility.
In this interview with Assistant Politics Editor, MAXWELL ODITTA, Nyiam discusses the objectives of the coup, describing it as a pro-democratic action. He is full of praise for some dramatis personae of the coup including Emperor Dakolo, Gideon Orkar and Salibe Mukoro. He also bares his mind on his long ideological mind-meeting with Great Ogboru and late Ken Saro-Wiwa. The colonel also reveals the roles of Margaret Thatcher, Odumegwu Ojukwu and late Moshood Abiola, in the aftermath of the coup.
You are reputed as the leader of the April 22, 1990 coup probably by virtue of your rank at the time vis-a-vis the other officers. It is 19 years since the coup. Many of those that took part in it have since been executed. What informed your participation in it and how did you manage to escape prosecution eventually?
First of all, I thank you for coming at this time and to have an interview which may be the anniversary of what happened on 22 April, 1990. I wasn’t the leader. I was like you said by implication the most senior officer amongst the officers. Two months to the action, a group of young, patriotic officers who were troubled by the drift in which the country was going into, a drift in which we would have ended up having the military in power forever, and also young men who were worried about the plight of the people from the Niger Delta where the oil was from.
These young boys were brilliant officers who were incidentally very close to the then military leader. They came and approached me, and the moment I got indication of what they were doing, as a military man, the tradition was for me to either report them or join them. I thought these young men were too honourable to be reported. In fact, their yearnings and their prayers was what I shared.
Unfortunately, they were full of overzealousness with lack of proper planning. I mean the young officers and not the likes of Major Gideon Orkar. So, I took the risk and joined them, instead of reporting them. That’s how I got myself into what I call a pro-democratic action. I use the word deliberately because without that action, we won’t have had democracy that we are now enjoying.
Are you now saying in essence that you did not participate in the operations of the abortive coup?
No. You asked me the question how I joined, but in the actual execution of the pro-democracy action, I participated. I did not participate in the coup.
How did you manage your way out of these shores?
I think like I have said it repeatedly, it wasn’t my doing. It was God’s doing.
What was life like in exile?
It was seemingly, that is apparently, difficult. But in reality, exile was good and thanks to God, because it gave me a chance to begin a new way of looking at life, education, to the extent that the opportunity allowed me to begin to understand myself and understand my relationship with the other man, my neighbour, and my relationship with the creator of me and my neighbour. I think it was the best. I think it was the best period in my life. And to that extent, I think it was an opportunity which I had to grasp.
You came back in the year 2000. What was your return like? How were you received, and what situation did you meet on ground?
It was an interesting event. I thank people like Anthony Enahoro, who was a mentor, Prof. Wole Soyinka and Harry Akande. In fact, Akande was the one who provided all of us with the means to come back with Enahoro and of course, our big brother, Gen. Alani Akinrinade.
We came back and the return was great, in that the late Beko Ransome-Kuti, who was a hero, a man we worked with, when we were in exile, when we were fighting, when the military was arresting many people and detaining them, Beko was always getting information to us, to the public, so that we can inform the international community as to the plight of many politicians today who were detained. Beko worked so hard. This by the way is why I have so much respect for Kayode Fayemi.
Fayemi was a young doctorate from the Kings College, whose house was the operations rooms for informing the world and mobilising the world against the military dictatorial rule in Nigeria. Fayemi and his wife sacrificed everything, every money they had to build and to link, and exploiting their contacts created a platform for we Nigerians in exile to be able to be heard. And this is why, like I will say later, Fayemi deserves to be paid back. Fayemi is like Obama, a community organiser. More so, even his wife. His wife has one of the biggest poverty alleviation civil society groups in the world. Empowering women allover, she is known all over Africa. So is Fayemi too.
Fayemi has been in the area of capacity building to improve governance in Africa. All this the young man started when he was fighting against the military. He fought for democracy. By the way, people don’t know, he was the mastermind of Radio Kudirat.
You participated so much in pro-democracy activities in Europe. How did you join this activism? Because the incidence of annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election took place at least three years after you left the country. So, how did you link up with the agitators?
First of all, people did not realise that Abiola had always been a democrat at heart and a patriot. He was as patriotic as he was philanthropic. During our action, when all other newspapers would not give us a chance to be heard. It was the National Concord’s Chief MKO Abiola who compelled his son, one of the Abiolas, saying are you not a journalist? If you are a journalist, you give people a freehand. Give every side a chance to be heard. And he compelled him, even when his son was afraid of what would happen. Abiola even as close as he was to Babangida, he impressed on his son to give a chance for us to be heard.
Before then, we had known MKO. Myself and Ken Saro-Wiwa had always told leaders of the South West that our problem was a national question problem. They did not believe it. I remember many times with Alao Aka-Bashorun, the former NBA President, they always thought it was an issue of national question. They always thought it was the issue of leadership. We said no, it was the issue of national question. It was an issue of restoring federalism, which General Yakubu Gowon as a way of fighting the war, ensured a temporary suspension of federalism to restore unity government to execute the civil war. But later, some people with vested interest saw it as continuing in actuality governance of unitary government and openly claimed that we are having federalism. Giving that lie that we have federalism when we have not, was what we told the South West leaders then was the problem. They did not believe it until the whole thing showed up with the annulment of June 12.
So, when MKO came over, after he escaped over to the U.K, when he was to be killed, we met, and he recruited me to start working for him. We started working. It was even then he recommended the great people we should watch and very reliable hands that we need for the struggle. Long before then, he told me so much about Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, that he was a young man full of ideas, a real democrat, a real organiser and a real leader to watch and that he will want us to meet to work. So, MKO introduced Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Before MKO even escaped, it was Soyinka who had told me too about this young man, Tinubu. That’s how we started. At the same time, I met Fayemi when I was being interviewed by the BBC World Service. He also was doing a programme. That’s how we met and then that’s how we started.
In other words, we have foreseen what’s going to happen, like the June 12. We had foreseen it and we have started working, myself, Great Ogboru and Ken Saro-Wiwa, long before June 12. It was later people now realised that it was an issue of national question and that’s that.
When you were in exile, was there any physical effort by the then Federal Military Government to hunt you?
Oh, yes. The British government gave me good protection and in fact I must say the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had to warn Babangida that in no attempt must he try to do anything like they did to Umaru Dikko against me. And so, for the first one year or so, I enjoyed complete British secret services protection.
How did it feel when you were told that the young officers who took part in the abortive coup, those who were arrested in action have actually been executed?
It’s always sad to have any loss. It was very sad. But the thing about the team is that they were courageous young men. They died following the footsteps of the apostles. They died courageously. And I give credit to Dakolo and all the rest. They were great guys. They were true soldiers. They were true military officers. All I can say is that God used these chaps and used us to try and arrest a situation where we would have had life presidency of military descendants.
Are you still in touch with Major Mukoro?
Prof. Salibe Mukoro. We are still in touch.
He is now a Professor?
He is a Professor of Criminology of a university in the U.S.
So, he is not based in the country?
Oh, he’s being in the U.S. He is a renowned criminologist in the U.S.
What’s your recollection of Major Gideon Orkar?
Oh, thanks for that good question. Major Gideon Orkar ever remains a hero. He is my hero and he remains a hero to many people. He was a young man who was concerned about restoring dignity to every Nigerian in general and to the military in particular. With what we all stood, if what we went for went well, Nigeria would have been as democratic as Ghana is. And that is why we think that with the way Ghana has a free and fair election, it will be a big mistake if President Yar’Adua allows those charlatans to mislead go for anything short of free and fair elections in Ekiti.
What’s your relationship with former President Ibrahim Babangida on one hand, Chief Great Ogboru on the other?
Chief Great Ogboru remains, to me, a great man, a patriot and a man who loves the human beings. And on those bases, we ever remain life friends and he is a great friend. Babangida is a person I admire for his generosity. And also, I admire him for the gifts God gave him. He is a brilliant man who was a workaholic endowed with a very active mind. But unfortunately, he was a man who did not realise the potential for collective good.
You said Babangida is a workaholic and all that. At least today, do you relate with him? Is there any melting point between you and him?
No, we do not relate. We were not really one to one. But I am always appreciative when he is working, when he is trying to work towards restoring his name and working towards correcting the ills he was misled to do against Nigerians.
At the launch of two books written by you somewhere in December 2002 at the MUSON Centre, Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu was the chairman of occasion. This is not somebody you are known to have associated with in any form. What informed his choice?
No, Dim Ojukwu, you must know, is a leader. When I mentioned Ken Saro Wiwa, Great Ogboru and I am thinking well ahead that the problem of Nigeria was problem of national question, Ojukwu had been one of our mentors. We knew Ojukwu long before and we had always met and he was one of our mentors. So, I hold him in high regard as a young officer to have spearheaded a meeting and the agenda and objective of that meeting, the Aburi Accord was the national question. In spite of what we say, until we addressed what was agreed in the Aburi Accord, we will be going round in circles.
Are you saying that Ojukwu was more or less a mentor to even Ken Saro-Wiwa?
It is unfortunate that Saro-Wiwa is not alive. He would have answered that question. But Ojukwu was a mentor to me as regards understanding the intricacy of Nigeria. Incidentally, I must say Ojukwu – you would not understand – educated me to know that even the Fulanis were not the problem. It is actually those who have criss-cross identity who claim to be Fulanis but at times do bad things in the name of Fulanis. Ojukwu understands all parts of Nigeria. Remember Ojukwu grew up in Lagos. His mother lived in the North, and here was a young man who speaks Yoruba very well.
So, he understood every part. He then educated me, because some of us after April 22 had some misconceptions. Ojukwu sat us down to correct all those misconceptions, whichever were that the problem in Nigeria was not that it was the problem of the Hausa-Fulani, but it was the problem of those who have hijacked Hausa-Fulani power, those Fulani banza. I used the word Fulani banza, those who pretend to be Fulani, they are the ones who are giving the Fulani the bad name. And Ojukwu is proved right. If you look at the lives of the true patriotic Fulanis, like Ahmadu Bello, like Yar’Adua, like Shehu Shagari, like Gen. Buhari and of course the present Sultan of Sokoto and his father, you could see that the trend in all these people is nobility, integrity.
But when you now have the other Fulanis, who are, you may say, pretentious Fulanis, they are the ones who are the problem. Another good Fulani and a man of integrity is the present Secretary to the Government, Yayale Ahmed. Ask anybody who goes to the Babangida Polo Club in Abuja. He is the true gentleman. This is what Fulanis are. But those who came to project themselves to be Fulanis, who some of us thought were Fulanis and who as well gave Fulanis bad names were what Ojukwu as part of mentoring corrected.
So, Ojukwu, people do not know, is really at heart a man who loved all Nigerians. The same regards he has for the true Yorubas, he has for the Hausa-Fulani. Where some of us were wrong, Ojukwu corrected us. He also taught us about the issue of true federalism saying that until we restore true federalism to the country, we will go no where.
You were in exile when you heard about the judicial murder of Saro-Wiwa. How did the news come to you?
It was a shock, because Saro-Wiwa was a man full of energy. He was a man who wanted to liberate people like me coming from a minority. And he was far ahead in the liberation movement and he was internationally linked to minorities all over the world, who were oppressed.
In fact, people don’t know that the works of people like Ken Saro-Wiwa led to what happened in Eastern Moore, because he was friendly with those people. He educated them. And also, in Eritrea, Saro-Wiwa also improved their capacity to fight for their freedom. He was well known. That’s why he was well liked. But I must also say that myself and Great warned Ken Saro-Wiwa. Initially he believed too much in his friend and we warned him to be careful.
So, we were shocked when we thought more than what we expected that his friend can go to the extent of killing him.
By his friend, you mean late Sani Abacha?
How do you view Abacha as a general and as a military Head of State?
General Abacha, I know, was a real soldier. Amongst the people who paraded themselves as generals before my time, there were people I have always respected. Of course, Gen. T.Y Danjuma, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Col Benjamin Adekunle, and amongst the young toughs who were active in the counter-coup against Kaduna Nzeogwu’s coup, Gen Murtala Muhammed. But of the young ones, the only man who was a man of courage among them was Gen Sani Abacha. That was why in anything they did, if he wasn’t there, the rest didn’t have enough confidence. Most of the rest drew their courage from Abacha.
You also must realise that we from the South-South, we give credit to Abacha, in that he was the one who re-established the need for respect for the zones. Remember he as well brought in the whole idea of respect for the six zones. To that extent, Abacha gave us something.
You’ve spoken so much about Fayemi. Ekiti poll is at the door. If he wins, he becomes the governor of Ekiti State. Anything else otherwise would make his effort futile. And you said that he should be rewarded for his pro-democracy activities of the past. What are your expectations of Ekiti governorship bye-election?
First of all, I am not asking that one should just reward Kayode for his past. Kayode is an asset. He is a young man who is an organiser, who can build community. In many respect, in Ekiti, he is like Obama. He will turn Ekiti round. What I know of the young man and from his connection with India and everywhere else. I think Kayode would turn Ekiti valleys – you know Ekiti is a beautiful place full of valleys – into the silicon valley of Nigeria. Ekiti will become like that the Bangalore of Nigeria. Kayode has that potential to turn Ekiti around.
And not only that, he has the connection internationally to pull in those who will help to do that. Also, if you look at Kayode’s friends like Prof. Gbadegesin, like Soyinka who is one of his mentors, like Tinubu who is his political mentor. You would see that he would be another Fashola pillar. In other words, I foresee an extension of the urban regeneration and the empowering of people that is happening in Lagos, in Ekiti. So, it will be really great for Ekiti not to miss the boat.
Of course, Olusegun Mimiko is another great future that has come up in our polity. Mimiko and Adam Oshiomhole of Edo, I think Kayode will be adding to these fresh hands coming into our politics.
Let’s look at the Niger Delta, the youth restiveness and the crisis in that part of the country is still very much at the highest ebb. What do you think should be the solution to the problems of the Niger Delta?
Like I have said in many fora, Yar’Adua’s new overture of honesty is the beginning of the solution. All that needs to be put in place is a proper truth and reconciliation, as was the case in the conflict between the Irish and the British Army. So, we need an independent umpire who will come and dwell and be the real reconciliation office. I would have thought that the likes of Kofi Annan would be a good candidate. If not the likes of Ambassador Olusola in Nigeria here, people like that could be invited. These are peacemakers and men with track records. We need a neutral umpire to come in and to reconcile, so as to bring in trust that is necessary for true amnesty. That should be followed by a proper arms decommissioning exercise, which again like the examples in the U.K should be chaired by a neutral general.
With this process in place, it should be followed by government not playing lips service to empowering the people of Niger Delta. The short example of the governor of Delta, Emmanuel Uduaghan – the youth empowerment scheme he started is an example and that has helped to reduce crisis in Delta State. I think if it does mean well, the government can do the same in the Niger Delta. The government is fortunate to have a Secretary to Government, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed who had an initiative of an approach which was less military approach of empowering the youths and getting them away from committing crimes in the Niger Delta. So, I think these are my suggestions that the government should be sincere and reach out on the basis of the ills that the people of the Niger Delta have suffered. They must do that.
One symbol that they must show in the light of this amnesty is that the likes of Henry Okah, who is highly respected by the youths of the Niger Delta even more than politicians from that region, should be released. He, Asari Dokubo and Ateke Tom and the other patriots can be used as a way of restoring peace and tranquility in the region.
Igbo soldiers plotted coup from independence day – Ejoor
From the Nigerian Compass
In a three-part thriller that is sure to send historians about the Nigerian Civil War back to library shelves, the Military Governor of the… defunct Midwest Region, Major General David Akpode Ejoor, says military coups in Nigeria began right from independence in 1960.
In this interview with BIMBO OGUNNAIKE and AZEEZ FOLURUNSHO, he shredded several claims and set-positions about the country’s past and future. Firing from the hips, like a war veteran that he is, and in a no-holds-barred interview, [b]Ejoor maintains that the political and military leaders of Igbo extraction had nursed the ambition of upturning the Nigerian political space because their leading light, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, emerged only as a nominal Governor-General while power resided in another geo-political zone. [/b]The concluding parts of the rare interview will be served you, dear readers, next Saturday and the week after. Excerpts:
You appear to be more of an enigma to Nigerians, most of whom know very little about you despite being an open-book; one about whom so much has been said and written. Who, really, are you, sir?
A woman called Uvwerhero gave birth to me. I was born in 1932. She put me in school and when I finished my school, she sent me to the Government College , Ugheli. When I finished college, I didn´t have money to continue to do the HSC or to enter the university. My school principal gave me a letter to the Comptroller of Customs in Warri. I didn´t know what was in the letter and so when the Comptroller read it, he said your principal said I should give you a job. He asked me: “When are you starting?” I said now. He said: “All right, come tomorrow”. That was how I started work in the Customs.
What year was that?
In 1953. After the first six months, one of my colleagues came from the college to say that they were looking for the people to join the army. I told him that I was already working but he gave me the form. Out of interest, I filled the form and by September 1953, they replied me and said that I should come to Enugu for examination to join the army. I didn´t know that day, I didn´t know Enugu . To tell the Comptroller of Customs that he should excuse me to go to Enugu for exam, I couldn´t do it. I had to resign and go to look for money because at that time any money they gave to me at the end of the month, I gave it to my elder brother to keep for me. I did not keep the money. When I wanted to resign, I didn´t have any money. so, I had to rush to him in school and told him that he should give me money; that I wanted to resign. He said. `you are playing with your certificate.´ He gave me money and I went to the treasury, paid and dropped my letter to the Comptroller of Customs and I didn´t allow him to read it before I left. I just ran away from him because I knew he would not let me go. The following day, I asked my mother to get me some money and three days after, I found my way to Enugu to do the exam there.
How many of you sat for the examination that day?
We were six, but at the end of the day, we were asked to come for an interview in Lagos . I was the only one who passed from Enugu . We did the interview in Lagos and only four of us passed. The four of us were then sent to Ghana to do our initial training at the Regular Officers Training School . After six months, those of us who passed, about four, were selected to go to England to do the Officers Cadet Training. When we got to England , we went to another selection board and it happened that two of us passed — that is I and Victor Banjo, who worked with Ojukwu. So, Banjo and I went to England to do first, the Short Service Commission Course which lasted for six months. At the end of the six months, we were asked to go to Sandhurst for interview. At Sandhurst , we did almost three years course. We were commissioned in 1956 by the Queen, the present Queen, and then we came back to Nigeria . Some of us later went back to England for other military
When you were about joining the army, what was your parents´ attitude?
The immediate brother by my mother was killed by some people in 1951. So, as far as Army was concerned at that time, people would say when you join the Army, you were going to die. So, I couldn´t tell my mother that I wanted to join the army because she would never agree. I did all these, went to Accra for the training and after the training I now told her that I was going to England but it would be training in the army and she couldn´t say no then because I was the only boy left and the other two sisters were the only three left out of seven children which she had before.
Do you share the view that Biafra was a tragic mistake in Nigeria ´s history?
First of all, let me tell you this, when the British were here, we were the last Nigerian officers to be commanded by the British soldiers. (He called for a picture hung on the wall of his sitting room to be brought down to show the first set of Nigerian military officers at that period).The senior person to me in Nigeria was Bassey, the second was Aguiyi Ironsi. The Igbos wanted to rule. Why they wanted to rule was that (Nnamdi) Azikiwe was the then Governor-General and more or less Head of State. The constitution did not give any power to Azikiwe. So, this annoyed the Igbo people and they used to say: “How can we run a constitution in which the Head of State cannot advise the government, the government cannot contact the Head of State for any advice?” So, the answer was well to take over since they were already leading and yet they had no control over the government. That was why the Igbo soldiers decided to organise a coup. But at that time, there were four major leading officers which included me, Yakubu Gowon, Bassey and Ojukwu. Igbo people relied on Ojukwu for the coup and they were able to convince the Yoruba. Ojukwu and Banjo now contacted me and Gowon for a coup. But we refused.
How many of you refused to participate in the planned coup then?
Gowon and I refused and they went on their own. But we then reported to that European officer, General Foster. I and Gowon reported to him that some people were trying to plan a coup. He called all of us — the Nigerian Army officers — and advised us not to organise any military coup. When Ojukwu´s father heard about this, he put a memo into House of Assembly that all Europeans should leave the army. It was that year that all the Europeans in the army were sent back to their country. Then, Ironsi, who was Number Two, took over the command of the army. While he was there, Ojukwu still had the coup plot in his mind. He told Ironsi that he should not allow Ejoor and Gowon to be in Army Headquarters, saying as long they remained in Army headquarters, they would not be able to execute the coup. So, Ironsi sent Gowon on a course in the United Kingdom but he left me alone.[/b] When Igbos were worrying him that Ejoor was still there, he told them that: “This man from that small state, minority state? You can handle him, he cannot do anything. Go away, and leave me.” So, he left me. By December when Gowon came back, it was like a small war in Ironsi´s office. Some army officers told Ironsi that: “We told you to send these two people away, now Gowon has come back. What can we do now? Ironsi was embarrassed and after Gowon came back on the 20th and on the 23rd of that month, Ironsi now sent me away from Army headquarters to Enugu, saying: “He should be hidden there.” I went there and then they tried again but the one they tried was in January 1966 after I had left the Army headquarters. But at that time, they said whatever happened, Ejoor and Gowon must die. They threatened the person who was to organise a coup on behalf of the Igbos in Lagos side.
Who was that person?
Emmanuel Ifeajuna. The one in Kaduna , Nzeogwu. I think you know that one. Ifeajuna was holding a very big post in the Brigade then. He was a Chief of Staff to Maimalari. He sent a message that we had this meeting which would last a week; that I should come to Lagos . He was the one who booked me into Ikoyi Hotel in Room 17 and my number in the army was 17.. It was a lucky number for me. I got to Lagos for the meeting and then the meeting started on Monday. Then on Thursday, I can’t recall what happened in my hotel room. I just complained that I didn’t like the room. They couldn´t change it on Thursday. It was on Friday, the last day of the meeting that I came back to the hotel by 4.30 pm. When I got to the hotel, they had changed my room because they knew that the following day, I would leave. I said all right. Because of the cocktail party which Maimalari organised for us, we could not come back on time. I left the cocktail party at about 11 p.m when
we should have left at 8.00 pm.There was no need for us to come on time. Although he called it a cocktail party, it was like a buffet dinner. So, I ate to my satisfaction and when I got to the hotel, I didn´t go to the dining room to eat again; I just went straight to my bed and slept off. It was at three o’clock that night that the coup plotters came. [b]They killed my colleague, the one commanding the Western Region, and after putting his body in the booth of the car, they rushed to my room, to Room 17, to kill me thinking that I was there. According to their story, they didn´t want me to see them. So, when they kicked the door open, they just sprayed the bed with bullets and then round before they switched on the light. When they switched on the light, nobody was there and they started saying to themselves, “he is gone, he is gone” and I was snoring downstairs. That was how, at least, I can tell that God saved me from the coup.[/b] Now, for Gowon.
Gowon had just come back on the 20th of December and he was posted to take over a battalion in Ikeja. He had not moved to his official house.. He was staying in one of the Officers Mess accommodation. On that night, he did not come back to where he was staying because he went to see his prospective in-law. He did not come back in time, so when the coup plotters went there, they did not see him. They were now saying it is me and Gowon that would counter their coup and on the following day the news was that there was a coup. The following day, I was told that my colleague was killed and I went to his room and all what I saw was just blood. His body was not in the room and so I went to the person who was in charge, Brigadier Pam to come and take the blood sample and check. But when I got to that place, his wife told me that his husband was taken away in the middle of the night around 3.00 a.m. to a rendezvous where he was killed. Then, I rushed to Maimalari’s house who was then our commander where we had the cocktail party. When we got there, his soldiers just told me that Maimalari was killed in Ikoyi, Awolowo Road by the petrol station that night. I now told myself, ‘how can I just rush to Enugu when I have heard this bad news.’ So, I went to Ironsi´s house whether he could tell me anything before I went to Enugu . But when I got there, his soldiers said he left his house at 4..00 o’clock in the morning. What do I do? The head of the army, we could not find him. So, I said to myself, let me go to the Army unit, maybe I would get more information from them. I rushed to Ikeja Battalion and it was there, luckily, I saw his car in a car park. I sent my guard to check his office if there was anybody, and to ask if I should come in. And then I heard them all shouting: “Tell him to come. Tell him to come.” So, I went in. He opened the door for me and when I got in, I saw Ironsi sitting opposite the door pointing a gun at me, saying: ” David, are you with me or against me?” It was a surprise to him because he thought I was dead. So, I shouted back at him that “you are our father. Whatever it is, I am with you. What is it, anyway?” He said: “All right, sit down.” So, I sat down and he told me how the Prime Minister contacted him to say that he was being attacked with Okotie- Eboh and all that. He promised me he was going to get some help, but he couldn´t raise any help and that was why I had to go to the battalion itself, to get some soldiers under his command. He told me that he had to send Gowon out with soldiers to trace the coup plotters. I couldn´t see Gowon at that time. After I had told him the story, then he said he was going to the Police headquarters for a meeting where he was appointed Head of State. I told him I was going to Enugu to join my troops and also to join my wife and children. He just turned round to me and said, “David, I cannot order you to Enugu now.” He did not want me to go to Enugu.
Why did he not want you to go to Enugu ?
Probably, in their plan, I was to have been killed. I was not in their team. He said I should not go to Enugu and he left. I now concluded that Ironsi was part of the coup and that I could no longer rely on him because he was part of the coup plotters. I said to myself that my loyalty is to my country and I would not take any instruction from any officer anymore. I said if I went to Enugu by road, I would not arrive there. So, I went to the airport for an aircraft to take to Enugu . When I got to Enugu , everybody was shaking. The officer, my Second in Command, Major Gabriel Okonweze, told me that he was not expecting me. I asked him why he was not expecting me. He said he was given instruction to take over the command of the battalion, that I was not coming back. I said how did you get this information? Is it by radio, telephone or what? He said no and put his hand in his pocket and brought out a letter saying he should take over the command of the battalion. When I put the letter inside my pocket, he said no, that it was his letter and I said, “but I am still the commander.”
I left the battalion and went to see Dr. Opara, the governor of Eastern Region, came back to the battalion and ordered that all soldiers that were deployed outside the battalion should be brought back to the barrack. I assembled them by 4.00 o’clock and addressed them. My second-in-command was telling me, “don´t tell them that anybody is dead. Don´t tell them anything?” I said I would tell them; these people were taken to unknown destinations, I will not say I saw any dead body, I saw blood. Yes, I cannot say so but if I do not mention it that way, when they get to know, you and I would be the first victim of Hausa soldiers. I told them what I knew and then we ran the battalion with peace. Then on the third day when Ironsi was made the Head of State, he withdrew me from Enugu and called me back to Lagos .
Why do you think he removed you from Enugu ?
He removed me from Enugu because since I was still not dead, he could not trust me in Enugu . When I got to Lagos , he now said that I should be the Governor of the Mid- West.
Did he do that to compensate you?
More or less. But, you know that he had to behave in a way to show that he still liked me. Having removed me from Enugu , he brought me to Benin and that time, most of the officers in the Mid-West were from Anioma area, predominantly Igbo, because as it was, we were nine Lieutenant-Colonels in the Mid-West. I was the only Urhobo and the remaining eight were Anioma. Now that the person they wanted to kill was the governor, how was I to rule that place with satisfaction? I worked with them. I did not know that they were against me. I worked with them in the day time, but in the night, they worked against me. It wasn´t easy. God just preserved me because they did all sorts of things to see whether I could die.
When General Ironsi came on a visit to your region, 24 hours after he left your zone, he was kidnapped by some sections of the army along with the Governor of the Western Region where they were killed.
What was in your mind when you heard the news?
The fact was this. He visited Western Region after leaving my place. The idea was that he did not want my killing to take place while he was there
Your own killing?
Yes. When he got to Ibadan , the counter-coup people, Brigadier Danjuma, waylaid him. It was there they waylaid him and killed him in Ibadan . When he was with Fajuyi, Fajuyi did not want them to take Ironsi away just like that. That was why they killed Fajuyi with Ironsi, not that they had anything against Fajuyi at that time. That was how I escaped death for the second time. As I am talking to you, I have looked at death, where there was nothing I could do, I was just waiting for death to come, for seven times. How many people have gone through that? Looking at death, not that I was told. The other ones that happened when I did not know is different, but the ones I saw, I know.
Are you saying the lack of trust and the in-fighting among the top generals at that time led to Nigeria ´s civil war?
The civil war was straightforward. the Igbo wanted to take over the ruling of Nigeria . When all these cunny-cunny actions that people who were preventing them from organising a coup had not been killed, that is Gowon and I, the only thing left was to have a civil war. That was why there was a civil war and in the civil war, the first place Ojukwu attacked was the Mid-West. Now, I do not know that he was already in league with all the officers from Anioma area. When the Federal Government was suspecting them, most of them ran away to the East and joined Ojukwu in the Biafran army. At that time, Banjo himself, being a friend to Ojukwu because they joined the army the same day and commissioned, was suspected to be organising a coup. Ironsi had sent him, well not to prison but more or less arrested but sent to the East where he was detained in one of the prisons there. But being a friend to Ojukwu, Ojukwu released him and made him the Commander of the Biafran troops. And he was the one who commanded the Biafran soldiers to come and attack Mid- West before moving to Lagos . The Igbo tried to rule Nigeria by force, what they cannot do through the ballot box; they tried it through coup. They tried the coup, it failed and now decided to do a civil war. It was a contract. That is the basic thing.
During this war, you said Ojukwu was coming from the East through your zone to Lagos . What were the things you put in place to checkmate him at that time?
As I told you, I did not know. It was just that morning that I heard firing in the State House where I was told that the Biafran Army was in the Mid- West. I could not believe that Banjo would be the person to kill me because he was the nearest person to me in the army. What happened was that when they got to Ikpoba Hills in Benin , the person that was sent by Ojukwu to kill me was ordered to take me dead or alive to Enugu was different because Banjo did not know about this. When they got to Ikpoba Hill, this officer from the Mid West, from Anioma, told Banjo he should give him time; let him go and find out where I was in Benin and take me to Enugu , dead or alive. The firing started at about 7.00 o’clock. I just managed to get the radio to tell Gowon that I was being attacked by the Biafran army. I took the weapon of the operator and ran down to the gate to join the soldiers who were firing and we started firing together. But after sometime, we ran out of ammunition.
What do we do? I knew that if they came in, they were coming for me to kill me. These soldiers who were defending me, why should I allow them to die? And then if I leave this place they would be killed, including my wife and children. Why should I allow any of these people to be killed? I said they had to kill me first so that other people would survive. I jumped down from where I was and walked towards where they were firing. I thought that that was the end. I didn´t know what was happening and then I found myself in a veranda in one of the houses not far from the State House. I decided to move my leg but I couldn´t move any part of my body. I looked up and I saw somebody holding my leg and my hand. He was kneeling down when I was thinking about other things. I did not know that somebody was holding me. I now asked him who are you? He said he was Chief Asemota. I thanked him and said I had to go now. He sad “no, you can´t go, they are everywhere.” When he got up and started dragging me in, I asked him have you not seen any of the Biafran soldiers here? He answered that they were two in this veranda. It wasn´t long when they left that you came.These are the ones that would have killed you. I said: “My time has come; those who sent me here want me dead. My time has come. Let me go so that you or any of your family members will not die.” He said no. I argued and argued but he did not agree. So, I got up annoyed, to walk out. But before I could get to the door, he ran past me, he locked the door and threw the key out through the window. So, what do I do now? I could not break the door like that. Then I persuaded him that he should go and look for an Urhobo person around the area who could take me away from Benin . I waited for him and he found somebody from Urhobo who said he was coming. In the afternoon, in the night, we did not see him.
So, I said he was not interested. The following morning, around 7.00 o’clock, I heard a woman shouting: “There is war; you are going there if they kill you now, who will bury me?” That was what he was saying in Urhobo. I peeped through the window and I saw the woman running after the son, and returning into the compound I recognized him as one of the people with whom we grew up together.
What is the name of that person, sir?
John Ebuche. So, I opened the door and told him, “look, take your mother home,” and turned. He took his mother home.
That Major General David Akpode Ejoor (rtd) parades an intimidating profile is an understatement. Commissioned in 1953 in the United Kingdom , he is a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) and an Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR). Ejoor also holds the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), UK ; a Pass Staff College (PSC) and a honorary Doctor of Letters (LL. D), of the University of Benin (UNIBEN).
He was a member of the Supreme Military Council from 1966 to 1975, the first Military Governor of Mid-Western State between 1966 and 1967; Chief of Army Staff, from 1972 to 1975, when he retired.
His medals include the Congo , Independence , Republic, Defence Service, General Service and National Service. He is a Grand Commander of the Republic of Togo , and has received the Order of the two Niles-Ist Class Sudan , the Grand Officer O.N. Du Lion Senegal and Kt. Order of the Crown, Belgium . His chieftaincy titles include the Olorogun Oloho of Olomu, Okakuro-Egbe of Agbon, Okakuro of Ovu, Onotuku of Ebor and Orhuerakpo Ru Ughelli.
I have now had time to examine the various administrative agencies operating under the previous Government, both at headquarter level and at the level of Local Government Councils. I have also looked into the machinery for the administration of Boards and Corporations in Midwestern Nigeria. I now record the following observations and Decree as hereunder:
I decree that here, in Midwestern Nigeria, there shall be an Executive Committee presided over by myself, as Military Governor. Subject to, and under the Supreme Council, this Committee constitutes the final authority and power in respect of decisions affecting Midwestern Nigeria. In addition to myself as its President, the composition of this Committee will be as follows: The Chief Law Officer, The Second Senior Military Officer in station, Secretary to the Military Government, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Economic Development, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Establishments, and the Commissioner of Police.
Additionally, the Permanent Secretary whose submissions are at any particular meeting being discussed will, for the purpose of that discussion, be coopted as member of the Committee. I further decree: that the decisions of the Public Service Commission will now be in the form of recommendations to me. I propose, however, to delegate to the Commission power to take final decisions in respect of certain categories of appointments.
I further decree that the following powers shall be vested in a Recruitment Committee: The power to appoint (including appointment on promotion, transfer or secondment) to any post whether established or unestablished the initial basic salary of which is less than f240 per annum.
The power to appoint (including appointment on promotion or transfer) daily-rated employees. The power to confirm or terminate the probationary appointment of any officer whose initial basic salary is less that f240.
I also decree: that all recruitments shall be initiated by means of open advertisement which, in the case of recruitments by the Recruitment Committee shall issue from the Ministry of Establishments, on behalf of all Ministries/Departments.
I further decree that: the Midwestern Nigeria London Office will be closed, and the responsibilities and duties it now carries will be taken over by the Nigerian High Commission. Immediate steps will be taken to wind up the Agency-General.
In place of elected members, all local government councils in the Region have Management Committees. These comprise persons selected because of their political affiliation. I am convinced that this arrangement is not in the best interest of the development of local government in the Region. Little wonder that a majority of these councils are either impotent or grossly inefficient.
I decree that all Management Committees of Local Government Councils will be abolished with immediate effect. In place of these, Administrative Officers of experience will be selected and be posted as Sole Administrators.
(The Local Authorities) comprise Local Education Authorities, Joint Water Boards, Land Trustees, and Town Planning Authorities (and each) has a body of officials who operate the organization with expert advice from the appropriate ministries. Over and above these officials, there is in each case an appendage of politicians, who have converted the function of determining the political implication of the organization’s actions into a full time job.
I now decree that all these groups of politicians in these Institutions be suspended. The officials of the Institutions, with supporting advice and guidance from the appropriate ministries, will carry on the work of the Institutions.
I am not satisfied that political affiliation is a fair yard-stick for the composition of Tax Assessment Committees. The existing Committees have been got together on that basis. A machinery for fiscal purposes cannot function efficiently with such composition.
I hereby suspend all existing Assessment Committees. In due course a Tax Assessment Machinery able to generate confidence and to alert all and sundry to their responsibility to pay tax will be set up.
I further decree: that all Chairmen, Executive Directors and Members of all Boards and Corporations will henceforth cease to have any day to day functions in respect of these organizations. Instead, they will meet not more that once monthly to deliberate on the basis of agenda presented to them by the General-Manager or Secretary of these organizations, after clearance with the Permanent Secretary of the relevant Ministry.
Accordingly, all Chairmen, Executive Directors and Directors cease with immediate effect to be entitled to salaries, but will be eligible for sitting fees and expenses in respect of transport to place of meetings. That each Corporation, Board of Commission shall operate under the detailed guidance of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry under whose aegis such Corporation, Board or Commission functions. For the purpose I propose to inject officials and experts in business into each organization to assist so as to enhance its performance.
I further decree: that all political functionaries suspended will now be checked out of Government quarters, if this has not already been done. All government properties in those quarters shall be taken on charge by the Ministry of Works.
I decree also: that only the National Flag may be flown on public buildings in Midwestern Nigeria. No flags of any description may be flown on private buildings, premises or cars, excepting that the Commissioner of Police may fly the Police Flag on his official car. The only vehicle that may fly the National Flag is the Military Governor’s Car.
For the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that the above decrees do not relate to the Regional Tax Board, the Board of Education, and the Scholarship Board. I propose at a later date to deal with these.
At a later date I will issue an appropriate decree concerning Customary Courts.
All debtors to the Midwest Government and its agencies are advised to maintain their repayment agreements. Any defaulters will have themselves to blame.
Flashback to January 1966. Nigerian’s government has just been overthrown in a military coup led by a group of young army Majors. Major Nzeogwu had declared martial law across the Northern Region of Nigeria, but by January 17, 1966 had agreed to stand down and hand over administration of the Northern Region to the officer designated by the army’s commander: Major Hassan Katsina. Katsina became the first Military Governor of the Northern Region and appeared for a joint press conference with Major Nzeogwu at which Katsina made the following speech:
“Fellow country-men and women. I, Major Hassan Usman Katsina, having been appointed by the Supreme Military Commander as the Military Governor for the Northern Provinces of the Republic of Nigeria wish to address you all on the responsibilities falling on all of us and the new philosophy we intend to follow.
It is our intention to build the nation on the foundation of honesty and hard work and to bring about unity among all Nigerians living in whatever part of the country with respect, love and understanding towards one another. Everyone must realize that we are one nation irrespective of the tribe from which each of us originates. At our present stage of development we need not be divided by tribal unions, political parties or trade unions. It is our experience in the past that such bodies had not worked for the common good but for sectional interest. I do not need their greetings or congratulations as this is not the time for jubilation or flattery but for hard work and selfless service. This is the way to reach our common goal in satisfying the aspirations of the common man.
My assumption of office does not change the administrative structure, and machinery set up by my colleague, Major Nzeogwu at the end of the last Government. Civil servants will continue to run the civil administration under my authority. I warn them, however, that they must be honest and show in everything they do concern for the rights of the common man. They are not masters but servants of the public.
In local administration the Native Authority system will continue but reform will be introduced. Native Authorities must cut down on unnecessary expenses, do away with redundant staff and use public funds correctly and efficiently. Misuse of authority will not be tolerated. Administrative Officers who are charged with advising Native Authorities in the Provinces and seeing to it that Government directives are carried out must wake up to their duty with vigour and zest.
The new Government will support private initiative in industry, commerce and agriculture. However we must wipe away immediately the attitude of the past when it was regarded that Government money could be borrowed with no intention of repaying. In future the Government will only help businessmen who are serious and honest. The Government will also see to it that past debts arising from loans by public corporations are repaid according to the terms of the loans. Those who refuse to pay will have to face the consequences.
Public funds must be spent wisely and honestly. The new Government has no intention to be vindictive but it will at the same time watch closely the activities of people who had in the past engaged in corrupt practices. Any subversive activity on their part will be severely dealt with. The Military Command will maintain vigilance.
I said at the beginning that I need your support. I expect this from those in the public services whether Government or Native Authorities or the private sector but what I particularly pray for is the support of the ordinary private Nigerian citizen.
Jama’a Allah shi ba mu alheri.”
Above is a video of one of the coup ringleaders Lt-Colonel B.S. Dimka confessing his involvement to the press.
Just a brief reminder about today’s iconic date in Nigerian history. 33 years ago, on February 13, 1976, Nigeria’s then head of state General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated on his way to work during an abortive coup led by Lt-Colonel B.S. Dimka.
Strangely, the day on which Murtala was killed was like today, also Friday the 13th. Full details of Murtala’s life and the events that led to his death will follow in my forthcoming book.
Murtala’s car was ambushed by a group of soldiers in Lagos and he was shot to death. Below is a photo of the bullet riddled car in which he was killed. Note the bullet holes in the windscreen.