Chronicle Of Coups In Nigeria – A Fundamental History Lesson

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The Prelude:
Bloody Coup of January 1966

By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC
In the Nigerian Army’s official history of the Civil War, Major General IBM Haruna (rtd), said: “The dominance of the NPC and the perceived dominance of the North in the centre were like a threat to the presumed more enlightened and better educated Southerners who believed they were the backbone of the movement for Nigerian independence but did not succeed the colonial power to run the affairs of the state. So with that background one can now lay the foundation of the perception of the military struggle in Nigerian politics.”
Reflective, therefore, of certain repeatedly articulated viewpoints in sections of the Press, the opinion matured among a small budding caucus of already politically inclined officers after independence, that every military deployment for internal security in aid of the civil authority whose political orientation they did not share, even if constitutional, was just another provocation.
These include:

1. ‘Operation Banker’, a joint Army-Police operation in the Western region, led by then CO, 4th battalion, Lt. Col. Maimalari, allegedly at the behest of the pro-NPC regional Premier (Akintola) culminating in the declaration of a state of emergency in May 1962 after a fracas in the House of Assembly and the appointment of an administrator. Interestingly, the General Staff Officer
(2) at the Army HQ in charge of Intelligence was none other than Captain PPatrick Chukwuma Nzeogwu who, as a Major, was later to play a key role in the coup of January 1966 in which Maimalari lost his life.2. The arrest on September 22, 1962 and subsequent imprisonment of the opposition leader, Chief Awolowo, on suspicion of planning a civilian overthrow of the government. It was alleged that 300 volunteers were sent to Ghana for 3 weeks militia training. Certain accounts hypothesize two separate plots, one by Dr. Maja and the other by Awo himself.
But there is a body of evidence that indicates that Dr. Maja was actually collaborating with the government. The real plotters planned to exploit the absence from the country of three out of the five Army battalions to seize key points in Lagos and arrest leading figures of the government. The absent battalions were in or on their way to and from the Congo. One available military detachment at Abeokuta was out on military training exercises, while the newly formed federal guard in Lagos was essentially ceremonial.

Thus, there was an internal security vacuum which the plotters intended to exploit. Court records also indicate that an attempt was made to recruit Brigadier Adesoji Ademulegun for the scheme but he refused to cooperate with the plotters, choosing instead to remain loyal to the traditional military hierarchy and government, which had just promoted him from Lt. Col. to Brigadier. Whether this later played a role in his subsequent assassination in January 1966 is unknown.

3. Army Stand-by during the acrimonious reactions to the National Census of 1962/63 aand 1963/64.
4. Army Stand-by during the Midwest referendum of 1963.
5. Mobilization of the Army to provide essential services during the General Strike of 1964. Even this apparently innocuous deployment in support of the civil authority attracted criticism from some of the would-be plotters of the January 1966 coup.

Captain Nwobosi (rtd), for example, has said that as a young officer deployed to the railways as an escort, he was troubled by the fact that the Prime Minister left Lagos for his home town in Bauchi during the strike, leaving crucial matters of state to assistants in Lagos as well as the Army which was fully mobilized. I have not been able to independently verify the validity of this accusation against Balewa, but it does provide insights into the expectations of soldiers of their civilian masters when they are drafted by civil authorities to stabilize the polity.
A perception of lack of a “hands on” approach, even if false, can undermine authority and the culture of respect.

6. Tiv Crises: As far back as April 1960 and July 1961 the Army had been placed on standby in Tiv land. This became necessary again in February 1964. However, on November 18, 1964 the 3rd battalion under Lt. Col James Pam which was just returning from Tanzania was deployed in full for internal security operations there. The choice of Pam’s unit was a deft move because he was of middle belt origin and the battalion had been out of the country training another Army, and thus insulated from acrimony. The Nigerian Army actually emerged from this operation with high mmarks because the local people saw Pam’s unit as more neutral than the Mobile Police. Interestingly, Major Anuforo of the Recce unit at Kaduna was deployed in support of Pam for this operation. This is the officer who later shot him during the January 1966 coup. Other would-be plotters who served in Tiv land were Ademoyega and Onwatuegwu.

7. Constitutional crisis of January 1965:
Following the controversial Federal Election of December 1964, ceremonial President Azikiwe of the NCNC, urged by radical intelligentsia, refused to invite Prime Minister Balewa of the NPC to form a government and issued orders mobilizing the Army to enforce his authority to suspend the government, annul the elections and appoint a temporary interim administrator to conduct elections. However, the oath of allegiance of the officer corps was not only to the Commander in Chief but also to the government of Nigeria.
The Army Act (#26 of 1960) and the Navy Act (#9 of 1960) were also clear on lines of authority and control.While the Army and Navy were “under the general authority” of the Defence Minister in matters of “command, discipline and administration”, the authority for operational use and control was vested in the Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister. President Azikiwe and the service chiefs were so advised by the Chief Justice and Attorney General of the Federation.
Thus the Navy Commander, Commodore Wey politely told the President that the Navy (under him), the Army (under Major General Welby-Everard) and the Police (under Louis Edet) had decided to refuse his orders. After a week of cliff hanging tension, in which the military stood aside, a political compromise was eventually reached and a government of “national unity” formed under Prime Minister Balewa.

In the US Diplomatic Archives: Nigeria 1964-1968, the situation was characterized in this manner: “Very complicated African politics, in which tribes, religions and economics all play a part, are involved in the situation. The Northern Premier is at odds with the Eastern Premier in whose region large oil deposits have been discovered. In the heat of the election campaign, there have been threats of secession by the east; threats of violence “that would make Congo look like child’s play” from the north..” At the same time, strong rumors of an impending Army coup purportedly planned for the annual Army Shooting competition were also heard in political circles. But the status quo held, albeit temporarily.

8. Army Stand by during the ethnic leadership crisis between Yorubas and Igbos at the University of Lagos in March 1965.
9. Army Stand-by during the Western regional Election of October 1965 which led to a break down of law and order. Political pressures and recrimination resulting from this exposure finally cracked the façade of political neutrality among some officers exposing deep personal, ethnic, regional and political schisms in the process. To quote Captain Nwobosi again, “When I was in Abeokuta, my soldiers were being detailed to go somewhere towards Lagos from Abeokuta to guard ballot boxes that were not opened. They were not opened but somebody had already been declared the winner. Everyday, they would go and come back and in the process, I lost one of my corporals. You know soldiers are soldiers and sometimes like children, you have your favourite ones and this was personal.”

10. A subsequent alleged plan to bring the situation in the West under control by the NPC controlled federal government in support of its regional ally, using the Army as had been done in 1962, allegedly brought forward the date of the January 15 coup. The coup was organized by predominantly Eastern officers sympathetic to the UPGA alliance of political parties that had lost the 1964 federal elections and the October 1965 regional elections in the West. The majority of casualties were Northern politicians and senior military officers from the same alma mater all of whom were deemed to represent the NPC or its interests. Others were politicians and officers from the western region viewed as being in alliance with the NPC leadership.
The coup failed to bring the “young turks” who led it to power but it did result, through a complex and controversial series of events, in the emergence of a military regime led by General Ironsi.There is a tragic post-script to the widely held (but false) presumption that the January 15 coup pre-empted an inevitable military operation to crack down in the West. This presumption is based on a reported meeting between key NPC and NNDP political leaders as well as certain senior military officers said to have occurred in Kaduna on January 14.
However, the last interview granted to the magazine ‘West Africa’, by the late Prime Minister Balewa on January 14, a few hours to his death, went like this:

Question: Do you see the solution as taking the form of a coalition government in the West?
Balewa: Yes, it would have to be that …The Action group has accepted my mediation, but the NNDP has asked for more time. If I use real force in the West – and make no mistake about it, I haven’t yet – then I could bring the people to their knees. But I don’t want to use force like that. Force can’ t bring peace to people’s hearts.Question: Would you consider the release of Chief Awolowo as part of a political solution of the West’s troubles? Balewa: I think that might be part of it; yes, obviously we would have to see.”
This interview was not published until January 29, 1966.

Until the coup of 1966, civil-military relations after independence basically followed the classic model. Soldiers were rarely seen in public in their uniforms unless there was an official event. Barracks were mostly separated and remote from concentrations of civilian housing. Political speech making, writing articles in the lay press without approval, or political campaigns in barracks by or at the behest of soldiers were not allowed. Furthermore, in part because there was no significant external threat, but also because of the predominance of British officers at the top until 1965, the army command played very little role in security policy making. The major foreign policy decisions of that era were made by the political class. Even in its internal security role the Army did not make policy. It carried them out.

However, the socialization process that made this relationship possible seemed to be confined to the uppermost echelons of the military where officers who had spent the longest amount of time working directly with British officers before independence were to be found. Coincidentally, certain key officers at these levels shared certain social origins with key political leaders. Officers at lower and middle rungs of the ladder, however, did not share many of those attributes because the transition from decolonization to democratization was rushed, driven by notions of patriotism.
From October 1st 1960 until May 1st 1965 when he died naturally of an illness Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, the second Vice President of the Northern Peoples Congress, served as Minister for Defence. From May 1965 until January 1966 his place was taken by Alhaji Inua Wada, also a member of the NPC. They were both civilians with no prior military service. Ribadu (also known as “Power of Powers”) was a very influential and highly regarded politician with extensive connections across the political divide. His sudden death in April 1965 is said by some to have seriously undermined the reconciliation of the frayed political relationship between the NPC and the NCNC after the January 1965 crisis which may have prevented the January 1966 coup. Indeed, active plotting for coup actually began after his death that year.

Ribadu presided over a rapid expansion of the Army and Navy as well as the creation of the Nigerian Air Force. The establishment of the Defence Industries Corporation, the Nigerian Defence Academy, a second Recce Squadron (located at Abeokuta) and two new Artillery batteries occurred on his watch. He got practically all his budgetary requests through parliament including approval to spend 19.5 million pounds on defence from 1962-66 as compared with 5.5 million pounds during the preceding seven year period. Defence costs as a percentage of Federal recurrent spending from 1958-1966 ranged from 7.7 to 9.9%. Defence costs as a percentage of Federal capital spending during the same period ranged from 1.5 to 12.1%.

Pressure to expand the military did not originate from within the military. It came from the political class. Resistance to additional defence spending did not come from the legislature or the public. It originated in 1962 and 1964 from other Ministers as well as economists in the Ministry of Finance concerned about failure to meet national economic targets. Ribadu lost the Chairmanship of the Economic Committee of the federal cabinet in 1964, a position he had used skillfully to protect and oversee his defence appropriations. Thus civilian oversight of military budgeting in the first republic was total and exclusive. In my opinion, the late Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu is probably Nigeria’s best Defence Minister since Independence – a point that belies the tendency these days to think that civilians with no military experience cannot run the Ministry of Defence.

In addition to Ribadu there were Ministers of State for the Army and Navy. From February 1960 until August 1961 Dr. Majekodunmi, a physician, was the Minister of State for the Army. Then Jacob Obande held the position from August 1961 until December 1962. From January 1963 until January 1966 the position was held by Ibrahim Tako Galadima – a personality (unlike Ribadu) whose grasp of military affairs and protocol was not respected within the military. Mr. M. T. Mbu was Minister of State for the Navy from 1960 to 1966. Mr. AA Atta was the permanent secretary from 1960-64 while Alhaji Sule Kolo held the position from 1964-66. Like the substantive ministers of that era, both were northerners.

One area in which there was direct political interference from the political class as a group in military professional policy was in the question of quotas for Army recruitment, which nevertheless reflected legislative pressures in a multiethnic society. Such political pressures to apply the federal character principle have found their way into subsequent Nigerian constitutions. Other than one or two alleged cases, politicians generally stayed out of purely military professional matters. Even when the departing GOC General Welby-Everard, (for a variety of reasons dating back to events in 1951 and 1961), recommended either Brigadier Ademulegun or Ogundipe as his successor, the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister chose to stick with the principle of seniority and chose Ironsi instead – perhaps mindful of NCNC sensitivities coming as it did, after the constitutional crisis in January and around the time of the acrimonious fight over the Vice Chancellorship of the University of Lagos.

The literature reports that Brigadier Ademulegun lobbied for the position of GOC through his friend the Sardauna, but it would seem that the political leadership of the Ministry resisted all such pressures. Until just before the collapse, therefore, the link between the Army leadership and the political class was mostly formal and appropriate. Although informal liaisons existed on the basis of alma mater and other shared values, these did not rise to the level of the client networks (such as “IBB Boys” or “Abacha Boys”) that came to characterize future military regimes in the country. Nevertheless, in a country where ethnic identities were and are often stronger than professional identities, any perceived coincidences of liaisons with the ethnic, political and security map of the country were bound to provoke suspicion among officers who considered themselves outside those networks.

The final intervention of predominantly eastern junior and middle ranking military officers resulted from the gradual decline in the cohesion and legitimacy of civilian institutions, signs of which were already evident from the time of the December 1959 federal elections before independence.
Certain long standing colonial military policies, amplified by the fractious nature of Nigeria’s political framework set against Nigeria’s unique history provided a backdrop to contentious civil military relations after independence. As the role of the independent army evolved from external missions and its participation in internal security deepened, political antagonisms toward elements of the political class were amplified as it found itself making judgments and allocating values.

Latent societal cleavages began to undermine esprit d’Corps. It was from among those who enlisted between 1957 (when the FDC took over from the British Army council and introduced quotas into the rank and file) and 1961 (when quotas were introduced into the officer corps) that the deepest schisms appeared, enabled by other political undercurrents in larger society. As the Roman military writer, Vegetius (De Re Militari), wrote in 378 B.C.: ‘An army raised without proper regard to the choice of its recruits was never made good by length of time.’
In the final analysis, driven by bitter fights for political control, lack of unity in the civil class between the coalition partners, NCNC and NPC, along with disenfranchisement of some stake-holders in the Action Group (who continued to be loyal to the jailed Chief Awolowo) played a crucial role in undermining whatever organized resistance (with or without British help) the political class might have put up to save democracy when some soldiers came calling in January 1966. Indeed, military intervention may have been sought by aggrieved elements of the political class.
As the Police Special Branch report put it: “..sometime during August 1965, a small group of army officers, dissatisfied with political developments within the federation, began to plot in collaboration with some civilians, the overthrow of what was then the Government of the Federation of Nigeria.”

Fearful of certain anticipated political decisions which might have involved the use of the Army to forcefully restore order in the Akintola-led Western region and cram the results of the controversial October 1965 election down the throats of voters, the coup was finally launched on January 15, 1966. But as I have noted previously, the paradox about this alleged NPC plan to “wallop” the West is that the late Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, in his last interview just before the coup was actually contemplating a political solution to the impasse in the Western region, one that might even have involved a coalition government and the release of Chief Obafemi Awolowo from jail.
At the final meeting just before H-hour in Major Ifeajuna’s house in Lagos, the Police report says “Major Ifeajuna addressed the meeting on the subject of the deteriorating situation in Western Nigeria to which, he contended, the politicians had failed to find a solution. He added that as a result the entire country was heading toward chaos and disaster”. One of the key participants in the coup, Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi has also recently expressed the opinion that there was “information” that the NPC dominated Federal Government would declare a state of emergency in the NCNC dominated Eastern region in coordination with an agitation for the creation of Rivers state.

In the Army’s Official history of the Civil War, Nwobosi said: “Adaka Boro was stationed in the Rivers area to start off some insurrection and the East would have been declared an area under a state of emergency like was done in the West under Dr. Majekodunmi.” Nwobosi also said that this information “is not something you will hear and go to sleep”. Such perceptions – some of which were plainly false-among officers with sympathies for (or views coincident with) the United Progressive Grand Alliance, set against the NPC-NCNC-Army constitutional crisis of January 1965 and the background tensions inherited at independence, provided fuel for the events of January 1966.
Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi (rtd) who led operations in the West during the coup, holds the opinion that President Nnamdi Azikiwe was briefed about the coup plot by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna in Lagos – but points out that his own sub-group was not in on Ifeajuna’s duplicity. He has also said that one of the intentions of the plotters was to release Chief Awolowo from jail – a somewhat strangely coincident plan to what Prime Minister Balewa was contemplating before he was killed.
In the state of confusion that reigned after the Prime Minister’s abduction on January 15, refusal of the President of the Senate (Nwafor Orizu, an easterner from the NCNC – who was also acting President) to accept the appointment by the NPC dominated cabinet of an interim Prime Minister (Dipcharima, a northerner) closed whatever option remained to formally invite British Troops in (with or without a pact). With no constitutional provision for such a move, Orizu and the rump cabinet chose to “hand over” to the Army Chief, Major Gen Ironsi, (himself an easterner) allegedly to give him needed authority to put down the coup attempt which had already collapsed in the south.
It appears from testimony provided by former President Shagari that the British would likely have responded to an invitation from Acting Prime Minister Dipcharima in the same way as they did in East Africa two years earlier. Indeed, other sources claim that a British Battalion was already on standby. Interestingly, recently declassified American State department archives also show that American intervention was also contemplated in Nigerian government circles before the rump cabinet was advised to “hand over” to General Ironsi to “avoid disaster”.
Along with the brutal and regionally asymmetric murders that accompanied the coup, this fateful decision, which Orizu later defended as “patriotic”, ushered in a very bloody chapter in Nigerian history. However, surviving officers of the January 15 plot (like Nwobosi and Ademoyega) seem united in their belief that it was General Ironsi’s ‘misrule’, rather than their unfortunate actions that night, that led Nigeria to chaos in the months ahead

Leaked [Police] Special Branch Report:
“Military Rebellion of 15th January 1966”
Part I
By Nowamagbe Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

This is the Police Report on the official investigation into the coup of 15 January 1966. It was prepared by Police Special Branch Interrogators based on interviews with soldiers, other ranks and some officers who had been arrested after the mutiny.
None of the soldiers and officers involved had come to formal trial in a court-martial as of the time of the July 29 1966 “counter-coup”. Indeed the fact they were not court-martialed was one of the grievances listed by those officers who carried out the unfortunate operations of July 28-August 1, 1966.
The coup report was released to very few individuals in Nigeria and certain foreign governments in early August 1966 – and then leaked. The remainder of the report which allegedly implicated certain other persons has apparently never been released widely to this day. It exists, we are on its trail – and shall publish it on sight.
1. Due to unforeseen circumstance it has not been possible, so far, to inform the nation fully of events which took place in the Federation on 15th January 66 at Lagos, Ibadan, and Kaduna, events which were directly responsible for further military action on the 29th July 66.
2. It will be appreciated that events of this nature require prolonged, painstaking investigation. It is realized that the absence of legitimate information on this subject has produced a flood of undesirable rumours and speculation. It is, however, pointed out that without thorough investigation, the wisdom of any premature releases, unsupported by fact, was questionable.
3. Investigations have not yet been completed but it is now possible to put the nation, and the world, in possession of the facts so far collected. The civilian involvement and influence in the whole affair is not as far as possible, included in this report.
4. It has been established that sometime during August 1965, a small group of army officers, dissatisfied with political developments within the federation, began to plot in collaboration with some civilians, the overthrow of what was then the Government of the Federation of Nigeria. The plan which eventually emerged from their deliberations was that on a date not yet decided at the time, the following action would be taken by troops from selected units, led by the ringleaders of the plot:
a). The arrest of leading politicians at Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu and Benin. The plan stipulated that wherever resistance was encountered, the individuals concerned were to be killed.
b). The occupation of key points such as radio and TV stations, telephone exchange and other public utilities, police headquarters and signal installations, by carefully selected troops who were not, however, to be informed in advance of the true nature of their operations.
c). The movement of troops and armoured fighting vehicles to Jebba and Makurdi to hold the Benue and Niger Bridges with a view to preventing the movement of any troops, opposed to the plotters’ aims, to and from the North.
d). The assassination of all senior army officers known to be in a position to foil, successfully, the conspirators’ efforts to topple the governments of the federation.
e). The eventual take-over of the machinery of government by the rebels.
5. Although the original plan stipulated that the action intended by the plotters should take place, simultaneously, in all the Regional capitals, no arrangements were made to implement these intentions in Benin and Enugu.
6. The date on which the plot was to be put into execution was decided by several factors. These include the return of the Premier of Northern Nigeria from Mecca and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference held at Lagos between the 11th and 13th January 66. An additional factor was the possibility that details of the plotters intentions might have leaked out, necessitating early implementation of the plot. In this manner, the night of 14th to 15th January was finally selected.
7. The action which was well planned and conducted like a military operation was, in its first stages efficiently carried out.
8. Immediately before “H” hour, which has been set for 2am on the 15th January, a number of junior officers were taken into the confidence of the ringleaders of the plot. It is known that a number of these were reluctant to comply with the wishes of the plotters. Confirmed information indicates that it was made clear to these junior officers that those who were not with the conspirators would be regarded as being opposed to them and might suffer death as a consequence.
9. Non commissioned ranks involved in the night’s activities at Lagos, Kaduna and Ibadan, were given no previous information of the true nature of the action in which they were about to be engaged.
10. The activities of the rebels, commencing at 2am on 15th January 66, resulted in the deaths of the following personalities:
a. Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of the Federation of Nigeria.
b. Chief F. S. Okotie-Eboh, Finance Minister of the Federation.
c. Brigadier Z. Mai-Malari, Commander of the 2nd Brigade NA
d. Colonel K. Mohammed, Chief of Staff Nigerian Army
e. Lieut-Colonel A. C. Unegbe, Quartermaster General.
f. Lieut-Colonel J.T. Pam, Adjutant General, Nigerian Army
g. Lieut-Colonel A. Largema, Commanding Officer 4th Battalion Ibadan
h. S. L. Akintola, Premier of Western Nigeria
i. Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria
j. Brigadier S. Ademulegun, Commander of the 1st Brigade NA
k. Colonel R. A. Shodeinde, Deputy Commandant, Nigerian Defence Academy
l. Ahmed Dan Musa, Senior Assistant Secretary (Security) to the North Regional Government
m. Sergeant Duromola Oyegoke of the Nigerian Army
n. The senior wife of Sir Ahmadu Bello
o. The wife of Brigadier Ademulegun
11. In addition to the foregoing, four members of the Nigeria Police, one junior NCO of the Nigerian Army, and an estimated number of six civilians lost their lives during the night’s events. One major of the Nigerian Army was accidentally shot and killed at Ibadan on the 17th January 66, bringing the total loss of life to twenty-seven.
12. Apart from the aforementioned killings, a number of political leaders and civil servants were arrested by the plotters and detained in military establishments at Lagos and Kaduna. These included:
a. Sir Kashim Ibrahim – at the time Governor of Northern Nigeria
b. Alhaji Hassan Lemu – Principal Private Secretary to the Premier of Northern Nigeria.
c. Aba Kadangare Gobara – Assistant Principal Private Secretary to the Premier of Northern Nigeria.
d. B. A. Fani-Kayode – at the time Deputy Premier of Western Nigeria.

13. In August 1965, three officers, Major Okafor, Major Ifeajuna and Captain Oji who were already dissatisfied with political developments in the Federation and the impact of these developments on the Army, held series of discussions between them about the matter and set about the task of searching for other officers who held views similar to their own and who could, eventually, be trusted to join them in the enterprise of staging a military coup d’Etat.
14. In September 1965, Major I. H. Chukwuka of Nigerian Army Headquarters Lagos was persuaded to join the group of conspirators, followed in October 1965 by Major C. I. Anuforo, also of the Army headquarters. Major C. K. Nzeogwu was brought in around that time through the efforts of Major Anuforo, an old friend of both Majors Nzeogwu and Okafor. Major Nzeogwu in turn secured the support for the plan of Major A. Ademoyega who had worked with him in the Nigerian Army Training College Kaduna.
15. By early November the recruiting activities of the group were completed and an inner circle of conspirators emerged, consisting of the following officers:
Major CK Nzeogwu
Major A. Ademoyega
Major EA Ifeajuna
Major CI Anuforo
Major IH Chukwuka
Major D. Okafor
Captain O. Oji
Planning for the execution of the plot started in earnest in early November 1965 at a meeting of the inner circle which took place in Major Ifeajuna’s house in Lagos.
16. The plan which eventually emerged from their deliberations was broadly as follows:
a. The arrest of VIPs at Kaduna, Ibadan, Lagos, Enugu and Benin. The plan stipulated wherever resistance to arrest was encountered, the individuals concerned were to be killed
b. The occupation of vulnerable points such as Radio and TV stations, telephone exchange, police signals installations, airfields and civilian administrative establishments, by carefully selected troops who were not, however, to be informed in advance of the purpose of their operations.
c. The movement of troops to Jebba and Makurdi to hold the Niger and Benue bridges against any movement of troops opposed to the plotters’ aims, to and from the North.
d. The killing of all senior army officers who were in a position to foil successfully the conspirators efforts to topple the Governments of the Federation and who resided in the areas of operations.
e. The eventual take-over of the machinery of Government by the Army.
17. Amongst the civilian VIPs scheduled for arrest, the following have been named:
a. The Prime Minister of the Federation
b. The Federal Finance Minister
c. The Premiers of Northern, Western, Midwestern and Eastern Nigeria.
18. Additional personalities scheduled to be arrested in Lagos were the following:
a. K. O. Mbadiwe
b. Jaja Wachuku
c. Inua Wada
d. Shehu Shagari
e. T. O. Elias
f. Ayo Rosiji
g. M. A. Majekodunmi
h. Mathew Mbu
i. Richard Akinjide
j. Waziri Ibrahim
19. Other ranking politicians were to be placed in house arrest pending a decision as to their disposal and eventual fate.
20. Events have shown that other political figures including the Deputy Premier of Western Nigeria, the Finance Minister and the Governor of Northern Nigeria were scheduled to be arrested.
21. The conspirators further decided that the following senior army officers represented a threat to their plans and must be killed during the first hours of the rebellion:
Brigadier Z. Mai-Malari – Lagos
Brigadier S. Ademulegun – Kaduna
Colonel K. Mohammed – Lagos
Colonel R. A. Shodeinde – Kaduna
Lt. Col. A. Largema – Ibadan
Lt. Col. A. C. Unegbe – Lagos
Lt. Col. J.T. Pam – Lagos
NOTE: Lt. Col. Largema was the CO of 4th Battalion NA stationed at Ibadan. On 15th January 66, however, this officer was on temporary duty at Lagos, staying at the Ikoyi Hotel
22. For the actual execution of the plan, three commanders were nominated, namely:
a. Northern Nigeria Major C.K. Nzeogwu
b. Lagos Area Major E. A. Ifeajuna
c. Western Nigeria Captain E. N. Nwobosi
23. The latter officer was not a member of the inner circle and was not approached until either the 13th or 14th January 66. He was, however, well known to the conspirators who were certain that when the time came he could be relied on to cooperate.
24. The execution of the plan was to take place in three areas only, i.e. Kaduna, Ibadan and the Lagos area, although many of the participants believed the insurrection to be nation wide. It is a matter of established fact that no violent action took place in either Benin City or Enugu. It has been suggested that these areas were spared because the plotters found it impossible to recruit reliable co-conspirators in these regions. None of the officers has indicated under interrogation that any efforts to recruit collaborators in either Benin or Enugu were made. Indeed subsequent action of some of the leading officers indicated collaboration with the then Premier of Eastern region.
25. For the purposes of this report, the execution of the plan is dealt with in three main sections, namely Lagos Area, Ibadan and Kaduna. Each section is divided into incidents, showing the identities of officers and men involved.

26. The execution of the plan commenced by the calling of a meeting late on 14 January 66 of the Lagos members of the inner circle and, for the first time, of junior officers previously selected to take an active part. A number of those present had attended a cocktail party that very evening in the house of Brigadier Mai-Malari in Ikoyi. The following attended this meeting which was held in the Apapa House of Major Ifeajuna:
a. Major EA Ifeajuna
b. Major CI Anuforo
c. Major D Okafor
d. Major A. Ademoyega
e. Major IH Chukwuka
f. Captain O Oji
g. Captain GS Adeleke
h. Lt. G. Ezedigbo
i. Lt. BO Oyewole
j. 2/Lt. ES Nweke
k. 2/Lt. BO Ikejiofor
l. 2/Lt. NS Wokocha
m. 2/Lt. Igweze
27. Major Ifeajuna addressed the meeting on the subject of the deteriorating situation in Western Nigeria to which, he contended, the politicians had failed to find a solution. He added that as a result the entire country was heading toward chaos and disaster. He next acquainted the junior officers with the inner circle’s plans and asked them if they were prepared to assist to put an end to this state of affairs. Major Ifeajuna claims that all present pledged their support for his plans with the exception of Captain Adeleke who was, however, later persuaded to join. It was made clear to these junior officers that those who were not with the conspirators would be regarded as being opposed to them and might suffer death as a consequence.
28. When, at the end of the meeting, it was clear that all present were in support of the rebellion, tasks and targets were issued as follows:
a. Abduction of the Prime Minister and the Federal Finance Minister: Major Ifeajuna, 2/Lt. B. Oyewole, 2/Lt. Ezedigbo
b. Killing of Colonel Mohammed and Lt. Col. Unegbe: Major CI Anuforo, 2/Lt C. Ngwuluka
c. Killing of Brigadier Mai-Malari: Major D. Okafor, Capt. O. Oji, 2/Lt. C. Igweze
d. Killing of Lt. Col. Pam: Major IH Chukuka, 2/Lt. G. Onyefuru
e. Occupation of the Control Room at FT Police HQ Lion Building: 2/Lt NS Wokocha
f. Occupation of P & T Telephone Exchange: , Lt. PM Okocha, 2/Lt. CC Anyafulu
g. Occupation of N.E.T. Building: 2/Lt DS Nweke
But there were apparent last minute change of the plans as will be shown later in this paper.
29. Troops selected for these various tasks were to be drawn from the following units (all stationed or accommodated at Apapa and Dodan barracks, Ikoyi):
a. No. 1 Signal Squadron
b. Camp – HQ 2 Brigade NA
c. Lagos Garrison Organization
d. The Federal Guard Unit
30. The Federal Guard Officers Mess at Ikoyi was named as the rallying point for all teams on completion of their tasks.
31. All other officers and other ranks to be involved, either consciously or unconsciously in the operations were called out for alleged Internal Security operations between midnight and 0100 hours to allow time for the issue of arms and ammunition and the provision of the necessary transport. With the exception of other ranks of the Federal Guard, they were all ordered to report to Headquarters of No. 2 Brigade NA in battle order, with their arms. Ammunition was issued to them by Lt. Okaka, assisted by Major Ifeajuna, RSM Ogbu of Camp 2 Bde and others.
32. Officers and men moved off to their various assignments at around 0200 hours as planned.
33. The party charged with the abduction of the Prime Minister (PM) left HQ 2 Bde at approximately 0200 hours. The following have been identified as members of that group:

a. Major EA Ifeajuna (in command)
b. 2/Lt. G. Ezedigbo (Federal Guard Unit)
c. 2/Lt. Oyewole (2 Brigade Transport Company)
NA 84254 Cpl C. Madumelu
NA 18149591 L/Cpl . O. Achi
NA 18159447 S/Sgt. A. Ogbogara
NA 18150401 Sgt. L. Onyia
NA 500147 Sgt. BS Odunze
NA 18150392 Sgt. F Impete
NA 18150400 Sgt. I Ndukaife
NA 1856 Sgmn. S. Onwuli
NA 18149817 Cpl. P. Okoh
NA 18149084 Cpl. U Eduok
NA 18150345 Cpl. Z. Chukwu
NA 18150206 L/Cpl FI Okonkwo
NA 3775 Sgmn FN Chukwu
NA 18150443 L/Cpl RC Amadi
NA 18159121 WO II J Onyeacha

NA 3339 Pte NA Evulobi
NA 18150137 L/Cpl S. Kanu
NA 502724 WO II L. Okoye
NA 124643 WO I (RSM) J. Ogbu

NA 504299 Sgt. J. Nwakpura
NA503865 Sgt. B. Iberesi
NA 149820 Sgt. E. Okonkwo
NOTE: The above named were not all, of necessity, directly involved in the abduction of the PM. A number of them operated on the premises of the Federal Finance Minister, adjacent to the residence of the Prime Minister
34. The small convoy reached the Onikan roundabout at approximately 0230 hours and halted near the PM’s residence. Major Ifeajuna ordered all troops to leave their vehicles and divided them into three groups with targets as shown:
Major EA Ifeajuna – in command
Sgt. B. Iberesi
Sgt. J. Nwakpura
Sgt. BS Odunze
Cpl. P. Okoh
Cpl C. Madumelu
Sgmn FN Chukwu
Sgmn. S. Onwuli
2/Lt. Oyewole
2/Lt. G. Ezedigbo – in command
WO I (RSM) J. Ogbu
L/Cpl FI Okonkwo
Cpl. Z. Chukwu
Cpl. U Eduok
Sgt. F Impete
S/Sgt. A. Ogbogara
Sgt. I Ndukaife
WO II L. Okoye

WO II J Onyeacha – in command
L/Cpl RC Amadi
Pte NA Evulobi
L/Cpl S. Kanu
Sgt. E. Okonkwo
35. The latter group was given the task of stopping and turning back all vehicles approaching Onikan road. There is no record concerning their instructions as to what action they were to take in the event of any of the drivers refusing to obey the order to turn back.
36. The Major knocked on the gate and was answered by a policeman who was on guard inside. The Major identified himself as an Army Officer whereupon the PC (Police Constable) granted them access. The Major asked the PC how many men were on guard with him and was told that there were six. The Major then ordered the PC to show where they could be found.
The PC agreed whereupon the Major seized his rifle and passed it to one of his men. The PC then led the group to round up the remaining members of the Police guard. At the back of the house, ie. at the creek side, they found a PC armed with a rifle and accompanied by a Police dog. The Major ordered the PC to surrender his rifle, which he refused to do. He was then hit in the face by Sgt. Odunze whereupon he capitulated and surrendered his firearm.
Major Ifeajuna ordered Sgt Odunze and Cpl. Okoh to stand guard over the PC and his dog with orders to shoot both if they made an attempt to abscond or raise the alarm. All the other members were disarmed and taken to the main gate where they remained guarded by Sgt Iberesi and 2 others. They were all informed that they would be shot if they attempted to escape or raise the alarm.
37. Major Ifeajuna and few of his men then approached the back entrance to the Prime Minister’s residence having secured the police orderly, and the stewards under arrest, and broke into the lounge and thence to the Prime Minister’s bedroom. A voice from the inside asked who was there. The Major replied by kicking the door open, entering the room and pointing his gun at the Prime Minister and thereafter led out the PM wearing a white robe with white trousers and slippers. The PM was then led away by Major Ifeajuna along Awolowo Road where Ifeajuna had parked his car adjacent to the Onikan swimming pool.

38. On arrival at the Onikan roundabout, at approximately 0230 hrs on 15 Jan 66, Major Ifeajuna divided his force into three groups as shown in para 34 of this report. Major Ifeajuna and his group proceeded towards the PM’s residence and 2/Lt Ezedigbo took his men to the compound of the Finance Minister. When they arrived at the front gate, they found this locked and were compelled to gain access by jumping over the wall. Inside they found a number of civilian guards, about 5, who were armed with bows and arrows. These offered no resistance and were disarmed and placed under guard. At least one policeman was encountered in the compound. He too was disarmed and escorted to the 3-Ton truck by RSM J. Ogbu.
39. 2/Lt Ezedigbo then attempted to open the front door but found this also to be locked. He broke one of the panes of glass in the door with his SMG but even failed to open the door which he finally broke down by kicking it with his boot. He then entered accompanied by the following other ranks:
WO II L Okoye
Sgt. I Ndukaife
Sgt. E. Okonkwo
Cpl. U. Eduok
Sgt. F. Impete
Before entering 2/Lt Ezedigbo ordered his men to walk quietly and to make no noise, a rather superfluous caution considering the noise which must have been made when the door was broken open. They mounted the stairs to the first floor. Having arrived there, the 2/Lt posted one man on the balcony and 3 on the landing.
40. The officer then shouted twice “Okotie-Eboh”, come out”. When this met with no response he entered a bedroom where he found the Minister dressed only in a loin cloth. He ordered the Minister to precede him down the stairs, and the Minister was escorted to the 3-Ton lorry. Rumors that the Minister was beaten and otherwise ill-treated on the way to the vehicle have been stoutly denied by all who took part in the operation.
41. Whilst the Finance Minister was being loaded into the 3-Tonner, the PM was escorted from his house and placed into Major Ifeajuna’s car. 2/Lt Ezedigbo joined Ifeajuna whilst the ORs (other ranks) re-entered their respective vehicles. The convoy then moved off to the Federal Guard Officers’ Mess, stopping en route at a point in Ikoyi where Major Ifeajuna and 2/Lt. Ezedigbo killed Brig. Mai-Malari. (editors comment: Maimalari had escaped from the team that had been sent to kill him at home)
42. Meanwhile Major CI Anuforo, assisted by 2/Lt. C. Ngwuluka and the following other ranks:
NA 173629 WO II B. Okugbe – No. 1 Signal Sqn
NA 18149383 Sgt. J Oparah – No. 1 Signal Sqn
NA 1641 Cpl. C. Egwim – No. 1 Signal Sqn
NA 18149792 Cpl. E. Nwoke – No. 1 Signal Sqn
NA 18150530 L/Cpl. J Nwankpa – No. 1 Signal Sqn
NA 18151259 Pte C. Unegbu – Military Hospital, Yaba
proceeded in the two private cars of Anuforo and Ngwuluka to No. 1, Park Lane Apapa, the residence of Colonel K. Mohammed. This was then being guarded by unarmed nursing orderlies of a Field Ambulance stationed in Apapa.
43. On arrival Major Anuforo ordered all his party to leave the cars, which had stopped some distance from the house. They then advanced towards the house led by Major Anuforo. They were challenged by Pte L. Onyegbule, then on sentry-go. Major Anuforo told the sentry to “shut up” and to put up his hands. The Major then gave orders that the sentry and the other 3 members of the guard be banded together in one place in the custody of Pte. C. Unegbu, who although a member of a medical unit, was then bearing arms.
44. Major Anuforo then went to the front door of the house and knocked. It would appear that he received an answer, because he was heard shouting “You first come out and see who is knocking”. With the Major at this stage was WO II B. Okugbe. When he received no further answer to his knocking, Anuforo ordered his men to cock their weapons. He then kicked open the door and entered accompanied by Cpl. E. Nwoke, WO II Okugbe and Cpl Egwim.
45. The house was searched until the Colonel was found, in night attire, in his bedroom. The Colonel was forced out of the house by Major Anuforo and the other ranks who had accompanied him, and put into Anuforo’s car. It is believed that before being put into the car, the Colonel’s wrists were tied with a rifle sling which was still in place when later, his dead body was discovered along the Abeokuta road.
46. Before leaving, Major Anuforo instructed the Colonel’s guard to return to their unit and not to discuss what they had seen with anyone. Sgt. J Oparah and Cpl. E. Nwoke could not get into the car of Major Anuforo because of the presence of the Colonel and were odered to follow on foot to the house of Lt. Col. Unegbe, situated on Point road, Apapa, not very far away.
47. On arrival at Lt. Col. Unegbe’s house, Major Anuforo entered the house alone. They heard SMG fire inside the compound and were later ordered to bring out the dead body of the Lt. Col.
48. Whilst the men were inside collecting Lt. Col. Unegbe’s body, Col. Mohammed was compelled to leave the car by Major Anuforo. The latter told the Colonel to say his prayers as he was going to be shot. The Colonel did not plead for mercy or remonstrate in any other manner, but quietly prayed until he was shot in the back by Major Anuforo, using his SMG.
49. Colonel Mohammed’s corpse was stowed into the boot of Major Anuforo’s car while the body of Lt. Col. Unegbe was placed on the floor in the back of the car. Anuforo and his men then entered the vehicle which was driven straight to the Federal Guard Officers’ Mess. At the Mess the two bodies were unloaded on the ground.
Continued in Part Two
Leaked [Police] Special Branch Report:
“Military Rebellion of 15th January 1966”
Part II
By Nowamagbe Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

This is the Police Report on the official investigation into the coup of 15 January 1966. It was prepared by Police Special Branch Interrogators based on interviews with soldiers, other ranks and some officers who had been arrested after the mutiny.
None of the soldiers and officers involved had come to formal trial in a court-martial as of the time of the July 29 1966 “counter-coup”. Indeed the fact they were not court-martialed was one of the grievances listed by those officers who carried out the unfortunate operations of July 28-August 1, 1966.
The coup report was released to very few individuals in Nigeria and certain foreign governments in early August 1966 – and then leaked. The remainder of the report which allegedly implicated certain other persons has apparently never been released widely to this day. It exists, we are on its trail – and shall publish it on sight.

50. Major Chukuka assisted by 2/Lt G Onyefuru and the other ranks
NA 160152 Sgt. NN Ugongene – No. 1 Signal Squadron
NA 18150196 Sgt. H. Okibe – No. 1 Signal Squadron
NA 154544 Sgt. B. Anyanwu – Camp – HQ 2 Bde NA
NA 403298 Sgt. L. Egbukichi – Army HQ (LGO)
NA 18150416 Sgt. P. Iwueke – HQ 2 Bde NA
had by then accomplished the arrest of Lt. Col. JY Pam and was being guarded inside a landrover in the Mess premises. Majors Chukuka and Anuforo held a brief discussion after which both Majors entered the Landrover. The driver was ordered to proceed to Ikoyi.
51. At a point inside Ikoyi the landrover was stopped and both Majors descended. Major Anuforo ordered Lt. Col. Pam to leave the vehicle, which he did. Major Anuforo then spoke to him and told him that he was going to be killed and would do well to say his prayers first. Lt. Col. Pam pleaded but Major Anuforo remained adamant, stating that he was carrying out orders. Then without warning Major Anuforo fired a burst from his SMG into Lt. Col. Pam’s body killing him on the spot.
52. Major Anuforo then ordered the NCOs in the landrover to come down and load the dead body into the vehicle. The men, who were shocked and frightened by the killing were reluctant to comply with this order and refused to leave the vehicle until Major Anuforo pointed his SMG at them and threatened to kill them unless they did as they were told. They then obeyed and loaded the corpse. The party then drove back to the Federal Guard Officers Mess where the body was off-loaded and placed alongside the bodies of Col. Mohammed and Lt. Col. Unegbe.
53. The assassination of Brigadier Z. Mai-Malari as originally conceived in the conspirators Master plan failed.
54. Major DO Okafor and Captain Oji were present at HQ 2 Bde when troops were being mustered and issued with arms and ammunition. When these arrangements had been completed these two officers entered Major Okafor’s personal car accompanied by the following ORs from No. 1.
Signal Squadron:
NA 500611 L/Cpl B Okotto
NA 18150074 L/Cpl P Esekwe
55. They drove direct to the Federal Guard Unit in Dodan Barracks, Ikoyi, where, in the meantime, Lt. Ezedigbo and 2/Lt. Igweze had roused additional troops and arranged for the issue of arms and ammunition. By the time the troops were ready for the alleged IS operations, Major Okafor and Captain Oji had arrived at the barracks and were at the Unit guardroom. Major Okafor ordered that troops mount into 2 Federal Guard Landrovers detailed for the operation by Ezedigbo
56. Federal Guard personnel detailed for this operation were the following:
NA 3785 Sgt. SA Umch
NA 18150997 Sgt. N. Ibundu
NA 18149870 L/Cpl N. Noji
NA 3995 L/Cpl HH Okeke
NA 18149870 L/Cpl P. Nnah
NA 1706 Pte. J. Ogu
NA 18149723 Pte. S. Eke
NA 18141571 Pte. I. Onoja
NA 18148787 Pte. JF Enunehe
NA 18149970 Pte. J Abaye
NA 3695 Pte. CS Dede
NA 18151261 Pte. S. Adekunle
57. The following vehicles were used:
Landrover NA 773 – driven by Pte. I Onoja
Landrover NA 957 – driven by L/Cpl N. Noji
58. The party drove direct to the house of Brigadier Z. Mai-Malari at 11 Thompson Avenue, Ikoyi. This is a corner house and situated at the point where Brown road runs into Thompson Avenue. On arrival at their destination, the troops were dismounted and divided into three sections commanded as shown:
No. 1 Section – Captain Oji
No. 2 Section – 2/Lt C Igweze
No. 3 Section – Sgt. SA Umch (in reserve)
59. The reserve section under Sgt. Umch was ordered to take post in a dark place opposite the house. The three officers, followed by their men then entered the compound which was guarded by NCOs and men of the 2 Battalion NA. Major Okafor ordered the Sentry to call the Guard Commander whom he informed that the situation was bad and that he, Okafor, had come to take over the guard. He instructed the Guard Commander to assemble his men and to take them back to his unit. The Guard Commander, according to some of the ORs interrogated, replied that he could not obey this order as he had received no instructions to that effect. Major Okafor and Captain Oji overruled the Guard Commander’s objections and entered the compound
60. Whilst Major Okafor was pre-occupied with the guard the telephone in the downstairs lounge of the Brigadier’s house started to ring. Some of the men present, including 2/Lt. Igweze, have stated that the Brigadier came downstairs to answer the telephone. No sooner had he picked up the receiver than a burst of SMG fire was heard in the compound. This was Captain Oji firing at a member of the Brigadier’s Guard, a L/Cpl of 2 battalion. The L/Cpl was killed and his body later placed into Major Okafor’s Landrover. At the same time, L/Cpl Paul Nwekwe of 2 Brigade Signal Troop who was on gaurd in the front of the main gate to the compound, was hit in the neck by a bullet, thought to be a richochet.
61. Brigadier Mai-Malari, alerted to the presence of Major Okafor’s force in his compound by Captain Oji’s burst of fire dropped the telephone and, followed by his wife, was observed running into the boy’s quarters. From there he escaped into the road, and it is thought, tried to make his way to the Federal Guard Barracks.
62. According to the ORs interrogated, Major Okafor flew into a rage when he discovered that the Brigadier had escaped and bitterly blamed the men of the Federal Guard for not shooting the Brigadier when they saw him running towards the boy’s quarters. He then ordered all present that the Brigadier must be shot on sight.
63. Major Okafor then jumped into the landrover driven by L/Cpl Noji. He informed 2/Lt Igweze that he was going to get “that man” and to arrange for more troops to come to the Brigadier’s House. He drove around the area for some time but failed to find the Brigadier. By the time he returned to 11 Thompson Avenue, Major Ademoyega and Captain Adeleke had arrived there in a landrover driven by L/Cpl D. Omeru.
Major Ademoyega had already informed Captain Oji that the Brigadier had been killed and that he had seen his body at the Federal Guard. Captain Oji was overheard telling Okafor that “the Jack had been killed”. It is presumed that by “the Jack” Oji meant the Brigadier. Major Okafor then informed the troops with him that Brigadier Mai-Malari had been killed by men from another unit.
64. The time, by then, was nearly 0400 hrs. captain Oji was ordered by Major Okafor to proceed to 2nd Battalion in Ikeja to check the situation there. The Captain left in landrover NA 773 accompanied by Sgt. H. Irundu, L/Cpl H Okeke, Pte. S. Adekunle and Pte. I Onoja.
65. As stated elsewhere in this report, Major Ifeajuna and his convoy, after the abduction of the PM and the Finance Minister, drove towards the Federal Guards Officers mess where he made a brief stop and then proceeded toward Ikoyi Hotel, still with the PM in the car. At a point in the Golf course, adjacent to a petrol station Brigadier Mai-Malari was walking towards Dodan Barracks when he saw Major Ifeajuna’s car. The Brigadier recognized his Brigade Major Ifeajuna and shouted and beckoned him to stop. Then Ifeajuna stopped the car and accompanied by 2/Lt Ezedigbo went towards Brig. Mai-Malari and killed him.
66. After the Brigadier had been killed, his body was loaded into the 3-Tonner and driven to the Federal Guard Officers’ Mess.
67. Although not initially alloted to Major Ifeajuna as a target for assassination, Major Ifeajuna proceeded to Ikoyi Hotel to kill Lt. Col. Largema. On arrival at the hotel Major Ifeajuna told the receptionist on duty that he had an urgent message for Lt. Col. Largema of Room 115.
The time was between 0330 and 0400. He then asked the hotel receptionist to supply him with the master key which can open all doors in the hotel but was told that this was not available. He then ordered the receptionist to lead him to the room in which Lt. Col. Largema was staying, warning the receptionist on the way that he would be shot if he refused to comply with whatever he might be ordered to do.
68. On their arrival on the first floor Major Ifeajuna, accompanied by 2/Lt Ezedigbo instructed the hotel receptionist to knock on the door of Lt. Col. Largema and to inform him that he was wanted on the telephone. It should be pointed out here that rooms in this hotel have no telephones. There are situated in small alcoves in the corridors. In the case of Room 115, the telephone alcove is only a few paces away.
69. Lt. Col Largema responded and came out dressed in pyjamas and slightly dazed by sleep. In the meantime the two armed soldiers had stepped back into the corner near the lifts from where they could not be observed by Lt. Col. Largema when he came out of his door. The Lt. Col. then picked up the receiver, which was off the hook. At this moment both the soldiers near the lift opened fire with their SMG. Lt. Col. Largema fell down and died.
70. The killers went downstairs and called the third man to come up. Between the three of them they then carried the dead body down the stairs and deposited it on the floor. They then called yet another soldier from the Mercedes car who helped the other three to carry the body to the car. The whole party then drove off.
71. When Major Ifeajuna and party returned to the Federal Guards Officers’ Mess he learnt that the GOC was in town and was organizing 2nd Battalion NA at Ikeja to attack the rebels. He was then joined by Major Okafor and they drove off together in Major Ifeajuna’s car.
At the Yaba Military Hospital they dropped 2/Lt Ezedigbo who had been wounded in the encounter with Brigadier Mai-Malari. The time was about 0400 hrs. Major Ifeajuna drove away on to the Abeokuta road. On the way they stopped and Ifeajuna asked the PM out of the car whence he shot and killed him. When he and Okafor became certain that the PM was dead they left the body in the bush at a point beyond Otta on the Lagos to Abeokuta road. They then opened the boot of the car and dropped the body of Lt. Col. Largema near that of the PM.
They then drove on to Abeokuta. On the way after Abeokuta two other soldiers in the car were dropped and told to find their way back to Lagos whilst Ifeajuna and Okafor proceeded to Enugu. They arrived Enugu at about 1415 hours and proceeded to the Premier’s Lodge where they held discussion with Dr. MI Okpara, then Premier of Eastern region, after which they separated and went into hiding. Ifeajuna eventually escaped to Ghana where he was received by the former President Kwame Nkrumah who sent him to Winneba to stay with SG Ikoku.
72. At the Federal Guard Officers’ Mess the corpses of Brigadier Mai-Malari, Col. Mohammed, Lt. Col. Pam and Lt. Col. Unegbe were loaded into a 3-tonner lorry in which was sitting Chief Okotie-Eboh still alive. The time was then about 0330 hours.
73. By this time Major A. Ademoyega and Major CI Anuforo were present on the Mess premises. Major Ifeajuna having departed, these two officers took command of his men and vehicles. They mounted into Major Anuforo’s Peugeot car accompanied by 2/Lt Igweze. Major Ademoyega entered the landrover.
74. On the instructions of Major Anuforo, the little convoy moved off with Anuforo leading. They traversed Lagos and went along Abeokuta road. At a given point, unidentifiable by the men interrogated, Major Anuforo stopped the convoy and he, 2/Lt Igweze and Major Ademoyega left their vehicles. They came to the tailboard of the 3-Ton truck and detailed a number of men to take position in front and to the rear of the convoy with instructions to stop and turn back all approaching traffic.
75. Major Anuforo then ordered the four corpses to be unloaded onto the road. The bodies were then carried into the bush on the left hand side of the road. Major Anuforo then observed FS Okotie-Eboh still seated in the truck and asked the question: “Who is that man”?, which leads to the belief that, until then, Anuforo was unaware of the presence of Okotie-Eboh in the truck. The Finance Minister replied “I am Okotie-Eboh”.
Major Anuforo then ordered the Minister to step down. The latter complied, whereupon Major Anuforo informed him that he was going to be shot. The Minister commenced to plead for his life. This met with little or no response from Anuforo who is reported as having confined himself to stating that he was acting under orders. The Minister was then forced to go into the bush, pushed along by Major Anuforo and Major Ademoyega and followed by 2/Lt Igweze and Sgt. Ndukaife to the spot where the bodies of the 4 senior officers had been deposited. Arriving there, without hesitation, Major Anuforo killed Okotie-Eboh with a short burst from his SMG.
77. Major Anuforo then returned to the road followed by the others but leaving 2/Lt Igweze, Cpl. Egwim, L/Cpl Nwankpa and Cpl. Nweke on guard over the five bodies.
78. The convoy drove off and returned later, accompanied by 3 Ferret scout cars which had been obtained from 2 reconnaisance Squadron at Abeokuta. Four spades were brought out from the landrover and used to dig graves for the burial of the corpses. The graves were dug by Cpl. C. Egwim, Cpl Z Chukwu, L/Cpl J Nwankpa and private N.A. Evulobi. When this task had been completed, they all boarded their respective vehicles and drove off to Lagos.
79. These three cases have been treated jointly as they are of lesser importance and because the officers and men involved left Apapa together in the same vehicle
80. Although it is probable that the officers concerned in the occupation of these vulnerable points were fully aware of the purpose of their activities of that night, they have all denied this. It is certain that none of the ORs involved received any advance information on this subject.
81. After the distribution of arms and ammunition at HQ 2 Brigade, 2/Lt PN Okocha and 2/Lt OC Anyafulu were allotted a Landrover and 3 Ors and instructed to proceed to the P & T Exchange by Major A. Ademoyega and to wait there until he, Ademoyega, joined them
82. They drove there and, after waiting for a very short time, Major Ademoyega arrived in another Landrover accompanied by other officers and men. The Major went straight to the main door and knocked. The door was opened by one of the employees and Major Ademoyega, 2/Lt Okocha and 2/Lt Anyafulu entered, accompanied by the Ors. The Major sent the 2/Lieutenants upstairs with orders to bring down all the workers from the Exchange, whilst the 3 soldiers were ordered to guard the three entrance doors of the building.
83. When all the workers were assembled, Major Ademoyega addressed them and ordered them not to pass any calls. He reassured them that there was no danger and advised them not to panic. He told them that he was leaving the two 2/Lts and the soldiers at the Exchange to ensure that his orders were obeyed. After speaking to the officer in charge of the exchange, Major Ademoyega instructed the 2/Lts not to molest any of the workers leaving instructions that they must not leave there until he, Ademoyega, returned to collect them.
84. Neither of these officers have admitted that they took any steps to ensure that the automatic exchange would cease to function. An automatic exchange does not depend upon any human agency to continue functioning and it must, therefore, be accepted that one of these officers interfered with the installation.
85. At 0500 hours 2/Lt Okocha complained that he was unwell and left in the landrover that had brought them there. 2/Lt Anyafulu and the 3 ORs remained in the exchange until about 0645 hours. Seeing no sign of Major Ademoyega, Anyafulu became worried. The workers of the day shift began to arrive but were prevented from entering by the soldiers. He then decided to return to his unit. He gave the soldiers some money to enable them to travel back to Apapa by bus. He too returned to Apapa in a commercial bus and remained in his office until arrested.
86. After the distribution of arms and ammunition at HQ 2 Brigade, Major A. Ademoyega ordered the following officers and ORs to enter with him into a landrover driven by L/Cpl Umoru:
Captain GS Adeleke
2/Lt NS Wokocha
2/Lt ES Nweke
NA 18149089 Sgt. E. Ogbu – Army HQ (LGO)
NA 18150419 Cpl. H Nwegu – 1 Signal Squadron
NA 504344 Cpl. B Nwuogu – Army HQ (LGO)
NA 18150320 L/Cpl R Ejimkonye – 1 Signal Squadron
NA 504221 Sgt. F Agonsi – 1 Signal Squadron
NA 18151015 Sgt. F. Eke – 1 Signal Squadron
NA 18150647 Cpl. JC Iroegbulam – 1 Signal Squadron
NA 1810641 Cpl. Esonu – 1 Signal Squadron
NA 18150599 Cpl. D. Oharuzike- 1 Signal Squadron
87. From Apapa the party drove straight to Lion Building where 2/Lt ES Nweke, Sgt. E Ogbu, Cpl. H Nwegu, Cpl B Nwuogu and L/Cpl B Ejimkonye left the vehicle and entered the building. Major Ademoyega spoke to the officer in charge and ordered him to cease receiving or transmitting all messages. He introduced 2/Lt Nweke as the officer who would see to it that his orders were obeyed. Major Ademoyega and Capt. Adeleke then drove away.
88. 2/Lt. Nweke posted his men in strategic positions to prevent anyone entering or leaving the building and remained inside the building with L/Cpl Ejimkonye to ensure that no messages were received or transmitted. The party remained there until 0820 hours when, in the absence of any further instructions, 2/Lt Nweke and his men traveled to the Federal Guard Barracks in Ikoyi by taxi. On arrival there they were arrested.
89. There is no doubt that 2/Lt Nweke was fully aware of the fact that his occupation of the NET was connected with the rebellion of which he was informed at the meeting of officers late on 14 Jan 66 in Major Ifeajuna’s house in Apapa.
90. As shown in paragraph 85 of this report, Major Ademoyega, accompanied by 2/Lts Wokocha and Nweke left HQ 2 Brigade at Approximately 0200 Hours in a landrover driven by LCpl Umoru, which also contained 9 ORs
91. They arrived at Lion Building around 0220 hours where Major Ademoyega, 2/Lt Wokocha, Sgt. F Agonsi, Sgt. F. Eke, Cpl Iroegbulam, Cpl S. Esonu and Cpl. D. Ohazurike left the vehicles and entered the building. Cpls Ohazurike and Esonu were posted downstairs at the security desk. Major Ademoyega spoke to the policemen on duty there and told them that they were engaged on military operations. He ordered them not to answer the telephone nor transmit any telephone messages. The two corporals were instructed to ensure that the police obeyed the Major’s orders.
92. Major Ademoyega, 2/Lt Wokocha and the others then proceeded upstairs to the Police Control Room. Here they found 4 PCs and one WPC on duty. A SPO, rank not identified was also on duty there. Major Ademoyega spoke to the police and ordered them not to receive or transmit any telephone or radio messages. He informed the SPO that they were engaged in military operations and that the soldiers were there to protect the Police.
93. At approximately 0320 hours. The GOC, Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi arrived at Lion Building in a Jaguar car. He entered the lobby holding a pistol in his hand and asked the two soldiers on duty what they were doing there. They replied that they did not know why they were there and that they had been brought by Major Ademoyega. They also told the GOC that 2/Lt. Wokocha and some others were upstairs. The GOC then ordered Cpl. Esonu to go up and to bring down the 2/Lt. Esonu complied but could not find the control room. He came down again and informed the GOC of his failure.
94. The GOC, after having asked the men to which unit they belonged, then ordered them to return to their barracks immediately. He added that he did not know what was happening but that he was turning out 2 Battalion to attack the men then engaged on unlawful operations in Lagos. After this, the GOC left.
95. Cpl. Ohazurike then ordered Esonu to go upstairs again, accompanied by a PC, to find 2/Lt Wokocha and to tell him of the visit of the GOC. Esonu complied and passed the message to 2/Lt Wokocha. The latter then decided that it would be wisest to comply with the GOC’s orders. He collected all his men and went to the Ministry of Defence where he succeeded in obtaining transport to take the entire back to Apapa where they arrived around 0430 hours.
96. As has already been demonstrated, Captain E. Nwobosi, OC 2 Field Battery NNA, was taken into the confidence of the conspirators either on 13 or 14 Jan 66, whilst he was attending a Brigade Training Conference at Apapa. During the afternoon of 14 Jan 66, he was given a set of written instructions by Major Ifeajuna.
It is probable that these instructions included the arrest of the Premier and Deputy Premier of the West and an order to bring these VIPs to the Federal Guard Officer’s Mess. The instruction also probably included an order to make arrangements for a 105 mm Howitzer to be brought to Lagos after the operation. This written instruction has not been recovered and was probably destroyed by Capt. Nwobosi after his arrest.
97. Capt. Nwobosi was further instructed by Major Ifeajuna to stand by his telephone in Abeokuta to await a message giving the all clear and “H” hour.
98. Capt. Nwobosi returned to Abeokuta, where he arrived around 1800 hrs. Since the battery which he commanded was in the process of being formed and had not, as yet, been supplied with vehicles, Capt. Nwobosi went to 2 Recce Squadron, also stationed at Abeokuta, where he spoke to Capt. Remawa and 2/Lt. Orok.
He gave them a message purporting to have come from Major OBIENU, CO 2 Recce Sqn, instructing these two officers to supply him, Nwobosi, with one 3-Ton truck and a landrover. Capt. Remawa agreed and arrangements were made for the vehicles to report to Nwobosi at midnight, with drivers. Later that evening, Capt. Nwobosi received a telephone call from Major Ifeajuna giving him the all clear and giving “H” hour as 0200 hours.
100. Around midnight, Capt. Nwobosi, woke up 2/Lt. A. A. O. Egbikor of his unit and Sgt. T. Ibolegbu, the acting Battery Sergeant Major (BSM). He ordered the latter to turn out 25 men for IS operations and to tell the Battery Quartermaster Sergeant (BQMS), Ambrose Chukwu, to prepare all the Unit’s stock of small arms and ammunition for immediate issue to the men. Although Capt. Nwobosi claims that he gave no intimation to anyone about the night’s operations, the interrogation of the ORs involved has made it clear that around 1930 hours he instructed certain key NCOs to stand-by for IS operations.
101. After the men had been roused, they were issued with arms and ammunition by the BQMS. A total of 15 SLRs and 12 Sterling SMGs were issued. The two officers drew SLRs. When issued, each SLR magazine contained 20 rounds of ammunition, whilst each SMG magazine contained 28 rounds.
102. After the issue of arms, the men now marched to the parade ground where they were addressed by Capt. Nwobosi who informed them that they were proceeding to Ibadan for I.S operations. The men were then ordered to enbus. When this was completed the vehicles contained the following personnel:

(1) Landrover
Capt: E.Nwobosi
NA 504197 BQMS A. Chukwu
NA 2630 Gnr. D. Odiachi
NA 3330 Gnr. I. Ajao
NA Gnr. S. Adefi
NA 5117 Lbdr E. Uloh
NA 5479 Gnr. R. Nwabuisi
NA 5145 Gnr. B. Akau
Driver: NA 2215 Tpr. A. Itodo (2 Recce Sqn)

(2) 3-Ton Truck
2/Lt. A.A.O. Egbikor
NA 502193 Sgt. T. Ebelegbu {acting BSM)
NA 18147640 Sgt. M.E. Ogaga
NA 4175 Gnr. G. Njeku
NA 4266 Gnr. B. Ifezue
NA 18144875 Lbdr. A. Aghar
NA 5792 Gnr. (lllegible)
NA 3208 Gnr. J. Echenim
NA 4195 Gnr. O.Onyekwe
NA 4337 Gnr. S. Ukelenye
NA 18151782 Gnr. B. Mba
NA 5498 Gnr. R. Gbongbo
NA 3094 Gnr. D. Ugbemoiko
NA 5789 Gnr. 0. Dasheet
NA 5675 Gnr. J. Gwaske
NA 4338 Gnr. s. Anukam
103. When all were seated, the convoy moved off to Ibadan. Whilst still in Abeokuta, Capt. Nwobosi stopped to pick up a pregnant woman in labour and take her to the nearest hospital. After this incident, the convoy continued on its way uninterrupted, reaching Ibadan around 0200 hours as planned.
104. They drove straight to the P & T automatic telephone exchange in Agodi, where Capt. Nwobosi and 2/Lt. Egbikor ordered all the employees to leave the building, believing that this would stop all telephone communication in and out of Ibadan. In the event, this was not the case, as the automatic exchange continued to function and telephone communication continued unimpaired throughout the night.
105. From the P&T the force drove to the Eleyele ECN Power Station. Here the employees were ordered to stop the generators and to leave the building. A number of the employees prevailed on Capt. Nwobosi to give them a lift into the town. He obliged and dropped them near Dugbe Market, on his way to the house of R.A. Fani-Kayode.
106. Arrived at the Deputy Premier’s residence, the 3- Tonner remained outside and the landrover drove into the compound. Of two policemen on guard at the gate, one escaped and the other was overpowered and put into the landrover. A number of persons believed to have been thugs were seen in the compound, but these absconded when they caught sight of the armed soldiers.
107. All the men were ordered to take up defensive positions around the house. Capt. Nwobosi then shouted “Fani-Kayode: Come down you are for lawful arrest by the army”. A voice from upstairs replied affirmatively to the Captain’s summons, but nothing stirred. Nwobosi repeated his call once or twice and eventually fired a round from his SLR into the ground. When this failed to produce any reaction from Fani-Kayode, the Captain ordered the following to accompany him into the house:
(1) 2/Lt. A.A.O. Egbikor
(2) BQMS A. Chukwu
(3) Gnr. I. Ajao
(4) Gnr. S. Adefi
(5) Sgt. T. Ibelegbu
108. To gain entrance, Capt. Nwobosi was compelled to break a glass panel in the door with his SLR. He reached in, turned the key and opened the door. The small party then entered and mounted the stairs where they found Fani-Kayode in a bedroom. He raised his hands above his head and said “I surrender”. Capt. Nwobosi replied “you have wasted a lot of time – we could have shot you. This is a lawful arrest by the army”. Fani-Kayode was then escorted downstairs and put into the landrover after his hands had been tied together, with a rifle sling. From upstairs a-woman’s voice was heard shouting “Don’t kill him”.
109. All the men were then assembled and mounted into their respective vehicles. They drove straight to Premier’s Lodge, directed by Fani-Kayode. When they arrived, they had to overpower the police guard consisting of 1 Corporal and 5 PCs. These were put into the 3- Tonner under guard. The landrover then drove in and was parked facing the main entrance porch. At this time the security lights were burning and the lodge emergency generator was running.
110. The men were disposed around the building in strategic positions whilst Capt. Nwobosi went to the generator room to switch off the lights. Whilst he was there according to the landrover driver, Tpr. A. Itodo, a shot was fired. It was believed that this was the shot fired by Capt. Nwobosi, which killed the generator attendant. His body was later found with a bullet wound in the back of the head.
111. It is known that by the time S.L. Akintola had been informed by the wife of R.A. Fani-Kayode of what had happened by telephone. Akintola had returned from Kaduna only a short time before the arrival of Nwobosi and his men. He had been to the North to greet the Sardauna when the latter arrived from Mecca. Akintola must have been further alerted by the commotion caused by the overpowering of the police guard and the killing of the generator attendant.
112. All dispositions having been taken, Capt. Nwobosi stood in the middle of the courtyard and shouted “Akintola come down – you are for lawful arrest by the army on orders from HQ 2 Brigade. A voice from upstairs, presumably that of Akintola, replied “Yes, I am coming” Nothing further happened. Capt. Nwobosi repeated his summons a number of times without reaction from Akintola. He then fired from his SLR one round at the building. When this produced no result, the Captain ordered the following to accompany him into the lodge:
(1) 2/Lt. A.A.O. Egbikor
(2) BQMS A. Chukwu
(3} Gnr. S. Adefi
(4} Gnr. I. Ajao
{5) Gnr. B. Akau
(6) Gnr. J. Gwaske
(7) LIBdr E. Uloh
113. To gain entrance, Captain Nwobosi was compelled to force the main door to the lodge. They all entered and mounted the stairs. On the first floor they searched a number of rooms without encountering anyone, until they came to S.L. Akintola’s bedroom which was locked. When Nwobosi was about to force this door, Akintola opened fire from inside the room with an SMG, shooting through the closed door. This first burst of fire immediately wounded Gnr. S. Adefi in the hand, 2/Lt. Egbikor in the head and Capt. Nwobosi on the left cheek. None of the injuries were sufficiently serious to impede them. Nwobosi and his men immediately returned the fire whilst retreating down the stairs. They then left the house in a hurry and sought cover amongst the flowerbeds facing the back building.
114. Two of the men, L/Bdr. Uloh and, Gnr. Ajao remained upstairs and sought refuge in one of the other rooms. Akintola came to the room covering the entrance porch and continued to fire at his assailants with his SMG without, however, hitting anyone. Capt. Nwobosi ordered his men to return the fire which they did, massively. Akintola continued firing until he ran out of ammunition.
115. Around this time R.A. Fani-Kayode was heard shouting from the landrover to Akintola urging him to surrender. Akintola, now defenceless, decided to surrender and was next seen coming out of the front room, by Gnr. Ajao. When Akintola saw Ajao and Uloh he raised his hand in surrender and went downstairs. Capt. Nwobosi in the meantime, was heard shouting repeatedly “bring him out, bring him out”.
116. Capt. Nwobosi then ordered 2/Lt. Egbikor and BQMS A. Chukwu to shoot the Premier. These two opened fire on Akintola with their SLRs, joined, shortly afterwards, by Nwobosi himself. S.L. Akintola fell down dead or dying with several bullets in his body.
117. After the killing of Akintola, Capt. Nwobosi assembled his men, released the captured policemen and drove off. This time he was joined in the landrover by 2/Lt. Egbikor. They stopped at a roundabout near the Central Police Station, where Capt. Nwobosi ordered Sgt. T. Ibelegbu to proceed independently to Abeokuta with orders to collect a 105 mm Howitzer from the battery gun park together with a team of 12 gunners, and to drive to 2 Battalion, Ikeja. There, Ibelegbu and his party were to await the arrival of Capt. Nwobosi.
118. On the way out of Ibadan, R.A. Fani-Kayode begged Capt. Nwobosi to be released. The Captain refused this request and informed Fani-Kayode that he had orders to bring him to the Federal Guard Officers’ Mess in Lagos.
119. The party drove direct to Dodan Barracks where they arrived around 0700 hours, having left Ibadan at approximately 0400 hours. On their arrival they were all arrested.
120. The party travelling in the 3-Tonner with the 105 mm Howitzer was arrested on arrival in 2 Battalion lines, Ikeja.

Continued in Part Three

Leaked [Police] Special Branch Report:
“Military Rebellion of 15th January 1966”
Part III
By Nowamagbe Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

This is the Police Report on the official investigation into the coup of 15 January 1966. It was prepared by Police Special Branch Interrogators based on interviews with soldiers, other ranks and some officers who had been arrested after the mutiny.
None of the soldiers and officers involved had come to formal trial in a court-martial as of the time of the July 29 1966 “counter-coup”. Indeed the fact they were not court-martialed was one of the grievances listed by those officers who carried out the unfortunate operations of July 28-August 1, 1966.
The coup report was released to very few individuals in Nigeria and certain foreign governments in early August 1966 – and then leaked. The remainder of the report which allegedly implicated certain other persons has apparently never been released widely to this day. It exists, we are on its trail – and shall publish it on sight.

121. Major C.K. Nzeogwu of the Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC) at Kaduna was appointed by the “inner circle” as the commander of the rebellion in the North. The manner in which this was to be organised appears to have been left entirely to him.
122. The record does not show that any officers, other than Major Nzeogwu, in the North were taken into the confidence of the inner circle. It is, however, probable that some time before the rebellion Major Nzeogwu obtained the co-operation of Major T. Onwatuegwu and Captain G. Ude, both of the NMTC.
123. Whereas in the West and in the Lagos area military movements by night were not unusual as a result of the disturbed conditions then prevailing, this was not the case at Kaduna. It was, therefore, necessary that a cover be provided for the proposed rebellious activities, at the same time creating a reason for bringing troops out of barracks by night without alerting the senior officers of 1 Brigade to Nzeogwu’s intentions.
124. It has been established that Military night exercises in the Kaduna area, organized by the NMTC, then under the command of Major Nzeogwu commenced in early December 65, leading up to Exercise Damissa on 13 and 14 Jan. 66. By then the population of Kaduna and the Police were accustomed to troop movements after dark.
125. The master plan of the inner circle made provision for the arrest of a number of leading political personalities who were not to be killed unless they offered resistance. This may well have been true as far as the West, Mid-West and the East were concerned. In view of Major Nzeogwu’s activities at the Premier’s Lodge in Kaduna, however, it is thought that this officer had no intention of abiding by these decisions but was determined, from the start, to kill the Premier of the North at any cost.
126. The details of exercise DAMISSA are not relevant to this report. Suffice it to say that the night exercise of 13 Jan 66 took place in the area of the Ministers’ quarters in Kaduna, whereas that of 14 Jan 66 was held in the bush some 5 or 6 miles outside Kaduna along the Zaria road.
Units involved
l27. On 14 Jan 66 troops from the following units took part in Exercise DAMISSA:
(1) 3rd Battalion NA -“C” Company
(2) N.M.T.C.
(3) No. 1 Field Squadron NAE
(4) No.2 Field Squadron NAE
(5) 1 Brigade Transport Company NASC
(6) lst Field Battery NAA
Arms and Ammunition
128. Troops proceeding on military training exercises by night or by day were normally issued with their arms, either without ammunition or with blanks.
129. As far as can be established, this practice was first deviated from on Jan 13 66 when, at approximately 0900 hours Major Nzeogwu handed the Acting RQMS of the NMTC, Ssgt. J. Daramola, a list of live ammunition required for Exercise DAMISSA. This NCO handed the list to Cpl. E. Aiyikere, the arms storeman, with instructions to draw this ammunition from the NMTC Magazine at Kawo. This was done and the ammunition was issued in bulk at approximately 1730 hours on 14 Jan 66 by Ssgt. Daramola and CMS Oko (also of NMTC).
130. This list of ammunition issued is not available but it has, however, been established that at least 6 x 84 mm projectiles for the Carl Gustav Anti-Tank gun were issued to Sgt. Yakubu Adebiyi, an instructor in the Tactical Wing of the NMTC. These were loaded into a landrover whilst the bulk of the small Arms Ammunition drawn was loaded into a 3-Tonner driven by NA/ 18266054 Pte. Clement Agbe of 1 Bde. Transport Coy. This driver subsequently transported the ammunition to the DAMISSA exercise area.
131. Exercise DAMISSA terminated at approximately 0130 hours on 15 Jan 66. Around that time all officers engaged in the exercise with the exception of the officers of 1st Field Battery NAA, were called by Major Nzeogwu to attend an “O” Group in the bush at which, they believed, the success or otherwise of the exercise was to be discussed. Identified as present at this discussion are the following:
(1) Major C.K. Nzeogwu )NMTC
(2) Major T. Onwatuegwu )NMTC
(3) Captain G. Ude ) NMTC
(4) 2/Lt. S. R. Omeruah )3rd Bn NA – “C” Coy
(5) 2/Lt. D.K. Waribor )
(6) Capt. B. Gbulie )at the time in command of lst and 2nd Field Squadron NAE
(7) 2/Lt. Ileabachi )
(8) 2/Lt. Kpera ) lst Field Sqn NAE
(9) 2/Lt. P. Ogoegbunam Ibik )
(10) Lieut. E. Okafor )
(11) 2/Lt. Ezedima ) 2nd Field Sqn NAE
(12) 2/Lt. H.O.D. EGHAGHA )
132. The officers of 1st Field Battery NAA were not called to the “O” Group for reasons which are not altogether clear. No direct use in connection with the rebellion was made of this Battery that night.
133. When all the officers were assembled, Major Nzeogwu addressed then on the subject of the rapidly deteriorating political and security situation in the Federation. He claimed that a stage had been reached at which the politicians should be told to quit. To accomplish this, he announced, the army had decided to take over power by force of arms.
He compared the incomes of the politicians with those of Nigerian workers and urged the officers to support the rebellion. He further announced that the revolt was taking place simultaneously in all regional capitals and at Lagos and that, therefore, they need fear no repercussions as a result of the activities in which they were about to participate that night. It would appear that none of these present raised a dissenting voice. In fact, their subsequent actions showed, in most cases, enthusiastic support for the plan.
134. Major Nzeogwu then proceeded to issue set tasks to each officer present. Events have shown that, subsequently, last minute changes in these plans were made. The tasks allotted have been established as follows:
Occupation of Vulnerable Points
135. The officer in over-all charge of this part of the operation was Capt. B. Gbulie. He claimed to have distributed tasks as shown below on the spur of the moment:
(1) Ammunition Service Depot (ASD) -2/Lt. Ileabachi
(2) P & T Telephone Exchange -2/Lt. P. Ogoegbunam Ibik
(3) N.B.C. House -2/Lt. Kpera
(4) BCNN Radio & TV Station -2/Lt. Ezedima
(5) State House -2/Lt. Okafor
(6) Road Blocks on Kachia Road near PMF Barracks -2/Lt. Eghagha
136. In addition, Capt. Gbulie was instructed to rouse the following officers to inform them of what was taking place and to ask for support:
(1) Capt. P. Anakwe – 1 Bde Staff Capt. “A”
(2) Major A.A. Keshi – Brigade Major
(3) Capt. L. Dillibe – 1 Bde Staff Capt. “Q”
(4) Lieut. J.C. Ojukwu – 1 Recce Squadron NA
(5) Lieut. Ikeachor
(6} Lieut. Mohammed Eandiya
Capt. Gbulie has stated under interrogation that he complied with this order and caused these officers to foregather at HQ 1 Bde where he informed them of the situation.
137. As far as has been established, the following officers were then detailed for tasks as shown:
(1) Assassination of Alh Sir Ahmadu Bello
Major C.K. Nzeogwu
2/Lt. K.D. Waribor
2/Lt. S.E. Omeruah
Capt. G. Ude
(2) Assassination of Brigadier S. Ademulegun
Major T. Onwatuegwu
(3) Assassination of Colonel R.A. Shodeinde
2/Lt. K.D. Waribor
(4) Abduction of Sir Kashim Ibrahim
Major T. Onwatuegwu
(5) Abduction of Makaman Bida – Regional Finance Minister
Major C.K. Nzeogwu
138. After the officers had been briefed they were sent to join their men and to proceed immediately with the execution of the tasks allotted to them. It is not clear whether or not Major Nzeogwu instructed the officers to inform their men of what was afoot. It is certain that the men of 3rd Battalion who were to be used for the attack of the Premier’s Lodge were not briefed. It is equally certain that Capt. Gbulie addressed all the men of the Engineers under his command and spoke to them along the lines in which Major Nzeogwu had briefed the officers.
139. Immediately after the “O” Group, senior NCOs of all units represented were sent to the 3~Tonner containing the ammunition and order to draw ammunition for their men. In the case of the “C” company this raised a problem. The men believed the exercise to be finished and a number of them queried the reason why they should be issued with live ammunition. This was explained to them by 2/Lt. Waribor who told them that they were proceeding on Internal Security Operations.
140. After the issue of ammunition had been completed, the entire force left the exercise area and proceeded to its allotted targets.
141. The following officers and ORs have been identified as having been involved in the attack on the Premier’s Lodge:
(1) Major C .K. Nzeogwu – NMTC
(2) 2/Lt. K.D. Waribor – “C” Coy, 3rd BN NA
(3) 2/Lt. S.E. Omeruah – ”
(4) Capt. G. Ude
Other ranks
(1) NA 18147406 Sgt. Husa Kanga – NMTC
(2) NA l8149900 Sgt Yakubu Adebiyi – NMTC
(3) Sgt Duromola Oyegoke . NMTC
(4) NA 5888 Pte. Ogbole Agwu – 3rd Bn NA
(5) NA 2405 Pte Bello Mbulla – 3rd Bn NA
(6) NA 18151763 L/Cpl . Samuel Amajo – 3rd Bn NA
(7) NA 18151319 L/Cpl Danyo Mbulla – 3rd Bn NA
(8) NA 5684 Pte. Abu Odiedier – 3rd Bn NA
(9) NA 18148998 Pte Lekoja Gidan-Jibrin – 3rd Bn NA
(10) NA 163287 Cp1. Bako Lamundo – 3rd Bn NA
(11) NA 5860 Pte. Joseph Wadu Goji -3rd Bn NA
(12) NA 1982 Pte. Alexander Agbe – 3rd Bn NA
(13) NA 18151864 Pte Lagwin Goshit – 3rd Bn NA
(14) NA 18266006 Pte Augustine Oguche Agbo – 3rd Bn NA
(15) NA 634212 Pte Effiong Atkinson – 3rd Bn NA
(16) NA 18147284 Cpl. Tunana Bangir – 3rd Bn NA
(17) NA 18l49368 Cpl. Abibo Elf – 3rd Bn NA
(18) NA 18151873 Pte. Uguman Monogi – 3rd Bn NA
(19) NA 1562 Pte Felako Kwa – 3rd Bn NA
(20) NA 18149363 Cpl. Reuben Nwagwugwu – 3rd Bn NA
(20) NA 502542 Cpl. Yakubu Kaje – 3rd Bn NA
(21) NA 505092 L/Cpl. Mamis Hundu – 3rd Bn NA
(22) NA 18151861 L/Cpl Thaddens Thamyil Tsenyi1 – 3rd Bn NA
(23) NA l8148269 L/Cpl Issna1m Tayapa – 3rd Bn NA
(24) NA 18148272 L/Cpl Ali Shendam – 3rd Bn NA
(25) NA 18151771 Pte. Usuman Gabure – 3rd Bn NA
(26) NA 18149613 Pte Emmanue1 Ekwueme – 3rd Bn NA
(27) NA 4887 Pte Erastus Nakito – 3rd Bn NA
(29) NA 3659 Pte Jonathan Anahiri – 3rd Bn NA
142. When this force left the DAMISSA exercise area, it was led by Major Nzeogwu who was travelling in a landrover accompanied by a driver and two OR’s. He was followed by another landrover containing Sgts. Adebiyi, Manga and Oyegoke who were armed with two 84mm Carl Gustav Anti-Tank Guns and 6 projectiles.
143. Following this were a number of other vehicles, landrovers and 3-Tonner containing 2/Lts. Waribor and Omeruah and troops from “C” Coy 3rd BN NA.
144. On arrival at the main gate to the compound, Major Nzeogwu found 4 PCs on guard in front of the gate. They were the following:
(1) No.8301 L/Cpl. Musa Nimzo
(2) No. 10674 PC. Akpan Anduka
(3) No. 18913 PC Hagai Lai
(4) No. 18920 PC Peter Attah
145. Major Nzeogwu, who was armed with a sterling SMG, ordered the constables to face the wall. Attah complied with this order but the three others refused. Without further ado, Major Nzeogwu immediately opened fire on them with his SMG killing all three on the spot.
146. Immediately after the killing of the policemen, Major Nzeogwu ordered the two men with the guns and the 3 NMTC Sergeants to follow him into the compound, bringing with them the Carl Gustav guns and the projectiles for these weapons.
147. Immediately inside the compound, Major Nzeogwu stationed the Carl Gustavs some 10 yards apart facing the lodge. The gunners were Sgts. Oyegeke and Manga, whilst Sgt. Adebiyi acted as ammunition number. As soon as both guns had been loaded, Major Nzeogwu ordered the NCOs to open fire at the Lodge. Both fired their projectiles bursting inside the ground floor rooms of the building. Sgt. Adebiyi stated that he then ran towards Sgt. Manga to help this NCO reload.
Whilst he was with Manga he heard Major Nzeogwu shouting repeatedly “Fire you bastard, fire”. Immediately after this both Manga and Adebiyi heard a burst of SMG fire. They turned round and observed Sgt. Oyegoke slumped on the ground bleeding from multiple wounds. It was clear to both that their colleague had been killed by Major Nzeogwu either for refusing to obey or because he attempted to run away.
143. After the killing of Oyegeke, Major Nzeogwu ordered Sgt. Adebiyi to take over Oyegeke’s gun and to continue firing at the house. Both Adebiyi and Manga, frightened by Oyegoke’s killing, continued to fire as ordered. They used a total of 5 projectiles. As a result the building caught fire.
149. Whilst all this was happening, 2/Lst. Waribor and Omeruah had arrived with the men from 3rd BN who were rapidly deployed around the outer perimeter wall of the lodge. Although these men heard the bursting of the Carl Gustav projectiles, the SMG and SLR fire and the screaming of women and children inside the compound, they were in no position to observe what was happening.
150. 2/Lt. Waribor, whilst deploying his men, instructed them to shoot anyone they observed attempting to leave the compound. A number of civilians, including women, however, were seen running and crying and Major Nzeogwu firing at them with his SMG.
151. NA 502342 Cpl. Yakubu Kaje of 3rd BN NA reports that, at a given moment, he observed a civilian coming out of the Lodge armed with a sword. The corporal and the men with him stopped the civilian and ordered him to drop the sword. At this moment, according to the corporal, Major Nzeogwu arrived on the scene and asked the civilian, in Hausa, for the whereabouts of the “master of the house”. The man replied that he did not know, whereupon Major Nzeogwu threatened to kill him unless he led him to his master. The man then agreed and led Major Nzeogwu to the back of the building. A shortwhile afterwards, the corporal states, he heard a number of shots fired. Assuming that Kaje is telling the truth, it is probable that the Sardauna of Sokoto died at that moment.
152. Cpl. Kaje has further reported that when the firing ceased, Major Nzeogwu came from the compound and was met at the gate by 2/Lt. Waribor, who asked the Major: “Did you get the man?”, to which Nzeogwu answered, “Yes”. When Major Nzeogwu left the compound he stated for all to hear, exultantly, “I have been successful, he is dead”.
153. It has not been possible to establish the circumstances in which the senior wife of the deceased Premier was killed. The same applies to the death of one Zaruni, the Premier’s personal body-guard. It is presumed that they died at the same time as the Premier.
154. With regards to the killing of Ahmed Ben Musa, Senior Assistant Secretary (Security) in front of the Lodge, none of the men interrogated has admitted to having witnessed this. Ahmed Ben Musa was shot dead in his car by a number of unidentified soldiers, having arrived at the Premier’s Lodge after being alerted by the police. Presumably the soldiers had ordered Musa to drive away but he could not do so for some unexplained reason. They then killed him.
155. The following have been identified as having been involved in the killing of this senior officer and his wife at No.1, Kashim Ibrahim Road, Kaduna at approximately 0200 hours on 15 January 1966:-
(1) Major Timothy Onwatuegwu (NMTC)
(2) NA 18265005 Spr. Yakubu Dungo 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(3) NA 18266079 L/Cpl . Lawrence Akuma 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(4) Spr. Raphael O1atunde 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(5) James Aluta 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(6) Emmanuel Udo 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(7) Simon Agi 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(8) Felix 0. {Snu) 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE {now NMTC)
(9) L/Cpl . Mu1i {Snu) 2 Fd. Sgn. NAE {now NMTC)
(10) NMT Cp1. Yakubu Bako 1 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(11) Spr. Mathew Asanya 1 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(12) Joseph Odion 1 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(13) Spr. Henry Va1ia 1 Fd. Sgn. NAE
(14) NA 18149929 Pte. Geofrey Eborendu 1 Bde. Tpt Coy NASC
156. After the briefing at the DAMISSA “O” Group by Major Nzeogwu at 0130 hours l5 Jan 66, Major Onwatuegwu entered a landrover driven by No. NA 18149929 Pte. G. Eberandu of Bde. Tpt. Coy. With the exception of L/Cpl. Lawrence Akuma all the men mentioned were made to enter this vehicle and another landrover.
157. Before leaving the exercise area these men drew ammunition from the 3-Tonner already referred to in this report. They had already been briefed as what was expected from them that night by Capt. Gbulie, the OC. The two vehicles then moved off to the junction of the Lagos Zaria roads where they stopped. Here the men from one of the landrovers were transferred to a 3-Tonner whilst the empty landrover containing only the driver and L/Cpl. Muli was despatched to the Air Force Base by Major Onwatuegwu.
158. When L/Cpl. Muli returned, the convoy, now consisting of 2 landrovers and one 3-Tonner, proceeded to the residence of Brigadier Ademulegun. At some distance from the house, variously estimated at between 100 and 400 yards, all three vehicles stopped. Major Onwatuegwu ordered a section of men under L/Cpl. Muli to accompany him towards the house.
159. The Brigadier’s house was guarded by L/Cpl. Lawrence Akuma and three sappers of 2 Field Squadron NAE. When the Major and his party arrived, L/Cpl. Akuma and the two sappers were on the verandah of the house whilst one sapper was patrolling the grounds. The latter challenged Major Onwatuegwu when he approached. He was disarmed and escorted to the house where he was made to join the guard commander and the other two members of the guard. They were all placed in the custody of a number of soldiers.
160. Major Onwatuegwu, accompanied by a number of soldiers entered the house. A short while after this, the guard heard several shots fired upstairs after which the Major and his men returned. The guard were placed into the 3-Tonner truck and driven to HQ 1 Brigade where they remained until released in the morning.
161. The only persons positively identified as having been involved in the murder of this senior officer are the following:-
(l) Major C.K. Nzeogwu – NMTC
(2) Major T. Onwatuegwu – NMTC
(3) Lieut. G.E. Nwokedi – NMTC
162. It will be recalled that at the briefing by Major Nzeogwu, it was 2/Lt. Waribor who was allotted the task of killing the Colonel, after the attack on the Premier’s Lodge 2/Lt. Waribor has stated that after the completion of his task at the Premier’s Lodge, he was ordered by Major Nzeogwu to effect the arrest of Makaman Bida before proceeding to Col. Shodeinde’s residence. He was unable to do so, because he did not know the address of the Colonel, and therefore, returned to Brigade Headquarters.
163. Mrs. Shodeinde has stated that at approximately 0300 hours on Jan 15. 66 she heard the sound of three vehicles stopping in front of her house. Immediately afterwards she heard a voice which she identified as that of Major Nzeogwu, calling her husband’s name. The Colonel was fast asleep. She left her bed and switched on the lights. As she did so, the men outside started to shoot at the doors and windows of the house and she was immediately wounded in the left hand. The door then flew open and about ten soldiers rushed into the room. Amongst these she identified Major Nzeogwu, Major Onwatuegwu and Lieut. Nwokedi.
164. By this time the Colonel was awake and sitting up in bed. Mrs. Shodeinde started to cry and beg for her life. Nzeogwu assured her that they had not come to kill her but her husband the Colonel. When she continued shouting, the other soldiers shot at her legs, wounding her several times.
165. Major Nzeogwu and the others then commenced firing at the Colonel whilst still in bed, who fell down dead or dying by the side of the bed. Mrs. Shodeinde then fled from the room and ran for shelter to the servant’s quarters where she remained until the attackers left.
166. This abduction was accomplished by the persons involved in the assassination of Brigadier S. Ademulegun. Their names are, therefore, not repeated here.
167. After killing the Brigadier, Major Onwatuegwu ordered his men to re-enter their vehicles and drove straight to the Governor’s residence. On arrival a number of men were deployed around the house whilst the Major entered accompanied by a number of unidentified soldiers.
168. The house was then being guarded by the following police constables:-
(1) No.11258 PC Benson Sihindatiya
(2) No.185 ” Yohana Garkawa
(3) No.1391 ” Johnson Lamurde
(4) No.18909 ” Warzar
169. At approximately 0245 hours Major Onwatuegwu and his party reached the residence, according to PC Lamurde. The Major was then in the landrover. The first landrover containing some 7 men stopped. The man jumped out and overpowered the PC on duty. The Major then entered the building.
170. Whilst the Major and his party were inside, the military personnel who remained outside the building heard a burst of SMG fire. It is certain that this burst of SMG fire killed PC Yohana Garkawa. PC Sihindatiya was disarmed by 4 soldiers and dragged to the police guard room where he saw the dead body of PC Garkawa. The soldiers pointed at the body and said “Do you see your brother?”. They then instructed him to lead them to the bedroom of the Governor. When he stated that he did not know where the Governor was sleeping they threatened to kill him. By that time, however, the Governor had been found by other soldiers reaching the residence. He was brought out and made to enter the 3-Tonner and was driven to HQ 1 Brigade.
171. Simultaneously with the Governor, his two ADC’s Messrs. Noman Dikwa and Garba Lango, were abducted and driven to 1 Bde HQ in the landrover containing Major Onwatuegwu.
172. This attempted abduction (or assassination) failed because the Minister was not in his house that night, having traveled to Bida, his home town, the previous day. The incident is, however, worth reporting, because during the search of the Minister’s residence one man, Ahmadu Pategi, a Government driver, was killed by Lieut. Waribor who mistook him for the Minister.
173. Among those taking an active part in this incident the following have been identified:-
(1) 2/Lt. Waribor – NMTC (other names are illegible)
174. After the completion of the operation at the Premier’s Lodge, 2/Lt. Waribor met Major Nzeogwu near the main entrance to the Lodqe. The Major had been wounded during the attack and had bloodstains on the right side of his face and his shirt. The Major ordered Waribor to take his platoon to the house of Makaman Bida, to arrest the Minister and to take him to Brigade Headquarters.
175. Waribor complied with the order, and drove straight to the Minister’s house. On arrival he deployed his men around the house and called in a loud voice upon the Minister to surrender. This brought no reaction so he forced open the door with the intention of searching the house. At this moment Major Nzeogwu arrived. The Major ordered Waribor to search the ground floor whilst he, accompanied by a number of men from 3rd Brigade NA went upstairs.
176. Waribor’s search downstairs proved fruitless. He collected about 3 house servants and questioned them as to the whereabouts of their master. They claimed that the Minister had traveled to Bida and was returning in the morning. Whilst he was questioning the servants outside the house, Waribor observed a man running from the house with his face covered.
Believing this to be the Minister, Waribor fired at the man and killed him. He then went to the body, and after removing the cloth from the man’s face, found that he was mistaken. It was later established that the body was that of Ahmadu Pategi, a Government driver attached to the Minister.
177. Major Nzeogwu, having failed to find the Minister upstairs then came down and enquired from Waribor why he had fired his SMG. Waribor explained after which Nzeogwu ordered him to accompany him to the house of Colonel Shodeinde, who according to the plan was to be killed that night. The Major then drove off before Waribor had a chance to assemble his men and to mount into the vehicles. Since Waribor did not know Col. Shodeinde’s address and the Major had departed without him, he had no choice but to return to Brigade Headquarters.
178. This was carried out by the officers named in paragraph 135 of this report without producing any incident of interest to this enquiry. 2/Lt. H.O.D. Eghagha whose task it was to set up a road block on the Kachia Road near the Police Mobile Force Barracks was instructed to prevent the PMF from travelling into Kaduna. This, it is thought, implied that he and his men were to attack the PMF should they move out in strength. It has been established, however, that 2/Lt.
Eghagha instructed his men not to molest the PMF as these were too few in number to affect materially the rebellious operations of that night. It is a fact that the majority of the Northern PMF were, at that time, serving in Western Nigeria.
179. Although not directly involved in any of the incidents reported on in this document, there is no doubt that the Nigerian Air Force played a comparatively important role in the rebellion under the command of 2/Lt. Godfrey Ikechukwu Amuchienwa of the Military Training and Security Squadron NAF at Kaduna.
NOTE: At this point the (incomplete) report ends.
SPELLINGS: Please excuse some of the spelling errors. The original documents from which these were culled had a few areas that were not very legible
Northern Nigerian Military Counter-Rebellion
July, 1966
By Nowa Omoigui, MD
Subject: Re: A page Listing Dr. Nowa Omoigui’s Accounts of Various Military Coups in Nigeria
Date: Sat, 17 Aug 2002 17:57:20 -0700 (PDT)
From: Nowa Omoigui
To: Urhobo Historical Society
In the early hours of January 15, 1966, citing a laundry list of complaints against the political class, there was a military rebellion in Nigeria against the first republic [].Led by a group of Majors who were predominantly of eastern origin, the Prime Minister, a federal minister, two regional premiers, along with top Army officers were brutally assassinated.A number of civilians were also killed.[]
The coup succeeded in Kaduna, the northern region capital, failed in Lagos, the federal capital, and in Ibadan, the western regional capital, but barely took place in Benin the midwestern capital, and Enugu the eastern capital.
The majority of those murdered were northerners, accompanied by some westerners and two Midwesterners.No easterner lost his or her life.On January 16, rather than approve the appointment of Zanna Bukar Dipcharima, a politician of northern origin, as acting Prime Minister, the acting President, Nwafor Orizu, himself of eastern origin, handed over power to Major-General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi, the GOC of the Nigerian Army, also of eastern origin. This was allegedly at the behest of the rump cabinet, allegedly to enable Ironsi put down the revolt which, as of then, had already failed in southern Nigeria.Until it became apparent recently in separate testimony by Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Richard Akinjide, it had always been publicly assumed in the lay Press that the hand-over was voluntary although unconstitutional – since no such provision existed in the Nigerian constitution.However, it does seem that as far back as 1969, Martin Dent pointed out the involuntary nature of the so-called hand-over in an academic paper, based on an interview with Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno.
In July 2000, at a public book launching ceremony in Nigeria, Chief Richard Akinjide stated:

“Talking on the first coup, when Balewa got missing,
we knew Okotie-Eboh had been held, we knew Akintola
had been killed. We, the members of the Balewa cabinet
started meeting. But how can you have a cabinet
meeting without the Prime Minister acting or Prime
Minister presiding. So, unanimously, we nominated
acting Prime Minister amongst us. Then we continued
holding our meetings. Then we got a message that we
should all assemble at the Cabinet office. All the
Ministers were requested by the G.O.C. of the Nigerian
Army, General Ironsi to assemble. What was amazing at
that time was that Ironsi was going all over Lagos
unarmed. We assembled there. Having nominated ZANA
Diphcharima as our acting Prime Minister in the
absence of the Prime Minister, whose whereabout we
didn’t know, we approached the acting President,
Nwafor Orizu to swear him in because he cannot
legitimately act as the Prime Minister except he is
sworn- in. Nwafor Orizu refused. He said he needed to
contact Zik who was then in West Indies.

Under the law, that is, the Interpretation Act, as
acting President, Nwazor Orizu had all the powers of
the President. The GOC said he wanted to see all the
cabinet ministers. And so we assembled at the cabinet
office. Well, I have read in many books saying that we
handed over to the military. We did not hand-over.
Ironsi told us that “you either hand over as gentlemen
or you hand-over by force”. Those were his words. Is
that voluntary hand-over? So we did not hand-over. We
wanted an Acting Prime Minister to be in place but
Ironsi forced us, and I use the word force advisedly,
to handover to him. He was controlling the soldiers.
The acting President, Nwafor Orizu, who did not
cooperate with us, cooperated with the GOC. Dr. Orizu
and the GOC prepared speeches which Nwafor Orizu
broadcast handing over the government of the country
to the army. I here state again categorically as a
member of that cabinet that we did not hand-over
voluntarily. It was a coup. “
Corroborating Akinjide’s account, according to Shehu Shagari, in his Book “Beckoned to Serve”,
“…….….At about 7.00 am, I returned to Dipcharima’s residence to meet with some NPC ministers who had gathered there. Dipcharima was then the most senior NPC minister available. We received the latest reports on the situation, first from Alhaji Maitama Sule, Minister of Mines and Power, who had visited the PM’s residence by bicycle! We then heard from Alhaji Ibrahim Tako Galadima, the acting Minister of Defence, who had brought along with him Chief Fani-Kayode.
Chief Fani-Kayode said he had been fetched from Ibadan early that morning by rebels and locked up at the Federal Guard Officers Mess in Dodan Barracks, where the mutineers initially made their headquarters. Disguised in army uniform, loyal troops handed him over to Alhaji Galadima, who had called in at the barracks, which was a stone’s throw of his residence…………….The acting Minister of Defence assured us that Major-General Ironsi was doing his best to arrest the situation.
Maitama Sule and I were separately detailed to explore with our absent NPC and NCNC colleagues the possibility of naming someone to stand in for the PM. I was consulting with NCNC ministers at Dr. Mbadiwe’s residence when we heard that the Northern and Western premiers, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Akintola respectively, had been assassinated. Hence I rushed back to Dipcharima’s residence, where I found my colleagues in a state of shock and desperation.
However, we decided to recognize Dipcharima, a Kanuri from Bornu, as our interim leader; and to ask the acting President, Dr. Orizu (President Azikiwe was away on leave), to appoint Dipcharima acting Prime Minister. We also summoned Major General Ironsi and gave him full authority to use every force at his disposal to suppress the rebellion. He moved his headquarters temporarily to the police headquarters at moloney street to facilitate easy communication with army units in the regions.
While at Dipcharima’s residence, we contacted the British High Commission and requested for military assistance in the event that our loyal troops should require any. The response was positive, but the British insisted that the request must be written by the PM; or, in his absence, by a properly appointed deputy. We, therefore, drove to the residence of Dr. Orizu, and requested him to appoint Dipcharima acting prime minister. Dr. Orizu requested to see our NCNC colleagues to confirm whether they supported our proposition, and they joined us soon afterwards. They had apparently been caucusing at Dr. Mbadiwe’s residence. He (Mbadiwe) was their choice of acting Prime Minister. This was naturally unacceptable to us since the NPC was the major governing party.
While we were at Orizu’s residence, Major-General Ironsi, who had seemingly secured Lagos, came in with some armed escorts. He requested for a tete-a-tete with Orizu. The two had a 40 minutes discussion in another room, while we waited anxiously in the sitting room, with the armed soldiers standing and staring at us. When Major-General Ironsi finally emerged, he talked to Dipcharima sotto voce; and then drove off with his troops. Dr. Orizu then joined us, regretted his inability in the circumstances to oblige our request. He suggested we all return to our homes and wait until we were required. All efforts to get any clarification failed, and we left in utter desperation.
I was about to break the Ramadan fast on Sunday 16th January, when all ministers were asked to report to the Cabinet Office at 6.30 pm. The whole premises was surrounded by soldiers in battle order that some of us initially hesitated to enter. In the Cabinet chamber were Major General Ironsi, Bukar Dipcharima and Ibrahim Tako Galadima. There were no officials present.
Major General Ironsi admitted to us that he had been unable to suppress the rebellion, which he said was getting out of hand. He stated that the mutineers were in control of Kaduna, Kano and Ibadan, and had killed two regional premiers, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Akintola. They had also murdered a number of his best officers, including Brigadiers Maimalari and Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun, the Commander 1st Brigade Headquarters in Kaduna. Ironsi was full of emotion and even shed some tears. When we asked him about the whereabouts of Sir ABubakar and Chief Okotie-Eboh, he said he still did not know but averred efforts were being made to locate them. At this stage Mbadiwe broke down and kept crying: “Please where is the Prime Minister?”
When we reminded Major-General Ironsi if he needed to avail himself of the British pledge of assistance, he replied it was too late as the army was pressing him to assume power. Indeed, he confessed his personal reluctance to take over because of his ignorance of government; but insisted the boys were adamant and anxiously waiting outside. He advised it would be in our interest, and that of the country, to temporarily cede power to him to avert disaster. Accordingly, we acceded to his request since we had no better alternative. Ironsi then insisted that the understanding be written.
Surprisingly, there was no stationery to write the agreement; and all the offices were locked while no official was around. Alhaji AGF Abdulrazaq the Minister of State for the Railways (former NPC legal adviser), managed to secure a scrap paper on which he drafted a statement, which we endorsed. That was the so called voluntary hand-over of power by the Balewa Government to Major General Ironsi! It was agreed that the statement would be typed and Dipcharima would sign it on our behalf. We were then advised to return home and await further instructions. I only got to break my Ramadan fast around 9:30 pm.
Later at 11.50 pm, Dr. Orizu made a terse nationwide broadcast, announcing the cabinet’s voluntary decision to transfer power to the armed forces. Major General Ironsi then made his own broadcast, accepting the “invitation”. He suspended certain parts of the constitution; set up a national military government, with the office of military governors in each region; and briefly outlined the policy intentions of his regime. Nigeria’s first democratic experiment was effectively over. And although the mutiny had by then practically collapsed, military rule had arrived. It was a fact.
The following morning, 17 January, Alhaji Kam Salem, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (then also doubling for the Inspector-General, Mr. Louis Orok Edet, while on vacation), called at my residence to confide that both the PM and Chief Okotie-Eboh had been confirmed killed. He then hinted that Major General Ironsi was still negotiating with the rebels in Kaduna, led by Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu”
Then Lt. Col. (later General) Gowon, who was not physically present when the rump cabinet was handing over, says he was later told by Ironsi and other officers (who were outside the cabinet office chambers, and thus did not themselves witness the event)that it was voluntary.He recalls asking three separate times to be certain, but now says that had he known it was not, he would have acted differently on that day as the Commander of the 2nd Battalion at Ikeja which supported Ironsi in putting down the Ifeajuna-Nzeogwu revolt.
The substantive President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, also of eastern origin, had left the country in late 1965 first for Europe, then on a health cruise to the caribbean, after allegedly being tipped off by his cousin, Major Ifeajuna, one of the masterminds of the coup and, some say, overall leader.Interestingly, (assuming reports that he had foreknowledge are true) Azikiwe did not notify his alliance partner, the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, with whom he had clashed over control of the armed forces during the Constitutional crisis of January 1965, following the controversial December 1964 federal elections.[]
In fact President Azikiwe’s personal physician, Dr. Humphrey Idemudia Idehen, abandoned him abroad when he got tired of the “health trip”, having run out of his personal estacode allowance, unaware that there may have been a good reason why Azikiwe did not want to return to Nigeria, after their original planned return date in December 1965 passed.Not even the Commonwealth Leaders’ Conference hosted for the first time by the country in early January was incentive enough for the President to return, for obvious reasons of protocol.However, after the coup, in a statement to the Press in England on January 16, among other things, Azikiwe did not condemn the coup per se, but said:
“Violence has never been an instrument used by us, as founding fathers of the Nigerian Republic, to solve political problems. ….I consider it most unfortunate that our ‘Young Turks’ decided to introduce the element of violent revolution into Nigerian politics. No matter how they and our general public might have been provoked by obstinate and perhaps grasping politicians, it is an unwise policy……..As far as I am concerned, I regard the killings of our political and military leaders as a national calamity….”
Major Ifeajuna was later to be accused by Major Patrick Nzeogwu, leader of northern operations, of bungling or ignoring an apparent understanding to assassinate General Ironsi in Lagos – an oversight, or “misguided consideration” (to use Nzeogwu’s words)that caused the failure of the coup.Indeed, Nzeogwu bluntly declared publicly that the execution of the coup in the South was tribalistic.Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi (rtd), leader of operations in the Western region, has since corroborated the view that operations in Lagos were compromised by nepotism.For this and other reasons, over the years, some analysts have come to view Nzeogwu, who was recruited two full months after the plot was already in progress, as a tool in a plot he never fully understood.Indeed, in offering condolences for the death of the Sardauna of Sokoto, ex-Senate President Nwafor Orizu told Alhaji Shehu Shagari that Major Nzeogwu was “an unknown entity among the Ibos (sic) in the Eastern region.”
Those who have defended the January mutiny as being motivated by nationalistic, rather than tribal instincts, say Ironsi escaped because he had gone for a party on a Boat along the Marina that night and was not at home when mutineers allegedly came calling. Tenuous explanations exist for why the Igbo speaking Premiers of the Midwest and Eastern regions were spared and no Igbo commanding or staff officer was specifically targetted. January apologists also say that there were a few non-Igbo officers involved (although none were entrusted with key targets and most were brought in at the last minute). It is argued that the mainly Igbo speaking plotters intended to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo (a westerner) from jail in Calabar to make him leader. Others interpret the same information, combined with the highly specific pattern of killings, to mean that the coup was carried out by officers sympathetic to the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), although hijacked by the GOC of the Nigerian Army, possibly encouraged by Senate President Nwafor Orizu, and urged on by officers like Lt. Col. Victor Banjo, Lt-Col. Francis Fajuyi, Lt. Col. H. Njoku, Lt. Col. C. O. Ojukwu and Major Patrick Anwunah.
On January 17,Major General Ironsi established the Supreme Military Council in Lagos and announced Decree No. 1, effectively suspending the constitution, although it was not formally promulgated until March.Later that day MajorPCK Nzeogwu, the leader of the revolt in the northern region negotiated a conditional surrender in which Ironsi agreed not to bring the mutineers to military trial.The next day, military governors were appointed for each of the four regions (Major Hassan Katsina – North, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu – East, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi – West, and Lt. Col. David Ejoor, Midwest).
Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo was briefly summoned back from the Imperial Defence College where he was undergoing a course.Brigadier Babatunde Ogundipe, erstwhile Chief of Staff, Nigerian Defence Forces, was made Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters.Lt. Col. Yakubu Chinwa Gowon, the most senior surviving northern officer, who was in the process of assuming command of the 2nd Battalion at Ikeja on January 14/15, a unit which proved critical to restoration of order in Lagos, was made Chief of Staff (Army).
Other early military appointments include:
Chief of Staff (NAF),Lt. Col.George Kurubo (East, non-Igbo)
Commanding Officer, 2 Bde, Lt. Col. H. Njoku (East, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, 2 Bn, Major H. Igboba (Midwest, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, Abeokuta Garrison, Major G. Okonweze (Midwest, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, 4 Bn, Major Nzefili (Midwest, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, Federal Guards, Major Ochei (Midwest, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, 1 Bn, Major D. Ogunewe (East, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, 1 Bde, Lt. ColW. Bassey (East, non-Igbo)
Commanding Officer, 3 Bn, Major Okoro (East, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, Depot, Major F. Akagha (East, Igbo)
Commanding Officer, 5 Bn,Major M. Shuwa (North)
It is said that there was initial euphoria by the public, even in the far north, against old ministers.However, there were some early problems too, which, to discerning eyes, were pregnant with foreboding.In his book “Years of Challenge”, Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia (rtd) recalls:
“Before January 15, 1966, I had thought that the Nigerian soldier was not blood thirsty, thus ruling out the possibility of a bloody coup. Events proved me wrong and forced me to change my opinion about the Nigerian soldier.Although the ordinary man on the street welcomed the change of government, rejoiced and danced away in ecstatic jubilation, the atmosphere was muggy.”
For example, in the West, AG/UPGA supporters settled scores against supporters of former Premier Akintola’s NNDP, creating a major crisis which evolved into an international refugee problem.It is said that 2000 refugees fled across the border to neighbouring Dahomey before the border was closed from January 16-26.No less than a thousand people were killed in the melee before Lt. Col.FA Fajuyi, the new military governor, detained surviving NNDP supporters allegedly for their own protection.In the North, there were some subdued early signs of a recoil among civilian elite, while unrest simmered in the Army.The net result was that Ironsi quickly felt threatened by Nzeogwu’s supporters on one hand, and upset northern troops on the other.
In his book, “No Place to Hide – Crises and Conflicts inside Biafra”, Bernard Odogwu, then a Nigerian diplomat, but destined to become Chief of Biafran Intelligence,reveals that shortly after the coup of January 15, 1966 he and a fellow diplomat called Adamu Mohammed at the Nigerian mission to the United Nations in New York had a frank discussion about it.Odogwu wrote that “we were both in agreement that the so called ‘revolutionaries’ had performed very badly, in view of the one sidedness of the operation and the selectiveness of the killings.”Following this discussion Odogwu made an entry on January 23, 1966 into his personal notebook:
“With all the returns in, we now seem to have a complete picture of the coup, the plotters, and the casualties.Reading through the newspapers, one gets the impression that this national catastrophe which is termed a “revolution” is being blown greatly out of proportion.It does appear to me though, that we have all gone wild with jubilation in welcoming the so-called ‘dawn of a new era’ without pausing to consider the possible chain reactions that may soon follow……….I shudder at the possible aftermath of thisthis folly committed by our boys in khaki.; and what has kept coming to my mind since the afternoon is the passage in Shakespeare’s MACBETH – ‘And they say blood will have blood’.
First I ask myself this question; ‘What will be the position as soon as the present mass euphoria in welcoming the ‘revolution’ in the country fades away?’ There is already some rumour here within diplomatic circles that January 15 was a grand Igbo design to liquidate all opposition in order to make way for Igbo domination of the whole country.What then is the Igbo man’s defence to this allegation in light of the sectional and selective method adopted by the coup plotters?
Although, sitting here alone as I write this, I am tempted to say that there was no such Igbo grand design, yet the inescapable fact is that the Igbos are already as a group being condemned by the rest for the activities of a handful of ambitious Igbo army officers; for here I am, with the rest of my Igbo colleagues, some thousands of miles away from home, yet being put on the defensive for such actions that we were neither consulted about, nor approved of.Our Northern colleagues and friends now look on us Igbos here as strangers and potential enemies. They are now more isolated than ever before. Their pride is hurt; and who would blame them?
Secondly, I ask myself the questions posed to me this afternoon by my colleague; What would I do if I were placed in the position of the Northerner?What do I do?How do I react to the situation?Do I just deplore and condemn those atrocities or do I plan a revenge?I do not blame the Northern chaps for feeling so sore since the events of the last few days. They definitely have my sympathy, for it must have been shocking to say the least, for one to wake up one fine morning to find nearly all one’s revered leaders gone overnight.But they were not only Northern leaders as such, and I am as much aggrieved at their loss as any other Nigerian, Northern or otherwise.I am particularly shocked at the news that Major Ifeajuna personally shot and killed his mentor, Brigadier Maimalari.My God!That must have been Caesar and Brutus come alive, with the Brigadier definitely saying ‘Et tu Emma’ before collapsing………”
“…….As for the new man at the helm of affairs, Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi, he too like the majority of the Majors is an Igbo, and that has not helped matters either. …..”
“…….Granted that he is such a good soldier as he is reputed to be, the question is: ‘Are all good soldiers necessarily good statesmen? Again how well prepared is he for the task he has just inherited?’ I do hope that he is also as wise as he is reputed to be bold, because if you ask me, I think the General is sitting on a time bomb, with the fuse almost burnt out.We shall wait and see what happens next, but from my observations, I know the present state of affairs will not last long. A northern counter-action is definitely around the corner, and God save us all when it explodes.”
Indeed, misunderstandings and suspicions in Ibadan and Kaduna led to the deaths ofMajor S. A. Adegoke (who was accused of running a checkpoint but was actually killed on suspicion of cooperating with the mutineers) and 2/Lt. James Odu respectively, several days after the Nzeogwu-Ifeajuna January mutiny had already been put down.In the 4th Battalion at Ibadan, northern troops drove Igbo officers out of the barracks and refused to cooperate with Major Nzefili, a midwesterner from Ukwuani and the 2ic to late Lt. Col Largema, for no other reason than he was ‘Igbo speaking’.Nzefili had absolutely nothing to do with the January coup and, paradoxically, first heard of it via early morning phone calls to the barracks from the American and British embassies in Lagos looking for information.Nevertheless, four weeks later, he had to be replaced by Lt. Col Joe Akahan, a Tiv officer from the North, just to placate the soldiers.In exchange, Nzefili was madethe General Manager of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, where had previously worked in the days prior to joining the Army.
In Kaduna, when Odu was killed by soldiers, several northern officers actually ran away from the barracks, fearful for their lives.In the Federal Guards Company in Lagos, northern rank and file fuming over the role of their commander, Major Donatus Okafor, in the coup, refused to accept Major Ochei as their new commanding officer unless Captain Joseph Nanven Garba was redeployed from Brigade HQ and appointed his second in command.While all this was going on, about 32 officers and 100 other ranks were initially detained at KiriKiri prison on suspicion of complicity in the coup. Captain Baba Usman, General Staff Officer (II) Intelligence, was appointed military liaison to the Police and was responsible for transporting them daily to Force Headquarters Moloney where most were interrogatedby a Police team on their part in the coup.This team included Isa Adejo, MD Yusuf, and Mr. Trout, an expatriate who was then Head of Special Branch. When the interrogations were completed in March the detainees were distributed away from each other to other prisons, all of which were in the South, but predominantly in the East – which proved to be another source of suspicion. The report was then submitted to the government and a panel nominated to court-martial the detainees, chaired by Lt. Col Conrad Nwawo, the midwestern Igbo speaking officer and personal friend of Nzeogwu who had negotiated Nzeogwu’s surrender in January.However, even this panel found that every time it wanted to sit, the date was postponed by directives from Supreme HeadQuarters, a process that repeated itself again and again until overtaken by events in July.
On Friday January 21, acting on a tip off, the decomposing corpse of the slain Prime Minster, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and others were discovered by Police at Mile 27 on the Lagos-Abeokuta road.The only hint that gave away the identity of the late Prime Minister’s body was the ‘frog and bridle pattern’ of the white gown he had worn when arrested by Major Ifeajuna.The next day, coinciding with the moslem festival of Id-el-fitr, the Prime Minister’s death was officially announced and he was buried in Bauchi.However, the Ironsi government decided not to publicly announce the deaths of others who had been killed in the coup, including all the top military officers, leaving room for rumors and innuendos.Indeed their deaths were not officially publicly announced until Ironsi was overthrown.
The shape of Ironsi’s advisory team became clear as time went on.Chief among them was Francis Nwokedi, former permanent secretary in the ministry of external affairs, who had become close to him during his days in the Congo.Others were Pius Okigbo (economic adviser) and Lt. Col Patrick Anwunah who was later Chairman of the National Orientation Committee.However, most of General Ironsi’s advisers were faceless civilians.The most common complaint was that, although highly qualified and distinguished, they were either all Igbos or Igbo speaking.I have no way of verifying or refuting this allegation.Knowing how other governments in Nigeria have behaved (and continue to behave), it is hard to know what to make of these observations, but they were recorded by observers across ethnic and regional boundaries.
On February 12, Ironsi took his most sensitive decision to date when he made Nwokedi the sole commissioner forthe establishment of an administrative machinery for a unified Nigeria – even though he already appointed a separate Constitutional Review Panel under Rotimi Williams which had not submitted a report.Four days later he promulgated the Suppression of Disorder Decree making allowance for military tribunals and martial law.About this time too, he abolished thecompulsory Hausa language test for entry into the northern civil service – a decision which appealed not just to non-Hausa speaking northerners but also to southerners eyeing northern public service careers as well.Ironsi also authorized a counter-insurgency campaign against Isaac Boro’s “Peoples Republic of the Niger Delta”.The internal security operation in the Kaiama area of present day Bayelsa state that captured Boro was led by Major John Obienu of the Recce regiment supported by infantry elements of the 1st battalion in Enugu, prominent among whom was then Lt. YY Kure.Boro, (along with Samuel Owonaru, Nottingham Dick and Benneth Mendi) was eventually convicted of treason and sentenced to death only to be released by the subsequent Gowon regime and die fighting during the civil war.
The fissures in the polity were becoming increasingly glaring.For example, on the one hand, Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan) criticized Ironsi’s indecisiveness with national issues. On the other, the murder of northerners in January and lack of prosecution of those responsible was the focus of increasingly strident write-ups in Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, a Hausa newspaper.In the background, increasing food prices as a result of the delayed effect of 1965 crises in the west on planting was beginning to affect the prices of food stuffs everywhere.
Anyway, on February 21st, General Ironsi announced a bold reform policy.A few days later on the 25th the former President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, quietly returned to the country, only to become the focus of controversy when subsequently dismissed by Lt. Col Ojukwu as Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
On March 7, sensing some heat, former leading politicians in the Western and Eastern regions were detained, but those of the northern region were left alone because of political sensitivities resulting from the coup.Indeed, Ironsi made an effort – ultimately insufficient – to walk on eggs with the North.The way his advisers saw it, he had appointed and promoted the son of the Emir of Katsina as the new military Governor, released NPC ministers who were detained by Nzeogwu in Kaduna,reappointed Sule Katagum to the Public Service Commission and placed Malam Howeidy in charge of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria.In May, among other promotions, he promoted three substantive northern Captains (Ibrahim Haruna of Ordnance, Murtala Muhammed of Signals and Mohammed Shuwa of Infantry) who were then acting Majors to the ranks of temporary Lt. Cols.But he fell short on more culturally sensitive matters.For example,the military governor of the northern region, then MajorHassan Katsina, was discouraged by the Ironsi government from attending the funeral of the late Prime Minister Balewa in Bauchi.Proper funerals were not allowed for the other victims of the January coup.
On March 31st, military governors were asked to join the federal executive council, thus enlarging its membership.On April 14, native authority councils andlocal government entities in the North were dissolved.By then the concept of unification was garnering controversial attention.Mustafa Danbatta and Suleiman Takuma wrote strong public letters against unification in April 7 and 19 respectively.Takuma was arrested, in part because he raised the sensitive issue of trying the January plotters.
On 12May, proposed Decrees 33 and 34 were discussed by the SMC.Decree No. 33 was a list of 81 political societies and 26 tribal and cultural associations that were to be dissolved.Decree No. 34 divided Nigeria into 35 provinces and made all civil servants part of a unified civil service.It is said that there was opposition and that the final version was watered down.Even then, althoughIronsi did not legally require approval of the SMC for decisions, there continues to be doubt about whether Ironsi fully appreciated the depths of opposition which Decree 34 would create in the North.How vigorously did Katsina, Kam Salem, and Gowon, for example, forewarn him of consequences?Had he by then become hostage to a kitchen cabinet outside government?
The answer may have been provided by two sources.According to Brigadier Ogbemudia (rtd) who was then Brigade Major at the 1st Brigade, during a visit to Kaduna, 1st Brigade Commander Lt. Col Bassey tried to advise General Ironsi to back off from the controversial decree, but a civilian adviser who came along with the General retorted saying:“Colonel, the General understands Nigerians more than you here. You will find that the people will soon see him as the much sought redeemer of our dreams.Do not worry. Everything is under control.”It was claimed that national surveys had been done to show that the decree was welcome all over the country.More recently General Gowon has said the matter was still being discussed in the SMC when the government suddenly promulgated the decree.That said, Eastern region Governor Lt. Col.Ojukwu did not help matters for the General when, the next day after promulgation on May 24, he publicly announced in Enugu that on the basis of seniority, Igbo civil servants would be transferred to other regions and Lagos.Needless to say, he unintentionally sent shivers through the northern civil service because that region was not only educationally disadvantaged but traditionally paid the lowest salaries in the federation, automatically relegating northerners to the bottom of any unified civil service.
Caught between radical (pro January 15) and conservative (anti January 15) polarities, Ironsi could be said to have promulgated the 24th May decrees to satisfy the radical intelligentsia in the southernpress while projecting vision, authority and control.But funny enough the leading spokesman for the January coup, Major Nzeogwu, was later quoted during his last interview in April 1967 (with Ejindu) as saying the Unification decree was “unnecessary, even silly”.It is also on record that a group of lecturers at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka opposed unification.So it would seem Ironsi was responding to other impulses.
According to Norman Miners, the unitary concept advanced by Ironsi’s advisers was more likely motivated by ideological, personal and economic agendas.In the book “The Nigerian Army 1956-66”, he expresses the opinion that the theoretical foundations date back to the 1951 party congress of the NCNC. Indeed, the concept of federalism which we now all sing about, was regarded by columnists in the West African Pilot in the fifties as a colonial “divide and rule” contraption cooked up by Britain as a concession to the North after the April 1953 riots in Kano.The second plank upon which unification was built was the cost argument.Unification was economically cheaper than multiple layers of administration in the country – a position that was argued by Dr. Sam Aluko, a notable economist.The third plank was the personal motive factor.Unification offered southerners (including Igbos) vast new employment opportunities in the “northern frontier”. The flip side of this was the provocation of morbid fear of domination in the North, fear which united hitherto antagonistic northern political constituencies.
While all of this was going on, complaints about “Igbo provocations”, were increasing.Northerners filed reports about parties being called by their Igbo colleagues to celebrate what they called the “January Victory”.Offensive photographs showing Major Nzeogwu standing on the late Sardauna of Sokoto were said to be distributed in the open including market places.Some Igbos were even alleged to have worn stickers to that effect and were eager, in conversations with northerners, to point to Nzeogwu saying ‘Shi ne maganin ku”, meaning “he is the one who can knock sense into you”.Grammophone records with machine gun sounds were released, to remind Northerners, it is said, of the bullets that felled their leaders in January.Celestine Ukwu, a popular Igbo musician allegedly released a piece titled “Ewu Ne Ba Akwa”meaning “Goats are crying” in Igbo (although there is an account that claims that this song originated from a non-Igbo artiste from Rivers).Derogatory remarks about Northerners were reportedly commonplace, even in Army Barracks.To compound matters, resentment began building against Igbo traders who had allegedly raised the prices of their foodstuffsto match the increases in the West.All of these factors were shrewdly exploited by an unlikely coalition of disenfranchised politicians, petty contractors, marketing board and northern development corp debtors,civil servants and university students of northern origin fearful of future career prospects in the public service.As former President Shehu Shagari put it in his biography “Beckoned to Serve”, …’>From the northern viewpoint, the implications of all this in terms of distribution of power, the allocation of public resources and amenities, the prospect of Igbo and southern domination, and the threat to mainstream northern ways of life were unmistakable.’Opposition to unification in particular was spearheaded by northern students and civil servants.

Following General Ironsi’s broadcast on Tuesday evening May 24, making Nigeria a Unitary State, initially peaceful demonstrations by civil servants and students began on Friday May 27.On Saturday May 28 copies of the June edition of Drummagazine arrived in the North , containing two provocative articles; “Why Nigeria Exploded” by Nelson Ottah which allegedly derided northern leaders,and “Sir Ahmadu rose in his shrouds and spoke from the dead” by Coz Idapo, which allegedly featured a cartoon in which the reverred late Premier was asking for forgiveness from Idapo.Some authors have blamed these articles for the subsequent outbreak of wanton violence and barbarity on Sunday May 29 continuing through to June 4-5 which led to at least 600 Igbo deaths (according to the London Telegraph), particularly in northern provinces like Kano, Bauchi, Sokoto, Katsina, and Zaria.Indeed the Hausa phrase “A raba” meaning “Let us separate” may first have been used by Bauchi rioters in May.Interestingly, there were no May riots in Borno, Ilorin and Makurdi.The riots were particularly bad in Gusau.But in Sokoto township the combination of intervention by the Sultan, the deployment of an Igbo dominated mobile Police Unit and the decision by Igbo traders there not to fight back led to quick stabilization of the situation.
One development during the May riots which exposed the military vulnerability of the Ironsi government was the fear to deploy troops for internal security duties.Back in March, increasingly concerned about restive northern troops, General Ironsi had issued an order that soldiers were not to be issued ammunition even for target practice.During the May riots in the north, because of the dominance of northerners in the rank and file of infantry units it was feared that soldiers would not take orders to shoot against fellow northerners in defence of Igbos.
The Ironsi regime, shaken by the riots and unnerved by its lack of confidence in the state machineries of coercion, reacted to the riots byblaming foreigners. It deported Major Boyle (rtd) along with British correspondentsSchwarz and Loshak, and took the conciliatory position that the May decrees were only transitional measures pending the return of civil rule.The government promised massive assistance to educationally backward areas of the Country and sent campaign vans to explain itself in vernacular all over the country.Unfortunately, one of the deported British journalists (Walter Schwarz) went back to Britain and wrote an article in the Guardian on June 25, titled: “General Ironsi’s trust in his friends leads Nigeria back to tribal strife”.
On June 1st, General Ironsiissued orders that anyone displaying provocative pictures or singing offensive songs should be arrested for incitement and would face 3 months imprisonment or 50 pounds fine or both (Decree 40).Realizing the folly of hitherto ignoring traditional lines of communication, he sought to enlist the support of the Emirs to calm down the people.During a June 1 conference of Northern Emirs and Chiefs with Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina, the regime even went as far as saying that the May decrees did not affect the territorial divisions of the country, and promise a constituent assembly and referendum on any new constitution.
On June 8, the regime restated its constitutional position.After this, the Sultan of Sokoto broadcast an appeal for calm on June 17 and asked those who had left the North in fear to return.On June 24, the government announced that it would set up military courts to try nepotism and corruption.Simultaneously, nine (9) northerners were detained (including the editor of gaskiya ta fi kwabo), and an Army company was deployed to Sokoto as a permanent garrison allegedly under an Igbo Major.This otherwise routine internal security move which resulted from intelligence reports following the May riots caused apprehension locally since no such military unit had been deployed there for many years going all the way back to the days of the British and the Satiru rebellion.The editor and cartoonist of the “Pilot” in the Eastern region were also detained for a cartoon which showed the Ironsi government as a large Cock (which used to be the NCNC symbol) crowing ‘One Country, One Nationality’.Subsequently, on June 26, the Brett tribunal was appointed to inquire into the May disturbances – to the consternation of the North.
Still, the issue of what to do with the January boys remained a sore point and mutual suspicion remained.On July 13, Ironsi announced military prefects at local
level, and proposedrotation of military governors.Northerners interpreted this as meaning that Ojukwu, already being viewed with suspicion for his public pronouncements about unification, was to be posted to Kaduna. There is, however, no evidence that this is what was intended.
In the meantime, other than one exploratory meeting with Lt. Col Hassan Katsina, old NPC politicians like former Defence Minister Alhaji Inua Wada (who was also an uncle to Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed) and Aliyu Makaman Bida may have had unhindered access to unaudited NPC funds. Wada is alleged by some to have wooed disaffected NEPU and UMBC leaders like Aminu Kano and Joseph Tarka to share a common northern political vision threatened by the new order.However, Military and Police intelligence completely missed the boat when, based on nothing more than his personal relationship with the late Prime Minister and Premier, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was invited to Lagos in late July for 3 days of questioning about disposition of certain NPC funds during the first republic.The intelligence community was barking up the wrong alley – although it is also true that the houses of Inua Wada, Daggash and others were searched.
This was not to be the only alleged failure of intelligence in establishing the civilian linkages to and sponsorship of the events of May and subsequent coup in July.Ojukwu claims that he gave a tape of a conversation made in Kano about the planned July 29 coup to Ironsi who then passed it on to acting Police IG Kam Salem (a northerner), who by implication, buried it. Madiebo cites a flurry of other intelligence failures in the North including an alleged leak from an informantcalled Alhaji Suya who was supposedly a cousin of the late Sardauna.
Quite apart from the shenanigan that led to General Ironsi’s assumption of power (also known as “civilian hand over”), the fundamental crisis of confidence within the military was borne out of the failure to try the January plotters according to the manual of military law.General Ironsi became hostage not only to radical opinion in the southern Press that hailed them as heroes but also to the curious five point agreement he had negotiated with Nzeogwu in Kaduna back on January 17.Meanwhile tension and suspicion was rising in officers messes and barracks.Placatory visits were made to Barracks by Lt. Col. Gowon to appeal to northern troops to forgive and forget.Based on discussions and assurances by Ironsi, other northern officers like Major Danjuma also tried to calm down the troops and assure that the January mutineers would be tried in due course since the C-in-C had described them as rebels.On his part, every time he was asked, General Ironsi would respond by saying “Justice will be done”.On one occasion he offered a pay raise to troops.
In the years since the end of the Ironsi regime it has been alleged by commentators and propagandists that Ironsi personally tasked Gowon to investigate the January coup. Gowon tacitly denies this.The coup had already been investigated by the Police.That report, according to then Captain (now Brigadier) Baba Usman (rtd), Ironsi’s liaison with the Police, was ready in March 1966.In fact, according to Professor Elaigwu, a panel was set up under Col. Nwawo to follow up the Police report with formal charges but it never sat.Meanwhile, as is eloquently described in the book “Why we Struck” by Major Ademoyega, each time the matter was brought up for discussion at the SMC, Colonel Fajuyi, Governor of the West, was opposed to any trial.(Funny enough, as will be seen later, when trying to contain the revolt in Lagos on July 29, Brigadier Ogundipe tried to sell a dummy by telling Captain JN Garba that the report on the January boys had only just reached him that morning)!
Meanwhile rumors were swirling.It was alleged that the mutineers were being treated specially in prison, illegally receiving full pay along with a prison allowance, some getting promoted, and granted access to their families.Some of these rumors can now be confirmed to have been false.The controversy about their pay can easily be settled by referring to Sections 149 and 150 of the Military Forces Ordinance No 26 of 1960.Part VII on Pay Forfeitures and Deductions states that pay shouldcontinue before the verdict.At the time of the Ironsi regime that law was in force.However, what was not allowed under the law was an arbitrary delay in proceeding with trial, any form of prison allowance or artificial separation from other political prisoners.
Regarding the widespread reports about seven of the plotters being promoted in Jail, that too is untrue.Only one officer among those arrested, 2/Lt Ojukwu, no relation of the Colonel, was promoted Lt – and it may have been an error.As regards a ‘Major Okafor’ being promoted, Major DC Okafor/N74 was the one promoted, not Major DO Okafor/N73.Major DO Okafor was the January plotter.
Another source of suspicion in the Army was the promotion exercise carried out in May.There were three complaints about it.First that it should not have happened at all because there was a moratorium on promotions in force at the time.Second that it “favored” Igbo officers and consolidated their control of the military.Third, that northerners were also “favored” along with Igbos while Yoruba officers were “marginalized”.The sources of each of these lines of thinking is easy to guess.Eleven (11) Majors were promoted substantive Lt. Cols while fourteen (14) Majors were made temporary Lt. Cols.Of these, 19were Igbo or Igbo speaking easterners and midwesterners, 5 northerners (Katsina, Akahan, Shuwa, Muhammed, Haruna) and one Yoruba (Olutoye).On the surface, it looked a crude attempt to favor Igbo or Igbo speaking officers.But in reality no Igbo or Igbo speaking officer was promoted who was not due for promotion, considering that between 1955 and 1961 the vast majority of officer recruits were of Igbo or Igbo speaking origin.There was no quota system for officers at that time and those who joined then had risen to middle level ranks by 1966.However, the appearance of a sudden lopsided “pro-Igbo” promotion exercise carried out by an allegedly “Igbo regime” when there was a moratorium in force and tension in the barracks was a public relations disaster, particularly since there were quite a few Yoruba officers (Obasanjo, Sotomi, Adekunle, Ayo-Ariyo and Rotimi) who were clearly bypassed.There is a bodyof opinion that, unknown to the public,three Igbo Majors (Obienu, Aniebo and Chude-Sokei) were also bypassed, but followed soon after by the Unification decree, theimagery of the promotion exerciseremoved all doubts about prevailing conspiracy theories.
Northern civilian propagandists used the tools of psychological warfare and worked tirelessly to incite the northern military.In the Army’s official history, General Gowon said “The northern politicians infiltrated the Northern soldiers and officers, trying to convince them that there was a need for them to retaliate.”General Babangida put it this way:“There was a very calculated and subtle but very efficient and effective indoctrination of the Northern officers by civilians. They kept hammering on it that our leaders had been killed and we were doing nothing; that we were cowards.”General Shuwa (rtd) described documents passed around Kaduna purporting to show plans for senior Igbo officers to meet at Hamdala Hotelto plan the liquidation of remaining northern officers after January.But Babangida also said:“…there was a threat that the Igbos wanted to take revenge.Now sitting down and looking at it, quite honestly in retrospect, I think we used that so as to gain support, to get people committed so that you didn’t get caught. It was preemptive.”Indeed the rumors were so detailed that operational code names using animals were even ascribed to parts of the alleged grand Igbo plot to continue Operation Damisa (Leopard) which had already taken place on Jan 15 .These were Operation Kura (Hyena) to eliminate certain chiefs, Operation Zaki (Lion) to eliminate remaining chiefs and finally Operation Giwa (Elephant) to carve the country up into individual districts administered by Igbos.This kind of uncorroborated preposterous disinformation is what informed the nervousness with which certain traditional rulers approached the conference of traditional rulers in Ibadan on July 28.
However outlandish they were, civilian agents provocateur were unwittingly aided by inept handling of public relations by the Ironsi regime and real provocations by some Igbo civilians and soldiers.In his biography titled“Power with Civility” by Oleka and Ofondu (Neskon 1998), Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, an Igbo easterner who later fought in the Biafran Navy, states:“That Igbos, including soldiers in the barracks, teased their Northern counterparts about what they regarded as swapping of fortune, served to fray tempers.It was not long before Northerners vented their spleen on their Igbo guests. An orgy of killing of Igbos throughout all nooks and crannies of the Northern Region kicked off.”In his book, “Revolution in Nigeria, Another View” late General Garba describes how his soldiers in the Federal Guard broke down in tears in Jankara market in Lagos when they heard the album “Machine Gun” .General Danjuma (rtd) says even the wives of Igbo soldiers were taunting the wives of Northern soldiers.
All of this was amplified not only by the truly very violent nature of the January take over, but by a whispering campaign of highly provocative but unproven stories about the grotesque manner in which some of the northern politicians and soldiers had been killed in January.There are northern officers I have spoken to who still say Prime Minister Balewa had his phallus cut off and placed in his mouth by Majors Ifeajuna and Okafor.Another story had it that a kola nut was placed in his mouth after being shot to taunt the northern custom of eating kola nuts – a curious story considering that all Nigerian tribes, especially the Igbo, value kolanuts in their custom.Yet another tale had it that he was asked to turn around and pray and that while he was praying he was shot from behind creating a large hole.All of this was embellished by the story that he cursed all Igbos before he died.On careful thought, such a large hole could have been an exit wound, meaning he was more likely shot from the front – although an entry wound from a concentrated burst of SMG fire can be big.But if any given northern NCO had believed that he was so mistreated, one can see how Major Okafor was singled out for extreme treatment.
Same goes for Lt. Col Largema, Commander of the 4th Battalion,who was shot outside his room at Ikoyi Hotel.As late as the year 2000, former Army Chief Lt. Gen Danjuma (rtd) was still of the opinion expressed in the Army’s official history – which he has probably held over the years -that Largema’s corpse was thrown out of the 11th floor window at Ikoyi Hotel by Ifeajuna to the ground.However, I visited Room 115 in the old wing of Ikoyi Hotel myself to physically appreciate the setting in which that fine officer was killed.The room, right next to a stairwell, is on the first floor.The building has no 11th floor.His corpse was more likely dragged one floor down the steps to the waiting Mercedes car in the parking lot.It is bad enough and inexcusable that he was murdered in cold blood but if his corpse had really been thrown out the window from the 11th floor, Ifeajuna is lucky Ojukwu got to him before northern troops from Largema’s 4th battalion did.
Likewise, Nzeogwu’s destruction of the Premier’s lodge using an anti-tank weapon and killing of his wife offended the sensibilities of many officers and gentlemen including some Igbo speaking officers I have spoken to who shared Nzeogwu’s Sandhurst background.For example, in a telephone conversation, Lt. Col. Alphonsus Keshi (rtd) then Brigade Major of the 1st Brigade, described late Major Nzeogwu to me as a “murderer”.Onwatuegwu on the other hand, not only shot Brigadier Ademulegun but killed his pregnant wife – an abomination in african tradition.For some weeks after the coup one could get a guided tour of Ademulegun’s blood spattered bedroom in Kaduna with the right connections at 1 Brigade HQ.Those who went for the tour did not emerge from it with any feelings that mercy should be shown if the perpetrator wasever caught.These were the sorts of emotions that friends and family and professional colleagues of the slain officers and politicians were dealing with in the months leading to July.For the military casualties in particular, the typical question was, “If your quarrel was with politicians why did you kill our loved relations, colleagues and senior officers in the military?”
In an interview back in the early eighties with Radio Kaduna, then Brigadier (later Major General) Mamman Vatsa, now deceased, is quoted by Elaigwu as saying:
“The July coup was motivated by the actions in January 1966 whereby an illegal action was legitimized.If you do that, you expect a counter reaction. July 29, 1966 was a reaction to an inaction against an illegal action….Right from the beginning, the GOC, Nigerian Army regarded these people as ‘rebels’.If that was accepted, the immediate thing was to take the necessary action to get them disciplined legally. If this was not done, then the GOC was condoning indiscipline or treason.Rather than punish men from his army who were on mutiny, he was now asking the civilian government to hand over to him before he could maintain discipline in an organization of which he was in charge….In the first instance, he shouldn’t even have taken over the power……”
In the final analysis, though, certain events conspired to push northern troops over the edge.In July, many northern recruits were turned away from the Army depot in Zaria and preference allegedly given to southerners.For example, the entire batch from
Sokoto province wasrejected.It is entirely possible that such rejections were based on principle but in the prevailing environment of suspicion the implications were alarming.Secondly, General Ironsi told the 4th battalion a week before the mutiny that they would rotate with 1st battalion in Enugu, which happened to be Governor Fajuyi’s former unit which he had commanded for three years.Unfortunately for Ironsi the announcement not only caused anxieties usually associated with change but played right into an unfounded rumor that had beenmaking the rounds that a train carrying the 4th battalion was to be derailed by Igbo sappers between Makurdi and Otukpo.All of this for a battalion that lost three former commanding officers in January (Maimalari, Kur Mohammed and Largema) and was a thoroughly politicised pro-Akintola outfit, moulded in the furnace of Ibadan politics.When, therefore, soldiers of the 4th battalion were asked to provide guard duty for Ironsi and Fajuyi at the Government House Ibadan on July 28, 1966 it was like asking the Fox to guard the Hen House.On July 29, 1966, mutinous soldiers, taking a cue from their colleagues elsewhere surrounded the premises, arrested the General and his host and eventually kidnapped them both, taking them to mile 8 on Iwo road where they were shot and buried.
By the time the July 1966 mutiny had run its course, no less than 213 predominantly Igbo officers and other ranks had been killed.An untold number of civilians also lost their lives.
There is no doubt that fairly soon after January 15, the motive for a northern counter-coup also known as “return match” was established.What remained were the means and the opportunity. In Kaduna, the Platoon Commanders Course at the NMTC provided an opportunity for young northern subalterns to come together to share ideas and vent frustration.These officers included Lts. Shelleng, Hannaniya, Muhammadu Jega, Sani Abacha, Sali, Dambo and others.They held secret meetings and even wrote a letter of protest to the Chief of Staff (Army)- Lt. Col. Gowon – openly stating that if senior northern officers did not take action within a certain time frame, they would, and that senior northern officers would have themselves to blame for the catastrophe.Indeed, the Ironsi government was sufficiently alarmed that on at least two occasions the course was suspended.For a brief period, thereafter, things were relatively quiet, but not for long.Matters began to stir in Lagos.
Although it is said that practically all northern officers serving in Lagos, Abeokuta, Ikeja and Ibadan eventually became involved, three officers formed the innermost circle of the plot to overthrow Major General AguiyiIronsi.They were T/Lt. Col.Murtala Muhammed (Inspector of Signals), T/Major TY Danjuma (General Staff Officer II, SHQ) and Captain Martin Adamu (2nd Battalion, Ikeja).The coup leader was T/Lt. Col.Murtala Muhammed.
According to late Major General Garba (rtd), others involved in planning in the South include Captain JN Garba, Lt. William Walbe and Lt. Paul Tarfa (Federal Guards), Lts. Muhammadu Buhari and John Longboem (2nd battalion), Lts. Pam Nwatkon (Abeokuta garrison, Recce), Lts Jerry Useni,Ibrahim Bako and Garba Dada(4th battalion, Ibadan), and Lt. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (Adjutant, 1st battalion, Enugu).Air force conspirators included Majors Musa Usman and Shittu Alao.However, other officers were clearly involved because Muhammed compartmentalized the planning and also encouraged officers to recruit additional local conspirators and storm troopers.Examples include Lts. Nuhu Nathan and Malami Nassarawa at Ikeja, IS Umar in Abeokuta, Abdullai Shelleng, Haladu, Magoro, Obeya and Onoja in Ibadan and Captains Jalo and Muhammadu Jega in Enugu, among others.
Active planning for the coup began after the promulgation of the Unification decree.In fact there was a brief scare in Kaduna when false rumors of Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina’s arrest in Lagos by Ironsi after the May riots rent the air.Katsina had gone to Lagos for a meeting at which fruitless efforts were made to get the decree repealed.When he eventually returned to Kaduna he found the airport surrounded by irate northern soldiers.
Captain Garba was recruited in Lagos by being told that northerners were planning a coup to “pre-empt” an expected one by Igbo officers.This so called expected Igbo coup was also known as “Plan 15″ – part 2 of the so called final solution to the northern problem perhaps (as the propaganda went) made all the more urgent by the killings of Igbos in the North during the May riots.Lagos conspirators, who were being closely watched, met in various locations, including their private cars, Muhammed’s house, Garba’s house, and during games at Abalti barracks.
At Ibadan, Lt. Col.Muhammed would often drive into town from Lagos, pick up Ibrahim Bako and Abdullai Shelleng at a pre-arranged location and drive around without stopping while they discussed.
The Kaduna group was not as formally organized as the Lagos-Ikeja-Abeokuta-Ibadan axis at this stage although it later consolidated and was in the habit of having meetings at Lugard Hall with northern civilians. However, Capt. Ahmadu Yakubu was the liaison who would drive from Lagos to Kaduna with messages from Lt. Col. Muhammed for Lts ADS Wya, Ibrahim Babangida, Garba Duba, BS Dimka, Dambo, Sani Abacha,Hannaniya, Salihi and others. Messages were also passed to the 5th battalion in Kano under Lt. Col Shuwa primarily for reasons of coordination. But Lagos was to be the fulcrum.
In order to keep tabs on what was going on inside the government, Lt. Col Murtala Muhammed maintained contact with northern civil servants in Lagos (like Muktar Tahir), while Captain Baba Usman of military intelligence provided insights into what the Army knew and did not know. Nevertheless, the Ironsi government had other mechanisms of information gathering outside official channels.For example, at least one officer, Lt. Jasper, then the intelligence officer at the 4th battalion in Ibadan, was suspected of passing information directly to Supreme HQ and perhaps even to Ironsi himself, bypassing the Army.All sorts of self appointed civilian informants were also known to mill in and out of Army formations passing rumors to Igbo commanders who would then find ways to get it to Ironsi.Major Danjuma, at that time a staff officer, was attached to General Ironsi as a military scribe, dutifully taking notes at his public hearings.
At the outset of planning for the coup, late General Garba says in his book ‘”Revolution in Nigeria”, Another View’, that “We intended explicitly to kill no one. The aims were, firstly, to get Decree No. 34 abrogated; secondly, to bring the coup makers of January 15 to trial; thirdly, to accord due honour to the military and political leaders – especially the Prime Minister – who had been killed.”
However, as we now know, the rebellion was anything but bloodless as other agendas took center stage when all hell broke loose.Garba insists that there was no specific plan to annihilate all Igbo officers and soldiers – although it appeared so to neutral observers from the way many northern NCOs (aided by some officers and civilians) were carrying on with reckless abandon and total disregard for life and property.Garba himself admits that they went “berserk”.The late General says, though, that had there been such a formal plan, specific Igbo officers would have been targeted and “no one would have escaped”.
In my view, it is hard to know what to make of this comment, seeing as it means little considering the scale of killings. Nevertheless, thankfully to God, although many died, most Eastern officers, the vast majority being completely innocent of any connection either to the January 15 coup or to the Ironsi government, survived the July 29 rebellion.Unfortunately, thousands of innocent civilians were murdered in orgies of deliberate and mindless bloodshed that began in May and continued until September.There can be no justification for what transpired, although the circumstances have been explained and the sensitivity of the issues involved better understood with the passage of time. Interestingly, the vast majority of those soldiers detained for the January coup escaped primarily because they had been kept in jails located in the eastern region.
As planning developed, loose as it was, it was influenced (as are all coups) by issues of timing and opportunity.It is said that at least four plans were discussed.The first was to seize State House and place the Head of State under arrest.However, this would have entailed much bloodshed because of the security set up inside the State House grounds, bristling with weapons.In any case the General was also fond of leaving without warning to sleep on a Boat along the Marina which, on occasion, would set for sea.A decision was, therefore, made to stage the coup when he was outside Lagos to minimize bloodshed. The second was when initial plans were being considered for the transfer of the 1st battalion at Enugu to Ibadan in exchange with the 4th battalion. Lt. Shehu Yar’Adua was to be the coordinator of that plan. He would create some kind of confusion as a signal for the coup. This too was put off, likely because the decision to exchange both battalions also kept being put off and was not formally announced until late July.In any case, rumors (again, without foundation) soon had it that the regime may have been aware of a “battalion switch plot” and that the 4th battalion would be derailed by Igbo sappers.
On July 14, however, the government announced plans for General Ironsi to undertake a Nationwide tour. The tour would take him first through Abeokuta, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Zaria, Jos, and Benin.He would return to Ibadan from Benin for a meeting of traditional rulers on July 28, spend the night, return to Lagos on July 29 and then resume his tour in early August to the East.The third plan, therefore, was to abduct General Ironsi during a visit to the North on July 19th.It too was put off, some say in deference to northern traditional leaders, while others say it was for reasons of military coordination.For one, Ironsi hardly slept outside Lagos thus reducing the window of opportunity to gethim, and secondly, then Captain Garba, who was practically in command of the Federal Guards company in Lagos was scheduled to be in Fernando Po for a basketball game and would not be on the ground to help seize the capital.
The fourth plan, therefore, was to take place on July 28/29 during Ironsi’s visit to Ibadan for the National conference of traditional rulers when he would be arrested by troops from the 4th battalion.His decision to spend the night there, guarded by the 4th battalion, provided a perfect opportunity.The code word for the coup was “Aure”, a Hausa word for “marriage”.Conspirators in southern Nigeria made coded reference to it by talking about “Paiko’s wedding”, Paiko being the nickname for (and hometown in Niger Province of) one of the northern subalterns at the 4th battalion who was to be the spearhead.But even this plan was put off by Lt. Col.Muhammed when it became apparent to him and Captain Martin Adamu that it had leaked, likely through Lt. Jasper.This is why Major Danjuma did not go to Ibadan with his combat dress.
A rough plan for early August when Ironsi would be in the East was thus discussed but not finalized. Nevertheless, Captain Baba Usman (GSO II, Int) had left for Enugu to coordinate with Lt. Yar-Adua when news of what happened in Abeokuta on July 28 came through, taking him by surprise.He is not the only one who was taken by surprise.Difficulty in getting the message of cancellation across to all parts of the country and all conspirators without using regular Army signals (then dominated by southerners) led to some complications elsewhere, including Kaduna, where Lt. BS Dimka was arrested on July 27/28by Major Ogbemudia for attempting to break into the armoury, albeit drunk.As will be apparent later, a combination of panic, unplanned coincidences and accidents eventually triggered off the July 29 rebellion when northern NCOs at Abeokuta took matters into their hands.
Shortly before 2300 hours on July 28, 1966, Lt. Col. Gabriel Okonweze, Commander of the Abeokuta Garrison was tipped off by Lt. Col. Patrick Anwunah, General Staff Officer (1) for Intelligence at Army HQ in Lagos, that the long anticipated Northern counter-coup was scheduled to begin that night.What Anwunah did not know for sure was that the couphad in fact, once again, been put off by its chief planners on account of a leak.
Earlier that evening Anwunah had confronted Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed in Yaba, Lagos with information that he was behind a planned counter-coup, leading to a mean-spirited (some say violent) exchange between them. Anwunah initially thought this confrontation would in fact deter the plot from going forward, and planned to do nothing. But having been prompted by Lt. Col. Alexander Madiebo to take some precautionary steps, and perhaps being in receipt of additional information, he took it upon himself to alert some unit commanders, one of whom was Okonweze.(An alternative account says Okonweze was also alerted by Njoku)
Lt. Col. Okonweze, therefore, called a meeting in the mess of all available officers (Igbo and non-Igbo) at the Abeokuta Garrison where he made the following announcement:
“Gentlemen, I have just been informed that there is going to be a coup tonight.Anyone of you who knows anything about the coup should please tell us.You may know the beginning but you never know the end.I am not ambitious.My only ambition is to become a full Colonel.If you know anything, please let me know; I am not going to report anyone.What we are going to do is to avoid what happened in January where officers were taken unawares.We are going to wake up all soldiers, ask them to go to the armoury to get issued with arms and ammunition.”
Officers present included Okonweze himself, Major John Obienu (Recce Commander), Lt. Gabriel Idoko, Lt. DS Abubakar (“Datti Abubakar”, Recce), Lt. IS Umar, and Lt. AB Mamman (Arty). Lt. E.B. Orok (Recce) later came in his Volkswagen. Captains M. Remawa (Recce 2ic) and Domkat Bali (Artillery Battery Commander) were at the Abeokuta club. Captain Ogbonna (Infantry company commander) was also in town.
Thereafter, an Igbo NCOwent around the barracks, waking soldiers excitedly and saying “Come out, come out, there is trouble; go to the armoury and collect your armour.”
This alert woke up Sergeant Sabo Kole, an NCO from the Bachama area of Adamawa State.In the charged atmosphere of prevailing rumors at that time, Kole wrongly interpreted the Igbo NCO’s actions as an attempt by Okonweze to selectively wake up Igbo soldiers who would thus have an advantage in what was alleged to be an effort to finish what they did not finish in January.He, therefore, woke up another neighbor, Corporal Maisamari Maje, also Bachama, who happened to be the armourer of the unit.He told Maje to go to the armory and ensure that only northerners would be issued weapons.Meanwhile, assisted by Corporal Inua Sara, he mobilized a small guard of northern soldiers to protect the armory against any attempt to dislodge them while he made arrangements to disarm the quarter-guard.Having secured the armory, Sgt. Kole issued weapons and ammo to a section of assault troops.Assisted by Maje, and including Corporal J. Shagaya, the group advanced to the Officers Messunder the direction of the duty officer,Lt. Pam Mwadkon, younger brother of the late Lt. Col James Pam who was shot in Ikoyi by Major Christian Anuforo in January.
Once in the mess they ordered all officers present to raise their hands.When Okonweze challenged them, he was summarily executed right there and then.Major John Obienu, Commander of the Recce Squadron, sitting next to Okonweze, was also shot dead.Lt. E Orok, driving in to join them, saw what was happening, shouted at the soldiers, and was himself shot dead right under the tree where he parked his car.In the chaos, some northerners were shot too, notably Lt. Gabriel Idoko, mistaken for Igbo because he was wearing an “English dress”.He was lucky to survive. Some Igbo soldiers (other ranks) in the garrison were subsequently rounded up and shot.
Not all Igbo officers in the Abeokuta garrison were killed.Ogbonna escaped and was the one who initially made urgent informal phone calls to Lagos (2ndBattalion), Ibadan (4th battalion)and much later to Enugu (to Lt. Cols Ogunewe – 1stBn – and Ojukwu at the State House).
Almost simultaneously, Lt. Pam phoned Lt. Garba Dada (Paiko), the Adjutant of the 4th Battalion in Ibadan at Mokola Barrackssaying “Look, we have done our own oh! If you people just siddon there, we have finished our own…….We have finished the Igbo officers here. We liberated our unit.”He was wrong, though, because Ogbonna was alive.Lt. John Okoli also survived.
When Captains Remawa and Bali returned to the Barracks from town, they met the dead bodies of Okonweze, Obienu and Orok in or around the mess.They changed quickly into combat dress and got themselves armed.
Captain Remawa then contacted Army HQ in Lagos to notify Lt. Col. Gowon of events. Gowon ordered Remawa to collect the corpses, secure the garrison, and await further instructions.This order from Gowon to Remawa sent shivers down the spines of the junior northern officers at Abeokuta like Lt. DS Abubakar who feared that they would all be arrested for the killings in the Mess.Therefore, they decided that come what may, they would fight to finish to ensure the end of the Ironsi regime.The impulse was primarily self preservatory.
Gowon then contacted Brigadier Ogundipe, then Chief of Staff, SHQ and got orders to mobilize Army units in Lagos.Both Ogundipe and Gowon initially tried to reach Ironsi directly in Ibadan and failed.(It was when Gowon was trying to get Col. Njoku at the guest house that he spoke to Major Danjuma).Ogundipe then notified the Police hierarchy, including the Commissioner in Ibadan,whose first attempt to investigate events at the 4th battalion was strongly rebuffed by the Battalion adjutant who told him to steer clear.“Flying Policeman” Mr. Joseph Adeola eventually got through to Government House Ibadan, sometime around 1 am (some say 0030), to notify General Ironsi of events.(Adeola replaced Timothy Omo-Bare as the Commissioner of Police in the Midwest and was one of those kidnapped by Biafran forces to Enugu in August 1967.)
By this time Major Danjuma, Lt. James Onoja and elements of the 4th battalion were in process of arriving to cordon off the building.
Before he was finally arrested shortly before8am, Ironsi had made requests for a Police helicopter from Lagos and made other efforts, as are described elsewhere in this essay, to mobilize loyal units.By the time a helicopter arrived, though, he and Colonel Fajuyi had been taken away.General Ironsi’s last formal military contact was with Kaduna to mobilize the 1st Brigade.The commander, Lt. Col. Wellington “Papa” Bassey was not around so he spoke to Major Samuel Ogbemudia, then the Brigade Major, telling him “All is not well.” Unfortunately, the Brigade was too far away to be of immediate tactical value, even if it wanted to be.
Ogbonna’s call to Lt. Col. Igboba at the 2nd battalion in Ikeja preceded Remawa’s call to Army HQ. Unfortunately, it was intercepted by Lts. Nuhu Nathan and Malami Nassarawa.Nathan was the duty officer and had been contacted earlier by Murtala Muhammed about the postponement of the coup.When Ogbonna gave him the message to deliver to Igboba about events at Abeokuta, he immediately contacted Murtala Muhammed instead, who, having just gotten off the phone with the boys at Ibadan, finally realized that events were moving faster than he thought initially.Muhammed gave the go ahead to Nathan and Nassarawa to mobilize northern troops at Ikeja and launch operations to pre-empt predictable efforts by the establishment to regain control.They secured the armoury, distributed weapons selectively, and got busy rounding up Igbo soldiers. Northern NCOs and ordinary soldiers later went wild. If their officers did not explicitly give an order for an Igbo soldier to be shot they would shoot him anyway and shout “accidental discharge, sah!”
Meanwhile, Muhammed began making rounds of Army units all over Lagos to see things for himself and wake up other coupists in the Lagos area asking them to “adjust to the new situation”.Two of those he woke up himself were Captain JN Garba and Lt. Paul Tarfa at the Federal Guard.As they were dressing up, the call from Gowon came in.By the time Muhammed got to Ikeja, Captain Martin Adamu, Lts. Nathan, Nassarawa, Muhammadu Buhari, Alfred Gom, Longboem and a bunch of NCOs were already in control of the battalion, having executed several Igbo soldiers and officers (including Major B Nnamani, one of the company commanders) and arrested many others by cordoning off the quartermaster section of the barracks or grabbing soldiers as they came out for morning PT.The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Henry Igboba, narrowly escaped a dragnet deployed around his house by Lt. Longboem and got away.
Muhammed reportedly gave orders to stop the killing, and focus instead on securing the perimeter as well as approach roads and taking measures to ensure the eventual success of their activities.Captain Martin Adamu went to Army HQ and placed himself in the intelligence center to monitor information and disseminate disinformation.Muhammed then contacted Abeokuta garrison directly and asked Lts. DS Abubakar and Pam Nwadkon to fuel up, arm a troop each of armoured vehicles (ferrets) and head out for Lagos and Ibadan respectively, accompanied by a section of assault troops to provide support in case of any shoot out with loyal troops being mobilized by Lt. Col. Gowon, Lt. Col. Anwunah, Major Mobolaji Johnson and Brigadier Ogundipe from SHQ.Sergeant Paul Dickson, a fearsome Idoma NCO who was later to acquire a reputation as a bloodthirsty savage, was despatched to take Ikeja Airport.A typical example of a coded order (in Hausa)for the murder of an Igbo captive was:”Take him to the house of chiefs.”
Later that morning, after Abubakar and Pam had left for Lagos and Ibadan, northern NCOs from the Abeokuta garrison set up check points in town and decided to pay a visit to the Abeokuta Prison where Major DO Okafor, former Federal Guards Commander, January 15 co-conspirator and alleged co-executioner of the late Prime Minister was held.He was tortured and killed in the courtyard, some say buried alive.The soldiers did not stop there.At one of the checkpoints, 2/Lt A.O. Olaniyan, oblivious of events, was stopped.As he tried to identify himself, he was summarily shot dead.The situation was clearly out of control.
LAGOS, JULY 29, 1966
After being alerted, first by Lt. Col. Muhammed, then Lt. Col. Gowon, Captain Garba and Lt. Tarfa secured the Federal (then known as ‘National’) Guards Barracks at Obalende, better known as ‘Dodan Barracks’. It is named after a town called Dodan in the Arakan peninsula in Burma where Nigerians fought back in World War 2.They rounded up all Igbo soldiers and locked them up in safety.Not a single Igbo soldier in that unit lost his life.Garba and Tarfa overcame a challenge by a northern soldier called Adamu Lamurde who emotionally threatened to kill them both if he was not allowed to avenge the death of Brigadier Maimalari by liquidating the Igbo soldiers in the unit. Indeed, this achievement was one of the very few successes of northern officers against northern NCOs seeking revenge.Garba later got a letter of commendation and appreciation fromCol Hilary Njoku, his erstwhile Brigade Commander, when all the Igbo soldiers including Sergeant Vidal, Private Oligbo, Private Calistus Chukwu and others in the unit eventually arrived back safely in the east.
After Lt. Col. Gowon completed the first round of calls to Army commanders in Lagos early that morning, a decision was made to establish an operations room at the Police HQ on Moloney Street in Lagos.Brigadier B. Ogundipe, then Chief of Staff, SHQ,was joined by acting Police IG Kam Salem, Commodore Wey of the Navy, Lt. Col. Gowon (Army COS), Lt. Col. Anwunah (PSO I), and Major Mobolaji Johnson.Although he had previously served as DAQMG at the 2nd Brigade in Apapa under late Brigadier Maimalari, on this day Johnson was a fish out of water because he was supposed to be the second-in-command to Lt. Col Akahan at the 4th battalion 100 miles away in Ibadan where junior officers had run amock.However, he had long since settled down as Lagos military administrator.The commander of the 2nd battalion at Ikeja could not be reached.
Meanwhile, Lt. DS Abubakar had arrived from Abeokuta with his troops of ferrets, only to run into an ambush mounted by troops from the 2nd battalion under Lt. Longboem at Ikeja from which he was very lucky to escape.Longboem had recognized him at the last minute when he stuck his head out of the hatch. Apparently Lt. Nassarawa had forgotten to alert the boys that Abubakar was coming with ferrets on Muhammed’s orders.Anyway, once this misunderstanding was resolved, Muhammed deployed DS Abubakar to Abalti Barrracks for “mopping operations”.This essentially meant that Muhammed was now in control of Ikeja, Dodan and Abalti Barracks as well as the airport. Indeed, Sergeant Dickson’s boys took control of two BOAC VC10 aircraft at the airport and ordered the Captains to fly northern families of soldiers back to Kano before returning to Lagos to pick commercial passengers. The soldiers involved had been completely taken in by frivolous rumors of a “second Igbo coup” and, like northern civil servants, wanted to get their families away.
After a quick appreciation, a decision was made by Brigadier Ogundipe to scrap together a fighting force from Army HQ elements commanded by an Igbo Captain. They were to go to Ikeja and try regaining control of the airport, by then under the control of Sergeant Paul Dickson of the 2nd battalion.This group advanced right into an ambush of machine gun nests along Ikeja road, losing about 30 soldiers in the process.In the confusion, two expatriates (including the General Manager of Bata Shoes in Lagos) were killed in cross-fire.
Lt. Col. Gowon volunteered to go to Ikeja Barracks to negotiate with the rebellious troops. By this time he and Brigadier Ogundipe were already aware from reports coming from Ibadan that General Ironsi and Colonel Fajuyi had been snatched from Major Danjuma and were probably dead. When he arrived at Ikeja some reports say he was initially detained, but there is no corroborative evidence that this really occurred. Aghast at what he saw, he was, however, said to have issued orders in support of Muhammed’s earlier orders that there should be no more shooting.This order was quickly sidelined by northern soldiers who proceeded to use other methods, not firearms, to slaughter their victims. Daggers and other more primitive contraptions for ritual murder became weapons of choice.In one illustrative case, northern soldiers at Ikeja airport took Captain Okoye, then based at Abalti Barracks but enroute to the US on a course, tied him to an Iron cross, whipped him unconscious and then left him to die in the guardroom.Okoye was suspected of being an informant for the Igbo underground network in Lagos.
About this time, first Major Johnson and then Brigadier Ogundipe himself gave an order to a northern NCO deployed to the Federal Guards Company. The soldier blatantly said he would not take orders from the Brigadier unless approved by Captain JN Garba. So, Captain Garba was sent for and came to the Police HQ.He was initially interrogated by Lt. Col. Anwunah, searching for information about what was happening in the country.Garba then aggressively confronted Anwunah with the grievances of northern soldiers and why they had struck.When Anwunah reported Garba’s intransigence to Ogundipe, Ogundipe told Garba:
“I wish you boys had waited.I have just received the report about the January coup this morning and it’s on my table right now.Try to talk to your friends in Ikeja, and I am sure we can settle this matter, even at this stage.”
Capt. Garba, now placed in a difficult position,went back to his office to make a call toMurtala Muhammed in Ikeja and brief him about what had just transpired.Muhammed endorsed Garba’s actions and instructed him to maintain contact.Garba says he later discovered that Ogundipe had been bluffing about the report.Indeed, at the Military Leaders Meeting at Aburi, a full six months later, Commodore Wey said:
“A decision has been taken on the boys of 15th January……….They were to be dealt with in August but later on it was shifted to October.”
Meanwhile, Brigadier Ogundipe made a public broadcast on Radio Nigeria at 2:30pm which was repeated in 30 minute cycles until about 8:30pm:
“As a result of some trouble by dissidents in the army, mainly in Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ikeja, the National Military Government has declared a state of emergency in the affected areas.Consequently, the following areas have been declared military areas under the Suppression of Disorder Decree of 1966: Ibadan, Ikeja and Abeokuta.Military Tribunals have been considered and accordingly set up.Curfew has been declared in the affected areas from 6:30 pm.The National Military Government wishes to state that the situation is under control and hopes to restore peace and tranquility very soon.The government appeals to the public for cooperation in its effort to restore law and order in the affected areas.”
At about 3pm, though, Ogundipe sent for Garba again and instructed him to contribute a platoon to a second assault force which he was sending to dislodge the boys at Ikeja.Garba notified Muhammed at Ikeja and then contributed a platoon to Ogundipe under one 2/Lt. Osuma (then known as “Usman”) with separate orders that should he be ordered to shoot at fellow soldiers he was to refuse and return to base.2/Lt. “Usman” did exactly as he was toldbefore subsequently escaping from Lagos on August 1st himself.When he got back to the east, he used his real name (Osuma) to request that his property be sent back to him there. Needless to say that Ogundipe’s second attempt to establish military supremacy had failed.
Meanwhile phone calls and signals were coming in from other parts of the country, including Enugu (from Lt. Col. C. Ojukwu, the governor).At one point Ojukwu was able to speak to Lt. Col. Gowon at Ikeja.It is said that Gowon told him that he was no longer a “free agent”.Ojukwu encouraged Ogundipe to keep fighting even though he himself at one point escaped from Enugu to Onitsha from where he was calling Ogundipe.The rebels later made Brigadier Ogundipe aware that they would only accept Captain JN Garba as his intermediary for negotiations.Meanwhile, angry about the phone calls from Ojukwu,Lt. Col. Muhammed began making plans to march on Enugu – from which he was eventually restrained.
At about 0600 hrs, Capt. JN Garba was ordered back to Police HQ.Over the course of that day he made three trips back and forth to Ikeja on behalf of Brigadier Ogundipe, including one trip in which his vehicle was even shot at by northern troops.Emotional demands were made back and forth, including initial declarations that they no longer wanted to share barracks with Igbo soldiers, and demands that either the North be allowed to secede or that the Unification decree be repealed with a return to the position before January 15 under a civilian government.As John de St. Jorre put it, “It was the northern soldiers, roaming around outside the conference room in their dark, satanic mood, who were the ultimate arbiters of power”.
It was during this back and forth ado that Gowon is said to have been pressurized by the soldiers at Ikeja to participate in the discussions and lead them as the senior northern officer. This may have been assisted by calls from Kaduna and Kano by Lt. Cols Hassan Katsina and Mohammed Shuwa. Having been alerted overnight of goings on, Ojukwu had now joined the chorus of phone calls and signals coming in from other parts of the country seeking clarification.He was even able to speak to Lt. Col. Gowon at Ikeja.It is said that Gowon told him that he was no longer a “free agent”.Ojukwu encouraged Ogundipe to keep fighting even though he himself at one point escaped from Enugu to Onitsha from where he was calling Ogundipe.Angry about the phone calls from Ojukwu,Lt. Col. Muhammed began making plans to march on Enugu – from which he was eventually restrained.
Another authority (Kirk-Greene) claims that Gowon’s change of status from government messenger to rebel representative occurred when Ogundipe declared that he could not accept the proposals being put forward by northern soldiers and wanted to remove himself from the negotiation seeing as he could not exert his authority over them. Indeed Captain Alfred Gom had bluntly told him that they no longer wanted to deal with him or the SHQ at all.More recently, Gowon has revealed that main grouse the mutinous soldiers at Ikeja had against dealing with and accepting orders from Ogundipe was that he had sent two separate assault teams to attack them. General Olusegun Obasanjo, however, thinks an additional reason was that Ogundipe “did not belong”. According to Biafran propaganda, a northern flag was even flown at this point over the Ikeja Barracks, but no other independent source, local or foreign has ever confirmed this allegation.
Meanwhile Lt. DS Abubakar of the 2 Recce Squadron Abeokuta and his troops of Ferrets were ordered from Lagos to Ikeja Barracks. But he was first ordered to secure Carter Bridge which was when he told the notorious Sergeant Lapdam to man the checkpoint while he left for Ikeja.Lapdam later shot Major Ibanga Ekanem, Provost Marshall, who was on his way to SHQ, allegedly with a list of northern officers who were behind the revolt.[As a Captain, Ekanem survived injuries sustained in combat as an officer in the 4QNR in Katanga during Congo Operations in 1961].Quite a few other soldiers (and possibly civilians) were also killed on Carter Bridge and at least two southern airforce officers later rescued from him.When Lt. DS Abubakar got to Ikeja, as reported in the Army’s official history, Col. DS Abubakar (rtd) recalls that one of those who was most strident about separation was Lt. Nuhu Nathan who reportedly told Gowon:
“Let us all leave now – we all go back if we cannot form a confederation”.Gowon replied:What is that word you mentioned”?Nathan said “Confederation”, to which Gowon retorted:”What does that mean”?As Nathan proceededto explain, Lt. Malami Nassarawa said “I have an encyclopedia”.DS Abubakar explains that “They brought an encyclopedia and Gowon saw the meaning of confederation in it. He was about to buy the idea – thank GOD the British High Commissioner and some of the permanent secretaries advised against it.”DS Abubakar says ‘the British High Commissioner said:”If you dare do this kind of thing – confederation – that is the end of you”.So that is why we came back to federalism.’
Others who were present include Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed, Major Shittu Alao and Captain Baba Usman.
While Captain Garba was away on his second visit to Ikeja,Federal Permanent Secretaries met with Brigadier Ogundipe at the Police HQ.He told them that the soldiers at Ikeja were not willing nor ready to assume responsibility for running the country at that point.On his part he was not ready to do so either unless he had both legal and military backing.Although he had suspicions that Ironsi was already dead he was not absolutely certain.To compound Ogundipe’s position, the Attorney General , GC Onyiuke advised him that there was no provision for an acting Supreme Commander in the Constitution, as amended by Decree No. 1 of 1966.Having rendered this advice, Onyiuke left Ogundipe at the Police HQ and then proceeded to depart Lagos for safety.Others did too, abandoning him and Wey there with no clear answers.
During Garba’s third visit to the Ikeja Barracks he was accompanied by the delegation of senior civil servants including Musa Daggash, Abdul Aziz Attach, HA Ejueyitchie, Yusuf Gobir, BN Okagbue, Ibrahim Damcida, Allison Ayida, Phillip Asiodu, along with Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, acting Police IG Kam Salem, Sule Katagum, Muktar Tahir, Justice Mohammed Bello, and Ali Akilu.When Garba arrived at Ikeja with them, he confirms that Muhammed was the “leading personality” in the room, doing most of the talking until he suddenly turned to Gowon and said:”You are the senior, go ahead.”This acquiescence may have been influenced by other senior northern officers as noted previously, citing seniority.DS Abubakar recalls that there was certainly an argument about who should take over and Major Abba Kyari was even briefly mentioned.However, after Gowon took over the discussions, Muhammed kept interrupting until Gowon had to turn to Muhammed and say:”Look, it’s either you have deferred to me and will allow me carry on this discussion, or you have not, and you can continue.”Garba pointedly recalls that Allison Ayida, permanent Secretary for Economic development, forcefully insisted that Nigeria not be broken up and kept repeating this view “despite the fact that Murtala was from far from receptive to such a view; instead he was constantly telling Ayida, his eyes red with rage, in effect to shut up.”
After complex informal negotiations brokered by Lt. Col. David Ejoor, Military Governor of the Midwest, involving Commodore Wey and Lt. Col Hassan Katsina, Gowon was finally quietly sworn in late that day, Saturday July 30, 1966, at Ikeja but he did not make an announcement to the nation until Monday August 1st.He spent the time notifying senior Police officers like Kam Salem and Hamman Maiduguri, getting information and consolidating his ‘control’ over other parts of the country – except, as later became apparent, the eastern region.In an interview with Elaigwu, Gowon described his emotions when he was anointed as C-in-C as follows:
“Honestly, I felt as if I was under a battle.I had a feeling of death – virtually choking me.I felt my throat go dry immediately.I was cold and yet sweating.If I could then I would have run away.But two things kept me on – one, a strong belief in God who had seen me through the Congo and two, a number of questions I kept asking myself – ‘Are you not a man?Are you not a soldier? ‘What would people and history say of you?’……My first objective was to restore discipline in the army and to prevent killings.I called the soldiers, and as I stood on the rostrum, tears were in my eyes.I was angry and at the same time moved. I told myself that if I cried, the soldiers would have had me.I took courage and addressed them.I told them that if I heard of any more killing, they should also remember that I was a soldier, and that I could and would, kill.”
In his speech to the nation on August 1st, Gowon said, among other things:
“This is Lt. Col. Y. Gowon, Army Chief of Staff, speaking to you……I have been brought to the position today of having to shoulder the great responsibilities of this country and the armed forces with the consent of the majority of the members of the Supreme Military Council as a result of the unfortunate incident that occcurred on the early morning of 29th July, 1966…..”
“………As a result of the recent events and the other previous similar ones, I have come to strongly believe that we cannot honestly and sincerely continue in this wise, as the basis of trust and confidence in our unitary system has not been able to stand the test of time. I have already remarked on the issues in question.Suffice to say that, putting all considerations to test – political, economic, as well as social – the base for unity is not there or is so badly rocked, not only once but several times.I, therefore, feel that we should review the issue of our national standing and see if we can help stop the country from drifting away into utter destruction….”
”All members of the armed forces are requested to keep within their barracks except on essential duties and when ordered from SHQ.Troops must not terrorize the public, as such action will discredit the new National Military Government……”
“….I promise you that I shall do all I can to return to civil rule as soon as it can be arranged.I also intend to pursue most vigorously the question of the release of political prisoners.Fellow countrymen, give me your support and I shall endeavour to live upto expectations.Thankyou.”
Shortly thereafter, on the same day, Lt. Col. Ojukwu, Military Governor of the East, made a counter-broadcast from Enugu.The next morning Gowon signed an instrument of pardon for Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro, and others who had been convicted and jailed in September 1963 for treasonable felony, conspiracy to commit a felony and conspiracy to effect an unlawful purpose in 1962 with the object of forcefully removing Alhaji Tafawa Balewa from office as Prime Minister.
On August 3rd, Lt. Col. David Ejoor made a public speech as the Military Governor of the Midwest, in support of the new regime.Likewise, on August 4, Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo, Military Governor of the West, broadcast his support for the new government as Gowon was addressing a press conference at the Lagos City Hall, having earlier that day released Isaac Boro and others.Gowon was later to announce his plans for return to civilian rule four days later, followed the next day by a meeting of delegates representing the Regional Military Governors.
However, Gowon or no Gowon, northern NCOs were still running amock killing people arbitrarily, even threatening northern officers who stood in their way. Lt. DS Abubakar was very nearly shot at Ikeja airport in this manner by one Edward William allegedly for “hiding some Igbo people”.Lagos Garrison Commander, Lt. Col. Eze, barely escaped a mob of northern soldiers on August 2nd but his staff officer, Captain Iloputaife, was not so lucky.Indeed, a few days after the mutiny, a northern corporal at Ikeja summarized his own motives for the mutiny by telling Norman Miners: “The Ibos killed our leaders in January; they were taking all the top jobs; we had to get rid of them. Now we have only got Northerners in this barracks; all the Southerners have run away.”In fact northern NCOs and soldiers were in the habit of taking uniforms of dead Igbo officers and NCOs and wearing their ranks.On August 8, all Igbo soldiers at the Army workshop in Yaba were expelled.But as the nation was to find out, the worst was yet to come.Colonel DS Abubakar (rtd) recalls:
“At that time, if an other rank does not like the face of another person he will just kill him like an animal and nobody will do anything.”
But it would be simplistic to presume that some northern officers did not take part in the killings in Lagos.Lt. Nuhu Nathan, for example, was later personally credited in eastern publications with the execution of some Igbo soldiers at Ikeja.There were undoubtedly others.
The weekend of July 29, 1966 was not the first time northern soldiers had contemplated action in the North.As previously noted,quite aside from tensions during the Platoon Commanders Course, when there were false rumors of Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina’s arrest by General Ironsi in Lagos after the promulgation of Decree #34, northern soldiers surrounded the Kaduna airport waiting to see who would alight from his returning plane.Things were so tense that Hassan ordered his ADC, then Lt. Ugokwe (Recce), not to step out of the plane before he did, lest he be shot because he was Igbo.
On June 15, there was a false alarm in Kaduna when the sound of planks being offloaded from a Goods Train at the Train Station was misinterpreted as rifle shots.According to Madiebo, all hell broke loose as northern and southern officers and men at the Brigade HQ (including the commander, Col. Bassey) fled in different directions asking themselves:“Who is doing it this time.?”
During Ironsi’s trip to Kano in July, Lt. Garba Duba of the 1st Recce Squadron had been tasked to take a troop of Ferrets from Kaduna to Kano to provide security for Ironsi, only to find himself stopped and nearly arrested in Zaria, accused by furious northern infantrymen and civilians of betraying the North by providing security for Ironsi in Kano.After much ado, he was allowed to proceed.Later on when Ironsi was scheduled to arrive at the Zaria Civil aerodrome, enroute to Kaduna, there was an accidental discharge from an armored car in his receiving security detail.Therefore, upon finally arriving at the Officers Mess at Kaduna, all Army officers were rigorously searched before being allowed entry to meet the C-in-C.The situation was anything but normal.
Anyhow, on July 29, Major General Ironsi telephoned the 1st Brigade HQ in Kaduna at about 0730 hrs to alert the Brigade about events in Ibadan and seek help.He revealed that as of that time he had not been able to get a helicopter sent from Lagos.This was most likely because there were no night flying helicopter capabilities in Nigeria then and certainly no night landing facilities at the government house, not to mention the fact that any such Police helicopter would likely have been shot down by disloyal troops that had already ringed the premises.They were even armed with a 106 mm recoilless rifle which could have destroyed any helicopter. As it were, a helicopter did eventually show up, but it was too late for the General although his son was smuggled out of Ibadan by the Police in the third Class compartment of the Train to Lagos.
The substantive Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. W. Bassey, was on leave.The acting Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Phillip Effiong was away, engaged in community outreach.The Governor, Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina was also away on tour.Ironsi spoke to Major Samuel Ogbemudia, the Brigade Major, who in turn informed him of prevailing tensions in Kaduna.Two nights before he had arrested Lt. Buka Suka Dimka in a drunken state trying to break into the armoury after he had earlier been spotted going from house to house of northern officers passing messages.After checking with Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina, he locked Dimka up until he could be sober enough to be interrogated.During interrogation Dimka denied any wrong doing and accused Ogbemudia of mistreating him because he was a northerner.He was later released. Other northern officers and NCOs had also been spotted milling around army facilities apparently aimlessly, essentially “casing the joints” and quite a few were briefly detained.Although it was not yet apparent, a few southern officers had already been kidnapped on the 28th and were later killed “attempting to escape.”
Lt. Col Alexander Madiebo, Commander of Artillery Regiment, whose aircraft had departed Lagos 10 minutes before Sergeant Dickson’s boys seized the airport, acting on Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed’s orders, was in Kaduna on July 29th.For some reason, Anwunah had failed to alert him of the mutiny when he found out about it in Lagos at about midnight.Having been met at the Kaduna airport by one of the Brigade Staff Officers (Captain Dilibe) he was apprised of developments in other parts of the country.Madiebo took charge as the senior officer on the spot and contacted Lagos.The person on seat at military intelligence was none other than Captain Martin Adamu who denied that anything unusual was occurring.But Madiebo wasn’t fooled. He ordered Ogbemudia to order all units to surrender their weapons and have them locked up in unit armouries which were then to be guarded by mixed combinations of northern and southern troops.Some units refused, citing fear of being attacked.One notable example was the 3rd battalion under Lt. Col. I. C. Okoro (an easterner) whose Regimental Sergeant Major, one Ahmadu Bello, a northerner, advised against the move.Okoro told Madiebo that he had extracted a pedge of loyalty from his troops at a muster parade.He went further to say that Bello advised that the entire battalion be disarmed except a platoon specially selected by Bello himself.
Ogbemudia recalls that although the day started out well, things became increasingly tense as itprogressed and news began filtering in from the south.Initially, it was not clear whether the coup was a northern counter-coup or the rumored so called radical “Plan 15” Igbo coup.Indeed even foreign news media were not so sure initially.The New York Times reported that radical Igbo officers were leading a revolt against Ironsi.This confusion was later clarified in Kaduna as signals poured in from Ibadan and Lagos.Madiebo recalls that T/Major C.C. Emelifonwu, DAQMG,openly condemned the apparently northern inspired coup in the south to the hearing of Major Abba Kyari of the Artillery regiment who disagreed.Although subsequently accused in eastern publications of chairing private tribunals to condemn Igbo soldiers to death, Kyari was, however,later to save the lives of many southern officers and men in Kaduna when northern troops mutinied.
At this point, though, Madiebo contacted Lt. Col. Ogbugo Kalu, then Commandant of the NMTC to discuss options.At about 1330Lt. Col. Madiebo, Lt. Col.Kalu,T/Major Emelifonwu,T/Major Ogbemudia and T/Major A.D. Ogunromet in Lt. Col. Effiong’s house.Unfortunately, the commander of the 3rd battalion, Lt. Col. Okoro did not attend.He completely misjudged the threat, perhaps misled by his long service in that battalion and assumed bonds of loyalty forged in combat, bonds which had long been shattered by the events of January 15.As far back as June 1961,then Captain Okoro served in the same 3rd battalion (then called 3QNR) at Kamina in the Congo under then Lt. Col. ABM Kavanagh.In late July that year, the amiable Okoro was in charge of a regimental welcoming parade forKatanga President Moise Tshombe.When they met, Tshombe was said to have spoken French to Okoro, who promptly replied in Igbo!
Later that night, at a pre-midnight party at the Brigade Officers Mess, a young officer who had just completed a course at the NMTC, T/Capt. I.U. Idika was summarily executed, having refused all entreaties by Madiebo to leave.Following this ‘signal’,Lt. Col. Okoro was shot dead at midnight of July 29/30 in front of the 3rd Battalion guardroom, allegedly by Lts. Dimka and Dambo, after being lured there by his RSM (Bello).After despatching a landrover to take his corpse to the military hospital,the group – joined by others, including Lt. Saninegeria Abacha – disarmed the quarter guard, rallied the battalion for a muster parade on the hockey pitch where easterners were separated, and then locked them up in the guard room (if they were lucky).Then they went hunting for others at the Brigade HQ, NMTC, Engineer Unit, Recce Squadron and in their homes.
Initial arrests were guided by lists of so called “jubilators” who had allegedly taunted them or celebrated in the days after the assassination of the Sardauna.Those northerners who had attended “January Victory” parties had used the opportunity to take names of their southern hosts.Many were shot immediately, but six were taken to the undamaged Guest House at the late Northern Premier’s Lodge, wined and dined, given a visual tour of the damage wrought by Major Nzeogwu’s 84 mm Carl Gustav anti-tank guns, then interrogated about the alleged “Plan 15 Igbo coup”, before being made to kneel in front of a portrait of the Sardauna and bow in awe (“yi gaisuwa”).Then they were led out and executed before their corpses were then transported to locations along the Jos, Lagos and Kachia roads and either left for hyenas to devour or shoddily buried.
After being hunted down, those who were spared the Premier’s Lodge ‘pre-operative’ treatment were simply trucked out to mile 18 on the Kaduna-Jos road where they were shot (allegedly under Captain Ahmadu Yakubu’s supervision)and then reportedly robbed of personal belongings.The process was not totally successful, however, because thankfully, some who feigned death were able to crawl away to safety.Interestingly, others were protected by Captain Swanton and the same RSM Ahmadu Bello who had earlier set Okoro up for his execution at the outset of Kaduna operations.When guardrooms were too congested or unsafe, eastern, (particularly Igbo) soldiers and officers were taken to the Kaduna Prison for safe keeping.
Madiebo, Kalu, Okon, Ogbemudia and many others eventually escaped back to their home regions from Kaduna, while some, like Major Olusegun Obasanjo were later smuggled to Maiduguri for safe-keeping.But others were not so lucky.Asthe days progressed, however, it was clear that there was inconsistency in the degree of discrimination being made between southerners or “jubilators”.T/Capt. L.C. Dilibe (Staff Officer, 1st Bde), T/Major Emelifonwu (DAQMG, 1st Bde) and T/MajorOgunro (Chief Instructor, NMTC) were murdered.Major A. Drummond, half cast Igbo-Scot, was killed on Sunday July 31st.Major OU Isong(Commander, 1st Recce Squadron) who had actually expressed scepticism about the January 15 coup, risking death at the hands of Major Nzeogwu, was also killed during the July rebellion in Kaduna, among others.The details of his death have never been fully clarified but the young northern officers in his squadron at that time include Lts. Ibrahim Babangida, Garba Duba, Sunday Ifere and others.
After hitchhiking with Igbo contacts across the North, Madiebo escaped across the Benue bridge at Makurdi by hiding in a water tank dressed in a firesuit, avoiding capture by a detachment of the 3rd battalion commanded by T/Major Daramola during the penultimate leg of his relay race back home. Ogbemudia’s escape from death at the hands of Lt. BS Dimka was partly made possible by Major Abba Kyari and Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina, as well as sheer luck.Hassan himself had allegedly been briefly detained by mutinous troops and then released, only to be falsely accused of being behind the whole plot (along with Ali Akilu).It was already known that Dimka was not happy that Ogbemudia had arrested him earlier, although Dimka did not know that it had been sanctioned by Hassan who had his ears to the ground.When, therefore, Dimka was making plans to gather soldiers to seize him, and was talking carelessly about Ironsi’s phone call and its implications, Ogbemudia was tipped off and advised in the nick of time to escape.A landrover was immediately provided which Ogbemudia jumped into (armed with an SMG) and sped out of town (without bothering to pack) chased by a landrover load of northern soldiers led by the Lieutenant.Ogbemudia got a pass from Governor Hassan Katsina as a form of protection but this proved to be useless.
Dimka’s group pursued him to Kontagora where he refueled, barely eluding them at the catering rest house.But they refused to give up, chasing him all the way to Jebba, crossing the Niger Bridge behind him, sometimes shooting.They followed him all the way to Owo in present day Ondo State where he ran out of fuel, abandoned his vehicle and scaled a six foot fence into dense jungle.At that point they gave up and began their journey back to Kaduna.Ogbemudia later hitched hiked back to Benin City laying low for some time, moving from house to house until things cooled down.The strange thing is that Major Ogbemudia was Nzeogwu’s deputy at the NMTC in January and had been asked by Nzeogwu totake leave so he would be out of station during the coup.Nzeogwu did not take him into confidence.In fact, for a brief moment after discovering – at a road block – that there was a coup in progress led by his boss, Ogbemudia considered moving against Nzeogwu but was stuck with his desperately ill daughter who had to be taken to hospital.But paradoxically, here he was in July barely escaping death from Dimka, who was convinced that he was part of the so called“Plan 15”!
Indeed, Ogbemudia was not the only example of this paradox.There were many others.ThenMajorH. Igboba, who barely escaped death on July 29 (as a Lt. Col. and CO of the 2nd battalion ), had led one of the companies from the battalion that helped in crushing the January mutiny along with Major Anago (a Camerounian) both under Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon who was transitioning in to replace Hilary Njoku.Njoku, for unclear reasons, was still at his post even though already posted out.But Igboba fully cooperated with Gowon, who in turn, was supporting Ironsi.In fact, according to Ben Odogwu, Chief of Biafran Intelligence, Col. Igboba later met his death at the Benin Prison in September 1967 at the hands of ex-January 15 mutineers he had manhandled in detention after they were arrested in Lagos.

The 5th battalion in Kano was under the command ofT/Lt. Col. M Shuwa, one of the two battalions in the country commanded by a northern officer – the other one being the 4th battalion in Ibadan.On July 28, 29, and 30 the unit was deceptively quiet although Shuwa was abreast of events elsewhere.However, on the night of July 31/August 1st, three Igbo officers and a midwesterner were suddenly hunted down and shot.It remained relatively quiet again until September when all hell broke loose at the Kano International Airport.As Lt. Col Hassan Katsina put it at Aburi, “I have seen an Army mutiny in Kano and if you see me trembling you will know what a mutiny is. ………… for two good days I saw a real mutiny when aC.O.ofNorthern origin commanding soldiers of Northern origin had to run away.“One northern officer was actually reportedly killed by angry northern soldiers for giving them an order to protect Igbos. The slaughter of Igbos at Kano airport by elements of the 5th battalion was one of the more gruesome events of that era.
According to the transcript of tape recordings of the military leaders meeting from January 4-5, 1967, held at the Peduase Lodge, Aburi, Ghana,then Lt. Col. C. Ojukwu, Military Governor of the eastern region, said (among other things):
“When this affair of the 29th July occurred, I remember for certain, the
first 24 hours nobody thought it necessary to contact the East from Lagos.
I made the contact later and I know the advice I gave Brigadier Ogundipe
at that time. I said to him, ‘Sir, the situation is so confused that I
feel that somebody must take control immediately. Also, I would suggest
that you go on to the air and tell the country what has happened and that
you were taking control of the situation.’ Then I was told about concern
for the whole country. I knew that if this thing resolved itself into
factions we would get ourselves into so much trouble that we would never
or we would find it difficult to get out. I maintained and still do that
the answer would have been for the responsible officers of the Army to get
together thereby trying to get the Army together to solve the problem that
we had on our hands. I said to him ‘As soon as you have made your speech I guarantee you within 30 minutes, I needed time to write my own, in 30
minutes I would come on to the air in the East and say that I, the entire
Army in the East and the entire people in the East wholeheartedly support
Indeed, official circles in the eastern region were “blacked out” initially from information flow, particularly during the first 24 hours of the revolt.The commander of the 1st battalion in Enugu, Lt. Col. David “Baba” Ogunewe, a thoroughly professional and experienced officer who had risen from the ranks, found out about the Abeokuta mutiny late at night on July 29 by accident.Captain Ogbonna had tried to reach the battalion from Abeokuta.
The duty officer at the 1st battalion (who happened to be a northerner) was not on seat when Ogbonna’s message came through, so it was passed directly to Lt. Col. Ogunewe, thus giving him an early insight into events, which proved to be crucial.He went to the messin the early hours of July 30 and found a group of northern officers (including Lts. Shehu Musa Yar-Adua, A. A. Abubakar, Sale Mamood, Daudu Suleiman, Captains Muhammadu Jega, Gibson S. Jalo and others) fully dressed in combat fatigues and apparently talked them out of taking precipitate action, tapping an incredible reserve of goodwill he had always had with the boys.Ogunewe’s successful confrontation with the northern officers is all the more remarkable when it is realized that he was unarmed and had only been in command of that battalion for six months.It was truly a testimony to his man-management skills in crisis, well worth study for future reference.It turns out though, that these officers had already been having meetings behind Hotel Presidential in Enugu to discuss their own contributions to the “Aure” plot and the neutralization of Lt. Col. Ojukwu. However, they had decided after careful appreciation of the situation, surrounded by a hostile population, to restrict themselves to self defence to avoid reprisals against their families.
In an October 1979 interview with the FRCN,Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (rtd), now deceased, recalled his role as the Adjutant of the 1st Battalion in those dark days.According to him, therewas no plan initially to kill anyone although he clearly intended to arrestLt. Col C. Ojukwu, then Military Governor.He corroborates other sources who have since said that the coup date had in fact been put off when informal word came late on Friday night, more likely early Saturday July 30, from Captain Remawa in Abeokuta, that violence had broken out.At first Yar’Adua did not know what to make of it since Remawa was not part of the original “Aure” plot.But then he got dressed and alerted other northern officers. By the time he returned to the office at about 4 am, as he put it:”…… CO and all the Igbo officers had been there at three, because somebody had also rang them from Abeokuta and told them what was happening.”This “somebody” was none other than Captain Ogbonna.
A joint guard, consisting of northern and southern soldiers was then posted to guard the armoury, choking off weapon flow.Ogunewe then notified Lt. Col Ojukwu and later ordered that all officers irrespective of regional origin should live together in the mess while all Other Ranks were to live onthe parade ground.In this manner, no group could conspire or make a move without detection.The only officer authorized to be armed at this point was Ogunewe himself who sat with the other officers while everyone looked at everyone.
At 11am on July 30, Ojukwu called a meeting of the regional executive council at which they were briefed on events in other parts of the country.Before then Ojukwu had been on the telephone all morning contacting units and eastern officers all over the country to get a picture of events.He is quoted by NU Akpan, former Secretary to the Government of the Eastern region after one of his calls, as saying:“One thing is clear, however; these people are quite bent on annihilating the Ibos.”Later that day, for reasons that have never been clarified, he slipped out of Enugu (leaving Ogunewe behind) and went to Onitsha from where he was making his calls to Ogundipe in Lagos encouraging him to stand firm.Much later that night, urged by Mr. P. Okeke who was then Commissioner of Police, he returned to Enugu, moving his office, home and relatives to the Police HQ, surrounded by a special guard of Mobile Policemen of Igbo origin.That same evening, eastern chiefs and traditional rulers arrived back from the Traditional Rulers meeting in Ibadan, bringing with them information about the kidnapping of Ironsi and Fajuyi.
By Sunday July 31st, when Ojukwu called the executive council again, he announced that Brigadier Ogundipe had since told him that the situation was out of control.Shortly thereafter, Ogundipe himself could not be contacted.It was not until Lt. Col. Gowon’s broadcast on August 1st that a transient semblance of order became discernible.Ojukwu made a broadcast in response in which he said, inter-alia,
“In the course of this rebellion, I have had discussions with the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brigadier Ogundipe, who as the next most senior officer in the absence of the Supreme Commander, should have assumed command of the Army………”
”During those discussions, it was understood that the only condition on which the rebels would agree to cease fire were: that the Republic of Nigeria be split into its component parts; and that all southerners in the North be repatriated to the South and that Northerners resident in the South be repatriated to the North……”
“…….the brutal, planned annihilation of officers of Eastern Nigerian origin in the last two days has again cast serious doubts as to whether the people of Nigeria, after these cruel and bloody atrocities, can ever sincerely live together as members of the same nation….…”
“….I have further conveyed to the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, my fellow military governors and the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, my understanding that the only intention of the announcement made by the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters today is the restoration of peace in the country whilst immediate negotiations are begun to allow the people of Nigeria to determine the form of their future association.Good night and thank you.”
Ojukwu thenspent the next one week insisting that northern soldiers in Enugu (who comprised no less than two thirds of the battalion) be removed from the city before he would consider leaving the safety of the Police HQ back to the State House.
Through all this, Ogunewe kept in touch with Gowon in Lagos and was crucial to arrangements that were subsequently made to successfully repatriate non-eastern soldiers and their families out of the region – a remarkable achievement for which he was rewarded by being fully reabsorbed into the Nigerian Army without loss of rank after the civil war.But even this was not so straightforward.For one, Ogunewe had to resist all kinds of entreaties to allow vengeful Igbo mobs gain entry into the barracks to liquidate the northern troops there.Secondly, according to then Major (later Brigadier) Benjamin Adekunle, Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed had contacted Lt. Yar’Adua secretly and ordered him to break into the armoury to secure arms and ammunition for northern soldiers – to the exclusion of others.This led to a clash between them which almost cost Adekunle his life later on.
Just under two weeks after Gowon came to power, Major Adekunle was tasked to lead the 1st battalion detachment by train which was granted safe passage to transport non-eastern soldiers and their families to Kaduna enroute to Lagos in exchange for surviving eastern soldiers in other regions.The suspicion was so high that Adekunle gave orders that every individual soldier was to guard every other individual soldier.When Adekunle got to Kaduna, some Igbo officers released from Kaduna Prison were placed onboard the train (without his knowledge, he says, but with his knowledge others say) on their way to Lagos enroute to the eastern region.Some of the northern soldiers on the train did not like the arrangement seeing as they felt they had not yet contributed their quota to the mayhem going on elsewhere, so they mutinied, killing the Igbo officers.As Brigadier Adekunle (rtd) put it:
“Yar’Adua arranged for their heads to be cut and threw their bodies over the door, chained with other officers …….”
Other sources say the bodies were thrown into a river near Minna.It turns out that there were a few pregnant women onboard the train who went into labor when they witnessed this spectacle.Therefore, Adekunle ordered the train stopped at Minna Station to take the women in labor to hospital.It was there that he says Lt. SM Yar’Adua attacked him with a bayonet.
According to Adekunle:
“I got to the railway station. Madness started. Alright put your hand inside my head and see wound, that is blade, that is Yar’Adua’s work. Immediately I got down they wanted to kill Adekunle.You see this, it was for my stomach. Yar’Adua, see my hand, it was cut but they couldn’t cut it, they cut and cut but the knife no go.You don forget say na Ogbomosho na him I be.Then they put my head on railway line that when the train coming to Lagos moves it will cut my head.”
Adekunle, however, has never publicly explained how he survived but others say he was saved by then Captain GS Jalo, who shared the same Bachama ethnicity as Adekunle’s mother.In an interview,Lt. General GS Jalo (rtd), now deceased, also credited Alhaji Suleiman, then District Head in Minna and his former Principal in Yola, for saving then Major Adekunle’s life.Other sources allege that it was Yar’Adua himself who drove Adekunle to Hospital in Minna from where he was aero-evacuated to Kaduna and claim that Yar’Adua was neither the instigator of the Train mutiny nor Adekunle’s attacker.
In any case, when the 1st battalion detachment eventually arrived at Ikeja Barracks in Lagos, northern soldiers who left Enugu unmolested got themselves involved in molesting departing Igbo refugees and looting their property.According to General Jalo:
“The Igbo were going away and looting set in and some senior officers, I must confess, encouraged this to happen.”
On August 27, in another broadcast from Enugu, Ojukwu stated, among other things,
“I last spoke to you on August 1, following the unfortunate and tragic events of July 29.I am sure that you all have since followed through the Press and Radio the sad turn of events.One thing has come out very clearly from this, the preceding and subsequent events, that is, that there is in fact no genuine basis for true unity in the country…..”
Ojukwu unilaterally declared August 29 a day of mourning in the East, a move which was, however, viewed with suspicion as an act of defiance by hawks in the Gowon government.Itproved to be one of many “Stations of the Cross”along the long windy road to the Nigerian Civil War, a road some say began in January 1914.
Benin-City was quiet during the weekend of July 29, 1966.It had hosted General Ironsi with fanfare on the 27th.School children lined the routes and there was pomp and pageantry.Underneath it all, however, fate beckoned.It was from Benin that Ironsi departed on his way to Ibadan where he met his death.In the atmosphere of myths that evolved in the years after 1966, there was even a story that ”Operation Aure” was not launched in Benin because of the intercession of the Oba of Benin.That story is false, although it is true that the traditional institution offered prayers for the country’s stability.A strong delegation of chiefs and traditional rulers from the Midwest region attended the conference in Ibadan.
During the weekend of the mutiny there were no rebellious activities within the small detachment of the 4th battalion under S/Captain Adeniran stationed in Benin.However, the tour of duty in Benin made it possible for soldiers in that company to discover that some of those detained for their part in the January 15 mutiny were at the Benin Prison.This information was to take on greater significance, when on August 16th, there was a raid on the prison carried out by those elements of the 4th battalion who had initially been redeployed back to Ibadan, but then made a special trip back to Benin just for the heist.
The immediate motive for the August 16 raid was to release their more unruly northern colleagues from the Battalion who had been detained there in early August for their part in the events at Ibadan on July 29 in which General Ironsi, Col. Fajuyi and some Midwestern officers and soldiers in the 4th battalion (like Lt. Jasper) lost their lives.One account claims the soldiers were from the 1st battalion at Enugu, detained by Ejoor, but I have a conflicting account on personal authority from a participant in the raid that they were not.
The rescuers did not stop at releasing their colleagues.They removed Igbo soldiers who had long been detained there for their part in the January mutiny, including Major Christian Anuforo who had personally executed Lt. Cols. Arthur Unegbe, Kur Mohammed and James Yakubu Pam, as well as Federal Finance Minister Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh.All of these individuals – including Anuforo – were tortured and then shot after private trials conducted by northern NCOs along the Benin-Ore road, although S/Captain Adeniran himself, pro-Akintola as he was, and a lucky survivor of the January operations, may not have been a neutral observer.Indeed, one of the less well publicized activities of mutinous troops in the 4th battalion was the release of NNDP supporters who had been detained in Ibadan Prison by Lt. Col. Fajuyi back in January.It was a stroke of fortune for Major Adewale Ademoyega, another one of the January conspirators, who paired up with Anuforo for Okotie-Eboh’s execution, that soldiers from the 4th battalion were unaware that he had been transferred to Warri Prison from the East. Needless to say, the Military Governor, Lt. Col. David Ejoor was very embarassed and protested vehemently to Gowon.
IBADAN, FRIDAY, JULY 29, 1966 (“Paiko’s Wedding”)
The situation in Ibadan on July 28 was tense.Northern civil servants, chiefs and traditional rulers who had come for the Conference of Traditional rulers were eager to get out of the South, fearful that they would be targetted in the so called “Plan 15” Igbo Plot.Indeed there were false rumors that the conference Hall was slated to be blown up.At the regimental parade for General Ironsi a small controversy erupted in the Press about the observation that northern troops refused to (or could not) sing the National Anthem.Arguments went back and forth on TV about whether their lips were moving.
Nevertheless, there was a grand reception in the evening hosted by the Military Governor, Lt. Col.Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, which belied the tensions that were simmering underneath. Fate was beckoning.Both Ironsi and Fajuyi were distinguished veterans of the Congo peace-keeping operations (ONUC) from 1960-64.Then Brigadier JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi was the overall Force Commander for the last six months of the operation.Fajuyi was well known as the first Nigerian officer to be honoured with an international military citation.As a Major, he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for personal action in leading C company of the 4QNR in combat on November 27, 1960 and subsequently extricating it from an ambush during operations on January 3, 1961.
However, following the call from Lt. Pam Mwadkon in Abeokuta, Lt. Garba Dada (Paiko) woke up other northern officers at the 4th Battalion, including Major TY Danjuma, a staff officer at AHQ who was temporarily staying at the Letmauk Barracks, having accompanied Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi from Lagos.The Barracks is named after a town called Letmauk, site of a bitter campaign in April and May 1944to retake AN from the Japanese in Burma, by the 1stNigerian Brigade of the 82nd West African Division during World War II.
Dada told Danjuma:”Sir, wewill have to do the same thing.The most important target is the Supreme Commander.For as long as he is there, everything we are doing here is nothing.We should go there.”
After a brief meeting with Lts. Ibrahim Bako and Abdullai Shelleng, a quick phone call was made to Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed in Lagos, seeing as Muhammed had earlier contacted the boys to stand down from their group’s pre-planned coup.But Muhammed initially urged restraint, seeing as he was unsure whether his earlier confrontation with Anwunah meant that Igbo officers and soldiers in Lagos were already armed and may well have the advantage – as Anwunah had threatened.However, concerned that exposed northern mutineers in Abeokuta would be isolated and thus likely arrested and charged if they delayed action, Danjuma, Dada, Bako, Shelleng, and the duty officer (James Onoja) decided to overrule Muhammed and proceed with operations in Ibadan.Because Danjuma did not go to Ibadan with combat dress, he borrowed one from Lt. James Onoja* who had recently come back from a course in the US, and wore it right over his pyjamas.Then Danjuma armed himself with a hand grenade for suicide in the event of mission failure.
(*Some accounts say it was Akahan’s uniform, but the Onoja version is likely more correct, confirmed by Danjuma himself.In any case Akahan was out of the loop until daybreak).
Soldiers were then hurriedly selected from infantry companies at Mokola commanded by Onoja and Shelleng.While Shelleng took one group to man checkpoints along the Lagos and Abeokuta roads to protect the southern approaches to the city, 24 soldiers under Lt. James Onoja, some say in two landrovers mustered by the MTO, Lt. Jerry Useni,accompanied Major Danjuma to the Government House in the early hours of July 29, 1966.The specific initial objective was to isolate the premises, disconnect the Supreme Commander from the chain of command and arrest him as a tool for negotiations regarding the boys who killed Okonweze and others at Abeokuta.The Government House was already guarded by elements of the National Guards company, led by Lt. William Walbe, who was in charge of a 106 mm recoilless rifle group, along with some soldiers on duty from the 4th battalion whose reporting relationship was to the adjutant of the battalion as well as the duty officer.
Upon arrival there, having established that the Supreme Commander was in, Major Danjuma was confronted by two command problems. Both arose from the fact that he neither belonged to the 4th battalion nor was he part of the National Guard, although he was senior to all the boys on the ground.First task, therefore, was to ensure the cooperation of those elements of the 4th battalion who were on duty there.The second was to secure the cooperation of the National Guard Commander on the ground.In order to address the first problem he asked the adjutant (“Paiko”) to issue a “legitimate” order that all his soldiers on duty be disarmed by the duty officer (Onoja) who was there to conduct a “legitimate” inspection.After being disarmed by the Duty Sergeant, they were illegitimately screened and those who could be trusted (ie northerners), illegitimately rearmed.Then they were supplemented by the pre-selected group Danjuma brought along from the barracks with Onoja.To deal with the second problem he confronted Lt. William Walbe directly andsecured his cooperation.This wasn’t too difficult.Although they were in different cells, Walbe himself had been attending separate meetings in Lagos with Joe Garba and others and was well aware of the outlines of a coup plot although he did not expect one that night.
Once the building was surrounded and the 106 mm gun positioned in support, Danjuma came under pressure from the boys on the ground to proceed with the operation.There were fears, based on myths acquired in the Congo, that General Ironsi was assisted by “juju” and that he could disappear at anytime using his “crocodile”.Junior officers who had come to join the party urged immediate attack, some even suggesting a repeat performance of the Nzeogwu assault on the Nassarawa Lodge in Kaduna in January.They wanted the 106 mm weapon used to bring down the complex.Danjuma resisted the pressure.
Lt. Col. Hilary Njoku, Commander of the 2nd Brigade in Lagos, then emerged from the main building and was walking right past the soldiers on duty moving toward the gate.One account says he came up from Lagos with Ironsi, had been staying at the guest house next to the main lodge, but was at the main lodge where Ironsi was staying, socializing with both Ironsi and Fajuyi.Another account says he came up from Lagos that evening when rumors of a coup gained strong currency among senior Igbo officers in Lagos to brief the C-in-C.When he attempted to leave the premises, ostensibly to mobilize loyal units, he was shot at by soldiers who had been ordered not to let anyone out and he responded in kind. (Some say he shot first).Luckily he escaped with serious injuries, some say with no less than 8 pieces of shrapnel in his thigh.Njoku initially made his way to the University College Hospital but had to escape again when a “mop up” team came searching for him.
At this point, Lt. Onoja asked for permission to leave, saying he was going to get more ammunition from the barracks.However, he panicked and ran away in one of the landrovers, fearing that Njoku’s escape meant the coup would fail.He was later arrested at Jebba.
When it became apparent that Njoku had escaped, Danjuma, guarded by two soldiers, made rounds to check all guard positions around the lodge and was moving toward the guest house when he heard the phone there ringing.He asked one of his guards tobreak the window so he could reach in to answer the phone.According to General Danjuma (rtd), this is how the conversation went:
Gowon:“Hello. I want to speak to Brigade Commander. I want to speak to Colonel Njoku.
Danjuma:“May I know who is speaking?”
Gowon:My name is Gowon. Yakubu Gowon.”
Danjuma:“Ranka dede. This is Yakubu Danjuma.”
Gowon:“Yakubu, what are you doing there? Where are you?”
Danjuma:“I am in the State House here.”
Gowon:“Where is the Brigade Commander?”
Danjuma:“He is not around.”
Gowon:“Have you heard what has happened?”
Danjuma:“Yes, I heard and that is why I am here. We are about to arrest the Supreme Commander.The alternative is that the Igbo boys who carried out the January coup will be released tit for tat since we killed their own officers.”
Gowon:(after a period of silence)“Can you do it?”
Danjuma:“Yes, we have got the place surrounded.”
Gowon:“But for goodness sake we have had enough bloodshed. There must be no bloodshed.”
Danjuma:“No, We are only going to arrest him.”
At this point Danjuma replaced the phone as yet another command crisis with the soldiers on the grounds was brewing.It is not clear from available information what Gowon did with the explosive information he had just gained from Danjuma or how he and Ogundipe planned to deal with it.Danjuma does not say that Gowon or any other senior officer explicitly ordered him to desist from his activities.To what extent, then, did knowledge that Ironsi was already surrounded by elements of the 4th battalion affect efforts to send a Helicopter or the force structure of any potential rescue mission?It appears that, at least in dealings with Ibadan, a decision was made, by omission or commission, to adopt a negotiating rather than fighting attitude to the mutiny.
This is an area which will attract considerable attention of researchers in the future.Some have used it to implicate Gowon in the coup but depending on what other information he had at that point about availability of loyal fighting units, this may be too harsh a conclusion to draw without additional clarification from Gowon himself.He may well have been stalling to allow him time to make alternative plans.Certainly, neither the National Guard company,2nd (in Lagos) nor 4th (in Ibadan) battalions nor the garrison at Abeokuta were usable at that point.Even if they were willing, battalions in Enugu, Kaduna and Kano were too far away to be useful, particularly considering the lack of emergency strategic airlift capability.In any case, any thinking along these lines was quickly neutralized by Murtala Muhammed’s decision to seize Ikeja airport at dawn.Lastly, Gowon may have viewed Danjuma as the lesser of two evils – the other being an all out effort by mutinying junior officers to get their hands on the General (which is what eventually happened).In retrospect, at that point only a foreign power could have mustered the might to stage a complex night-time military rescue operation to save Ironsi. But there is no evidence that such an option was ever considered.
In any case, when Onoja ran away, TY Danjuma was isolated.With no duty officer on ground, and no other officer from the 4th battalion on the premises, the NCOs began to wonder if they should take strange orders from thisMajor they had never met, wearing a mis-sized American satin combat uniform on top of pyjamas and who wasn’t even from their unit.They began to wonder if Danjuma might even be an Igbo officer basedon his physique and bearing and perhaps even his reluctance to destroy the building.Fortunately for Danjuma, Lt. Abdullai Shelleng returned briefly from his checkpoint on Abeokuta road to check on things and persuaded the NCOs to obey him, assuring them that he was a northerner.
Other officers also arrived back on premises as daybreak approached, including “Paiko” himself.Nervous soldiers then appealed directly to Garba Dada (Paiko) to blow up the house but he refused to do so unless Danjuma gave the okay.Danjuma chose to maintain the siege, waiting patiently for the occupants to emerge from the building.The opportunity would come at 8 am when the Governor and Head of State were scheduled to go for official engagements in town.The one curious oversight, though, was that no effort was made to cut off the phone lines at the lodge.
At 6:30 am General Ironsi’s Army ADC, Lt. Sani Bello emerged from the building to find out what was going on.After a brief confrontation with Danjuma and a group of hostile northern NCOs, he was arrested,told to remove his shoes and sit down on the ground.As members of the Head of State’s convoy and delegation began arriving from guest chalets they too were detained and asked to sit on the ground.They include many others like Colonel Olu Thomas, an army physician, and Chief C. O. Lawson, Secretary to the Government, arrested at about 7:30 am.
At this point, Lt. Col. Fajuyi personally emerged from the building.Some accounts claim that his ADC had absconded during the night and switched sides.Danjuma describes his conversation with Fajuyi as follows:
Fajuyi:“Danjuma come. What do you want?”
Danjuma:“I want the Supreme Commander”
Fajuyi:“Promise me that no harm will come to him”
Danjuma:words to the effect that no harm would come to Ironsi and that he was only being arrested.
Fajuyi:“I will go and call him.”
Chorus of northern NCOs:“No, Sir. Don’t allow him to go.”
Danjuma:(talking to Fajuyi who had briefly turned around)“Sir, you see what I have.This is grenade.If there is false move two of us will go.”
At this point Fajuyi led the way into the building with the grenade bearing Danjuma and five armed soldiers (including Lt. Walbe) right behind him, essentially using him as a cover as they climbed the staircase and went upstairs to meet General Ironsi.
Ironsi:“Young man”
Danjuma:“Sir, you are under arrest.”
Ironsi:“What is the matter?”
Danjuma:“The matter is you, Sir.You told us in January when we supported you to quell the mutiny that all the dissident elements that took part in the mutiny will be court-martialled.It is July now.You have done nothing.You kept these boys in prison and the rumours are now that they will be released because they are national heroes.”
Ironsi:“Look, what do you mean? It is not true.”
At this point Ironsi and Danjuma began arguing, with Fajuyi getting in between them and reminding Danjuma again and again of his promise that no harm would come to Ironsi.
Danjuma:“Fajuyi get out of my way. You, just come down.”
Danjuma:(to Ironsi) “….You organized the killing of our brother officers in January and you have done nothing to bring the so called dissident elements to justice because you were part and parcel of the whole thing.”
Ironsi:“Who told you that?You know it is not true.”
Danjuma:“You are lying. You have been fooling us.I ran around risking my neck trying to calm the ranks, and in February you told us that they would be tried.This is July and nothing has been done.You will answer for your actions.”
At this point Danjuma and Lt. Andrew Nwankwo, Ironsi’s AirForce ADC, had a fierce verbal exchange, with one holding a grenade with the pin pulled and the other holding a pistol. But with the fingers of five other soldiers on the triggers of automatic weapons, Nwankwo was outgunned.
When the group got downstairs, Danjuma instructed the 4th battalion adjutant, Lt. Garba Dada (“Paiko”), to arrange for both Fajuyi and Ironsi to be taken to the guest house on the cattle ranch at Mokwa “pending date of full inquiry”.Lt. “Paiko”, however, informed Danjuma that he was not a party to the commitment he made to Fajuyi (or Gowon) about their safety and a fierce emotional argument erupted between Danjuma and the others.At this point a northern soldier tapped Danjuma on the shoulder with a loaded rifle and, speaking in Hausa, said:
“These foolish young boys.That is the kind of leadership you have given us and messing us up.They killed all your elders and you are still fooling around here.The man you are fooling around here with will disappear before you know it.”
The other soldiers agreed with this soldier and pounced on both Ironsi and Fajuyi, wrestling them to restrain any movement. Danjuma, faced with one command crisis after another all night, had finally lost control.
Fajuyi turned to Danjuma and said:“You gave us the assurance.”
Danjuma replied:“Yes, Sir. I am sure you will be all right.”
He was wrong.
Two landrovers took the captives away while Danjuma hitch-hiked back to the barracks.
Both Ironsi and Fajuyi were squeezed into the front seat of one vehicle while Ironsi’s ADCs, Lts. Bello and Nwankwo were behind.Two officers, Lts. Walbe and Dada,accompanied the group with one joining the driver of the lead vehicle.The command vehicle led another vehicle full of armed troops.Among those soldiers said to have been present include the 4th battalion unit RSM Useni Fagge, Sergeant Tijjani (from Maiduguri), Warrant OfficerBako, and other soldiers including Dabang, Wali, and Rabo.Some of those involved were later to come to prominence during the unsuccessful Dimka coup of 1976. (Although Colonel Yohana Madaki (rtd) was at that time an NCO in the 4th battalion, there is no evidence that he accompanied the soldiers that took Ironsi away).
They drove to Mile 8 on Iwo road, where the group dismounted and went into the bush, crossing a small stream.Ironsi and Fajuyi were subjected to beatings and interrogation.General Ironsi acted a soldier as he was questioned, refused to be intimidated and remained silent, refusing to confess any role in the January 15 coup.Indeed, according to Elaigwu, “It was reliably learnt from an officer and a soldier on the spot that it was Ironsi’s muteness amidst a barrage of questions that led to his being shot by an angry Northern soldier.” Other sources suggest that the “angry northern soldier” may have been Sergeant Tijjani.Details are murky.
Fajuyi was also shot.Although the western region publication “Fajuyi the Great” published by the Ministry of Information in 1967 after his official burial said he had offered to die rather than “abandon his guest”, those involved in his arrest and assassination insist that he was an even more critical target than Ironsi and made no such offer to die with Ironsi.Lt. Col. William Walbe (rtd) said:
“……..We arrested him as we arrested Ironsi.We suspected him of being party to the January coup.You remember the Battle Group Course which was held at Abeokuta….Fajuyi was the Commander of the Battle Group Course…All those who took part in the January coup were those who had taken part in that course.It gave us the impression that the Battle Course was arranged for the January coup, so he had to suffer it too. I am sorry about that but that is the nature of the life of a military man……..”
General Danjuma confirms this opinion.He says that at another training camp in Kachia commanded by Lt. Col. Fajuyi, Major Nzeogwu rehearsed the assault on Sardauna’s house in the presence of some northern mortar officers who did not appreciate the significance of the exercise until after the coup.In Danjuma’s words, “The chaps could not stomach Fajuyi such that if there was anybody who should die first, as far as they were concerned, it was Fajuyi, not even Ironsi.”
How true are these claims about Fajuyi’s role in the January coup?I found an answer in the book “Why we Struck” by Major Adewale Ademoyega, one of the January mutineers and a Yoruba officer like Fajuyi.Ademoyega states that Fajuyi supported the first coup, knew of it and made suggestions to plotters on how it could be best carried out.According to Ademoyega, that he did not actively participate was only as a result of his posting at the time the coup was launched.However, Ademoyega eulogizes the late Colonel for opposing all efforts in the Supreme Military Council to bring the January 15 coupists to trial.
Major General Ironsi had two ADCs, Army Lt. Sani Bello and AirForce Lt. Andrew Nwankwo.Speaking Hausa, Bello, whose ethnic origin is Kontagora, appealed to ‘Lt. Paiko’, who was an acquaintance from the same Niger province in the North, to let him and his Igbo colleague off the hook since they were not the targets of the soldiers and were only performing official functions as ADCs.
According to Madiebo:
“While Ironsi was being shot, Nwankwo said he ran into the bush and escaped. He emphasized that his escape was not due to his cleverness, but because his colleague, the Hausa ADC who was also present, wanted him to escape.Nwankwo explained that during the month of June, 1966, he and his Northern colleague had discussed the possibility of another coup. The Northern officer was emphatic the Ibos were going to do it again, but Nwankwo swore it was going to be done by Northerners. According to him, at the end of a long but heated argument, they came to an agreement that whichever side did it, the man on the winning side should save the other’s life. Based on this agreement, the Northern ADC whispered to Nwankwo to escape while Ironsi was being shot, and also discouraged the soldiers from chasing after him. Nwankwo said he later made his way to Lagos and contacted this Northern officer again, who not only hid him for a couple of days, but eventually took him out of Lagos in the boot of a car.”
Later that morning, on Friday July 29, back in the barracks, T/Lt. Col Joe Akahan, Commander of the 4th battalion , who had essentially been ignored all night by junior officers, tried to reassert control.He (or someone acting in his name) apparently called a meeting of all officers at 10am which Akahan did not attend.By this time, Lt. Pam Nwadkon’s Ferret group had arrived from Abeokuta bringing more inciting news about how Igbo soldiers there had been hunted down and killed.At this meeting surviving Igbo soldiers were allegedly rounded up by NCOs and later killed, some say by being packed like sardines into a tailor’s shop and then blown up with grenades.The intelligence officer of the battalion, Lt. Jasper, from the delta part of the Midwest, was killed based on an allegation that he had been an informant for senior Igbo officers in Lagos.NNDP detainees at the Ibadan prison were released.
Later in the afternoon around 4 pm, weary from negotiations with rebels at Ikeja, Gowon called from Lagos and spoke to Akahan, seeking to establish the status of the Supreme Commander.Akahan passed the question on to Danjuma who then informed Gowon that Ironsi had been snatched from him by officers of the 4th battalion.When Danjuma confronted the Battalion adjutant with the same question, he says the adjutant “told me one story after the other.But I saw the officers in twos and threes whispering to each other and it was running to about 7pm.”
At this point let me address a pertinent question.Is there is any independent corroboration for Danjuma’s story that he arrested Ironsi but did not order or partake in his torture and execution?Yes, at least two.In the book “Power with Civility”,Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu says:“In fairness to Danjuma, his mission was to arrest the Head of State in a bloodless coup, but having accomplished it successfully, he was shoved aside by a mob who had reserved a fatal fate for their captive.”General Gowon (rtd) also confirmed in an interview with Elaigwu that then Major Danjuma was very sad when he later learnt about the deaths of both Ironsi and Fajuyi, having given his word that no harm would come to them.
On Saturday, July 30, T/Lt. Col. Akahan finally came to grips with the situation, albeit temporarily, ordering all soldiers to be disarmed in response to direct orders from Lagos.
But the 4th battalion, incidentally the direct descendant of“Glover’s Hausas”,was not done yet.In time it would acquire a reputation as the most unruly battalion in Nigerian history.On August 16, a detachment of the unit staged a raid on the Benin Prison, followed by an all out battalion-wide riot in Ibadan. Later that month when a decision was made to transfer the battalion en bloc, now under Major Danjuma’s command, to Kaduna, NCOs and junior officers again went berserk.Using tactics reminiscent of the Japanese in Burma, they went to hospitals all over Kaduna to look for sick Igbo officers, one of whom was killed.Another officer, then Major Alabi (later renamed Alabi-Isama) of the NMTC, who had actually served with the 4th battalion before the January coup narrowly escaped back to the Midwest.He was smuggled out of Kaduna by a team of officers led by the Military Governor, Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina.
Detachments of the 4th battalion deployed to other northern townscontinued their acts of lawlessness everywhere they went.Soldiers in the infantry company deployed to Makurdi (under S/Captain Adeniran who replaced T/Major Daramola of the 3rd battalion) were instrumental to the outbreak of systematic killing in September of Igbos fleeing from other parts of the North.It is not for nothing that the vehicle and railway bridge over the River Benue at Makurdi was nick-named the “Red Bridge”.In a pattern established by the preceding unit, easterners(particularly those with low Military or Police style crew hair cut) were allegedly screened out at the Train station, or hunted down in joint Army-Police-Militia house to house searches, then taken to an open field in Makurdi North where they were allegedly executed.All of these alleged activities could not have escaped the attention of the local Police Special Branch officer, then ASP Shettima, but it is unclear what steps were taken by authorities to bring the situation under control, assuming they were even aware of what was going on.Those easterners who escaped the Makurdi railway bottleneck had to contend with molestation and looting by rural opportunists along the Makurdi-Otukpo road, if they thought going by road was safer.If they escaped that, they had to survive a final checkpoint at Otukpo, allegedly manned by one Lt. Obeya.
In addition to hair style, all sorts of criteria were used to screen out those marked for execution.Soldiers or Policemen who were multilingual would speak English or vernacular to the “suspect” and then listen for tell-tale accents in the way certain words were pronounced.Another popular screening method was one’s tribal marks.Yorubas with large tribal marks would often be jokingly referred to as “Akintola” and let go.Not to have obvious identifiable tribal marks, however, was an invitation to trouble, which is how many got killed, whether they were Igbo or not – including some local Idoma and Tiv people, merely on account of their physical features.It used to be quite effective for some time for southerners without prominent tribal marks to escape by claiming they were from “Benin”in the Midwest, until the soldiers began demanding that the alleged “Benin people” speak or sing in the Edo language.But there were other ways one could get into difficulty.For example, not even the Benue Provincial Police Officer, Mr. Agbajor, an Itsekiri from the Midwest, was safe.He barely escaped ambush at the Makurdi club after attracting attention to himself by driving around in a car with license plate number EW 1, which stood for ‘East, Owerri, 1’.Agbajor was to come to public attention again, when, in August/September 1967 he agreed to serve the short-lived Biafran administration in the Midwest as Chief of Police.His career in the Nigerian Police ended shortly thereafter.
About 5 days after their deaths, the corpses of Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi and Lt. Col. Fajuyi were retrieved by the Police Special Branch (including CSP J. D. Gomwalk) from a makeshift grave near the town of Lalupon outside Ibadan and transferred to the Military cemetry where they were specially marked for future identification.It was not until after the Aburi conference in January 1967 that their deaths were announced (by Lt. Col Ojukwu), following a pattern that had originally been established by General Ironsi. Ironsi refused to announce the deaths of or allow official funerals for most of the victims of the January coup (including his military colleagues) throughout his six month long regime.
After yet another exhumation, however, General Ironsi was finally reburied with full military honours at Umuahia on January 20, 1967 while a few days later Lt. Col Fajuyi was reburied at Ado-Ekiti.
According to an Eastern Regional Government publication titled“January 15:Before and After; No. WT/1003/3674/40,000, 1967”, the casualty list of the counter-rebellion included 33 Eastern, 7 Midwestern, and 3 Western Officers and 153 Eastern, 14 Midwestern and 3 Western Other ranks.Of the 33 Eastern officer deaths, there was one Major General, one Lt. Col, nine Majors, eleven Captains, eight Lts. and three 2/Lts.The Midwest lost one Lt. Col, two Majors, two Lts, and two 2/Lts.The West lost one Lt. Col and two 2/Lts.Of the 153 Eastern other ranks who died, eleven were Warrant Officers, twelve Staff Sergeants, thirty Sergeants, twenty five Corporals, twenty-two Lance Corporals and fifty three Privates.The Midwest lost one Warrant Officer, six Staff Sergeants, four Sergeants, two Corporals, and one Lance Corporal.The West lost one Warrant Officer and two Staff Sergeants.
The grand military total, according that report, was 213 casualties.However, names of newly trained or single soldiers who were killed could not be ascertained, so the figures will always remain an estimate.In any case the Eastern list was contested by the Federal Government and to this day no-one has publicly confirmed the full reconciled list of all those who lost their lives.Most observers, though, feel the list provided by the Eastern regional Government was as close to the truth as any list will ever get.Pensions and gratuities have been paid over the years to many families.Indeed those spouses who did not remarry and maintained their dignity as widows continued to be supported for many years.In special cases children were awarded special scholarships up to University level.
Over the years, I have been able to gather a list of the officers who were confirmed killed.It includes two names (Musa and Drummond) missing from the Eastern list and excludes two names^ on the Eastern list (Ibik and Waribor):
1)Major Gen. J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi`
2)Lt. Col. F.A. Fajuyi`
3)Lt. Col. I.C. Okoro
4)T/Lt Col G. Okonweze
5)Major Christian Anuforo~
6)Major Donatus O. Okafor ~
7)Major T.E. Nzegwu(NAF) `
8)Major J.K. Obienu`
9)Major Ibanga Ekanem
10)Major P.C. Obi(NAF)
11)T/Major C.C. Emelifonwu
12)T/Major B. Nnamani
13)T /Major J.O.C. Ihedigbo
14)T/Major O.U. Isong
15)T/Major A. Drummond
16)T/Major A.D. Ogunro
17)Capt. J.I. Chukwueke
18)Capt. H.A. Iloputaife
19)Capt. A.O. Akpet
20)Capt. S.E. Maduabum
21)Capt. G.N.E. Ugoala
22)T/CaptP.C. Okoye
23)T/Capt. I.U. Idika
24)T/Capt. L.C. Dilibe
25)T/Capt. J.U. Egere
26)T/Capt. T.O. Iweanaya+
27)T/Capt. H.A. Auna
28)T/Capt. R.I. Agbazue
29)Lt. G. Mbabie
30)Lt. S.E. Idowu
31)Lt. E.C.N. Achebe
32)Lt. S.A. Mbadiwe
33)Lt. F.P. Jasper+
34)Lt. P.D. Ekedingyo+
35)Lt. S.E. Onwuke+
36)Lt. J.D. Ovuezurie+
37)Lt. A.D.C. Egbuna
38)Lt. E.B. Orok
39)Lt. J.U. Ugbe
40)Lt. Francis Musa*
41)2/LtA.O. Olaniyan
42)2/Lt. A.R.O. Kasaba
43)2/Lt. F.M. Agronaye+
44)2/Lt. P.K. Onyeneho+
*Some of the names here (like Musa) appear northern in origin but are actually names of Igbo officers who had joined the Army using northern names.
~Active participant in January mutiny
` Major T.E. Nzegwu was the airforce officer allegedly approached to help organize a plane (along with Captain Udeaja) to fetch Chief Awolowo from Prison in the event that the January 15 coup should succeed.Major John Obienu is alleged by Major Ademoyega to have initially agreed to take part in the January coup but changed his mind at the last minute.Although there was a rumor that it was Obienu who tipped Ironsi off about the January plot, Ironsi himself said he found out about the mutiny from the wife of Lt. Col. James Pam (some say Pam himself) when he returned home between 2 and 3 am on January 15 from a second party following the earlier one at Brigadier Maimalari’s house.Others claim it was either Lt. Col. Ojukwu(CO, 5th Bn) and/or Hilary Njoku (outgoing CO, 2nd Bn) that tipped Ironsi off, having been directly contacted themselves by the conspirators.Lt. Col. Fajuyi is confirmed by one of the January 15 plotters (Ademoyega) to have provided ideas on how it should be carried out although he did not take part directly.Ademoyega also confirms that both Ojukwu and Njoku had foreknowledge of the January plot, and says that all his efforts to be entrusted with the arrest and/or neutralization of General Ironsi were resisted by Major Ifeajuna, who opted instead to allot that sensitive task to Major Okafor. Captain Nwobosi says that there was poor operational security at Major Ifeajuna’s house when Lagos plotters met for final orders before “H hour”, opening up a window of opportunity for Ironsi and perhaps others to be alerted.
+2/Lt Agronaye is not reflected on the Eastern List.Instead a similar name, spelled differently as 2/Lt. Agbonaye is listed. T/Capt. T.O. Iweanaya is also spelled differently as Capt. T.O. Iweanya on some versions of the Eastern list.Lt. S.E. Onwuke is spelled Lt. S.E. Onwukwe on the Eastern list.Lt. F.P. Jasper is identified as 2/Lt. F. P. Jasper and said to be from the 3rd Bn in Kaduna on the Eastern list.However, federal sources place this officer in the 4th Battalion at Ibadan, as a full Lt.. In fact the eastern list does not identify any officer casualty whatsoever from within the 4th battalion, Ibadan which can’t be true.Lt. P.D. Ekedingyo is spelled Lt. P.D. Ekediyo on the Eastern list.Lt. J. D. Ovuezurieis spelled Lt. J. D. Ovuezirieon the Eastern list.
^Lts.P. O. Ibik and K. D. Waribor are listed on the Eastern list of casualties of the July counter-rebellion, but not on my list because I have not been able to confirm the date and circumstances of their alleged deaths in the July counter-rebellion and after.However, according to the Special Branch report, 2/Lt. P. Ogoegbunam Ibik of the 2ndFieldSquadron, Nigerian Army Engineers occupied the P & T Telephone Exchangeunder the supervision of Captain Ben Gbulie during Kaduna operations on the night of January 15, 1966.2/Lt. K.D. Waribor of the “C” Coy, 3rd BN NA played a peripheral role securing the outer perimeter in the assault on the Nassarawa Lodge in Kaduna, as well as the attempt to arrest Alhaji Makaman Bida on the same night – during which Ahmadu Pategi, a Government driver was killed.Theywere, therefore, likely detained by General Ironsi unless they escaped (as Ifeajuna – initially – and Nwokedi did).Strangely, neither officer was ever listed on either the Federal or Eastern region lists of officers detained for alleged complicity in the January coup – supporting the “escape” theory, unless they were killed soon after that mutiny in circumstances similar to the deaths of 2/Lt Odu and Major Adegoke.It is also possible that Ibik’s case was handled like those ofother 2 Field Engineer subalterns like 2/Lts. S.E. Omeruah, Ezedima, Ileabachi, Atom Kpera and Harrison Eghagha who all claimed they were merely obeying “internal security” operational orders, the illegal significance of which they were unaware.However, the Eastern region list of detainees was not complete because Major Ademoyega, for example, was never listed as a detainee when, in fact, he was.He had been transferred from an eastern prison to Warri in the Midwest.The dynamics of updating Prison lists as detainees were being moved around may have affected the accuracy of various lists.What is clear, however, is that if they were either at the Abeokuta or Benin Prisons in the weeks following the July 29 mutiny, they are very likely now dead.However, all said and done, the most accurate thing one can say about Lts. P. O. Ibik and K. D. Waribor is that they are unaccounted for.
The officers (and civilians) who planned and carried out the January 15 and July 29 1966 military rebellions have never been tried or convicted before any military court-martial although there was an agreement at Aburi that this should occur.This, as we know, was overtaken by events leading up to and including the Nigerian Civil War.
The only exception made among the January 15 group was for those surviving officers who not only took part in the January 1966 coup but also participated in the Biafran invasion of the Midwestern region in August/September 1967.Most officers in this overlapping group were brought before a Military Board of Inquiry, jailed until October 1974, and all – exceptLts. J.C. Ojukwu and Ijeweze (?Igweze) who were retired – eventually dismissed. They include Major A. Ademoyega, Captain Ben Gbulie, Capt. E. M. Udeaja, Lt. F.M. Okocha, Lt. B.A.O. Oyewole, Lt. N.S. Nwokocha, Lt. G.B. Ikejiofor, Lt. G. G. Onyefuru, Lt. A.R.O. Egbikor, Lt. A. N. Azubuogu, and 2/Lt. C.G. Ngwuluka.Interestingly, prominent surviving January 15 mutineers like Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi (rtd), who did not take part in the Midwest invasion, but played other roles in the civil war (as a Colonel in the Biafran Army, Field Commander and later Chief of Staff in General Ojukwu’s HQ)were spared in a general amnesty covering both the January and July 1966 rebellions.
What used to be known as Race Course in Lagos was renamed Tafawa Balewa Square after the late PM.A prominent street in Jos is also named after him.The street in Victoria Island, Lagos, straddling the Bar Beach, is named after the late Sir Ahmadu Bello.A prominent street in Kaduna is also named after him.Streets in Lagos (Ikeja) and Abuja are named after Samuel Ladoke Akintola, late Premier of the West.
When he came to power in 1975, late General Murtala Muhammed- coup leader of the July 1966 uprising – went to great lengths to look after the family of the late Major General Aguiyi Ironsi. In 1993, General Ibrahim Babangida – a participant in the July 1966 revolt – named an Army Barrack after the late General and post-humously awarded him the Great Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR).A street in Abuja was also named after him.A Barrack in Abuja is also named after Ironsi’s successor, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd).The International Airport in Lagos is named after General Muhammed while the one in Abuja is named after former President Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the one in Kano after late Malam Aminu Kano.
Some streets in Lagos (Ikeja) and Ibadan are named after the late Lt. Col. F. Fajuyi.The Barracks where the Headquarters of the Nigerian Army Armored Corps and School is based in Bauchi is named after Major John Obienu.NAF Majors Nzegwu and Obi have names of streets within certain AirForce Bases named after them. In 2001, President Obasanjo, on the other hand, named certain streets and monuments in Abuja, Nigeria’s new capital, after the military officers who were assassinated during mutiny-coup ofJanuary 15, 1966 – a long overdue gesture.In a separate essay,I shall preview the outcome of the lives of some of the key players in the January and July 1966 rebellions.


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Interview: Major General EO Abisoye (rtd). Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Colonel DS Abubakar (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000. See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: General IB Babangida (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000. See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: General Domkat Bali (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000. See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000. See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Lt. Gen. Garba Duba (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000. See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General David Ejoor (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000. See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: General Yakubu Gowon (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General IBM Haruna (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Lt. Gen. GS Jalo (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General Sunday Ifere (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General YY Kure (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Colonel Yohana Madaki (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General AB Mamman (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Brigadier General M. Remawa (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General Abdullai Shelleng (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General M. Shuwa (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Brigadier Baba Usman (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Major General Martin Adamu (rtd). Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Lt. Col. Hilary Njoku (rtd).Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview:Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu.Archives of the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.See text in – Major General HB Momoh (ed):The Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970.History and Reminiscences.Sam Bookman Publishers. Nigerian Army Education Corps and School, 2000.
Interview: Brigadier MJ Vatsa (Interview on Radio Kaduna, as reported by J. Isawa Elaigwu.Gowon.West Books Publisher Limited, 1985)
Interview: Colonel Garba Duba (Interview on Radio Kaduna, as reported by J. Isawa Elaigwu.Gowon.West Books Publisher Limited, 1985)
Interview: Lt. Col. W. Walbe (rtd). (Interview with Professor Elaigwu, as reported by J. Isawa Elaigwu.Gowon.West Books Publisher Limited, 1985)
Interview: General Yakubu Gowon (rtd). (Interview with Professor Elaigwu, as reported by J. Isawa Elaigwu.Gowon.West Books Publisher Limited, 1985)
Interview: Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (rtd). (FRCN interview with Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, 26 October 1979)
Personal Communication:Dr. Humphrey Idemudia Idehen (former personal Physician to the President of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe).
Personal Communication:Antony Goldman (former Financial Times of London Correspondent) and biographer for Major General Shehu Yar’Adua (rtd).
Personal Communication: Brigadier S.O. Ogbemudia (rtd), former Brigade Major, 1st Brigade, Kaduna.
Personal Communication: Lt. Col. M.O. Nzefili (rtd), former Commander, 4th battalion, Ibadan.
Personal Communication: Lt. Col. A. Keshi (rtd), former Brigade Major, 1st Brigade, Kaduna
Personal Communication:Serving and retired military officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (Unnamed by request)
‘No Trust or Confidence in a Unitary System of Government’: Lt.-Col. Gowon’s Broadcast on the Assumption of Office, 1 August 1966
This is Lt-Col. Y. Gowon, Army Chief of Staff, speaking to you.
My fellow countrymen, the year 1966 has certainly been a fateful year for our beloved country, Nigeria. I have been brought to the position today of having to shoulder the great responsibilities of this country and the armed forces with the consent of the majority of the members of the Supreme Military Council as a result of the unfortunate incident that occurred on the early morning of 29th July 1966.
However, before I dwell on the sad issue of 29th July 1966, I would like to recall to you the sad and unfortunate incidents of 15th January 1966 which bear relevance. According to certain well-known facts, which have so far not been disclosed to the nation and the world, the country was plunged into a national disaster by the grave and unfortunate action taken by a section of the Army against the public. By this I mean that a group of officers, in conjunction with certain civilians, decided to overthrow the legal government of the day; but their efforts were thwarted by the inscrutable discipline and loyalty of the great majority of the Army and the other members of the armed forces and the police. The Army was called upon to take up the reins of government until such time that law and order had been restored. The attempt to overthrow the government of the day was done by eliminating political leaders and high-ranking Army officers, a majority of whom came from a particular section of the country. The Prime Minister lost his life during this uprising. But for the outstanding discipline and loyalty of the members of the Army who were most affected, and the other members of the armed forces and the police, the situation probably could have degenerated into a civil war.
There followed a period of determined effort of reconstruction ably shouldered by Maj-Gen. J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi but, unfortunately, certain parties caused suspicion and grave doubts of the Government’s sincerity in several quarters. Thus, coupled with the already unpleasant experience of the 15th January still fresh in the minds of the majority of the people, certain parts of the country decided to agitate against the military regime which had hitherto enjoyed country-wide support. It was, unfortunately, followed by serious rioting and bloodshed in many cities and towns in the north.
There followed a period of uneasy calm until the early hours of 29th July 1966, when the country was once again plunged into another very serious and grave situation, the second in seven months. The position on the early morning of 29th July was a report from Abeokuta garrison, that there was a mutiny and that two senior and one junior officers from a particular section of the country were killed. This soon spread to Ibadan and Ikeja. More casualties were reported in these places. The Supreme Commander was by this time at Ibadan attending the natural rulers’ conference and was due to return on the afternoon of 29th July. The Government Lodge was reported attacked and the last report was that he and the West Military Governor were both kidnapped by some soldiers. Up till now, there is no confirmation of their whereabouts. The situation was soon brought under control in these places. Very shortly afterward, at about the same time, there was a report that therewere similar disturbances among the troops in the North, and that a section of the troops had taken control of all military stations in the North as well. The units of Enugu and the garrison at Benin were not involved. All is now quiet and I can assure the public that I shall do all in my power to stop any further bloodshed and to restore law, order and confidence in all parts of the country with your co-operation and goodwill.
I have now come to the most difficult part, or the most important part, of this statement. I am doing it, conscious of the great disappointment and heartbreak it will cause all true and sincere lovers of Nigeria and of Nigerian unity both at home and abroad, especially our brothers in the Commonwealth.
As a result of the recent events and the other previous similar ones, I have come to strongly believe that we cannot honestly and sincerely continue in this wise, as the basis of trust and confidence in our unitary system of government has not been able to stand the test of time. I have already remarked on the issues in question. Suffice to say that, putting all considerations to test-political, economic, as well as social-the base for unity is not there or is so badly rocked, not only once but several times. I therefore feel that we should review the issue of our national standing and see if we can help stop the country form drifting away into utter destruction. With the general consensus of opinion of all the Military Governors and other members of the Supreme and Executive Council, a decree will soon be issued to lay a firm foundation of this objective. Fellow countrymen, I sincerely hope we shall be able to resolve most of the problems that have disunited us in the past and really come to respect and trust one another in accordance with an all-round code of good conduct and etiquette.
All foreigners are assured of their personal safety and should have no fear of being molested.
I intend to continue the policy laid down in the statement by the Supreme Commander on 16th January 1966 published on 26th January 1966.
We shall also honour all international treaty obligations and commitments and all financial agreements and obligations entered into by the previous government. We are desirous of maintaining good diplomatic relationships with all countries. We therefore consider any foreign interference in any form will be regarded as an act of aggression.
All members of the armed forces are requested to keep within their barracks except on essential duties and when ordered from SHQ. Troops must not terrorise the public, as such action will discredit the new National Military Government. Any act of looting or sabotage will be dealt with severely. You are to remember that your task is to help restore law and order and confidence in the public in time of crisis.
I am convinced that with your co-operation and understanding, we shall be able to pull the country out of its present predicament. I promise you that I shall do all I can to return to civil rule as soon as it can be arranged. I also intend to pursue most vigorously the question of the release of political prisoners. Fellow countrymen, give me your support and I shall endeavour to live up to expectations. Thank you.
Source:A. H. M. Kirk-Greene.Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria: A Documentary SourceBook.(Volume I; Oxford University Press, 1971)
Explanation of Ranks
Ranks of officers changed over time.The format used was the Nigerian rank an officer or non-commissioned officer was wearing at the time a given event occurred.For example, Hassan Katsina and M.O. Nzefili were Majors in January 1966, and Lt. Cols. by July 1966.Hassan Katsina retired as a Major General in 1975.Yakubu Gowon was a Lt. Col in January and July 1966, a Major General by July 1967 and a General in 1975.Garba Duba was a Lt. in July 1966, a Colonel in 1979, and is now a retired Lt. Gen.Yohana Madaki was an NCO in 1966 but is now a retired Colonel.Lt. W. Walbe was a Lt. in July 1966 but retired as a Lt. Col. in 1975.Murtala Muhammed was a T/Major in January 1966, a T/Lt. Col by July 1966 and a General in 1976.Martin Adamu was a Captain in July 1966 but retired in 1977 as a Major General.Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma was a T/Major in July 1966 but retired as a Lt. Gen in 1979.There are many other examples.
I did not use Biafran ranks.Note, however, that Lt. Col. H. Njoku (rtd) was a Brigadier and first Commander of the Biafran Army.An unconfirmed account says he was on the verge of being promoted to the rank of Brigadier in the Nigerian Army by General Ironsi when the July coup took place.Lt. Col. C. O. Ojukwu was a General in that army.However, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was dismissed from the Nigerian Army in June 1967, which is why he is addressed as “Chief” Odumegwu Ojukwu in the Nigerian Army Archives.Captain E.N. Nwobosi (rtd) was a Colonel in the Biafran Army.
“Aure” – A Hausa word for “marriage”
AG- Action Group, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo
ASP- Assistant Superintendent of Police
Bn – Battalion. Two or more companies. Cavalry and
aviation refer to this as a “squadron”.

Bde: Brigade. Two or more battalions. Usually commanded by a Brigadier or Senior Colonel.

Corps: Two or more divisions. Usually commanded by a Lt. Gen. (Note the use of the word “Corps” here is different from the ordinary usage in the Nigerian Army – which uses it to refer to professional groupings of specialized teeth, support and service arms e.g. Infantry, Artillery, Ordnance, Engineers, Signals, Medical, Finance, Supply and Transport etc…)
BYM – Borno Youth Movement

Div: Division. Two or more brigades. A division has between 12,500 and 25,000 troops. Usually commanded by a Maj. Gen.

DSP – Deputy Superintendent of Police
GOC – General Officer Commanding
IG – Inspector General
NCNC – National Council of Nigerian Citizens, led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
NDC – Niger Delta Congress, led by Chief Dappa Diriye
NEPU – Northern Elements Progressive Union, led by Alhaji Aminu Kano
NNA – Nigerian National Alliance, including the NPC, NNDC, NDC and their surrogates
NNDP – Nigerian National Democratic Party, led by late Chief Akintola, a split off from the AG
NPC – Northern Peoples Congress, led by Sir Ahmadu Bello
PM – Prime Minister
UPGA – United Progressive Grand Alliance (an alliance of the AG, NCNC, UMBC, NEPU and BYM)
(rtd) – retired
UMBC – United Middle Belt Congress, led by Joseph Tarka
NAF – Nigerian Air Force
NN – Nigerian Navy
NA – Nigerian Army
QNR – Queens Nigeria Regiment
DAQMG – Deputy Assistant Quarter-Master-General
BM – Brigade Major
ADC – Aide-de-Camp
C-in-C – Commander-in-Chief
Officers Mess – A rest and recreation center for the exclusive use of

NMTC – Nigerian Military Training College (the precursor to NDA)
Mutiny – Insurrection against constituted authority, particularly military or naval authority; concerted revolt against the rules of discipline or the lawful commands of a superior officer; hence, generally, forcible resistance to rightful authority; insubordination. [Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)]
Coup – a sudden and decisive change of government illegally or by force [synonym: coup d’Etat, putsch, takeover] ( ALSO, a sudden, decisive exercise of power whereby the existing government is subverted without the consent of the people; an unexpected measure of state, more or less violent; a stroke of policy. [Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)]

2ic – Second in Command
HQ – Headquarters
SHQ – Supreme Headquarters
AHQ – Army Headquarters
SMC – Supreme Military Council
COS – Chief of Staff
Chief of Staff (COS) – the senior officer of a service of the armed forces. In Nigeria of 1966 it meant the officer responsible for coordinating staff matters on behalf of the Supreme Commander for a given service like the Army. The title does not have the same degree of power and latitude as a Chief of Army Staff (COAS), which is why it was derisively regarded as the Supreme Commander’s ‘Chief Clerk’.

ONUC – United Nations Operation in the Congo
MTO – Motor Transport Officer
Acting Rank. Assumes the salary and benefits appropriate to the acting rank, but appropriate authorities may order the holder to revert to previous rank held. For example, Brigadier Ironsi was an acting Major General as Commander of ONUC from January to June 1964
Local Rank. Temporary unpaid rank, usually made for a specific operation in a specific area.
Substantive Rank.(S) Fully remunerated confirmed permanent rank. e.g.S/Major – Substantive Major
Temporary Rank. (T.) Rank granted for a short period, usually for a specific task or mission or to allow a junior officer assume higher command responsibilities.e.g. T/Major – Temporary Major.When Murtala Muhammed was promoted to T/Lt. Col. and Inspector of Signals in May 1966 he was actually an S/Captain.
CO:Commanding officer
Other ranks – Ranks other than Officer ranks. It includes NCOs , Lance Corporals and Privates.
NCO – Non-commissioned officer is a slang term for a Sergeant. However, it also refers to all ‘other ranks’ above Lance Corporal and below Lieutenant. It may also mean a subordinate officer not appointed by a commission from the chief executive
or supreme authority of the State; but by the Secretary of War or by the commanding officer of the regiment. [Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)]

RSM – Regimental Sergeant Major (the most senior NCO in a battalion or regiment)
Subaltern – A commissioned military officer below the rank of Captain [Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)]

Company Grade Officer – A commissioned military officer holding the ranks of 2/ Lieutenant, Lieutenant, or Captain. (Note that in 1966, because of officer manpower imbalance at lower levels, Lieutenants, who ordinarily command platoons,used to command companies in some battalions)

Field-Grade Officer – An officer holding the rank of Major or Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel

General Officer – An officer holding the ranks of Brigadier (one star), Major General (two stars), Lieutenant General (three stars), General (four stars) or Field Marshal (five stars).
Int – Intelligence
GSO – General Staff Officer
Recce – Reconnaissance
Arty – Artillery
Squadron – can be either:

1: A cavalry (armored) unit consisting of two or more troops and headquarters and supporting arms

2: An air force unit larger than a flight and smaller than a group

3: A naval unit that is detached from the fleet for a particular task
Troop – means a group of soldiers, but is more often used to refer to a cavalry (armored) unit corresponding to an infantry company. It can consist of 3-4 armored vehicles.

Company – means a small infantry military unit; usually two or three
Platoons, probably 100 men or less, commanded by a Major or senior Captain. Artillery refers to this as a “battery”, while cavalry and aviation units call it a “troop”.

Platoon – a military unit that is a subdivision of a company;
usually has a headquarters and two or more squads (sections); usually commanded by a lieutenant. Typically 24-36 men.

PT – Physical Training.

Recoilless rifle – A recoilless weapon is designed to minimize recoil. The M40A1 106mm Recoilless Rifle Rocket Launcher was developed during the Korean War
and used by U.S. Marines in Vietnam. US refusal in early 1967 to supply ammunition for the 106mm recoilless rifles they had earlier sold Nigeria badly affected US-Nigerian relations when the civil war broke out.

“Glover’s Hausas” – A nickname for the constabulary force formed in 1863 to police the colony, protect British traders, and handle some raids into the hinterland. This nickname originated from the fact that Lt. Glover of the Royal Navy whose exploration ship got wrecked near Jebba on the River Niger picked up a band of run away Hausa slaves and employed them as a security force as he made his way back to the coast over Yoruba land.This unit was the ancestor of what later became the 4th Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Letmauk Barracks, Ibadan during the first republic.
RANKS IN THE NIGERIAN ARMY (adapted from British Army)

• Field Marshal (No Nigerian has ever attained this rank)
• General
• Lieutenant General
• Major General
• Brigadier
• Colonel
• Lieutenant Colonel
• Major
• Captain
• Lieutenant
• Second Lieutenant.

Other Ranks

• Warrant Officer Class 1 (senior NCO)
• Warrant Officer Class 2 (senior NCO)
• Staff Sergeant (NCO)
• Sergeant (NCO)
• Corporal (junior NCO)
• Lance Corporal
• Private
Miscellaneous Ranks

The following ranks or appointments have been used on and off in the Nigerian Army:
1. Brigadier General, is the US equivalent of a Brigadier
2. Gunner, means a Private in the Artillery
3. Bombardier, means a Corporal in the Artillery
4. Lance Bombardier, means a Lance Corporal in the Artillery
5.Sergeant Major, can be a Warrant Officer Class 1 or Class 2

“If you want to prevent a coup, remove the cause.”
The Murtala Muhammed Coup of 1975
(Part 1)
By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

Murtala Muhammed (see footnote about variations in his name) was born in Kano on November 8, 1938 and attended Barewa College Zaria. In 1959, his coursemate cohort entered the Army. Initially educated at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK, as a regular combatant, he underwent subsequent courses in the teeth arm specialty of Signals. He was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in 1961, rising to the rank of Lieutenant 7 months later.
In early 1962, he served a tour of duty in the Congo as part of the UN peacekeeping force before returning to Nigeria to serve as ADC to Dr. Majekodunmi who acted as Administrator of the Western region after the declaration of a State of Emergency. Twenty eight months after commission he made the rank of Captain at which time he was given command of a signals unit at the Brigade HQ in Kaduna. By late 1964 he had been promoted temporary Major (T/Major).
He subsequently moved to Apapa in Lagos about the time his Uncle (Alhaji Inua Wada) became Defence Minister in 1965, following Ribadu’s death, and was in Lagos when the first coup took place in January 1966.Indeed, without his knowledge, many soldiers from the signals unit at Apapa were used by Major Ifeajuna for Lagos operations during the first coup, a fact that proved to be a source of immense embarrassment to Muhammed.
Although still technically a substantive Captain (but T/Major), he was elevated to the rank of temporary Lt.Colonel in April 1966 by then C-in-C, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi who also made him Inspector of Signals, Nigerian Army. After the military coup d’etat of January 15, 1966, Major Murtala Muhammed played a crucial role in mobilizing opinion among northern soldiers and officers in Lagos for the second military coup.However, the coup he (along with TY Danjuma, Martin Adamu and others) planned and had postponed no less than three times, was overtaken by events on July 29, 1966, as a result of an unplanned sequence of events at Abeokuta in which Lt. Colonel Gabriel Okonweze, Major John Obienu and others were impulsively shot to death in the officer’s mess by northern NCOs.
Once it became obvious to northern soldiers in Lagos that killings had started in Abeokuta, Murtala Mohammed, Martin Adamu and others got themselves organized and launched operations in Lagos to “adjust” to the situation. Meanwhile, wearing a borrowed uniform, Major TY Danjuma, who was accompanying General Ironsi on a nationwide tour, cordoned Government House Ibadan with troops from the 4th battalion and arrested the General, along with Colonel Fajuyi. Shortly thereafter, certain junior officers and NCOs pushed Danjuma aside, took control of the situation and abducted both men. They were later shot. (Other accounts of the events indicate that Danjuma actually ordered the killing of Ironsi and Fajuyi).
It was subsequently alleged that Muhammed used his key position as Inspector of Signals to communicate messages to northern conspirators in other parts of the country urging action. It was also alleged that he was the leader of the initially separatist faction among northern troops in Lagos and at one point commandeered a passenger jet to transport northerners out of Lagos back to the North in an apparent move to secede. This murky charge has never been satisfactorily explained and it is hard to get consistent accounts about it.
As things settled down after the initial orgy of killings in Abeokuta, Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna, the tentative Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon (who was then Chief of Staff, Army, professionally senior to Muhammed) emerged as the choice of the northern rank and file, barely edging out the charismatic Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed from the position of C-in-C. The bad feelings generated by this power rivalry was to dog their relationship from then on. (Recent accounts at the Oputa Panel allege that Gowon was a participant in that coup.)
With Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina as the Military Governor of the North, Mohammed lay low in the background in Lagos as Lt. Col. Gowon traded banter with Lt. Col. Ojukwu and negotiated the tortuous path through various 1966 constitutional conferences and the 1967 Aburi meetings. This resulted in part because Gowon was uncomfortable with Mohammed and kept him “out of the loop”. However, in the period leading up to the outbreak of hostilities with Biafra, Murtala Mohammed did not hide his feelings that peace talks or not, war was coming and that preparations be made for this inevitability.
It is alleged that some of the earliest preparations by northern civilians to import weapons privately were made at his urging. As fate would have it, Mohammed did not have long to wait. On May 30, 1967, Lt. Col. Ojukwu proclaimed the Republic of Biafra. Almost immediately, steps were taken to bring the situation under control. A total naval blockade of the bights of Benin and Biafra (later renamed ‘Bonny’) was ordered. The ‘police action’ land phase of what is now referred to as the Nigerian Civil War subsequently began on July 6, 1967.A few weeks later, faced with north-south and south-north axes of federal advance, Ojukwu took a gamble.
On Wednesday, August 9, 1967, about 3000 Biafran soldiers and militiamen, under the command of Lt. Col. [“Brigadier”] Victor Banjo, crossed the Niger Bridge at Onitsha into Asaba. The seizure of the Midwest was essentially accomplished within 12 hours. It became obvious that Ibadan and Lagos were next. Desperate for a bail out, Gowon turned to the 28 year old Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed. Aided in part by temporary hesitation on the part of the Biafran commander, Muhammed, with Patton-like boldness, hit the ground running, commandeering officers, men, supplies, mammy wagons, and weapons meant for other divisions which had been waiting for clearance at the Ports.
He practically created a new Army Division from scratch by building around a skeletal crew of units withdrawn from other fronts and local units in Lagos and Ibadan.Supported by Lt. Cols Akinrinade, Aisida and Ally as his Brigade Commanders, Muhammed launched a lightening counter-offensive, eventually checking the Biafran units at Ore as two brigades entered the Midwest from Okenne and marched southwards furiously in a flanking move toward Benin City.
The ancient city fell back to federal control at 6 p.m. on Sept 20, 1967. With supporting operations in the Delta by units of Lt. Col Adekunle’s third division, much of the Midwest, except Agbor and Asaba, were cleared simultaneously.
On arrival in Benin, one of several sensational allegations made against Murtala Mohammed during his lifetime came to life. Rumors said he had organized the looting of the Central Bank in Benin. Other reports said the Treasury and Central Bank were looted of approximately $5.6 million by retreating Biafran troops under the supervision of an Igbo civil servant, on Ojukwu’s orders. The money was allegedly used to support the war effort – at least until the Federal Central Bank in Lagos changed currency much later on during the course of the war. The mystery of the Benin Central bank looting was finally settled by the book by Emmanuel Okocha titled “Blood on the Niger” in which he actually named those involved.
On September 21, 1967, Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed made the following radio broadcast:
“My dear brothers and sisters of the Mid-Western State of Nigeria: On behalf of Major-General Yakubu Gowon, Head of the Federal Military Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I, Lt.-Col. M. R. Mohammed, do hereby officially confirm the complete liberation of the Mid-Western State of Nigeria except Agbor and Asaba from rebel soldiers. The inhuman atrocities suffered by all true Mid-Westerners through the so-called Biafran soldiers, though short-lived, have shocked all Nigerians wherever they may be”.
”The molestation of innocent civilians and the looting of their property and the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children recently undertaken by the rebel troops has ended. All Mid-Westerners in the areas where the rebel troops have been crushed are free to move about as they please. No innocent citizen living in any of the mentioned areas will ever be molested again”.
”The federal troops have been warmly received by the Mid-Westerners everywhere they have gone. We appreciate the friendship of the people and I sincerely hope that this friendship will continue forever. I would like to assure the people that my soldiers will do everything in their power to maintain this friendship. With regard to Emeka Ojukwu and his rebel soldiers, I., Lt.-Col. M.R. Mohammed, do hereby assure the people of Nigeria and the people of the Mid-West in particular, that by the grace of God, we will, in a very short time, crush the rebels in the Central-Eastern State”.
”To this end, I would like to advise all innocent citizens of the Central-Eastern State to keep out of the way of the federal troops.The march to Enugu continues, and anybody that stands in the way of the federal troops will be regarded and treated as a rebel. I have already dispatched my forces to deal with the rebels around Agbor and Asaba.I would like to appeal to all my brothers and sisters in the Mid-Western State of Nigeria to assist the federal troops in locating, and in the eventual destruction of the rebels that may be hiding around the Mid-West. It is necessary to advise the people in Benin City to remain indoors from nine o’clock tonight until six o’clock tomorrow morning as mopping-up operations will continue”.
”The Administration has suffered quite a lot due to the mischief brought about by the rebel troops. On behalf of the head of the Federal Military Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I appoint Lt.-Col. Samuel Ogbemudia as the temporary administrator of the Mid-Western State of Nigeria. All officers and men of the Nigerian Army based in the Mid-Western State of Nigeria should report for duty immediately at the Military headquarters in Benin City. Brothers and sisters of the Mid-Western State of Nigeria: May God bless you all and good luck.”
Unfortunately, discipline broke down locally and reprisal killings against Igbos in Benin, deemed to have betrayed the region took place on a large scale, often coordinated with soldiers under Mohammed’s command. Similar killings occurred in other Midwestern towns. To be fair to Mohammed, one can report at least one case in which he personally intervened to prevent such killings. An uncle of mine, for example, accused of protecting Igbos from execution, was himself saved from summary execution at Ugonoba by the quick intervention of Colonel Murtala Mohammed himself. But the worst was yet to come.
Upon arrival of the main spearhead of the Second division at Asaba, hundreds of able-bodied males were allegedly lined up and summarily executed, Nazi style, for “collaborating with the enemy”. At least one authority opines that the delay occasioned by this exercise may have resulted in a missed opportunity by Muhammed to take Onitsha from the disorganized and retreating Biafran forces without a fight. This terrible incident was, however, never officially investigated by a Board of Inquiry nor did it lead to a court-martial, although General Gowon has since apologized for it many years after the war.
Against instructions from Supreme Headquarters, and faced with disobedience from two of his brigade commanders (Lt. Cols. Aisida and Akinrinade), followed by a near fist-fight with a fellow divisional commander (Col. Shuwa), Murtala Mohammed then tried repeatedly to conduct an assault river crossing by taking Onitsha frontally from Asaba. He lost thousands of men and millions of dollars of supplies in three carelessly planned attempts. At least one of these attempts was made on the advice of marabouts.
Eventually, he acceded to military orders to swing northwards, make an unopposed crossing at Idah, and eventually take Onitsha via a north-south coastal advance, with Col. Shuwa’s 1st division protecting his eastern flank. Even then, he suffered one more humiliating loss at Abagana on March 31st 1968, when Biafran troops ambushed a logistics column seeking to link up with Major Yar’Adua’s unit at Onitsha.
Gowon replaced the emotionally exhausted Mohammed as the GOC of the badly mauled second division in mid 1968 with Colonel Ibrahim Haruna. Haruna was himself later replaced on May 12, 1969 by Col. Gibson Jallo when all divisional commanders were recalled.
It is alleged that after the Abagana debacle, Mohammed simply went to Kano and then left the country on vacation to London without bothering to inform Supreme HQ. He was, however, promoted to Colonel in 1968 and reappointed to the Inspectorate of Signals.
But tensions with Gowon and Army HQ continued. At one point he accused the Ministry of Defence and its contractors of inflating the cost of weapons and ammunition, daring them to give him money to go abroad to purchase ammunition himself. As the story goes, he contacted his Uncle, Inua Wada, former civilian Minister of Defence who arranged for him to get weapons and ammunition abroad at cheaper rates, embarrassing the Army HQ in the process.
Close to the end of the war, Mohammed made another interesting move. In late 1969, he approached then Colonel Obasanjo, commander of the third division and appealed to him to slow down the rate of advance of his division, fearing that a quick victory over Ojukwu would make Gowon unapproachable by fellow officers as a victorious War Commander. What Mohammed had in mind was that senior officers should force then Major General Gowon to “share power” as a condition of cooperating with him to end the war! Obasanjo refused and pushed ahead furiously with the 3rd division’s advance which eventually cut Biafra into two parts and ended the war in January 1970.
“If you want to prevent a coup, remove the cause.”
The Murtala Muhammed Coup Of 1975
Part 2
By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

In 1971, Mohammed was nevertheless promoted to the rank of Brigadier. After further Army coursework abroad, he returned again as Inspector of Signals. By 1974, then General Gowon felt he either had to coopt or purge him, eventually choosing the former line of action.
On August 7, therefore, Brigadier Murtala Mohammed became the Federal Commissioner for Communications – while retaining his role as Inspector of Signals in the Army. Tensions were already building in the Army – accelerated in part by Gowon’s decision, announced on October 1, 1974, to renege on his promise to hand over to civilians in 1976. But the main grouse was that officers who “fought the war” felt excluded from patronage. Several solidarity meetings of senior Army Officers were held. It is alleged that at one such meeting Brigadier Mohammed advised General Gowon: “If you want to prevent a coup, remove the cause”.
In late 1974/early 1975, the cabal of civil war frontline officers who felt they had been long excluded from the corridors of power and patronage, began actively plotting to remove General Gowon from power.
These officers, including Colonels Ibrahim Taiwo, Abdulahi Mohammed and Anthony Ochefu, Lt. Cols. Shehu Yar’Adua, Ibrahim Babangida and Alfred Aduloju among others, co-opted Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba, then Federal Guards Commander.
Then they approached Brigadier Murtala Mohammed for blessing. He reportedly told them that he would not actively join them but would do everything to ‘save their necks’ if they failed. They timed their coup to coincide with the absence of General Gowon at an OAU meeting in Kampala, Uganda on July 29, 1975. Mohammed took the precaution of arranging an official trip to London to avoid being asked to accompany Gowon to Kampala.
Once Colonel Garba went on air in Lagos, a plane left London for Nigeria and was allowed to land in Kano even though all airports were theoretically closed at the time. That plane had an important passenger – Brigadier Murtala Ramat Muhammed. After a serious misunderstanding with the coupists, in which they almost decided to drop him as their choice to lead the country, Brigadier Murtala Muhammed finally agreed to accept the position of Head of State on their condition – that he would share power in a trioka with Brigadiers Obasanjo (who was senior to him) and Danjuma (who was junior to him). Muhammed had initially wanted absolute executive power.
On July 30, 1975 he delivered the following address:
“Fellow Nigerians’
Events of the past few years have indicated that despite our great human and material resources, the Government has not been able to fulfill the legitimate expectations of our people. Nigeria has been left to drift. This situation, if not arrested, would inevitably have resulted in chaos and even bloodshed.In the endeavour to build a strong, united and virile nation, Nigerians have shed much blood. The thought of further bloodshed, for whatever reasons must, I am sure, be revolting to our people. The Armed Forces, having examined the situation, came to the conclusion that certain changes were inevitable.
After the civil war, the affairs of state, hitherto a collective responsibility, became characterized by lack of consultation, indecision, indiscipline and even neglect. Indeed, the public at large became disillusioned and disappointed by these developments.This trend was clearly incompatible with the philosophy and image of a corrective regime. Unknown to the general public, the feeling of disillusionment was also evident among members of the armed forces whose administration was neglected but who, out of sheer loyalty to the Nation, and in the hope that there would be a change, continued to suffer in silence.
Things got to a stage where the head of administration became virtually inaccessible even to official advisers; and when advice was tendered, it was often ignored.
Responsible opinion, including advice by eminent Nigerians, traditional rulers, intellectuals, et cetera, was similarly discarded. The leadership, either by design or default, had become too insensitive to the true feelings and yearnings of the people. The nation was thus plunged inexorably into chaos.
It was obvious that matters could not, and should not, be allowed in this manner, and in order to give the nation a new lease of life, and sense of direction, the following decisions were taken:
1. The removal of General Yakubu Gowon as Head of the Federal Military Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
2. The retirement of General Yakubu Gowon from the Armed Forces in his present rank of General with full benefits, in recognition of his past services to the nation.
3. General Gowon will be free to return to the country as soon as conditions permit; he wil be free to pursue any legitimate undertakings of his choice in any part of the country. His personal safety and freedom and those of his family will be guaranteed.
4. The following members of the Armed Forces are retired with immediate effect:
Vice Admiral JEA Wey – Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General Hassan Katsina – Deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General David Ejoor – Chief of Staff (Army), Rear Admiral Nelson Soroh – Chief of Naval Staff, Brigadier EE Ikwue – Chief of Air Staff, and all other officers of the rank of major general (or equivalent) and above.
Alhaji Kam Salem – Inspector General of Police, Chief TA Fagbola – Deputy Inspector General of Police
5. Also with immediate effect, all the present Military Governors, and the Administrator of East Central State, have been relieved of their appointments and retired.
6. As you are already aware, new appointments have been made as follows:
Brigadier TY Danjuma – Chief of Army Staff, Colonel John Yisa Doko – Chief of Air Staff, Commodore Michael Adelanwa – Chief of Naval Staff, Mr. MD Yusuf – Inspector General of Police
New Military Governors have also been appointed for the States as follows:
1. Lt. Col. Muhammed Buhari, North East 2. Colonel George Innih, Midwest 3. Lt. Col. Sani Bello, Kano 4. Captain Adekunle Lawal (Navy), Lagos 5. Lt. Col. Paul Omu, South East 6. Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo, Kwara 7. Captain Akin Aduwo, (Navy), West 8. Col. Anthony Ochefu, East Central 9. Lt. Col. Usman Jibrin, North central 10. Col. Abdullahi Mohammed, Benue-Plateau 11.Lt. Col. Umaru Mohammed, North West 12. Lt. Col. Zamani Lekwot, Rivers The Structure of Government has been reorganized.There will now be three organs of government at the federal level namely,
(i) The Supreme Military Council
(ii) The National Council of States
(iii) The Federal Executive Council
There will of course continue to be Executive Councils at the State level. The reconstituted Supreme Military Council will comprise the following:
The Head of State and C-in-C of the Armed Forces
Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo – Chief of Staff, SHQ
Brigadier TY Danjuma – Chief of Army Staff Commodore
Michael Adelanwa – Chief of Naval Staff
Col. John Yisa Doko – Chief of Air Staff
Mr. MD Yusuf – IG of Police GOCs –
1st Division, Brigadier Julius Akinrinade
2nd Division, Brigadier Martin Adamu
3rd Division, Brigadier Emmanuel Abisoye L.G.O., Brigadier John Obada
Colonel Joseph Garba
Lt. Col Shehu YarAdua
Brigadier James Oluleye
Brigadier Iliya Bisalla
Colonel Ibrahim Babangida
Lt. Col Muktar Muhammed
Colonel Dan Suleiman
Captain Olufemi Olumide (NN)
Captain H Husaini Abdullahi (NN)
Mr. Adamu Suleman, Commissioner of Police
Lt. Col. Alfred Aduloju
Lt. Commander Godwin Kanu (NN)
All the civil commissioners in the Federal Executive Council are relieved of their appointments with immediate effect. The composition of the new Executive Council will be announced shortly.
Political Programme
We will review the political programme and make an announcement in due course. In the meantime, a panel will be set up to advise on the question of new states. A panel will also be set up to advise on the question of the federal capital.
With due regard to the 1973 population census, it is now clear that whatever results are announced will not command general acceptance throughout the country. It has, therefore, been decided to cancel the 1973 population census. Accordingly, for planning purposes, the 1963 census figures shall continue to be used.
A panel will be set up to advise on the future of the Interim Common Services Agency (ICSA) and the Eastern States Interim Assets and Liability Agency (ESIALA).
The Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture is postponed in view of the obvious difficulties in providing all the necessary facilities. Consultations will be held with other participating countries with a view to fixing a new date.
Finally, we reaffirm this country’s friendship with all countries. Foreign nationals living in Nigeria will be protected. Foreign investments will also be protected. The government will honour all obligations entered into by the previous Governments of the Federation. We will also give continued support to the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations Organization, and the Commonwealth.
Fellow Countrymen, the task ahead of us calls for sacrifice and self discipline at all levels of our society. This government will not tolerate indiscipline. The Government will not condone abuse of office.
I appeal to you all to cooperate with the Government in our endeavour to give this nation a new lease of life. This change of Government has been accomplished without shedding any blood; and we intend to keep it so.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
With dizzying speed, a series of initiatives were announced, including a mass purge of the civil service and parastatals, often without regard for due process.Probes of former officials were similarly flawed – although popular at the time. Witchhunting was the rule rather the exception. But not all that was done was inherently reckless or impulsive.
Muhammed launched an assertive foreign policy, recognizing the MPLA government in Angola, for example. However, it is unfortunate that the war in Angola continues to this day.
Although unpopular within the military, a gradual program for inevitable Army demobilization was announced.
A 50-man Constitution Drafting Committee was appointed – although some to this day would have preferred that it was elected or that its recommendations should have been approved by plebiscite.
Panels were set up to advise on assets investigation of some former public officers, abandoned properties in the three Eastern States, the location of the Federal Capital and creation of more states.
The administration announced a “low profile” policy for public officers and Muhammed chose to stay at his home in Ikoyi rather than move into the more fortified Dodan Barracks residence. He occasionally startled observers by showing up at the Polo ground (for example) without protection! In the weeks leading to his assassination he was warned to be more cautious but brushed aside all admonitions.
In January 1976, Murtala Muhammed was promoted to the rank of full General (four stars). TY Danjuma and O Obasanjo were also promoted to the rank of Lt. Generals – in a move that proved to be controversial within the uppermost echelons of the military.
As Chief of Army Staff, for example, Danjuma (who was originally a Short Service Officer trained at Mons OCS Aldershot) became senior to his own Defence Minister, Major General Iliya Bissalla (a Sandhurst trained Regular Officer) who was originally senior to him, had commanded him during the civil war, and was still in active service. On February 3, 1976, following recommendations of the Aguda panel, General Murtala Muhammed announced that the Federal Capital would be moved “to a federal territory of about 8,000 square kilometres in the central part of the country.” No plebiscite has ever been organized to approve this momentous decision.
Subsequently, seven (7) new states were created and a political transition program announced which was scheduled to end with hand-over to civilians on October 1, 1979.
Unfortunately, he did not to live to see the outcome of his efforts. General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated in the early morning hours of February 13, 1976.
The coup attempt eventually failed, crushed by forces rallied by Lt. General TY Danjuma, Chief of Army Staff. Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo became the Head of State. Lt. Col. Shehu Yar’Adua, one of the original leaders of the July 1975 coup, was promoted in an ethno-religious balancing move to the rank of Brigadier and appointed Chief of Staff SHQ.
The Defence Minister, Major General Bissalla was arrested and shot for his alleged role in the plot, along with Lt. Col. Dimka and many others, some controversial to this day. Efforts to extradite Muhammed’s old rival, General Yakubu Gowon, from the UK to stand trial for allegedly being involved in the plot failed. He was subsequently dismissed in absentia from the Army, but later pardoned by President Shehu Shagari after the military left office.
General Murtala Ramat Muhammed’s colorful life thus came to a tragic end at the tender age of 38 years.Many monuments in the country are dedicated to his memory, including the International Airport in Lagos and a park in Benin City. Note (1): In his early years General Murtala Muhammed was known as Murtala Rufai Mohammed. He changed this to Murtala Ramat Muhammed when he came to office as Head of State.

Col. Dimka’s Failed Coup Attempt
of February 13, 1976
By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

Just before 8:30 a.m. on February 13, 1976, the following curious announcement was heard on Radio Nigeria:
“Good morning fellow Nigerians, This is Lt. Col. B. Dimka of the Nigerian Army calling. I bring you good tidings. Murtala Muhammed’s deficiency has been detected. His government is now overthrown by the young revolutionaries. All the 19 military governors have no powers over the states they now govern. The states affairs will be run by military brigade commanders until further notice.
All commissioners are sacked, except for the armed forces and police commissioners who will be redeployed. All senior military officers should remain calm in their respective spots. No divisional commanders will issue orders or instructions until further notice. Any attempt to foil these plans from any quarters will be met with death. You are warned, it is all over the 19 states.
Any acts of looting or raids will be death. Everyone should be calm. Please stay by your radio for further announcements. All borders, air and sea ports are closed until further notice. Curfew is imposed from 6am to 6pm. Thank you. We are all together.”
Just prior to this broadcast, then Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, along with his ADC (Lt. Akinsehinwa), Orderly and driver, had been assassinated on his way to work in a thin skinned black Mercedes Benz car without escorts. The unprotected car had slowed down at the junction in front of the Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi, Lagos, when a hit team which allegedly included Lt. William Seri and others, casually strolled up and riddled it with bullets.
Following confirmation of Muhammed’s death, Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka, of the Army Physical Training Corps, who (along with some others) had been up for most of the night drinking champagne, then made a quick trip to the British High Commission at about 8 am where he demanded to be put in touch with General Gowon in Britain.
He allegedly left a message through Sir Martin LeQuesne, saying Gowon should proceed to Togo and await further instructions. Then he returned, initially accompanied by six others, to Ikoyi to seize the Radio Station. The martial music played was allegedly specially selected by a civilian worker, Mr. Abdulkarim Zakari, who had been alerted before hand to do so.
Other hit teams simultaneously went after other key functionaries of the regime’s trioka, namely the Chief of Staff, SHQ, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and the Army Chief, Lt. Gen. T. Y. Danjuma. The Military Governors of Kwara and Oyo States, Colonels Ibrahim Taiwo and David Jemibewon, respectively, were also targeted. Taiwo, who had been the national coordinator of the July 1975 coup that brought Mohammed to power, was abducted and killed by a team led by Major K. K. Gagara. Jemibewon, whose name had been added to the list of targets by Lt. Col T. K. Adamu, merely because Adamu “did not like his face”, escaped.
In response to a pro-coup broadcast (and other activities) from Benin-City by the Brigade Commander, Colonel Isa Bukar, counter-broadcasts dissociating other army units from the coup were made, first from Calabar by the Brigade Commander, Colonel Mamman J. Vatsa, and then from Kaduna on behalf of the GOC, Brigadier Alani Akinrinade.
As efforts were being made within the military to crush the revolt, University students in Lagos and Ibadan (among others) took to the streets to protest the coup. Later, when it became known that Dimka had visited the British High Commission on the day of the coup, some students attacked British and American facilities in Lagos.
The coup attempt eventually failed seven hours later, crushed by forces rallied and directed from a temporary base at Bonny camp by Lt. General T. Y. Danjuma, Chief of Army Staff, whose designated assassin (reportedly Lt. Lawrence Garba) had chosen at the last moment to spare him at the Marina Jetty, allegedly in part to avoid collateral casualties.
When Danjuma got to the office and heard the radio broadcast, he held a brief “war council” with Colonels Bali and Babangida, then moved to Bonny camp to coordinate the resistance. Babangida was sent on a motor cycle to Ikeja Cantonment to get armoured vehicles. Supported by these vehicles he proceeded to Radio Nigeria, where he had a conversation with his close friend Dimka.
Dimka’s initial reaction to Babangida’s arrival was to ask him if he came to play “Chukwuma and Nwawo” with him; drawing a historical parallel with the negotiations between Colonel Conrad Nwawo (on behalf of Ironsi) and Major Patrick Nzeogwu in Kaduna in January 1966. However, Dimka got concerned with the presence of armored vehicles in the background and asked them to be withdrawn.
But it turns out that Babangida’s orders had not been to negotiate a surrender or other outcome, but to stop the broadcast – by any means necessary – including destruction by shelling. When he made contact with Bonny Camp to report his activities at the radio station, this order was reiterated to him by General Danjuma, incredulous that a conversation with Dimka had even occurred and that the radio station was still playing Dimka’s broadcast. A brief but fierce fire fight (reportedly led by Major Chris Ugokwe) subsequently dislodged the coup plotters from the station.
When shooting started Dimka simply walked away, past all the soldiers surrounding the building as well as driving through numerous checkpoints on his way, first to Jos and then eventually to Abakaliki where he was captured by Police in the company of a woman of easy virtue. At that time, public incredulity at his “escape” from Radio Nigeria led to speculations that he was assisted. But many years later, in April 1990, a similar ‘escape’ from a siege of supposedly loyal troops was executed by Lt. Col. Tony Nyiam and Major Saliba Mukoro.
General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) has written that he was late in leaving home that day on account of a visit by Brigadier Olu Bajowa to get a name for his new baby. When it became apparent that there was trouble, Obasanjo executed an escape and evasion maneuver, spent most of the day at the house of a civilian friend in Ikoyi monitoring the situation by telephone, but later emerged to become the Head of State.
His would be assassins mistook then Colonel Dumuje for him along Awolowo road in Lagos, seriously wounding that officer. The specifics of how that happened remain a matter of conjecture particularly since the car of a Lt. General would have had three stars mounted on the license plate. Whether Dumuje was riding in Obasanjo’s car is a curious possibility that has never been clarified. Or perhaps the hit men were drunk and could not tell one flag from another.
Subsequent evidence, allegedly based on documents and tapes discovered at the station, suggests that Dimka had actually planned a second broadcast which he never got to make. The broadcast would have gone like this:
“Fellow Nigerians,
This is Lt. Col. BS Dimka. I now explain why we the Young Revolutionaries of the Armed Forces have found it necessary to overthrow the six month old government of Murtala. On the 29th July 1975 the Government of General Gowon was overthrown. Some of the reasons given for the change were:
a. Corruption
b. Indecision
c. Arrest and detention without trial
d. Weakness on the part of the Head of State
e. Maladministration in general and a host of other malpractice.
Every honest Nigerian will agree with me that since the change over of government there has not been any physical development in the whole country generally.All we have is arbitrary dismissal of innocent Nigerians who have contributed in no less amount to the building of this great nation. A Professor was arrested, detained, dismissed and later taken to court on an article which every honest Nigerian will agree that all the points contained in that article were 100% truth. The sad point about it all is that those who initiated the retirement or dismissal exercise are the worst offenders. You will be informed about the ill-gotten wealth in my next announcement.
The acting General Manager of the Nigerian Airways was invited to the Dodan Barracks and detained without trial. The people of this country have been living in a state of fear. The Armed Forces promotion exercise is still fresh in your minds. Whatever reasons they have for the promotion one can only say that they are ambitious. They in fact took over power to enrich themselves.
We are convinced that some of the programmes announced for a return to civilian rule are made to favor a particular group. To mention only one. Maitama Sule is a politician. But has been appointed Chief of Commissioners for Complaints. This is to prepare him for the next political head at all cost. How many of you know that Maitama Sule is on a salary of N17,000 p.a.?
In view of what I have just said and a lot more which time will not permit me to mention, we the Young Revolutionaries have once again taken over the Government to save Murtala from total disgrace and prevent him from committing further blunders and totally collapsing the country before he runs away in the name of retirement to enjoy the huge fortune he got through bribe which he has now stored outside this country. I believe that charity should begin at home.
Please stay by your radio for further announcements.
We are all together.”
The Obasanjo regime, however, later issued a public statement proffering its own explanation for the Dimka coup attempt. The four reasons given by the government were that :
1. The plotters felt the Murtala government was abandoning Nigeria’s traditional non-aligned posture and going “communist”.
2. The plotters were opposed to recent Army promotions and the appointment of Danjuma as Army Chief.
3. The plotters intended to restore General Gowon to office
4. The plotters intended to restore all previous military governors to office, as well as restore all retired public servants back to office. Any subsequent retirement was to be based on legal due process. (As of that time about 11,000 civil servants and over 200 army officers had been summarily retired across the country)
Seven days of national mourning were declared and flags flew at half mast.
Following up on the opinion of the Obasanjo regime at the time, that General Gowon “knew and by implication, approved” of the plot (based on Dimka’s testimony regarding a brief encounter during a trip he had earlier made to London), a formal request for him to be extradited from Britain was made on March 24, 1976.
General Gowon himself strongly denied the charge. The British government rejected the extradition request and made it plain through back-channels that if the Nigerian government insisted too strongly on getting Gowon back, Nigerian leaders should be prepared to deal with British coldness if (as individuals) they one day found themselves in exile.
Publicly, diplomatic relations with Britain, however, took a nose dive and Gowon, without trial, was dismissed as an officer (albeit retired) in the Nigerian Armed Forces. (He was later reinstated by President Shagari).
As expected, mass arrests were made after the coup failed, not just of active duty and retired soldiers, but also civilians. Major C.D. Dabang, an inner circle officer who had pleaded with Dimka to delay the coup until he was well enough to take part, was still undergoing treatment at the Military Hospital in Lagos when soldiers arrived, disconnected his drip and took him away. Many important figures of the Gowon era were arrested and quizzed. There is at least one, known to this author, who is very lucky to be alive today.
At least two Boards of Inquiry sat (including those chaired by Brigadiers Obada and Eromobor). Death sentences passed by a separate Special Military Tribunal were confirmed by the Supreme Military Council. However, it remains unclear to this day to what extent certain individuals who were shot were actually involved in the Dimka coup. Among others, Col A.D.S. Wya is frequently mentioned.
The first batch of executions was announced by Brigadier Shehu Yar’Adua, who had just been double promoted from the rank of Lt. Col. He went on television (Channel 10) to say “They are being shot about now”. This was followed the next morning by a gleeful headline in the Daily Times that read: “Thirty-Two shot in Round One”. Another batch, including Dimka himself, was to follow later.
However, two NCOs, Sergeant Clement Yildar and Corporal Dauda Usman escaped and were never found.They were declared wanted. To this day, they have not (to my knowledge) surfaced.

Those executed included:
1. Major General I.D. Bisalla (Defence Commissioner)
2. Joseph Gomwalk (Ex-Governor of Benue-Plateau)
3. Col. A.D.S. Wya
4. Col Isa Bukar
5. Lt. Col. T.K. Adamu
6. Lt. Col A.B. Umoru
7. Lt. Col B.S. Dimka
8. Lt. Col. Ayuba Tense
9. Major C.D. Dabang
10. Major Ola Ogunmekan
11. Major J.W. Kasai
12. Major J.K. Afolabi
13. Major M.M. Mshelia
14. Major I.B. Rabo
15. Major K.K. Gagara
16. Capt. M.R. Gotip
17. Capt. M. Parvwang
18. Capt. J.F. Idi
19. Capt. A.A. Aliyu
20. Capt. S. Wakian
21. Capt. Austin Dawurang
22. Lt. A.R. Aliyu
23. Lt. William Seril
24. Lt. Mohammed
25. Lt. E.L.K. Shelleng
26. Lt. O. Zagmi
27. Lt. S. Wayah
28. Lt. S. Kwale
29. Lt. Peter Cigari
30. Lt. Lawrence Garba
31. Seven (7) non-commissioned officers
32. Mr. Abdulakarim Zakari (civilian broadcaster)
Others were retired or dismissed or imprisoned.General Gowon’s relatives in the armed forces were hounded out or jailed. But in 1981 a former member of the SMC, Lt. Gen Alani Akinrinade (rtd) openly admitted in an interview with the Punch newspaper that there wasn’t a strong case against General Gowon.
Although the new Obasanjo led team that came to office (against Obasanjo’s “personal wish and desire”) pledged to continue along the footsteps of Muhammed, the so-called Dimka coup had lasting military and non-military, judicial, domestic and foreign policy effects.
It was the first time since the executions of Banjo, Ifeajuna, Alale and Agbam on September 25, 1967 in Enugu, by Ojukwu, that anyone was being executed for that alleged offence within Nigeria’s colonial borders. It led to the promulgation – by the Obasanjo regime – of certain retrospective decrees which made ‘concealment of treason’ an offence punishable with a life sentence.
The regime created new “Special Military Tribunal” laws justifying mass executions for coup participation which have remained with us until the recent initiative in the Legislature.
Indeed, when General Obasanjo (rtd) was tried in 1995 on suspicion of concealment of treason by the Abacha regime, it was the law he signed into effect just under 20 years before, which was pulled off the shelf and used to charge him.
It later emerged that the charge was frivolous and he was lucky to survive the Abacha gulag. However, it did not escape notice that others charged under that decree in the past may not have been so lucky. Indeed notions of Treason and Treasonable felony in Nigerian Military Tribunal Law and their consistency with the governing laws of Nigeria still need to be revisited. And the complex intrigues of the coup investigative process also need to be addressed. There are people who were officially cleared of all charges relating to the Dimka coup in 1976 who still barely escaped getting shot “on contract” at Kiri-Kiri prison.
The Dimka coup was a national security embarrassment. Efforts by then Inspector General of Police, MD Yusuf, to resign were rebuffed. But the coup led directly to the creation of the National Security Organization (NSO), whose first Director, then Brigadier Abdulai Mohammed was recalled from his post as a Governor. However, the existence (since 1976) of the NSO and its by-product, the SSS, has not stopped coups in Nigeria, as events since then have demonstrated.
Except for the use of Peugeot cars, the so called “low profile” policy of the Muhammed regime was largely jettisoned. Key figures became better protected by accompanying troops. The Brigade of Guards was disbanded and new troops rotated in.
The leadership style of the regime changed.Muhammed’s hard charging, occasionally impulsive style was replaced by a steadier and level headed but still dictatorial approach. Then Brigadier Shehu Yar’Adua’s new role in the Trioka as Chief of Staff, SHQ, launched him into his subsequent national political career when he left office. Other relationships forged in the trials and tribulations of the painful events surrounding the Dimka coup were to last for many years after – such as that between President Olusegun Obasanjo, his Defence Minister, Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (rtd) and his Chief of Staff, Major General Abdulai Mohammed (rtd).
Although already known for toughness from his July 1966 and civil war days, General Danjuma’s stature as “the man in charge of the Army” was reinforced by his bold leadership during the coup. Indeed, he could quite easily have taken over the country if he wanted – assuming meanings would not have been read into it by geopolitical pundits.
Then Colonel Ibrahim Babangida became a hero for supposedly flushing Dimka out of Radio Nigeria, although the exact nature of his ‘negotiation’ with Dimka at NBC was never clarified. He was to emerge again on the national scene in 1983 and 1985. It was not until an interview in the Guardian with Lt. Col G.Nyiam in April 2000, that the unsung role of Col.Chris Ugokwe (rtd) at the radio station that day in 1976 became public knowledge.
The diplomatic effects, particularly on Anglo-Nigerian relations, have been discussed. Both countries recalled their ambassadors and it was not until 1979 that the resident Nigerian High Commissioner in London was replaced.
Domestically, the coup crystallized political tensions between the Moslem far north and the Christian middle belt which were not altogether new, but have persisted in one form or another. As can be recognized, most of those executed were of Plateau State origin. But the curious notion of a ‘Plateau group’ in the Army never did die. It resurrected many years later as the “Langtang Mafia”.
Lastly, it made the late General Murtala Muhammed a hero. According to General James Oluleye who was then Finance Commissioner, quite apart from a state burial, naming monuments after him and fulfilling obligations for his pension and gratuity as a Four Star General, the government infused a large amount of cash directly into his estate to protect his family from future financial embarrassment.
By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

A palace coup is one in which the sudden and decisive change of government illegally or by force is carried out by individuals in positions of authority who are themselves part and parcel of the ruling regime.In other words, one group of members of the Palace court seizes control from another group while the people look on.

Palace coups have occurred since antiquity.Pharaoh Amen-em-het Sehetep-ib-re of Ancient Egypt was killed in a palace coup in 1962 B.C.In 555 B.C.,Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was overthrown in a palace coup and replaced by Nabonidus – a reclusive scholar who ate grass thinking he was a goat.In AD 96, Titus Flavius Domitianus (brother of Titus Flavius Vespasianus)was killed during a palace coupin Rome led by Marcus Cocceius Nerva.Under pressure from the Praetorian guard – to whom he owed his emergence – Nerva subsequently adopted Marcus Ulpius Traianius, (a.k.a. Trajan) as his successor.With the support of the Preobrazhensky regiment, Elizabeth Petrovna gained the throne of Russia by overthrowing her mother Catherine I (second wife of Emperor Peter I ) through a palace coup in November 1741.Having engineered the coup against Egyptian King Farouk as leader of the Free Officers Movement in July 1952,Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser later pushed General Mohammed Neguib aside as Premier in a Palace coup on April 17th, 1954 , relegating Neguib to the role of ceremonial President.On June 23, 1956, Nasser finally assumed full powers as President.
The assassination of US President Kennedy in November 1963 has been described by some as a Palace coup.The Dhofar rebellion in Oman led to a palace coup on July 23, 1970, when Sultan Said was overthrown by his son, Qabus ibn Said.The Sultan was even said to have been shot and injured.On Feb 22, 1972,Khalifa bni Hamadi th-Thani who acted for many years as Deputy Ruler and Prime Minister of Qatar overthrew Emir Ahmed.Then on June 25, 1995,Emir Khalifa was himself dethroned by his own son and heir, acting Defence Minister Shaykh Hamadu bni Khalifati th-Thani, while Khalifa was on a visit abroad.In 1977, then Major Mengistu Haile Mariam, 1st Vice Chairman of the Ruling Ethiopian Derg liquidated the Chairman and Head of State, Brigadier Teferi Benti, and assumed full powers.On July 5, 1978, junior officers on the Ghanaian Military Advisory Committee pressuredLieutenant General Frederick W.K. Akuffo, then Chief of Staff and Vice Chair, to force General Ignatius K. Acheampong to resign as Head of State.Afghan President Taraki was killed in a palace coup in September 1979 and succeeded by Hafizullah Amin.In the same year, Obiang Nguema removed his uncle as the President in a palace coup in Equatorial Guinea.A few years later, onDecember 12, 1984, Col. Maaouya Ould Sid`Ahmed Taya, already an insider, seized power in Mauritania.The story of how the third ranking member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), then Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) ousted the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, Major General Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria in August 1985, is the subject of this article.
In June 1983, among the new graduates of the Nigerian Defence Academy was 23 year old 2/Lt. P. Odoba.After commissioning, he was deployed to the Brigade of Guards Garrison, Lagos to begin a journey, the twists and turns of which he could not have guessed in his wildest dreams.
On December 31, 1983, Odoba was the duty officer at the Radio Station, Federal Radio Corporation, Ikoyi, Lagos. The night before he was casually told by the Acting Commander of the Brigade of Guards, Lt. Col. Sabo Aliyu that some armored vehicles and soldiers would be coming to the radio station for an ‘exercise’ and that he should not ask questions or resist. He complied.Shortly thereafter, Brigadier Sani Abacha, then Commander of the 9th Mechanized Infantry Brigade based at Ikeja, arrived to deliver the speech that ended the regime of President Shehu Shagari and Nigeria’s second experiment with democracy. Brigadier Muhammadu Buhari, former GOC of the 3rd Armoured Division,emerged as the Head of State, while Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, former Military Secretary, was appointed Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Brigadier Ibrahim Babangida, former Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans – and the operational backbone of the coup – assumed the position of Chief of Army Staff [].
Declaring itself an “offshoot” of the Murtala-Obasanjo government of the late seventies, the Buhari regime purged the uppermost echelon of the Armed Forces, retiring all officers of the rank of Major General equivalent or above at the time of the coup.But that was not all.Some lower ranking officers, including Captain M Bala Shagari, the former President’s son were also retired.In time to come his junior brother, Musa, would also be thrown out of the AirForce Secondary School in Jos.Buhari detained most political leaders of the Second Republic, accusing them of indiscipline and profligacy.For the first time in Nigerian history, thecountry’s security organizations were actively used to track down alleged acts of corruption through the Special Investigation Bureau preparatory to formal military style trials at Bonny Camp.As had been the initial practice by various prior military regimes, special asset recovery military tribunals were set up all over the country.A “War against Indiscipline” (WAI) was launched.Such indiscipline was interpreted broadly to mean lack of environmental cleanliness, lack of manners (such as failing to take one’s place in queues), corruption, smuggling, desecration of the flag and disloyalty to the anthem.
The State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree Number 2 of 1984 gave the Chief of Staff,Supreme Headquarters (Major General Idiagbon) the power to detain anyone labelled a security risk for up to six months without trial.Decree Number 4 of 1984 was promulgated to prevent journalists from reporting news that could potentially embarrass government officials. Nduka Iraborand Tunde Thompsonwere convicted under the decree.Some high visibility special interest groups, including the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), ran afoul of the government and were outlawed.TheLabour Congress was banned from undertaking strike action.
In July 1984, in what was clearly a high risk move, the Buhari government – allegedly assisted by Israeli intelligence – unsuccessfully attempted to kidnap Alhaji Umaru Dikko, self-exiled 2nd republic Transportation Minister, from a flat in London.He was grabbed while taking a stroll, bundled into a van, intubated and placed on ventilator support supervised by an Israeli anesthesiologist, then placed into a crate and taken to Stansted airport outside London. Just before embarkation on a Lagos bound cargo plane suspicious British Police and customs officers – already alerted by Dikko’s assistant who witnessed the kidnap from her window – aborted the heist.The incident created a diplomatic storm and even resulted in tit-for-tat seizures of Nigerian and British Airways aircraft in London and Lagos.High Commissioners to both countries were withdrawn – and were not reinstated until February 1986.
To address economic issues, Buhari introduced austerity measures. He closed the country’s borders – which were not reopened until March 1st, 1986 -and expelled illegal aliens.Severe limitations were placed on imports.Smuggling and foreign exchange offenses were viewed as acts of economic sabotage – with severe penalties.Unfortunately, accompanied by high inflation, these measures made business onerous for import-dependent local businesses. Many workers were retrenched in the public and private sectors ata time prices of elementary food items, caused in part by famine, were rising.Nevertheless, with all the attributes of a military operation, the color design of Nigeria’s currency was also changed in April 1984,in part to deal with fake notes in local and regional circulation thought to be affecting liquidity, but also to undercut corruptly expropriated cash stocks outside the country.Generals Buhari and Idiagbon secretly initiated this major undertaking by reaching down to a staff officer at SHQ, then Lt. Col. MC Alli, who in turn relied on one clerk, Sergeant Ibrahim Audu, bypassing the Finance Ministry, Central Bank, Supreme Military and Federal Executive Councils.
The credibility of the currency exchange exercise was, however,severely tested when the late Emir of Gwandu, father of Major Mustafa Haruna Jokolo (rtd) who was then the ADC to the C-in-C, arrived back in the country from a foreign trip with a large delegation of wives and children.Newspapers reported that aided by connections to the regime, he cleared 53 suitcases, none of which were inspected by the customs service at the airport which was then under Abubakar Atiku – the current Vice President.However, the issue remains controversial with latter day unsubstantiated comments from General Buhari himself as well as aides to former Major Jokolo (who is now the Emir of Gwandu) claiming on the one hand that the count of “53 suitcases” was inaccurate and on the other that the scenario was contrived by then NSO Boss Rafindadi allegedly to protecta friend of his in the diplomatic service.
To deal with the emerging problem of narcoticstrafficking a retrospective law was passed to have suspects arrested, tried, convicted and shot.Irrespective of the merits of taking a harsh line to the problem, the retrospective nature of the decree – leading to the deaths ofBartholomew Owoh, Bernard Ogedegbe and Lawal Ojuolape – was inherently controversial to many neutral observers.The fact that a death sentence was the prescribed punishment was considered too severe by others.On the other hand the risk that investigations would someday target well placed military officers and their mules became a source of quiet background agitation, particularly when some very prominent businessmen like Dantata, Isyaku Rabiu, Maidaribe, Bako Kontagora, Amali Sokoto, Haruna Dan-Ja and others were arrested for this or other reasons or their relatives investigated.
Separately, the Buhari government – or agents purportedly acting on its behalf –humiliated several important personalities and opinion leaders in the country.The O’oni of Ife and Emir of Kano were publicly cautioned and restricted to their domains after they paid a visit to Israel, a countrywith which Nigeria did not have diplomatic relations at the time, dating back to OAU actions in solidarity with Egypt during the 1983 Arab-Israeli war.A team of soldiers was sent to the Park Lane residence of Chief Awolowo in Apapa where they proceeded to ransack the premises, searching for nothing in particular.Sheikh Mahmoud Gumi, a reverred moslem cleric, was allegedly removed from chairmanship of the Nigerian Pilgrims Board, his salary terminated and official car impounded – ostensibly because he disagreed with the decision to execute cocaine traffickers.It remains controversial to this day whether some of these activities were undertaken, not by the Supreme Headquarters per se, but by lower echelons in the Army (specifically the Directorate of Military Intelligence) as part of a psyops campaign to discredit the regime and set it up for the kill.I recall, for example, that while leading members of the NMA were being hunted down by the NSO supposedly on behalf of General Buhari, at least one prominent activist claimed to be in touch with the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Babangida who was said to be sending signals to aggrieved Doctors at variance with the public posture of the regime.
As fate would have it, twenty months later on Sallah Day, Id-el-Kabir August 26/27, 1985, Odoba, now a full lieutenant, was again at the FRCN Radio station in Ikoyi as the duty officer. Once again he was told by his Garrison Commander not to resist when he sees armored vehicles approaching for yet another
‘exercise’. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, Director of Manning (“A” Branch) and concurrent Director of the Department of Armour at the Army Headquarters arrived, barely taking notice of the young officer.
At 0600 hours on Tuesday August 27, 1985, snoozy from the laid back atmosphere of a moslem public holiday, unsuspecting Nigerians woke up to familiar cycles of martial music interspersed with a radio announcement made in an unfamiliar voice.It was Dogonyaro.Among other things, he said: ‘A small group of individuals in the Supreme Military Council had abused their power and failed to listen to the advice of their colleagues or the public, about tackling the country’s economic problems.’He then announced that the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari had been deposed. Hours later, at about 1 pm, the more familiar voice of Brigadier Sani Abacha, then GOC, 2nd Mechanized Division of the Nigerian Army, based in Ibadan, came on to announce the appointment of Major General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, then Chief of Army Staff, as the new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Babangida, having flown back to the capital from Minna, in his home state, where he was allegedly on vacation, subsequently took the title of ‘President’.The position of Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters was eliminated. Navy Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, then Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command was appointed to the new position of Chief of General Staff (CGS) at the General Staff HQ.This subtle change in title neatly removed the service chiefs from any kind of direct reporting relationship to the new CGS.
All coups are usually justified in high brow terms designed to appeal to the emotions and patriotism of the uninformed public.This was no different.Each of the three speeches made that day – by Dogonyaro, Abacha and finally by Babangida himself went to great lengths to rationalize the Palace coup and make expedient gestures designed to appeal to cheap populist instincts.
The official line was that the erstwhile Head of State and his deputy (Major General Tunde Idiagbon) were guilty of dictatorial lack of consultation with their military colleagues, gross abuse of human rights, exemplified by mass detention of politicians and others without due process, proscription of professional organizations, muzzling of the Press and promulgation of retroactive laws (e.g. execution of drug peddlers).To this was added insensitivity to respected leaders of thought in various parts of Nigeria, the issue of counter-trade and alleged intent to take the IMF Loan against popular wishes.
The real problem, however, was a profound personality clash and divergence of expectations and priorities among the officers (and civilians) who originally conspired to effect (or benefit from) the removal of President Shagari in 1983.Indeed, Buhari, although peripherally involved in that plot, was not an insider and was not critically operationally active by virtue of his posting at the time in Jos – away from key centers of power.It has since come to light that he may have owed his emergence as the new C-in-C on January 1, 1984 to the near solo effort of Major Mustafa Jokolo of the Military Police who later became his ADC.Jokolo reportedly convinced his fellow middle ranking inner circle storm troopers in Lagos to adopt the ascetic and relatively clean Buhari, fresh from battle victories along the Lake Chad border, as an acceptable national figure to unite the armed forces as a whole behind the change and give it the façade of a patriotic putsch.Jokolo’s efforts were no doubt assisted by Babangida’s lack of interest in the job at that point in time – as well as the death of a key plotter, Brigadier Ibrahim Bako, in murky circumstances.Unconfirmed news reports – never in short supply in gossip rich Nigeria – quote Babangida as telling confidants that he was “not yet ready to move over to the other (political) side.”
Over the years, more mundane reasons for the August coup have become public knowledge.For example, in a unpublished thesis titled, “Military Involvement in Politics in Nigeria: The Effect on Nigerian Army”, written in 1989 at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas,then Major Habibu Idris Shuaibu, speaking as one of those who backed General Babangida’s putsch, claims that the reason for the coup against Buhari was that Buhari did not distribute positions to junior officers.Another unconfirmed report, for example, suggests that Colonel Dogonyaro’s promotion to Brigadier may have been delayed by Buhari.Clearly these were the perspectives (if true) of some of the junior and middle ranking officers who were used to carry it out but does not inherently explain the coup at the level of its originators.
Regarding civilian involvement, other unconfirmed reports speculate profound displeasure on the part of Chief MKO Abiola, who was alleged to have helped finance the 1983 coup.Abiola was upset not only with the decision of the Buhari regime to seize and auction a large consignment of his newsprint (which had allegedly been smuggled into the country) but also with an inquiry into the possible role of a relative in the drug trade.This, the story alleges, motivated Abiola to financially assist Buhari’s removal.But Abiola was not the only unhappy figure in the private sector, assuming such reports are true.Unconfirmed reports identified other individuals with business interests like Dantata.
Regarding the role of intellectuals, Professor Omo Omoruyi, a self described personal counsellor and friend to Babangida, has also written that hewas “privy and party to” Babangida’s “personal decision (not as Chief of Army Staff) to overthrow the government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari”.He has revealed that IBB “came to office without a political programme and with no modality for putting one in place.”
Major General MC Alli (rtd) throws in another dimension. He described the coup as “an enigmatic, sleek and sophisticated purge received with press-inspired fanfare in August 1985” concocted by Babangida “in consort with northern officers, particularly of Middle Belt extraction based on the products of Regular 3 Officer’s Course at the Defence Academy.”It was executed by a cabal of company and field grade officers who, in due course, would come to be known as “IBB Boys”.Speaking with the benefit of insights gained as then Deputy Director, Joint Services, at the Supreme Headquarters, Alli says that tensions between the Army (specifically Babangida and Abacha) and the Buhari regime (specifically Buhari and Idiagbon) came to a head when Ministry of Defence contracts and accounts were placed under scrutiny.
Refining this further, in a recent interview in Kaduna on 20 March 2002, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) (MB) had the following conversation with Antony Goldman (AG):
”AG: What prompted the coup in 1985?
MB: We had confirmed evidence that for the second time
Aliyu Mohammed had been making money from passing on
contracts to the tune of N1m, which was worth $1.4m at
the time. It was brought before the army council and
Aliyu was retired. Some of those involved are dead.
But enough of us who were there are still alive and
they know this is what happened.
AG: Do you think you should have found any way also of
retiring Babangida?
MB: I had no idea, I had no intention of retiring
Babangida. It’s just like what they cooked up. They
said I took away the passport of Sheikh Mahmud Gummi, a
former respected mullah here, that I had stopped his
salary, that I had ordered his house to be searched.
But all of these things I didn’t do as Head of State.
But it was part of the campaign to subvert me and to
subvert my authority.
AG: And that was the trigger for the coup?
MB: Yes, Babangida felt threatened, he was close to
Aliyu and perhaps he was afraid. He was head of the
armoured corps, he could move.”
It would seem, therefore, that from Buhari’s perspective, the retirement of then Colonel Aliyu Mohammed was the trigger factor for the take-over – whatever else may have been brewing in the background.As Director of Military Intelligence, Aliyu was Babangida’s siamese twin in the coup against former President Shagari.Some have claimed that “live and let live” arguments were made to the effect that Aliyu Mohammed’s import license and other business activities were at least in part geared to raise funds for the December 1983 coup, of which Buhari, although unaware of the saidtransactions, was the eventual beneficiary.This line of thinking allegedly found justification in the precedent whereby‘revolutionaries’ may have to rob banks to raise funds in support of the ‘revolution’.However, Buhari allegedly rejected this argument, declaring that there could be no sacred cows or extenuating circumstances.By so doing he profoundly upset the innermost cabal of officers who organized the 1983 coup – and played into the hands of his alarmed Army Chief who had long laid the groundwork for such a confrontation. As things happened, assuming newspapers and magazines are to be believed, Aliyu was actually retired by the office of the Military Secretary (MS), at that time underColonel Rabiu Aliyu, who was away on vacation.However, one of his assistants, the Deputy MS II, then Lt. Col. Bashir Salihi Magashi was on hand to complete the task.Along with Babangida, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was reportedly placed under intense surveillance (including wire taps) by the NSO –prompting him to pressure the coup planners tostop prevaricating, act quickly or leave him no choice but to escape.Buhari was removed in the nick of time before his government could formally officially gazette the retirement – which was revoked by executive order immediately Babangida came to power.
As Head of State, Buhari’s isolation from the military was gradual but relentless.It began almost as soon as he came to power in 1984.While hewas fixated on purely political national issues with religious fervor, he did not notice that specific officers were being quietly placed in specific operational positions to lay in wait like ‘sleepers’ until they would be called upon to strike by the very service chiefs he had naively placed his trust in to run the armed forces on his behalf.
A classic example was the way then Lt. Col. Halilu Akilu, already a Grade 1 Staff Officer in the Directorate, was inserted into the office of Director of Military Intelligence while the regular person on seat, then Lt. Col. MC Alli, was away to Britain and the US for a very brief official assignment establishing liaison with other military intelligence groups.MC Alli had been deputising for Col. Aliyu Mohammed who had left for a course at the Royal College of Defence Studiesafter assisting the overthrow of President Shagari.[Aliyu Mohammed later returned to start up the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) with Col.S. Anthony Ukpo as his deputy – although the DIA was not formally established in law until June 1986 when Decree Number 19 was promulgated].Akilu was Babangida’s mole in the intelligence community, a counterweight to Alhaji Muhammadu Lawal Rafindadi, Buhari’s loyal Director of the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO).
Officers who would be crucial to Babangida’s take-over in 1985 had been cultivated for many years dating back to their days as cadets in the Nigerian Defence Academy between 1970 and 1972 when then Major Babangida, having recovered from war injuries suffered at Uzuakoli as CO of the 44th battalion in the 1st division under Colonel Shuwa was made an Instructor and Company Commander in the Short Service Wing (pairing up with his coursemate and rival, Major MJ Vatsa of the Regular wing).Simultaneously, over the years, aided by the convenience of his permanent military posting to the Federal capital interrupted only by foreign courses from late 1973 until 1985, Babangida developed intricate connections with civilian contacts in business, the media, civil service, academia and religious circles. He even devoted his thesis at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in 1979 to the question of civil-military relations.He also skillfully manipulated the military sub-culture of “welfare”, through personal generosity and expressions of interest in the personal lives and problems of junior officers, endearing himself to many.
Referring to Babangida (above), Buhari said “He was head of the armoured corps; he could move “.What Buhari meant was that Babangida’s clout increased as the size, power and complexity of the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps (NAAC) increased.To clarify this point,a brief history of that Corps – in parallel with Babangida’s own career history – is in order.
First, let me explain a basic concept.In American doctrine, the Army is organized into three main areas (or “arms”) of specialization.COMBAT OR “TEETH” ARMS, like Infantry, Field Artillery, Armour, Army aviation, and Combat Engineers (sappers), consist of branches involved in direct combat; COMBAT SUPPORT ARMS, likeAir Defence Artillery, Military Police, Intelligence, and Signals are those which directly aid Combat Arms; while COMBAT SERVICE SUPPORT ARMS, like Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Medical, Chaplain, Supply and Transport, Ordnance, and Finance include those branches which provide logistic or other forms of support to the Army.It should be noted, however, that there is a school of thought (of British origin) that classifies Intelligence and Signals as “Teeth” arms.Nigeria subscribes to the latter thinking.
According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, the Infantry “… has borne the brunt of human conflict through the ages, and has been called the ‘Queen of Battle.'”Infantry officers often refer to excerpts of a famous Fort Benning quote that goes:
“I am the Infantry…. Queen of Battle! Where the fighting is thick, there am I . . . I am the Infantry! …..Follow me!”
No one “Arm” is independent.However, although the infantry understandably likes to call itself the “Queen of Battle”, of all the ‘teeth’ arms in the Army, the Armored corps is arguably the most powerful and decisive, uniting the concepts of firepower, mobility and protection.This was brilliantly exploited by German General Heinz Guderian in developing the “Blitzkrieg” strategy of world war 2.All through modern history, the decisive defeat of Armored units and/or their predecessors or variants in the Cavalry has been a key element of finality in the military equation.In armoured corps circles in the world, they think of themselves as the “Combat Arm of Decision”.In the 20th century, from an internal security perspective, Tanks on the streets increasingly became recognized as the ultimate symbol of the power of the State.
The combination of this basic military fact with the geohistoric inevitability of Ikeja cantonment in Lagos as a crucial pawn in Nigerian military political power tussles has proved to be an issue again and again for victors and vanquished alike.It used to be said that he who controls Ikeja controls Nigeria.Examples include the quest for control of the 2nd infantry battalion at Ikeja supported by the Recce Squadron at Abeokuta in January and July 1966,9th infantry brigade and 4th reconnaissance regiment in July 1975, 4th reconnaissance regiment in February 1976, 9th mechanized brigade and 245 Recce Battalion in December 1983, 201 Armour HQ Administrative, and the 245 Recce and 123 Infantry battalions in August 1985.Even during the Vatsa Conspiracy Trial of 1985/86, the question of what to do to neutralize the armored vehicles at Ikeja cantonment, proved to be a thorn in the side for alleged conspirators in the Army and Air Force who were even reported to have briefly discussed air strikes as an option. A major reason why the April 1990 coup attempt failed was largely because its proponents failed to get control of the Armoured vehicle shed at Ikeja.
In half-jest, following a spate of recurrent coups and attempted coups involving armoured corp officers it later became fashionable to simply refer to them as “Fellow Nigerians…” – the typical start to a radio broadcast announcing a coup.However, General Abacha, in no mood for jokes regarding matters of security, was sufficiently wary of the Armored corps that he redeployed Recce and Tank units to border regions away from centers of political power in the mid-nineties.
The Nigerian Army Armored Corps began with humble origins with a decision in late 1957 by the Federal Defence Council (FDC) to disband the Artillery regiment and set up a Recce unit in its place to better patrol the open lands of the north.Until the Artillery regiment was again reconstituted, young first generation Nigerian artillery officers (like Alexander Madiebo) were briefly transferred to Recce before Recce began developing its own dedicated officer corps.From one Recce Squadron based in Kaduna, it evolved into two Recce Squadrons (Kaduna and Abeokuta) in the Recce Regiment.The earliest Nigerian Recce officers included Christian Anuforo, John Obienu and Hassan Katsina.The regiment was later redesignated an Inspectorate of Recce, primarily armed with Ferrets.Although there were quite a few second generation eastern officers (like Isong and Ugokwe), it was – like the Infantry and Artillery – mainly attractive to second generation northern recruits (like M Remawa, DS Abubakar, Pam Jungdam Mwadkon, MJ Gin, I Babangida, S Ifere, G Duba, Saliu Ibrahim, J Dogonyaro etc.) while southerners generally preferred technical arms like Signals, Combat Engineers, Electrical Mechanical Engineers, Ordnance, Supply and Transport, etc.As role models for younger northern entrants, the early northern Recce officers naturally established an informal mechanism for a self-recycling elite which gave the corps an unmistakable geopolitical configuration – the significance of which will be clear later on.
During the civil war the range of armored fighting vehicles was expanded to include the Fox, Saladin and Saracen family.The Inspectorate of Recce (led by an “Inspector”) evolved after the civil war into four Recce regiments (1, 2, 3, and 4Reconnaissance Regiments, respectively).Then in 1976/77 it matured into the Armoured Corps (led by a “Commander”) at a time of significant expansion of its range of Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV) to include French Panhard AML 60s and 90s and light Tanks (like the British Scorpion CVRT).Armored Brigades were created in Enugu (21st), Ilorin (22nd), Bauchi (23rd) and Epe (24th) in the place of regiments.These have long since been reorganized.
Just after the civil war, the School of Armour was located along old Ife Road in Ibadan but moved to ‘Tank terrain’ in Bauchi sometime in October 1979.Later on, medium Tanks (like the Soviet T-55)and heavy Tanks (like the Vickers “Eagle” Main Battle Tank) were acquired.In addition to reconnaissance (recce) battalions, therefore, Tank battalions were created, further differentiating the organizational structure.To establish a transit mechanism for new equipment training, orientation and testing, a 201 “administrative” Corp HQ battalion was established at Ikeja where officers from parent units all over the country would mill in and out in armoured corps overalls, looking busy interacting with Russian and French technicians – but ready at any time to be used for power play.In addition to this dynamic battalion, a demonstration battalion (202) was located in Kaduna (Ribadu Cantonment) to support training at the Defence Academy and at training institutions around Jaji.The “Commander” of the Armored Corps later became a “Director” in charge of a “Department of Armour” in the Army HQ – located at Bonny Camp. Subsequently, in line with the American style consolidation of Corps Headquarters with Corps Schools, the “Director” position was combined with that of the “Commandant” of the School of Armour at the Obienu Barracks in Bauchi.In later years, as noted previously, several waves of reorganization motivated by political (ie fear of coups) and military considerations (ie concerns about Cameroun and Chad) led to fundamental restructuringof armoured units.That is why 241, 242, 243 and 245 Recce units, for example, came to be located in obscure places like Nguru, Badagry, Monguno and Ikom during General Abacha’s era.Tank Battalions organic to two consolidated Armoured Brigade Headquarters were located in Maiduguri (21st) and Yola (23rd) both reporting to the 3rd Armored Division HQ at the Rukuba cantonment outside Jos, where a mechanized infantry unit (and at one point a Recce unit) also used to reside.
Along with the late Major General Mamman Vatsa, General Babangida (rtd) entered the Army on December 10, 1962.When hecompleted basic officer training at the Indian Military Academy, he began his career in the 1st Recce Squadron Kaduna (1964-66) before his sojourn as an infantry battalion commander and instructor.He has indicated in interviews that he was involved (as a Recce Lieutenant) in the Kaduna zone of the northern counter-rebellion of July 1966 – while then Lt. Buhari was also active in the revolt as the Motor Transport Officer of the 2nd battalion at Ikeja Barracks in Lagos.In 1974, upon return from the Armoured Training School in the US, Babangida assumed command of the 4 Recce Regiment in the Lagos/Epe area.In early 1975, then Lt. Col. I.B. Babangida was the Head of a team of umpires at a Guards Brigade military exercise (‘Exercise Sunstroke’) along the Lagos-Lanlate axis which is thought by some to have provided a platform for some of the plotting that led to the overthrow of General Gowon in July.As commander of the 4 Recce Regiment in the federal capital area Babangida (along with his neighbour Lt. Col SM Yar’Adua, then a Staff Officer at the Lagos Garrison) was instrumental to the success of that coupand would have been a key contingency factor in any fighting had Colonel JN Garba of the Guards Brigade refused to cooperate.Babangida’s role propelled him to membership of the Supreme Military Council in the post-coup regime.As the acting Director of the Corps of Supply and Transport, Lt. Col. Buhari was also an insider in that coup, but was not a member of the SMC, having been transiently posted away from the Army to a position as Military Governor of North-Eastern State before later assuming a role in the federal executive council as the country’s Oil minister.
As a member of the SMC and one of the pivots of the Murtala Muhammed regime, Babangida – although not the most senior armored officer – became Inspector (and later the 1st Commander) of the Armored Corps.In fact he held the position continuously, even after the advent of civil rule in 1979, interrupted only by courses, until he became Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans (DASDP) at the AHQ in 1981 – while Buhari bounced from command to command as GOC of the 4th, 2nd and 3rd Divisions.Simultaneously, in May 1981, MJ Vatsa, former Secretary of the Dimka coup inquiry, now a Brigadier, having since commanded the Brigade of Guards and the School of Infantry, was asked to take charge of border operations against Cameroun during the fracasresulting from the ambush of Nigerian soldiers on the Akpa Yafi river.How Vatsa’s AHQ and Defence Council approved plans for the invasion of Cameroun leaked and found their way, first to French intelligence, and then on to Cameroun, remains a mystery.
As DASDP, accelerated by some curious retirements of other senior officers like the late Major General JN Garba (rtd),Babangida was second only to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Inua Wushishi at the AHQ, and was, therefore, still able to monitor and control Armored Corps affairs while spreading his goodwill and patronage to other corps and power brokers in the capital.Indeed, anytime politicians were alarmed by innocuous armored vehicle movements in Lagos – such as during rehearsals for independence day celebrations – they would call Babangida for clarification.On one occasion in 1980 he jumped into a Peugeot 505 after such a call and intercepted a column of tanks near Tafawa Balewa Square, scaring the bewildered junior officers and NCOs who could not understand what the fuss was about.Not surprisingly, Babangida, as DASDP and defacto Deputy Chief of Army Staff, was the critical operational element of the coup against President Shagari in December 1983, securing General Wushishi’s arrest (and resignation) and mobilizing armored officers and units in Lagos and Kaduna/Abuja for the coup – while Major General Vatsa, then Quarter-Master-General, was away on vacation.Incidentally, during Abuja operations, Brigadier Ibrahim Bako, another key conspirator, died in cross-fire under circumstances that have never been clearly explained.
As may be surmised by integrating and extrapolating the above two paragraphs, Babangida oversaw the maturation and massive expansion of the Armored corps including huge foreign armament purchases, training opportunities and career development for upcoming junior officers and soldiers during the heydays of the late seventies and early eighties.The unsuccessful Dimka coup attempt of February 1976 also helped him foster a public image of gallantry when stories circulated of how he risked his life allegedly retaking the Radio Station from his friend Dimka – a ‘feat’ which some claim may actually have been achieved by then Recce Major Chris Ugokwe.Indeed, some newspapers reported that Babangida initially tried to negotiate with Dimka against the orders of then Army Chief Lt. Gen Danjuma, who then sent him back from Bonny Camp to take the station by force. As fate would have it, Dimka even escaped from the station – even though surrounded by troops and armoured vehicles.(Many years later General Obasanjo confirmed this story in an interview).
Anyhow, Babangida’s name was among those of a few members of the SMC (like Yar’Adua, Danjuma, Obasanjo and Muhammed) who had been specifically targetted for elimination, in his case supposedly by Lt. Peter Cigari, allegedly at the behest of Major General Bisalla, then Defence Minister. This “victim status” cemented his legitimacy in the regime, irrespective of what transpired at the radio station.His friend and junior colleague, Lt. Col. J. Dogonyaro, at that time the commander of the 1st Recce Regiment, was nominated to the Board of Inquiry into the Dimka coup – concurrent with his new posting to Lagos as Babangida’s Principal Staff Officer at the Armoured Corps HQ.This investigation Board, which raised charges that were later tried by courts-martial led by Major General J Obada and Brigadier Pius Eromobor, was under the chairmanship of Major General Emmanuel Abisoye. Its members were Mr. Adamu Suleiman (DIG), Navy Captain Olumide, NAF Lt. Col. Muktar Mohammed, and two Army officers whose careers would eventually rise and fall on their relationship with Babangida – Lt. Cols. MJ Vatsa and Joshua Dogonyaro.In contrast to Babangida’s shifty transaction at the radio station, Vatsa, as commanding officer of the 13 Brigade in Calabarhad been the first to publicly dissociate his unit from the coup.Quite interestingly a third panel member, then NAF Lt. Col. Muktar Mohammed was destined to clash with Babangida in 1985.Just after the coup against Buhari, Air Vice Marshal Muktar Mohammed openly expressed disagreement with the motives for the coup and was retired from the Air Force.
Going back to the late seventies, coincidentally, the most senior Armour officer at that time -Brigadier Remawa (rtd) – who had already been displaced from the Armour chain of command – found that his career in the Army slowly but surely came to a screeching halt merely because his name was obliquely mentioned to the Dimka coup investigation panel during reference to a game of scrabble he played with one of the alleged plotters at Onitsha.
In 1978, the movie “Power Play”, a fictional account based on the book “Coup d’Etat” by Edward Luttwak, was released in various versions, English and French.Other versions of the same movie were known as ‘Coup D’État’, ‘Le Jeu de la puissance’ (in French), ‘Operation Overthrow’ or ‘State of Shock’.It was directed by Martyn Burke.
In the movie, encouraged by Dr. Jean Rousseau – an intellectual with military ties – a repressive civilian regime was overthrown by a group of middle ranking conspirators in the Army including Colonels Anthony Narriman, Raymond Kasai, Zeller and Barrientos; Majors Anwar, Minh,Dominique andAramco; and Captain Hillsman even as they were being closely monitored by Blair, the suspicious Chief of Government Security.
The coup succeeded, ably planned and coordinated by Infantry Colonel Narriman, who nevertheless had to completely rely on Colonel Zeller’s Tank regiment for the decisive assault on the Presidential Palace – the significance of which will be clear later.The conceptualization, recruiting, planning, and implementation of the coup was not without ups and downs.There were various manifestations of internal rivalry and treachery necessitating mutual surveillance and even suspicion among the conspirators.It was necessary at one point to kill an officer who was contacted for the coup but bluntly refused to be recruited, even proceeding to make a radio report to Security HQ.In another part of the movie the reliance of the Unit Commander on his RSM to ensure thattroops on a so called “exercise” would not mutiny once they found out what was actually happening was glaringly demonstrated.A breach of operational security necessitated a decision to deliberately sacrifice Colonel Barrientos as a decoy to throw the Chief of Security (Blair) off the scent of the others.The government knew something was in the works but had no details of the real plot.
Convinced that the external environment was right and that an internal window of opportunity had been established to allow for mobilization of units without giving away the game to security organs, the coup was finally launched from the coordinating center at the War College with the code word “Arora”.In carefully timed sequences, various units dashed to their primary and secondary objectives, some to arrest key military and political figures, others to seize strategic centers of communication, public buildings, airports, radio stations, road junctions etc.Considerable effort was made in the movie to dramatize road-block confrontations between loyal and disloyal units, some of which were mobilized via frantic phone calls fromkey figures in the regime without going through the regular chain of command – which had been disrupted by early morning arrests and other methods of neutralization.
A serious attempt to put down the coup was made by Blair by calling in a loyal air-portable battalion based outside the capital.However, this effort was neutralized by a decision to park armoured vehicles on the runway of the destination air-base near the capital.This prevented the planes bringing in loyal troops from landing.An attempt by the incoming para-commander to bluff his way in by claiming to be out of fuel was called by a nervous young officer in the control tower. One group of soldiers led by Military Intelligence Captain Hillsman shot its way into Blair’s National Security HQ and destroyed all its records, turning the place upside down, irritated by the pervasive and abusive nature of its methods.In reaction, Blair wryly pointed out that once the new coup regime settled down it too would need a security set up, no matter what it thought of the former regime.However, the punch line of the movie was the brilliant illustration of the coup-within-a-coup scenario when Tank Colonel Zeller exploited the fact that Tanks from his own Unit were in control of the Presidential Palace to wrest leadership of the coup from Infantry Colonel Narriman.
Why have I gone through the trouble of explaining all this?Because I have reason to believe that in the early eighties, the movie “Power Play” was circulated among a highly restricted circle of Army Officers in Nigeria and was the guiding resource used in planning key aspects of the coup against Major General Buhari – as will be evident when we begin to discuss operational issues.
At strategic, operational, and tactical levels a large number of general staff, field grade, company gradeand non-commissioned officers made August 27, 1985 possible.Some were physically involved in military operations on D-Day; while others partook in the elaborate game of deception and disinformation that preceded the coup.However, as in all coups therewere overlapping concentric rings or tiers of involvement with the lowest echelons being brought into the picture within the last 6 – 24 hours of the operation, in some cases by being misled as to the real nature of what was going on.
1. Major General Ibrahim Babangida – Chief of Army Staff (COAS)
2. Brigadier Sani Abacha – GOC, 2nd Mechanised Division, Ibadan
3. Colonel JT Dogonyaro – Director, Department of Armour, Army HQ
4. Colonel Aliyu Mohammed Gusau – former Director, Defence Intelligence Agency
5. Lt. Col. Halilu Akilu – Director of Military Intelligence
6. Lt. Col. Tanko Ayuba – Commander, Corps of Signals
7. Lt. Col. David Mark – Military Governor, Niger State
8. Lt. Col. John Nanzip Shagaya – Commander, 9th Mechanised Brigade
9. Lt. Col. Chris Abutu Garuba – Commander, 34 Self Propelled Artillery Brigade, Jos
10. Lt. Col. Raji Alagbe Rasaki – Commanding Officer, AHQ Garrison and Signals Group, Lagos
11. Col. Anthony Ukpo – Deputy Director, Defence Intelligence Agency, Lagos
12. Major John Madaki – Commanding Officer, 123 Guards Battalion, Ikeja
13. Major Abdulmumuni Aminu – Military Assistant to the COAS
14. Major Lawan Gwadabe – just back from US Armour School, Fort Knox, returning to 245 Recce Battalionwhere he was the former Commanding Officer
15. Major Abubakar Dangiwa Umar –General Staff Officer (1), Department of Armour, AHQ, then Chairman Federal Housing Authority
16. Major Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, Staff Officer, HQ Corps of Artillery (and son of Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, who later became the 17th Sultan of Sokoto).
17. Major Maxwell Khobe – Commanding Officer, Armour Headquarters Company (201 “Administrative” Unit) Ikeja
18. Major UK Bello – Commanding Officer, 202 Armoured Battalion, Kaduna
19. Major Kefas Happy Bulus – Acting Commanding Officer, 245 Recce Battalion, Ikeja
20. Captain Nuhu Umaru – 2ic, 202 Armoured Battalion, Kaduna
21. Captain Sule Ahman, Supply and Transport, Ikeja Cantonment
22. Captain Musa Shehu (2ic to the Commanding Officer, Recce Battalion in Jos)
In support of the Key players a chorus of other company and field grade officers also played various supportive roles. These included (but were not limited to)
1. Lt. Col. Ahmed Daku
2. Lt. Col. Abubakar Dada
3. Major IB Aboho (Staff Officer at Defence Intelligence Agency)
4. Major Friday Ichide (Staff Officer to Colonel Dogonyaro)
5. Major Simon Hart
6. Captain M. Bashir (Lagos operations, in support of Bulus)
7. Major S.B. Mepaiyeda
8. Captain Victor Scott Kure (physical security for the COAS).
NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICERS in the Armoured corps who were crucial to the mobilization of armoured vehicles in Lagos include
1. WOII Sule Ayinla
2. WOII Billy Adekunle
3. WOII Army Sweet
4. WOII Yerima
5. S-Sgt Bazaria Kabara
6. Sgt. Hitler Bongo
7. Corporal Sule Owoicho, and others.
In addition there was another mixed tier of crucial but less mission critical enablers.Some were “aware” but not “active”.These included:
1. Brigadier Peter Ademokhai (Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans)
2. Brigadier Abdullahi Bagudu Mamman (Director of Army Training and Operations)
3. Brigadier YY Kure (GOC 82 Division, Enugu)
4. Brigadier Ola Oni (GOC, 1st Division, Kaduna)
5. Lt. Col. John Inienger, Commander, 4thMechanized Brigade, Benin
6. Lt. Col. Tunji Olurin, Commander, 1st Mechanized Brigade, Minna
7. Lt. Col. A. Abubakar, Commander, 3rd Mechanised Brigade, Kano.
Although they had no operational commands, a number of Military Governors formed part of the BODY OF OPINION in the military that encouraged the palace coup, reflecting the wide nature of the plot and near total isolation of Generals Buhari and Idiagbon.They included (but were not limited to):
1. Brigadier Garba Duba (Sokoto State)
2. Brigadier IOS Nwachukwu (Imo State)
3. Brigadier Jeremiah Timbut Useni (Bendel State).
1. Major General Muhammadu Buhari, C-in-C
2. Major General Tunde Idiagbon, Chief of Staff, SHQ
3. Major General Mohammed Magoro – Minister of Internal Affairs
4. Alhaji Rafindadi – Director General, Nigerian Security Organization
5. Lt. Col. Sabo Aliyu – Commander, Brigade of Guards
6. Major Mustapha Haruna Jokolo, ADC to the C-in-C
1. Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim, GOC 3rd Armoured Division, Jos
2. Commanding Officer, Recce Battalion, Jos
By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

In the months before the August coup, Nigerians came to be familiar with routine announcements about this or that politician sentenced to jail, usually for 21 years, often in concurrent sentences.But many were released too – although one would not suspect so, given the spate of disinformation that greeted the take-over.On January 1st, for example, as part of the New Year message, 144 political detainees and 2,407 prisoners were released.Another 85 political detainees would later be “conditionally” released on August 6th, reflecting efforts to pacify restive non-military special interest groups whose causes were being advocated by military insiders.In between all of this, familiar news reports of persons arrested for writing and publishing uncomfortable articles would pop up now and again – such as was the case with the Editor of the New Nigerian newspaper.Like various military rulers before him, General Buhari also embarked on State visits to various States, admittedly with less pomp and pageantry.In early August, however, he took a publicly announced two-week vacation and returned to his hometown in Daura.Shortly after he returned to Lagos, his Chief of Staff (Idiagbon) left the country, accompanied by some senior officials like Major General MJ Vatsa, then Minister for the Federal Capital Territory, enroute to Mecca for pilgrimage.Against guidelines issued by the regime, Idiagbon’s underage son went along for the ride.
Underneath all of this, however, to discerning observers, fate beckoned.Within the diplomatic community, for example, it was widely rumored as far back as March 1985 that all was not well in the Supreme Military Council.Such tensions were amplified by restiveness in the barracks over the decision to proceed with a large-scale reduction in the size of the Army to reduce defence expenditures.Such demobilized soldiers, however, let loose from the protections afforded by military life, were viewed by civil society as threats because of an alleged increased risk of armed robbery.But while the regime was pulling in this direction in order to free itself strategically for more social spending, while at the same time dealing with pressures from the IMF, Major General Babangida, in a public speech, said: “Those who advocate less spending on defence cannot win.” He also advocated making Nigeria a major arms-manufacturer to enhance foreign exchange earnings.
Some key officers even stopped attending meetings.Indeed, before August 27, a rumored military take-over was speculated at least once and then later said to have been postponed.One well placed Defence Attache in Lagos was overheard in a conversation, asking “Apart from Idiagbon, who is on his side?” – referring, as can be surmised, to Buhari.In retrospect, some of this diplomatic chatter would appear to have been deliberately spun by military intelligence operatives working for the coup planners.Such operatives were likely seeking on the one hand to sound out the attitude of some important foreign countries toward another coup, while at the same time carefully distancing the Army from Buhari’s head on collision with Britain – where many senior Army Officers kept private bank accounts.Such targeted pre-coup “leaks” are usually designed to passively ensure there won’t be unexpected resistance from the international community once operations begin.They do not imply any connivance by Britain or any other foreign country in what transpired, just an affirmation of official attitudes in those countries to possible scenarios.
But the diplomatic community was not the only circle in which coup rumors were swirling – and not all rumors were intended.Major General MC Alli, for example, says in his memoirs that Mr. Alex Ibru, a leading business entrepreneur, expressed concern about word on the streets that Babangida was not seeing ‘eye to eye’ with the Buhari/Idiagbon dyad.Accompanied by then Lt. Col. MC Alli, Ibru even met with Gen. Idiagbon in his house to discuss the matter, but Idiagbon chose to project a veneer of calm, playing down the risk and falsely assuring Ibru that all was well.On yet another occasion, Lt. Col. MC Alli heard rumors from other sources that a coup was in the offing.However, like many Nigerian rulers before him, Idiagbon blew off the warning, saying, “Let them try”.
General Buhari himself may have been warned too.He said during an interview many years later that the intelligence was vague.Vague, yes, and even deceptive too.At one point, in what was a high stakes game of deception, the Directorate of Military Intelligence deliberately fed the Press with rumors that Colonel Tanko Ayuba was under surveillance or arrested for coup plotting.The story was milked for what it was worth in throwing the Nigerian Security Organization off track and off the scent of the real planners (as was the case with Barrientos in the movie “Power Play”).Ayuba later emerged ‘indignantly’ to deny it all, when in fact, he was an insider in the conspiracy.The Press was warned to stop spreading rumors.
It is said (but not confirmed) that Major General MJ Vatsa may also have made discrete efforts to warn both Buhari and Idiagbon about rumors of a coup led by Babangida.Some sources say Vatsa was hesitant to go all out in repeatedly reporting his suspicions about Babangida’s moves because he did not want to be seen as lobbying for Babangida’s position as Army Chief.Nevertheless, this point proved to be a political albatross around Vatsa’s neck when he was later charged in December 1985 for the Vatsa conspiracy against the post-coup Babangida government.In what must surely count as a curious line of cross-examination, unconfirmed reports say he repeatedly evaded questions about whether he had reported rumors of Babangida’s coup plot to Buhari when Buhari was in power as the legal Head of State! If true, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this line of questioning may have been designed to demonstrate that he had apriori personal animosity or what Nigerians call “Bad Belle” against his classmate and rival, Babangida.Such arbitrary behind the scene arguments- along with other long standing interpersonal dynamics and pressure from some middle belt officers in the caucus, citing the Dimka trial of 1976 – may have contributed to his execution in March 1986.Indeed, in a newspaper interview in January 2001, Babangida said: “Despite the fact that he was my friend, play mate and course mate, he had to be executed. Vatsa was like a scorpion in one’s pocket. If he had been retired he could still have planned a coup from outside…”

Investigating a successful coup is not easy.Some aspects are obvious but the trail of more detailed evidence (and names of convicts) that is usually left in the public domain after the official investigation of a failed coup attempt just is not there. Based, however, on multiple sources of information of varying quality, including conversations with a few of those who actually took part or directly witnessed the event, it is possible to reconstruct events to some degree, although the full picture may never be known.The investigation, however, is ongoing, and further details may well come to light in time to come – particularly if all the insiders go on truthful record in their memoirs, so that appropriate lessons can be drawn by future generations.
Some writers like to describe the August 27 Palace Coup as an unusually brilliant operation. However, the truth is that coups hatched at the level of Army or Defence Chiefs often succeed in history – although there have been some sensational failures like Venezuelan coup of April 2002 and the Soviet Coup of August 1991.In Pakistan, for example, beginning in 1951 with the Rawalpindi conspiracy, there have been ten coup attempts by the Army, four of which- all organized by Army Chiefs – were successful.Beginning with Lieutenant General Ibrahim Abboud of Sudan, there is a short list of successful coups in Africa specifically led by Army or Armed Forces Chiefs. These include Generals Houari Boumedienne (Algeria), Ibrahim Maïnasara Baré (Niger), Idi Amin (Uganda) and Abdul Rahman Siwar Al-Dahab (Sudan); as well as Colonel Mobutu (Congo), among others.
Having pre-positioned selected officers in strategic units since early 1984, it was not too difficult to formulate a plan for the coup de grace against Buhari.The plan was driven by the capabilities offered by penetration of key units – either for full mobilization or passive neutralization, aided to a large extent by the authority structure and prerogatives of the Office of the Chief of Army Staff.In other words, the means were in place and the motive had been fine-tuned.What was left was the opportunity.
Various sources claim that planning took place in Lagos, Minna and London.In Minna, capital of the home state of the COAS and principal location for the conspiracy, the Military Governor, Lt. Col. David Mark, allegedly provided cover, guest houses and other resources for such activity.Obviously the local Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Olurin, was not ignorant.Other sources say small groups of plotters and enablers also milled in and out of London – particularly around a certain apartment in Kensington.Lastly, under cover of a nationwide tour of military formations in July, General Babangida was said to have tied up loose ends.
Deception and PsyOps
Deception operations – targeted at the Nigerian Security Organization and psychological operations- targeted at the Nigerian public to undermine the legitimacy of the regime in the public eye, have already been discussed.The cynical manipulation of the diplomatic community in Lagos has also been alluded to.
Marabouts (particularly in the northeastern part of the country) were consulted to ensure the success of the August coup.However, the details are beyond the scope of this paper.
Millions of dollars were expended in preparations and activities linked to the September 11, 1973 coup against President Allende of Chile.Sponsors of the July 17, 1980 Cocaine Coup in Bolivia are said to have invested about $4 million into it.Coming closer to home, many will recall the problem Major PCK Nzeogwu had in Kaduna in January 1966 when he sent a military task force to Kano to physically get money from the Central Bank – only for Lt. Col. Ojukwu to detain the group. Nzeogwu suddenly found that in the event of a showdown with General Ironsi he had to keep the men paid, and fed.In other words, “troop welfare”, a key ingredient of morale, had to be organized.It was not enough to make revolutionary speeches on radio.
As the country has evolved over time, with a larger Army and more units to visit in coordinating treasonable activities, other nuances appear to have emerged such as the cost of travel, hotel, feeding, etc. for planners.As the society has become more corrupt and socially insecure, the role of money in helping reluctant officers or soldiers (or their wives and concubines) support the conspiracy has also crystallized in accounts of post-1970 plots.Obviously, questions from potential recruits like, “What would happen to my family if I die or I am caught?” need answers from recruiters.Then there is the problem of securing logistic items outside the Army chain of command – particularly if Intelligence operatives closely monitor the official system.
Specifically, in 1986, for example, it was alleged during the Vatsa Conspiracy Trial that late General Vatsa provided 100,000 naira as a first installment for the plot under cover of a “farm loan”.Even more recently, in December 2000, during controversial testimony before the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) sitting in Lagos, General Bamaiyi, former Army Chief, alleged that General Diya, former Chief of General Staff, provided two million naira for the aborted coup attempt against late General Abacha in December 1997.
Coming back to 1985, it has already been noted that some civilians were said to have provided funds for the August plot.But such sources of direct cash are not the only way money has been laundered in the past for such illegal operations.One other mechanism has been hypothesized by a knowledgeable insider to explain how money was passed through to the Commander of a critical Armoured unit in Lagos for odds and ends, recruitment and pacification.Allegedly, the Corps HQ revised the budget proposal for a new Officers Mess upward in many multiples beyond what was needed – knowing that the difference would be available in an operational imprest account for illicit activity.Among civilian contractors such a line item in the budget might innocently and naively be called “mobilization fee.”
Concept of Operations
A Dictatorship is like a poisonous snake.To kill it requires a direct hit on the head, not a body scratch or tail step.The basic concept, therefore, was to isolate and arrest the Head of State very early, disconnecting him from the chain of command; neutralize likely avenues of sympathetic resistance and simultaneously occupy vulnerable points such as Radio and TV stations, telephone exchange, police signals installations, airfields and civilian administrative establishments.Sources say General Buhari initially left Lagos for Daura for the Sallah break but then returned to Lagos, right into the jaws of the Tiger.
Although he had a stern image among civilians, the Chief of Staff(Maj. Gen Tunde Idiagbon) had gone from a Staff position as Military Secretary (1981-83) to that of COS, SHQ.Even before his tour of duty as Military Secretary, it had been a long time since he directly commanded troops.Therefore, he had no recent command link with or visceral connection to any viable body of troops that he could use to fight the plotters.This factor of prior command, also raised as an issue with Buhari, is not trivial. When President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was recently briefly overthrown, it was the crack paratrooper unit in which he had previously served that first dissociated itself from the plotters and began the process of returning him to power within 48 hours.
Nevertheless, Idiagbon had traveled out of the country on pilgrimage, and was, thus, one less major target to be bothered about.Indeed some sources say he was accompanied by Chief MKO Abiola (who was allegedly well aware of the plot and may have gone along for the pilgrimage as a form of deception and a source of intelligence).Other prominent military officers on the delegation allegedly included Generals Nassarawa, and Vatsa.Some sources claim that the NSO Boss, Alhaji Rafindadi was also in Mecca, but I have not yet been able to definitely confirm this because of conflicting accounts.
Certainly, none of the small neighboring African countries would want to risk offending the new regime by allowing Idiagbon use them for an opposed return – even if he had troops to use. Saudi Arabia (where Idiagbon was visiting) had no record of getting physically involved in military adventures outside the Middle East.In any case if they had any such inclination, the Buhari regime’s apparent actions against respected Moslem clerics like Alhaji Abubakar Gumi, and the Emir of Kano would be cause for pause.Nevertheless, it was helpful (as a back up) to have a few respected civilian Islamic scholars and Leaders from highly respected royal families in the far north, or their children in the Army, on the side of – or neutral toward – the coup.As for Britain, Nigeria’s former colonial master, it was clear that the Buhari regime could not expect any sympathy from that direction, after all the flap about Umaru Dikko and withdrawal of Ambassadors.
In the years since the coup, some have speculated that the coup would have been more difficult if Idiagbon was in the country.The truth is that if the Chief of Staff had been around (or if he returned unexpectedly as happened with Lt Col. Walbe in 1975 from Kampala), his arrest would likely have been handled in the usual way others had been handled in the past.Units of the Guards Brigade, which had already been penetrated, supplied guards at his residence.
Other officers deemed to be potentially hostile were to be arrested very early, by key conspirators, using various methods of subterfuge at just after H-hour – the specific time the operation was to begin – probably just after midnight.
The question of political and military timing, as always, was important.An elaborate military exercise was contrived at about that time, allowing the concentration of many Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Armoured Fighting vehicles (AFVs) at the Ikeja Barracks – which were actually on “standby” for almost a week before Babangida struck.Although the coup took place in the early hours of the 27th, much of the final mobilization actually started in the morning, between 8am and 9am, just before Mosque time on August 26, 1985, the Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir.Being Sallah Day, it would theoretically be least expected and alertness not at peak.The Eid-el-Kabir is the day when Muslims all over the world celebrate the conclusion of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). In most Muslim societies, it is the single most important religious day, celebrated by the slaughter of rams, merry making, exchange of gifts and visits. In Nigeria, it was and remains one of the major national holidays.
From Ikeja Cantonment, which had been designated as the main concentration point, task groups were to fan out all over the Lagos area, coordinating their efforts with those launched or on stand-by from other military barracks. Key officers congregated at the Armour HQ Battalion Officers Mess in the hours before H-hour.Drinks and food were freely available to assist bonding.
The designated Coordinating Center (or War Room) for coup activities on D-Day was the main hall of the Bonny Camp Visiting Officers guesthouse on Victoria Island in Lagos.Security for coup planners was provided mainly by elements of the 6th Guards battalion (supported by a Recce troop) placed on standby at the Camp.
Key fighting units in the federal capital area at that time belonged to the Brigade of Guards and Army HQ formations, although the 9th Mechanized Brigade based at Ikeja was (as had been the case in the past) close enough to be a factor.Fighting battalions at Owode, Ibadan, Okitipupa, Benin, Akure, Ilorin, etc were more remote but still a threat if they fell under command of hostile officers.Therefore, support of the entire leadership of the 2nd Mechanized Division, based at Ibadan, and its fighting Brigades (like the 4th and 9th) was essential. Abacha, Shagaya and Inienger were onboard.Indeed, shortly after midnight, early on the 27th, Brigadier Abacha and most of his Staff Officers at the Divisional HQ in Ibadan arrived in Lagos in a high-speed motor convoy and (other than one late comer) were the last vehicles allowed to go past the tollgate that night.
In Lagos, the Guards Brigade (under Lt. Col. Sabo Aliyu) comprised the Guards Garrison at Obalende (under Captain Maitama), 6th Guards Battalion in Bonny Camp (under Lt. Col Joshua Madaki), 123rd Guards Battalion at Ikeja (under Major John Y Madaki) and the 93rd Guards Battalion at Ojo.At Ikeja, the Corps HQ Armoured Unit (under Bulus) and 245 Recce Battalion (under Khobe) were on hand, within striking distance of the State House, where some of their subunits were already stationed on guard duty, like Trojan horses.
With the exception of the overall Commander of the Guards Brigade, Col. Sabo Aliyu, the commanding officers of the 6th, 123rd and 93rd Battalions as well as the Guards Garrison had all been recruited into the plot (or had switched sides, depending on one’s point of view).
From a military standpoint, the coup was basically a “cut off and kill” routine.One of the first acts of the operation, therefore, would be the closure of the TollGate along Lagos-Ibadan expressway, to cut the federal capital off along that axis.Seizure of the domestic, international and military wings of the Murtala Muhammed Airport was essential to prevent the Air Force from being able to deploy C-130 tactical transports for loyal troops – in addition to cutting off internal and external civil flights.In any case, the Chief of Air Staff at that time, Air Vice Marshall Ibrahim Alfa wasn’t hostile to the coup – although the same could not be said for some of his Air Officers Commanding. This concern is what motivated the 202 Armoured battalion in Kaduna (under UK Bello), for example, to deploy Armoured vehicles and park them in a blocking configuration right on top of the runway at the Air Force Base in Kaduna (as was the case in the movie “Power Play”).
The Lagos State Police Command HQ at Oduduwa Street, Ikeja G.R.A.and the National Police HQ (Kam Salem House) along Moloney Street were also to be secured to prevent the Police from being used as a surrogate mechanism for mobilizing loyal forces.
Naturally the Radio Station was a key target.The Duty Officer that day (Odoba) was from the Guards Garrison, whose commanding officer (Maitama) was onboard.Seizing the Station, therefore, would be a walkover.
Lastly, as noted above, Major General MC Alli (rtd) said the Palace coup was “received with press-inspired fanfare”.Expectations were for aggressive marketing of the coup by the Concord Group of newspapers in the transitional period before the new regime would settle down to control key state organs of propaganda.A retrospective re-read of news items in those newspapers in the first week after the coup suggests that such an undercurrent seems to have been in play.To supplement these arrangements, the unpopular Decree No. 4., originally promulgated with unanimity by the SMC, was to be tactically (but only temporarily) abrogated immediately to get buy-in from the strategic “Lagos-Ibadan” Press.
In the morning of August 26th, as Muslims were preparing to go to the Mosque for morning prayers on Sallah day at the Ikeja Cantonment, word came to key players at Tactical levels that the operation was a go, destined for that night.As the day progressed, therefore, strong indications emerged that something was about to happen.Efforts were, therefore, made by the C-in-C, the Commander, Brigade of Guards and the ADC to the C-in-C to find out details and prepare for eventualities.
Lt. Col. Sabo Aliyu, Commander of the Guards Brigade, reportedly kept asking his friend, course-mate and fellow Kano indigene, Lt. Col. H. Akilu, Director of Military Intelligence, if there was any truth to the rumors.They even attended mosque together that Sallah morning.Akilu reportedly assured Sabo Aliyu that it had been investigated and that there was nothing to fear.Part of the confusion, though, was caused by the deliberate“pseudo-false” rumor planted by Military Intelligence operatives to the effect that Colonel Aliyu Mohammed was planning “something” in reaction to his retirement and that soldiers should be ready for internal security to PROTECT the regime.However, in reality, this proactive rumor and game of smoking mirrors was intended as a pretext to allow the full mobilization of troops AGAINST the regime!
Nevertheless, both Major Jokolo (ADC to the C-in-C) and Col. Sabo Aliyu (Commander, Brigade of Guards) kept shuttling or calling back and forth between Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Ikeja seeking information and checking on the status of units, unaware that they were being monitored by Military Intelligence. Just after 9pm, riding together in Jokolo’s car, on a trip to Ikeja Cantonment, uncomfortably close in time to H-Hour, they were arrested at the gate by soldiers and subalterns from units under Majors John Y. Madaki and Maxwell Khobe, stripped and severely beaten.In fact shots were fired at the Mercedes car and its tires deflated.They were later taken and kept at the Officers Quarters in Bonny Camp – a makeshift transit detention point where, thereafter, they were joined by General Buhari, Ambassador Lawal Rafindadi and General Tunde Idiagbon when the latter returned to the country from Mecca a few days later.
In the meantime, earlier in the day, having failed repeatedly to get Brigadier Abacha, GOC, 2nd Division, on the telephone or by signal, Col. Sabo Aliyu sent Captain Maitama of the Guards Garrison on an errand to drive all the way to Ibadan.He was asked to speak to Abacha personally with a message from the C-in-C to clarify his position.The Captain (who was already part of the conspiracy anyway) returned to Lagos ‘empty handed’, with no reported contact with the GOC.
Similarly, the COAS (Babangida) ‘could not be reached’ by the C-in-C, having left Lagos for Minna, allegedly for Sallah. Needless to say, his Military Assistant – Major Aminu – whom he had left behind in Lagos to assist with coordination and operations could reach him although the Head of State could not.
By nightfall, therefore, the grim nature of the situation was clear to General Buhari. His COS, SHQ was outside the country in Saudi Arabia.His COAS was away to Minna and was not returning calls.Neither could he reach the GOC of the 2nd Division.The Commander, Brigade of Guards had disappeared, arrested at Ikeja. He could not even find his own ADC who had also been arrested.Theyoung Garrison Commander he had relied upon to deliver messages to Ibadan suddenly became scarce.The CO of the 6th Battalion at Bonny camp nearby, Lt. Col. Joshua Madaki*, was not on his side.The NSO had no fighting units of its own.The Chairman Joint Chiefs, General Bali, had no Army to command even if he wanted.The Minister of Internal Affairs, General Magoro, had no Internal Affairs Troops of his own either and was certainly not going to deploy Customs or Prisons Officers against the Army.Units from the 3rd Division, far away in Jos where Buhari held his last command before January 1984 were too far away – and as was to transpire later that evening, would shortly be without a GOC anyway.The die was cast and all that remained was for him to wait patiently, surrounded by soldiers from Guards Units of doubtful loyalty at the State House, Dodan Barracks, until daybreak when the curtains fell.The rug symbolizing the machinery of State had been pulled from under his feet.
*Note that there were two Madakis commanding Guards Battalions at that time.One was then Major John Y. Madaki, CO 123 Gds Bn at Ikeja, nicknamed “jungle expert” after he returned from a course in Malaya on Advanced Jungle Warfare and Combat Survival.He comes from a town called Gawu Babangida (renamed after General Babangida) in Niger State and is now a retired Colonel. The other was then Lt. Col. Joshua Madaki, Commanding Officer 6 Gds Bn Bonny Camp, who is from Southern Zaria area of Kaduna State, now a retired Major General.There was also a third Madaki in the Army, Col. Yohanna Madaki (rtd) who is now well known as a Lawyer but was at one point in charge of administration at the 2 Division HQ in Ibadan.
At H-hour, designated units in Lagos sped toward their objectives. Occupation of vulnerable points or fully mobilized standby status was allotted to officers and soldiers of 123rd Battalion, 245 Recce Bn, 201 Armoured HQ Battalion, the 6th battalion at Bonny Camp and the 93rd battalion at Ojo cantonment. The 123 Battalion (under Major J Madaki) in particular was crucial to securing the tollgate, Lagos State Police Command HQ at Ikeja and the International Airport, in addition to some key road junctions in the mainland area. Although most news reports and commentaries keep describing the August coup as bloodless, it was not.The platoon sent to the Lagos State Police Command HQ, on Oduduwa Street at Ikeja GRA opened fire without provocation at a group of Policemen killing an untold number in the process.
The 6th Battalion (under Lt. Col. Joshua Madaki) was charged with soft operations and standby on Lagos Island – including securing the eastern approaches to Victoria Island from Epe.The 93rd Battalion at Ojo set up similar observation points along the Badagry Road and in the Port area.
Armoured Vehicles and storm troopers from units commanded by Majors Khobe and Bulus were detailed to primarily move to the FRCN Station Ikoyi and State House Dodan Barracks (mainly Khobe), while also providing secondary support in depth to infantry units deployed to the Anthony, Oshodi and Ikeja areas (mainly Bulus).Civilians returning from late night Sallah parties in Surulere were startled to stumble into these vehicles along Western Avenue as they made their way their way to Lagos Island that morning.Just before crossing the Eko Bridge into Lagos Island, machine guns on some of the armoured fighting vehicles were even tested by shooting into the air, thereby unnecessarily creating panic. One soldier’s hand was later crushed by an armoured vehicle while trying to open the gate of Dodan Barracks at the launch of that phase of the operation.
At Dodan Barracks, four young Majors were detailed to arrest the Head of State.They were Majors Umar Dangiwa, Lawan Gwadabe, Abdulmumuni Aminu and Sambo Dasuki.They achieved this without much ado. In fact General Buhari was said to be waiting for them (some say watching events at the gate on close circuit TV) and allegedly gave orders to bewildered soldiers on the premises that the unusual early morning activities of those who came to arrest him were not to be disrupted.He accompanied his captors, initially to Bonny camp from where he was later moved (under House Arrest) to No. 1 Hawkesworth Road, Ikoyi. He was there for less than a week before being moved again, probably to a house in Benin-City. Meanwhile the official premises of the Head of State at State House, Dodan Barracks was ransacked and Buhari’s belongings looted by soldiers.
Assisted by an unopposed entry into the Radio Station contrived by the Guards Garrison Commander, Colonel Joshua Dogonyaro’s task was to make the crucial radio broadcast at 0600 bringing the regime of Major General Buhari to an end.
As daybreak progressed, coup coordinators at Bonny Camp established radio communication with all Divisions and Brigades in the country to obtain situation reports and pledges of loyalty in their areas of responsibility.General Babangida was then contacted in Minna to return to Lagos to take charge and arrangements made for a plane to go and fetch him.At this point bottles of champagne were opened to celebrate the coup.A quick meeting of key plotters took place at the Camp after which there was a further radio broadcast to the nation by Brigadier Sani Abacha at 1300, formally appointing Major General Ibrahim B. Babangida, erstwhile Chief of Army Staff, as the new C-in-C.
Analytically speaking, it is important to appreciate the deftness that went into the allocation of highly sensitive tasks in Lagos.Four different officers, all independently personally connected and fanatically loyal to the Chief of Army Staff, from three different Corps (Infantry – Aminu, Armour – Umar/Gwadabe and Artillery – Dasuki) were entrusted with the arrest of General Buhari. None had a direct command of their own on the ground at the State House. Theoretically mutually supporting, they were likely also intended (without realizing it) to be watching one another.The two officers with direct command of troops and armoured vehicles (Khobe and Bulus) were not entrusted with the arrest of the C-in-C or the radio announcement. Those entrusted with the Radio announcement (Dogonyaro and Abacha) were not entrusted with the arrest of the C-in-C.The CO of the 6th Battalion (Joshua Madaki) was placed on standby mainly in the Victoria Island area.Although trusted, the CO of the 123 Battalion (John Madaki) whose boys were in control of the Murtala Muhammed Airport into which Babangida was to fly back, had no tactical dominance of either the State House or Radio Station area of operations.In coming to Lagos Island from Ibadan to mingle with other plotters, Brigadier S. Abacha was not in a position to draw directly on his own troops from the 2nd Division at either the State House or the Radio Station.He was dependent on boys from the Brigade of Guards and the Armoured Corps (neither of which he had ever commanded) with no direct independent axis of personal loyalty to him – and his closest Brigade Commander at the 9th Bde, Lt. Col. J. Shagaya, was an IBB boy.In other words, Major General Babangida could fly back to Lagos from Minna confident that he would not be upstaged on arrival and arrested by ambitious fellow conspirators in a coup-within-a-coup as happened to Colonel Anthony Narriman in the movie “Power Play.”
Shortly after H-Hour, in Jos, the GOC of the 3rd Armoured Division, then Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim was arrested at home by a team of soldiers led by Lt. Col. Chris Abutu Garuba, then Commander, 34 Self Propelled Artillery Brigade, Jos.The second-in-command of the Recce Battalion at the Rukuba Cantonment, Major Musa Shehu, invited his Commanding Officer, Major Adesina, to a Sallah party at his house.Assisted by the Commander, 3 Div Signals, Major Shehu waited for Major Adesina – a serious and highly professional officer – to relax completely, comfortably sandwiched between two pretty hostesses.Then he called him outside for a “message”.When he came out he was arrested by a group of soldiers, and was even beaten in the process.Unlike his less fortunate colleagues in Lagos, he was not, however, stripped.
With these two key arrests, the 3rd Armored Division fell into the hands of pro-coup officers.No further resistance was anticipated.
Operations in Kaduna, base of the 1st Infantry Division, were straightforward.All the key brigades (Minna, Kano and Sokoto) were in the hands of officers sympathetic to the coup or neutral to it. The only excitement was the decision by Major UK Bello to deploy vehicles to block the runway at the AirForce Base.
Enugu, along with the entire 82 Division area of responsibility was quiet.The GOC, Brigadier YY Kure, was certainly not opposed to the coup.Those subordinate officers who were not foretold of the coup simply adopted a wait and see attitude.
Ibadan was quiet.As previously noted, the GOC, Brigadier S. Abacha was deeply involved in the plot. He left Ibadan shortly after H-Hour for Lagos with most of his Staff Officers.All his Brigade Commanders were onboard.The Bde based at Ikeja – under Shagaya – was active.The Bde in Benin – under Inienger – was on standby. However, the Military Governor of Bendel, Brigadier J Useni . took the extra step of making a public broadcast to “associate himself” with the developments in Lagos.
Upon arrival back to Lagos from Minna, Major General Babangida returned to the Flag Staff House, located in a cul de sac on Second Avenue, Ikoyi.It was at that time the official residence of the Chief of Army Staff.It was from this location that he made the following broadcast to the Nigerian people:
Fellow Nigerians,
When in December 1983, the former military leadership, headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, assumed the reins of government, its accession was heralded in the history of this country.With the nation at the mercy of political misdirection and on the brink of economic collapse, a new sense of hope was created in the minds of every Nigerian.
Since January 1984, however, we have witnessed a systematic denigration of that hope.It was stated then that mismanagement of political leadership and a general deterioration in the standard of living, which had subjected the common man to intolerable suffering, were the reasons for the intervention.
Nigerians have since then been under a regime that continued with those trends.Events today indicate that most of the reasons which justified the military takeover of government from the civilians still persist.
The initial objectives were betrayed and fundamental changes do not appear on the horizon.Because the present state of uncertainty, suppression and stagnation resulted from the perpetration of a small group, the Nigerian Armed Forces could not as a part of that government be unfairly committed to take responsibility for failure.Our dedication to the cause of ensuring that our nation remains a united entity worthy of respect and capable of functioning as a viable and credible part of the international community dictated the need to arrest the situation.
Let me at this point attempt to make you understand the premise upon which it became necessary to change the leadership.The principles of discussions, consultation and co-operation which should have guided decision-making process of the Supreme Military Council and the Federal Executive Council were disregarded soon after the government settled down in 1984.Where some of us thought it appropriate to give a little more time, anticipating a conducive atmosphere that would develop, in which affairs of state could be attended to with greater sense of responsibility, it became increasingly clear that such expectations could not be fulfilled.
Regrettably, it turned out that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance.Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions, only served to aggravate these attitudes.
Major-General Tunde Idiagbon was similarly inclined in that respect.As Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, he failed to exhibit the appropriate disposition demanded by his position.He arrogated to himself absolute knowledge of problems and solutions, and acted in accordance with what was convenient to him, using the machinery of government as his tool.
A combination of these characteristics in the two most important persons holding the nation’s vital offices became impossible to content with.The situation was made worse by a number of other government functionaries and organisations, chief among which is the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO).In fact, this body will be overhauled and re-organized.
And so it came to be that the same government which received the tumultuous welcome now became alienated from the people.To prevent a complete erosion of our given mandate therefore, we had to act so that hope may be rebuilt.
Let me now address your attention to the major issues that confront us, so that we may, as one people, chart a future direction for our dear country.We do not pretend to have all the answers to the questions which our present problems have put before our nation.We have come with the strongest determination to create an atmosphere in which positive efforts shall be given the necessary support for lasting solutions.
For matters of the moment which require immediate resolutions, we intend to pursue a determined programme of action.Major issues falling into this category have been identified and decisions taken on what should be done.
Firstly, the issue of political detainees or convicts of special military tribunals.The history of our nation had never recorded the degree of indiscipline and corruption as in the period between October 1979 and December 1983.
While this government recognises the bitterness created by the irresponsible excesses of the politicians, we consider it unfortunate that methods of such nature as to cause more bitterness were applied to deal with past misdeeds.We must never allow ourselves to lose our sense of natural justice.The innocent cannot suffer the crimes of the guilty.The guilty should be punished only as a lesson for the future.In line with this government’s intention to uphold fundamental human rights, the issue of detainees will be looked into with despatch.
As we do not intend to lead a country where individuals are under the fear of expressing themselves, the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree 4 of 1984 is hereby repealed.And finally, those who have been in detention under this decree are hereby unconditionally released.The responsibility of the media to disseminate information shall be exercised without undue hindrance.In that process, those responsible are expected to be forthright and to have the nation’s interest as their primary consideration.
The issue of decrees has generated a lot of controversies.It is the intention of this government to review all other decrees.
The last twenty months have not witnessed any significant changes in the national economy.Contrary to expectations, we have so far been subjected to a steady deterioration in the general standard of living; and intolerable suffering by the ordinary Nigerians have risen higher, scarcity of commodities has increased, hospitals still remain mere consulting clinics, while educational institutions are on the brink of decay.Unemployment has stretched to critical dimensions.
Due to the stalemate, which arose in negotiation with the International Monetary Fund, the former government embarked on a series of counter-trade agreements.Under the counter-trade agreements, Nigerians were forced to buy goods and commodities at higher prices than obtained in the international market.The government intends to review the whole issue of counter-trade.
A lot has been said and heard about our position with the International Monetary Fund.Although we formally applied to the fund in April 1983, no progress has as yet been made in the negotiation and a stalemate has existed for the last two years.
We shall break the deadlock that frustrated the negotiations with a view to evaluating more objectively both the negative and positive implications of reaching a mutual agreement with the Fund.At all times in the course of discussions, our representatives will be guided by the feelings and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
It is the view of this government that austerity without structural adjustment is not the solution to our economic predicament.The present situation whereby 44 per cent of our revenue earning is utilised to service debts is not realistic.To protect the danger this poses to the poor and the needy in our society, steps will be taken to ensure comprehensive strategy of economic reforms.
The crux of our economic problems has been identified to centre around four fundamental issues:
1. A decrease of our domestic production, while our population continues to increase.
2. Dependence on import for both consumer goods and raw materials for our industries.
3. A grossly unequal gap between the rich and the poor.
4. The large role played by the public sector in economic activity with hardly any concrete results to justify such a role.
These are the problems we must confront.
Nigeria’s foreign policy in the last 20 months has been characterised by inconsistency and incoherence.It has lacked the clarity to make us know where we stood on matters of international concern to enable other countries relate to us with seriousness.Our role as Africa’s spokesman has diminished because we have been unable to maintain the respect of African countries.
The ousted military government conducted our external relations by a policy of retaliatory reactions.Nigeria became a country that has reacted to given situations, rather than taking the initiative as it should and always been done.More so, vengeful considerations must not be the basis of our diplomacy.African problems and their solutions should constitute the premise of our foreign policy.
The realisation of the Organisation of African Unity of the Lagos Plan of Action for self-sufficiency and constructive co-operation in Africa shall be our primary pursuit.
The Economic Community of West African States must be reborn with the view to achieving the objective of regional integration.The problems of drought-stricken areas of Africa will be given more attention and sympathy, and our best efforts will be made to assist in their rehabilitation within the limits of our resources.Our membership of the United Nations Organisation will be made more practical and meaningful.The call for a new International Economic Order which lost its momentum in the face of the debt crisis will be made once again.
Nigeria hereby makes a renewed request to the Non-Aligned Movement to regroup and reinvigorate its determination to restructure the global economic system, while we appeal to the industrialized nations to positively consider the debt plight of the developing countries and assist in dealing with the dangers that face us.We shall remain members of the various multilateral institutions and inter-governmental organisations which we belong to and do what must be done to enhance the membership and participation within them.
Fellow Nigerians, this country has had since independence a history mixed with turbulence and fortune.We have witnessed our rise to greatness, followed with a decline to the state of a bewildered nation.Our human potentials have been neglected, our natural resources put to waste.A phenomenon of constant insecurity and overbearing uncertainty has become characteristic of our national existence.
My colleagues and I are determined to change the course of history.This government is determined to unite this country.We shall not allow anything to obstruct us.We recognise that a government, be it civilian or military, needs the consent of the people to govern if it is to reach its objective.We do not intend to rule by force.At the same time, we should not be expected to submit to unreasonable demands.Fundamental rights and civil liberties will be respected, but their exercise must not degenerate into irrational expression nor border on subversion.
The War Against Indiscipline will continue, but this time, in the minds and conduct of Nigerians, and not by way of symbolism or money-spending campaigns.
This government, on its part, will ensure that the leadership exhibits proper example.Criticisms of actions and decisions taken by us will be given necessary attention and where necessary changes made in accordance with what is expected of us.
Let me reiterate what we said in 1984:This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country but Nigeria.We must all stay and salvage it together.This time it shall be pursued with deeper commitment and genuine sincerity.
There is a lot of work to be done by every single Nigerian.Let us all dedicate ourselves to the cause of building a strong, united and viable nation for the sake of our own lives and the benefits of posterity.
Finally, I wish to commend the members of the Armed Forces and the Nigeria Police for their mature conduct during the change.
I thank you all for your co-operation and understanding.
God bless Nigeria.

Behind the scenes, though, from the time of his return to Lagos continuing into the following morning, officers were horse trading and jockeying for positions in the new dispensation. The next day, at Dodan Barracks, coup planners and key storm troopers, along with a few co-opted officers met to discuss the initial shape, velocity and direction of the new regime. It was after this inner process of consultation that membership of the new AFRC, federal cabinet and council of states was announced. The IBB era had begun.
Most coups planned and executed by Army Chiefs have succeeded in history but, as was noted earlier, there have been some spectacular failures.Passing reference was made to the Soviet and Venezuelan coup attempts of 1991 and 2002.However, what transpired in Ethiopia in May 1989 is well worth recalling in some detail.
In February 1989, during the Ethiopian civil war, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, with support from the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front, launched an attack against the town of Inda Silase in western Tigray, nearly annihilating a 20,000 man Ethiopian force. This forced a humiliating tactical withdrawal of Ethiopian units from much of the rest of Tigray province without a shot being fired. The embarrassment and frustration of this defeat was a major factor in a subsequent unsuccessful coup attempt against Lt. Col. Mengistu.On May 16, as he departed on a State visit to East Germany, the Armed Forces moved against him.Air Force General Fanta Belay, supported by the Air Force Chief, General Amha Desta, coordinated the coup.Those involved included the entire Ethiopian Army Headquarters Heirarchy led by the Chief of Staff, General Abiy Negussie.In addition to the Army Chief, the Commanders of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th revolutionary armies in the field took part.And yet it failed!Why?
It failed for several reasons.First the plotters failed to arrest Mengistu on his way out of the country or shoot down his plane – an error it is said, that resulted from miscommunication between two Air Force commands.Secondly, plotters assumed that opposition to Mengistu was universal in the Ministry of Defence.So they made the mistake of involving the Minister of Defence, Major General Haile Giorgis Habte Mariam in the scheme.While they were debating further measures in his office (such as whether or not to kill Mengistu now that they were in power), General Habte Mariam secretly alerted Mengistu’s political deputy, Fikre Sellassie Wogderes, who had not been arrested.Wogderes in turn alerted East German authorities as Colonel Mengistu’s plane began the final landing approach in their country.Mengistu landed, got his plane refueled and then turned around to return to Ethiopia to crush the rebellion.Meanwhile, aided by reliable intelligence from East German military advisers on the ground inside Ethiopia, Mengistu maintained surveillance on coup activities but the plotters did not know his whereabouts and movements.He also had the loyalty of the Presidential Guard, which, incredulously, had not been neutralized.Using the plane as a command center, Mengistu ordered the Presidential Guard, supported by militia units, to surround the Ministry of Defence, isolating the key plotters.Upon arrival he proceeded to detain the entire Ministry of Defence as well as the Commanders of the four Ethiopian Armies; grounded the Ethiopian Air Force and summarily executed hundreds of officers.The Commander of the 2nd Army, General Demissie Bultu, was beheaded.Needless to say, the decimation of entire generations of officers eventually led to the collapse of the Ethiopian war effort and Mengistu’s eventual fall from power two years later. But it shows that a ruthless despot can take on his entire defence establishment, aided by a few key personalities and critical units, supported by a foreign intelligence outfit.
In contrast, General Buhari of Nigeria was isolated early in the game in August 1985, and had no foreign intelligence outfit on ground to shield himself from the intrigues of Army Intelligence, which was able to cocoon itself from the prying eyes of the NSO.Like many Nigerian leaders before him, intelligence at his disposal from other sources was vague about the impending coup.He had no independent foreign security guard outfit either, and “sleepers” at battalion level had long undermined his control of the indigenous Brigade of Guards.Units he could rely on in Jos – particularly if he had chosen early enough to leave Lagos for Abuja – were neutralized. It is not clear either that he was cut out of the kind of ruthless protoplasm Lt. Col. Mengistu was made of.Otherwise, based on vague intelligence, with enough paranoia, he may well have moved pre-emptively against the Army, declaring a state of emergency, freezing movements and ordering massive redeployments, followed by a purge.
Spy Games and Body Guards
Other than the initial decisions to release politicians and accused drug peddlers, while repealing draconian decrees and throwing open the debate on an IMF loan, the new Babangida regime singled out the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO) for humiliation.Led by Deputy Inspector General of Police Mohammed Gambo, the dungeons of the NSO were thrown open to the Press and plenty of hay made out of its alleged abuses – even as arrangements were being quietly made for security reorganization that would later prove to be much more malignant.Its erstwhile Director, Alhaji Lawal Rafindadi, not particular popular within the organization anyway, was detained for three years.
Decree No. 27 of 1976 had originally created the NSO after the failure of the so-called Dimka coup in which General Murtala Muhammed was killed.The Inspector General of Police at the time, MD Yusuf, explained to the then C-in-C, Lt. General Obasanjo, that the Police Special Branch could not legally conduct intelligence operations within the military in parallel to Military Intelligence.Although the Special Branch was highly effective in civil society in collaboration with the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs, he suggested the creation of a new, less compartmentalized agency – the NSO – to take direct and coordinating responsibility for domestic and international intelligence and security.Because the initial objective was to specifically enhance intelligence within and about the military, the first Director appointed was Brigadier Abdullahi Mohammed.Recalled from his position as former Military Governor of Benue-Plateau, he was a member of the clique that removed General Gowon from power in July 1975.He was also a former Military Intelligence operative who served as General Staff Officer II (Int) and later Director of Military Intelligence at various times from 1966 to 1975.He serves the current civilian government of President Olusegun Obasanjo as the Chief of Staff in the Presidency.
In 1979, however, President Shagari appointed Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, a sophisticated Policeman and Lawyer with a background in Intelligence and Interpol, to the position.Thus the original rationale for the creation of the NSO and intent for the position to be held by military officers, parallel to military intelligence, got lost between the cracks.
When General Buhari came to power, he appointed a career diplomat, Ambassador Rafindadi to the post, further confusing issues – although the Ambassador obviously had some strengths on the external intelligence front, having previously served in the “special intelligence unit” of the Ministry of External Affairs. But as Buhari’s relationship with the military deteriorated, the relationship between Rafindadi and the military (specifically Aliyu Mohammed, Babangida and Akilu) correspondingly deteriorated, amplified by his peculiar background as a “bloody” civilian diplomat, intensely personal loyalty to Buhari and image as an upstart in the domestic intelligence community.His lack of previous military service later proved to be a disadvantage when Military Intelligence began playing games – complicated by internal NSO purges he carried out which cost the organization the service of some very highly qualified and experienced Shinkafi-era operatives.
Piqued by the pervasive nature of its operations, including wire taps which allegedly even recorded telephone conversations made by his daughter, Babangida’s first instinct when he came to power was to crush the organization.But as Blair noted in the movie “Power Play”, the new regime soon discovered that it too would need a security apparatus.In June 1986, therefore, following an inquest led by Umaru Shinkafi, Babangida finally issued Decree Number 19, disbanding the NSO (under Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed and Lt. Col. AK Togun) and decentralizing Nigeria’s security community.Three new organizations were codified.They were:
1. The State Security Service (SSS) responsible for domestic intelligence (under Ismaila Gwarzo and Lt. Col. AK Togun);
2. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for external intelligence and counterintelligence;
3. The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for military-related intelligence both outside and inside Nigeria (under Rear Admiral B. Elegbede and Colonel MC Alli).
They all reported to the Adviser for National Security and Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Board, Brigadier Aliyu Gusau Mohammed – who had himself been the first Director of the embryonic, some say experimental DIA under Buhari.
In the aftermath of the August coup, acutely aware of the way he had undermined Buhari, Babangida ensured that sensitive positions in the military were occupied by hand-picked officers who were either “IBB Boys” or apolitical types with no known membership of other client networks within the Army.He did not risk performance evaluation driven random (or not so random) assignment from the Office of the Military Secretary under the COAS, then Major General Sani Abacha.A good example was the way the new Officer Commanding the 6th Guards Battalion in Bonny Camp was selected to replace Lt. Col JM Madaki who had been elevated to the Command of the Brigade of Guards.JM Madaki had been a reliable ‘IBB Boy’ not only during the coup against Buhari but also during the coup against Shagari back in 1983.And so Major Tobias Akwashiki, a pleasant apolitical officer who was in the process of making arrangements to take up a new assignment as a Battalion commander in Minna was personally approached outside normal military channels by the new C-in-C’s ADC and offered the command of the sensitive6th battalion.As things happened, this ‘opportunity’ almost cost him his life on trumped up charges during the Vatsa conspiracy trial.
This method of personalizing Army appointments and extracting debts of appreciation was to become a pattern in the years to come.But it did not stop there.Babangida knew he had to build a wall around himself to insulate the regime from the same Army he had used so skillfully to undermine others.In addition to a liberal policy of patronizing pay-offs (also known as “settlement”) he, therefore, toyed with creation of new paramilitary organizations such as the National Guard.This was commanded until he left office in 1993 only by the likes of his most intimate loyalists like Gwadabe and Aminu, for example.He invited Israeli security experts to help him train personal security men at Ojo cantonment.The Ministry of Internal Affairs under Col. Shagaya was encouraged to maintain an independent Security and Civil Defence Force.Indeed, Babangida even granted the Minister of Internal Affairs the authority to arrest and detain suspects without trial, independent of the Chief of General Staff and the Inspector General of Police.He also resuscitated the old concept of a Lagos Garrison Command.Subsequently, in 1989, after a review by Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako, the Federal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (FIIB) was set up to replace the Directorate of Intelligence and Investigation of the Nigeria Police. Babangida also tried to decentralize (regionalize) the Defence HQ by relocating the Army, Air Force and Naval Headquarters to Minna, Lagos and Kano, respectively, a decision that was stoutly resisted by many retired officers who looked in bewilderment as he was systematically dismantling, disorienting and distracting the Defence establishment.The worst was yet to come, however.The Ministry of Defence HQ, housed in the historic Independence Building in Lagos was nearly destroyed in a mysterious fire. A C-130 Hercules aircraft accident – allegedly caused by fuel contamination – claimed the lives of approximately 150 middle ranking officers in September 1992.
In later years, when he became the C-in-C, General Abacha, having patiently understudied Babangida, acted in much the same manner when it came to stifling the Defence establishment.He purged the more dangerous coup addicts among his fellow IBB boys (whom he had never trusted anyway).He also defanged the National Guard but then later replaced it with the Special Bodyguard Unit and Strike Force, a well armed Korean and Libyan trained parallel security organization under his Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza.
Other consequences
The August 27 coup had other short and long term consequences.Former Army Chief General MC Alli is of the opinion that the Army, in collaboration with a vocal minority in the civil class, sold its soul to the highest bidder. The core coup planners, he says, “introduced an upcoming bunch of coup d’Etat practitioners, mostly junior officers of the rank of Major and below” whom he called “political officers or ‘militricians’.”The core membership of this curious group were known (as noted previously) as “IBB Boys”, a collection of characters whose relationship with the Boss varied from the intimate to the opportunistic. General MC Alli says membership of this exclusive club “opened all material and official doors to them. They were a hotchpotch of scramblers for notice, office and bootlickers with a convoluted understanding of their obligations to the constitution and the state. Loyalty to an individual was their credo, and self interest was their tenet.”
His eloquent characterization of the so-called “IBB Boys” not withstanding, I respectfully disagree with General Alli that the 1985 coup in particular “introduced an upcoming bunch of coup d’Etat practitioners, mostly junior officers of the rank of Major and below”.Many of the company grade officers of August 1985, particularly in Lagos, had already taken part in the coup against President Shagari in 1983.In other words they had already been “introduced” into the business – if it may be so called.Indeed the heritage of coup merchants of the 1980s can be traced back to 1966.Most of the subalterns of July 1966 were the main field grade officers of July 1975.Infighting among the original July 1966 coup cabal led to the February 1976 shoot-out – otherwise known as the Dimka coup.The field grade officers of July 1975 were the Brigadiers of 1983. Infighting among the Brigadiers of 1983 gave birth to August 1985.In other words, over a twenty-year period, the same group of officers and men provided the infrastructure for repeated coups and coup attempts and (knowingly or unknowingly) established a pipeline to sustain the tradition.
Beginning the day of, and shortly thereafter, details of what transpired on coup day became the stuff of conversations in officers messes and mammy markets all over the country.Many of the stormtroopers of August could hardly hold back from flaunting their “gallantry”.Tales of how this or that road junction was “seized”, or how the Police was “overrun”, or how civilians looked on in awe of Tanks on the move became the stuff of legends laced with hyperbole.Particularly disturbing though were bravado accounts of how specific officers were arrested, beaten and/or humiliated.Obviously, these officers, specifically Major General Muhammadu Buhari, Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim,Colonel Sabo Aliyu, along with Majors Mustafa Jokolo and Adesina, were luckier than the unfortunate Policemen at Ikeja who were killed and many of their military forebears in previous coups in Nigeria who were brutally murdered.And most could not have failed to recognize the fact that the notion of arresting, stripping, beating or killing senior officers – or looting their property – was not by any means new, as had been graphically demonstrated in the January and July rebellions of 1966.Those with even more distant memories will also recall that there were several discrete investigations of looting by Nigerian officers and soldiers during UN peacekeeping operations in the Congo from 1960-64. During the civil war, looting was common too.In December 1983, President Shagari’s personal effects and life long records were plundered after the coup.
But the culture of bragging about it publicly and toasting to such a serious assault on the ethos and value system of the military was bound to undermine the institution.It was followed by thinly disguised rewards for participants in the form of juicy political and military appointments. A few examples will suffice.
Major General Ibrahim Babangida became President and C-in-C and two years later, a full General.He “stepped aside” under tense circumstances in August 1993.Brigadier Sani Abacha was promoted Major General and became Chief of Army Staff, later Chairman, Joint Chiefs, Defence Minister and Head of State – as a full General.Colonel JN Dogonyaro was promoted Brigadier and became GOC, 3rd Armoured Division in Jos, and later GOC, 2nd Division, Ibadan.Although his desire to be Chief of Army Staff was frustrated by Babangida he later commanded ECOMOG in Liberia, as well as the tri-service Command and Staff College, and was Chief of Defence Staff (as a Lt. General) for about 24 hours in 1993 before Abacha outmaneuvered him.Colonel Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was recalled from retirement, promoted Brigadier, and became National Security Coordinator, later a GOC of the 2nd Division, Chief of Army Administration and much later, Chief of Army Staff under Ernest Shonekan as a Lt. General.He too fell out with General Abacha during the Abacha years.Lt. Col. Halilu Akilu was promoted Colonel, retained Directorship of Military Intelligence and became a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC).He remained a power broker and one time Coordinator of National Security until Abacha cynically redeployed him to command the uninspiring Army Resettlement Scheme at Oshodi in 1993, before booting him out of the Army altogether.
Lt. Col. Tanko Ayuba was promoted Colonel, later became a Minister for Communications and Kaduna State Governor. He eventually retired as a Major General. Lt. Col. David Mark was promoted Colonel, later commanded the Signals Corps, gained membership of the AFRC and also held the position of Minister for Communications.Following the emergence of General Abacha in 1993, retired Col. Mark escaped into exile for his own safety.Lt. Col. John Nanzip Shagaya was promoted Colonel and became Minister for Internal Affairs and later, as a Brigadier, GOC, 1st Division. He too, got the short end of the stick from General Abacha in 1993.He recently celebrated his 60th birthday, publicly announcing that he was proud to be called an IBB Boy.Lt. Col. Chris Abutu Garuba was promoted Colonel and became Governor of Bauchi for three years before returning to the Army to hold a string of good local and foreign appointments, eventually rising to the rank of Major General.Lt. Col. Raji Alagbe Rasaki was promoted Colonel and became Commander, Corps of Signals and later Governor of Ogun and Lagos. He was retired as a Brigadier.Col. Anthony Ukpo became a Federal Minister, later Governor of Rivers and then Principal Staff Officer to the President. He was retired as a Brigadier.Lt. Col Joshua M Madaki was made Commander, Brigade of Guards, promoted less than two years later to Colonel and later became a Governor of Plateau State. He was retired as a Major General.Major John Y. Madaki was initially left at the 123 Battalion, then later promoted Lt. Col. became Governor of Katsina State and later returned for two tours of duty as Commander, Brigade of Guards. He was retired as a Colonel.Major Abdulmumuni Aminu was promoted Lt. Col. and became Governor of Borno.After being cashiered as a Colonel in 1993, he found solace in the Nigerian Football Association.Major Lawan Gwadabe assumed Chairmanship of the National Shipping Line, was promoted Lt. Col., then became Governor of Niger State and later Commander of the embryonic National Guards before a stint as Chief of the Gambian Army, succeeding another IBB Boy, late Brigadier Abubakar Dada. He returned to Nigeria after the Yahya Jammeh coup in Gambia, was briefly PSO to General Abacha and later Commander of an Armoured Brigade in Yola.He was tortured, convicted and jailed for the so-called Gwadabe/Bello-Fadile conspiracy of 1995.
Major Abubakar Dangiwa Umar left the Federal Housing Authority to become Governor of Kaduna State and was later promoted Lt. Col. In the turmoil that followed the annulment of the June 12 elections in 1993 he was detained but not charged on suspicion of another coup conspiracy.He later resigned his commission – as a Colonel and Armoured Corps Commander.Major Mohammed Sambo Dasuki became ADC to the Head of State, but was later shepherded out of the country for Staff College training at Fort Leavenworth, followed by a US based degree program in part to insulate him from the wrath of General Abacha with whom he clashed.His father became the 17th Sultan of Sokoto under Babangida, only to be deposed later by General Abacha.As a Lt. Col., Sambo Dasuki was declared wanted in connection with the 1995 Gwadabe/Bello-Fadile conspiracy and found solace in Brunei.Major Maxwell Khobe was later promoted Lt. Col, and went on to distinguish himself during ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone, eventually dying from encephalitis as a Brigadier. Major UK Bello was later promoted Lt. Col and became ADC to the Head of State.He was killed during the so-called Orkar coup. In addition to these overt appointments, numerous not so overt appointments of junior officers into Federal Parastatals followed. Many other more discreet “IBB Boys”, like Buba Marwa, Zakare, Ogbeha, Dada, Hart, Daku, and others were also quietly rewarded.A “Caucus” of middle ranking officers was formalized outside the Armed Forces Ruling Council.This caucus was more powerful than the AFRC.Majors could decide the fate of Generals.
Not surprisingly, this arrangement badly affected the morale of the more regimented apolitical professional element in the military.It may be recalled that after the July 1966 rebellion then Lt. Col. M. Muhammed urged the innermost members of the conspiracy to keep sealed lips about what they had accomplished. Muhammed reminded them that coup plotting, even when allegedly forced by circumstances, was hardly honorable and did not have the moral status of a war against an external enemy.There was nothing, he remarked, to be proud about.But for the players of August, nearly 20 years later, such high-minded considerations did not rise to the level of consciousness.It was bad enough that many officers who were not involved thought the circumstances of and reasons for the coup were dubious at best.But coup planners and their collaborators broke bottles of champagne and toasted.In fact, in years to come they would repeatedly confront the authority of the traditional Army hierarchy and would one day arrogate to themselves the right to decide who could rule or not rule Nigeria.
Anyway, cracks within the coup merchant family of ‘IBB boys’ appeared many years later.General Abacha, instrumental to the annulment by Babangida of the June 12, 1993 election that might have resulted in the assumption of the Presidency by Chief MKO Abiola, turned on many of his former fellow coup conspirators.He first did so during a series of deft purges in August 1993 (Dogonyaro, Aliyu Mohammed, Akilu, JY Madaki, etc..) and then later when, tipped off by Colonel Shuaibu,he arrested and/or declared a group of officers wanted on charges of conspiracy to overthrow his government in March 1995 (Gwadabe, Dasuki, Bulus, Mepaiyeda etc..). Interestingly, therefore, ten years after the events of August 27, 1985, most of the officers who carried out the coup and toasted their success with champagne were in exile, had died, been jailed, retired or dismissed from the military.General Abacha also deposed the 17th Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, who, some people felt, had been installed by General Babangida over the wishes of the Kingmakers.In June 1998, General Abacha himself died in furtive circumstances, followed soon after by Chief MKO Abiola.
In May 1999, shortly after taking office as Nigeria’s new President, Olusegun Obasanjo, as part of an uphill task to re-professionalize the military, purged the Armed Forces of most of the few remaining IBB and Abacha Boys. On account of lobbying and informed political hesitation, however, a few former personal assistants to key figures in those regimes remain within the establishment. Given the depth of professional decay over the years, combined with clouds over the political horizon, insightful observers and military historians continue to hope that the Nigerian Military’s re-professionalization effort will not merely prove to be a reenactment of the myth of Sisyphus.
The Vatsa Conspiracy
Going back to 1985, the initial resentment within the military against the August coup created the climate for later came to be known as the Vatsa conspiracy. Shortly after Major General Vatsa’s return from Mecca, Lt. Col Musa Bitiyong of AHQ visited him.A conversation allegedly developed, primarily driven by moral outrage about what had happened – and perhaps, as alleged by some, irritation (on the part of Bitiyong) that such a huge scheme had transpired right under his nose in Army Headquarters without his knowledge.Armed with Ministry of Defence documents which allegedly would have formed the basis of a probe by the defunct Buhari government into high level corruption in the military, Bitiyong contacted Lt. Col. Mike Iyorshe, a Directing Staff at the Command and Staff College.Iyorshe, a brilliant, patriotic, idealistic and highly professional officer – perhaps one of the best of all time – was deeply disturbed by the threat of professional decay in the Armed Forces heralded by the events of August.By his own account, he was worried by what seemed to be emerging as a cycle of repeated coups carried out by the same characters for reasons that often had little to do with the national or institutional interest.
Although he had never supported the idea of coup making, Col. Iyorshe became disenchanted with what he observed as a worsening and possibly irredeemable professional situation for the Nigerian Armed Forces.Another highly respected apolitical officer, Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim, former GOC of the 3rd Armoured Division, who became his boss at the Command and Staff College after the coup, had been arrested and humiliated – and would later describe the Army as an Army of “Anything goes”.But the straw that allegedly broke the camel’s back and pushed him into the “Vatsa conspiracy” was the looting, by Nigerian soldiers, of General Buhari’s official residence.
Iyorshe allegedly hooked up the third member of the inner triad of the so-called Vatsa Conspiracy, Lt. Col. Christian Oche, then Colonel GS at the Military Intelligence HQ, with Bitiyong.Sources suggest that Oche, like many officers, was already quietly ambivalent over the turn of events.He had served in Supreme Headquarters under Major General Idiagbon as a Staff Officer for Intelligence and Security. In this position he was privy to confidential documents – which General MC Alli has obliquely mentioned – regarding plans by the former government for a defence probe and some decisions – which General Buhari has since confirmed – that had already been taken.Therefore, Oche regarded the August take-over with skepticism right from the outset.Unconfirmed reports say that any doubts he had were eroded by two factors.First it is said that his Boss, Colonel Akilu, directed him to establish surveillance over the very officers who had just carried out the coup which brought Babangida to power, noting that just as they had successfully removed Buhari, they could also remove Babangida.Second, there was apparently a chance meeting with Chief MKO Abiola at the FlagStaff House in Lagos just after the coup.Apparently, two very senior officers present told Abiola that Oche was the officer who carried out the seizure of newsprint and may have had a hand in the controversial cocaine investigation when Buhari was in power. As these two senior officers laughed, Abiola allegedly rebuked him for allowing himself to be ‘misled’ by the Buhari-Idiagbon dyad.Sources claim Oche did not find it funny.
The so-called Vatsa conspiracy was compromised early in its evolution by a mole and aborted in mid December 1985.On March 5, 1986, following confirmation of sentences handed down by a court-martial, Major General Mamman J Vatsa and nine others were shot.They were Lt. Col. Musa Bitiyong, Lt. Col. Christian A. Oche, Lt. Col. Michael A. Iyorshe, Major D. I. Bamidele, Commodore A. A. Ogwiji, Wing Commander B. E. N. Ekele, Wing Commander Adamu C. Sakaba, Squadron Leader Martin Olufolorunsho Luther, and Squadron Leader A. Ahura.
In years to come, however, what primarily drove the conspiracy – the threat of another cycle of destruction of the Nigerian military as a professional organization – came to pass.Several other officers were imprisoned and hundreds of fine officers, most with no connection to the conspiracy whatsoever, purged.Lt. P. Odoba, the young Guards officer who graduated from the Nigerian Defence Academy in June 1983, and, as a Duty Officer at the Radio Station, witnessed two coups in 20 months was also jailed, bringing his career to an end.It was alleged that his uncle, Lt. Col. Christian Oche, tipped him off about the so-called Vatsa conspiracy in early December 1985.
The Vatsa Conspiracy
of 1985
By Nowa Omoigui, (MD, MPH, FACC)

In Nigeria, beginning in the wee hours of December 17th, 1985 and extending for the next two weeks, over one hundred airforce, army and naval officers were arrested enmasse for allegedly plotting to overthrow the 4 month old government of Major General Ibrahim Babangida who had himself come to power on August 27, 1985 in a palace coup against Major General Buhari.
After a Preliminary Special Investigation Panel chaired by Brigadier Sani Sami, selected cases were forwarded for court martial. Beginning on Monday 27th January 1986, 17 officers were tried at the Brigade of Guards HQ in Victoria Island, Lagos, by a Special Military Tribunal.
The Tribunal was convened by Major General DY Bali, then Minister of Defence and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, under the Treason and other offences (Special Military Tribunal) Decree No.1 of 1986 with reference to Section 37(2) of the Criminal code. Separately, Brigadier Malami Nassarawa, Wing Commander J Uku, and Lt. Peter Odoba were also tried on different charges.
Squadron Leader Effanga and Wing Commander Ekanem were discharged and acquitted in a no-case submission.The Tribunal comprised Major General Charles B. Ndiomu (Chairman), Brigadier Yerima Y Kure, Commodore Murtala A. Nyako, Colonel Rufus Kupolati, Group Captain Anthony Ikhazobor (later replaced by Colonel Opaleye when Lt. Col Bitiyong objected to his presence), Lt. Col. D. Mohammed and Alhaji Mamman Nassarawa (Commissioner of Police).
There were two waiting members, namely Col. E. B. Opaleye (until he replaced Ikhazobor), and Lt. Col. M M Bukar. The Judge Advocate was Major A. Kejawa.
The prosecution team comprised Colonel Lawrence Uwumarogie, Major N N Mazda, Major B Makanju, and Captain Y. A. Ahmadu. The trial was conducted under the watchful eyes of the military intelligence directorate headed at that time by Colonel Akilu.
The following were accused: Major-Gen Mamman Vatsa, Lt. Col. Musa Bitiyong, Lt. Col. Christian A. Oche, Lt. Col. Michael A. Iyorshe, Lt. Col. M. Effiong, Major D. I. Bamidele, Major D. E. West, Major J. O. Onyeke, Major Tobias G. Akwashiki, Captain G.I.L. Sese, Lt. K.G. Dapka, Commodore A. A. Ogwiji, Wing Commander B. E. N. Ekele, Wing Commander Adamu C. Sakaba, Squadron Leader Martin Olufolorunsho Luther, Squadron Leader C. Ode and Squadron Leader A. Ahura.It was alleged that the plot was financed by General Vatsa using the cover of a farming loan to Lt. Col Musa Bitiyong.
General Vatsa denied any intent that monies he had given to Bitiyong were meant for that purpose, but Bitiyong allegedly shared some of it for travel expenses with two other accused officers and was said (at a meeting in Makurdi, which Vatsa did not attend) to have promised to get more from the source when it became obvious that funding a coup in Nigeria would require much more than the 10,000 naira he allegedly had at his disposal (As of 1985, it was said that a coup would require no less than 50-100,000 naira to implement).
However, at no point in time did Vatsa actually meet with or discuss coup plotting or financing with anyone-else. Indeed, other than Bitiyong, who had a close relationship with the General, the other alleged key conspirators, I am told, never viewed themselves as working for or on behalf of Vatsa, although for lack of funds, two of them reluctantly accepted using part of the “farm money” for odds and ends.
Sources say, however, that Vatsa maintained to the very end that the money was for farming. Others allege, however, that after being tortured for two days, Bitiyong implicated Vatsa by making reference to certain private political conversations they had, which Vatsa denied. But Vatsa was accused of harboring “bad blood” against his friend and classmate Babangida, dating back to the Buhari regime and possibly earlier. He was also obliquely accused of reporting Babangida’s coup plot to Buhari before he left the country for pilgrimage along with Major General Tunde Idiagbon in August.
Actions he later took as a Minister to accelerate many military applications for certificates of occupancy for land in Abuja, came to be viewed as efforts to buy support among one or two of the plotters. Then rumors that a civilian had introduced him at a party as Nigeria’s next President were even aired. All of this is of course circumstantial. But they took him to the stake, which was quite an anti-climax to the career of a brilliant man who (until then, if the government is to be believed) never took part in any coup in Nigeria.
Indeed, Mamman Vatsa was the first to go on air in Calabar to denounce the Dimka coup and was later the Secretary of the Obada panel that tried Dimka and others in 1976. This little detail may have earned him some latent enmity in certain circles of the Army which later contributed to his death.Very briefly, the basic outlines of the alleged Vatsa conspiracy of 1985, as one can glean from publications and interviews is as follows: Lt. Col. Musa Bitiyong, based in Lagos, held a discussion [about the removal of Buhari] when General Vatsa came back from Mecca in August 1985.
Bitiyong urgently sent for Lt. Col Iyorshe to come down from Kaduna in September 1985. The young Captain who acted as an innocent go-between was later charged but acquitted. Bitiyong then presented Iyorshe with documents alleging serious acts of impropriety against certain personalities in the new régime with regards to army and defence equipment maintenance contracts.
Being the puritanical, very professional and highly moralistic officer he was, the usually unflappable Iyorshe got upset. In October he discussed the matter further with Lt. Col Oche of military intelligence who also allegedly revealed other allegedly incriminating documents related to trafficking, particularly as it affected the release of some persons who had previously been detained by the Buhari regime.
Concerns then emerged about the long-term threat of the new regime to the military as a disciplined professional fighting organization and the country as a whole, through the legitimization of serial coups in which the same characters always featured. It was felt that Nigeria deserved better and that the armed forces should be saved from corruption and professional decay. This basic concern for professional ethos was amplified by concerns that the new regime intended to take the IMF loan and plunge the country into poverty. As Lt. Col Iyorshe, reportedly put it:
“What I personally feel is that the nation itself needed a better deal. There have always been people whose only ambition is to lead, not serving any national interest. There has always been individual, tribal or business rights, never the rights of this nation to a better image; social, economic, political and military programs and plans. Nigeria deserves a group of people or leaders transparently honest enough to publish all their assets and liabilities on the pages of newspapers for the world to see. Not a nation where anybody will be allowed to have a foreign bank account let alone the millions stored away. The nation should be such that any Nigerian regardless of his tribe or religion will have the right to aspire to the leadership or rulership of the country”.

”Nigeria was fast sinking to a state of despondency and anarchy. They never and still never trust their leaders. The anarchy at our airports characterises the state of the nation. Corruption is rife in this country and transcends all spheres of life. It is something the nation has to solve. Professional incompetence and mediocrity are rewarded whereas hard work is mocked.Within the military, the situation was and still is very tense. The welfare of soldiers is totally neglected such that soldiers still live in batchers over ten years after the civil war; no uniforms, no drugs in the hospitals; soldiers are being subjected to too much guard duties, little or no chance to themselves and their families. The discipline in the army in particular was deteriorating rapidly as exemplified by the report of what happened in Lagos on August 27th, 1985.The question of leadership was not discussed quite seriously, but it was with one exception, felt that the army had always dominated leadership. This was not an issue anyway as there were no solid plans regarding such things, the method of operation and the question of finance. I never considered myself for any higher military or political appointments. In fact, at first, all of us believed that if we succeeded, some senior officers of honesty would be called to rule. Personally up till quite recently, I never believed that coups solve any problem or else Bolivia would be paradise on earth. But then things seemed to get worse and worse.”

What Col. Iyorshe was referring to by “the report of what happened in Lagos on August 27th, 1985” is the fact that soldiers who took part in the coup that brought General Babangida to power looted the personal property and possessions of General Buhari in Lagos. What he did not mention, however, was that a similar thing took place when President Shagari was overthrown by Buhari and others in December 1983. Many of his life long priceless records and possessions have never been found to this day.
In part because of the concern that the Army’s armored corps was packed with officers loyal to the new regime, certain air force officers were then contacted (Martin Luther/Ben Ekele) and two meetings held, one informal meet in late November at the Sheraton Hotel Lobby in Lagos (Luther, Oche, Ogwiji, Bitiyong) and the other at a guest house in Makurdi (Iyorshe, Bitiyong, Oche, Ekele, Sakaba, Bamidele).
Aside this, Iyorshe and Bitiyong are said to have met a few times either in Lagos or Kaduna but there (reportedly) were no other meetings involving others. Ogwiji, who was a Naval Officer, was invited (without prior knowledge) to the Sheraton meeting by his friend Oche. However, no operational role was defined or envisaged for the Navy. According to sources, the meeting was focused on political criticisms of the regime. Although conceivably seditious, no operational coup plans were discussed. Ogwiji made no further contacts with anyone.
At the Makurdi meeting, the potential role of the airforce was discussed. The technical limitations preventing the use of either the MiG 21 or the Sepecat Jaguar in a ground attack role to neutralize pro-regime armored vehicles at the Ikeja Cantonment in Lagos were made clear by Ben Ekele (and supported by Adamu Sakaba) who advised the army boys that the air force could not play any useful role. This discussion was, however, taken out of context and the public told that the conspirators planned to destroy Lagos.
Before the meeting ended, Sakaba, who had supposedly been invited by his friend Ekele, even floated a totally fake competing coup plot (using the names of a group of officers) to which he said he belonged, as a decoy to dissuade the others in the group from proceeding. Aside this, it was obvious that the group had no troops on the ground in Lagos, although the theoretical possibility existed that Iyorshe could use demonstration troops at the Command and Staff College in Jaji.
Hence the meeting broke up with no concrete operational plan nor was there any agreement to use force although some key elements (notably Iyorshe, Bitiyong and Oche) continued to monitor the national situation as well as investigate the so called “Group of Brigade Commanders” Sakaba had told them about.
The Army at that time was awash with rumors of coup plots by different groups. Everyone was watching everyone. The bragadaccio and ‘compensation’ of the “boys” who carried out the August 27 operation did not help the morale of serious minded officers.
Separately, other isolated discussions were held between certain officers. Wing Commander Uku, for example, potentially attractive on account of his command of the Alpha Jets at Kainji, repeatedly refused to be drawn in and strongly advised against air force participation. This fine officer was later charged with and jailed for concealment because he did not report the attempt to recruit him.
Ideas such as the diversion of the Presidential jet to a pre-arranged location by Pilots in the Executive Fleet (like Luther and Ahura) were floated in other isolated conversations between some officers in Lagos. This scenario posited arresting the C-in-C and confronting him with allegations after which he would be asked to resign. But, again, no actual plans were made.
Oche allegedly met with Majors Akwashiki and Onyeke after a game of squash in Lagos and discussed national issues like the IMF loan, possibly to evaluate their suitability for recruitment. But he never actually mentioned planning a coup with either officer.
Akwashiki was still sentenced to death anyway, only to have his sentence commuted by the ruling council. Some people claim incredulously that he was punished for not knowing he was being recruited by those who felt he owed them his sensitive position as the Commander of the 6th Battalion, Bonny Camp. He was later pardoned and released back to private life almost ten years later by a successor regime.
Oche allegedly mentioned the existence of a conspiracy to his nephew, Peter Odoba, a young lieutenant at the Guards Brigade who then reported to a colleague of his, then Lt. (later Major) Al Mustapha, then Intelligence officer to the Chief of Army Staff. Oche’s nephew was, however, later charged with concealment and recommended for dismissal and a long jail term.
Conflicting accounts abound about the precise nature of links between Iyorshe, Bamidele, West and Effiong, all based in the Kaduna/Zaria area. Iyorshe and Bamidele were executed. Effiong’s death sentence was commuted. Bamidele’s case raised an interesting side dilemma of how an officer (Bamidele) reported a coup plot in 1983 to his boss (Buhari) only to get arrested and charged for plotting.
Then he saw this same boss who arrested him emerge as Nigeria’s new leader a few months later after a coup. The same officer (Bamidele) was then shot for allegedly knowing of and participating in another coup 2 years later without reporting to his boss. These, among many other areas are subject to future research, the memoirs of direct participants or the release of actual investigative, court and AFRC records, not publicly available at this time.
Eventually, Major-Gen Mamman Vatsa, Lt. Col. Musa Bitiyong, Lt. Col. Christian A. Oche, Lt. Col. Michael A. Iyorshe, Major D. I. Bamidele, Commodore A. A. Ogwiji, Wing Commander B. E. N. Ekele, Wing Commander Adamu C. Sakaba, Squadron Leader Martin Olufolorunsho Luther, and Squadron Leader A. Ahura were executed on March 5, 1986.
The late Brigadier Malami Nassarawa’s case was very curious and unfortunate. As Commandant of the School of Infantry, he was reportedly arraigned for allegedly plotting a separate coup of his own. When absolutely no evidence was adduced for that charge, he was accused of “insufficient loyalty” and then accused of conduct prejudicial to discipline, and then dismissed from the Army. Then he was retried, and again acquitted. His acquittal was upheld by the AFRC/PRC.
Nevertheless he still languished in jail for many months with deteriorating health until his release was ordered by the Joint Chiefs Chairman. Someday his case definitely will make for an interesting movie.
In his landmark contribution to Nigerian military literature, titled “The Federal Republic of Nigeria Army”, a former Army Chief, Major General MC Alli, wrote:
“The soldier poet and poultry farmer, the peoples’ General Mamman Vatsa, a minority of Nupe extraction from Niger State of Nigeria, allegedly masterminded the coup of 1986. It falls into the same category with General Babangida’s coup [against Buhari]. It was motivated by an initial resentment immediately after the overthrow of General Buhari. It cannot entirely be divorced from the incipient rivalry that lay latent between Generals Vatsa and Babangida, both from Niger State and of a common alma mater”
”…No major tribe of regional group of political import can be identified. Its conspirators comprised a motley of minorities of diverse background with a rallying point clubbed around General Vatsa’s charisma. Curbed in the embryo and tried in secrecy, their subsequent execution left understandable incredulity and doubt in the nobility of the regime it sought to overthrow”.
”…It failed because a mole compromised it. The conspirators did not fall within the mainstream of the Army’s stock of professional coup merchants and artisans. Furthermore the regime of General Babangida had consolidated its tentacles on the network of national power through generous patronage and populist posturing. This explains his audacity in executing General Vatsa, notwithstanding national and international appeals for reprieve”.
”General Babangida told me he was personally grieved by the insinuation that he executed the plotters because they were largely Christians. The pressure to execute them arose from the Plateau officers’ axis. Their officers had been victims of the same military tradition and laws..[i.e. during the Dimka coup of 1976].”
”However, Babangida himself has gone on to make additional comments clarifying why they were shot. During an interview with Eni-B of THIS DAY Newspapers in 2001 shortly after he turned 60, this is how (according to Eni-B) General Babangida justified the execution of General Vatsa and others in 1986:
“…Babangida said it was after Vatsa’s coup was foiled that he realised his childhood friend and classmate planned the coup in line with a deep-seated personal rivalry, going back to their days as young officers. He said that unconsciously he and Vatsa had been great competitors; that as a young officer, whatever he did Vatsa equally did and whatever Vatsa achieved, he also went after. He said it was Lt. Gen. T.Y. Danjuma who pointed this out to him from their military records”.
”Babangida gave this rationalisation to justify why he could not pardon Vatsa. He said when he first heard his childhood friend was planning a coup, he decided to do nothing but monitor him. He said however that Vatsa came to him to complain thus, “You heard I was planning a coup and couldn’t even ask me. What kind of friend are you?” To this Babangida said he replied thus, “I didn’t believe it or are you planning a coup?” He said Vatsa replied in the negative and the matter was forgotten until there was evidence of the plot. He said he instructed that Vatsa be arrested and detained so as not to allow him impede investigation”.

“However, he tried to escape through the air condition hole. I couldn’t understand why he was trying to escape if he was not involved in a coup plot,” Babangida said. He added with a frown, “But while watching the video of his execution, I turned my eyes away when I saw him remove his watch and ask a soldier to give his wife. I couldn’t continue watching.” He said he couldn’t retire or imprison Vatsa because he believed the guy could still have planned a coup either in retirement or in prison. “Rawlings did it in Ghana and you know Vatsa was very stubborn,” he said.”
At this juncture, given the paucity of public information, one can only provide a limited perspective. Hopefully someday, all the official records will be released.
The execution of Mamman Vatsa and others on March 5, 1986 was the first time the charge of ‘conspiracy to commit treason’ was being punished with the death sentence in Nigeria.
Until then ‘conspiracy’ in independent Nigeria had always been classified as a “treasonable felony” rather than “treason”. It attracted long prison sentences such as was the case with Chief Awolowo and others in 1962/63 and Bukar Mandara in 1982. Planning or conceptualizing a coup was not regarded as the same as actually carrying it out (as was the case with Dimka and others in 1976).
It may be argued whether the conspiracy proceedings that led to the execution of Banjo, Ifeajuna, Alale and Agbam in 1967 in Biafra fall into this category.
This legal issue needs to be clarified as are related matters regarding the protections of rights of persons undergoing military courts martial as guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution which is supreme. Too many injustices have been swept under the carpet.
Other than the officers executed and jailed, many were retired or dismissed arbitrarily some for merely being neighbors to those convicted, others for being “too serious”. Others had their names splashed across TV screens in Nigeria as suspects in a burst of pre-coup trial propaganda, only for their innocence to be later established behind closed doors. The decimation of the principled element of the officer corps was relentless but, thankfully, never really completely succeeded. The fiscal and human resource loss to Nigerian society was also immense.
Many of the officers executed were of the highest caliber in the military, had required years of expensive training to produce, and were looked upon as models of professional military excellence. Like the C-130 crash that occurred some years later, it was a national tragedy. In furtherance of the climate of suspicion between the regime and the core military, some military services were defanged. The systematic destruction of the Air Force, for example, started with those executions.
Training and arming were severely curtailed. Even elementary items like jet fuel supplies to Air Force Bases were monitored and became centrally controlled. Until the advent of civil rule 13 years later in 1999, the air force did not get a chance to rebuild and reprofessionalize. What little serious professional activity took place occurred in the setting of Liberian and Sierra Leonean operations.
In the army, officers became increasingly suspicious of one another and esprit de Corps was undermined – just as the military was beginning to emerge from the terrible events of the late sixties and the hiccup of 1976.
“Settlement” became the order of the day. Lt. Col. Mike Iyorshe’s worst fears came to pass. The decay was later captured in public comments made by former Army Chief General Saliu Ibrahim, himself initially a suspect in the rash of arrests back in 1985 when he was head of the Army faculty at Jaji . The “Rawlings” rationalization for the executions in spite of pleas for clemency is short sighted. Houphouet Boigny, for example, never one day executed anyone for planning a coup against him.
The regime may have felt the executions sent a message to future conspirators and would deter coups and secure the project. But it did not. A very violent attempt took place in April 1990 and the spokesman for that effort cited the executions of Vatsa and others in 1986 as one of several reasons.
The experience of the Vatsa conspiracy trial and aftermath, among others has led some serious observers, like General MC Alli, to appeal to the government to establish a “coup commission” to look back into the crypts of our national history and exorcise some ghosts.
Lastly, the practice of holding on to corpses of executed servicemen, burying them enmasse, and denying family burial rites is antithetical to African culture. I, for one, have appealed before and will appeal again that the remains of those shot over the years for real and imagined coups should be returned to their families for proper burial after forensic identification. Then the healing can begin.
The Orkar Failed Coup of April 22, 1990
Part 1
By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC
Shortly after dawn broke on April 22, 1990, the following broadcast was heard over the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in Lagos:
“Fellow Nigerian Citizens, On behalf of the patriotic and well-meaning peoples of the Middle Belt and the southern parts of this country, I , Major Gideon Orkar, wish to happily inform you of the successful ousting of the dictatorial, corrupt, drug baronish, evil man, deceitful, homo-sexually-centered, prodigalistic, un-patriotic administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. We have equally commenced their trials for unabated corruption, mismanagement of national economy, the murders of Dele Giwa, Major-General Mamman Vatsa, with other officers as there was no attempted coup but mere intentions that were yet to materialise and other human rights violations.
The National Guard already in its formative stage is disbanded with immediate effect. Decrees Number 2 and 46 are hereby abrogated. We wish to emphasise that this is not just another coup but a well conceived, planned and executed revolution for the marginalised, oppressed and enslaved peoples of the Middle Belt and the south with a view to freeing ourselves and children yet unborn from eternal slavery and colonisation by a clique of this country.
Our history is replete with numerous and uncontrollable instances of callous and insensitive dominatory repressive intrigues by those who think it is their birthright to dominate till eternity the political and economic privileges of this great country to the exclusion of the people of the Middle Belt and the south.
They have almost succeeded in subjugating the Middle Belt and making them voiceless and now extending same to the south. It is our unflinching belief that this quest for domination, oppression and marginalisation is against the wish of God and therefore, must be resisted with the vehemence.
Anything that has a beginning must have an end. It will also suffice here to state that all Nigerians without skeleton in their cupboards need not to be afraid of this change. However, those with skeleton in their cupboards have all reasons to fear, because the time of reckoning has come.
For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state the three primary reasons why we have decided to oust the satanic Babangida administration. The reasons are as follows:
(a) To stop Babangida’s desire to cunningly, install himself as Nigeria’s life president at all costs and by so doing, retard the progress of this country for life. In order to be able to achieve this undesirable goals of his, he has evidently started destroying those groups and sections he perceived as being able to question his desires.
Examples of groups already neutralised, pitched against one another or completely destroyed are:
(1) The Sokoto caliphate by installing an unwanted Sultan to cause division within the hitherto strong Sokoto caliphate.
(2) The destruction of the peoples of Plateau State, especially the Lantang people, as a balancing force in the body politics of this country.
(3) The buying of the press by generous monetary favours and the usage of State Security Service, SSS, as a tool of terror.
(4) The intent to cow the students by the promulgation of the draconian decree Number 47.
(5) The cowing of the university teaching and non-teaching staff by an intended massive purge, using the 150 million dollar loan as the necessitating factor.
(6) Deliberately withholding funds to the armed forces to make them ineffective and also crowning his diabolical scheme through the intended retrenchment of more than half of the members of the armed forces.
Other pointers that give credence to his desire to become a life president against the wishes of the people are:
(1) His appointment of himself as a minister of defence, his putting under his direct control the SSS, his deliberate manipulation of the transition programme, his introduction of inconceivable, unrealistic and impossible political options, his recent fraternisation with other African leaders that have installed themselves as life presidents and his dogged determination to create a secret force called the national guard, independent of the armed forces and the police which will be answerable to himself alone, both operationally and administratively.
It is our strong view that this kind of dictatorial desire of Babangida is unacceptable to Nigerians of the 1990’s, and, therefore, must be resisted by all.
(b) Another major reason for the change is the need to stop intrigues, domination and internal colonisation of the Nigerian state by the so-called chosen few. This, in our view, has been and is still responsible for 90 percent of the problems of Nigerians. This indeed has been the major clog in our wheel of progress.
This clique has an unabated penchant for domination and unrivalled fostering of mediocrity and outright detest for accountability, all put together have been our undoing as a nation.
This will ever remain our threat if not checked immediately. It is strongly believed that without the intrigues perpetrated by this clique and misrule, Nigeria will have in all ways achieved developmental virtues comparable to those in Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, India, and even Japan.
Evidence, therefore, this cancerous dominance has as a factor constituted by a major and unpardonable clog in the wheel of progress of the Nigerian state. (Sic) It is suffice to mention a few distasteful intrigues engineered by this group of Nigerians in recent past. These are:
(1) The shabby and dishonourable treatment meted on the longest serving Nigerian general in the person of General Domkat Bali, who in actual fact had given credibility to the Babangida administration.
(2) The wholesale hijacking of Babangida’s administration by the all powerful clique.
(3) The disgraceful and inexplicable removal of Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Professor Tam David-West, Mr. Aret Adams and so on from office.
(4) The now-pervasive and on-going retrenchment of Middle Belt and southerners from public offices and their instant replacement by the favoured class and their stooges.
(5) The deliberate disruption of the educational culture and retarding its place to suit the favoured class to the detriment of other educational minded parts of this country.
(6) The deliberate impoverishment of the peoples from the Middle Belt and the south, making them working ghosts and feeding on the formulae of 0-1-1- or 0-0-0 while the aristocratic class and their stooges are living in absolute affluence on a daily basis without working for it.
(7) Other countless examples of the exploitative, oppressive, dirty games of intrigues of its class, where people and stooges that can best be described by the fact that even though they contribute very little economically to the well being of Nigeria, they have over the years served and presided over the supposedly national wealth derived in the main from the Middle Belt and the southern part of this country, while the people from these parts of the country have been completely deprived from benefiting from the resources given to them by God.
(c) The third reason for the change is the need to lay a strong egalitarian foundation for the real democratic take off of the Nigerian state or states as the circumstances may dictate.
In the light of all the above and in recognition of the negativeness of the aforementioned aristocratic factor, the overall progress of the Nigerian state a temporary decision to excise the following states namely, Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi states from the Federal Republic of Nigeria comes into effect immediately until the following conditions are met.
The conditions to be met to necessitate the re-absorption of the aforementioned states are as following:
(i) To install the rightful heir to the Sultanate, Alhaji Maccido, who is the people’s choice.
(ii) To send a delegation led by the real and recognised Sultan Alhaji Maccido to the federal government to vouch that the feudalistic and aristocratic quest for domination and operation will be a thing of the past and will never be practised in any part of the Nigeria state.
By the same token, all citizens of the five states already mentioned are temporarily suspended from all public and private offices in Middle Belt and southern parts of this country until the mentioned conditions above are met.
They are also required to move back to their various states within one week from today. They will, however, be allowed to return and joint the Federal Republic of Nigeria when the stipulated conditions are met.
In the same vein, all citizens of the Middle Belt and the south are required to come back to their various states pending when the so-called all-in-all Nigerians meet the conditions that will ensure a united Nigeria. A word is enough for the wise.
This exercise will not be complete without purging corrupt public officials and recovering their ill-gotten wealth, since the days of the oil boom till date. Even in these hard times, when Nigerians are dying from hunger, trekking many miles to work for lack of transportation, a few other Nigerians with complete impunity are living in unbelievable affluence both inside and outside the country.
We are extremely determined to recover all ill-gotten wealth back to the public treasury for the use of the masses of our people. You are all advised to remain calm as there is no cause for alarm. We are fully in control of the situation as directed by God. All airports, seaports and borders are closed forthwith.
The former Armed Forces Ruling Council is now disbanded and replaced with National Ruling Council to be chaired by the head of state with other members being a civilian vice-head of state, service chiefs, inspector general of police, one representative each from NLC, NUJ, NBA, and NANS.
A curfew is hereby imposed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. until further notice. All members of the armed forces and the police forces are hereby confined to their respective barracks.
All unlawful and criminal acts by those attempting to cause chaos will be ruthlessly crushed. Be warned as we are prepared at all costs to defend the new order.
All radio stations are hereby advised to hook on permanently to the national network programme until further notice.
Long live all true patriots of this great country of ours. May God and Allah through his bountiful mercies bless us all.”

As is fairly typical with military rebellions, by the time this broadcast was being made on the radio waves, much had already transpired over the course of the night – and more violence was to come before it was eventually crushed about 12 hours later.
In the days preceding the rebellion, seeing as planners felt that the plot had leaked, military retirees were hurriedly recruited, predominantly from Benin City in then Bendel state. They then mostly made their way to Lagos unobtrusively in public transportation.
The uprising reportedly began at about 12.30am on April 22 when, having met for final briefing, allegedly by Major S. Mukoro at a civilian warehouse in Isheri/Ikorodu area (allegedly owned by Great Ogboru), the storm troopers farmed out to their destinations. Mukoro, a Military Police officer with a PhD in Law, was at that time the Military Assistant to the Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans (DASP), a position second only to the Chief of Army Staff at Army Headquarters.
This insider leverage as a staff officer in the headquarters may have given him “reach” in putting the plot together. But it was also reported by newspapers that such was the degree of compartmentalization ensured by Major Mukoro during the recruitment phase that many of the plotters met for the first time that night. Nor did they rely on normal military transportation. Instead they had civilian J-5 buses provided to shunt them around.
The first task under the circumstances was to secure weapons. This they accomplished by first taking control of an armory at the military police dominated barracks at Apapa. A Sergeant apparently accomplished this crucial first phase. He then arrested Colonels Ajiborisha and Odaro both of whom were transported to Ojo cantonment and detained along with Major Said who was then commanding the Army HQ provost battalion at Ojo. [All these officers were later rescued].
Next, subgroups headed for the FRCN radio station, Bonny camp, Dodan Barracks, Ikeja cantonment and Ojo cantonment primarily to get additional heavy caliber weapons and active duty soldiers as well as seize these locations as they boot-strapped the operation. There are unconfirmed reports, for example, that the armory of the 126 Guards Battalion at Bonny camp was “liberated” by a small group of ex-servicemen led by Major Orkar himself. Then there is the interesting angle of the case of one Lt. Obasi (who later escaped). He allegedly went to a guardroom where some soldiers were in detention for various unit offences and released them to participate. Most did but some did not.
Some of the plotters were already pre-positioned on routine guard duty at both the radio station and Dodan Barracks (formerly State House, Ribadu road) – the seat and home of the President. Lt. Okekumatalo of 123 Infantry Battalion was on duty at the Radio Station.
2/Lt A. B. Umukoro, was also on Armoured corps official duty at the radio station but was not initially involved in the plot. Lt Okekumatalo arrested him and most of his armored guard detail. Thereafter, Major Mukoro gave the arrested armoured corps officers a pep talk and recruited most of them into the scheme.
Thus, with Okekumatalo’s inside job, the Radio Station proved to be a walkover initially for Major Mukoro, Lt. Col Nyiam and Captain Empere who secured the use of one of the fully armed armored vehicles there. Lt. Col Nyiam has been projected in the Press as being primarily responsible for the seizure of Dodan Barracks and the arrest of the President but he has never confirmed this. When the assault on Dodan Barracks began he had reportedly already been in and out on a ‘routine’ visit to old friends and was rumored to have been engaged in a game of draught with the President’s ADC. Those who know will hopefully someday reveal the details of how it was all contrived.
Publicly available accounts, however, suggest that at the start of the operation, one Lt. Uchendu reportedly grabbed an armored vehicle from the State House and drove to the radio station. This may have been the commotion that first alerted Babangida’s household. When he arrived there, he and Umukoro were then sent back (by Major Mukoro) in a convoy to attack the residential quarters at Dodan Barracks.
The shelling of the State House apparently followed the shooting death of Lt. Col. UK Bello after he had openly identified himself as the ADC to the President. Captain Empere (who was actually a Military Police officer) reportedly took one of the armored vehicle co-conspirators had secured from the radio station at Ikoyi back to Ikeja cantonment and used it (almost single handedly) to practically take over the cantonment, which froze in awe, paralyzed by the element of surprise and the ferocity of the shooting.
He is said to have shot at and maneuvered around all opposition until he ran out of fuel. His main target, however, which was to get a hold of keys to the Main Battle Tank transit shed, failed. This failure to secure control of or neutralize the main battle tanks (such as the T-55s) and get additional light tanks at Ikeja cantonment is thought to be the primary reason the coup eventually failed because those same Tanks were later used to provide superior firepower in support of loyal troops when General Abacha bounced back.
Captain Dakolo on the other hand was reportedly an instructor at the Army Depot in Zaria. However, he had only just been posted there from the 123 infantry battalion at Ikeja cantonment. Thus he was quite familiar with many of the soldiers in the battalion. On the night of the coup, therefore, he was able to approach the cantonment gate without suspicion whereupon he allegedly opened fire on the guard detail. Some soldiers reportedly fell, dead or dying, while others fled. The bus (or buses) carrying other conspirators thus drove into the cantonment without resistance. Incidentally, an innocent officer (of similar ethnic/state background) who just happened to be passing by got into an argument over what had just transpired and was also allegedly summarily shot.
Newspapers further reported that one Major Edosa and a Capt Tolofari of the Military Police reportedly led the initial seizure of Ojo cantonment. They both escaped when in the early hours of daylight they started losing control.
The assault on Dodan Barracks was in two phases. First, several Tanks deployed on the grounds were technically demobilized through the removal of firing pins. Later, the assault on the main living quarters (using infantry and two armored vehicles from the radio station driven by 2/Lts Umukoro and Uchendu) began.
Earlier, when certain movements were noticed, the ADC to the President, Lt. Col Usman K. Bello came out to investigate. Without any supporting crew, he reportedly tried to climb into one of the Tanks which, unknown to him, had already been disabled. Having realized that he was in no position to use the Tank he came out, and tried walking alone, wearing mufti, toward the radio station, only to be summarily shot in circumstances that have never been fully clarified.
The details of what really transpired at the State House have since become a source of minor controversy. During an interview with the Vanguard on Sunday Feb 25, 2001, General Babangida (rtd) was quoted as saying: “I had a routine and I went up, I was just about dozing when my wife said something was happening and from my window I saw it all. I wasn’t frightened. I was a soldier and I took my rightful place on that fateful day. It was, however, my wife and children who found the whole incident horrifying. ..”I have been at the war front and I know what it means. I have escaped a lot of ambushes. In fact, there are a lot of pellets in my body. What I have gone through in life has toughened my heart. So, there is no question of fear, in fact it doesn’t come in..”.
More recently, General Babangida revealed on Galaxy Television, Ibadan that one Captain Kassim Omowa insisted on him leaving or being evacuated from Dodan Barracks. He is quoted as saying: “Omowa insisted that he would fly me out. But on each mention, I told him no because he was too junior to command me……But the young man said: “I am here to do my job. So I must move you out of this place.”
According to Babangida, Omowa evacuated him via a secret channel to a location (ostensibly a private residence in Surulere) “where I was for some days while the heat remained.” Babangida did not shed light on other accounts that he was physically “knocked down” or “grabbed”, smuggled via the Ribadu back gate and maze of adjoining buildings and compounds, tucked inside a Volkswagen beetle and hidden at the National Arts Theater, Iganmu from where he made contact with Abacha and others.
It has also been reported that one of his bodyguards was later captured by the plotters but did not betray his location. None of this has been confirmed by authoritative sources.
Babangida’s former Chief Press Officer, Chief Duro Onabule, however, went public with another version last year. According to him, while commotion was brewing, Babangida “remained calm in the sitting room. All pleas for him to leave the place by the security staff failed, he simply refused. Even when the shots were coming closer from Obalende side, he still would not leave. As I said, he remained calm under the fire, but the saving grace was his wife, who physically dragged him out, and I mean physically dragged him out. Even then, IBB did not leave the premises, he stayed at the gate of Dodan Barracks; all pleas for him to leave the place, he refused. When the pressure mounted, he then asked the security people, who were asking him to leave, ‘okay I appreciate your concern, but if I am to leave, how about these poor boys defending me,” so he stayed there, until the whole thing was brought under control. Before he then left for the house.”
Regarding the death of Lt. Col Usman K. Bello, Lt. Col. Gabriel Anthony Nyiam, formerly of Nigerian Army Engineers, then a Directing Staff at the Command and Staff College, Jaji, and the most senior officer involved in the uprising, (who is said to have been Col. Bello’s course mate and personal friend) was quoted in an interview with the Sunday Vanguard Newspaper published on April 16, 2000:
“Let me state clearly, may the soul of U.K. Bello rest in peace. It’s sad that U.K Bello had to die because he was in effect used by IBB as a distraction and the poor chap was misled to be pushed out of Dodan Barracks that night, when Babangida already knew that there was danger. Babangida used U.K. Bello as a bait.”
But slightly over a year later, with a slightly different spin, on Friday 17th August, 2001, it was reported in the same Vanguard newspaper interview noted above that Chief Duro Onabule, former Chief Press Secretary to President Ibrahim Babangida, told correspondent Paul Odili that Babangida “was as usual receiving visitors late into the night, but just as the last visitor left, he heard one gun fire. Maybe that was a signal for the coupist to commence operation, but he was the one who first got to know. And he summoned his ADC (U.K. Bello) and demanded to know what was going on; the ADC said nothing sir.’ He told him ‘don’t be stupid son,’ something is going on, go and find out. And the ADC came back to report that they were under attack. Of course, the duty of ADC was to counter whatever attack against them.”
LAGOS…Flag Staff House
Flag Staff House in Ikoyi, Lagos, (now called Defence House) had traditionally always been the official residence of the GOC, Nigerian Army and later the Chief of Army Staff. However, when he added the title of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff to his Army title, Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha held on to the residence. This was the position when the coup plotters struck in the early hours of the morning of Sunday, April 22, 1990.
As was his usual nocturnal practice Lt. General Sani Abacha was wide awake but busy with ”extra-curricular rest and recreational activities” at a guesthouse nearby. Thus, when the plotters (led by one Lt. Ogboru of Military Police, then a Law student at Uniben) arrived at his official residence he was not available.
A quick follow-up check at his nearby guesthouse (which they were aware of) was unproductive because although they fired heavily upon the guards and building they did not do a room-to-room mopping up operation. Abacha was inside, alive and well. This lack of close quarter follow-up probably saved his life – and the regime.
The late Abacha’s first son (the late Ibrahim) is rumored to have driven to find his father at the guesthouse once the plotters left. With mayhem around him, Abacha reportedly deliberated calmly for about 10 minutes, calmly got dressed and emerged (in mufti) with two Uzi submachine guns – one of which he handed over to his son whom he noticed was carrying a “mere” pistol.
Thereafter, Abacha ordered his son to sit in front as the driver of a civil Peugeot 504 while, he, Sani, the Army chief, sat as the right side front seat passenger. Two security operatives occupied the back seats. Then, in what was clearly an extremely dicey move, Abacha ordered his son to drive back to the Flag Staff House where Abacha gave orders to secure the perimeter.
At that point he knew that the plotters had not cut off telephone lines nor had they disrupted nationwide army signals networks, so he began making phone calls to other service chiefs and more specifically, Army commanders in Lagos (particularly Bonny Camp and Ikeja Cantonment) and other parts of the country to get information, alert those who were ignorant of unfolding events, convince those who thought he had been neutralized that he wasn’t, and secure pledges of loyalty.
Like a pilgrimage, officers later began trooping to the Flag Staff House to account for themselves and declare loyalty. Once fairly confident of the localized nature of the threat, he then gave firm orders that the coup was to be resisted at all costs. There is word that some officers specifically sought confirmation about Babangida’s state of health before clearly committing themselves to Abacha’s destiny in those tense and uncertain early hours. Others simply ran away or lay low.
As word got around that both Abacha and Babangida were indeed alive, galvanized by the curious and unprecedented “expulsion” of certain ‘far’ northern states on radio, confidence was restored, wills stiffened, and officers and units that would otherwise have been disposed to take a “wait and see” attitude or perhaps even run away, tilted toward the regime.
Once armored vehicles at Ikeja were firmly under the control of pro-Abacha elements, Ikeja cantonment was retaken (by Brigadier Ishaya Bamaiyi) and the push to regain control of all other major military barracks in the Lagos area began. A young Lt. of the Recce battalion, for example, led the operation that went to Ojo cantonment to rescue those officers detained there.
In mustering troops to retake Dodan Barracks and the radio station, the 126 guard infantry battalion at Bonny camp under Lt. Col Ghandi Tola Zidon, the 9th infantry Brigade under Brigadier Ishaya Bamaiyi, and the Recce unit at Ikeja (armed with Scorpion Tanks, Panhard armored cars and some Main Battle Tanks in transit to other locations in the country) reportedly formed the spearhead. They were supported by key AHQ elements like the Corp Commander, Artillery, Brigadier Chris Abutu Garuba and the Director of Armor, Colonel Abubakar Dada both of whom placed additional units within and outside Lagos on standby in case the need arose.
Lt. Col. GT Zidon in particular was said to be familiar with Major GG Orkar, a fellow middle belter. It is said that he dressed in tracksuit and jogged his way to the radio Nigeria station in Ikoyi to chat him up and lull him into a false sense of security while actually using the opportunity to conduct an appreciation of the troop and weapon strength and disposition of the plotters.
Having done so, he later returned with troops, supported by armor, to flush them out from the radio station. I have no independent official confirmation of this newspaper account.
But to those familiar with the history of coups in Nigeria, the Abacha-Zidon-Orkar liaison, if true, was a similar – but not identical – replay of the Danjuma-Babangida-Dimka liaison of 1976 and the Ironsi-Nwawo-Nzeogwu liaison of 1966. In each case an officer friendly with the coup spokesman went to him on behalf of the Army Chief making arrangements to crush him.
The first attempt to reach and dislodge the coupists at the radio station was carried out by a group of soldiers from the 126 Battalion Bonny camp reportedly led by one Lt. Jalingo. They were repulsed near the Obalende bridge flyover, by 2/Lt Umukoro in an armored vehicle. At least one soldier died in the hail of co-axial MG fire. The others were later co-opted at gunpoint by Major Mukoro and made to make mini-broadcasts in pidgin English and vernacular, praising the coup.
Even though Orkar, Nyiam, Dakolo, and Idele, all principal plotters, were either based in Jaji, near Kaduna, or Zaria, the April 22 plotters made no concrete arrangements to neutralize units outside the Lagos area – probably because of the stage of planning at which it was preemptively launched as a contingency to avoid arrest (according to Nyiam). The coup plan was predicated on the presumption that once Babangida and Abacha were out of the way and Lagos units neutralized, the regime, based as it was on these “twin godfathers”, would implode like a pack of cards.
Nevertheless, in seeking to crush the plot, prevent a domino effect, and reestablish the authority of the federal military government, Lt. Gen Abacha reached for all operational elements in all Army divisions all over the country directly (by phone) and indirectly through resident State Governors.
What transpired in the 1st Division is the most detailed account publicly available.
In Kaduna, the GOC 1st Div, Major General Ike Nwachukwu was on leave. His Colonel GS, (and acting GOC) Colonel Mohammed Dansofo began contacting Brigade Commanders in the 1st Div area of responsibility (Kano, Sokoto and Minna).
In this manner he contacted the most senior officer in the Division, then Colonel Mohammed Chris Alli, Commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade in Kano, for guidance. Dansofo knew then that there was a coup in progress in Lagos but did not know who was involved or its political coloration. The Kano State Governor, Colonel Idris Garba and Lt. Col Lawan Gwadabe calling in from Lagos also independently contacted Alli. It was not long before Orkar’s broadcast on radio Nigeria resolved any initial confusion about the putsch. All Brigades were placed on full standby combat alert and all passes cancelled. Based on a dictation made over the phone by Col. MC Alli, Col Dansofo made a counter-broadcast on Radio Kaduna thus:
“We of the 1st Infantry Division disassociate ourselves from the coup and its aims and affirm our loyalty to the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.”
MC Alli also made an unambiguous broadcast to the people of Kano dissociating his Brigade from the Orkar announcement in Lagos.
In Jos, Enugu and Ibadan, the GOCsn apparently issued a similar radio message but at least one announcement by one GOC was allegedly vague, avoiding the specific mention of Babangida as C-in-C by name, pledging generic loyalty only to the “Federal Military Government” rather than the regime. Some pundits later interpreted this omission as a cunning, “wait and see” safeguard in case the coup eventually succeeded.
The Orkar Failed Coup of April 22, 1990
Part 2
By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC

After the radio station in Lagos was regained by loyal troops, there was a brief announcement by Lt. Col. GT Zidon followed by the following broadcast by Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha:
“I, Lieutenant-General Sani Abacha, Chief of Army Staff, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, have found it necessary to address you once again in the course of our nation’s history. In view of the unfortunate, development early this morning, I’m in touch with the CGS, Service Chiefs, GOCs, FOCs, AOCs, of the armed forces and they have all pledged their unflinching support and loyalty to the federal military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who is perfectly safe and with whom I am in contact.
“Early this morning there was sporadic firing by a few disloyal and misguided soldiers in some isolated parts of Lagos, followed by an embarrassing radio broadcast.
“Fellow Nigerians, you will all agree with me that the reasons given for this grave misconduct are significantly motivated by greed and self-interest. The soldiers involved decided to constitute themselves into national security nuisance for no other cause than base avarice.’
‘Most of these disloyal elements have been arrested and are already undergoing interrogation. The remaining dissidents are advised in their own interest to report to the nearest military location and hand over the arms and ammunition in their possession. All formation and unit commanders are hereby directed to exercise effective command and control. “At this stage, let me reiterate our commitment to pursue vigorously the transition programme. No amount of threat or blackmail will detract the federal military government’s attention in this regard. We are set to hand over power to a democratically elected government in 1992. I wish to assure all law-abiding citizens that the situation is now under control and people should go about pursuing their lawful interest.
“Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Thank you.”
A broadcast was also made by President Babangida:
“Fellow Nigerians, I salute you all, first and foremost, let me assure you further that the unfortunate situation of this morning in some parts of Lagos has been brought under control by loyal troops as earlier stated by the chief of army staff and chairman, joint chiefs of staff, Lieutenant-General Sani Abacha with whom I have been in contact and he is with me this evening.
“I also want to seize this opportunity to commend all members of the Nigerian armed forces the Nigeria police and security agents for the gallant and professional manner the situation was contained.
“Let me also congratulate the civil populace for their continued support for this administration. I wish to state that all law-abiding citizens should go about their normal duties and their safety guaranteed. Let me also assure the diplomatic community and all foreigners in the country that the security of their lives and property is hereby guaranteed.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Thank you for your co-operation.”
Isolated and surrounded, with the coup clearly headed for failure, the most senior officers involved, Lt. Col Nyiam and Major Saliba Mukoro initially contemplated a suicide pact, but then escaped from the radio station and eventually left the country for exile in Britain and the US respectively.
Great Ogboru, the civilian alleged to be a key co-factor, also slipped out of the country to Europe. Mukoro later became an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at a University in the U.S. Security agents detained and hounded those elements of their respective families left behind. But unconfirmed reports later suggested that on Major Mukoro’s wife simply walked away from supposed house arrest at Ikeja cantonment in Lagos and found her way abroad. Great Ogboru’s brother was jailed and it is said that even after fully serving his jail term, General Abacha refused to release him.
How did Mukoro and Nyiam escape from Radio Nigeria?
According to Col. Nyiam, in a 2000 interview with the Guardian: “At the point of battle when we had, as it were, allowed all soldiers loyal to us to engage, we decided that we would walk like officers out of that zone with the resolve that it will be better to be shot standing than crawling. And we walked, there was no disguise. How we walked out of the encirclement is what I called the mystery and I give that glory to where it belongs….I will say that when we left the zone of the conflict itself between 1.00 and 2.00 a.m., here again we give credit to the poor Nigerians around the shore of the new third mainland bridge.
There were a lot of poor people who lived there, who lived in the shanties. Those people immediately created a force to ferry anybody involved in the action across the water to the other side and I must say that when we got there they were so generous that even in the heat of it all when they were giving us water to drink, they felt that their water was too dirty for me to drink and they went and bought mineral – that shows you the generousity of the poor.
They felt we were too good to drink their water so they gave us soft drink. It was these same poor people who became our scout and helped us to walk through Isale Eko and thereafter when we got to a point on the old Carter Bridge, we asked them to go back and we walked on foot. Again, there were soldiers, how they did not see us – that credit goes to God. In cases where soldiers, the police and other forces saw us, they ignored us and even helped us to go through. In effect, people should not be over critical of the police or disown soldiers because many of them have been suffering from the same problems average people go through. In summary, the mystery and experience of this body and mind talking to you and Mukoro is only but a demonstration of God’s power.”
Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar was arrested along with about 300 other military personnel and more than 30 civilians. In the usual Nigerian pattern of mass arrests and reactive witch hunting, some journalists considered unsympathetic to the regime were also detained and newspapers even closed.
Following a Board of Inquiry, cases were referred to a Military Tribunal chaired by Major General Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu. The Chief Prosecutor was Brigadier General Tunde Olurin while Lt. Col. Akin Kejawa led the defence.
In July 1990, Major GG Orkar and 41 others were convicted for treason and executed by firing squad after confirmation of sentences by the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC). Nine other defendants were jailed while 31 soldiers were acquitted.
Following a serious controversy inspired by allegations made by some of the convicts – as they were about to be shot – that those acquitted by the first tribunal were fellow putschists acquitted on ethnic grounds, the AFRC ordered the retrial of 31 of the surviving accused by a new tribunal headed by Major General Yohanna Yerima Kure. The Chief prosecutor this time around was Lt. Col. Kemi Peters while Lt Col JOJ Okolagwu led the defence.
In September 1990, therefore, a second batch of 27 executions was carried out.
It has been said that the core Bendel (Edo/Delta) and Rivers (Rivers/Bayelsa) plotters were not remorseful about the rebellion. Captain Empere in particular was very defiant and identified the late Isaac Adaka Boro as his mentor and hero. He and others were driven by deeply held feelings that although their exploited lands produced Nigeria’s oil wealth, their people had little to show for it. It is fair to categorize the rebellion, therefore, as a “resource control uprising”.
Major GG Orkar
Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar was Tiv from Benue State. He started his officer cadet training at the NDA in 1972 with the 12th Regular Combatant Course.
He was commissioned in December 1974 in the rank of Second Lieutenant and posted to the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps School in Ibadan. He did particularly well on the Armour Young Officers course and was later sent for some specialized courses in gunnery. Indeed he was recognized as a gunnery expert by his colleagues.
There is an unconfirmed story that as a subaltern, he was once granted six months seniority over his colleagues based on outstanding performance representing his commanding officer back in the seventies.
As a junior officer he also attended several courses in the Nigerian Army School of Infantry. He was on the first Nigerian contingent that was sent to Chad Republic and he later served in the 22 Armoured Brigade.
He passed both the junior and senior divisions of Staff College with flying colours.
His last posting was as a member of the Directing Staff of the Command and Staff College.
Major GG Orkar was said to have been recruited into the plot just a few weeks before April 22, 1990.
Lt. Col Gabriel Anthony Nyiam
GA Nyiam attended primary school in Lagos before going to the Nigerian Military School in Zaria. He subsequently attended the Nigerian Defence Academy as part of the 9th Regular Combatant Course, beginning in January 1971.
Upon completion of his program at NDA he was inducted into the Corp of Engineers. He attended Earthwork University in Edinburgh and undertook a second degree at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. During this period he was seconded to the British Army, where he says he imbibed the culture that “soldiering is an honourable profession in the defence of the weak”.
When he returned to Nigeria he joined General Babangida’s staff at the AHQ. He was a staff officer at the AHQ until just before the putsch when he was posted to the Commmand and Staff College at Jaji as a Directing Staff.
Lt. Col UK Bello
Lt Col Usman K Bello was an indigene of Niger State. Gwari by tribe, he started his Officer Cadet training with the 9th Regular Combatant Course in January 1971 at the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna. He was commissioned in the rank of Second Lieutenant in June 1973 and posted to the Recce Regiment.
He attended several courses in the Nigerian Army School of Infantry and some Armour officers’ courses in Britain and the United States.
He was ADC to Brigadier SM Yar Adua when the latter was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. He was also the Brigade Major 24 Armoured Brigade before he proceeded to the Command and Staff College (CSC) for his Senior Division Course. At CSC he did very well and came first in order of merit.
Bello was not a university graduate but he put all his energy into making a career of the army. His last posting before being deployed to Dodan Barracks was as the CO of the Recce Battalion in Kaduna. As a Lt Col, he replaced Major MS Dasuki as ADC to President Babangida. Even as ADC he sought permission to undergo airborne training in the Nigerian Army School of Infantry. This was not a normal practice for one at his age and rank
Bello commanded tremendous amount of respect from all ranks. The President had a lot of confidence in him.
(For full details, see Guardian and Vanguard newspapers dated April 15 & 16, 2000)
What was the objective of the April 1990 rebellion?
According to Lt. Col. G Anthony Nyiam, who was the most senior officer involved in the uprising (but not the leader), the aim was “to have a caretaker government with a view to do two things at that time. One was to do a proper national census and a proper election and also set up a framework for a national conference.”
In an interview with the Sunday Vanguard Newspaper published on April 16, 2000, Nyiam also said “With that in mind, we never had any idea that we were going to govern anybody. It was just to restore power to the people. That is to restore democracy. Our aim was that there was going to be a caretaker committee which was going to be headed by a former minister under President Shagari.”
How did Nyiam get involved?
Nyiam volunteered information that he was recruited into the conspiracy in February 1990 “when some junior officers approached me to express their discontentment with the system…Because, I did not completely trust them, I did not give any word whether I would support the plan or not. Instead, I started to watch them. I watched them for about one month to see if they were serious or the intention was to set me up. These were young officers who really meant business because they were full of zeal. Because of their enthusiasm and anger, they were anxious that the coup be carried out almost with dispatch. But, I continually urged restraint as what they wanted would not have given room for much planning. Eventually, we came in to try to reorganize and look at things, how we could do it better. But, along the line, the action leaked. We had envisaged the possibility of a leakage and had, as a result of that, put in place contingency plan so that we would not be arrested like General Mamman Vatsa and co.”
How did the plot leak?
“The details of the contingency plan was that we would move if the coup plot leaked. And true to what we thought, several days before action was to be carried out, our intelligence reports indicated that the plan had leaked. This obviously forced us to immediately take up arms.” He went on: “In fact, another senior officer, a mate of mine who was the link between the young officers and myself, eventually sold out, that is, he was the source of the leakage. When we realised that our plans had leaked, that led to the pre-emptive action we took. I remember we took our action without any arm, it was in that night that our resources were got by first of all taking over Apapa.”
Why was the so called “Far” North excised from Nigeria?
On the question about the excision of some far northern states, Nyiam said: “If you read our speech (on the coup), you will find out that our position was based on the presumption that the then Sultan was imposed on the people of Sokoto and that the act was the beginning of the destruction of the traditional institution. The act ostensibly destroyed the Sokoto caliphate by causing division between the two houses. It was on the basis of this that we said that state would not be re-absorbed (if we had succeeded in taking over government) into the country until that traditional stool had been restored to the proper person. If you read the conditionalities, you are likely to discover that what we were saying was that sultanate would not have fitted into the new order that we envisaged. We did not see the action as a coup but as an uprising, to correct some anomalies.”
But in a separate interview with the Sunday Guardian newspaper, Nyiam was also reported as having ‘defended the coup broadcast in which some states in the far North were exercised from the country, saying he is more convinced now that the action was proper. He said: “We saw it coming [excision]. After the Mamman Vatsa’s coup attempt, I travelled with Abacha within the country to meet traditional rulers and Army Commanders to speak to soldiers. Anytime we went to the Hausa areas in the North, we were given Hausa and Islamic regalia and if you didn’t wear it, they would not be happy with you. It got to a stage that if you were in the Army, you have to speak Hausa. What I am saying in effect was that, there was a gradual acculturation of other people who have superior culture.” ‘
What was Nyiam’s relationship with General Babangida?
Nyiam was reported (by the Sunday Guardian) to have admitted being an “IBB boy”. The newspaper said: ‘The former military president, he added, commissioned him to work on a diarchy based on Egypt’s Abdel Nasser model where the military, produced the president while the civilians produced the prime minister. Explaining that it was part of the self-succession agenda of Babangida and the late Abacha, he said that being so close to Babangida, he had access to privileged information which showed that the former military president was not at all in a hurry to quit the political stage except by an uprising.’
Further, Nyiam, explaining his initial attraction to the former President, also stated that: “In a nutshell, we all came in to help Babangida whom we thought was a man who meant well. If one goes back to his earlier contribution, he was doing very well and we all gave him our support. But then, when we saw the things that were coming up; things like the way people from the South were being maginalised, in NNPC; how Ebitu Ukiwe was thrown out of power to make room for Abacha, and a host of other things that happened. It was also at this period that the OIC thing started. All these put together made one reason that one cannot just be an officer in name and watch his people being marginalised or being made victims or killed. At the time also, Dele Giwa was murdered.”

Like all failed coups before it, the April 1990 coup led to certain reactive (i.e. witch hunting) measures by the military against the services, units or corps that were thought to have been deeply involved in it. Military Police Battalions were downsized. A similar phenomenon occurred after the Vatsa conspiracy. However, this angle is outside the scope of this article.
In his seminal work “The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army”, Major General Mohammed Alli, former Chief of Army Staff, who as a Colonel in Kano had dissociated himself and his Brigade from the coup, described the Mukoro/Orkar et al coup as one “imbued with undue radicalism.”
He opined that in execution, the revolt “suffered communication disconnection” (whatever that means) but that it had nevertheless “shaken the nation and the northern hegemony to their very foundation and fabric.” Alli says that the 1990 coup, “like its predecessor in 1966” opened “a more precarious and frightening chapter, pointing to and crying for fundamental changes in the nation’s political structure and the basis of existence and control of the Armed Forces.” However, “as soon as it was subdued and suppressed, the nation went back to business as usual.”
One obvious consequence to civilians was the acceleration of the movement of the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1990 by the Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida. It was also reported by some pundits that he was rattled by the experience and lost a considerable amount of self-confidence for quite some time. This temporary newfound humility extended to some of his apologists but it was also mixed with passive-aggressive behaviors driven by fear and insecurity.
The failure of the coup, however, marked the beginning of the rise of Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha who was now increasingly being referred to in the Press as the Khalifa (successor). Whatever anyone said of him, few could doubt his ferocity and deliberate calm under conditions of extreme danger that befell him on April 22. He had proved his mettle. As former Panamanian dictator General Noriega once said: “The ultimate sign of virility is the ability to hold on to power.”
It was widely acknowledged that Abacha could quite easily have taken power for himself if he wanted – although he was not highly thought of by so called ‘IBB boys’. Clearly, Babangida owed him plenty and became increasingly beholden to his attitudes – particularly since there was some discussion of the merits and demerits of Babangida’s abandonment of Dodan Barracks – albeit involuntarily.
Another officer who benefited from the failure of the April rebellion was Brigadier Ishaya Bamaiyi of the 9th Brigade. He was rewarded with the Command of the Brigade of Guards and it marked the beginning of his eventual ascendancy into the rarified atmosphere of service chiefs. It is also possible that Major General Chris Alli’s eventual emergence as the first Chief of Army Staff under General Abacha may have been influenced by the standing he gained with the “caucus” during this coup attempt.
According to Kunle Amuwo, who carried out a research project on General Babangida’s “personal rulership” project, the 1990 rebellion, coming as it did in the setting of Babangida’s “permanent transition” undermined his credibility and may have been a factor in the way the public reacted to the deaths of over 150 middle grade officers in a subsequent C-130 plane crash in 1992. Amuwo holds the opinion that ‘Even though Babangida lamented that “a whole generation of young officers (mainly Majors) has been wiped out” by the air crash, the public thought his government may have had a hand in it.
During their trials, Major Gideon Orkar and his men reportedly told the military tribunal that their coup was in three layers; that unless all young officers were killed, there was no hiding place for the regime. Over 160 officers perished in the crash. That the public tended to give credence to this story is, itself, a measure of lack of trust in the General as his “tenure” dragged to an end.’ The public’s reaction to the gutting by a suspicious fire of the Ministry of Defence building in 1993 followed similar lines.
But there were other consequences. Although most people dismissed the so called conditional expulsion of the “far” north as a silly gamble, according to Professor Julius Ihonvbere, the coup forced certain “deep-rooted” conflicts and “critical issues” to the front page of the national discourse. Never too distant from national institutional memory anyway, right from the days of the 1957 Willink Commission report, the Ifeajuna/Nzeogwu insurrection of January 15, 1966, the Isaac Boro “Niger-Delta” rebellion, the Petroleum and Land Use Acts, these were to play out in later years as the Ogoni crisis, small concessions by Babangida on the ‘onshore-offshore’ issue, creation of OMPADEC, June 12 imbroglio, and more recent undercurrents of the “Sovereign National Conference”, “Power Shift”, “Resource Control”, “Federalism”, and “Sharia” polemics.
There are observers who say that these fault lines in Nigerian politics portend an inevitable earthquake. I prefer the nuanced Chinese interpretation (as was once observed by the late President Kennedy) – that every crisis presents both danger and opportunity.
A full accounting of the dead and injured from the April 1990 rebellion is not yet possible, in part because of the secretive nature of events surrounding the incident. However, it is widely assumed to be the bloodiest attempt to seize power in the history of Nigeria.
EXECUTED (incomplete list)
Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar
Captain N Harley Empere
Captain Perebo A Dakolo
Capt AA Nonju
Lt. AE Akogun
Lt. CN Odey
Lt. Cyril O Ozualor
Lt. NEO Deji
2/Lt AB Umukoro
2/Lt EJ Ejesuku
SSgt Julius Itua
Sgt Martins Ademokhai
Sgt. Pius Ilegar
WO2 Monday Bayefa
L/Cpl Francis Ogo
L/Cpl Jepta Inesei
Cpl. Sunday Effiong
L/Cpl Sam Mbakwe
L/Cpl Albert Ojerangbe
L/Cpl Godfrey Deesiiyira
L/Cpl Emma Oyemolan
Sgt. Stephen Iyeke
Cpl. Joseph Efe
WO Afolabi Moses
L/Cpl Idowu Azeez
WO Jonathan Ekini
S/Sgt Solomon Okungbowa
Private Richard Iseghoei
Private Egwolo Makpamekun
L/Cpl Edogamen Friday
S/Sgt Jolly Agbodowi
Sgt. Etim Umoh
L/Cpl Sam Obasuyi
Ex. Serviceman LC Otajareiri
Ex. Pvt Osazuwa Osifo
Ex. Pvt CP Wasiu Lawal
Ex. Pvt Peter Unuyoma
Ex. Pvt Synalman Goodluck Emefe
Ex. S/Sgt Samson Idegere
Pvt. Emmanuel Onoje
Trooper Roland Odogu
Corporal Lateef Awolola
Pvt. Dickson Omenka
Corp Ehietan Pius
Private Iroabuchi Anyalewechi
Private Henry Eguaoyi
L/Cpl Martins Odey
L/Cpl Sunday Asuquo
Trooper Celestine Ofuoku
Pvt. Anthony Korie
Pvt Thomas Angor
Pvt Edem Basi
Pvt Joseph Odey
Trooper Obioma Esiworo
L/C Magnus Ekechi
WO2 Godwin Donkon
Sgt. Ojo Adegboyega
Pvt Peter Abua
Pvt. Phillip Akamkpo
Sgt. Shehu Onleje
Corp Olanrewaju Ogunshola
L/Cpl Luka Yang
Trooper Malkily Ayogu
L/Cpl Andrew Onah
Michael Ebeku
OTHERS (At least 69 were officially executed, so this
list is incomplete)
Lt. Col. UK Bello (General Babangida’s ADC)
Lt. killed during altercation at Ikeja cantonment gate
3 – 5 soldiers at Ikeja
Captain Charles Idele (Idele was one of the coup leaders. He was Military Assistant to the Commandant, School of Infantry, Jaji. He left Jaji and came to Lagos to partake in the coup. His corpse was reportedly found wearing the uniform of a Major on the grounds outside Ikeja cantonment gate where he was shot by loyal troops. )
OTHERS (numbers unknown, from fighting at Dodan Barracks, Obalende and the Radio Station)
L/Cpl Ezekiel Akudu
Pvt Ibrahim Egwa
Sgt. John Alilu
Sgt. Andarich Eladon
L/Cpl David Amo Amo
L/Cpl Vitalis Udzea
L/Cpl Celestine Nebo
L/Cpl Wapami Adigio
L/Cpl Mike Odeniyi
L/Cpl Kingsley Aromeh
Sgt. Lawrence Ademola
Signal Man Fatai Daranijo
Pvt. Godwin Airomokha
Sgt. John Benson
L/Cpl Vincent Ozigbo
L/Cpl David Oke
An unknown number of soldiers and officers were discharged or retired from the military in a subsequent purge. The highest ranking of these was a Brigadier (from Bendel) who held the office of Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans. His career ended by virtue of the fact that Major Saliba Mukoro (widely presumed to be the leader of the rebellion) was his Military Assistant. The Brigadier was never charged, never found guilty of involvement, and was even reportedly involved in putting down the revolt. But in the Byzantine world of dog eat dog military politics; the so-called “caucus” organized his departure from the Army.
Nigeria: The Palace Coup of November 17, 1993
By Nowa Omoigui

November 17th has had its fair share of palace coups in history. It was the day in 1954
that General Gamal Abdel Nasser assumed full powers as Egyptian head of state
following the overthrow of President Mohamed Naguib in a Palace coup. On the same
day, four years later in 1958, General El-Ferik Ibrahim Abboud, then Sudanese Army
Commander-in-Chief, staged the first coup in the history of Sudan when he deposed the
civilian government of Abd Allah Khalil. On the same day, in 1971, Prime Minister
Thanom engineered a coup against his own government in Thailand. He suspended the
1968 constitution, dissolved parliament, and created a new Troika composed of himself,
the deputy prime minister, Field Marshal Praphat Charusathian; and Colonel Narong
Kittikachorn. Narong was Thanom’s son and Praphat’s son-in- law.
On November 17, 1993, as judges from 11 nations were being sworn in at the inaugural
session of the United Nations Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal and Zaire was celebrating
its Armed Forces Day, Nigeria was once again the throes of a political succession crisis.
General Sani Abacha, Secretary for Defence and Vice Chairman, ousted Chief Ernest
Shonekan, then Chairman of the 82-day-old Interim National Government (ING), in
order “to save Nigeria from imminent disintegration.”
It happened quickly and in broad daylight. All relevant military units and conspirators
in Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna were quietly placed on alert. Under protective cover
provided by a detachment of the National Guard led by Colonel Lawan Gwadabe, three
very senior officers, motivated by different instincts and with no consensus on what
would happen thereafter, flew to Abuja from Lagos. They calmly walked into
Shonekan’s office at the Presidential Villa and asked that he resign. These officers were
General Sani Abacha (Defence Secretary), Lt. General Oladipo Diya (Chief of Defence
Staff), and Lt. Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (Chief of Army Staff). Shonekan, the 2
former United African Company (UAC) Executive, never had operational control of the
Armed Forces during his controversial tenure. He wisely chose not to resist.
Interestingly, the Army Chief, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, was said to be a personal friend
of Shonekan and reportedly played games with him from time to time. With British
backing, he is even alleged to have nominated Shonekan for the position back on August
25 when outgoing General Babangida decided to make Shonekan the Chairman of the
ING as an exit strategy, rather than General Obasanjo (rtd) or one or two other
contenders. In the macabre environment of schemes and counter-schemes preceding the
November coup, Gusau was not originally supposed to accompany the group to confront
Shonekan. As a bonafide coup merchant himself, some say he had his own plans for
power, but that unknown to him the “Lagos Group” that backed Abacha’s take-over had
identified him for retirement. He allegedly heard of the original plan to confront
Shonekan – without him – and reportedly confronted Abacha about it. Abacha and Diya
then invited him along for the show, some say, by some sort of subterfuge. I have not
been able to confirm the authenticity of the rumor that he was falsely promised that he
would become the Head of State after Shonekan if he cooperated in the scheme.
With Shonekan’s “resignation letter” in hand, General Abacha invoked a version of the
legally moribund Decree No. 61 of 1993 as the basis for his assumption of power as the
“most senior” Minister. [Less than 24 hours later he would abrogate this same decree
No. 61 that he claimed brought him into office]. Generals Abacha and Diya called a
meeting of the Interim National Government to apprise them of developments and
promise that he would work with them to find a solution to Nigeria’s problems. They
also met with the National Assembly and pledged collaboration. Once this was done they
returned to Lagos to meet with the “Lagos group” of military officers for the usual postcoup
horse trading in order to distribute appointments and chart the way forward.
Within twenty-four hours after Shonekan’s removal, Lt. Gen. Gusau was baited into open
disagreement with his colleagues over the issue of a Sovereign National Conference. He
found himself in an untenable position and submitted his letter of retirement – as Abacha 3
wanted him to do. Major General Mohammed Chris Alli took his place as Army Chief,
as had been intended all along by the so-called Lagos group of military conspirators. Lt.
Gen. Oladipo Diya became Chief of General Staff; Maj. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar,
Chief of Defence Staff; Rear Admiral Allison Madueke, Chief of Naval Staff; Air Vice
Marshall Femi John Femi remained Chief of Air Staff; and Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie
became Inspector General of Police. The relationship between Aliyu Gusau and Sani
Abacha was not a good one until Abacha died in June 1998. At various times Gusau was
under security watch, had his passport impounded and was prevented from traveling.
Once Gusau was on his way out, Abacha moved forward with his broadcast to the Nation
on November 18, 1993, in which he went for the jugular:
“Fellow Nigerians,
Sequel to the resignation of the former Head of the Interim National
Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Chief
Ernest Shonekan and my subsequent appointment as Head of State
and Commander-in-Chief, I have had extensive consultations within
the armed forces hierarchy and other well meaning Nigerians in a bid
to find solutions to the various political, economic and social problems
which have engulfed our beloved country, and which have made life
most difficult to the ordinary citizen of this nation.
Chief Ernest Shonekan took over as Head of State and Commanderin-
Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces at a most trying time in the
history of the country. Politically, economically, and socially, there
were lots of uncertainties. Things appeared bleak and the atmosphere
was heavy with uncertainties. However, driven by a belief in himself,
his countrymen, and love for his country, he accepted to face the
challenges of our time. I will, therefore, like to take this opportunity
to pay tribute to him for his selfless service to the nation. He showed 4
great courage at taking on the daunting task of heading the Interim
National Government and even greater courage to know when to
Many have expressed fears about the apparent return of the military.
Many have talked about the concern of the international community.
However, under the present circumstances the survival of our beloved
country is far above any other consideration. Nigeria is the only
country we have. We must, therefore, solve our problems ourselves.
We must lay a very solid foundation for the growth of democracy. We
should avoid any ad hoc or temporary solutions. The problems must
be addressed firmly, objectively, decisively and with all sincerity of
Consequently, the following decisions come into immediate effect:
(a) The Interim National Government is hereby dissolved.
(b) The National and State Assemblies are also dissolved.
(c) The State Executive Councils are dissolved. The Brigade
Commanders are to take over from the Governors in their States until
Administrators are appointed. Where there are no Brigade
Commanders, the Commissioners of Police in the State are to take
(d) All Local Governments stand dissolved. The Directors of
Personnel are to take over the administration of the Local
Governments until Administrators are appointed. 5
(e) All former Secretaries to Federal Ministries are to hand over
to their Directors-General until Ministers are appointed.
(f) The two political parties are hereby dissolved.
(g) All processions, political meetings and associations of any type
in any part of the country are hereby banned.
(h) Any consultative committee by whatever name called is hereby
(i) Decree 61 of 1993 is hereby abrogated.
A Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), is hereby established. It will
(a) The Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
of the federal Republic of Nigeria as Chairman.
(b) The Chief of General Staff as Vice-Chairman
(c) The Honourable Minister of Defence
(d) The Chief of Defence Staff
(e) The Service Chiefs
(f) The Inspector General of Police
(g) The Attorney General and Minister of Justice 6
(h) The Internal Affairs Minister
(i) The Foreign Affairs Minister
Also, a Federal Executive Council will be put in place.
Our security system will be enhanced to ensure that lives of citizens,
property of individuals are protected and preserved. Drug trafficking
and other economic crimes such as 419 must be tackled and
On the current strike throughout the nation following the increase in
the price of fuel, I appeal to all the trade unions to return to work
immediately. We cannot afford further dislocation and destruction
of our economy.
On the closed media houses, government is hereby lifting the order of
proscription with immediate effect. We, however, appeal to the media
houses that in this spirit of national reconciliation, we should show
more restraint and build a united and peaceful Nigeria.
Fellow Nigerians, the events of the past months, starting from the
annulment of the June 12 presidential election, culminating in the
appointment of the former Head of State, Chief Ernest Shonekan,
who unfortunately resigned yesterday, are well known to you. The
economic downturn has undoubtedly been aggravated by the ongoing
political crisis.
We require well thought-out and permanent solutions to these
problems if we are to emerge stronger for them. Consequently, a
constitutional conference with full constituent powers will be 7
established soon to determine the future constitutional structure of
Nigeria. The constitutional conference will also recommend the
method of forming parties, which will lead to the ultimate recognition
of political parties formed by the people. While the conference is on,
the reorganisation and reform of the following major institutions will
be carried out:
(a) The Military
(b) The Police
(c) The Customs
(d) The Judiciary
(f) NNPC
(g) NEPA
(h) The Banking Industry
(i) Higher Educational Institutions
This regime will be firm, humane, and decisive. We will not condone
nor tolerate any act of indiscipline. Any attempt to test our will be
decisively dealt with. For the International Community, we ask that
you suspend judgement while we grapple with the onerous task of
nation building, reconciliation and repairs.
This government is a child of necessity with a strong determination to
restore peace and stability to our country and on these foundations,
enthrone a lasting and true democracy. Give us the chance to solve
our problems in our own ways.
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” 8
Background and Count-down to the November 17 Coup
The complex military intrigues associated with the Sani Abacha led Palace coup of
November 17, 1993 and its aftermath reminds me of three lines in Chapter IV of “The
Art of War” by the Chinese Military Philosopher Sun Tzu, under ‘TACTICAL
“1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the
possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the
2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the
opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
15. Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the
victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and
afterwards looks for victory.”
FROM 1985 – 1990
When Major General Ibrahim Babangida came to power after the Palace Coup of August
1985, he rewarded then Major General Sani Abacha, GOC of the Army’s 2nd Division
with the position of Chief of Army Staff – the position from which Babangida had
launched himself into power. Abacha reportedly negotiated for this position as a
condition for supporting the coup.
However, Abacha was not well regarded professionally. He was thought of as a very dull
officer, who was prone to late coming, disliked staff meetings, kept odd hours, enjoyed
exclusive private parties and loved entertaining himself with curious personal interests.
There were rumors that he had not made it out of the Staff College at Jaji with honor, that
some of his old confidential reports were much below par and that he had been saved on
several occasions from retirement during his military career. One such occasion was a
controversial bloody clash with the Police when he was the Brigade Commander in Port 9
Harcourt in the late seventies. Nevertheless, he was a key coup conspirator in December
1983 and August 1985 – which is what counted in the Nigerian Army of that era.
According to sources, soon after he became Army Chief in 1985 one of the first things he
did was intimidate many local and foreign Army contractors into arrangements from
which he would benefit personally. Some of those who met him then say he seemed to
be driven by a fanatical desire to compete financially with his rival and protégé, General
Babangida, who had been the immediate past holder of that office. A source told me that
Abacha – without providing any evidence – had a mental fixation that Babangida was very
wealthy and that he (Abacha) could also be wealthy if contractors “do for me as you did
for him”. The dysfunctional manifestations of this rivalry dogged Abacha throughout his
career as a Service Chief and later Head of State. Allegedly he always felt that he needed
to stash away huge sums of money as a way to guarantee his personal security. It
remains unclear to this day why he felt that way.
He was also very state-security conscious and regularly took a hard line against soldiers
suspected of disloyalty. He was party to the decision to execute General Vatsa and others
in March 1986 – in spite of numerous domestic and foreign pleas – and was not happy
when the charge against Major Akinyemi was changed from ‘Treason’ to ‘treasonable
felony’. His displeasure was that the lesser charge guaranteed that even if guilty he
would not be executed. (Never a man to forget old grudges, he stubbornly refused to
release the Major from Prison ten years later, even after he completed his sentence!)
In time, Abacha’s poor management skills and lack of professional respect undermined
him with the caucus of junior and middle ranking officers that brought Babangida to
power. As the Chief of Army Staff, he was even allegedly personally insulted by then
Major Sambo Dasuki, a one-time ADC to the President – an incident that eventually led
to the Major’s first “protective exile” to the United States on course. Clamour began
that Abacha be removed as Army Chief to make way for a more professionally sound
officer. I vividly recall an officer (now late) tell me back then that “Abacha is spoiling
the Army.” Naturally, once his blood was sensed in the water, other ambitious senior 10
Army Officers began eyeing his job, notably Brigadier (later Major General) Joshua
Dogonyaro who had also been a key insider in the coup that propelled Babangida to
power. Not far behind were other Officers of the Regular One- (1) course at the Nigerian
Defence Academy who felt that their time had come to take over the leadership of the
Army from foreign-trained Officers. Such Regular One Officers included Saliu Ibrahim,
Aliyu Gusau, Oladipo Diya, etc.
Abacha’s reaction to all this was to accuse Babangida of deliberately underfunding the
Army so as to make him (Abacha) unpopular with the troops. Things were bad enough at
one stage that a secret meeting of insiders outside the context of the Armed Forces Ruling
Council had to be held at Ikeja Cantonment to smooth things over. Sources claim special
financial arrangements were made to placate Abacha and allay his suspicions, while
alternative mechanisms – like adhoc Task Forces – were later created to ensure that funds
actually reached operational units, bypassing the Ministry of Defence.
Nevertheless, clamour continued for Abacha’s removal. Eventually, General Babangida
concocted a dicey two step scheme to do so. The scheme involved the initial removal of
Lt. General Domkat Bali as concurrent Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Minister of
Defence. In this scenario, Babangida became the Defence Minister while Abacha was to
simultaneously hold the positions of Chief of Army Staff and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of
Staff. Step Two (2) would involve Babangida giving up the Defence Minister position,
and then later enticing Abacha to take the Defence Minister position in combination with
the position of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. In exchange, Abacha would vacate the
position of Chief of Army Staff.
This delicate two step process, initiated on December 29, 1989, was complicated by
negative reactions to the step one removal of Lt. General Domkat Bali and the perception
that the changes affected the religious balance of power in the military. Bali himself
refused to accept his demeaning redeployment as Minister of Internal Affairs, where he
would take over from Brigadier John Shagaya, a junior officer from the same Langtang
area of Plateau State. Instead he chose to retire ten days later. 11
In April 1990, citing a laundry list of complaints, junior officers led by Lt. Col. G Nyiam,
Major Saliba Mukoro and Major Gideon Orkar staged an attempted coup, which
eventually failed []. One of their complaints was
“The shabby and dishonourable treatment meted on the longest serving Nigerian General
in the person of General Domkat Bali, who in actual fact had given credibility to the
Babangida administration.“
By all accounts, most of the credit for rallying the resistance and crushing this coup
attempt goes to Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha, who was at that time the Chief of Army Staff and
concurrent Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. After the rebellion was crushed, Abacha
went on radio to reassure the country. Among other things, he said:
“I, Lieutenant-General Sani Abacha, Chief of Army Staff, Chairman, Joint
Chiefs of Staff, have found it necessary to address you once again in the
course of our nation’s history. In view of the unfortunate, development
early this morning, I’m in touch with the CGS, Service Chiefs, GOCs,
FOCs, AOCs, of the armed forces and they have all pledged their
unflinching support and loyalty to the federal military government of
General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who is perfectly safe and with
whom I am in contact…………..
……….No amount of threat or blackmail will detract the federal military
government’s attention in this regard. We are set to hand over power to a
democratically elected government in 1992. I wish to assure all lawabiding
citizens that the situation is now under control and people should
go about pursuing their lawful interest.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Thank you.” 12
General Abacha’s role in saving the Babangida regime in 1990 bought him huge stock,
not only with Babangida himself but also with a significant number of other “IBB Boys”.
It marked the beginning of the rise of Sani Abacha and the beginnings of his own
independent client network, separate from the umbilical cord that tied him into the
maternal Babangida bandwagon. His own independent network would later become
known as “Abacha Boys”, based mainly, but not exclusively, around officers from the
Kano area.
After a lull during which Babangida was very nervous and lacked confidence, he later
resumed the old plan to replace Abacha as Chief of Army Staff. In September 1990, after
two batches of executions of “Orkar coup convicts” had been carried out, Babangida
ceded his position as Minister of Defence to General Abacha who was to combine it with
his position as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Some observers feel that an unwritten
part of this new arrangement was that Abacha would be left alone to do as he pleased
with defence funds while Babangida ran the rest of the government. To crystallize the
new “space” created for General Abacha as the “Defence Czar”, he stayed behind in
Lagos when Babangida moved to the new capital of Abuja in 1991. It was as if the
country had two governments.
However, rather than make fellow coup merchant then Maj. Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro the
Chief of Army Staff, Babangida prudently chose Major General (later Lt. Gen.) Salihu
Ibrahim, then the GOC, 82 Division. Ibrahim was a respected apolitical Armoured Corps
officer with no history of involvement in coups – except as a victim in August 1985 when
he was arrested in Jos during Babangida’s take over. Dogonyaro was placated with
command of ECOMOG in Liberia after the fiasco during which President Samuel Doe
was abducted right under the nose of Ghanaian General Arnold Quianoo.
Abacha retained the combined positions of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defence
Minister until August 26, 1993. After the events of April 1990, Babangida was often
quoted as referring to him as “Khalifa”, meaning “successor”. Meanwhile, it should be 13
noted that although Vice-Admiral Aikhomu was transitioned from the office of Chief of
General Staff and made the Vice-President in 1990 to President Babangida, that slot was
actually initially proposed to Chief Ernest Shonekan, a civilian United African Company
(UAC) Executive.

Others have written extensively about the political countdown and endless transition of
the Babangida regime. As is well known, the date of the final handing over of power was
shifted from 1990 to 1992 and then 1993. I shall present a brief overview and highlight
those aspects that show the hand of General Abacha as a behind the scenes manipulator.
Based in part on the report of the Political Bureau, which was originally set up in 1986, a
two-party system (one “a little to the right” and the other “a little to the left.”) was created
in October 1989. They were the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social
Democratic Party (SDP). Both parties were run and financed by the Government, which
also arrogated to itself the right to write their party constitutions. The constitutional
context was the 1989 Constitution (Decree #12 of 1989), based on work done by a
Constitution Review Committee, ratified by the Constituent Assembly and amended by
the Armed Forces Ruling Council. Among the eleven amendments imposed by the
AFRC, three were defence and security related. One removed the National Assembly’s
control over national security because, (according to the AFRC), it “exposes the chief
executives and the nation to clear impotence in the face of threats to security”. The
second deleted certain provisions establishing an Armed Forces Service Commission to
supervise implementation of the federal-character principle. The third amendment
removed Section 1 (4) of the draft constitution, which had outlawed coups and
classified them as criminal.
Initially, based on Decree #25 of 1987 amended by Decree # 9 of 1989, there was a ban
on all former politicians and top officeholders since 1960, particularly those previously
found guilty of abuse of office. However, both decrees were repealed in December 14
1991, initially under pressure from ‘northern elders’ but ultimately to ‘create a level
playing field for all ethnic groups’. Similarly, based on Decree #19 of 1987 and amended
by Decree #26 of 1989, the plan was for presidential elections in November 1992.
However, as a result of alleged malpractices during party primaries in Sept 1992,
primaries were canceled altogether in October 1992, major contenders frozen out, and the
timetable shifted to 1993. Local, State and National committees of both parties were
dissolved and replaced by caretaker committees. The Babangida government later
announced that they would be audited.
The driving principle behind all of this was Babangida’s fear of powerful, financially
independent politicians and his secret desire to plant handpicked, “controllable”
newbreed politicians in state government houses and legislative positions all over the
country as a civilian base for a diarchy which he would head at the center. Those who
lost out in the cancellation of the 1992 Presidential primaries and were banned included
late Major General Yar’Adua (rtd) who won the SDP nomination hands down, and Chief
Olu Falae; Alhaji Adamu Ciroma and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi were about to go in for a
run-off for the NRC nomination. They too were banned.
A few weeks later, on November 17, 1992, General Babangida dissolved the AFRC and,
after a pregnant pause, created the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) on
January 2, 1993. A civilian Transitional Council was also set up to replace the Council of
Ministers and win back waning public confidence in the “transition program” following
the failed Presidential Primaries. Its Chairman was Chief Ernest Shonekan, also known
as “Head of Government”. Empowered by Decree #54 of 1992 (Constitution
(Suspension and Modification) [Amendment], the Transitional Council shared joint
responsibility with the National Defence and Security Council to ensure a smooth and
successful handover to civilians. It was after all of this that Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa
and Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola later emerged as the Presidential
contenders from the NRC and SDP respectively. Strangely, though, neither man
internalized the bitter experience of men before them like Shehu Yar’Adua, Olu Falae, 15
Umaru Shinkafi, Adamu Ciroma and Bamanga Tukur, all of whom had been led on by
Babangida but ultimately betrayed at the end.
All of this was being monitored by the security services – as well as General Sani
Abacha, who later told confidants that Babangida had been toying with the idea of ruling
Nigeria for 30 years. When Chief Abiola first showed interest in running for the
Presidency, certain “IBB Boys” (including Abacha) expressed concern and approached
Babangida to find some way to ban Abiola from taking part. However, based on a
security report which falsely projected Alhaji Babagana Kingibe as the likely winner of
the SDP Presidential primary convention in Jos, Babangida assured his concerned
“military boys” that Abiola would not prevail and thus there was no need for fear. On the
other hand he simultaneously assured Abiola that he could run for office if he so wished
and would have no problems if he won fair and square. He did not, as far as is publicly
known, tell Abiola at that early stage that there were restive northern officers opposed to
his political ambitions, nor did he tell his “caucus” officers that he had given his word to
Abiola that he could run for office. Interestingly, Abiola himself was independently
familiar with most members of the Babangida military caucus, either as business
associates or as a financial sponsor of previous coups (in 1983 and 1985) in which they
had played key roles.
As things turned out, to the consternation of military officers – like Abacha – who were
opposed to Chief Abiola, Abiola narrowly won the SDP nomination at the Jos
convention, overcoming determined opposition from a motley group of SDP Governors
and disgruntled former aspirants. However, security sources reported allegations of
massive vote buying. Concerned officers approached Babangida to use the report as an
excuse to ban Abiola and stop the process at that stage before it evolved to formal
national elections. Meanwhile, as the June elections came nearer, against a backdrop of
anti-military agitation by students and workers groups, General Olusegun Obasanjo and
Chief Anthony Enahoro publicly expressed doubts over the sincerity of military’s
intention to leave power. Caught between an undercurrent of public suspicions that he
had a “hidden agenda” and behind the scene pressure from some powerful elements of his 16
military caucus to scuttle the transition again, Babangida initially resisted the military
pressure. Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe emerged after difficult negotiations as Abiola’s
running mate while Dr. Sylvester Ugoh was chosen as Tofa’s Vice Presidential candidate.
It must be mentioned, however, that the voice of the military was by no means uniform.
There were officers, like Lt. Gen Salihu Ibrahim, General Ishola Williams, Brigadier MC
Alli, Colonel Abubakar Umar and a few others who genuinely wanted a disengagement
of the military from politics. Some people claim Lt. General Oladipo Diya was also not
in favor of the military perpetuating itself at this stage. Other officers preferred one
candidate versus the other, while a small clique did not want to leave power for either
candidate. This clique included Lt. Gen. Dogonyaro, Brigadier David Mark, Brigadier
Stephen Anthony Ukpo, Brigadier John Shagaya, Brigadier Halilu Akilu and a few
others, all of whom were “IBB boys”. What is really fascinating is how General Abacha
concealed his real motives and intentions from most military officers. At the few senior
officer conferences he attended, Abacha would typically remain quiet. He preferred to
express his strong views to Babangida directly and privately, while quietly mobilizing
opinion behind the scenes and maintaining discrete contact with civilian leaders of
thought who were opposed to the elections in general and to Chief Abiola specifically.
Meanwhile, to those unfamiliar with their inner tensions, he positioned himself as the
guarantor of the Babangida regime. Further on in this essay, the strategic brilliance of
Abacha’s concealment will be apparent. Major General MC Alli, for example, says that
Abacha “had the patience of a hook-line fisherman or a bush hunter, and the memory of
an elephant and a native cunning to match.”
In addition to this cacophony of discordant but troubling military voices there were
powerful civilian pressures, notably from then Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki as well
as other Emirs who allegedly did not like or trust either Tofa or Abiola. In the
background, personalities who had been banned or schemed out from contesting as a
result of government fiat were also opposed to the elections. These included late Major
General Shehu Yar’Adua and Alhaji Abubakar Rimi. Funny enough Alhaji Bashir Tofa
who was a candidate, supported by some elements within the NRC, also joined the 17
bandwagon to boycott and/or cancel the elections. Then there were mischievous
campaigners, like the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) which wanted the military to
hold on to power. All these internal groups and persons working hard to scuttle the
elections altogether were opposed by foreign countries like Britain and the US which
wanted the military to leave power.
Nevertheless, on June 10, 1993, ignoring ouster clauses in Decree #13 of 1993 and
Decree #19 of 1987, Justice Bassey Ikpeme of the Abuja High Court granted a motion
brought by the ABN to restrain the Electoral Commission (NEC) from conducting the
election. However, citing lack of jurisdictional authority, General Babangida initially
chose to ignore the court, which is why the NEC went ahead to conduct the election on
June 12, which was later said to be ‘free and fair’.
On June 16, Professor Humphrey Nwosu announced – after results for 14 of the 30 states
were already known – that the NEC would suspend announcing election results. The
results increasingly pointed toward an apparent win by Chief Moshood Abiola, pending
appeals to higher courts against lower court injunctions. The entire result was later
released by a pressure group called the Campaign for Democracy (CD) suggesting that
Abiola won the majority of votes in 19 states while Tofa won 11 states. However,
pressure from key Army factions continued behind the scene.
General Babangida left Abuja and retreated to Minna for urgent consultations with
elements of his original 1985 military coup ‘caucus’. The majority of these elements
(including Abacha), had become thoroughly fed up with his previous assurances that
Abiola was not going to make it past the Jos convention. They were now faced with the
reality of an impending Abiola Presidency.
Practically holding him hostage, they reportedly gave him the option to choose between
annulling the elections or leaving office voluntarily short of which, it is alleged, he and 18
Abiola might be killed. While all of this was going on, strange items of correspondence
were circulating alleging that if Moshood Abiola were to be allowed to take office, he
would purge the military, move the capital back to Lagos, and take other actions deemed
threatening to vested interests. Arguments were reportedly made in certain circles that
Babangida was, by act of benign neglect, about to destroy the legacy of the Sardauna of
Sokoto and yield political and ultimately military power to an ethnic region that already
dominated the country economically. This was amplified by interesting explanations that
Abiola could not be ‘controlled’, that he was owed large sums of money by the federal
government which he would now “unethically” control, that he had many wives and
concubines etc. Thrown into the mix were arguments about the controversial Jos
convention of the PDP at which he allegedly bought votes, and the basic unfairness of
preventing those who won the party primaries in September 1992, from contesting. One
school of thought felt that in fairness, since Abiola had gone through the electoral process
and spent large sums of money, he ought to be paid off for his expenses and then advised
as a friend to avoid politics and stick to business.
According to Professor Omo Omoruyi, (The Tale of June 12, Press Alliance Network
London 1999, page 165) General Babangida said:
“Sani (meaning General Sani Abacha) is opposed to a return to civilian
rule. Sani cannot stand the idea of Chief Abiola, a Yoruba, becoming his
Commander-in-Chief at all; Sani seems to have the ears of the Northern
Leaders that no southerner especially from the Southwest should become
the President of this country. Sani seems to rally the Northern Elders to
confront me on the matter. Where do I go from here? They do not trust
me. Without Sani, I will not be alive today; without the North, I would not
have become an officer in the Nigerian Army and now the President of
“I don’t want to appear ungrateful to Sani; he may not be bright upstairs
but he knows how to overthrow governments and overpower coup 19
plotters. He saw to my coming to office in 1985 and to my protection in
the many coups I faced in the past, especially the Orkar coup of 1990
where he saved me and my family including my infant daughter.”
“Sani, you know, risked his life to get me into office in 1983 and 1985; if
he says that he does not want Chief Abiola, I will not force Chief Abiola
on him….”
On June 21st, Justice Dahiru Saleh of the Abuja High Court voided the election even
though the appeal by the NEC was pending at the Court of Appeal. Formal
announcement to the nation of the cancellation followed on June 23rd, after a nocturnal
military meeting the day before of “IBB Boys” at the Presidential Villa. During the
meeting most military officers rejected a negotiated compromise to resolve the impasse,
preferring all out annulment.
Shortly thereafter, a state of Military Alert was announced, and the Chief Army Staff, Lt.
General Salihu Ibrahim went around military formations in the country to explain the
annulment. According to Major General MC Alli (rtd), who was at that time Director of
Military Intelligence (DMI), most soldiers were unhappy about the annulment for three
reasons. Firstly, they were fed up with the domination of a small clique of officers who
had been in power since 1983. Secondly, “in spite of General Babangida’s ‘settlement’ or
material bribes, soldiers wanted to return to their professional roles”. Thirdly, many were
upset about their deployment to Liberia to be killed like animals without national
consensus or proper logistic support. But they had little choice, as a result of command
influence, but to go along with it, at least on the surface. Meanwhile, according to the
former DMI, security operatives were “busy constructing overt and covert threats to the
life of Chief MKO Abiola”.
Protests and riots erupted, especially in Lagos and other parts of Chief Abiola’s home
region of the country. In response, General Sani Abacha gave marching orders to the
Governor of Lagos State, Sir Michael Otedola, to restore order or risk exposing his 20
citizens to the fury of the Nigerian Army. Less than twenty-four hours later troops
poured into the streets of Lagos and shot hundreds of unarmed demonstrators
indiscriminately – on Abacha’s orders. Meanwhile the military became very unpopular
and officers even feared wearing their uniforms publicly.
Following the annulment, General Obasanjo (rtd) suggested that Babangida set up an
interim Presidential Council comprising former Heads of State (excluding Babangida) to
negotiate the transition to a future permanent form of government. This plan would
retain democratic structures at State and local levels, as well as the National Assembly at
national level, but the National Executive would be an interim government responsible to
the Presidential Council. Babangida did not like the idea of a Presidential Council
without him but liked the notion of an Interim National Government as an exit strategy.
A committee under Lt. Gen. Dogonyaro, meanwhile, urged new elections under new
rules as Babangida had indicated in a speech to the nation on June 26. This proposed
new Presidential election was allegedly to be conducted before August 27, 1993, even
though the government statement dissolved the NEC which would have been charged to
conduct such an election. Babangida viewed this as a trap aimed at him and quietly
maneuvered to slip out of it.
Initially, the SDP predictably rejected any plans for a new election and Abiola meanwhile
refused to give up his “mandate”. However, after the usual Nigerian cajoling and
bribing, political leaders of the SDP independently distanced themselves from Moshood
Abiola as well as Governors and Legislators originally elected on SDP ticket. The SDP,
under Chief Tony Anenih and Alhaji Sule Lamido, then agreed on July 7, 1993 to an
unelected interim National Government in which they would collaborate with the NRC
under Hammed Kusamotu and Tom Ikimi as well as President Babangida, to the
exclusion of Abiola, the apparent winner of the June 12 elections. Anenih’s actions
caused a rift in the SDP that was later said to be resolved on October 11, well into the life
of the ING. 21
This development, which was the result of Babangida’s personal initiative, left
Babangida with the challenge of determining how he would tiptoe around his military
sharks to guarantee his personal safety and exit from power as well provide military
backing to the legitimacy of the ING. The only way he could have done this successfully
was to assume full operational and policy control of the reigns of the defence and security
establishments which meant he had to find a way to continue as Commander-in-Chief
and Minister of Defence after August 27, 1993. Unfortunately, he had dribbled his own
military backers once too many and was unable to get support for such a “Pinochet type”
arrangement from them. He did not trust them; they did not trust him; and neither did
they trust themselves. It increasingly became clear that Babangida’s personal political
agenda and that of the Nigerian military officers who brought him to power in 1985 were
To freeze Abiola out, the government released spates of decrees. These included, but
were not limited to Decree #39 of 1993, also known as Presidential Elections repeal
Decree; Decree #40, also known as Transition to Civil Rule (Amendment); Decree #41,
also known as Presidential Election (Invalidation of Court Order) Decree. Media
organizations like The Punch, Concord Press, Sketch, Abuja Newsday, Ogun State
Broadcasting Corporation and The Observer were proscribed.
Then a Tripartite Committee comprising Military, Government, and political Party
representatives was set up on July 31, 1993, to decide how to manage what was left of the
transition. The military was represented by Lt. Gen. Dogonyaro and Lt. Gen. Aliyu
Gusau Mohammed, along with Brigadiers Mark, Shagaya and Ukpo. This configuration
pointedly excluded most members of Abacha’s “Lagos group” and provides some insight
into Babangida’s thinking and Abacha’s cunning. Dogonyaro and David Mark groups
were neck deep in ING organizational intrigues, which Babangida half-heartedly hoped
to manipulate in order to guarantee a military role for himself after August 27.
Meanwhile Abacha was quietly consolidating and networking within the military,
probing for weaknesses and lining up his ducks in a row. But Abacha was crafty enough
to allow some overlap. Brigadier David Mark, for example, was initially simultaneously 22
in Abacha’s “Lagos Group” as well as being in the “IBB Group.” In this manner a
casual observer would superficially view the network of groups as one continuum of
“IBB-Abacha Boys” while Abacha quietly worked underground to crystallize his own
clique. Abacha firmly believed in the concept of keeping one’s enemies even closer to
one than one’s friends, until he was ready to strike.
The government was represented by Admiral Aikhomu (Vice President), Chief Ernest
Shonekan of the TC (as “Head of Government”), Mr. Akpamgbo of the Justice Ministry
and Alhaji Abdulraman Okene of the Ministry of Internal affairs, among others. The
NRC was represented by Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, Mr. John Nwodo,
Chief Tom Ikimi, and Mr. Eyo Eyo Ita. The SDP was represented by Mr. Patrick Dele
Cole, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Alhaji Olusola Saraki, Chief Dapo Sorumi, Mr. Joseph Toba,
Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, and Major General Shehu Yar ‘Adua among others.
In this confused situation, General MC Alli, then DMI says he raised the possibility of
overthrowing General Babangida with Army Chief Lt. Gen Salihu Ibrahim, who was
reluctant to support such a move for a variety of professional, political and practical
reasons, including his deep distrust of General Abacha. Next, Brigadier MC Alli
approached the Defence Minister General Sani Abacha with the same idea. Abacha’s
main concern was whether the Army Chief, Salihu Ibrahim, would back such a move.
Alli lied to Abacha by saying he had not yet approached Salihu Ibrahim. Caught
between two key officers who did not trust one another, Alli initially backed off. But as
the situation further deteriorated and Army prestige was at an all time low, Alli again
approached Abacha, this time at home, in the presence of Lt. Gen. JT Useni. Again
Abacha chose to be obdurate, taciturn and reflective. But Alli saw through him and
concluded – rightly – that Abacha had some kind of personal design that he was not yet
ready to spring, preferring for General Babangida to leave the scene first, peacefully. In
my view Abacha was probably gauging MC Alli’s intentions and deciding whether or not
to trust him because – as we shall see later – he had already secretly tapped some officers
to begin the delicate process of recruiting allies for his final drive to power.
Simultaneously other dynamics may have been at play between Generals Babangida and 23
Abacha. One unconfirmed account says that although they had a “pact”, their wives did
not get along, and that Mrs, Babangida did not relish the thought of him handing over to
General Abacha. Meanwhile other pro-IBB and anti-IBB military interest groups were
scheming, including some core “IBB Boys” who basically wanted to implement a self
succession plan, after which professional officers in the military would be purged through
a process of being set up and eliminated. There was also a last ditch effort to get the
National Assembly to “draft” Babangida in some sort of role to plug the apparent vacuum
following annulment but this effort failed after, it is rumored, money had already changed
On August 2, 1993, the Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Salihu Ibrahim told senior officers of the
Army in Lagos that difficulties in arranging a new Presidential election before August 27,
1993 had persuaded the government, with the backing of the two parties and foreign
countries, to form an Interim National Government (ING). The ING would organize
elections and carry out government responsibilities. Officers discussed options for full
civilian government composed of the two parties, a mixed civilian-military interim
regime or a full temporary military regime. Those present recommended that Babangida
stay no longer than August 27, 1993, and that officers from all three services should work
out the details for transition. Such officers should not have held political positions in the
government. They also recommended that the National Assembly be on recess while the
ING was active and that the two political parties be self financing. The interesting thing
about this process of military consultation on the Transitional Program was that it was
parallel to the Tripartite Committee mentioned earlier.
On August 3, faced with real and imagined threats to his life and with no hope of getting
Babangida to rescind his decision on the June 12 matter, Chief Moshood Abiola left
Nigeria for Europe.
On August 17, General Babangida informed the National Assembly that he was stepping
aside. His Service Chiefs did not accompany him to the National Assembly, which was a
breach of protocol and an indicator that he was fast losing control of the military. On 24
that same day, which happened to be his birthday, senior officers from all three services
met in Lagos and reaffirmed that Babangida could not continue in office. They did not,
however, appoint a successor to replace him, nor did they make room for him to play the
role of a Commander-in-Chief during an interim government. This “oversight”, which
Babangida was not pleased about, was very convenient for Abacha’s game plan. On the
strength of recommendations of the Tripartite Committee, the government then
established the Nwabueze Panel. It was tasked to draft a constitution for the proposed
ING. The panel included Professor Ben Nwabueze, Mr. C. Akpamgbo (Attorney
General), Justice P. Nwokedi, Professor Uvieghara, and Dr. Azinge. In those dangerous
days, officers who used to be freely admitted into Babangida’s courtyard with their
security details were now required to be disarmed and to leave their details as far away as
possible. There was at least one such incident involving General Abacha himself.
On August 25th, with options for a safe exit closing fast, General Babangida settled on
Chief Ernest Shonekan as his candidate for the Chairmanship of the proposed ING.
Shonekan, incidentally, was not only Yoruba like Abiola but also from Abeokuta in Ogun
State, like Abiola. Lt. General Aliyu Gusau Mohammed, then the National Security
Adviser, reportedly influenced his appointment and the British government supported it.
The Nigerian military as an institution had nothing to do with his appointment.
Professor Omoruyi opines that Shonekan agreed, as a condition of his appointment, not to
reopen the June 12 matter. He also allegedly made a commitment to assist in preventing
Yorubas from forming a united front on the issue. Another curious ‘agreement’ was that
Shonekan would not move into the official Presidential Villa in Abuja but would instead
stay at the Presidential Guest House. The main Villa was to be left vacant.
Another interesting decision General Babangida made in his confused state of mind was
to leave General Abacha behind as the Secretary of Defence and Vice Chairman of the
ING, reportedly as “an insurance against coups” and to ensure unity of the military in
backing the ING. In other words, genuinely concerned about the safety of the Hen
House, Babangida asked the Fox to guard it. To counter-balance Abacha, however, 25
Babangida planned to appoint Lt. Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro as the Chief of Defence Staff.
Abacha would guide “policy” while Dogonyaro would take charge of “operations”. This
curious arrangement was actually a default for which Babangida had no serious options,
except perhaps Brigadier David Mark. Once he lost the backing of the Armed Forces to
continue in either a military or political role after August 27, he had to rely on an unstable
alliance of those he had relied on all along to keep power.
On August 26th, 1993, a retirement parade was held at the Eagle Square in Abuja for
General Babangida. Following the parade, Babangida – miffed at their lack of backing
for his continuation in office as the C-in-C – announced the retirements, along with his,
with effect from August 27, of all his Service Chiefs and announced the appointment of
Lt. Gen. Dogonyaro as Chief of Defence Staff. The service chiefs retired were Lt. Gen.
Salihu Ibrahim (COAS), Air Vice Marshall Dada (CAS), Vice Admiral Preston Omatsola
(CNS), Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako (Deputy Chief of Defence Staff) and Alhaji Aliyu
Attah (IGP). Following this announcement by Babangida, the DMI (Brig. MC Alli) met
with the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defence Minister, General Abacha in his
bedroom and advised that the retirements made by Babangida be rescinded to help
stabilize the tense situation between the Armed Forces and Babangida on one hand and
the Nigerian public on the other. Abacha listened patiently, counseled patience, and
advised that “there was need to consolidate military authority before further action.”
What Abacha did next was a classic move. He met with the “retired Service Chiefs”,
empathized with the way they were treated and offered to extend the effective dates of
their retirements until September 17th. Then, the next day, with their support, he
backdated the date of Babangida’s retirement from the Army to August 26th, a step which
rendered Babangida’s pronouncements from the 27th invalid. Then he later rescinded
Dogonyaro’s appointment as Chief of Defence Staff, arguing that three northerners,
(Abacha as Defence Secretary, Dogonyaro as CDS and Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as
COAS) should not ‘unfairly’ monopolize top jobs in Defence. He offered Lt General
Oladipo Diya, Commandant of the National War College and a Yoruba from Abiola’s
home Ogun State, the position of Chief of Defence Staff. This was a cynical move by 26
Abacha, who, as one of his former close confidants told me, had little regard for Diya
personally, and most Yoruba officers in general. But Abacha needed to isolate
Dogonyaro, and had larger designs on the political class, particularly Yoruba leaders of
thought who he was going to use Diya to pacify. Therefore, the “Yoruba” strategy was
useful – for now.
The transition from Babangida to Shonekan was codified by a number of decrees. Decree
No. 59 of 1993 ended the Babangida administration whilst Decree No. 61 created the
Thus, at about 3.30p.m, on August 26, 1993, Ernest Shonekan was sworn in as the new
“Head of State and President of the ING” by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice
Mohammed Bello, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. He was not, however, sworn in as the
“Commander-in-Chief” of the Armed Forces! This “oversight” was also deliberate.
Another interesting detail was that Decree #61 of 1993 that established the ING identified
General Abacha by name as the Vice-President, Defence Secretary and “Senior
Minister.” The “Senior Minister” was empowered to succeed the President of the ING in
the event of resignation or other untoward event. Thus Abacha was Shonekan’s
designated successor and Shonekan had no operational control of the Armed Forces.
Other members of the ING were:
Agriculture and Natural Resources: Professor Jerry Gana
Commerce and Tourism: Chief Mrs.Bola Kuforiji-Olubi
Communications: Chief Dapo Sarumi
Education and Youth Development: Professor Abraham Imogie
Finance: Alhaji Aminu Saleh
FCT Administrator: Maj.Gen.Gado Nasko 27
Foreign Affairs: Chief Matthew Mbu
Secretary of State (Foreign): Alhaji Saidu Isa
Health and Human Services: Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi
Internal Affairs: Chief Ezekiel Yesufu
Industries: Chief Ignatius Kogbara
Information and Culture: Mr.Uche Chukwumerije
Justice: Mr. Clement Akpamgbo SAN
Petroleum and Mineral Resources: Chief Don Etiebet
Secretary of State (Petroleum): Alhaji Ibrahim Ali
Labour and Productivity: Prince Bola Afonja
Power and Steel: Alhaji Hassan Adamu
Secretary of State (Power and Steel): Alhaji Oladunni Ayandipo
Police Affairs: Alhaji Abdullahi Mahmud Koki
Science and Technology: Professor Bartholomew Nnaji
Transport and Aviation: Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu
Water and Rural Development: Alhaji Isa Mohammed
Works and Housing: Mr.Barnabas Gemade
Chairman, National Planning Commission: Mr.Isaac Aluko-Olokun (in
lieu of Professor Sam Aluko)
Establishment and Management Services: Mr. Innocent Nwoga
States and Local Government Affairs: Alhaji Sule Unguwar Alkali
Secretary to ING: Alhaji Mustapha Umara
National Assembly Liaison Officer: Alhaji Abba Dabo (House of
National Assembly Liaison Officer: Dr. Samuel Ogboghodo (House of
National Assembly Liaison Officer: Senator George Hoomkwap
A number of military era decrees were then abrogated. However, two days later the
National Labour Congress (NLC) began a nationwide strike to protest fuel scarcity. 28
Shonekan addressed Nigerians on August 31st. He had begun the process of releasing
most of those detained for their involvement in pro-June 12 riots like Chief Gani
Fawehinmi, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Mr. Femi Falana. He re-opened some
Universities that had been shut down and lobbied the National Union of Petroleum and
Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the NLC to suspend industrial actions. To the
military, Shonekan promised to start phased withdrawals from Liberia.
Even as Shonekan was making these lofty pronouncements, Abacha was well on his way.
It was on September 3rd that he publicly announced what had already transpired behind
the scenes. Lt-General Oladipo Diya was his replacement for Lt. Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro
as CDS, Air Commodore John Femi was to replace Air Commodore Nsikak Eduak as
Chief of Air Staff while retaining Lt-General Aliyu Mohammed as Chief of Army Staff,
and Rear Admiral Suleiman Seidu, as Chief of Naval Staff. Simultaneously he ordered
the Military Task Force on Petroleum to restore normal supply of fuel to marketers within
24 hours. Two days later, the killing of seven Nigerian soldiers serving the UN Peacekeeping
Force in Mogadishu, Somalia, was announced. It resulted in a fact-finding tour
led by Brigadier-General Cyril Iweze. On September 13th, Defence Headquarters issued a
curious clarification over the recent Army postings, saying it had no political undertone.
Spokesman Colonel Fred Chijuka said a similar exercise was underway in the Navy and
the Air Force. A week later, Chijuka was again making another statement, this time to
announce the appointment of new Divisional Commanders and the retirement of Lt-Gen.
Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro. With his position made untenable by Abacha, Dogonyaro
“voluntarily” retired from the Army, alerting the country in the process that Abacha was
in the opening phase of an all out assault on democracy. As a coup merchant himself he
should not have had any difficulty reading the signs.
On the political front, meanwhile, the calculation that Shonekan’s appointment as Head of
the ING would split the Yoruba people and make it easier to consign the June 12 election
to the rubbish heap of history failed. Political threats against Shonekan began as soon as
he took office and his house even had to be protected from arsonists. The Governors of 29
Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Ondo States, for example, refused, at least in public, to recognise
Shonekan as the Head of State. They and other Yoruba opinion leaders also requested
Yoruba speaking elements in the ING to resign their appointments. The legality of the
ING was also challenged in court. Pro-democracy rallies resumed. To douse this flame,
Shonekan, who had earlier agreed as a condition of his appointment not to raise the June
12 issue, and even stated on September 28th that the ING will not do so, was advised by
some to establish the Mamman Nasir panel to investigate June 12. He announced this on
October 1st, even as security men were arresting waves of pro-democracy supporters.
Two days later, in a storm of controversy in the Press, members of the SDP in the ING
threatened to pull out, claiming that they had only accepted to serve initially because they
thought they were supporting a Palace coup to oust the former President Ibrahim
Babangida. Meanwhile the National Assembly was locked into an internal battle over
efforts to repeal the decree that annulled the June 12 election in the first place. Both
Shonekan and Abiola were touring the country to raise support for their respective
agendas. Abiola filed a court motion to declare the ING illegal.
Shonekan was also later accused (without evidence) of trying to bribe opposing members
of the National Assembly in an attempt to gain legitimacy and expand his national
support base.
As far as the Army was concerned, Shonekan relied on his personal friendship with Lt.
Gen Aliyu Gusau, former National Security Adviser and new Chief of Army Staff. One
unconfirmed account suggests that both Gusau and Rear Admiral Suleiman Seidu of the
Navy may have discussed the possibility of retiring Abacha with Shonekan. If true, it
would have been interesting indeed to see how this would have transpired in practice. All
the Service Chiefs had clearly treated Shonekan with disdain. For example, during the
Passing out Parade at the Nigerian Defence Academy that year, Shonekan was not
accompanied by any of the Service Chiefs. Such an alleged but presumably
unsuccessful effort on the part of Gusau and Seidu against Abacha, therefore, if true,
would have had the effect of marking both men for subsequent retirement when Abacha
started his final push into Aso Rock. 30
Long before this time military officers had begun settling down into various groups and
cliques for and against Babangida, for and against Abiola, and for and against
themselves. What later became known as the Sani Abacha Lagos group or caucus,
comprised various combinations among officers like Brigadier Ahmed Aboki Abdullahi,
Brigadier Bashir Magashi, Brigadier M Chris Alli, Brigadier Ishaya Bamaiyi, Brigadier
Patrick Aziza, Brigadier Tajudeen Olarenwaju, Brigadier Ibrahim Gumel, Brigadier
David Mark, Air Commodore MA Johnson, Rear Admiral FBI Porbeni, Colonel Lawan
Gwadabe and Lt. Col. Sambo Dasuki, among others. This group often met in the guest
house of Brigadier Bashir Magashi at Ikoyi. It is pertinent to mention that Brigadier MC
Alli – the former DMI who later became GOC, 1st Division and then COAS – was
“invited” into the group by Brigadier Ahmed Aboki Abdullahi, not by General Abacha.
Nevertheless it seems apparent that Abacha must have engineered it, appreciative of
Brigadier MC Alli’s confidential visits to his office and home all along.
Between August 27th and September 17th Abacha made more critical decisions as the
effective political and operational Chief of all the Armed Services. He publicly
announced new Army postings in Lagos without recourse to Shonekan who was
ensconced at Abuja. Obviously the lame duck Service Chiefs who owed him the decency
of being properly retired with adequate three-week notice and traditional pull out
ceremonies did not question his moves. By September 20th, therefore, when the new
“Service Chiefs” finally took office, new officers adjudged loyal to General Abacha,
were occupying all the strategically sensitive commands in the Army. Dangerous ‘IBB
Boys’ were defanged, first by being posted out to politically safe locations and then
subsequently kicked out of the Army entirely – in stages. Indeed nearly all the officers
(and prominent northern Traditional rulers) who helped Abacha to power eventually felt
his jackboots.
Regarding the September postings, at the Lagos Garrison Command, for example,
Brigadier Ishaya Rizi Bamaiyi took command. At the Brigade of Guards, Brig Gen.
Bashir S Magashi replaced Colonel JY Madaki, who was then posted to the Depot in 31
Zaria. At the 1st Infantry Division, Brig. Gen. MC Alli, erstwhile DMI, replaced Brig.
Gen. John N Shagaya, as GOC. Shagaya was then posted to ECOMOG in Liberia as
acting Major General. At the 2nd Division HQ in Ibadan, Brig-Gen. Godwin Osagie
Abbe replaced Brig-Gen. John Inienger as the GOC. At the 3rd Armoured Division, Brig
Gen. Tajudeen A Olanrewaju replaced Brig Gen. Ahmed M Daku. At the 82 Division,
Brig (later Maj Gen.) Timothy M Shelpidi replaced Brigadier (later Maj Gen.) Chris
Abutu Garuba. Brig Gen. Ahmed Aboki Abdullahi replaced Brig-Gen M Chris Alli as
DMI. Colonel Lawan Gwadabe had taken over from Col. Abdulmumuni Aminu as
Commander, National Guard – a controversial para-military outfit viewed as a duplication
of the regular military. Lt. Col. Sambo Dasuki was in the Military Secretary’s office.
Most amusingly, Brigadier Halilu Akilu, erstwhile powerful Director-General of the
National Intelligence Agency, was posted to the Oshodi Resettlement Scheme to
rehabilitate disabled and retiring soldiers.
The Lagos group had began preparing actively for the overthrow of the Shonekan
government right from the moment he was sworn in. Nominations were accepted and
votes counted at meetings of the entire caucus or an inner caucus within the outer caucus.
In this manner, General Sani Abacha was “elected” by this self appointed military
Electoral College to take over as Head of State, C-in-C and Minister for Defence. Lt.
Gen. Diya was ‘voted’ to be his Chief of General Staff, beating Lt. General Aliyu Gusau.
Major General Abdulsalami Abubakar beat Major Generals Edward Unimna and Cyril
Iweze for the position of Chief of Defence Staff. Then Brigadier (later Major General
MC Alli) was told that “the scenario had been set” for the position of COAS to fall on
him. This implied that Lt. Gen Aliyu Gusau Mohammed who had been appointed to that
position by out going President Babangida, was to be prospectively frozen out of any top
military position in the planned Abacha dispensation. Similarly, Rear Admiral Suleiman
Seidu was later edged out as Chief of Naval Staff in favor of Rear Admiral Allison
Madueke in a high stakes game of ethnic balancing championed by Brigadiers MC Alli
and Aboki Abdullahi. 32
In his book “The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army”, Major General MC Alli (rtd)
explains how he dealt with his personal doubts about Abacha’s quality as the designated
incoming Head of State. When he raised the issue with General Diya, Diya assured him
that Abacha would “change his habits.” Diya also reportedly said that Abacha “would
not succumb to his intense acquisitive instinct that utterly was no respecter of systems
and order.” Alli also says that then Director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier Aboki
Abdullahi, on the other hand, “explained that “the ‘North knows’ Sani Abacha, more so,
he was the ‘most senior northern officer.’ In fact, he emphasized that Northern Emirs
approved of his ascendancy to power.”
Lt. Gen. Diya later summoned the Abacha Military Caucus to his office in Lagos. It was
tasked to produce a very detailed Top Secret report regarding the state of the Nation,
issues of National Security, the state of the military and the political stalemate occasioned
by the annulment of the June 12 elections. The Chairman was Brig-Gen MC Alli and the
Secretary, Colonel Lawan Gwadabe. Other members were Brigadiers Aboki A
Abdullahi, Ishaya Bamaiyi, Bashir Magashi, and Patrick Aziza, Commodore F. Porbeni
and Air Commodore MA Johnson. They subsequently met in the office of Lagos
Garrison Commander, Brigadier Ishaya Bamaiyi, broke up into subcommittees and came
out with what was titled “The Report: The Way Forward”. Major Gen. MC Alli (rtd)
reveals that he sampled the opinion of officers like Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau, then COAS,
and Major General Abdulsalami Abubakar, then Commandant of the War College.
General Gusau expressed the opinion that a full military regime at that stage would be
unwise and might destroy the military. General Abubakar questioned the rush into
removing Chief Shonekan who had only just been installed. It is not, however, clear what
either officer did with the information Brigadier Alli shared with them.
Meanwhile on September 13, Chief Gani Fawehinmi told The African Guardian:
“Whether Shonekan likes it or not, God has ordained his regime as the
shortest in history of Nigeria. And it will be suddenly terminated by God,
because June 12 has a connotation and denotation which Nigerians 33
have not understood. Until they know the extent of June 12, they will be
beating about the bush…”
On September 24th, a few days after Abacha had fully consolidated military control,
Chief Moshood Abiola returned to Nigeria from Britain. A large crowd of supporters
received him at the presidential wing.
From the airport, his first stop, even before he went home, was Defence House in Lagos
where he met secretly with General Abacha behind closed doors. Knowledgeable
insiders say that both Abacha and Diya encouraged Abiola to return home – against
Shonekan’s wishes. Since both Abacha and Abiola are dead it is hard to confirm the
report that Abiola and Abacha agreed to a military take over of the government as an
interim measure before final hand-over to him down the road. But several witnesses
confirm that Abiola actively suggested names to General Abacha for inclusion in his first
cabinet. It seems clear, however, that Abacha was taking the Abiola along for a ride and
that Abiola fell for it. Maj. Gen. MC Alli testifies that when he later asked General
Abacha whether he had a pact with Abiola regarding the June 12 election, Abacha’s
reaction was: “MC, you should know better.”
In early October 1993, the Army became engaged in internal security duties in the
dispute between Ogoni and Andoni in Rivers State. Such operations later became highly
controversial and eventually led to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others by
General Abacha. However, during the last week of September and first week of October,
Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Commander of the Armoured Corps Center and 34
School, began making contacts regarding a military coup which he said was aimed at
removing Chief Shonekan from power and installing Chief Abiola. He made an attempt
to recruit the new GOC of the 1st Division in Kaduna, Brigadier MC Alli, into his group
by claiming that his plan had the support of the Army hierarchy, including General
Abacha himself. Alli apparently contacted his crony Brigadier Aboki Abdullahi who had
taken his place as Director of Military Intelligence in Lagos. Umar was subsequently
arrested on suspicion of treasonable felony or about October 7th 1993. Because of his
very close personal relationship with former President Babangida, there was an unstated
suspicion that he may have been involved in some kind of pro-Babangida conspiracy.
Luckily for him he was not charged. Following appeals on his behalf by Brig MC Alli to
Generals Aliyu Gusau and Sani Abacha, he was released, after which he resigned his
It is important to note that in deciding to release Colonel Umar without charge, Abacha
was being savvy. He did not need the diversion at that point from his main focus; did not
need to upset General Babangida unnecessarily at that stage by pushing for one of his
closest “boys” to face possible execution or prolonged imprisonment; and did not want to
deal with the practical implications of granting the Shonekan regime unnecessary
legitimacy by trying an officer for conspiracy against what he himself considered an
illegal government which would soon be removed anyway. So he chose to deal with the
matter administratively within the military, rather than legally. Colonel Umar Dangiwa
was quietly replaced as the Commander of the Armoured Corps by Colonel M. A. Garba
who acted in that capacity until January 1994 when Colonel Peter Sha took over as the
substantive Director.
Shonekan meanwhile, on the advice of a local kitchen cabinet of close associates, was
beginning to behave like a head of state and attend foreign meetings. For example, he
addressed the UN General Assembly on October 7th, even as he was being sued at home
for releasing moneys to the NEC for the purpose of conducting fresh elections and for
setting up a panel of inquiry into the annulment of the elections. Even the late musician,
Fela Anikulapo Kuti publicly described the Shonekan government as “neocolonialist” 35
and as a “western stooge”. During this period Shonekan asked security agencies to
investigate corruption in Nigerian parastatals like the NNPC, NEPA, Nigeria Airways,
Central Bank, Customs etc. Abiola was in the meantime asking Nigerians to fast and
seek God’s intervention in the affairs of Nigeria.
Shonekan attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) from
October 21 – 25, 1993 at Limassol, southwest of Nicosia, on the south coast of Cyprus.
At the CHOGM, Shonekan was embarrassed by an appeal from Sir Douglas Richard
Hurd, the British Foreign Secretary, to “reach an accommodation with Moshood Abiola,
the unofficial winner of the poll.”
From Limassol he was reported to be making calls incessantly to Abacha in Nigeria
regarding the security situation. The former UAC Chief Executive may have been
unnerved by back-channel reports of Colonel Umar’s arrest and perhaps even alleged
whispers from Lt. Gen Gusau about other conspiracies lurking in the shadows. However,
Abacha – in a move reminiscent of how he treated General Buhari in 1985 – apparently
refused to take most of the calls, citing Shonekan’s lack of authority over him as the
Defence Secretary. Interestingly, the ING announced on October 21, that it planned to
scrap the National Guard, a decision that was popular with the mainstream military and
was already recommended by the secret Brigadier MC Alli Military Caucus report. Then
on the last day of the conference, four members of the Movement for the Advancement of
Democracy (MAD) led by Jerry Yusuff hijacked a Nigerian Airways Airbus A310 (5N
AUH) with 137 passengers and 11 crew bound from Lagos to Abuja. The plane ended up
in Niger republic where it was later stormed by Nigerien paramilitary commandos. It
was Nigeria’s second aircraft hijacking incident, the first having taken place back in April
1967 during tensions leading to the Nigerian civil war. At that time a Nigeria Airways
Fokker Friendship F-27 bound for Lagos was hijacked from Benin to Enugu by Sam
Inyang and Onuorah Nwaya of the “Special Task Force”, the militant wing of what later
became the Biafran Directorate of Military Intelligence. 36
The manner in which the Shonekan régime handled the hijack matter raises serious
questions in my mind about the civil-military-external affairs relationship at that time.
For one the government sent a delegation led by the Transport and Aviation Secretary,
Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, to Niamey to negotiate for the release of the hostages. Secondly,
the ING allowed Niger republic to carry out a military operation to rescue Nigerian
hostages in a Nigerian plane that was hijacked from Nigeria. The almighty Nigerian
military was not in the loop either for lack of Special Forces expertise, lack of command
consensus, or lack of trust. This writer viewed the development with consternation back
then and interpreted it as a sign that certain elements within the military were unwilling
or unable to undertake a potentially messy international rescue operation which might
undermine its credibility on the eve of a coup at home. Fortunately for most of the
hostages, the rescue operation was carried out professionally by the Nigeriens and went
well. Ordinarily, no serious country would have allowed another nation unilaterally take
such momentous responsibility for its own citizens.
On October 31st word leaked in the Nigerian Press about efforts by some influential
Nigerians to get the ING to dissolve both political parties and all existing political
structures. Coincidentally, such a recommendation was indeed part of the MC Alli secret
report. This was followed soon after by dramatic events at the National Assembly
following which the Senate President was impeached. Pro and anti-ING factions in the
legislature, guided by a strategic desire to support or oppose Presidential hopeful Major
General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (rtd), sparred on the floor of the Chambers. This dispute
eventually led to the impeachment of Senate President Dr. Iyorchia Ayu on November 2,
by pro-ING Senators led by Chuba Okadigbo. Senator Ameh Ebute replaced Ayu. All of
this came against background plans by the new NEC led by Professor Okon Uya to
organize party primaries from January 7 – 9, 1994 followed by Presidential elections on
February 19, 1994.
On November 3rd, social critic Gani Fawehinmi was quoted during a Book launching
ceremony as saying: “The military must intervene to stop this war of Shonekan’s
government against the people”. On the contrary, three days later on November 6th, 37
Northern Elders led by former President Shehu Shagari met to find ways to ensure that
Nigeria remained united. They expressed support for the ING as the midwife for a stable
Under these circumstances, Chief Shonekan, taunted by some for “lack of power”,
symbolically moved into Presidential Villa from the Presidential guest house in early
November – against his original understanding with former President Babangida – and to
the consternation of Abacha. General Abacha was increasingly worried about Shonekan’s
growing confidence and irritated by security reports to Shonekan that he was planning
Under pressure from declining international oil prices, Shonekan’s government chose at
that inauspicious time to withdraw the petroleum subsidy on November 8th, and raise the
price of petrol from 70 Kobo to 3.50 Naira, a massive increase with predictably dramatic
effects on inflation. Not surprisingly, it led to street protests and plans for a full-scale
resumption of industrial action by pressure groups.
Two days later, on November 10, 1993, the Shonekan-led ING was declared illegal in a
ruling at the Lagos High Court presided over by Justice Dolapo Akinsanya. Back in
October, as previously noted, a case had been brought by Moshood Abiola and Baba
Gana Kingibe to declare the ING illegal, null and void. The lead Attorney for the
Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dele Jegede, advised the court that Decree # 61, which
was supposedly the legal basis of the ING, did not exist. Decree #56 had previously
fixed August 27, 1993 as the date of commencement of the 1989 constitution. Justice
Akinsanya reasoned that since Babangida had divested himself of power by signing
Decree # 59 of August 26th, he had no power to sign Decree # 61. All of this dovetailed
nicely into General Abacha’s original skillful backdating of the effective date of
Babangida’s retirement to August 26th. 38
The day after the Court Judgement, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi publicly pleaded with
General Sani Abacha to rescue Nigeria from a ” terrible political and legal quagmire”.
But Abacha, ever so patient and disciplined regarding the timing of coups resisted being
rushed before crossing his “Ts” and dotting his “Is”. After all the ING was contesting the
Akinsanya judgement in a higher court and Abacha still had to watch his flanks within
the military carefully. There was still the matter of how to handle the Chief of Army
Staff, Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau Mohammed, who was not a man to be underrated.
On November 15, 1993, however, the Nigerian Labor Congress called a General Strike.
On November 16, 1993, the Senate began open hearings on the fuel price increase by the
Shonekan Administration while the House of Representatives asked the ING to rescind
the price increase.
The next day, on November 17th at about 10 am, Generals Sani Abacha, Oladipo Diya
and Aliyu Gusau arrived at the Presidential Villa in Abuja accompanied by truckloads of
fearsome looking soldiers. These troops were under the command of two “Lagos Group”
conspirators, namely Colonel Lawan Gwadabe of the National Guard and Brigadier
Bashir Magashe of the Brigade of Guards. Magashe was almost certainly there to make
sure Gwadabe followed the Abacha script and no other. Following a ‘private meeting’
with Chief Ernest Shonekan, Shonekan was graciously allowed to deliver a farewell
speech to the ING after 82 days of controversy, following which he was flown to Lagos.
After waiting patiently for so many years, Abacha, “the successor”, had finally struck.

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