culled from Sun News Monday, March 29, 2004
Blind ambition for power without purpose or with the wrong purpose had
gripped Abacha. He was unyielding. With this I shocked him with the news
that I was out of the plot. He asked how and I informed him that I was on my
way to tell the COs to stand down. I left and headed to the Lagoon
Restaurant where I had earlier ordered for take-away snacks, envisaging that
I was going to be late. Right behind me when I arrived at the Lagoon was
Gen. Ahmed Abdullahi. I was not expecting him, so I thought he was on a
mission to arrest me. I paid the usual compliments to a senior officer and
asked what his mission was. He said he was late for the meeting but was
informed of what had transpired and expressed his regrets that the original
plan was altered. I praised him for his moral courage and assured him that I
was on my way to Ikeja to abort the plot. He left. I collected my snacks and
made my way to 245 Reconnaissance Battalion. I met the CO in his office. I
briefed him on the unfortunate development. He was also shocked and agreed
that we should not attempt anything against IBB government unless it was to
reverse the annulment. We got in touch with the other officers who were
waiting for instructions and asked them to stand down. Once this was sorted
out, I asked Col. Isa to go and inform the group that we had decided to quit
on account of change of the plan by Gen. Abacha. The plan was therefore
I am not sure but I cannot rule out the possibility that IBB picked some signals of our move. I am not sure if that contributed to his decision to announce the creation of an Interim National Government (ING) on 31 July 1993 to be headed by Chief Earnest Shonekan. In that announcement, he indicated his plan to step aside on 27 August, 1993 the day the new government would be inaugurated. That decision had a calming effect on the resolve of those Nigerians who were sworn to contest the June 12 annulment even if it meant setting the country ablaze. But it was a case of suspended animation. It was evident that this group would not accept the ING as a legitimate alternative. I believe that the creation of that government was a step in the wrong direction.
My hope was for NDSC to realize its mistake in the annulment, which had effectively pushed Nigeria to the precipice. But positions had unfortunately hardened. We found ourselves dealing with Generals who were more concerned about winning the war of nerves with the growing opposition. The ING solution was the only face saving concession they could make. Deannulment was tantamount to accepting defeat. The government had pledged never to accept being chased out of power whenever it was challenged for causing time-buying delays in the prosecution of its transition programme. The ING was doomed from conception. It was bound to fail.
Just before IBB announced his decision to step aside, Gen. Abacha made one more attempt to overthrow his regime. Unknown to some of us, he had created another group and recruited some of our members. It was, however, difficult for him to execute his coup undetected by us. I don’t believe Abacha contacted any of the GOCs in his latest plot. The reconnaissance units had been stood down but their COs were instructed to await further instructions as regards a new date. General Abdulsalam and I were to leave for the quarterly inspection visit to Newcastle, England to assess the progress being made by Vickers, which was manufacturing main battle tanks for the Nigerian Army. I had earlier requested that my deputy should substitute me for this trip but Gen. Abacha detected this and insisted that I should go. Gen. Abdulsam, Brig. Gen. Garba Abdulkardir, Mr. Onoja (a director at the Ministry of Defence) and I were at the airport for the check-in when word came that government had decided to cancel the trip, in its reaction to the sanctions imposed on Nigeria by the British government on account of the annulment of the June 12 election.
I returned to the Bauchi State Liaison office in Victoria Island around 8.30pm on that Saturday night, 24 July 1993. Barely 30 minutes later CO 245 Reconnaissance Battalion Col. Isa arrived. His mission was to confirm the latest instruction from Gen. Abacha. In a nutshell, his unit was instructed to participate in a coup that was to take place the next morning 25 July. He was told that I had left for the UK, but that I was aware of the operation. He was there to confirm that I had indeed left as my flight was scheduled to depart at midnight. I denied any knowledge of the plan. I asked him to disregard the instructions, and I promised to get back to him after consultations with some members of the group. I immediately got in touch with one of the members who expressed surprise that I did not leave for the UK. He asked if he could come down to brief me on the plan. We agreed to meet immediately. He arrived barely 15 minutes later. He briefed me that indeed a coup was to take place the next day. Senior officers had been summoned for a briefing on the political situation in the country; in fact, most of them had arrived Lagos already. Some of them, including the GOCs, were going to be placed under arrest at the venue of the meeting, the Airforce officers’ mess at Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. The time fixed was 9am. Gen. Abacha was to take over as Head of State, etc.
The coup plan was based on a very poor appreciation of the situation. It could therefore hardly achieve the aim. I have not been able to ascertain which formations or units were involved in the plot other than those in Lagos, but then a desperate man can take any risk. A coup against IBB without the support of the GOCs and the reconnaissance battalions would be an exercise in futility. When I pointed out the weakness of the plan, the officer readily agreed and said that he was also not too sure the coup would succeed. But he was persuaded because they had to preempt a coup by another group consisting largely of junior officers of the Gideon Orkar ideological conviction. I needed no further proof. I thanked the officer for his brief and assured him that the coup would be aborted either that very night or soon after it was started the next morning and we parted.
I drove straight to the Flag Staff House Marina. I met the COAS, Gen Salihu with many visitors, mostly senior officers, who had come for the next day’s meeting. Officers like Aziza, Ayuba and a host of others were waiting to see him. I was not sure what their mission was but I pleaded with them to allow me jump the queue as I had something urgent to discuss with the chief. They agreed, and I went in as soon as the person he was conferring with came out. He asked me to sit down and apologized that our trip had to be cancelled. He asked whether I was aware of the next day’s meeting since I was supposed to attend as commandant of the armoured corps. I told him that that was why I had come to discuss with him.
Without going into too much detail for obvious reasons, I advised the Chief to meet Gen. Abacha as soon as possible to advise him to call off tomorrow’s meeting on security grounds. He should also advise IBB of the need for him to take extra care of his personal security over the next 24 hours. In the event that Abacha refused the advice, the chief should stay away from the meeting and ask his GOCs to stay away also. Of course the chief wanted to find out what was happening and what informed my advice. I simply told him to believe me that I heard rumours and time was too short to verify. I promised to find out more and brief him later. I have always enjoyed Gen. Salihu’s confidence and respect. Of course I have no doubt that Salihu got in touch with his Director of Military Intelligence (DMI). But he immediately left for Gen. Abacha’s house. He must have persuaded him to call off the meeting and mercifully averted a bloodbath, which an attempted coup against IBB would have resulted in. I was told later that General Abacha was very mad with Salihu and promised to deal with him at an opportune time. It is very sad that he got that opportunity so soon when a truly professional officer was prematurely retired from service to the detriment of the development of professionalism in the military. What that fine officer would have contributed to the Nigerian Army is succinctly encapsulated in his sad description of the military as “an Army of anything goes” in his valedictory speech.
As the nation debated IBB’s sincerity to step aside on 27 August, 1993, he decided on a surprise move by leaving a day earlier, as if to confirm that he was truly fed up. The reasons or the forces that were responsible for persuading IBB to annul the June 12 elections may perhaps be known later. Honestly, I can only guess but even that guess, I will leave for another day. The ING was inaugurated on 26 July. The president was expected to retire along with all the service chiefs. It came therefore as a great surprise that Gen. Abacha was missing on that list. This fatal decision attracted many theories, one of course being that the ING arrangement was a mere ploy to hand over power to Abacha indirectly. A clause in the decree that established the ING which provided that in the event of the incapacitation of the Head of that government, the most senior military officer would take over gave substance to that theory. I am not any wiser but whatever the aim, even Chief Shonekan had misgivings. He protested the decision. I was told later that he reluctantly accepted to be sworn in on that condition when he was shown security reports, which indicated threats to the ING from a group of some junior and middle ranking officers who were planning to topple it as soon as it was inaugurated. I am still curious to know the source of those false, dubious and self-serving security reports. Things were done in such a hurry that Shonekan did not have much time to reflect on most of the decisions, including the appointment of Abacha as the ‘Guardian Angel’ to his administration.
In another battle to prevent General Abacha from taking over power, I approached some senior officers to plead with IBB to leave Gen. Salihu as the COAS. My calculation was that with his large following in the Army, he could very well counter Abacha’s predatory moves until we could move against Shonekan’s government and restore Abiola’s mandate. Salihu may also have been averse to military coups, but he would not refuse to join in a move to restore the credibility of the military which the removal of the ING and swearing in of the winner of the election would achieve. Besides, officers like Gen. Tanko Ayuba had already started working on him. I honestly don’t know how far they had gone. That was not to be. Salihu was replaced by Gen. Abdulsalam. But curiously enough, Abdulsalam himself was in turn replaced by Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, the current NSA.
Before I left Abuja for Bauchi after the presidential send-off banquet, Gen. Abacha once again asked me to meet him at his guesthouse in Maitama. I met him and the story was the same. Abiola had to exercise his mandate before this nation could return to normalcy. He Abacha had genuine intentions when he asked earlier that he be allowed to take over for six months to sanitize the armed forces and judiciary before handing over to Abiola. He confessed to me that he was already in touch with Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe and that they were in total agreement with this plan. But now that IBB was gone, the task was easier and required less time. In fact, it could even be achieved under the ING. He had already drawn up a restructuring plan for the armed forces and judiciary, which he intended to present to Shonekan for ratification. He was going to hold consultations and he wanted to see me in a week’s time in Lagos. Was I convinced of his genuine intentions to hand over to Abiola? I would be a bloody fool to believe, but what could I do except await my fate and pray that God would intervene?
I returned to Bauchi once again a worried man. I made wider consultations with some of our officers including some of the armoured brigade commanders. Officers like retired Colonels Lucky Torrey, Oloruntoba, etc had been persistent in their belief that we could go it alone. But I convinced them of the inherent risk of needless bloodshed and the possibility of igniting the explosive mixture created by recent political events. Rumours of civil uprising were rife. Since the GOCs were probably not aware of our plans, I imagined a situation where Abacha would rally their support on the pretext of protecting the ING against us. There was absolutely no doubt that the reconnaissance commanders were committed to the deannulment cause and were more than capable of neutralizing the Division Headquarters but at a potentially great cost. With such a heavy toll, it would have taken and would continue to take perhaps too great a cost to pursue that cause to its logical conclusion.
I met Abacha in the second week of August. He provided me with his restructuring plan for the military; some GOCs and commanders were to be replaced and reshuffled. Of course I was not affected as far as the paper which I saw went; but to be honest, I was not sure that the list to Shonekan would not include my name. Incidentally, Gen. Ahmed Abdullahi was present when Gen. Abacha briefed me. One of the persons he planned to have moved was General Dogonyaro. But this would definitely pose some problem. I imagined that IBB would have immediately reacted by asking Shonekan to reject the move and that would scuttle the whole exercise. He had to find a way out. He therefore came up with an idea that since he was going to address formation commanders and other senior officers, he would want me to draw the attention of the meeting to the lopsidedness of defence appointment in favour of the North. That it was unfair to have the Minister of Defence, CDS and COAS from the same geographical zone. There was therefore the need for balancing to reflect federal character. Both Gen. Abdullahi and I agreed, but I disagreed with his suggestion that Gen. Dogonyaro should be replaced by Gen. Diya which he asked me to propose. Instead, I suggested that he should make the sacrifice since he was senior to Dogonyaro. He then asked Ahmed to put forward this proposal, which I understand he later did since I did not even attend that meeting. It was in the course of that meeting Gen. Ishola Williams, an upright officer, bluntly asked Gen. Abacha to reveal his timetable for takeover and made his intention to go on retirement known. Abacha waved it off as a joke typical of Gen. Williams. He could, however, not hide the embarrassment which it caused him.
While in Lagos, I visited Gen. Diya just to find out what his thinking was. The general was a helpless man. He was very much concerned about his fate as a Yoruba officer being identified as a willing accomplice in a plot that would deprive a fellow Yoruba of his rightful mandate. I had no doubt that he appreciated my perseverance, but he was equally embarrassed by the fact of being appealed to by a Hausa Fulani officer to take a stand against Abacha for the realization of Abiola’s mandate. He was always ill at ease at my appearance in his house. This time, he confessed to me that he was virtually helpless. Gen. Abacha had convinced him that the military was against Abiola’s mandate. He observed that I had done so much that it was time for me to be a bit more flexible. I got his message and that is when I made the prediction that he was seeking power by riding the tiger and he was going to end up in its stomach. Some of the members of the original group had also been deceived into believing that
Abacha was the solution.
I went back to Bauchi convinced that it was only a matter of time before Abacha kicked out Shonekan. I played my last card by trying to open up a dialogue with the GOCs before they were replaced. I sent Major Lar to GOC I Division to inform him that I would want to see him soon, but before our meeting, he should sleep with an eye open. The idea was to alert him if he was not already aware of the impending threat. Lar reported back that the senior officer was expecting me. It was however too late because within the next 48 hours changes had been announced replacing the GOCs. About two weeks later, I met the new GOC I Division, Major Gen. M.C. Alli, a very fine professional. I was frank with him when I told him of what we had planned earlier and what I still believed was possible. The general emphatically agreed that de-annulment and swearing in of Abiola was a just cause and that we should not delay.
I felt emboldened to contact the GOC 3 Div. Gen. Olanrewaju who did not look so sure. I couldn’t count on him. Some of the other officers I contacted thought it was a good idea, but would need assurances that they would not end up being retired by the Abiola government. I told them that I could not guarantee that as I was not in contact with Abiola. As a matter of fact, I only met or spoke to him once. But I would be surprised if MKO would want to reward them with retirement. I had been told he was such a generous and magnanimous personality.
My arrest, detention and retirement
Towards the end of September 1993, I was summoned to AHQ by the new COAS, Gen. Aliyu Gusau. As soon as I entered the chief’s office, I sensed that something was amiss. Gen. Aliyu wore an unusually stern look. He did not even ask me to sit down when he went straight to the point. He said to me: "Dangiwa, you are my junior brother, I have always taken you into confidence and I am now your chief. You had been plotting a coup for some time now and you did not tell me. Why? The Minister of Defence has even shown me the coup speech you prepared for him." How could one start answering such a question? I retorted by asking since he was not part of the plot, how did he expect me to inform him? I refused to deny anything but I told him that his source, the Minister of Defence, Gen. Sani Abacha was my co-conspirator. He said: "Very well, the DMI (who was then Gen. Ahmed Abdullahi) was outside. Let him take your statement." I saluted and left. By the entrance was Gen. Ahmed Abdullahi dressed in camouflage uniform. He was with some officers and men of his directorate similarly dressed. The soldiers bore rifles.
I was led into an adjacent room where Ahmed issued me a paper and instructed me to write my statement. I asked on what subject. He said the coup they are talking about. I told Ahmed that in that case, I did not need to write any statement because both the minister and he were fully conversant with the subject and should be able to brief the COAS better. Ahmed told me that he was instructed to take me to Kirikiri after I must have finished writing my statement. He told me also that some reconnaissance battalion commanders had been arrested and brought to Lagos. I was mad. I felt betrayed. How could anybody think of arresting these principal officers who were only ready to selflessly serve the cause of justice? I pleaded with Ahmed to please help in setting them free. I promised I would take responsibility. Gen. Ahmed was most sympathetic and promised to ensure their safety. But he was simply carrying out his orders clearly against his wish. I have said it earlier that he was pro-deannulment even if he changed later.
The news of my arrest spread so fast throughout AHQ. Many officers rushed to the chief’s office to confirm. Those of them who were involved decided to meet Gen. Aliyu. They were led by Gen. Tanko Ayuba and the chief’s Military Assistant, Col. Jaafara Isa, the current Special Adviser to the Vice President. These officers proved to be the men of great honour and moral courage. They briefed the chief on the genesis of our struggle and its aim. They confessed that they were also involved as Gen. Abacha and a host of others were. They intimated him of their willingness to give themselves up instead of watching me made a scapegoat. The general was shocked and near tears when they narrated their story. He called me back and told me that he had been briefed by some officers on my case. He ordered that I stay with the DMI while he went to consult Gen. Abacha. He came back after about 30 minutes and instructed Ahmed to put me under house arrest at the Bauchi State Liaison office where I was putting up. We were driven to the guest house where I stayed overnight under arrest.
I was surprised to get a call from IBB who was informed about my arrest by Gen. Abdulsalam. I didn’t know the telephone number of the guest house so I wondered how he was able to get it. He asked me what was happening and I just told him I was under arrest. I promised to brief him later, which I did when I was mercifully released. I was also told that he was shown the coup speech I wrote for Abacha, which contained among other things, our reasons for toppling his government i.e. to reverse the decision to annul the June 12 election and to swear in the winner of that election.
Ahmed came for me the next morning at 9 a.m. He took me to the office of the chief. Wearing a more relaxed look, the general told me that I would be seeing Gen. Abacha by 12 noon. In the meantime, he asked me to join the chief’s conference, which I was supposed to attend as still the commandant of ACCS. At the meeting, Gen. Aliyu jokingly reminded officers that he was only an interim COAS but how prophetic he was manifested about a month and a half later when he was dropped. At the conference hall, Gen. M.C. Alli pulled me aside and asked what was going on and if I had seen the minister. He expressed shock and disappointment at the turn of events.
Gen. Abacha’s M.A, Col. Yakubu Muazu who was also a member of our group, sent for me when the minister finally arrived at the usual time around 1 p.m. I waited up to 5 pm before being called in. I saluted and the general made one eye contact with me and thenceforth fidgeted with his papers throughout our discussion, which lasted about ten minutes. He told me in his cracking voice that security misinformed him about my independent plot to topple the ING and assassinate its members. He was now convinced that there was no truth to this, but since I had earlier applied for voluntary retirement, they had decided to accept. They had also decided to appoint me as Nigeria’s ambassador to the US and promised to assist me with some oil contracts when he was through. I thanked him so much for showing leniency and for his offer of appointment which I would reject. I repeated my warning that neither the ING or Gen. Abacha would be able to bury the issue of June 12. Nigeria would rise against them and the international community would impose more sanctions. He agreed and promised to contact me later. I took my leave and that was the last time I met Abacha. Abacha is now dead and I hold firm beliefs abut what fate befalls a person who tells lies against the dead. If I lied against Abacha, may God not have mercy on me. Once again, I apologise to my former colleagues whose names I could not avoid mentioning. This type of story requires witnesses more especially as the main actor, Gen. Abacha is no more.
Once again, my aim is not an attempt at self-glorification, neither am I trying to project myself as a hero of democracy. In fact, as I said earlier, that title is becoming increasingly meaningless. It is very evident in my story that we were motivated by a genuine desire to serve the cause of justice. We also made an effort to live up to our oath as patriotic officers of the Armed Forces. Personal interest was never a consideration: in fact, it was sacrificed. If I was the opportunist that Mr. Special Adviser wants to convince the public that I am, I and those who shared my views would have behaved differently. If we did, IBB would have continued in office. Abacha would have had an easier access to power and gone on to rule unchecked. In that case, we would not have achieved this democracy which he is so proud of. It would have been somebody else’s Baba occupying Aso Rock instead of his, with that person’s Special Adviser perhaps issuing similar responses to the opposition. No, we did what all honourable Nigerians are expected to do under similar circumstances. I, a Hausa Fulani, made a great personal sacrifice in an attempt to ensure that a Yoruba man was justly allowed to exercise his earned mandate. To me, Nigeria would be a much better place if more people adopted this attitude and became less parochial in their outlook.
I am sure that Mr. Special Adviser does appreciate the fact that our struggle would have been less costly and would perhaps, have achieved its cardinal goal if some individuals and groups had behaved differently. Of course the starting point in this argument is the role of the IBB regime. If it had not annulled the June 12 elections, there wouldn’t have been the need for any struggle. But if after it did, Abacha had truly behaved honourably, our first attempt would have succeeded. This would have happened if some of the politicians, particularly of Abiola’s SDP, did not concede to the annulment, if some of the traditional rulers of South-Western extraction did not visit Aso Rock from where the Oni of Ife briefed the nation, claiming that they were better informed of the issues and that the president made sense as if calling Nigerians to support the annulment and if Gen. Obasanjo did not support the annulment by his submission that Abiola was not the Messiah that the nation was waiting for. It is easy to see the incalculable damage this statement caused to efforts being made by well meaning Nigerians to prevail on IBB to reverse the unjust decision.
Gen. Obasanjo at that point was a man of huge international stature. He was the most respected former Head of State both at home and abroad on account of his identification with truth and justice. A word from him against the annulment would have made all the difference. But then he struck the mortal blow. Believe me, many members of the de-annulment group, including Generals Abacha and Diya, drew attention to the Obasanjo statement to demonstrate that Abiola did not enjoy the support of the political elite and did not therefore merit all the sacrifice we were calling for. Had all these forces opposed the annulment, this country would have been saved from Abacha’s misrule. For example, there wouldn’t have been the 1995 and 1997 coups or rumours of those coups. There wouldn’t have been the Aziza coup tribunal that condemned Gen. Obasanjo and his deputy to death along with other officers. The Malu tribunal would not have sat with all its public humiliation of highly respected Nigerians. Gen. Yar’Adua, Chief Abiola and his wife, Kudirat, Rewane, Suliat, Bagauda Kaltho and many other faceless victims of the crisis would still be alive. There would have been no attempt on the life of Pa Adesanya, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Kuti, Balarabe Musa, Nosa Igiebor, Chris Anyanwu, Ben Obi, Olisa Agbakoba, Ayo Opadokun, Osa Director, Arthur Nwankwo and a host of others would have been saved the harrowing experience of Nigerian jails. There wouldn’t have been the need for Gen. Akinrinade, Commodore Dan Suleiman, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Bola Tinubu, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi and a host of others to go into traumatising exile, leaving behind their loved ones and their investments unattended to. But then, personal interest made for these tragedies. It is therefore not difficult to see why the heroes of that struggle are not even recognised by the system, which their painful struggle helped to bring about. Once again, we are the enemies. How tragic indeed! But, to continue with my story, what later happened after Abacha had in his imagination ended my struggle by retiring me? Our respected columnist, Mr. Pini Jason has adequately reacted to Kayode’s claim that I made no contribution to the democratic struggle that resulted at least in the transfer of power from the military to civilians. I will now fill Mr. Special Adviser on my political struggles since retirement since I am aware he had been away for some time.