THE VATSA COUP OF 1985

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THE VATSA COUP OF 1985

by

Nowa Omoigui

 

Introduction

 

In Nigeria, beginning in the first week of December 1985 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 Board, Major General Mamman
Vatsa
and 16 others were tried at the Brigade of Guards HQ in Victoria
Island,
Lagos, by a Special Military Tribunal beginning on Monday 27th
January 1986.
Separately, Brigadier M. Nassarawa and Wing Commander Uku were also
tried on
different charges.  The Tribunal was constituted under the Treason
and other
offences (Special Military Tribunal) Decree No. 1 of 1986.

Over the next few weeks to months I shall write highly authoritative
short
stories about that event and publish them exclusively on defsec.

The stories are part of a biography of  late Lt. Col Michael Aker
Iyorshe
(psc) which I am writing.  The title of the book is "A matter of
Honor and
Integrity - the life of Lt. Col. M. A. Iyorshe".  I am not in a
position to
divulge certain sources so bear with me - but trust what you see.

 


The Coup - Lt. Col Iyorshe's Testimony

 

Lt. Col. A M. Iyorshe was investigated by an SIP team led by Captain
Christopher Olufunsho Otunlana, who was at that time Commanding
Officer of
the Strategic Intelligence Support Group.   Iyorshe had been brought
to
Lagos from Kaduna. Beginning on Dec 21, 1985, he was confronted at a
location in Ikoyi in a number of interviews by the SIP and provided
with a
questionnaire to complete.  After "cautionary statements written in
the
english language" (which is the military equivalent of miranda
rights), he
was asked to make written statements freehand.  A tape recorder was
also
used to record the interviews with him but those tapes later became
the
subject of controversy because of concerns that they had been
doctored.  In
fact during one attempt to play a tape by the prosecution they
discovered
that the speed of the standard tape player in the court was such that
the
tapes could not be played back, indicating that a high fidelity
system using
a different speed was used to make the recordings (or tamper with
them) -
which immediately caused suspicion.  Col. Iyorshe himself repeatedly
opposed
any tape being used expressing concern that he had spoken with a
twisted
voice which could hardly be proven to be his.  Further he said he did
not
sign any tape.

In addition to the interview of Dec 21 (which is reflected below), he
was
interviewed on Dec 23 and Dec 30.
Those interviews will be posted shortly.

Background

On Dec 31 1983, during the Buhari coup against President Shagari, Mike
Iyorshe was the Brigade Major at the Bde of Gds in Lagos.  He was not
privy
to the plot and was even initially arrested along with Colonel
Khaliel, who at that time was Brigade Commander.  Khaliel had tried to put down
the coup.
After release Iyorshe was initially listed for summary retirement but
this was changed and he was posted to Jaji.

On August 27, 1985 General Babangida successfully overthrew General
Buhari in a Palace Coup.

CAUTION

Although hailed as the most credible witness, some specifics of the
Colonel's testimony were disputed by others, including Vatsa,
Bitiyong, Bamidele and Effiong.  For fairness, keep this in mind as you read
it.  I also warn you that this is only a summary of more details which will
be forthcoming in the Biography.
 

 

WRITTEN TESTIMONY

"1.    I, Lt. Col. A. M. Iyorshe, having been duly cautioned in the
Emglish
Language that I am not obliged to say anything unless I wish to do
so, that
whatever I say may be taken in writing and may be given in evidence. 
I,
therefore, elect to state as follows:

2.    I made contact with Lt. Col. CA Oche sometime in October on
matters
affecting the nation.  We discussed in general terms what was, we
felt, a
betrayal of the military, the amount of national issues and court
action,
the general indiscipline including the armed forces and tribalism. 
Other
things included the blanket release of the political prisoners; the
release
of Dantata and his associates, who it was established, was guilty of
cocaine
trafficking.  There were also cases of millions of money salted away
in
foreign countries, incompetence in the military and lack of
professionalism.

3.    We then agreed that there ought to be a change in the country.
Our
discussions were with Lt. Col Bitiyong, who in fact called me to
Lagos in
the first place.  Bitiyong was in possession of documents which he
believed
were used to spirit away millions of pounds all in the name of
equipment
maintenance agreements on behalf of the armed forces i.e. the Army. 
We were
unhappy that such series of coups where certain individuals featured
always
left a bad impression on the minds of young officers and that it
legitimizes
coups in the Armed Forces.  With those documents above, which showed
all the
details, Bitiyong, Oche and I met to discuss the matter.  We also
believed
that leadership was by example. So those who led the nation cannot
have
their children abroad while other citizens struggled to educate their
children in the country.

4.    Back in Kaduna, I discussed the matter with Major Bamidele,
also of
the Command and Staff College Jaji.  He also joined and agreed to
participate in any attempt to overthrow the government.

5.    There were other contacts which I made in Makurdi, usually Wing
Commander Ben Ekele; he also agreed and later brought in Wing
Commander
Sakaba.

6.  There was only one useful meeting which was held in Makurdi (Col.
S.V.L.
Malu's Guest House).  Nothing concrete was discussed; there were
disagreements on dates; conduct of operations, logistics and above all
troops.  The meeting ended up by dividing areas of responsibility
such as
the operations cell, political and propaganda cell, the economic cell
and
logistics.  The main problem of the group was mere finance and troops
as
most of us had no command. It was during this discussion that Lt. Col.
Bitiyong informed us that Maj. Gen Vatsa had been responsible for the
litttle so far used in travelling and the accomodation in Makurdi.
Although
most of us did not want any senior officer involved, we eventually
agreed
that since we lacked the finance, Maj Gen Vatsa's sponsorship would be
accepted.  We, therefore, worked out the requirements which Bitiyong
was to
take to Vatsa.  It had since been realised that Vatsa was able to
provide
N50,000 presumably to Bitiyong.

7.    The operational aspect was to involve the Army and the Air
Force and
probably the Nigerian Navy.  It was not agreed on how it should be
carried
out, but Bitiyong suggested that the President was to be arrested and
confronted with solid facts.  He was then to make a public
announcement
relinquishing his position and was to be granted safe custody either
internally or to any country of his choice.  But we also considered
the
possibility of an all out fight if things did not work out assumed. I
still
insist that there was no concrete operational plan.

8.    There were no other meetings that involved the whole group, but
Bitiyong and I met again to compare notes.  There was not much to
compare
and it was later disclosed that things were not promising in Lagos
area.

9.    The various groups referred to in paragraph six have up to now
not
submitted any report.

10.    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.

11. 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.

12.  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 any way 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 Libya
would
be paradise on earth.  But then things semed to get worse and worse.

13. Throughout these months, I kept Lt. Col. ME Effiong informed of
everything and we discussed issues about the nation in general. 
Another
person who did not know that I belong to a group that was willing to
join
any group that  i knew about, was Lt. Col IG Usman.  He was quite
willing to
participate in any change of government.

(Sgd)  Lt. Col. MA Iyorshe
21/12/85"


The Coup and how it Leaked

 

One of the most murky areas in researching the "Vatsa Coup Plan of 1985" was
determining precisely how it leaked.   I am convinced that it first leaked
from the AirForce, although the Army was already a hotbed of mutual
suspicion unmasked by the Babangida coup against Buhari.

It seems clear that from the beginning of the Babangida administration in
August 1985 various groups and cliques crystallized in the military and the
intelligence agencies were constantly fed with rumors of plots here and
there.  The Governor of Benue State was even quoted as telling Officers from
the state that they should be mindful of being used by the "Hausa-Fulani" to
stage a counter-coup against Babangida on behalf of Buhari.   Groups were
watching groups and officers who were going about their legitimate business
found themselves being watched by others who had their sights on other
targets.  First it was the Artillery and then Engineers that were rumored to
be planning a coup and then it was the Air Force.  Sightings of officers
were made that were totally frivolous.  Police bigwig Mohammed Gambo, for
example, told Wing Commander Ben Ekele that he had been sighted with Iyorshe
in Benin when in fact Ekele says he was there on the weekend of Dec 7/8 with
a civilian friend Mr. Otutu to see a poultry farm for investment.  Iyorshe
never went to Benin.  Even observations as innocuous as officers closing
late from work were being reported.

However, a specific chain of events set up the massive arrests of late Dec
17/early Dec 18 1985 and the following days.

Shortly after the Iyorshe-Oche-Bitiyong-Ekele-Sakaba-Bamidele group meeting
of November 30, 1985 at Makurdi, Major Agboho (?sp) of Army Intelligence was
briefed about a rumor at the Makurdi AirForce Base about a possible coup.
He asked his friend in Lagos, Major Jonathan Indian Garba of the Corps of
Supply and Transport  (who was a Tiv from Benue and often went back home) to
provide him with a contact there to assist with Investigation.  Garba
provided the name of Flight Lt. Asu (who later died in an aircrash before
the Tribunal began).  On Dec 12 Major Agboho went off to Makurdi to
investigate.

Prompted by the information he got from Major Agboho of Intelligence
regarding a possible coup plan by NAF Officers in Makurdi, Major Indian
Garba of the Corps of Supply and Transport  decided on his own to check on
his friend Squadron Leader Ahura (also from Benue) of the Presidential
Aircraft Fleet at NAF Base at Ikeja Lagos sometime on Dec 14 to see if he
had heard anything in the NAF Base Lagos.  In a casual but ultimately costly
conversation Ahura asked Garba whether he had heard of a plot by some
persons to destabilize the government.  Apparently such talk about an Army
coup was already making the rounds in the AirForce Officers mess at Ikeja.
Indian Garba replied in the negative while countering it was the AirForce
that was being rumored as planning a coup.  Ahura - unaware that Indian
Garba was in touch with Military Intelligence - then added quite
unnecessarily that Lt. Col Oche was dissatisfied with the way people from
Benue State were being treated and had requested him to see him any time he
was in Lagos.  In the same breath Ahura told Garba that he (Ahura) had
visited Port-Harcourt via Makurdi only recently and had seen Colonel Victor
Malu - also from Benue.  Ahura added that Oche had been talking with a
"shaky voice" when he saw him on Dec 9, complaining that people were
"jittery" with him at work.  After cautioning Ahura to tell him (Garba) if
Oche made any more "inciting comments", Indian Garba reported this
conversation to his Supply & Transport Corp Commander, Colonel Ikya  (also
from Tiv, and funny enough a distant "Uncle" of Iyorshe) who sent him to
Port Harcourt to cross check with Colonel Victor Malu to see if Ahura really
did see him in Port Harcourt recently and whether there was any undercurrent
of dissatisfaction from Tiv and other Benue Officers.

Malu (who had already heard rumors himself) advised Indian Garba that Tiv
Officers should remain loyal to the government restating a position he had
earlier expressed to Squadron Leader Ahura on Dec 6 while they were both
driving to Gboko from Port Harcourt. (The Prosecution later claimed that
Ahura may have gone on this PH trip without a pass, perhaps to investigate
the Malu-Abubakar et al Sakaba decoy group on behalf of Oche. He strenuously
denied this angle.)

On December 16, Ahura saw Oche as requested in Lagos and Oche again rambled
on incoherently about the marginalization of Benue and said that people were
afraid of him at work.  Apparently, even Brigadier Diya had visited him in
his office for a chat about "issues".  When Ahura was about to take leave of
him Oche told Ahura to ask Squadron Leader Martin Luther  (also of the
Presidential Fleet) to see him about some spare parts he had asked him to
buy for him.

Meanwhile Ikya was in touch with Colonel Akilu, the DMI.  Indian Garba
further gathered from Ahura the fact that one rumor had it that a coup was
planned for February 1986 when Babangida and Abacha would both be out of the
country.  In the evening of Dec 17, Ahura visited Garba and again discussed
rumors of a pustch. He went further to describe Oche's behavior on Dec 16 in
detail.  During the conversation a speculative rumor emerged that coup
planners were in two groups and that if group 1 failed, group 2 would take
over.  A certain Squadron Leader was supposedly to take over the NAF Base in
Lagos.  Indian Garba could not recall his name precisely (? Squadron Leader
Bodekiri).  Garba immediately reported back to Ikya as well as Major Agboho
of Intelligence who was now back from Makurdi.  Agboho reported directly to
the DMI (Col. Akilu) who then called Garba and asked him to put his
statement on paper.  Ikya and Akilu independently contacted the Army Chief,
Maj Gen Sani Abacha who then sought Babangida's approval to begin mass
arrests.  Just under 300 officers were picked up.  Oche was among the first,
followed by a host of AirForce Officers including the Makurdi pair of Ekele
and Sakaba who as we have already observed were grabbed from home at about 3
am.  Practically anyone who belonged to any group of officers that were
under surveillance at that time was arrested.  Ahura himself was arrested by
NAF Intelligence on Dec 20 and taken to Ikoyi Prison as he was preparing to
fly the Chief of General Staff, Ubitu Ukiwe to Ilorin for an engagement.

Note that the so called coup plot Ahura was describing to Indian Garba was
not really the coup of Iyorshe et al because after the Makurdi meeting of
Nov 30, Iyorshe never met Ekele, Sakaba or any AirForce officer again until
he was arrested.  They were waiting on information on the so called Port
Harcourt group Sakaba had created as a decoy.  In fact Iyorshe, along with
the Makurdi and Kaduna subgroups were quite surprised at this rumored
"February 1986" aspect of the plot, details of which they came to discover
while in detention.  But once officers started singing, the shape of the
concrete meetings which the Iyorshe group had had was pinned down and their
own "conspiracy" became the focus.  Every other false lead collapsed on its
own weight.   Ofcourse the Sakaba decoy became evident, and since no one
else was shot for coup plotting it must be presumed that Ahura was referring
either to a non-existent plot or to another plot within a plot perhaps by
the Lagos subgroup - which later came to rope in Squadron leader Ahura
himself, Squadron Leader Martin Luther and Squadron leader Ode.  Although it
was Iyorshe who first originally  introduced Martin Luther to Oche, he
(Iyorshe) never met Ahura personally during that time frame nor did he meet
Ode.  Martin Luther did not attend the Nov 30 meeting in Makurdi in part
because Wing Commander Uku who was his old school mate from St Gregory's
College in Lagos had him warned to steer clear of any plot.  The only
conversation Iyorshe ever had with Oche about Ahura was a passing reference
by Oche that Ahura was upset about the coup that removed Buhari from power.
Iyorshe never met Ode either, although he knew him from old school days.

And so it was that Oche's unguarded remarks to Ahura about his personal
grudges regarding Benue State indigenes and Ahura's speculations about a
rumored coup in February were passed on to Major Indian Garba through
Squadron Leader Ahura.  None of this had anything to do with Mike
Iyorshe/Bamidele/Ekele/Sakaba - although there was already a leak at Makurdi
about "something".  Iyorshe concluded in court that perhaps there was a
different plan and process altogether from his own and that he had been
exploited and even asked to be in charge of "operations"  while an entirely
different scenario was being played out in Lagos - that is a plot within a
plot.  It is by no means clear that part of the confusion was not planted by
the Intelligence boys.  Anyway the Government bundled rumor and fact
together and eventually shot Vatsa and others for conspiracy.

The process of investigations and interrogations were set up very cunningly.
After being arrested, Iyorshe and Luther, for example, were separated from
others and statements used to cross check statements.  Lt. Col. Bitiyong
(who had independently concluded early in December that Lt. Col. Oche was
being watched) was not initially arrested although he was being watched and
particular note was made of a visit he paid to General Vatsa's house after
Oche was arrested.  Vatsa was not arrested until Dec 23.   Oche initially
identified himself in a written statement as belonging to "the Iyorshe
group" (created to pre-empt unpatriotic groups in the Army he said were
poised to strike).  He also expressed certain anti-government views which he
later recanted  claiming that he had been doing his legitimate work as an
Intelligence Officer all along by "planting himself" on Iyorshe and Bitiyong
with a view to getting at Vatsa. He said he was asked by Colonel Akilu (DMI)
to shadow Vatsa right from the inception of the IBB administration!!   With
no evidence that Oche had ever made any formal reports to the DMI on his
"investigation", the tribunal refused to believe him.  Oche went his grave
convinced that Akilu had acted to protect another group by setting his own
group up for the fall.

Lt. P Odoba was a 25 year old young infantry officer at the Brigade of
Guards Garrison in 1985.  He had been commissioned in June 1983 and had
served in the Brigade of Guards since then.  Lt. Col Christian Oche, Col. GS
at the Int HQ was his Uncle.

On December 31, 1983 - the date of the Buhari coup against Shagari - Odoba
was the duty officer at the Radio Station, Ikoyi, Lagos.  The night before
he was told by the Acting Commander of the Brigade of Guards, Lt. Col. Sabo
Aliyu that some armored vehicles would be coming to the radio station and
that he should not shoot at them. He complied without asking questions.
Shortly thereafter, Brigadier Sani Abacha arrived to deliver the speech that
ended the regime of President Shehu Shagari.

On August 27, 1985 Odoba was again at the Radio station as the duty officer.
Once again he was told by his Garrison Commander not to shoot when he sees
armored vehicles approaching.  Shortly thereafter, Brigadier Joshua
Dogonyaro arrived to deliver the speech that ended the regime of Major
General Buhari and began the regime of Babangida.

On December 6, 1985, Lt. Col Oche took Odoba into confidence in Lagos about
a planned coup against Major General Babangida.  He said Babangida would be
arrested in a coup but provided no details.  All he said was that Odoba
would hear more from him, which ofcourse did not happen by the time arrests
began.

Lt. Odoba was in a dilemma.  Quite apart from the crisis of confidence as a
result of his relationship to Oche, he was afraid to report to his Garrison
Commander or Brigade Commander for fear that they may well be in the plot
(based on his experience of coups in the Brigade).  So on December 7, 1985
he chose instead to tell his friend Lt. Al Mustapha (who should be familiar
to most of you).  Then Lt.  Mustapha was at that time security officer to
Major General Sani Abacha, then Chief of Army Staff.  Odoba reasoned that
Mustapha would tell the Chief of Army Staff directly and quite possibly the
Director of Military Intelligence, since Mustapha was an Intelligence
Officer.

On Dec 13, Odoba says Mustapha confirmed that he had already reported the
matter to the DMI.  When Odoba suggested at that point that he should tell
his Commander, Mustapha discouraged him from doing so.  You may also recall
that Oche had later told Ahura that on Dec 9 he noticed that he was being
treated suspiciously at the office.  So it is plausible to presume that in
addition the leak at Makurdi, the DMI had the cross leak in Lagos from
Odoba, through Mustapha, before the final nail from Major Indian Garba.
Another piece of evidence in favor of the cross leak is that Lt. Col
Bitiyong, in trying to cross check the "Sakaba Decoy" and perhaps cunningly
set up the potential competing group, had contacted his friend, the
Commander, Brigade of Guards, Lt. Col Joshua Madaki at the end of the first
week of December (likely late on Dec 7 or 8)  to ask him if he knew anything
about some officers planning a coup.  Somewhat hesitantly, Madaki told
Bitiyong that the government was aware, although he did not reveal which
group the government was aware of.

As it turns out Odoba has asked Mustapha to follow him to Oche's house on or
about Dec 9th or 10th to know where it was located.  He says Mustapha asked
him to show him the location and he (Odoba) also wanted to use the
opportunity to have Mustapha hear Oche with his own ears - assuming Oche was
stupid enough to discuss such an issue with Mustapha.  They briefly met Oche
as he returned from games but Oche said little except to query Odoba for
bringing Mustapha to his house.  Odoba parried by saying they were only
passing by.

When Oche was arrested, Odoba was also picked up and then charged with
concealment of treason!!


The Sakaba Decoy

 

As we observed before, a meeting of six officers (Iyorshe, Bitiyong, Oche,
Bamidele, Sakaba and Ekele) took place in Makurdi on November 30, 1985 in
the guest house of then Lt. Col. SVL Malu (supposedly without his
knowledge).  At that meeting Wing Commander Sakaba floated a decoy.  He told
the others that he already belonged to another imaginary "Malu" group of
officers which he had created as a ruse.  He said that the group, based in
Port Harcourt, and sponsored by Major General Yar'Adua (rtd) were also
planning to take down the Babangida government.  To spice the story even
more Sakaba told the others that Gen. Vatsa had also offered to sponsor the
Port Harcourt group but was turned down in favor of Gen. Yar'Adua.

Sakaba's justification for this decoy was that he had to feign membership of
another group in order to buy time. He was afraid that he could not overtly
refuse to partake in a coup once approached for fear of being eliminated.
Once his decoy was floated he felt that he had succeeded in freezing further
plans for the Bitiyong-Iyorshe-Oche coup until he could report to the Chief
of Air Staff on December 18/19 at the planned aircrew seminar in Makurdi.
However, he was arrested at 3 am on the night of Dec 17/18 before the
seminar.

Needless to say that the mention of another group of officers planning a
coup created some security and career problems for those officers in
addition to being a diversion for the Bitiyong-Iyorshe-Oche group which came
to no agreement, and suspended active discussions and planning until further
information could be gleaned about this so called "Malu" Port Harcourt
Group.

Although Lt. Col. Bitiyong suspected at the time that Sakaba was not telling
the truth and Wing Commander Ekele knew he was not telling the truth (being
his friend), it was not until the arrest and trial of all concerned that
Sakaba finally admitted to his colleagues that it had been a ruse.  Sakaba
overheard some of those in the hall discussing how then Colonel Abdulsalami
Abubakar was crying when confronted wth the story that he was plotting
against his friend, then Major General Ibrahim Babangida.  So he decided to
tender an official apology on the 6th day of the hearings:
 


THE SAKABA APOLOGY

Ikoyi Prison
Ikoyi, Lagos

February 4, 1986

The President
Special Military Tribunal
HQ Brigade of Guards
Victoria Island, Lagos

Sir:

Unreserved Apologies to the Officers mentioned in the so called Malu Group

I Wing Commander A. Sakaba, wish to tender my unreserved apologies through
the President and the honourable members of this Special Military Tribunal
to the following officers I mentioned in the decoy I used as being members
of Col. Malu Group:

1.    Colonel A. Abubakar
2.    Lt. Col. SVL Malu
3.    Lt. Col. D. Mark
4.    Lt. Col. Tunde Ogbeha
5.    Lt. Col. Musa Bamaiyi
6.    Commander Eyitayo

I wish to reiterate here that there has never been such a group.

I sincerely apologize for the embarassment and damage which I have caused
them.  I wish to state here that I am prepared to apologize to each of the
above officers either privately or in public. I pray and appeal to members
of the honorable tribunal to convey my unreserved apologies to each of these
officers and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

(sgd) Wing Commander A Sakaba

 

 

The Nassarawa Debacle

 

On December 18 1985, Brigadier Malami Nassarawa, then
Commandant, Nigerian Army School of Infantry (NASI),
Jaji, was flash signaled to come to Lagos urgently to
see the Chief of Army Staff, then Major General Sani
Abacha. 

Nassarawa was arrested on arrival in Lagos on December
19, publicly branded on radio and TV as a coup
plotter, subsequently charged with concealment of
treason, but eventually found guilty of no more than
conduct prejudicial to discipline and recommended for
dismissal from the Nigerian Army.

Let us examine how this strange sequence of events
came to be.

A moslem far northerner, married with two wives and
many children at the time, Brigadier MM Nassarawa (not
a  relation of the Commissioner of Police),  joined
the Nigerian Army on March 16, 1963.   He underwent
military training in Canada and was commissioned in
1964 in Canada.  He returned to Nigeria in 1965. 

Over the course of his career he fought in the civil
war, and held many staff and operational positions in
the Army HQ, Depot Zaria, TRADOC etc..  He attended
many courses and graduated from the Command and Staff
College Jaji.   He was Adjutant-General of the Army in
the early eighties (under President Shagari),
appointed to the Special Military Tribunal (Lagos) by
General Buhari, and was posted to the School of
Infantry as Commandant in September 1985 after
Babangida came to power.

On November 9, 1985 one Major Gbor, from Tiv in Benue,
then education officer at the NASI on an official
visit to Lagos heard about a coup rumor from Colonel
Ikya (then Director, Supply and Transport corps).  It
was vague but to the effect that some "detractors"
were going round in Benue State inciting civilians and
military officers to "turn against the government".
Ikya instructed Gbor to warn all officers of Benue
origin in the Jaji area (Staff College and NASI) not
to allow themselves to be 'used'.   It later
transpired that the officers mentioned in this rumor
were Generals Nassarawa, Yar'Adua and Vatsa.  The
rumor originated in the Army HQ.

Major Gbor contacted Lt. Col Iyorshe on return to Jaji
and told him of the rumor.  There was no hint that it
might have anything to do with his own group.  Iyorshe
apparently thought nothing of it except that it
confirmed his own feeling that multiple factions in
the army were plotting.  Subsequently, sometime in
early December, while discussing unrelated issues,
Major Gbor told Brigadier Nassarawa about the rumor
going round that he (Nassarawa) was planning a coup.
Nassarawa dismissed the rumor as "rubbish" and told
his education officer that he certainly had no time
for such things and that people were fond of spreading
rumors in the Army without foundation. 

However, a few days later, increasingly concerned
about the rumor, but very rightly suspicious about
discussing it with anyone within the Army, Nassarawa
placed a direct phone call to the Director General of
the National Security Organization, then Brigadier
Aliyu Mohammed (who was technically a "Peace
Officer"), and mentioned it. He requested to come to
Lagos to discuss the matter.  On December 11,
therefore, Nassarawa came to Lagos (in mufti) and went
to the office of the DG, NSO to inquire. Aliyu
Mohammed reassured him that it was just a rumor and
told him not to worry.  While in Aliyu Mohammed's
office, the Head of State, General Babangida called on
the phone for an unrelated matter and Aliyu told him
that Nassarawa was there, seeking a direct appointment
with him.  Babangida said he could not see him that
day because he was preparing for the New Year's
budget.    Nassarawa tried to contact the Chief of
Army Staff by phone but could not reach him.  He
elected not to go directly to Army HQ himself because
he did not have his uniform and regulations forbade
showing up in mufti.  So he returned to Jaji.
However, 7 days later he was summoned to Lagos by
Abacha and then detained.

At the time he was detained on December 19,
investigators had been directed by the Defence
Minister to investigate two groups.  One was the
Iyorshe-Bitiyong-Oche group which had finally been
confirmed as an existing network via the Odoba and
Indian Garba leaks.  The other, interestingly, was a
rumor that Iyorshe's boss, then Colonel Saliu Ibrahim,
Head of the Army Faculty at Jaji may have been
involved in a separate conspiracy with Major General
Paul Omu, the Commandant of the Staff College. 

However, the so called Saliu Ibrahim/Omu group was
eventually dismissed as fictitious - just like the so
called Malu group created by Sakaba.  But the source
of the Saliu Ibrahim 'rumor' was never clarified.  But
you can guess that at least some of these frivolous
rumors were probably planted by the regime itself as a
way to go after certain officers. (Later on you will
come to appreciate Oche's concern that some of groups
may have been 'created' by his Boss Akilu)

Nassarawa could not be evidentially linked to either
of the so called groups being investigated.  So he
could not be charged for participation in or
concealment of a non-existent coup.  The Prosecution,
under pressure from one of the members of the
tribunal, therefore, decided to change tack and accuse
Nassarawa of not being "determined and zealous" enough
to investigate and get to the root of the rumor which
had been reported to him by Major Gbor.  They said
coming to Lagos in mufti and the delay of a few days
before contacting the DG, NSO after hearing a rumor
was indicative of "Nero fiddling while Rome was
burning
".  

The Prosecution wondered why Nassarawa did not contact
his colleague, the Commandant of the Staff College
(General Paul Omu) to discuss the rumor, or notify the
GOC of the 1st Division in Kaduna.  Those of you who
have been closely following this entire spectacle will
recall that Lt. Odoba was charged BECAUSE he had told
his colleague who was an Intelligence Officer to the
COAS.    And now here was Nassarawa being harassed by
the same prosecution BECAUSE he had not told his
colleagues. 

Funny enough no-one seemed to care that Nassarawa as
the Commandant of the NASI did not report to the
Commander TRADOC  (Training and Doctrine) which would
ordinarily be his reporting relationship as the
Principal of a training institution.  So one must
suspect that IF Nassarawa had made the mistake of
telling Omu (who was himself a suspect) the story
would have been twisted into a conspiracy and
recruitment accusation linking them both. 

To buttress this incredible accusation Nassarawa was
accused of telling a girlfriend that "if you want me
to be one of the leaders of this country very shortly,
continue to pray for me." Of course, there was no way
of substantiating that such an unwitnessed
conversation ever took place.  Nassarawa, quite
naturally, considered it preposterous.  Indeed, just
like other stories of Vatsa's civilian friend, Ekele's
wife, etc.. this could have been another planted
rumor.   To 'lock' Nassarawa in as a  'traitor', he
was then accused of not attending the Chief of Army
Staff Conference as Commandant of NASI and not
attending the Army Sports meeting in Bauchi.  Both
absences were viewed as evidence of disloyalty to the
regime!

The reason Brigadier Nassarawa did not attend the
annual Chief of Army Staff Conference was that he had
only just been posted to NASI in September.  By the
time he arrived, his Colonel GS who had been in that
position for some time had already completed all
paperwork for the conference in consultation with
TRADOC.  Since Nassarawa was new to the position he
asked for permission from the Commander TRADOC to be
absent.  He was granted permission.  The NASI
presentation was, therefore, made by his Colonel GS. 
Furthermore, Nassarawa pointed out he had not attended
the COAS conference in 1984 either.  At that time
Buhari was the C-in-C.  Nassarawa was asked at that
time not to attend, by the Chairman of the Special
Military Tribunal (Lagos), because of scheduling
conflicts.  So what Nassarawa rightly wondered was why
the same behavior of non-attendance of the COAS
conference in 1984 did not attract any problem under
Buhari but all of a sudden it was a security issue in
1985 under Babangida. 

As for the Army Sports Conference in Bauchi he was ill
at the time.  But since that sports meet had been
briefly considered by Oche/Bitiyong as an opportunity
to grab Babangida, the prosecution may have felt there
was more to Nassarawa's absence.

And so Nassarawa could not be pinned down for
participating in or concealing ANY coup.  Therefore,
he was punished under Section 71 of the Army Act of
1960 for conduct prejudicial to military discipline by
being recommended for dismissal from the Army.

So ended the 23 year career of a fine officer.

 


Special Military Tribunal Convening Order

 

Ministry of Defence
Office of the Minister
Lagos

Convening Order for the Special Military Tribunal , Treason
by Major-General D.Y. Bali, Hon. Minister of Defence and Chairman,
Joint
Chiefs of Staff; constituted to try accused persons involved in the
attempt
to overthrow the legitimate government of the Federal Republic of
Nigeria

References:

A.    Treason and Other Offences (Special Military Tribunal) Decree
No. 1
1986

B.    MOD/43/A dated 16 December, 1985

General:

1. On authority of reference 'A' and in furtherance of reference 'B' a
Special Military Tribunal as composed hereunder will sit forth at a
location
and timing to be determined by the President of the Tribunal to try
persons
identified by the Special Investigation Panel as actors or
collaborators in
the attempt to overthrow the legitimate Government of the Federal
Republic
of Nigeria

COMPOSITION

2.  The Special Military Tribunal shall consist of:

Major General Charles B. Ndiomu - President
Brigadier Yerima Y Kure
Commodore Murtala A. Nyako
Air Commodore H Abdullahi
Colonel Rufus Kupolati
Lt. Col. D. Niganned
Alhaji M. M. Nassarawa (Compol)

JURISDICTION

3.  The Special Military Tribunal shall have jurisdiction to try any
person,
whether or not a member of the Armed Forces and Police who has been
recommended for trial by the Special Investigation Panel as provided
under
reference 'A'.  Where a person not subject to Service laws but acted
in
concert with any person subject to service laws or knowingly took
part to
any extent in the commissioning of an act constituting an offence
under
Service Laws, the Tribunal shall have power to treat such individuals
in
like manner as person(s) subject to Service Laws.

POWERS TO AWARD APPROPRIATE PENALTY

4.    The Tribunal shall have power to award the punishment specified
in the
appropriate law including any appropriate Service Laws.

PROCEDURE

5.    The procedure throughout the trial shall be in accordance with
such
rules as the Special Military Tribunal may make either generally or
for the
purpose of any particular trial. Furthermore the Tribunal may direct
that
the practice and procedure applicable before a Court Martial could be
followed in the proceedings before the Tribunal subject to such
modification
the Tribunal may consider necessary.

CONFIRMATION OF PROCEEDINGS

6. Where the Special Military Tribunal finds the accused guilty, the
record
of proceedings of the tribunal shall be transmitted to the convening
authority which is the Armed Forces Ruling Council for confirmation
of the
sentence.

EXECUTION OF SENTENCES

7.  Any sentence of death imposed by the Special Military Tribunal
shall if
confirmed executed by causing the offender to suffer death by firing
squad.
Other sentences will be treated appropriately.

WAITING MEMBERS

8.  The underlined are appointed Waiting members:

a)     Colonel EB Opaleye
b)    Lt. Col. MM Bukar

9. Officers will stand in to complete the composition of the tribunal
in the
event of any of the members as duly constituted under the authority
of this
letter is unable to continue sitting on the tribunal for any reason.

ADMINISTRATION OF THE TRIBUNAL

10.General:  The Director-General, Nigerian Security Organization will
administer the Tribunal in all aspects.

11.  Liaison:  Major LK Are is appointed the Liaison Officer to the
Tribunal.  Officer is to liaise between the Tribunal, Services and
any other
organization as may be directed by the President of the Tribunal.

Sgd.  DY Bali
Major-General
Minister of Defence and
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff


AMENDMENT (Jan 22, 1986)

Under composition paragraph 2(d) delete Air Commodore Abdullahi and
insert Group Captain A. O. Ikhazobor


======================


FINAL TRIBUNAL LIST

Major General Charles B. Ndiomu
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
Alhaji M. Nassarawa (Police)

Waiting Members

Col. E. B. Opaleye
Lt. Col. MM Bukar

Judge Advocate: Major A. Kejawa


=======================


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
Squadron Leader A. Ahura


====================


CHARGE

"being citizens of Nigeria are charged with conspiracy to commit
treason
contrary to Section 37(2) of the Criminal code and punishable under
the same
Section in that they had, in Lagos, Makurdi and diverse other places
within
Nigeria between the month of September, 1985 and December, 1985
conspired
with others with intent to intimidate or overawe the President of the
Federal Military Government and carry out such agreement by use of
force."


The Prosecution



The Prosecution team was led by Col. Lawrence Uwumarogie.  It included
Captain C. Otulana, Major A. Ajibade, Major F Anesah, Police Supt
Orison,
Mr. EG Adiari, Mr. Akintoye Dosumu, Major Indian Garba, Major Mazda,
Captain
Samuel Omakwu (Vatsa's Military Assistant) and others

Military Police/Intelligence teams alloted to the detainees were
under Major
Igoche

Charge Summary

Major General Mamman Vatsa and 16 others being persons subject to
Military
Law, are charged with conduct prejudicial to military discipline and
punishable under Section 71 of Nigerian Army Act, 1960, Section 79 of
Navy
Act 1964 and Section 73 of the Nigerian Air Force Act 1964, in that
they
had, in Lagos and diverse other places within Nigeria between the
month of
September 1985 and December 1985 conducted themselves in a manner
prejudicial to good order and military discipline for wanting to
overthrow
the Federal Military Government of Nigeria.

All accused pleaded not guilty.
 

----------------------------------------------------------------------


Lt. Col Iyorshe was defended by Captain Chiefe and Major Bello-
Fadile.  His initial choice of C. C. Iwese was not honored because that officer was
supposedly on course.  The tribunal insisted that suspects pick
lawyers who were physically resident in the Lagos area
 


Major General Vatsa had no defence counsel.  His request for Lt. Col
Yohanna Madaki was disallowed supposedly because Madaki was a State Governor at the time. The Tribunal offered him a list of Captains to choose from
which he turned down because they were inexperienced AND he was concerned that having a very young officer defend him might jeopardize the career of that
officer down the road.  He was also refused access to his family to arrange
legal defence.  Instead the liaison officer offered to carry messages back
and forth.

Furthermore, the Tribunal for one reason or another prevented any of
the witnesses General Vatsa requested to appear from appearing perhaps on
the basis of extraneous pressure

The salary accounts of all suspects were frozen even though the
Tribunal was still in progress.  Furthermore, the families of all the Air Force
suspects were ejected from their Barracks flats although they had not yet been
found guilty

Lt. Col Bitiyong protested the presence of Group Captain Ikhazobor on
the Tribunal because Ikhazobor was part of the
interrogation/investigation team.
Bitiyong complained that  Grp Capt. Ikhazobor and Col. Akilu locked
him up on more than one occasion stripped naked inside a toilet with feces
for several hours before extracting his written testimony.  The Tribunal
President thus requested Ikhazobor to withdraw

OTHER DEFENCE LAWYERS

Navy Captain Sunday Lawrence Nsa - for Cdr. Ogwiji and Major West
Captain T.E.C. Chiefe - for Lt. Cols C.A. Oche & partly Lt. Col. Mike
Iyorshe

Captain O. Garr - for Lt. Col M Effiong and Captain GIL Sese
Captain D. Bita Kaye - for Lt. Dakpa
Captain U. N. Muku - for Major T. Akwashiki, Major J Onyeke, Squadron
Ldrs Luther & Ode

Captain Azeez Ahmad - for Lt. Col Bitiyong, Major Daniel Bamidele
Wing Cdr. Ojibara - Squadron Ldr. Ahura, Squadron Ldr. Martin Luther
Capt. Takai - Squadron Ldr. Luther and Lt. Dakpa
Wing Cdr Osibor - for Wing Cdr Ekele and Sakaba
Major Kpamber - partly for Major Onyeke


Main Prosecution Team

1.    Colonel Lawrence Uwumarogie
2.    Major NN Mazda
3.    Major B Makanju
4.    Captain Y. A. Ahmadu

====================
Opening Address by Colonel Lawrence Uwumarogie - January 29, 1986
====================

Between the months of September and December 1985, Lt. Col. Musa
Bitiyong, Lt. Col Oche and Lt. Col Iyorshe as a go-between conceived and
hatched a chain of conspiracy to violently overthrow the Federal Military
Government of Nigeria having purportedly armed themselves with what they termed
incriminating evidence, they set out recruiting more co-plotters in
pursuance of their plan to overthrow the government by means of
illegal use of force.  They held meetings in lagos and several other diverse
places in Nigeria and eventually the following had been recruited and groomed
as the core of the plot; that is to say:

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.C. 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
Squadron Leader A. Ahura

Major-Gen Mamman Vatsa was and was to continue to be the grand
financier of the diabolical plot.

Consequently the coup plotters were arrested by the security agents. 
The case was investigated by the Military Investigating Panel consequent
upon which the following charges have been proferred against them:

a.    Conspiracy to commit treason punishable under Section 372 of the
criminal code;

b.    Conduct to the prejudice of military discipline punishable under
Section 71 of the Nigerian Army Act, 1960, Section 79 of the Navy
Act, 1964 and Section 73 of the Nigerian Air Force Act, 1964

To prove this case, the prosecution will call fifteen witnesses. 
After my opening address, Major N.N. Mazda will lead the first set of
prosecution witnesses who carried out the investigations.  He will also take the
re-examination.  Major B. Makanju will take the next set of witnesses
and Captain Y. A. Ahmadu, the rest, and I will conduct the summing up. 
Any of the Prosecution Officers will reply to any point of law raised as may
be necessary.  Mr. President, we are taking the first, the case of Lt.
Col. M. A. Iyorshe.  The first witness I am going to call is Captain C.
Otulana.  I will ask the Tribunal to ask the remaining witnesses to get out of
court and out of hearing.

 

Babangida's justification for Vatsa's execution

 

During a recent 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:

"In all I realised that more that anything, Babangida
is weighed down by the burden of memory, particularly
how his actions claimed the lives of some of his close
friends. One that readily came to mind was the
execution of the late Major Gen. Mamman
Vatsa................. 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."


BIOGRAPHIES OF THE MAJOR PLAYERS

 

Major-General Mamman Jiya Vatsa

Major General Vatsa was born on Dec 3, 1940.  After attending
secondary
school in Bida, Niger State, (as a mate of General Babangida) he
joined the
Nigerian Army on December 10, 1962.

After training at the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna he
was
sent to the Indian Military Academy (along with Babangida)

General Vatsa attended many military courses inside and outside the
country
during his career - including Intelligence, Security, Policy and
Strategic
Studies, Equitation, Physical Training, among others.

He ascended through all the officer ranks of the Army, and was
Command and
Staff College certified (psc).

He commanded the 21 battalion during the civil war.  After the war
ended in
1970, he was an instructor at the Nigerian Defence Academy (along with
Babangida), before being posted as a Principal Staff Officer at Army
HQ.

At various times he commanded the 30 Infantry Brigade (Ogoja) until
July
1975, 13 Infantry Brigade (Calabar) until February 1976, and the
Brigade of
Guards until 1979.  It was during his tenure that the HQ of the Bde
of Gds
was moved from Dodan Barracks to its Kofo Abayomi location in Victoria
Island before transfer to Abuja.

Interestingly, when then Colonel Vatsa was commanding the 13 Bde in
Calabar,
it was he who first took to the airwaves to oppose the February 13,
1976
coup of Lt. Col Dimka.  The conventional wisdom that it was then
Brigadier
Alani Akinrinade of the 1st Division in Kaduna who first went public
is not
correct.  During the Dimka coup investigation Vatsa was Secretary of
the
Investigation Panel.  It was from that position that he became the
Commander, Bde of Gds under then C-in-C, Lt. Gen Obasanjo

Vatsa was Commandant of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry (NASI)
from
late 1979. He, along with Lt. Col Bitiyong developed the Special
Warfare
Wing - and established the doctrinal basis for the establishment of
the 82nd
Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu. In fact it was Vatsa who
suggested
that the Division be called the 82nd Div.  Lt. Col. Musa Bitiyong was
tasked
by Vatsa to establish the first Airborne battalion in the Nigerian
Army.

Later on, during the latter part of the regime of President Shehu
Shagari,
Vatsa was the Quarter-Master General (QMG), the post he held as of
the coup
of December 1983.  He was on leave during the Buhari coup against
Shagari
and did not take part.

During the August 27 1985 Babangida take-over, General Vatsa was in
Mecca
with Major General Tunde Idiagbon on pilgrimage.

As of the time of his arrest on suspicion of treason he was the
Federal
Minister for the Federal Capital Territory, and a member of the AFRC
and
Federal Executive Council.

Extra-regimental accomplishments:

1.  Poet and Author
2.  Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR 1979)
3.  Gold Medal, Bulgarian Union of Writers
4.  Merit Award, University of Ife

Social:

Married, with four kids

Hobbies:

Man watching
Photography
Gardening
Horse-riding

Death:   March 5, 1986 by Firing Squad

Lt. Colonel Mike Aker Iyorshe

 

At the time he was arrested sometime between 18th and 20th December
1985 on
suspicion of co-conspiracy to overthrow the military regime of Major
General
Babangida, Lt. Col. Michael Aker Iyorshe (N/2242), an infantry
officer of
christian faith from the Tiv nationality in Benue state, was 35 years
old.
He was a Directing Staff (DS), Senior Division, Army Faculty, at the
Command
and Staff College in Jaji and lived in the Officers' Quarters, NDA,
Kaduna.

Mike Iyorshe was commissioned in 1970 after graduating from the
Nigerian
Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna.  He was an Academy Junior Under-
Officer
(JUO) and later won the distinguished Sword of Honor as the best
cadet.

He attended several courses overseas (all on merit), including the
Junior
Staff College in Toronto (Canada), Junior Land Force, Command and
Staff
College, Kingston, Ontario (Canada) and the Army Staff College in
Camberly
(UK).   He had the best performance in the Lt. to Captain and Captain
to
Major promotion exams in his batch.  He and Lt. Col. M. Effiong (who
was his
coursemate) became substantive Lt. Cols before all others in their
course,
sometime in 1984.

Early in his career, Mike commanded a company and then became ADC to
the GOC
3rd Div when it was in Port Harcourt; ( then Colonel, later Brigadier
Danjuma).  He also got appointed as the Military Assistant to the
Chief of
Army Staff when Danjuma later became COAS  after 1975.  When he
returned
from Camberly (?1980), as a Major, Iyorshe was the only Major in the
Nigerian Army who was posted to command a full Battalion at Birnin
Kebbi (as
a field Lt. Col).  This battalion, (81 Bn) gained respect under his
command
as the most physically fit and combat ready battalion in the Army at
one
time, able to deploy within two hours notice.  In 1982 he was posted
to the
Brigade of Guards in Lagos as Brigade Major - position he held until
early
1984 after the Buhari coup when he was posted to Jaji.

At the Command and Staff College, Kingston, Ontario, he was the best
foreign
student.  At Camberly, he held the highest rank in field exercises. 
Among
all the African students that attended the staff course, he was the
only one
that was allowed to operate as a Brigade Commander to play the role of
Brigadier at major tactical exercises.

In Ali Mazrui's TV series on Africa, Lt. Col Mike Iyorshe was
interviewed at
Jaji.

Hobbies: Sports, Physical conditioning, Military History, Military
Writing
(He wrote several articles in the Army newspaper, Soja)

Social: Married with five children


Wing Commander Ben Ekele

 

At the time he was arrested on Dec 16th, 1985 and charged for conspiracy to
commit treason, Wing Commander Ben Ekele was 36 years old.  A christian from
Igala in Benue State he was a Fighter Pilot and Commander of the Air Defence
Group based at the NAF Base Makurdi.  He was under then Group Captain
Atanda, the Station Commandant.

He began his flying career in 1969 after completion of basic flying
training.  In 1971 he was deployed to the operational conversion squadron
first on the Czech made L-29 Delphin, then the MiG 15, and then on to the
MiG 17.  He went to the Soviet Union in 1974 for conversion to the MiG 21
(training and fighter versions).

From 1976 to 1977 he was sent to the Royal AirForce in Britain where he
qualified on the Jet Provost Marks 4 & 5 and also flew the Gnat fighter and
Hawker Siddeley Hawk, in addition to attending a weapons employment course.
Missile training took place at armament camps in Sardinia, Italy and the
west coast of Wales (Abeforth).

From September 1977 until December 1980, Ben Ekele set up Nigeria's first
Mig 21 operational conversion unit as the Officer Commanding.  Ekele trained
practically the entire first generation of Nigerian MiG 21 pilots.  From
December 1980 until December 1981 he attended the Joint Services Staff
College in Wellington India.

When he came back from India he was simultaneously appointed the Staff
Officer, Operations Strike Group and the Officer Commanding the Operational
Conversion  Unit and the Air Defence Unit all based in Makurdi.  Then
Squadron Leader Ekele was the ground commentator during the fly past of
AirForce jets at the 1982 Independence parade in Abuja, while then Major
Iyorshe organized the ground parade.  After the Buhari coup  of Dec 1983,
Ekele was promoted and became the Commander of the combined Strike Group
(comprising MiG 21s for interception/air defence and the SEPECAT Jaguar for
Ground Attack/Strike) and NAF Station Commandant.  On November 11, 1984 the
Strike Group was split into Strike and Air Defence groups respectively,
relieving Ekele of simultaneous control of both groups of aircraft. A new
Station Commandant was appointed in the reorganization.

Role as an Evaluator for NAF Aircraft Acquisitions

Wing Commander Ekele took part in several AirCraft Acquisition Evaluation
trips on behalf of Nigeria. In 1978 he was on the team that assessed the
French Mirage F-1.  In 1980 he was on the team that evaluated the Sia
Machetti 260, the Agusta 109 helicopter and the MB339 jet trainer.  In
September 1984 he went to the USSR to familiarize himself with the new MiG
21B air-superiority fighter which Nigeria had acquired.  During that visit
he also took part in negotiations with the Russians to purchase more modern
bombs for the MiGs.  Apparently the Russians had been supplying Nigeria with
WW2 stock bombs with large profile - which increased fuel consumption merely
for flying during operations.

In Nov 1984 he was in the US evaluating the F-20 Tiger Shark.  In 1985 he
was sent to India to evaluate the HP 34 Hindustan Aeronautic Trainer (Indian
version of the Agusta).

Operational Experience

During the Nigeria-Chad border conflict of 1982 Ekele led a strike group
that straffed islands in the Kinasara area of the Chad basin to repel a
Chadian invasion in support of the 3rd Division of the Army.

He commanded the AirForce detachment during Operation SeaDog in Calabar - a
joint exercise designed to test responses to situations in the Bakassi area.
Interestingly Lt. Col. Bitiyong was an observer during that exercise.

Social:  Married; no info on children as of this time

Death:  March 5, 1986 by Firing Squad

 

 

Lt. Colonel Christian A. Oche

 

At the time of his arrest in December 1985 on
suspicion of conspiracy to commit treason, Lt. Col.
Christian A. Oche (N/1891) was Colonel, General Staff
(GS) at the Directorate of Military Intelligence,
Apapa, Lagos. In this position he was second only to
the Director of Military Intelligence within the
Nigerian Army Intelligence Corps.

Lt. Col. Christian Oche was a christian from Benue
State.

After secondary school, he trained at the Nigerian
Defence Academy from 1968 to 1970 when he was
commissioned 2/Lt as a regular combatant. 

In 1974 he attended the Junior Staff Course at the
Army Junior Division of the Joint Services Command and
Staff College at Watchfield/Shrivenham in the United
Kingdom.  He also did the Intelligence Staff Course.
From late 1974 to 1975 he was Deputy Adjutant and GSO3
at the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna.  At the
time of the coup that removed General Gowon in July
1975, Oche was the Brigade Major in the Brigade of
Guards under then Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba.  After
that coup he served as the Military Assistant to Lt.
Gen. TY Danjuma, then Chief of Army Staff until
1977/78 when that position was taken over by Michael
Aker Iyorshe.  Oche attended the Command and Staff
College, Jaji between 1979 and 1980 and graduated psc.
 

After completing his Senior Staff College course at
Jaji, he attended the University of Oklahoma in the
USA where he obtained a BA (French) and Masters Degree
in International Relations.  He returned in late 1983
just before the Buhari coup that removed President
Shagari.  In 1984/85 he served as the General Staff
Officer (Intelligence and Security) at the Supreme
Headquarters in Dodan Barracks under then Lt. Col
Mohammed Christopher Ali, who was at that time Acting
Director of Joint Services under the Chief of Staff,
SHQ, Major General Tunde Idiagbon.

After the Babangida coup against Buhari on August 27,
1985, he was posted to Intelligence HQ as the Colonel
GS.  It appears that certain intrigues dating back to
his days as an Intelligence Officer at SHQ under
Idiagbon/Buhari followed him into the new position at
Int HQ and spilled over into the coup plot of December
1985.

Social:  Married with Five (5) children

Death: March 5, 1986 by Firing Squad

 

 

Lt. colonel Musa  Bitiyong

 

This is a biography in progress, meaning that I am
still accumulating information on Col Bitiyong.

At the time of his arrest in Decmber 1985 on suspicion
of conspiracy to commit treason, Lt. Colonel Musa
Bitiyong was Director of Logistic Planning at the Army
HQ in Lagos. 

He enlisted in the Army as a pupil at the Nigerian
Military School Zaria on January 23, 1961 where he was
two years senior to Mike Iyorshe. 

He was commissioned during the civil war on August
1st, 1967 in the United Kingdom. I believe he
completed a short service officer program but I am in
the process of confirming from relevant training
institutions in Britain.  He, like former Army Chief
Major Gen. MC Alli, was an emergency Commissioned (EC)
Officer because of the exigencies of the time.

He fought during the civil war and had an excellent
reputation as a brilliant and very very tough young
infantry officer.

After the civil war he attended the Infantry Officers
Basic and Defence Course in the United States followed
by Airborne training, also in the US.  Bitiyong was
among the first three or four Nigerians to be airborne
qualified. (Some others include Akinrinade and
Obiyale)

He later attended the United States Marine Command
Course as well as the US Marine Staff College. 

At the time he was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy
he had been nominated to attend the Royal College of
Defence Studies in the UK - a War College Equivalent
course usually reserved for senior Colonels
transitioning to junior Brigadiers.

Bitiyong held a number of important positions during
his career. He was Deputy Commandant at the Army Schol
of Infantry from 1979-81 where he was deputy to then
Commandant Brigadier Vatsa and was credited with
establishing the airborne training program.  He then
commanded the 7th Infantry Brigade in Sokoto for about
6 months before being redeployed to simultaneously
command the 130th Battalion at Ikom and the 13th
Amphibious Brigade in Calabar.

From 1982 to 83 he was the Colonel AQ at the 82 Div HQ
in Enugu. In that position he helped establish the
first AirBorne Battalion in Nigeria, now based at
Makurdi.  From that position he got deployed back to
Army HQ, initially as Director of Equipment Management
and then as Director of Logistic Planning in "Q"
Branch.

Over the years Lt. Col. Bitiyong was entrusted with
many sensitive extra-regimental duties.  He had the
image of a "can do" "special forces" officer - "a
soldier's soldier".  Shortly after Zimbabwe became
independent, he was part of a team that went to
Zimbabwe in June 1980 to recruit former guerrillas to
come back to Nigeria to train at the Nigerian Defence
Academy.  The other members of that team were late
Brigadier Bako, then Air Commodore Okpere, then Group
Captain Afolabi and a civil servant.  Because of the
uncertain security situation the others returned to
Nigeria while Bitiyong was left behind to roam around
the bushes of Zimbabwe in guerrilla camps.  He
recruited 100 former ZANLA/ZAPLA guerrillas and then
returned again in December to recruit an additional
50. 

After the Buhari coup of Dec 1983 Bitiyong was tasked
with others to take over the Armored Vehicles that had
been purchased by former Police IG Adewusi with
President Shagari's blessing.  Bitiyong also served on
a host of other panels including the Ministry of
Defence Contracts Review Panel and the Military
Religion Proliferation Board.

Social:  Married with 5 kids

Personal Interests:  Military History, Farming, Real
Estate

Death: Mar 5, 1986 by Firing Squad

 

 

Wing Commander JB Uku

 

At the time he was "invited" from his office at the
NAF HQ on January 8, 1986 on suspicion of violating
Section 40 (2) of the Nigerian Criminal code, with
respect to the "Vatsa Coup Plan", Wing Commander John
B. Uku, was 35 years old.  An Itsekiri and Catholic
from Delta State (then Bendel) he was a combat Pilot
and certified Pilot Instructor who joined the Air
Force in August 1970. 

Wing Commander Uku graduated as the best in Flying and
academics during both the Nigerian Air Force primary
and basic flying courses between 1970 and 1974.

Upon completion of this phase of his training in
Nigeria he was sent to the Soviet Union to train on
the MiGs 17 and 21.  He returned in 1976 and became
the Officer Commanding the MiG 17 Defence Flying
Training Wing in Kano.  Shortly thereafter he left for
Britain. In 1977 he graduated from the Royal Air Force
Flying School as a qualified Flying Instructor. In
1978 he was made the Officer Commanding the NAF Basic
Flying Training Wing, Kano where he taught
undergraduate pupil officers how to fly up to Wing
level.

In 1979 he attended the Nigerian Air Force Junior
Division Staff Course in Kaduna and graduated with
three "A"s.

In 1980 he attended the French Air Force Alpha Jet
training program.  After this he was nominated for the
Royal Air Force Staff College at Bracknell in Britain
from where he graduated with a A-.  When he returned
from Bracknell he was made Staff Officer (1)
Operations and Training at the Flying Training Group
in Kano.

In 1984 he proceeded on an Alfa Jet Weapons Instructor
Course with the German AirForce, following which he
became Commanding Officer of the Weapons Training
School. That School was initially based in Kano before
being moved to Kainji.

At the new Kainji Alfa Jet airbase, Wing Commander Uku
assumed the position of NAF Station Commandant as well
as being the Commanding Officer of the Air Weapons
School.  This was the position he was holding when
approached on October 29, 1985 by his old friend
Squadron Leader Martin Luther and told of discontent
in the Army among some "high minded Officers", asked
whether the NAF could play any role in a coup, and
asked whether his Alpha Jets were armed. He told
Luther off and warned him to steer clear of any plot.
However, again on December 10 he was approached by
Wing Commander Ekele for about 2 minutes after an AOC
meeting in Makurdi and asked if he had been approached
by any Army officer.  Uku again told Ekele that he
had not been so approached but warned Ekele to stay
out of any plot.

Uku had just been redeployed from Kainji as of January
1, 1986 to Lagos to assume the position of
Group Captain (Operations) in the Directorate of
Operations at NAF HQ. He held that post for 7 days
before his arrest for "concealment of treason".
Although he made many attempts to see the Chief of
Air Staff about Martin Luther's approach, all to no
avail, these were not considered enough.

During the course of his career, Wing Commander Uku
sat on several sensitive Boards for the Air Force.  He
was among those who made the decisions on weapon fit
for the Nigerian version of the Alpha Jet.  He also
helped write the NAF Doctrine and drew up the
contingency plan for the Tactical Air Command. 

Uku was primarily responsible for organizing air
support for military exercises at the
Nigerian Defence Academy and the Command and Staff
College.  One noteworthy exercise he supported
was Exercise "Iron Fist" which took place in kaduna.
Uku was also the mock "Enemy Air Force Commander"
during Exercise 'Sea Dog' at Calabar.

Social:  Married with kids

Outcome of Arrest:  Jailed for Life with
recommendation for leniency on account of his forceful
advice to Luther and Ekele not to take part in any coup

 

Major Daniel Idowu Bamidele

 

At the time he was arrested on or about December 20, 1985 on suspicion of
conspiracy to commit treason, Major Daniel Idowu Bamidele (N/1436), a
Christian officer of Yoruba nationality was 37 years old.  He was a
Directing Staff, Junior Division, Army Faculty, Command and Staff College,
Jaji with a direct reporting relationship to Brigadier Saliu Ibrahim who was
at that time the Director of the Army Faculty. Bamidele worked closely with
Iyorshe at Jaji.

Major DI Bamidele held a short service commission, having joined the
Nigerian Army as a soldier in 1968 during the civil war.  He fought during
the war as a soldier in the 12th Commando Brigade (3rd Div initially under
Colonel Adekunle and later Obasanjo).

He was commissioned on July 29, 1970 as an officer after formal training at
the Nigerian Defence Academy.

He was the first Nigerian MTO of the Nigerian Defence Academy.  He was then
deployed to the 12th Infantry Brigade at Aba as a company commander (where
he briefly served alongside then Lt. Iyorshe).  In 1974 he went to the UK
for military training - the details of which are still being researched.
Shortly thereafter, he was nominated for advanced infantry training in the
US.  He graduated from the advanced US Army Infantry course at Fort Benning,
Georgia with outstanding recommendations - which led to a personal letter of
commendation from then Chief of Army Staff TY Danjuma. Bamidele attended the
junior division of the Ghana Staff College Teshie, Ghana where he also
distinguished himself, attaining the highest rank of command during the
final military exercise.  He was enrolled in the 3rd Command and Staff
College Senior Course, Jaji from 1980 to 1981 and graduated in the top 5%.

Bamidele held a number of interesting appointments during his career.  From
1976-79 he was Grade II Staff Officer in the "G" Branch (operations) at Army
HQ.  When he returned from Teshie in 1979 he was appointed Grade II Staff
Officer for Training at the Nigerian Defence Academy.  After completing
senior division staff training at Jaji he was made the General Staff Officer
2 (Operations and Training) at the HQ of the 3rd Armored Division in Jos.
During this tour of duty he got nominated for service abroad.  In 1982 he
was the Operations Officer for the Nigerian Battalion (NIBATT) as part of
the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  This was the Nigerian Battalion
in Lebanon at the time of the Israeli invasion.  Indeed it was the last
Nigerian Battalion deployed there - President Shagari pulled Nigeria out of
UNIFIL thereafter.
Upon his return from Lebanon, Major Bamidele was the operations officer for
the 3Div HQ during the border war with Chad.

In October 1983 during an official trip to Kaduna to print his Divisional
brief for the Chief of Army Staff Conference,  Daniel Bamidele heard of
rumors about a planned coup against President Shagari.   When he returned to
Jos he promptly reported to his GOC, then Brigadier M. Buhari (who, unknown
to Bamidele at that time was in the thick of the plot).  A week later
Bamidele found himself on a plane to Lagos, detained by the Directorate of
Military Intelligence at Tego Barracks (probably by Col. Aliyu Mohammed) and
accused of plotting a coup against Shagari!!  Fake witnesses were paraded
and a mock interrogation contrived, while reports were being made to the NSO
(then under Shinkafi) to mislead the Shagari regime. Meanwhile the real plot
continued underground with both Buhari and Aliyu Mohammed in the know.
Finally, on November 25, 1983 with no credible witness to nail him and no
legal basis to charge him for a one man conspiracy, Bamidele was released.
A formal letter of clearance reference 8/INT/DIR/40/D was issued and signed
by then Major Odiase of the Int corps.  Bamidele returned to Jos, befuddled
about what had actually transpired, until on January 1, 1984 his own GOC
Brigadier Buhari to whom he had reported the plot emerged as the new Head of
State!  It was then he made the connection.

In early 1984, Bamidele's name was listed for retirement - obviously
submitted by Military Intelligence (under Aliyu Mohammed).  However, when
the list got to Buhari for approval, he crossed Bamidele's name out - for
old time's sake, recognizing ofcourse that the officer was caught in a
complex vortex and web of intrigue which he (Buhari) had helped to organize.
After being saved from retirement at the last minute he got deployed to Jaji
as a Directing Staff. (Funny enough Iyorshe was on the same list for
retirement and also got saved from retirement and then deployed to Jaji)

This terrible experience is what Major Bamidele used to justify why he did
not report his knowledge of the so called Vatsa coup plan.  The tribunal was
not convinced.  One member twisted Bamidele's testimony and suggested that
when Bamidele reported to Buhari he was not doing so out of loyalty to the
State but to let the General know that he was aware of his coup plan so that
the General would not forget him when the time came!!  When Bamidele was
asked why he did not tell his boss at Jaji (Brigadier Saliu Ibrahim) about
the so called Vatsa coup plan, Bamidele retorted that he was not sure who to
trust - based on the Buhari experience.  Curiously, Brigadier Saliu Ibrahim
himself was actually arrested at Jaji (even before Major Bamidele) initially
on suspicion of complicity in the 'Vatsa plot'. His name was even announced
on TV although he eventually got cleared!  So Bamidele's concerns were not
totally out of place.  But he still had the theoretical option of reporting
to a senior Police Officer or Court Official.

Anyhow, the factor that nailed Bamidele's case was his attendance of the Nov
30, 1985 meeting at Makurdi with Iyorshe, Ekele, Bitiyong and the others.
To complicate things further he was accused (although he very strenuously
denied) of helping Iyorshe to recruit Major D West, then Artillery commander
in Zaria.  He was also accused of trying to recruit Captain GIL Sese on the
basis of a casual invitation he extended to Sese to come along to Makurdi
for pleasure.  Sese did not go - because his wife was around - and this is
what probably saved Sese from execution.

Social:  Married with kids.

Hobbies:  Squash

Death:  March 5, 1986 by firing squad

Major DE West

 

When he was arrested on January 1, 1986 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit
treason, Major DE West (N/2387), a Christian officer from the Ijaw
nationality was 38 years old, and married with five kids.  He was the
Commanding Officer of the 342 Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment in Zaria.

He was commissioned in March 1972 as a regular combatant officer.  Over the
course of his career he attended the following courses:

1.    Young Officers Course (Artillery) - Kaduna, Nigeria
2.    Regimental Gunnery course, Pakistan
3.    Anti-Ballistic Meteorology Course, USA
4.    Electronic and Commissioned Artillery Staff Officers Course, USA
5.    Junior Staff College, Teshie, Ghana
6.    Long Gunnery Staff Course, USA
7.    Battalion Commanders Course, School of Infantry, Jaji
9.    Command and Staff College (Senior), Jaji

An outstanding and highly trained officer, he held several important
positions during his career.  He had been a Battery Commander, a Brigade
Major, a Staff Officer at the Artillery Corps HQ and a Commanding Officer of
an Artillery regiment.  In fact, even though merely a Major,  he was
actually the Acting Commander of the Artillery Brigade in Jos in late
December 1985 when the substantive Commander was away on leave.

His artillery regiment in Zaria was primarily responsible for providing
artillery support for military exercises at the Command and Staff College in
Jaji. It was armed with guns and howitzers of the 105, 122, and 155 mm
caliber in addition to air-defence weapons.

Major West was allegedly first contacted on December 2, 1985 by Lt. Col M.
Iyorshe and Major D. Bamidele.  They had gone to commiserate with him on the
occasion of the burning of his house.  That was when mention of a possible
coup was allegedly made.  There is controversy whether he and Major Bamidele
subsequently met and whether he agreed to participate.  Iyorshe, Bamidele
and West all agreed that they met in his house on the 2nd.  Neither Bamidele
nor West corroborated Iyorshe's testimony that West agreed to take part and
then sought additional details in a subsequent conversation with Bamidele in
Bamidele's house.  However, on December 22, 1985 two days after the arrests
of Iyorshe and Bamidele were made public, and following an Army HQ signal
cancelling all leaves and passes and restricting soldiers to Barracks, Major
West, who was at that time acting Artillery Brigade Commander in Jos
disappeared from his duty post and was declared AWOL.   He re-emerged on
January 1st 1986 and was arrested.  He then (allegedly) subsequently
attempted to commit suicide but failed, leaving him with a head wound.

Although there was no corroborating witness to Iyorshe's testimony that West
agreed to take part, he was sentenced to death on account of his
disappearance from duty for ten days without permission and subsequent
attempt at suicide - both interpreted as circumstantial evidence of guilt.
The tribunal refused to accept his explanation that his mother (who had
expressed a living will not to be placed in a mortuary) had been thought
dead by one of Major West's sisters, necessitating his sudden trip to Conon
in Rivers State (without notifying anyone).  He discovered she was still
alive but unconscious and stayed that long because she needed help.
Allegedly he made no effort to contact the Brigade in Port Harcourt either.

Very interestingly, when both Majors Bamidele and West denied that they had
discussed and come to agreement on partaking in a coup, Lt. Col Iyorshe was
asked for comment.  He said nothing to either man, but stood up, requested a
Bible, and read out the following passage from Proverbs 19, verse 9:

"A false witness will not escape punishment, and one who utters nothing but
lies will perish"

Death:  March 5, 1986 by firing squad

Major Tobias G. Akwashiki

 

At the time of his arrest on or about January 1st, 1986 on suspicion of
conspiracy to commit treason, Major TG Akwashiki (N/2389) was the Commander,
6 Guards Battalion, Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, Lagos.  An indigene of then
Plateau (now Nassarawa) State, Tobias was commissioned on March 11, 1972 at
the Nigerian Defence Academy as part of the 7th Regular course. He was a
coursemate of Majors Onyeke and West.

When he left the academy he was appointed a company commander with the 7th
Brigade. Six months later he was redeployed to Depot, Nigerian Army, Zaria
as adjutant under then Brigadier AS Wali.  He held this position for three
years.  (NB:  Depot is the Army's training institution for soldiers)

After the coup against Gowon, he was deployed to Lagos as a personnel staff
officer in the "A" branch under Musa Bitiyong who was then Director of
Personnel.  Shortly thereafter, Akwashiki was sent to Lebanon as adjutant
and a company commander in the first Nigerian Battalion (NIBATT 1) in
UNIFIL, commanded by then Lt. Col Lawrence Uwumarogie.

When he returned from Lebanon he was posted to the Nigerian Defence Academy
as a Company Commander after which he very briefly served as acting CO of
the 81 Battalion.  From 1981-82 Akwashiki attended the Command and Staff
College Jaji.  He was then deployed to Lagos as Military Assistant to Lt.
Gen GS Jalo, then Chief of Defence Staff.   This was the position Akwashiki
was holding when President Shagari was overthrown on December 31, 1983.

After Buhari came to power, TG Akwashiki was posted to Supreme HQ as Staff
Officer for finance and administration under Tunde Idiagbon.  This was the
position he was holding when General Babangida removed Buhari from power.

Major Akwashiki was then posted by the Army to Minna in Niger State as the
Brigade Major.  However, before he could take up that official assignment,
he was approached informally by the ADC to General Babangida (either Captain
Simon-Hart or Mepaiyeda) along with then Major Lawan Gwadabe (one of
Babangida's "boys") and requested to take command of the 6th Battalion in
Lagos - a sensitive unit responsible in part for the security of the
Presidential lodge at Dodan Barracks.  He agreed.  In this position he was
Camp Commandant for the State House on Ribadu Road.

Major Akwashiki was arrested because he had an informal conversation with
Lt. Col Oche at the squash court of the Federal Government Guest House
sometime in early November 1985.  Oche spoke to Akwashiki and Onyeke (his
friend) about the IMF debate, Troops pay cut, Babangida's decision to
redeploy Police AIG Daura and release the girls being investigated for
cocaine trafficking, as well as the revocation of decree #4 as a bribe to
the Press.  Oche told Akwashiki that he had evidence of the involvement of
Babangida and other high ranking military officials in cocaine trafficking.
On the IMF thing both Onyeke and Akwashiki told Oche that the matter was
being debated by the public and that when all sides of the argument were in
the government would take a decision.   Neither of them thought more of it.

Although Oche was clearly setting the stage for a possible recruitment of
Akwashiki he never actually mentioned anything about a coup to him.  For
that reason both Akwashiki and Onyeke regarded the conversation as a routine
'nuisance' probe by an intelligence officer seeking to check on their
loyalties and did not report it.   Three weeks later at a routine meeting of
Brigade of Guards Commanders it was revealed that the government was aware
that some officers were going round floating the idea of a coup.  Akwashiki
and others were told that the officers involved were from the Army Corps of
Artillery.  He, therefore, made no connection to the conversation he had had
with Oche (who was an Int officer).  Neither did Oche ever return to him (or
Onyeke)  to follow up.  After he was arrested he was told by Intelligence
that Oche had been in the process of recruiting officers by psyching them up
with allegations of impropriety against the regime.  It was suggested that
perhaps Oche meant to use Akwashiki as a storm-trooper and gateway to
General Babangida. However, the recruitment never got to that stage.

Incidentally Akwashiki lived in a block of flats on #6 Okotie-Eboh street
while Lt. Col Bitiyong lived in a house on #4 Okotie-Eboh.  Because
Bitiyong's wife was a nurse, Akwashiki's wife often took one of his sons who
was a sickler there for treatment. But Akwashiki rarely ever saw Bitiyong.
He ran into Iyorshe once when Iyorshe was in Lagos.  Akwashiki had gone to
Ikeja cantonment to visit his colleague Major Jewa Madaki who was the CO 123
Battalion.  (note that there were three unrelated Madakis in the Army -
Yohanna (Governor of Gongola), Joshua (Commander Brigade of Guards) and
Jewa - CO 123 Bn)  Iyorshe had arrived from Kaduna and wanted a lift to
Ikoyi.  Akwashiki was requested by Madaki to give Iyorshe a lift.  During
the ride to Lagos Iyorshe did not mention anything to Akwashiki about coup.

However, the mere fact that Akwashiki did not realize he was being prepped
for recruitment by Oche, did not (as was expected of a "loyalist") report
allegations by Oche of cocaine trafficking against General Babangida, lived
near Bitiyong and rode in the same car with Iyorshe on one occasion was
enough to convict.  He was sentenced to death purely on suspicion, even
though no one ever mentioned participating in a coup with him, he did not
attend any meeting for the purpose, did not carry out any act to further
that agenda and both Iyorshe and Oche cleared him.

Fortunately for him, his death sentence was commuted by the AFRC to life
Imprisonment and he was released about 10 years later.  He now lives a quiet
life with his family in Jos.


NOTE:  Although Major Akwashiki was sentenced to death, Major Onyeke was
discharged and acquitted for want of evidence by the same tribunal even they
were both present at the same squash court chance meeting with Oche.  This
indicates that with no evidence whatsoever, others factors mentioned above
swayed the Tribunal to recommend that Akwashiki be shot.


Squadron Leader Martin Luther

 

At the time he was arrested on December 20, 1985 on suspicion of conspiracy
to commit treason, Squadron Martin Olufolorunsho Luther was 33 years old.
He was the Staff Officer (Ops) in the Presidential Aircraft Fleet (227
Executive Wing) with direct reporting relationship to Group Captain Sunmonu.

Luther, a Christian Yoruba officer, was born in Lagos on April 17, 1952 to
Martin Obafemi Luther of the Taiwolu family, a descendant of the Royal House
of Isheri and Christiana Idowu Ayinke Elliott.  He attended St. Gregory's
College, Lagos where he was sort of a "boy" to Wing Commander John Uku.  In
fact it was Uku's decision to join the Air Force that motivated Luther to do
the same.

An avid sportsman, Luther was a member of the National Basketball Team under
then Lt. Col and later Major General Joseph Garba (rtd).  He also played
squash and was a well known, even self admitted, "talker" with interests in
current affairs.

He enlisted in the Nigerian Air Force in July 1970, was trained at the
Nigerian Defence Academy where he got his commission in 1971.  He graduated
at the top of group during primary flying training in Kaduna on the basis of
which he was sent to the US for undergraduate training as a Pilot.  When he
returned in 1973, he was initially deployed to the Czech L-29 fighter jet
trainer on track for a career as a fighter pilot.  However, Luther was so
big that the canopy could not be closed whenever he wore his safety helmet.
So he flew jets without a helmet.

No-one thought much of this until a Russian General on a courtesy visit
witnessed it himself just as Luther was going out on a
mission/demonstration.  The General rightly pointed out that in the event of
an ejection Luther would crush his skull against the canopy.  That was when
the Nigerian Air Force realized that he had to be rerouted to a career as a
transport pilot.

He was initially asked to fly light transport aircraft (like the Dornier) on
relief missions but was then shifted to the Fokker F-27 (military version)

When the Nigerian Air Force took over responsibility for executive
transportation he was one of the first three Pilots deployed to fly Nigerian
leaders on a variety of aircraft including the HS-125, F228 and B-727.

During the Chadian operations, Luther was in charge of the NAF Recce group
based in Maiduguri. He flew numerous missions into and over Chad landing at
many dirt airstrips in support of the mission.  By the time he was arrested
for the Vatsa Coup Conspiracy he had logged 3,800 flying hours - one of the
highest flight hours for an African military pilot who was only just a Major
in rank.

The details of his alleged involvement in the coup conspiracy will be posted
separately under the caption: "The Luther Connection"

Social:  Married, 4 kids

Death:  March 5, 1986 by firing squad

 

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