Emirs at war over Buhari: How the Coup that Toppled Buhari in 1985 was Hatched and Executed by Babangida, Abacha, et al.

It would appear that since the dethronement of Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo as the 19th emir of Gwandu and the ascension of his successor, Alhaji Muhammadu Ilyasu Bashar, also known as Major General Muhammadu Jega, this pair of closely associated emirs have placed their connection by family on ice with one suspecting the other.

It would also appear that beneath the not too stormy exterior which the people of the Gwandu emirate on both sides take for tranquility, there have been developments which have pitched both emirs in a battle of words.

The twist in the ill-temper and feelings of bitterness between the two emirs was recently restated by a biography of the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Muhammadu Ilyasu Bashar. The emir gave sensational and graphic details of how the Muhammadu Buhari regime was toppled in 1983. The emir was one of the senior officers of the regime in both 1983 and 1985. This publication is therefore the first revelation made by a senior officer with knowledge about the first military regime in Nigeria with situation reports in Enugu, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos which finished spectacularly with the “brutal massacre” of about 600 Igbo, actual reasons and schemings of the plot against former President Shehu Shagari and Muhammadu Buhari regimes.

Bashar, the 20th Emir of Gwandu who was known in military circles as Major-General Muhammadu Dan Ma’aji Jega, (MD Jega) revealed that “Buhari claimed that he had evidences that Aliyu Gusau generated money to the tune of one million naira, which was equivalent to one and half million dollars at that time. But unknown to Buhari, the money generated by Aliyu Gusau through the selling of import license was the same money used in financing Shagari’s coup. For that reason, many people were disturbed with the stance taken by Buhari against Aliyu Gusau. Details are contained in the book “Major General Muhammadu Ilyasu Bashar, CFR (MD Jega), the 20th Emir of Gwandu” written by Usman Dalhatu, Executive Director, Woodpecker Communications based in Zaria, Kaduna State.

However, Jokolo took exception to some of the details contained in the book, faulting them one after the other beginning from what Jokolo said were lies told about his father and the selection process which threw him up as the 19th emir of Gwandu. It is a crossfire, a gun fire from different directions of the Gwandu emirate. He has this to say about the funding of the coup that brought Buhari into power in 1983. “Honestly speaking, that’s why sometimes my heart bleeds because what is happening to Sambo Dasuki now I worry a lot. It is an irony. If I had not brought him in this thing (1983 coup plot), it could not have happened with Buhari being Head of State. It was Sambo Dasuki who facilitated it not me. I only suggested it. He was the one who convinced these people. I swear to God, Almighty. He was the one. He did a lot, honestly speaking…So I connected them with Sambo Dasuki and wallahi Sambo…even when we were planning the coup that saw Buhari as Head of State, Sambo Dasuki was the one who was getting money for us from Aliyu Gusau and Chief of Army Staff votes to help the coup plot because not a single Kobo did we get from Buhari. Not only that, he used his father’s money to sponsor some Mallams to go to Saudi Arabia to help pray for the success of the coup.”

Web of schemes

According to the book, the Buhari regime started well by addressing the issue of what he described as endemic corruption which came to the point of highest development with the conviction and lengthy prison sentences for various corruption charges, but that the tide of opinion about the military junta changed in 1985 when matters began to take a new level of consciousness.

“What happened was that Buhari discovered a lot of irregularities in the import license during the civilian era of Shehu Shagari. Buhari was much disturbed and therefore ordered the Director of the National Security Organisation (NSO), Muhammadu Lawal Rafindadi to thoroughly investigate the matter. Already, Rafindadi had a hint that Colonel Mohammed Aliyu Gusau was involved in the import license scandal. And there were accumulated grievances between Rafindai, the Director General of the NSO and Aliyu Gusau, the Director of Military Intelligence. In fact, it was because of this face-off that Colonel Aliyu Gusau was forcefully sent abroad to the Royal College of Defense Studies to attend a course.

“Therefore, the issue of investigating irregularities on import license gave Rafindadi the opportunity he patiently waited for to hammer Aliyu Gusau. During the investigation, Rafindadi established facts that Aliyu Gusau was deeply involved in the import license squabble. Rafindadi was happy with the discovery. He went and exposed the matter to Buhari who became angry to hear that Aliyu Gusau was involved in the import license scandal. Buhari insisted that Colonel Aliyu Gusau must be punished and sacked from the army.”

However, there were officers who stood behind Aliyu Gusau. Such people were said to have met and advised Buhari that “it was wrong to sack Aliyu Gusau from the army due to the crucial role he played in overthrowing his kinsman, Shehu Shagari and installing him (Buhari) to power.” There was a major disagreement as Buhari insisted that Aliyu Gusau must be punished. Meanwhile, Gusau was outside the country on a course.

“This nagging situation created tension and hostility within the senior army officers in the regime. This forced some army officers and civilians to request General MD Jega to intervene and solve the problem. Jega deeply thought about the issue. First of all, he didn’t want to be seen meddling in the powers of the Head of State or Supreme Military Council (SMC). And secondly, the issue of Aliyu Gusau was very critical at the moment. Consequently, the Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, took the matter officially to the SMC for final decision. Heated arguments ensued among members of the SMC. Some members kicked against the decision to punish Aliyu Gusau, contending that Buhari was the eventual beneficiary of the money realised through the sale of import license. But Buhari, Idiagbon and a few others rejected this argument, saying there could be no sacred cows or extenuating circumstances. Eventually, Buhari fired Aliyu Gusau out of the army when he returned to the country and started the setting up of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The sacking was done by the Military Secretary which was under Colonel Rabi’u Aliyu. At that moment, Colonel Rabi’u Aliyu was on vacation and therefore one of his assistants, the Deputy Military Secretary 11, Lieutenant Colonel Bashir Salihi Magashi was ordered to officially complete the task.

“This development seriously irritated many senior army officers who risked their lives in plotting the coup that brought Buhari into power. Consequently, the sacking of Aliyu Gusau created a division among members of the SMC. One group which was few in number was vehemently supporting the position taken by the Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, while the others supported the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who was the moving spirit of the 1983 coup that brought Buhari to power.”

According to the book, opinions of uncertain reliability that Buhari was likely to remove the Chief of Army Staff, Babangida and some members of the SMC made the feeling of resentment within the ranks of officers of the new rulers after the coup to be worse. It was an idle speculation based on the unverified information that Babangida was to be replaced either by Muhammadu Magoro or Gado Nasko that created so much tension to the extent that some key officers were said to have stopped attending SMC meetings. “At this time, many army officers sympathetic to Babangida started to distance themselves from Buhari.

Such officers precisely knew that Buhari’s ascendancy to power was due to Babangida’s lack of interest in the job. In fact, after the successful overthrow of Shagari, Babangida appeared totally uninterested to move into political leadership.” But in spite of such wrangling, it was reported that Jega remained neutral but that he tried his possible best to provide a link to the emptiness caused by his colleagues as a result of strong opposition. Jega failed to achieve that aim.

Jega was said to have expressed regret, saying what kept disturbing him (Jega) was the “complex military politics which placed him in a difficult situation.” Jega was said to have revealed that whenever he reached out to the incompatible and dissenting groups, they repeatedly denied the existence of any problem among them. But while this was on, Buhari was said to have raised another charge based on financial dealings at the Ministry of Defense against the Chief of Army Staff, Babangida. Jega, according to the book, heard this and personally contacted Babangida who said he had also been hearing such rumour.

However, Buhari denied making such an accusation and said such rumours were the work of his detractors. Babangida was nevertheless said to have asked Buhari to go ahead with the investigations since he was the Chief of Army Staff and not the Minister of Defense. Jega then reportedly advised Buhari to imbibe the concept of diplomacy in solving crucial problems.

The plot against Buhari.

According to the book, the plot to overthrow Buhari actually began immediately after the Shagari coup of 1983 and that the ringleader of the coup, Major General Babangida was fairly sure of some problems within the category of officers that overthrew Shagari. “Therefore, Babangida tactfully tried and positioned selected officers in strategic military positions when he became the Chief of Army Staff in 1984. Such were too loyal to him and appeared not only willing but ready to do what he wanted at any given time. This made it easier for Babangida to formulate a plan for the coup against Buhari. What remained was the opportunity to strike at any given time.

“The opportunity came when Aliyu Gusau was disgraced out of the Army. And the next target of the regime was nobody other than Babangida himself, probably because of the crucial role he played with Aliyu Gusau in putting Buhari into power. And immediately after the sacking of Aliyu Gusau, Babangida clearly noticed that he was placed under surveillance by the security operatives of the NSO headed by Lawal Rafindadi. Babangida’s telephone lines and that of Aliyu Gusau were both tapped by the NSO.”

This emotionally distressed Babangida and other senior army officers who felt the regime was expressing hostile intentions towards them.

Aliyu Gusau was close to Babangida because he served as an officer with a compensatory effect to Rafindadi, the Director General of NSO as a secret agent in the intelligence community. When therefore, Aliyu Gusau was sacked from the army, Babangida, without any attempt to offend any officer of the Buhari regime added Lieutenant Colonel Haliru Akilu, a Grade 1 Staff Officer into the Directorate of the Military Intelligence when Lieutenant M.C. Alli was sent to Britain and USA to officially establish joint efforts by other officers with other Military Intelligence groups. “With this situation on ground, Babangida, Abacha and other senior army officers started to hold secret meetings, planning to overthrow the Buhari regime. Such meetings were held in Lagos, Minna and London. In London, some groups of coup plotters were seen milling in and out of London, particularly around a certain apartment in Kensington.

“And in Minna, the hometown of Babangida, some locations served as the venue for the coup planning. The Military Governor of Niger State, Lieutenant Colonel David Mark, allegedly provided cover for the coup plotters at the State’s Guest Houses in Minna. David Mark further provided the necessary resources to the coup plotters to facilitate the planning stage of the coup. The ring leaders of the coup also recruited the Brigade Commander in Minna, Lt. Colonel Tunji Olurin, into the coup plotting. During the planning stage, the principal ringleader of the coup, Ibrahim Babangida, extended his contacts to civilians, particularly businessmen, media, civil service, academicians and religious leaders in different circles. All these groups were negatively affected directly or indirectly by the Buhari’s regime.

“Some of those affected were prominent businessmen like Alhassan Dantata, Kano, Isiyaku Rabi’u, Kano, Ahmed Maidaribe, Maiduguri, Bako Kontagora in Niger, Tsoho Dan Amale, Sokoto, Haruna Danja, Zaria and others who were arrested by the regime on charges of economic sabotage. Buhari’s regime purportedly humiliated several important personalities like Abubakar Gumi and Obafemi Awolowo. For instance, Abubakar Gumi was allegedly removed from his Chairmanship of the Pilgrims Board and his salary terminated. His official car was impounded. Gumi had a problem with the regime over his disagreement on the execution of cocaine traffickers and armed robbers. And in the case of Awolowo, a team of soldiers was sent to his residence located at Park Lane in Apapa, Lagos where the premises was thoroughly ransacked by soldiers, allegedly sent by Buhari.

“These harassments were highly controversial. It was not known whether, Buhari and Idiagbon or the SMC directed the soldiers to carry out such harassments or it was carried out by some army officers, specifically to undermine the regime or discredit the leadership of Buhari. All these might be an in-house plot to tarnish the image of the regime. But as the Head of State, Buhari was supposed to know these illicit happenings and take immediate action to stop it, if he didn’t sanction such harassments. However, Buhari seemed to have ignored the fact that he was in a political arena and as such must play politics, rather than militarization. And under these circumstances, the Head of State did not realize that he was gradually isolated from the military by Babangida, a process which began immediately after Buhari came to power in January 1984. Nonetheless, the ringleaders of the coup took advantage of this situation and extended their invitation to businessmen.

“For instance, M.K.O Abiola, who allegedly helped in financing the 1983 coup was said to have succumbed to the plot against Buhari.

Abiola was actually worried about Buhari’s regime over the decision to seize and auction his large consignment of newsprint smuggled into the country. More disturbing to him was the setting up of an enquiry into the possible role of one of his close relatives connected with drug trafficking. These reasons allegedly motivated Abiola to finance the removal of Buhari from power. And by the end of April 1985, the ringleaders of the coup had successfully recruited many army officers and non-commissioned officers into the coup. However, like every coup, the rank and file that would participate at the implementation stage were mostly brought into the picture of the happenings some few hours before the commencement of the operation. Such soldiers were often misled as to the real motive of what was actually taking place.”

The book explained how the ringleaders of the coup worked out a perfect plan to break off emotional relations from Buhari and the chain of command on the D-Day. They followed with a plan to render the Head of State ineffective by removing his ability to act as a threat within and outside the army on the D-Day. According to the book, the ring leaders also hatched a third plan which was the arrest of the Head of State shortly before the commencement of what it described as the H-Hour which was normally after midnight. It was a well hatched plot as the ringleaders also took into cognisance orchestrated resistance by officers within and outside Lagos that would be hostile to the putsch or be sympathetic to the regime. Such officers were labeled as potentially dangerous officers who should be arrested before the H-Hour by the conspirators. What to do with officers believed to be supporting Buhari but were not in command of the army was considered even though they were regarded as less hostile. The plan was to neutralize them. The officers included Major-Generals M.D Jega, Military Governor of Gongola State, Muhammadu Magoro, the Minister of Internal Affairs and a few others. “And from the military standpoint, the ringleaders tactfully planned the coup to be bloodless, not the act of killing routine.”

In the book, the ringleaders and active participants were listed as Major-General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Chief of Army Staff who replaced Muhammadu Inuwa Wushishi after the 1983 coup; Brigadier Sani Abacha, G.O.C, 2 Mechanised Division, Ibadan who replaced M.D Jega after the 1983 coup; Colonel Joshua Dogonyaro, Director, Department of Armour, Army Headquarters, Lagos; Colonel Aliyu Muhammadu Gusau, former Director, Defence Intelligence Agency; Lt. Colonel Halliru Akilu, Director of Military Intelligence; Lt. Colonel Tanko Ayuba, Commander, Corps of Signals; Lt. Colonel David Mark, Military Governor of Niger State; Lt. Colonel John N. Shagaya, Commander of the 9th Mechanised Brigade, Lagos; Lt. Colonel Chris Abutu Garba, Commander of the 34 Self-propelled Artillery Brigade and Lt. Colonel Raji A. Rasaki, Commanding Officer, Army Headquarters Garrison and signals group, Lagos.

Others were Col. Anthony Ukpo, Deputy Director, Defence Intelligence Agency, Lagos; Major John Madaki, Commanding Officer 123 Guards Battalion, Ikeja; Major Abdulmumini Aminu, Military Assistant to the Chief of Army Staff (Ibrahim B. Babangida); Major Lawal Gwadabe, Commanding Officer of 245 Recce Battalion, Lagos and Major Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, General Staff Officer 1, Armour, Army Headquarters and also Chairman, Federal Housing Authority. There were also Major Sambo Dasuki, Staff Officer, Headquarters of Corps of Artillery; Major Maxwell Khobe, Commanding Officer, Armour Headquarters Company 201 Administrative unit, Ikeja, Lagos; Major U.K. Bello, Commanding Officer, 202 Armoured Battalion, Kaduna; Major Kepas H. Bulus, Acting Commanding Officer, 245 Recce Battalion, Ikeja, Captain Nuhu Umaru, 2nd in command, 202 Armoured Batallion, Kaduna; Captain Sule Ahman, Supply and Transport, Ikeja Cantonment and Captain Musa Shehu, 2nd in Command, Recce Battalion, Jos.

There were officers who were supporters of key players of the coup. These officers were Lt. Col. Ahmed Daku, Lt. Col. Abubakar Dada, Major I.B. Aboho, Staff Officer, Defence Intelligence Agency; Major Friday Ichide, Staff Officer to Colonel Joshua Dogonyaro; Major Simon Hart, Captain M. Bashir, Lagos Operation in support of Bulus and Major S.P. Mepaiyede and officers who were aware of the coup but were not active participants were named as Brigadier Peter Ademokhai, Director, Army Staff Duties and Plans, who replaced Ibrahim Babangida after the 1983 coup, Brigadier Abdullahi Bagudu Mamman, Director, Army Training and Operations, who replaced Domkat Bali after the 1983 coup; Brigadier Y.Y. Kure, G.O.C 82 Division, Enugu; Brigadier Ola Oni, G.O.C, 1 Mechanised Division, Kaduna; Lt. Col. John Inienger, Commander, 4th Brigade, Benin; Lt. Col. Tunji Olurin, Commander, 1st Mechanised Brigade, Minna and Lt. Col. A. Abubakar, Commander, 3rd Mechanised Brigade, Kano.

Surprisingly, there were officers like Brigadiers Garba Duba, Ike S. Nwachukwu and Jeremiah T. Useni who were Buhari’s Military Governors who encouraged the coup. But solidly behind Buhari, according to the book were Major-Generals M.D. Jega, Military Governor of Gongola State, Mamman Vatsa, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory; Mohammed Magoro and Muhammadu Lawal Rafindadi, Director General, Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO). Also in total support of the Buhari regime were Lt. Col. Sabo Aliyu, Commander of the Brigade of Guards, Bigadier Salihu Ibrahim, G.O.C. 3rd Armoured Division, Jos and Major Mustapha Jokolo, ADC to Buhari.

Method of the D-Day

As narrated in the book, the rumour of a coup against Buhari which was generally circulated assumed a spiraling and twisting movements around the country. It was later speculated to have been postponed. “All this was an elaborated deception plan, designed to test the intelligent capability of the Buhari regime and put it off the track of the actual plotters. The Federal Military Government knew that something was going to happen, but had no details of the plot and actual plotters.

And at the end of June, the ringleaders deliberately designed another rumour which was aimed at obtaining the total support of the public and preempting any unexpected resistance from the international community once the actual coup operation commenced.

“It was at this time that Alex Ibru heard the rumour that Babangida was at loggerheads with Buhari and Idiagbon. This prompted Ibru to approach Colonel M.C Alli, the Acting Director of Military

Intelligence over the issue. M.C Alli advised Ibru to go along with him to meet Idiagbon at home over the matter. But to their surprise, Idiagbon turned the issue down, calmly assuring them that all was well among the junta. While rumours of the coup swirl around the country, the coup plotters created deceptive intelligence noise. This was tactfully aimed at sidetracking the attention of the NSO and confusing Buhari and Idiagbon. Deceptive rumour was deliberately coined and circulated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence to the press that Colonel Tanko Ayuba was put under surveillance and arrested for coup plotting. But later, Tanko Ayuba emerged indignantly denying all the allegations when, in fact, he was among those conspiring to overthrow Buhari.

“And by the beginning of August 1985, the Directorate of Military Intelligence invented another rumour that Aliyu Gusau was planning something in reaction to his compulsory retirement and that soldiers should be ready for internal security operations to protect Buhari’s regime. In reality, however, this rumour was intended to allow for the full mobilization of troops against the Buhari regime. It was at this time that Babangida began nationwide tour of military formations possibly to tie all the loose ends. However, Colonel M.C. Alli who was disturbed about the situation met Tunde Idiagbon again, narrating that he heard information about the coup from different circles. But Idiagbon blew up the warning, saying angrily, ‘let them try’ which they did and to their credit without bloodshed.”

This was not the only warning or information about an imminent coup to the authorities of the Buhari regime. Mamman Vatsa made a completely separate and connected warning to both Buhari and Idiagbon about Babangida’s attempt to topple the government. However, both leaders did nothing about the information provided. After a second warning to the duo by Vatsa, the Minister kept his cool, “for it may appear that he was lobbying for Babangida’s position of Chief of Army Staff.”

Not long after, precisely in that same month of August 1985, Buhari headed for his home town, Daura. The trip was for two weeks and publicly announced. With the tense atmosphere, his Chief of Staff also jetted out of the country for that year’s Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Curiously, he was accompanied by Mamman Vatsa who had earlier warned of a coup plot, Brigadier Mamman Nasarawa and one of his under-age sons. Going for Hajj with an under-age son was in violation of the laws set by the regime. Then there was tension and restiveness in the Barracks throughout the federation over Buhari’s decision to reduce the size of the Army. This decision was aimed at reducing defence expenditure in harmony with the austerity measures introduced by the Buhari regime. Soldiers who feared they might lose their jobs became demoralized. On the part of the public, there was a palpable fear of an increase in the rate at which armed banditry would manifest. Then to worsen matters, rumours flew that Buhari was planning to make some changes in the administration after Sallah break and Babangida would be negatively affected. The bad blood generated by this rumour attracted the attention of Mahmud Tukur, Buhari’s Minister of Commerce who hails from Yola. A disturbed Mahmud moved to Government House, Yola where he informed Major-General M.D. Jega that there was a serious confrontation between Buhari and Babangida. He was sure of dire consequences if care was not taken. Jega was said to have ruminated over the possible cause of the problem between the duo. He was particularly saddened when he arrived at the conclusion that there was a demonstration of ingratitude on the part of Buhari because ”Babangida could have assumed leadership of the country if he so wished and no officer could stop him from doing so among them. This trend of thoughts seriously saddened Major-General M.D. Jega who instantly assured Mahmud Tukur that he would do his utmost best to solve the problem. Jega then suggested a meeting in Yola immediately after the return of Idiagbon from Hajj, where all the disputing parties would sit down and deliberate on the problems.”

However, when Jega phoned Babangida to enquire what was happening among them, his response was ‘Mallam, kar ka damu, zan zo Yola musamman in ganka bayan sallah’, which literally means ‘Mallam, do not worry, I am coming purposely to see you in Yola after Sallah’. When two days to Sallah, Murtala Nyako, Aluko and some other military officers visited their families in Yola, they paid a casual visit to Jega, but none of them disclosed anything to him and he suspected nothing. Unknown to Jega, all the officers who visited him were involved in the coup plot.

A day to Sallah, Babangida left Lagos for Minna for Sallah break.

How the coup plotters struck in Lagos.

It was in the early hours of 26th August, 1985. Muslims reached the same point coming from different direction at the Eid-el-Kabir prayer ground in the Ikeja cantonment. While there, words came to the key players at tactical coup command level that the coup was to proceed that night. In that morning hours, mobilization of the troops to execute the coup began in Lagos. Meanwhile, Babangida was in Minna attending to his relatives who had come on a Sallah visit. The atmosphere around him betrayed what was happening in Lagos.

Nevertheless, before he left Lagos, Babangida had put his Military Assistant, Major Abdulmumini Aminu in charge of the coup coordination. The Ikeja cantonment was designed as the concentration point for the coup plotters. Before Babangida left Lagos, a bogus military exercise was prearranged. It was meant to allow the unsuspected concentration of many Armoured Personnel Carriers and Armoured Fighting Vehicles at Ikeja Barracks. These vehicles had been on standby a week earlier.

It was the D-Day. Some of the ringleaders of the coup converged at the Armour Headquarters Battalion Mess to kick start the operation. But the coordinating centres for the activities of the coup were the main hall of Bonny Camp and a Guest House in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Security for the coup plotters was provided mainly by the elements of Guards Battalion and Recce Troops which were placed on standby at Bonny Camp. “As the day progressed, strong indications emerged that something bad was about to happen. This startled the Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari and his commander of Brigade of Guards, Lieutenant Sabo Aliyu who made strenuous efforts to find details and prepare for any eventuality. Sabo Aliyu kept on asking his course mate, Lieutenant Colonel Halliru Akilu who was the Director of Military Intelligence, about the rumours of impending coup on that day. But Halliru Akilu who was deeply involved in the coup vehemently denied such rumours and kept on reassuring Sabo Aliyu that there was nothing like that. Halliru Akilu affirmed that such rumours were investigated and there was nothing to fear.

The isolation of Buhari by IBB, Abacha and others

“However, Colonel Sabo was totally dissatisfied with the situation because all the coup indicators abound everywhere in Lagos. This forced Sabo Aliyu and Major Mustapha Jokolo, the ADC to Buhari, to keep on shuttling between Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Ikeja seeking information and checking the status of command units. Unaware to them, all their moves were closely being monitored by Military Intelligence personnel. Disturbed with the uncertainty of the situation on that Sallah day, the Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari tried several telephone calls to get in touch with Brigadier Sani Abacha, the G.O.C of the 2 Division, Ibadan. The 2 Division was responsible for providing all the security of Lagos, the Federal Capital. But Buhari desolately failed to get Abacha on phone. This added more fear to Buhari who resolved to send urgent signals to Abacha. Even the signals didn’t reach Abacha. Why? What was happening? This niggling situation prompted the Commander of the Brigade of Guards, Colonel Sabo Aliyu to send Captain Maitama to Ibadan to get in touch with Abacha. The message was clear: that Buhari wanted Abacha to clarify his position on the situation. But unknown to Buhari and Sabo Aliyu, Captain Maitama too was deeply involved in the coup. Whether Maitama went to Ibadan and relayed the message to Abacha or not was not certain. But later in the day, Captain Maitama returned to Lagos empty handed with no reported contact with Sani Abacha.

“After failing to establish contact with Abacha, Muhammadu Buhari resolved to get in touch with his Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Babangida. Buhari tried several phone calls to Minna, but nobody picked the telephone. But Babangida’s Staff Officer, Abdulmumini Aminu easily got Babangida on telephone while the Head of State could not. Buhari knew that Babangida was an armoured officer and he could move at any time and Tanks are the ultimate symbol of military power. This situation placed Buhari under a difficult situation. In the evening of that Sallah day, Lt. Colonel Sabo Aliyu and Mustapha Jokolo took a car to the Ikeja Cantonment to get information. On their arrival at the gate, they were arrested by soldiers under the command of Major John Y. Madaki and Major Maxwell Khobe. They were severely beaten. In fact, shots were fired directly at their Mercedes car and its tires deflated. Sabo Aliyu and Mustapha Jokolo were then taken to a makeshift transit detention point at Officers’ Quarters in Bonny Camp where they were detained that evening.

“And by night-fall, the horrible and ugly nature of the situation became apparent to Buhari. He was completely isolated at the State House in Dodan Barracks. There was nobody to assist him among his senior officers. His second in command, Tunde Idiagbon was in Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. His Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Babangida was in Minna and more annoying, was not returning his calls. The same equally applied to the GOC of the 2 Division, Brigadier Sani Abacha who could not be reached. And worst of all was that the Garrison Commander, Maitama whom Buhari relied upon to deliver a message to Abacha could not be found. More agitating to Buhari at that critical point was the disappearance of his Commander of Brigade of Guards, Sabo Aliyu and his ADC, Mustapha Jokolo. What happened to them and what was their position? This was the answer which Buhari could not provide at that moment.”

As it was, Buhari had been cut off from the chain of military command. By this time ,only the Director General of the NSO, Lawal Rafindadi, Domkat Bali, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Major General Muhammadu Magoro, Minister of Internal Affairs were the officers with him. Buhari was not even sure of Domkat Bali’s position and Magoro as the Internal Affairs Minister had no troop of his own and could not deploy Customs and Prisons officials to bring down a coup by the army.

Others loyal to him, Major General M.D. Jega, the Military Governor of Gongola State and Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim, G.O.C 3 Division, Jos, were far away from Lagos. This situation forced Buhari to order soldiers stationed on guard duty at the State House not to stop troops that are likely tocome. Unknown to him, the soldiers were in the coup picture. Then around 9.00pm of that 26th August, 1984, four middle grade officers, reinforced by 245 Recce Battalion commanded by Khobe stormed State House. These officers were Majors Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Lawal Gwadabe, Abdulmumini Aminu and Sambo Dasuki. These officers arrested Buhari at gun point and took him to Bonny Camp where he was detained. Both Sabo Aliyu and Buhari’s ADC, Mustapha Jokolo were later detained in the same house and kept with their boss, according to the book. Buhari was later taken to Benin.

But while officers were busy blocking all entry and exit points in the Lagos area, soldiers on guard duty at the State House were said to be busy ransacking and looting properties belonging to Buhari. While all these were going on, the Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Babangida was in Minna comfortably with his family. By 10.am on the 27th of August, the coup coordinators, mainly middle grade officers had successfully established radio contact with all the Divisional and Brigade Headquarters all over the country. Pledges of loyalty to the coup started pouring in from military formations in the country. The masterminds of the coup started moving into Lagos. The message to Babangida was specific: that Babangida must return to Lagos immediately to take charge. He arrived Lagos aboard an Airforce plane. All the ringleaders of the coup, including the sacked Colonel Aliyu Gusau went into a meeting and emerged with Brigadier Sani Abacha announcing Ibrahim Babangida as the Head of State.

“In the evening hour, Babangida went to the NTA to broadcast his first speech as Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. He was accompanied by Joshua Dogonyaro, Halliru Akilu and John Shagaya. It was in the car that Babangida altered the word, Head of State to President, making him the first Nigerian military leader to refer to himself as President, unlike his predecessors who used the benign appellation of Head of State.”

Email: sunonlineteam@gmail.com

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