The Nigerian military coup of December 31, 1983 was coordinated by key officers of the Nigerian military, led to the ouster of the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari, and the installation of Major General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State.
Civil-military tensions were testy as evidenced by the decision of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3rd Division (Major General Muhammadu Buhari) to cut off fuel supplies and food into Chad, an action caused by border disputes between Nigeria and Chad and which was opposed by President Shehu Shagari.
Against further orders by Shagari to avoid breaching Chadian Borders, Buhari’s units pursued Chadian intruders about 50 km into Chad. These unilateral actions in the words of military historian Nowa Omoigui “undermined civil-military relations and eventually contributed (among other reasons) to a successful coup on December 31, 1983”.
Prior to December 31, 1983, the Director General of the National Security Organization, Umaru Shinkafi detected chatter associated with up to 10 coup plots but the NSO was unable to act because of the tenuous and vague nature of the intelligence gathered.
One of the key coup participants, Major General Ibrahim Babangida noted in Karl Maier’s ‘Midnight in Nigeria’, the media and financial collaboration of business mogul Moshood Kashimawo Abiola in the coup plot.
Colonel Tunde Ogbeha was tasked by the coup plotters to negotiate the peaceful surrender of President Shagari’s Brigade of Guards army unit. Ogbeha was unable to reach Colonel Bello Kaliel, the Commander of the Brigade of Guards and engaged in a Lagos-to-Abuja-and-back seeking game which made Kaliel suspicious. Brigadier Ibrahim Bako was given the responsibility of arresting President Shagari after Ogbeha’s successful negotiation of a peaceful surrender. Unknown to Bako was the fact that no such surrender had been negotiated. Additionally details of the plot had not only been leaked to President Shagari but also Captain Anyogo and Lt Colonel Eboma of the Brigade of Guards mounted a defense of the presidential villa in anticipation of an attack. As expected Brigadier Bako arrived at the Presidential villa to arrest President Shagari but President Shagari’s guards were not pacified as expected. A firefight ensued leading to the killing of Brigadier Bako.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (General Officer Commanding, 3rd Armored Division, Jos)
Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (Business tycoon who financed the coup plot according to General Babangida)
Major General Ibrahim Babangida (Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans)
Brigadier Ibrahim Bako (Brigade Commander)
Brigadier Sani Abacha (Commander, 9th Mechanized Brigade)
Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon (Military Secretary, Army)
Lt Colonel Aliyu Mohammed (Director of Military Intelligence)
Lt Colonel Halilu Akilu
Lt Colonel David Mark
Lt Colonel Tunde Ogbeha
Major Sambo Dasuki (Military Assistant to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Wushishi)
Major Abdulmumuni Aminu
Major Lawan Gwadabe
Major Mustapha Jokolo (Senior Instructor, Basawa Barracks – Zaria)
Major Abubakar Umar
Additional notes on Buhari’s role
General Buhari has denied his involvement in the December 1983 coup however the example of the late Major Daniel Bamidele betrays Buhari’s complicity in the December 1983 coup. Nigerian military historians Max Siollun and Nowa Omoigui note that when Major Bamidele got wind of the coup to oust Shagari, Bamidele reported the issue up the chain of command to his GOC 3rd Armored Division (Major General Buhari) who was allegedly in on the plot. To prevent Bamidele from leaking the plot, Buhari ordered the arrest and detention of Bamidele for 2 weeks. Bamidele wasn’t released until the successful execution of the coup. Learning from this unfortunate experience, Bamidele didn’t report any rumors of the so-called Vatsa coup (between 1985 and 1986) and was executed for it. Bamidele’s words to the Special Military Tribunal that tried and convicted him are:
“I heard of the 1983 coup planning, told my GOC General Buhari who detained me for two weeks in Lagos. Instead of a pat on the back, I received a stab. How then do you expect me to report this one? This trial marks the eclipse of my brilliant and unblemished career of 19 years. I fought in the civil war with the ability it pleased God to give me. It is unfortunate that I’m being convicted for something which I have had to stop on two occasions. This is not self adulation but a sincere summary of the qualities inherent in me. It is an irony of fate that the president of the tribunal who in 1964 felt that I was good enough to take training in the UK is now saddled with the duty of showing me the exit from the force and the world.”
Additionally, in a 2015 interview, Sambo Dasuki alleges that he and two other military officers (co-conspirators) travelled to Jos to brief Major General Buhari, who was then the GOC of 3rd Armoured Division, on the status of planning for the 1983 coup.
Major General Buhari’s Supreme Military Council (SMC) observed a minute of silence for the slain Brigadier Bako during the SMCs first meeting.