Upon arrival back to Lagos from Minna, Major General Babangida returned to the Flag Staff House, located in a cul de sac on Second Avenue, Ikoyi. It was at that time the official residence of the Chief of Army Staff. It was from this location that he made the following broadcast to the Nigerian people:
When in December 1983, the former military leadership, headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, assumed the reins of government, its accession was heralded in the history of this country. With the nation at the mercy of political misdirection and on the brink of economic collapse, a new sense of hope was created in the minds of every Nigerian.
Since January 1984, however, we have witnessed a systematic denigration of that hope. It was stated then that mismanagement of political leadership and a general deterioration in the standard of living, which had subjected the common man to intolerable suffering, were the reasons for the intervention.
Nigerians have since then been under a regime that continued with those trends. Events today indicate that most of the reasons which justified the military takeover of government from the civilians still persist.
The initial objectives were betrayed and fundamental changes do not appear on the horizon. Because the present state of uncertainty, suppression and stagnation resulted from the perpetration of a small group, the Nigerian Armed Forces could not as a part of that government be unfairly committed to take responsibility for failure. Our dedication to the cause of ensuring that our nation remains a united entity worthy of respect and capable of functioning as a viable and credible part of the international community dictated the need to arrest the situation.
Let me at this point attempt to make you understand the premise upon which it became necessary to change the leadership. The principles of discussions, consultation and co-operation which should have guided decision-making process of the Supreme Military Council and the Federal Executive Council were disregarded soon after the government settled down in 1984. Where some of us thought it appropriate to give a little more time, anticipating a conducive atmosphere that would develop, in which affairs of state could be attended to with greater sense of responsibility, it became increasingly clear that such expectations could not be fulfilled.
Regrettably, it turned out that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance. Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions, only served to aggravate these attitudes.
Major-General Tunde Idiagbon was similarly inclined in that respect. As Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, he failed to exhibit the appropriate disposition demanded by his position. He arrogated to himself absolute knowledge of problems and solutions, and acted in accordance with what was convenient to him, using the machinery of government as his tool.
A combination of these characteristics in the two most important persons holding the nation’s vital offices became impossible to content with. The situation was made worse by a number of other government functionaries and organisations, chief among which is the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO). In fact, this body will be overhauled and re-organized.
And so it came to be that the same government which received the tumultuous welcome now became alienated from the people. To prevent a complete erosion of our given mandate therefore, we had to act so that hope may be rebuilt.
Let me now address your attention to the major issues that confront us, so that we may, as one people, chart a future direction for our dear country. We do not pretend to have all the answers to the questions which our present problems have put before our nation. We have come with the strongest determination to create an atmosphere in which positive efforts shall be given the necessary support for lasting solutions.
For matters of the moment which require immediate resolutions, we intend to pursue a determined programme of action. Major issues falling into this category have been identified and decisions taken on what should be done.
Firstly, the issue of political detainees or convicts of special military tribunals. The history of our nation had never recorded the degree of indiscipline and corruption as in the period between October 1979 and December 1983.
While this government recognises the bitterness created by the irresponsible excesses of the politicians, we consider it unfortunate that methods of such nature as to cause more bitterness were applied to deal with past misdeeds. We must never allow ourselves to lose our sense of natural justice. The innocent cannot suffer the crimes of the guilty.
The guilty should be punished only as a lesson for the future. In line with this government’s intention to uphold fundamental human rights, the issue of detainees will be looked into with despatch.
As we do not intend to lead a country where individuals are under the fear of expressing themselves, the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree 4 of 1984 is hereby repealed. And finally, those who have been in detention under this decree are hereby unconditionally released. The responsibility of the media to disseminate information shall be exercised without undue hindrance. In that process, those responsible are expected to be forthright and to have the nation’s interest as their primary consideration.
The issue of decrees has generated a lot of controversies. It is the intention of this government to review all other decrees.
The last twenty months have not witnessed any significant changes in the national economy. Contrary to expectations, we have so far been subjected to a steady deterioration in the general standard of living; and intolerable suffering by the ordinary Nigerians have risen higher, scarcity of commodities has increased, hospitals still remain mere consulting clinics, while educational institutions are on the brink of decay. Unemployment has stretched to critical dimensions.
Due to the stalemate, which arose in negotiation with the International Monetary Fund, the former government embarked on a series of counter-trade agreements. Under the counter-trade agreements, Nigerians were forced to buy goods and commodities at higher prices than obtained in the international market. The government intends to review the whole issue of counter-trade.
A lot has been said and heard about our position with the International Monetary Fund. Although we formally applied to the fund in April 1983, no progress has as yet been made in the negotiation and a stalemate has existed for the last two years.
We shall break the deadlock that frustrated the negotiations with a view to evaluating more objectively both the negative and positive implications of reaching a mutual agreement with the Fund. At all times in the course of discussions, our representatives will be guided by the feelings and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
It is the view of this government that austerity without structural adjustment is not the solution to our economic predicament. The present situation whereby 44 per cent of our revenue earning is utilised to service debts is not realistic.
To protect the danger this poses to the poor and the needy in our society, steps will be taken to ensure comprehensive strategy of economic reforms.
The crux of our economic problems has been identified to centre around four fundamental issues:
1. A decrease of our domestic production, while our population continues to increase.
2. Dependence on import for both consumer goods and raw materials for our industries.
3. A grossly unequal gap between the rich and the poor.
4. The large role played by the public sector in economic activity with hardly any concrete results to justify such a role.
These are the problems we must confront.
ON FOREIGN POLICY:
Nigeria’s foreign policy in the last 20 months has been characterised by inconsistency and incoherence. It has lacked the clarity to make us know where we stood on matters of international concern to enable other countries relate to us with seriousness. Our role as Africa’s spokesman has diminished because we have been unable to maintain the respect of African countries.
The ousted military government conducted our external relations by a policy of retaliatory reactions. Nigeria became a country that has reacted to given situations, rather than taking the initiative as it should and always been done. More so, vengeful considerations must not be the basis of our diplomacy. African problems and their solutions should constitute the premise of our foreign policy.
The realisation of the Organisation of African Unity of the Lagos Plan of Action for self-sufficiency and constructive co-operation in Africa shall be our primary pursuit.
The Economic Community of West African States must be reborn with the view to achieving the objective of regional integration. The problems of drought-stricken areas of Africa will be given more attention and sympathy, and our best efforts will be made to assist in their rehabilitation within the limits of our resources. Our membership of the United Nations Organisation will be made more practical and meaningful. The call for a new International Economic Order which lost its momentum in the face of the debt crisis will be made once again.
Nigeria hereby makes a renewed request to the Non-Aligned Movement to regroup and reinvigorate its determination to restructure the global economic system, while we appeal to the industrialized nations to positively consider the debt plight of the developing countries and assist in dealing with the dangers that face us. We shall remain members of the various multilateral institutions and inter-governmental organisations which we belong to and do what must be done to enhance the membership and participation within them.
Fellow Nigerians, this country has had since independence a history mixed with turbulence and fortune. We have witnessed our rise to greatness, followed with a decline to the state of a bewildered nation. Our human potentials have been neglected, our natural resources put to waste. A phenomenon of constant insecurity and overbearing uncertainty has become characteristic of our national existence.
My colleagues and I are determined to change the course of history. This government is determined to unite this country. We shall not allow anything to obstruct us. We recognise that a government, be it civilian or military, needs the consent of the people to govern if it is to reach its objective. We do not intend to rule by force. At the same time, we should not be expected to submit to unreasonable demands. Fundamental rights and civil liberties will be respected, but their exercise must not degenerate into irrational expression nor border on subversion.
The War Against Indiscipline will continue, but this time, in the minds and conduct of Nigerians, and not by way of symbolism or money-spending campaigns.
This government, on its part, will ensure that the leadership exhibits proper example. Criticisms of actions and decisions taken by us will be given necessary attention and where necessary changes made in accordance with what is expected of us.
Let me reiterate what we said in 1984: This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country but Nigeria. We must all stay and salvage it together. This time it shall be pursued with deeper commitment and genuine sincerity.
There is a lot of work to be done by every single Nigerian. Let us all dedicate ourselves to the cause of building a strong, united and viable nation for the sake of our own lives and the benefits of posterity.
Finally, I wish to commend the members of the Armed Forces and the Nigeria Police for their mature conduct during the change.
I thank you all for your co-operation and understanding.
God bless Nigeria
Behind the scenes, though, from the time of his return to Lagos continuing into the following morning, officers were horse trading and jockeying for positions in the new dispensation. The next day, at Dodan Barracks, coup planners and key storm troopers, along with a few co-opted officers met to discuss the initial shape, velocity and direction of the new regime. It was after this inner process of consultation that membership of the new AFRC, federal cabinet and council of states was announced. The IBB era had begun.
COULD THE AUGUST COUP HAVE FAILED?
Most coups planned and executed by Army Chiefs have succeeded in history but, as was noted earlier, there have been some spectacular failures. Passing reference was made to the Soviet and Venezuelan coup attempts of 1991 and 2002. However, what transpired in Ethiopia in May 1989 is well worth recalling in some detail.
In February 1989, during the Ethiopian civil war, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, with support from the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front, launched an attack against the town of Inda Silase in western Tigray, nearly annihilating a 20,000 man Ethiopian force. This forced a humiliating tactical withdrawal of Ethiopian units from much of the rest of Tigray province without a shot being fired. The embarrassment and frustration of this defeat was a major factor in a subsequent unsuccessful coup attempt against Lt. Col. Mengistu. On May 16, as he departed on a State visit to East Germany, the Armed Forces moved against him. Air Force General Fanta Belay, supported by the Air Force Chief, General Amha Desta, coordinated the coup. Those involved included the entire Ethiopian Army Headquarters Heirarchy led by the Chief of Staff, General Abiy Negussie. In addition to the Army Chief, the Commanders of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th revolutionary armies in the field took part. And yet it failed! Why?
It failed for several reasons. First the plotters failed to arrest Mengistu on his way out of the country or shoot down his plane – an error it is said, that resulted from miscommunication between two Air Force commands. Secondly, plotters assumed that opposition to Mengistu was universal in the Ministry of Defence. So they made the mistake of involving the Minister of Defence, Major General Haile Giorgis Habte Mariam in the scheme. While they were debating further measures in his office (such as whether or not to kill Mengistu now that they were in power), General Habte Mariam secretly alerted Mengistu’s political deputy, Fikre Sellassie Wogderes, who had not been arrested. Wogderes in turn alerted East German authorities as Colonel Mengistu’s plane began the final landing approach in their country. Mengistu landed, got his plane refueled and then turned around to return to Ethiopia to crush the rebellion. Meanwhile, aided by reliable intelligence from East German military advisers on the ground inside Ethiopia, Mengistu maintained surveillance on coup activities but the plotters did not know his whereabouts and movements. He also had the loyalty of the Presidential Guard, which, incredulously, had not been neutralized.
Using the plane as a command center, Mengistu ordered the Presidential Guard, supported by militia units, to surround the Ministry of Defence, isolating the key plotters. Upon arrival he proceeded to detain the entire Ministry of Defence as well as the Commanders of the four Ethiopian Armies; grounded the Ethiopian Air Force and summarily executed hundreds of officers. The Commander of the 2nd Army, General Demissie Bultu, was beheaded. Needless to say, the decimation of entire generations of officers eventually led to the collapse of the Ethiopian war effort and Mengistu’s eventual fall from power two years later. But it shows that a ruthless despot can take on his entire defence establishment, aided by a few key personalities and critical units, supported by a foreign intelligence outfit.
In contrast, General Buhari of Nigeria was isolated early in the game in August 1985, and had no foreign intelligence outfit on ground to shield himself from the intrigues of Army Intelligence, which was able to cocoon itself from the prying eyes of the NSO. Like many Nigerian leaders before him, intelligence at his disposal from other sources was vague about the impending coup. He had no independent foreign security guard outfit either, and “sleepers” at battalion level had long undermined his control of the indigenous Brigade of Guards. Units he could rely on in Jos – particularly if he had chosen early enough to leave Lagos for Abuja – were neutralized. It is not clear either that he was cut out of the kind of ruthless protoplasm Lt. Col. Mengistu was made of. Otherwise, based on vague intelligence, with enough paranoia, he may well have moved pre-emptively against the Army, declaring a state of emergency, freezing movements and ordering massive redeployments, followed by a purge.
MILITARY AND SECURITY IMPLICATIONS OF THE COUP
SPY GAMES AND BODYGUARDS
Other than the initial decisions to release politicians and accused drug peddlers, while repealing draconian decrees and throwing open the debate on an IMF loan, the new Babangida regime singled out the Nigerian Security Organization (NSO) for humiliation. Led by Deputy Inspector General of Police Mohammed Gambo, the dungeons of the NSO were thrown open to the Press and plenty of hay made out of its alleged abuses – even as arrangements were being quietly made for security reorganization that would later prove to be much more malignant. Its erstwhile Director, Alhaji Lawal Rafindadi, not particular popular within the organization anyway, was detained for three years.
Decree No. 27 of 1976 had originally created the NSO after the failure of the so-called Dimka coup in which General Murtala Muhammed was killed. The Inspector General of Police at the time, MD Yusuf, explained to the then C-in-C, Lt. General Obasanjo, that the Police Special Branch could not legally conduct intelligence operations within the military in parallel to Military Intelligence. Although the Special Branch was highly effective in civil society in collaboration with the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs, he suggested the creation of a new, less compartmentalized agency – the NSO – to take direct and coordinating responsibility for domestic and international intelligence and security.
Because the initial objective was to specifically enhance intelligence within and about the military, the first Director appointed was Brigadier Abdullahi Mohammed. Recalled from his position as former Military Governor of Benue-Plateau, he was a member of the clique that removed General Gowon from power in July 1975. He was also a former Military Intelligence operative who served as General Staff Officer II (Int) and later Director of Military Intelligence at various times from 1966 to 1975. He serves the current civilian government of President Olusegun Obasanjo as the Chief of Staff in the Presidency.
In 1979, however, President Shagari appointed Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, a sophisticated Policeman and Lawyer with a background in Intelligence and Interpol, to the position. Thus the original rationale for the creation of the NSO and intent for the position to be held by military officers, parallel to military intelligence, got lost between the cracks.
When General Buhari came to power, he appointed a career diplomat, Ambassador Rafindadi to the post, further confusing issues – although the Ambassador obviously had some strengths on the external intelligence front, having previously served in the “special intelligence unit” of the Ministry of External Affairs. But as Buhari’s relationship with the military deteriorated, the relationship between Rafindadi and the military (specifically Aliyu Mohammed, Babangida and Akilu) correspondingly deteriorated, amplified by his peculiar background as a “bloody” civilian diplomat, intensely personal loyalty to Buhari and image as an upstart in the domestic intelligence community. His lack of previous military service later proved to be a disadvantage when Military Intelligence began playing games – complicated by internal NSO purges he carried out which cost the organization the service of some very highly qualified and experienced Shinkafi-era operatives.
Piqued by the pervasive nature of its operations, including wire taps which allegedly even recorded telephone conversations made by his daughter, Babangida’s first instinct when he came to power was to crush the organization. But as Blair noted in the movie “Power Play”, the new regime soon discovered that it too would need a security apparatus. In June 1986, therefore, following an inquest led by Umaru Shinkafi, Babangida finally issued Decree Number 19, disbanding the NSO (under Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed and Lt. Col. AK Togun) and decentralizing Nigeria’s security community. Three new organizations were codified. They were:
1. The State Security Service (SSS) responsible for domestic intelligence (under Ismaila Gwarzo and Lt. Col. AK Togun);
2. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for external intelligence and counterintelligence;
3. The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for military-related intelligence both outside and inside Nigeria (under Rear Admiral B. Elegbede and Colonel MC Alli).
They all reported to the Adviser for National Security and Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Board, Brigadier Aliyu Gusau Mohammed – who had himself been the first Director of the embryonic, some say experimental DIA under Buhari.
In the aftermath of the August coup, acutely aware of the way he had undermined Buhari, Babangida ensured that sensitive positions in the military were occupied by hand-picked officers who were either “IBB Boys” or apolitical types with no known membership of other client networks within the Army. He did not risk performance evaluation driven random (or not so random) assignment from the Office of the Military Secretary under the COAS, then Major General Sani Abacha. A good example was the way the new Officer Commanding the 6th Guards Battalion in Bonny Camp was selected to replace Lt. Col JM Madaki who had been elevated to the Command of the Brigade of Guards. JM Madaki had been a reliable ‘IBB Boy’ not only during the coup against Buhari but also during the coup against Shagari back in 1983. And so Major Tobias Akwashiki, a pleasant apolitical officer who was in the process of making arrangements to take up a new assignment as a Battalion commander in Minna was personally approached outside normal military channels by the new C-in-C’s ADC and offered the command of the sensitive 6th battalion. As things happened, this ‘opportunity’ almost cost him his life on trumped up charges during the Vatsa conspiracy trial.
This method of personalizing Army appointments and extracting debts of appreciation was to become a pattern in the years to come. But it did not stop there. Babangida knew he had to build a wall around himself to insulate the regime from the same Army he had used so skillfully to undermine others. In addition to a liberal policy of patronizing pay-offs (also known as “settlement”) he, therefore, toyed with creation of new paramilitary organizations such as the National Guard. This was commanded until he left office in 1993 only by the likes of his most intimate loyalists like Gwadabe and Aminu, for example. He invited Israeli security experts to help him train personal security men at Ojo cantonment.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs under Col. Shagaya was encouraged to maintain an independent Security and Civil Defence Force. Indeed, Babangida even granted the Minister of Internal Affairs the authority to arrest and detain suspects without trial, independent of the Chief of General Staff and the Inspector General of Police. He also resuscitated the old concept of a Lagos Garrison Command. Subsequently, in 1989, after a review by Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako, the Federal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (FIIB) was set up to replace the Directorate of Intelligence and Investigation of the Nigeria Police. Babangida also tried to decentralize (regionalize) the Defence HQ by relocating the Army, Air Force and Naval Headquarters to Minna, Lagos and Kano, respectively, a decision that was stoutly resisted by many retired officers who looked in bewilderment as he was systematically dismantling, disorienting and distracting the Defence establishment. The worst was yet to come, however. The Ministry of Defence HQ, housed in the historic Independence Building in Lagos was nearly destroyed in a mysterious fire. A C-130 Hercules aircraft accident – allegedly caused by fuel contamination – claimed the lives of approximately 150 middle ranking officers in September 1992.
In later years, when he became the C-in-C, General Abacha, having patiently understudied Babangida, acted in much the same manner when it came to stifling the Defence establishment. He purged the more dangerous coup addicts among his fellow IBB boys (whom he had never trusted anyway). He also defanged the National Guard but then later replaced it with the Special Bodyguard Unit and Strike Force, a well armed Korean and Libyan trained parallel security organization under his Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza.
The August 27 coup had other short and long term consequences. Former Army Chief General MC Alli is of the opinion that the Army, in collaboration with a vocal minority in the civil class, sold its soul to the highest bidder. The core coup planners, he says, “introduced an upcoming bunch of coup d’Etat practitioners, mostly junior officers of the rank of Major and below” whom he called “political officers or ‘militricians’.” The core membership of this curious group were known (as noted previously) as “IBB Boys”, a collection of characters whose relationship with the Boss varied from the intimate to the opportunistic. General MC Alli says membership of this exclusive club “opened all material and official doors to them. They were a hotchpotch of scramblers for notice, office and bootlickers with a convoluted understanding of their obligations to the constitution and the state. Loyalty to an individual was their credo, and self interest was their tenet.”
His eloquent characterization of the so-called “IBB Boys” not withstanding, I respectfully disagree with General Alli that the 1985 coup in particular “introduced an upcoming bunch of coup d’Etat practitioners, mostly junior officers of the rank of Major and below”. Many of the company grade officers of August 1985, particularly in Lagos, had already taken part in the coup against President Shagari in 1983. In other words they had already been “introduced” into the business – if it may be so called. Indeed the heritage of coup merchants of the 1980s can be traced back to 1966. Most of the subalterns of July 1966 were the main field grade officers of July 1975. Infighting among the original July 1966 coup cabal led to the February 1976 shoot-out – otherwise known as the Dimka coup.
The field grade officers of July 1975 were the Brigadiers of 1983. Infighting among the Brigadiers of 1983 gave birth to August 1985. In other words, over a twenty-year period, the same group of officers and men provided the infrastructure for repeated coups and coup attempts and (knowingly or unknowingly) established a pipeline to sustain the tradition.
Beginning the day of, and shortly thereafter, details of what transpired on coup day became the stuff of conversations in officers messes and mammy markets all over the country. Many of the stormtroopers of August could hardly hold back from flaunting their “gallantry”. Tales of how this or that road junction was “seized”, or how the Police was “overrun”, or how civilians looked on in awe of Tanks on the move became the stuff of legends laced with hyperbole.
Particularly disturbing though were bravado accounts of how specific officers were arrested, beaten and/or humiliated. Obviously, these officers, specifically Major General Muhammadu Buhari, Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim, Colonel Sabo Aliyu, along with Majors Mustafa Jokolo and Adesina, were luckier than the unfortunate Policemen at Ikeja who were killed and many of their military forebears in previous coups in Nigeria who were brutally murdered. And most could not have failed to recognize the fact that the notion of arresting, stripping, beating or killing senior officers – or looting their property – was not by any means new, as had been graphically demonstrated in the January and July rebellions of 1966.
Those with even more distant memories will also recall that there were several discrete investigations of looting by Nigerian officers and soldiers during UN peacekeeping operations in the Congo from 1960-64. During the civil war, looting was common too. In December 1983, President Shagari’s personal effects and life long records were plundered after the coup.
But the culture of bragging about it publicly and toasting to such a serious assault on the ethos and value system of the military was bound to undermine the institution. It was followed by thinly disguised rewards for participants in the form of juicy political and military appointments. A few examples will suffice.
Major General Ibrahim Babangida became President and C-in-C and two years later, a full General. He “stepped aside” under tense circumstances in August 1993. Brigadier Sani Abacha was promoted Major General and became Chief of Army Staff, later Chairman, Joint Chiefs, Defence Minister and Head of State – as a full General. Colonel JN Dogonyaro was promoted Brigadier and became GOC, 3rd Armoured Division in Jos, and later GOC, 2nd Division, Ibadan.
Although his desire to be Chief of Army Staff was frustrated by Babangida he later commanded ECOMOG in Liberia, as well as the tri-service Command and Staff College, and was Chief of Defence Staff (as a Lt. General) for about 24 hours in 1993 before Abacha outmaneuvered him. Colonel Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was recalled from retirement, promoted Brigadier, and became National Security Coordinator, later a GOC of the 2nd Division, Chief of Army Administration and much later, Chief of Army Staff under Ernest Shonekan as a Lt. General. He too fell out with General Abacha during the Abacha years. Lt. Col. Halilu Akilu was promoted Colonel, retained Directorship of Military Intelligence and became a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC). He remained a power broker and one time Coordinator of National Security until Abacha cynically redeployed him to command the uninspiring Army Resettlement Scheme at Oshodi in 1993, before booting him out of the Army altogether.
Lt. Col. Tanko Ayuba was promoted Colonel, later became a Minister for Communications and Kaduna State Governor. He eventually retired as a Major General. Lt. Col. David Mark was promoted Colonel, later commanded the Signals Corps, gained membership of the AFRC and also held the position of Minister for Communications.
Following the emergence of General Abacha in 1993, retired Col. Mark escaped into exile for his own safety. Lt. Col. John Nanzip Shagaya was promoted Colonel and became Minister for Internal Affairs and later, as a Brigadier, GOC, 1st Division. He too, got the short end of the stick from General Abacha in 1993. He recently celebrated his 60th birthday, publicly announcing that he was proud to be called an IBB Boy. Lt. Col. Chris Abutu Garuba was promoted Colonel and became Governor of Bauchi for three years before returning to the Army to hold a string of good local and foreign appointments, eventually rising to the rank of Major General. Lt. Col. Raji Alagbe Rasaki was promoted Colonel and became Commander, Corps of Signals and later Governor of Ogun and Lagos. He was retired as a Brigadier. Col. Anthony Ukpo became a Federal Minister, later Governor of Rivers and then Principal Staff Officer to the President. He was retired as a Brigadier. Lt. Col Joshua M Madaki was made Commander, Brigade of Guards, promoted less than two years later to Colonel and later became a Governor of Plateau State. He was retired as a Major General. Major John Y. Madaki was initially left at the 123 Battalion, then later promoted Lt. Col. became Governor of Katsina State and later returned for two tours of duty as Commander, Brigade of Guards. He was retired as a Colonel. Major Abdulmumuni Aminu was promoted Lt. Col. and became Governor of Borno. After being cashiered as a Colonel in 1993, he found solace in the Nigerian Football Association. Major Lawan Gwadabe assumed Chairmanship of the National Shipping Line, was promoted Lt. Col., then became Governor of Niger State and later Commander of the embryonic National Guards before a stint as Chief of the Gambian Army, succeeding another IBB Boy, late Brigadier Abubakar Dada. He returned to Nigeria after the Yahya Jammeh coup in Gambia, was briefly PSO to General Abacha and later Commander of an Armoured Brigade in Yola. He was tortured, convicted and jailed for the so-called Gwadabe/Bello-Fadile conspiracy of 1995.
Major Abubakar Dangiwa Umar left the Federal Housing Authority to become Governor of Kaduna State and was later promoted Lt. Col. In the turmoil that followed the annulment of the June 12 elections in 1993 he was detained but not charged on suspicion of another coup conspiracy. He later resigned his commission – as a Colonel and Armoured Corps Commander. Major Mohammed Sambo Dasuki became ADC to the Head of State, but was later shepherded out of the country for Staff College training at Fort Leavenworth, followed by a US based degree program in part to insulate him from the wrath of General Abacha with whom he clashed. His father became the 17th Sultan of Sokoto under Babangida, only to be deposed later by General Abacha.
As a Lt. Col., Sambo Dasuki was declared wanted in connection with the 1995 Gwadabe/Bello-Fadile conspiracy and found solace in Brunei. Major Maxwell Khobe was later promoted Lt. Col, and went on to distinguish himself during ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone, eventually dying from encephalitis as a Brigadier. Major UK Bello was later promoted Lt. Col and became ADC to the Head of State. He was killed during the so-called Orkar coup. In addition to these overt appointments, numerous not so overt appointments of junior officers into Federal Parastatals followed. Many other more discreet “IBB Boys”, like Buba Marwa, Zakare, Ogbeha, Dada, Hart, Daku, and others were also quietly rewarded. A “Caucus” of middle ranking officers was formalized outside the Armed Forces Ruling Council. This caucus was more powerful than the AFRC. Majors could decide the fate of Generals.
Not surprisingly, this arrangement badly affected the morale of the more regimented apolitical professional element in the military. It may be recalled that after the July 1966 rebellion then Lt. Col. M. Muhammed urged the innermost members of the conspiracy to keep sealed lips about what they had accomplished. Muhammed reminded them that coup plotting, even when allegedly forced by circumstances, was hardly honorable and did not have the moral status of a war against an external enemy. There was nothing, he remarked, to be proud about. But for the players of August, nearly 20 years later, such high-minded considerations did not rise to the level of consciousness. It was bad enough that many officers who were not involved thought the circumstances of and reasons for the coup were dubious at best. But coup planners and their collaborators broke bottles of champagne and toasted. In fact, in years to come they would repeatedly confront the authority of the traditional Army hierarchy and would one day arrogate to themselves the right to decide who could rule or not rule Nigeria.
Anyway, cracks within the coup merchant family of ‘IBB boys’ appeared many years later. General Abacha, instrumental to the annulment by Babangida of the June 12, 1993 election that might have resulted in the assumption of the Presidency by Chief MKO Abiola, turned on many of his former fellow coup conspirators. He first did so during a series of deft purges in August 1993 (Dogonyaro, Aliyu Mohammed, Akilu, JY Madaki, etc..) and then later when, tipped off by Colonel Shuaibu, he arrested and/or declared a group of officers wanted on charges of conspiracy to overthrow his government in March 1995 (Gwadabe, Dasuki, Bulus, Mepaiyeda etc..). Interestingly, therefore, ten years after the events of August 27, 1985, most of the officers who carried out the coup and toasted their success with champagne were in exile, had died, been jailed, retired or dismissed from the military. General Abacha also deposed the 17th Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, who, some people felt, had been installed by General Babangida over the wishes of the Kingmakers. In June 1998, General Abacha himself died in furtive circumstances, followed soon after by Chief MKO Abiola.
In May 1999, shortly after taking office as Nigeria’s new President, Olusegun Obasanjo, as part of an uphill task to re-professionalize the military, purged the Armed Forces of most of the few remaining IBB and Abacha Boys. On account of lobbying and informed political hesitation, however, a few former personal assistants to key figures in those regimes remain within the establishment. Given the depth of professional decay over the years, combined with clouds over the political horizon, insightful observers and military historians continue to hope that the Nigerian Military’s re-professionalization effort will not merely prove to be a reenactment of the myth of Sisyphus.
The Vatsa Conspiracy
Going back to 1985, the initial resentment within the military against the August coup created the climate for later came to be known as the Vatsa conspiracy. Shortly after Major General Vatsa’s return from Mecca, Lt. Col Musa Bitiyong of AHQ visited him. A conversation allegedly developed, primarily driven by moral outrage about what had happened – and perhaps, as alleged by some, irritation (on the part of Bitiyong) that such a huge scheme had transpired right under his nose in Army Headquarters without his knowledge. Armed with Ministry of Defence documents which allegedly would have formed the basis of a probe by the defunct Buhari government into high level corruption in the military, Bitiyong contacted Lt. Col. Mike Iyorshe, a Directing Staff at the Command and Staff College. Iyorshe, a brilliant, patriotic, idealistic and highly professional officer – perhaps one of the best of all time – was deeply disturbed by the threat of professional decay in the Armed Forces heralded by the events of August. By his own account, he was worried by what seemed to be emerging as a cycle of repeated coups carried out by the same characters for reasons that often had little to do with the national or institutional interest.
Although he had never supported the idea of coup making, Col. Iyorshe became disenchanted with what he observed as a worsening and possibly irredeemable professional situation for the Nigerian Armed Forces. Another highly respected apolitical officer, Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim, former GOC of the 3rd Armoured Division, who became his boss at the Command and Staff College after the coup, had been arrested and humiliated – and would later describe the Army as an Army of “Anything goes”. But the straw that allegedly broke the camel’s back and pushed him into the “Vatsa conspiracy” was the looting, by Nigerian soldiers, of General Buhari’s official residence.
Iyorshe allegedly hooked up the third member of the inner triad of the so-called Vatsa Conspiracy, Lt. Col. Christian Oche, then Colonel GS at the Military Intelligence HQ, with Bitiyong. Sources suggest that Oche, like many officers, was already quietly ambivalent over the turn of events. He had served in Supreme Headquarters under Major General Idiagbon as a Staff Officer for Intelligence and Security. In this position he was privy to confidential documents – which General MC Alli has obliquely mentioned – regarding plans by the former government for a defence probe and some decisions – which General Buhari has since confirmed – that had already been taken.
Therefore, Oche regarded the August take-over with skepticism right from the outset. Unconfirmed reports say that any doubts he had were eroded by two factors. First it is said that his Boss, Colonel Akilu, directed him to establish surveillance over the very officers who had just carried out the coup which brought Babangida to power, noting that just as they had successfully removed Buhari, they could also remove Babangida.
Second, there was apparently a chance meeting with Chief MKO Abiola at the FlagStaff House in Lagos just after the coup. Apparently, two very senior officers present told Abiola that Oche was the officer who carried out the seizure of newsprint and may have had a hand in the controversial cocaine investigation when Buhari was in power. As these two senior officers laughed, Abiola allegedly rebuked him for allowing himself to be ‘misled’ by the Buhari-Idiagbon dyad. Sources claim Oche did not find it funny.
The so-called Vatsa conspiracy was compromised early in its evolution by a mole and aborted in mid December 1985. On March 5, 1986, following confirmation of sentences handed down by a court-martial, Major General Mamman J Vatsa and nine others were shot. They were Lt. Col. Musa Bitiyong, Lt. Col. Christian A. Oche, Lt. Col. Michael A. Iyorshe, Major D. I. Bamidele, Commodore A. A. Ogwiji, Wing Commander B. E. N. Ekele, Wing Commander Adamu C. Sakaba, Squadron Leader Martin Olufolorunsho Luther, and Squadron Leader A. Ahura.
In years to come, however, what primarily drove the conspiracy – the threat of another cycle of destruction of the Nigerian military as a professional organization – came to pass. Several other officers were imprisoned and hundreds of fine officers, most with no connection to the conspiracy whatsoever, purged. Lt. P. Odoba, the young Guards officer who graduated from the Nigerian Defence Academy in June 1983, and, as a Duty Officer at the Radio Station, witnessed two coups in 20 months was also jailed, bringing his career to an end.