• Tuesday, March 05, 2024
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Another 27th August has slipped by


Memory can be deceptive and unreliable.  Consequently, the date 27th August may have little resonance for most Nigerians as they go about their daily struggle for survival in a most daunting economic environment combined with the ding-dong of political turmoil.

Regardless, 27th August 1985 is a date some of us will never forget – not out of choice but on account of a huge gamble with death, albeit unknowingly.

Let us wind the tape back.  Without any warning (except amongst the more discerning) towards the end of Ramadan – a period of utmost sanctity to Moslems – Brigadier Joshua Dongoyaro was on radio and television to deliver a special message, with the opening line:

“Fellow countrymen,”

I, Brigadier Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, of the Nigerian Army, hereby make the following declaration on behalf of my colleagues and members of the Nigerian Armed Forces.  Fellow countrymen, the intervention of the military at the end of 1983 was welcomed by the nation with unprecedented enthusiasm.

Nigerians were united in accepting the intervention and looked forward hopefully to progressive changes for the better.  Almost two years later, it has become clear that the fulfilment of expectations is not forthcoming.  Because this generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country but Nigeria, we could not stay passive and watch a small group of individuals misuse power to the detriment of our national aspirations and interest.

No nation can ever achieve meaningful strides in its development where there is an absence of cohesion in the hierarchy of government; where it has become clear that positive action by the policy makers is hindered because as a body it lacks a unity of purpose.

It is evident that the nation would be endangered with the risk of direction.  We are presently confronted with that danger.

In such a situation, if action can be taken to arrest further damage, it should and must be taken.  This is precisely what we have done.

The Nigerian public has been made to believe that the slow pace of action of the Federal Government headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was due to the enormity of the problems left by the last civilian administration.

Although it is true that a lot of problems were left behind by the last civilian government, the real reason, however, for the very slow pace of action is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the ruling body; subsequently, the business of governance, has gradually been subjected to ill-motivated power play considerations.  The ruling body, the Supreme Military Council, has, therefore, progressively been made redundant by the actions of a select few members charged with the day to day implementation of the SMC’s policies and decisions.  The concept of collective leadership has been substituted by stubborn and ill-advised unilateral actions, thereby destroying the principles upon which the government came to power.  Any effort made to advise the leadership, met with stubborn resistance and was viewed as a challenge to authority or disloyalty.  Thus the scene was being set for systematic elimination of what, was termed opposition.

All the energies of the rulership were directed at this imaginary opposition rather than to effective leadership.  The result of this misdirected effort is now very evident in the country as a whole.

The government has started to drift.  The economy does not seem to be getting any better as we witness daily increased inflation.  The nation’s meagre resources are once again being wasted on unproductive ventures…

Most of the audience readily completed the rest on their own!!  We had gotten used to military coup d’états.  The only difference this time was that it was the military toppling their own government headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari.  His deputy, the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters Major-General Tunde Idiagbon who was generally perceived as the strongman behind the throne had been sold a dummy.  He was lured into undertaking the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, just to get him out of the way.

Till today, his loyalists swear that if Idiagbon was in the country, the coup plotters would not have dared to strike.  If they did, it would have been the bloodiest counter-coup in the history of military putsch in the world.  The news soon leaked that General Buhari had granted approval to General Idiagbon to the effect that on his return from Saudi Arabia, the Supreme Military Council would immediately announce the retirement of Major-General Babangida as Chief of Army Staff.

In faraway Rio de Janeiro, Brazil a friend of mine called to say that he was staying in the same hotel as Lt General TY Danjuma who on learning that the government had changed in Nigeria coolly declared straightaway:

“Ibrahim Babangida is going to be the new Head of State.  It is his boys who are behind the coup.”

He was right on the bottom.  It was a pre-emptive strike. Only the previous week, Buhari / Idiagbon regime had announced the retirement of Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed Gusau who was Babangida’s right hand man.

The active participation and presumed leadership of the coup by the erstwhile Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Babangida (“IBB”) triggered off the alarm bells.  Some of my friends were in panic as they remembered that only a few days earlier IBB had invited me to Minna, Niger State as the Guest Speaker at the Chief of Army Staff Conference under the auspices of TRADOC” (which I believe stands for Training and Doctrine) then headed by Brigadier Ishola Williams.

The venue of the conference was the Shiroro Hotel where we lodged for three days.  Colonel David Mark who was then the Military Governor of Niger State was the host.  Unknown to me, the conference was a camouflage for coup plotting!!

Anyway, the only other civilians at the Minna conference were  Chief MKO Abiola who would eventually win the 1993 presidential election and Professor Isawa Elaigwu who was then serving at the Military Defence Academy in Kaduna and had been a contemporary of IBB at the academy while then Brigadier Ibrahim Babangida was a lecturer/instructor.

By 9 pm Abacha was back on the air.  This time the announcement was short and sharp.  “Major-General Ibrahim Babangida has been appointed as the new Head of State and Commander-In-Chief Armed Forces of Nigeria.”

J.K. Randle