The select audience at the preview of Max Chuck Black’s film: “BLACK ROARING LIONS” was about to erupt into a standing ovation at the super opulent Beverly Hills Hotel, Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California, United States of America when matters were brusquely interrupted. The protest had to do with what many would have accepted as no more than poetic licence or slight exaggeration.
However, Professor Vera Halpin from Stanford University would have none of it. She insisted that on Friday 13th February 1976 when Lt. Colonel B.S. Dimka assassinated Nigeria’s Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, the Chief of Army Staff, then Major General T.Y. Danjuma who was next on the assassin’s list (by T.Y.’s account) escaped death twice, not thrice as was portrayed in the film. The rest of us could not really figure out what the fuss was all about.
Julien Assange of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden the former CIA consultant who is living in exile in Moscow have gone viral with their report that the trigger for the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed (who took over from General Yakubu Gowon on 30 July, 1975) was the massive demobilisation programme to rid the military of thousands of soldiers who had been hurriedly recruited during the Nigerian Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970. However, a formidable contributory factor was the rapid promotion of T.Y. Danjuma, who was catapulted into the plum job of Chief of Army Staff – over and above his peer group including the likes of Alani Akinrinade. While Akinrinade took matters calmly, Brigadier Ilyasu Bisalla was seething with rage and consumed with jealousy of T.Y. Danjuma’s superstar status. Ironically, Bisalla and Danjuma had been best friends in the army and T.Y. Danjuma was Bisalla’s Best Man at his wedding.
Anyway, when Dimka was eventually captured he fingered Bisalla as the main sponsor of the aborted coup d’état. As Chief of Army Staff, Danjuma’s office was on the sixth floor of the “Republic House”, Customs Street, Lagos. Bisalla’s office was directly below on the fifth floor. As news of the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed and his Aide-De-Camp, Lieutenant Akintunde Akinsehinwa filtered through at about 8 o’clock in the morning, what Bisalla was expecting to hear was that Danjuma had similarly been gunned down in his military car as he drove to work from Ikoyi to Marina. It was with considerable shock and enormous panic that Bisalla learnt that Danjuma was safely in the office and had proceeded to rally the troops.
First to get on the radio with his nationwide broadcast was Brigadier Alani Akinrinade, the General Officer Commanding [GOC] of the Second Division based in Kaduna. He emphatically disassociated his troops from the attempted coup d’état. Of course, Bisalla pretended that he had no prior knowledge of the attempted coup. What he did not know was that instead of driving in his official car, Danjuma got into a boat in Ikoyi in order to avoid the traffic jam and landed at the Marina Jetty. He simply walked across the road to “Republic House”, acknowledged numerous salutes from his subordinates and got into the lift which took him directly to his office.
The news of the coup d’état threw the entire nation into grief, despair and confusion. Murtala’s number two, then Major-General Olusegun Obasanjo (the Chief of General Staff, Supreme Headquarters) could not be located. Hence, Danjuma who was number three in the military hierarchy took charge. He was livid at the treachery, betrayal and looming anarchy. Let us skip his encounter with officers who were suspected of participating in the coup. Those who were dragged before him in his office were given the full dose of his anger according to the film. The action moved swiftly to Bonny Camp (military cantonment) in Lagos which Danjuma considered as the safest place from which to launch a counter attack. Little did he know that Captain Joe Kasai who was in charge of Bonny Camp was one of the brains behind the coup!
What was most riveting and alarming was when captain Kasai ordered a sergeant to launch a hand grenade into the room where Danjuma had assembled loyal officers, what saved Danjuma’s life for the second time on Friday 13th February 1976 was the response of the defiant sergeant. “If you want to kill them, you should throw the grenade yourself.” The scene then shifted to Danjuma giving orders to then Colonel Ibrahim Babangida who was the commander of the armoured corps to proceed to “Radio Nigeria” in Ikoyi from where Dimka was intermittently broadcasting his message of victory (successful coup d’état) followed by military music to a bewildered nation. According to the film, the order given to Babangida was that he and his troops should demolish the entire building (regardless of the human causalities, especially the civilians who were trapped inside). Those civilians included Mr. Christopher Kolade (the Director-General) who would much later become Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Mrs. Rosaline Tugbogbo (wife of Otunba Adeoye Tugbogbo).
However, Babangida who had come close to death during the civil war, with a bullet still lodged in his body till today, chose to put his own life in danger by confronting Dimka having assured the assassin that he (Babangida) was unarmed. It was a very heroic but very dangerous strategy. Anyway, it appeared to work as Babangida survived the close call with death and thereby confirmed his status as one of those generals with nine lives. In the meantime, Dimka slipped out of “Radio Nigeria” after delivering a totally incoherent message imposing a curfew all over Nigeria: “Dawn to Dusk” (instead of dusk to dawn).
Bashorun J.K. Randle