(The Col. Abubakar Umar story)

“This was how it happened”

Two days after my meeting with IBB, I got a call from Col. Yakubu Muazu who asked me to meet Gen. Abacha at his residence in Kano the next day.

I met Abacha around 9pm on a Saturday. The General went direct to business. He told me of the efforts of his group to stop the annulment of the election but they failed.

But that could not be allowed to stand in view of its far reaching ramifications to the unity and stability of the country.

He also told me of some security reports which revealed a plan by some Yoruba organizations which were plotting to declare an Oduduwa Republic.

These groups, he said, enjoyed the support of some officers of southern extraction. He mentioned some names, which included some so‑called IBB boys.

The General waxed nationalistic but I was not deceived. I had since begun to suspect Gen. Abacha’s sincerity and motives and I was not certain that he indeed believed he could come to power through a coup against IBB.

Yes, with the prevailing political situation against the annulment, it was not difficult to imagine mass support of a coup by officers, but it was inconceivable that many officers would stake their lives in order to replace IBB with Gen. Sani Abacha as Head of State.

That was my reading but people are entitled to their opinion, so why did I agree as I did to join Abacha in a coup against IBB?

Firstly, Gen. Abacha swore in the name of God that he had no other motive but to restore the mandate of MKO Abiola.

Secondly, for the coup to be bloodless, the GOCs had to be out of station. I figured that Gen. Abacha could at any time call them to Lagos for consultations.

Let me say this, I have no evidence to believe that any of the GOCs supported the annulment.

In fact, I still believe that the fatal decision was taken by some members of the NDSC, of course supported by other officers and perhaps civilians.

But the truth is that none of the GOCs was part of our group, so we could not count on their support.

Thirdly, Abacha could give us extra cover.

I must however confess that I perceived a situation where we would jettison Abacha at some point.

Already a few members of the former group had expressed misgivings about his motives.

But, most importantly, Abacha had his Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) staff all over some of us. He paid attention.

There was no move that any member of our group could make without him knowing. We therefore settled for a coup.

He fixed our next meeting for Friday, six days away. He asked me to get our reconnaissance units ready. As promised, I readied at least the key areas i.e. Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Jos and Enugu.

The group held a two‑day meeting in Lagos as scheduled. I briefed them on the level of readiness of our troops, I took the opportunity of my staying to visit the facilities of 245 Reconnaissance Battalion whose CO, retired Colonel Jibrin Isa, was fully committed to the scheme.

I also had the opportunity to bring on board, the 9 Bde commander, retired Gen. Patrick Aziza.

At the end of our consultations, we agreed on a plan and fixed 11 July 93 as the D‑day.

The plan was simply to have Gen. Abacha summon the GOCs and the commanders of support arms and services to Lagos for a briefing on the political crisis occasioned by the June 12 elections annulment.

We figured that security would not raise any eyebrows since Abacha had shown enough support for the annulment by his high‑handed suppression of the June 12 annulment protests in Lagos.

Once at the venue, the General would reveal to them the decision of the Armed Forces to the effect that Prof. Nwosu was to formally announce the results and as we had already known, Abiola would be sworn in.

The election tribunal already in place would entertain any petitions from aggrieved parties. I would make the first coup broadcast and General Abacha would follow later.

A team of senior officers headed by Gen. Useni, who was not involved in our plot was to go to Abuja and break the news to IBB.

On Sunday, I left Lagos for Ibadan to ascertain 242 Reconnaissance Battalion state of readiness. The CO, retired Col. M.S Shehu, a fine officer, was fully ready.

I drove back to Bauchi through Jos on Monday.

On Friday 2 July, I left for Lagos. I held meetings with some officers, including Col Jaafaru Isa, Dauda Komo etc., they .showed great enthusiasm for the project as they believed like many other officers that it was an honourable task.

We also met with Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe at No 7 Raymond Njoku Road Ikoyi later that day.

Baba Gana was monitoring some of our activities since Abiola was out of the country.

On Saturday 10 July, 1 had a meeting with Gen. Abacha around midday. He informed me that he was in touch with MKO and he assured him that things were moving according to plan.

He was also in touch with Kingibe, he had already summoned all the GOCs to Lagos and didn’t anticipate any problems.

The Sunday meeting was going to hold at his guest house.

He and Gen. Diya were also coming to the final coordinating meeting at 9pm at Gen. David Mark’s guest house in Park View, Ikoyi, he said.

He asked if the units were ready and I confirmed so.

Again I met Generals Bamaiyi, Onoja and Ahmed Abdullahi waiting as I left Abacha in his inner sitting room.

Only Abdullahi was part of our group.

Around 8.45pm, I arrived Gen. Mark’s guest house, in company of Col. Sambo. We met Gwadabe, David Mark and a few others.

Abacha, Diya and Abdullahi did not turn up.

Instead, David Mark presided. We went over the plan. As the meeting progressed, one of the officers asked me what appointment I was interested in, in the government that was to be formed?

I was shocked at this. When I asked which government, he told me that Gen. Abacha had pleaded that he be allowed to take over as Head of State!

He would stay for about 6 months to help purge the military and judiciary before handing over to Abiola.

As can be imagined, I was so disgusted as were some of the officers present. I immediately asked the chairman, to allow us to go on recess and reconvene around l am. To which he agreed.

I dashed to Gen. Diya’s house at Alexander Avenue. He was all alone. I asked why he was not at the meeting and he just looked blank.

Inquired from him if he knew of Abacha’s request and he said to me, “Dangiwa I know you are sincere but I am afraid Gen. Abacha has a hidden agenda.” And what did he think of the request? He said he thought it would not work.

I then told him that I was going to see Gen. Abacha and he should also meet with him later to assure him that most of the officers involved would not accept this new plan.

I left him a very worried and evidently confused person.

I met Gen. Abacha around 11pm. He asked if the meeting was over and I told him that we had to break because of the new development.

He pretended not to know what I was talking about. When I narrated the message the officer passed on to us, I could read the embarrassment written all over his face.

He tried to convince me that it was the opinion of some of the officers who thought that Abiola’s government would face serious challenges from the military and judiciary and that it would be very risky to leave him at their mercy.

The officers according to him were also apprehensive of their own survival in the event that Abiola’s government got toppled, which according to credible security reports, was very likely.

He pleaded with me to show flexibility. I was incredulous, horrified you could say.

I disagreed outright with his submission and warned him of the terrible consequences of this course of action.

I had on all the occasions of our meetings reminded the group that Nigerians would not accept this annulment and were bound to oppose it vehemently.

There had been riots earlier and what we were experiencing was a prelude to very violent uprising particularly in the South West.

The international community had condemned the annulment and was planning to impose sanctions.

I reminded Abacha of all those and pleaded with him to save Nigeria from collapse.

I finally apprised him of the difficulties he would face from members of the armed forces who would rather have Abiola as C‑in‑C than he.

This last observation may not have gone down well with him when he attempted to blackmail me.

He pointed out that it was already belated and that we had gone so far in the coup plot that if we were to postpone it or call it off, there would be leakage and IBB would round us up.

I agreed with him and pleaded with him one more time to stand on the side of truth and justice by sticking to the original plan, which envisaged a hand over to Abiola.

Blind ambition for power without purpose or with the wrong purpose had gripped Abacha.

He was unyielding. With this, I shocked him with the news that I was out of the plot.

He asked how and I informed him that I was on my way to tell the COs to stand down. I left and headed to the Lagoon Restaurant where I had earlier ordered for take‑away snacks, envisaging that I was going to be late.

Right behind me when I arrived at the Lagoon was Gen. Ahmed Abdullahi. I was not expecting him, so I thought he was on a mission to arrest me.

I paid the usual compliments to a senior officer and asked what his mission was. He said he was late for the meeting but was informed of what had transpired and expressed his regrets that the original plan was altered.

I praised him for his moral courage and assured him that I was on my way to Ikeja to abort the plot.

He left. I collected my snacks and made my way to 245 Reconnaissance Battalion. I met the CO in his office. I briefed him on the unfortunate development.

He was also shocked and agreed that we should not attempt anything against IBB government unless it was to reverse the annulment.

We got in touch with the other officers who were waiting for instructions and asked them to stand down.

Once this was sorted out, I asked Col. Isa to go and inform the group that we had decided to quit on account of change of the plan by Gen. Abacha. The plan was therefore aborted.

I am not sure but I cannot rule out the possibility that IBB picked some signals of our move.

I am not sure if that contributed to his decision to announce the creation of an Interim National Government (ING) on 31 July 1993 to be headed by Chief Earnest Shonekan.

In that announcement, he indicated his plan to step aside on 27 August, 1993, the day the new government would be inaugurated.

That decision had a calming effect on the resolve of those Nigerians who were sworn to contest the June 12 annulment even if it meant setting the country ablaze.

But it was a case of suspended animation. It was evident that this group would not accept the ING as a legitimate alternative.

I believe that the creation of that government was a step in the wrong direction.

My hope was for NDSC to realize its mistake in the annulment, which had effectively pushed Nigeria to the precipice.

But positions had unfortunately hardened. We found ourselves dealing with Generals who were more concerned about winning the war of nerves with the growing opposition.

The ING solution was the only face saving concession they could make. De-annulment was tantamount to accepting defeat.

The government had pledged never to accept being chased out of power whenever it was challenged for causing time‑buying delays in the prosecution of its transition programme.

The ING was doomed from conception. It was bound to fail.

Just before IBB announced his decision to step aside, Gen. Abacha made one more attempt to overthrow his regime.

Unknown to some of us, he had created another group and recruited some of our members.

It was, however, difficult for him to execute his coup undetected by us. I don’t believe Abacha contacted any of the GOCs in his latest plot.

The reconnaissance units had been stood down but their COs were instructed to await further instructions as regards a new date.

General Abdulsalami and I were to leave for the quarterly inspection visit to Newcastle, England to assess the progress being made by Vickers, which was manufacturing main battle tanks for the Nigerian Army.

I had earlier requested that my deputy should substitute me for this trip but Gen. Abacha detected this and insisted that I should go.

Gen. Abdulsami, Brig. Gen. Garba Abdulkardir, Mr. Onoja (a director at the Ministry of Defence) and I were at the airport for the check‑in when word came that government had decided to cancel the trip, in its reaction to the sanctions imposed on Nigeria by the British government on account of the annulment of the June 12 election.

I returned to the Bauchi State Liaison office in Victoria Island around 8.30pm on that Saturday night, 24 July 1993.

Barely 30 minutes later, CO 245 Reconnaissance Battalion, Col. Isa arrived. His mission was to confirm the latest instruction from Gen. Abacha, In a nutshell, his unit was instructed to participate in a coup that was to take place the next morning 25 July.

He was told that I had left for the UK but that I was aware of the operation. He was there to confirm that I had indeed left as my flight was scheduled to depart at midnight.

I denied any knowledge of the plan. I asked him to disregard the instructions and I promised to get back to him after consultations with some members of the group.

I immediately got in touch with one of the members who expressed surprise that I did not leave for the UK. He asked if he could come down to brief me on the plan.

We agreed to meet immediately. He arrived barely 15 minutes later. He briefed me that indeed a coup was to take place the next day.

Senior officers had been summoned for a briefing on the political situation in the country, in fact, most of them had arrived Lagos already. Some of them, including the GOCs, were going to be placed under arrest at the venue of the meeting, the Airforce officers’ mess at Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The time fixed was 9am. Gen. Abacha was to take over as Head of State, etc.

The coup plan was based on a very poor appreciation of the situation. It could therefore hardly achieve the aim.

I have not been able to ascertain which formations or units were involved in the plot other than those in Lagos, but then a desperate man can take any risk.

A coup against IBB without the support of the GOCs and the reconnaissance battalions would be an exercise in futility.

When I pointed out the weakness of the plan, the officer readily agreed and said that he was also not too sure the coup would succeed.

But he was persuaded because they had to preempt a coup by another group consisting largely of junior officers of the Gideon Orkar ideological conviction.

I needed no further proof. I thanked the officer for his brief and assured him that the coup would be aborted either that very night or soon after it was started the next morning and we parted.

I drove straight to the Flag Staff House Marina. I met the COAS, Gen. Salihu with many visitors, mostly senior officers, who had come for the next day’s meeting.

Officers like Aziza, Ayuba and a host of others were waiting to see him. I was not sure what their mission was but I pleaded with them to allow me jump the queue as I had something urgent to discuss with the chief.

They agreed, and I went in as soon as the person he was conferring with came out. He asked me to sit down and apologized that our trip had to be cancelled.

He asked whether I was aware of the next day’s meeting since l was supposed to attend as commandant of the armoured corps. I told him that that was why I had come to discuss with him.

Without going into too much detail for obvious reasons, I advised the Chief to meet Gen. Abacha as soon as possible to advise him to call off tomorrow’s meeting on security grounds.

He should also advise IBB of the need for him to take extra care of his personal security over the next 24 hours.

In the event that Abacha refused the advice, the Chief should stay away from the meeting and ask his GOCs to stay away also.

Of course the Chief wanted to find out what was happening and what informed my advice. I simply told him to believe me that I heard rumours and time was too short to verify.

I promised to find out more and brief him later.

I have always enjoyed Gen. Salihu’s confidence and respect. Of course, I have no doubt that Salihu got touch with his Director of Military Intelligence (DMI).

But he immediately left for Gen. Abacha’s house. He must have persuaded him to call off the meeting and mercifully averted a bloodbath, which an attempt coup against IBB would have resulted in.

I was told later that General Abacha was very mad with Salihu and promised to deal with him at an opportune time.

It is very sad that he got that opportunity so soon when the truly professional officer was prematurely retired from service to the detriment of the development of professionalism in the military.

What that fine officer would have contributed to the Nigerian Army is succinctly encapsulated in his sad description of the military as “an Army of anything goes” in his valedictory speech.

As the nation debated IBB’s sincerity to step aside on 27 August, 1993, he decided on a surprise move by leaving a day earlier, as if to confirm that he was truly fed up.

The reasons or the forces that were responsible for persuading IBB to annul the June 12 elections may perhaps be known later.

Honestly, I can only guess but even the guess, I will leave for another day.

The ING was inaugurated on 26 July. The president was expected to retire along with all the service Chiefs.

It came therefore as great surprise that Gen. Abacha was missing on that list.

This fatal decision attracted many theories, one of course being that the ING arrangement was a mere ploy to hand over power to Abacha indirectly.

A clause in the decree that established the ING which provided that in the event of the incapacitation of the Head of that government, the most senior military officer would take over, gave substance to that theory.

I am not any wise, but whatever the aim, even Chief Shonekan had misgivings. He protested the decision.

I was told later that reluctantly, he accepted to be sworn in on that condition when he was shown security reports, which indicated threats to the ING from a group of some junior and middle ranking officers who were planning to topple it soon as it was inaugurated.

I am still curious to know the source of those false, dubious and self‑serving security reports.

Things were done in such a hurry that Shonekan did not have much time to reflect on most the decisions, including the appointment of Abacha the ‘Guardian Angel’ to his administration.

In another battle to prevent General Abacha from taking over power, I approached some senior officers to plead with IBB to leave Gen. Salihu as the COAS.

My calculation was that with his large following in the Army, he could very well counter Abacha’s predatory moves until we could move against Shonekan’s government and restore Abiola’s mandate.

Salihu may also have been averse to military coups, but he would not refuse join in a move to restore the credibility of the military which the removal of the ING and swearing in of winner of the election would achieve.

Besides, officer like Gen. Tanko Ayuba had already started working on him.

I honestly don’t know how far they had gone. That was not to be.

Salihu was replaced by Gen. Abdulsalam. But curiously enough, Abdulsalam himself was in turn replaced by Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau.

Before I left Abuja for Bauchi after the president’s send‑off banquet, Gen. Abacha once again asked me to meet him at his guest house in Maitama.

I met him; the story was the same. Abiola had to exercise his mandate before this nation could return to normalcy. Abacha had genuine intentions when he asked earlier that he be allowed to take over for six months to sanitize the armed forces and judiciary before handing over Abiola.

He confessed to me that he was already in touch with Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe and that they were in total agreement with this plan.

But now that IBB is gone, the task was easier and required less time. In fact, it could even be achieved under the ING.

He had already drawn up a restructuring plan for the armed forces and the judiciary, which he intended to present to Shonekan for ratification.

He was going to hold consultations and wanted to see me in a week’s time in Lagos.

Was I convinced of his genuine intentions to hand over to Abiola? I would be a bloody fool to believe, but what could I do but except await my fate and pray that God would intervene?

I returned to Bauchi once again a worried man.

I made wider consultations with some of our officers including some of the armoured brigade commanders.

Officers like retired Colonels Lucky Torrey, Oloruntoba etc have been persistent in their belief that we could go it alone.

But I convinced them of the inherent risk of needless bloodshed and the possibility of igniting the explosion.

Rumours of civil uprising were rife. Since the GOCs were probably not aware of our plans, I imagined a situation where Abacha would rally their support on the pretext of protecting the ING against us.

There was absolutely no doubt that the reconnaissance commanders were committed to the de-annulment cause and were more than capable of neutralizing the Division Headquarters but at a potentially great cost.

With such a heavy toll, it would have taken and would continue to take perhaps too great a cost to pursue that cause to its logical conclusion.

I met Abacha in the second week of August. He provided me with his restructuring plan for the military; some GOCs and commanders were to be replaced and reshuffled.

Of course, I was not affected as far as the paper which I saw went; but to be honest, I was not sure that the list to Shonekan would not include my name.

Incidentally, Gen. Ahmed Abdullahi was present when Gen. Abacha briefed me. One of the persons he planned to have moved was General Dogonyaro.

But this would definitely pose some problem. I imagined that IBB would have immediately reacted by asking Shonekan to reject the move and that would scuttle the whole exercise.

He had to find a way out. He therefore came up with an idea that since he was going to address formation commanders and other senior officers, he would want me to draw the attention of the meeting to the lop‑sidedness of defence appointment in favour of the North.

That it was unfair to have the Minister of Defence, CDS and COAS from the same geographical zone. There was therefore the need for balancing to reflect federal character.

Both Gen. Abdullahi and I agreed, but I disagreed with his suggestion that Gen. Dogonyaro should be replaced by Gen. Diya which he asked me to propose.

Instead, I suggested that he should make the sacrifice since he was senior to Dogonyaro. He then asked Ahmed to put forward this proposal, which I understand he later did since I did not even attend that meeting.

It was in the course of that meeting that Gen. Ishola Williams, an upright officer, bluntly asked Gen. Abacha to reveal his timetable for takeover and make his intention to go on retirement known.

Abacha waved it off as a joke typical of Gen. Williams. He could, however, not hide the embarrassment which it caused him.

While in Lagos, I visited Gen. Diya just to find out what his thinking was. The general was a helpless man. He was very much concerned about his fate as a Yoruba officer being identified as a willing accomplice in a plot that would deprive a fellow Yoruba of his rightful mandate.

I had no doubt that he appreciated my perseverance, but he was equally embarrassed by the fact of being appealed to by a Hausa Fulani officer to take a stand against Abacha for the realization of Abiola’s mandate.

He was always ill at ease at my appearance in his house. This time, he confessed to me that he was virtually helpless.

Gen. Abacha had convinced him that the military was against Abiola’s mandate. He observed that I had done so much that it was time for me to be a bit more flexible.

I got his message and that was when I made the prediction that he was seeking power by riding the tiger and he was going to end up in its stomach.

Some of the members of the original group had also been deceived into believing that Abacha was the solution.

I went back to Bauchi convinced that it was only a matter of time before Abacha kicked out Shonekan.

I played my last card by trying to open up a dialogue with the GOCs before they were replaced.

I sent Major Lar to GOC I Division to inform him that I would want to see him soon, but before our meeting, he should sleep with an eye open.

The idea was to alert him if he was not already aware of the impending threat. Lar reported back that the senior officer was expecting me.

It was however too late because within the next 48 hours, changes had been announced replacing the GOCs.

About two weeks later, I met the new GOC I Division, Major Gen. MC. Alli a very fine professional.

I was frank with him when I told him of what we had planned earlier and what I still believed was possible.

The general emphatically agreed that de‑annulment and swearing in of Abiola was a just cause and that we should not delay.

I felt emboldened to contact the GOC 3 Div., Gen. Olanrewaju who did not look so sure.

I couldn’t count on him. Some of the other officers I contacted thought it was a good idea, but would need assurances that they would not end up being retired by the Abiola government.

I told them that I could not guarantee that as I was not in contact with Abiola. As a matter of fact, I only met or spoke with him once.

But I would be surprised if MKO would want to reward them with retirement.

I had been told he was such a generous and magnanimous personality.

(Full text is contained in my book- A MANDATE BURIED ALIVE)

Sir Richard Akinnola II”

God be our helper


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