Back in time Nigeria owned the world record in coup-plotting by the khaki boys of the military.
Now coups happen in other lands like Niger, Gabon, Burkina Faso etc., and Nigeria has taken up the duty of flushing out the coup makers in other lands.
Let me here recall the bad days of Nigerian coups as penned by my good friend Richard Akinnola in his book Fellow Countrymen: The Story of Coup D’etats in Nigeria.
“Fellow Countrymen” was the catchphrase used to introduce every coup back then.
Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) who “was in the first cabinet that was overthrown by the military” states: “We did not hand over voluntarily to General Ironsi.”
General Ibrahim Babangida, whom Akinnola dubs as “the grandmaster of coups”, was once in the company of Col Ibrahim Taiwo in a plane when they saw a younger officer reading a book entitled How to Stage a Coup. Col Taiwo who was incidentally gunned to death in the Dimka coup of 1976 advised the young officer to read the chapter on the consequences of a failed coup, saying: “By all means read this book but when you get to this chapter, cram it.”
General TY Danjuma once stirred the hornet’s nest when he averred that Chief Obafemi Awolowo planned the first coup in Nigeria.
SG Ikoku, a stalwart of Awo’s Action Group, had claimed in an interview with the African Concord of February 12, 1990: “We plotted the coup.”
Given the controversial nature of Awo’s trial and jailing for treasonable felony, the jury is still out on the matter.
The first treasonable felony trial in Nigeria took place in 1961 when Joseph Tarka and four others were charged, discharged and acquitted in a Jos High Court.
The January 15, 1966 coup that ended the First Republic threw up the stirring words of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu thus: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circle (sic); those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian calendar back by their words and deeds.”
After the bloody Northern revenge coup of July 29, 1966, General Yakubu Gowon addressed the nation, to wit, “putting all considerations to test, political, economic, as well as social, the basis for unity is not there…”
Gowon who took power over the body of Ironsi was himself ousted on July 29, 1975 in a coup broadcast by his close ally Brig. Joe Garba, thus putting Murtala Mohammed in power.
The military struck once more on February 13, 1976 in an abortive but bloody “dawn-to-dusk-curfew” coup led by Lt-Col Buka Suka Dimka that ended the life of Gen. Murtala Mohammed on a Lagos street.
General Olusegun Obasanjo got into power “against my personal wish and desire” after Murtala’s death and organized the 1979 elections that transferred power to the civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Civil rule only lasted four years with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari taking over on the last day of 1983 claiming “to put an end to the serious economic predicament and crisis of confidence now afflicting our nation.”
General Babangida’s palace coup of August 27, 1985 sent Buhari packing for being “too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance.”
On December 22, 1985 Babangida announced that he had foiled a coup led by his bosom friend, the poet Gen. Mamman Vatsa, who was executed along with the other plotters even as Nigeria’s eminent writers Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and JP Clark had pleaded with Babangida to spare the military poet’s life.
Babangida also survived “the April 22 1990 revolution” led by Major Gideon Orkar which culminated in Babangida moving house from Dodan Barracks, Lagos to the safer grounds of Aso Rock in Abuja.
The annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola led to Babangida stepping aside in disgrace whilst putting in his place the lame-duck interim regime of Chief Ernest Shonekan that was overthrown on November 17, 1993 by General Sani Abacha’s “Child of Necessity” coup.
Abacha dealt with his opponents in the 1995 “phantom” coup and the 1997 “set-up” coup before dying mysteriously, leading to the coming into power of General Abdulsalami Abubakar who organized the 1999 elections that brought Obasanjo whom Abacha had jailed from prison to the presidency.
Akinnola tells a human story in Fellow Countrymen as exemplified by Vatsa’s lament: “By the time you finish with me, my children will forever be afraid of the system.”
Captain Tolofari of the 1990 Orkar coup writes to his mother, Inyingi, on the eve of the putsch thusly: “If you are reading this letter, it means I am dead…”
Tolofari justifies the coup’s excision of some Northern states with a quote from the Bible (Matthew 5:30) about Christ’s advice that if your right hand should offend you, it should be cut off!
The torture of Lawan Gwadabe in the course of the 1995 “phantom” coup trials is horrendous: “I was then taken to the torture chamber by a team led by ACP Hassan Zakari Biu… Their instruction was to tighten the handcuffs on my left hand and block the blood vessel from supplying. By the time we arrived at the torture chamber, after almost an hour’s drive, my left hand had become useless… With my already dead hands, the cuffs were removed from the front and my hand cuffed from the back. My legs were tied together like a cow ready for slaughter, then the ropes on my legs were drawn up suspending me on my head, but without touching the ground…”
No more coups here – the revolution, this time!