Three of the most known suspects apprehended over the aborted coup were erstwhile commissioner for defence, Major-General Illiya Bisala, the ringleader Lt. Col. Bukar Dimka and the erstwhile military governor of the former Benue-Plateau State, Mr. Joseph Gomwalk. Interestingly, they were all from the defunct Benue Plateau State, where most of those involved in the uprising came from.
Bukar Dimka: Adventurist to the end
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
LT. Col. Bukar Suka Dimka, the putative leader of the military adventurers of 40 years ago had been commissioned into the Nigerian Army in 1963 with much promise. He was one of two Nigerian Army officers to have been trained among other international cadets in Australia.
However, his inclination towards military adventure not too long after his 12 months training in Australia surfaced when the then Lt. Dimka became a ringleader in the July 1966 coup.
Then a lieutenant he had as accomplices other officers who subsequently rose to fame such as 2nd Lt. Sanni Abacha, Lt. Muhammadu B, among many others. Dimka’s participation in the coup was uncontroverted and it was no surprise that a day after it failed, he was declared wanted.
One of the intelligence materials used in searching out for him was his chronic womanizing and it was no surprise that his dalliance with a woman in Afikpo, now in Ebonyi State led to his capture not too far away along Afikpo – Abakaliki Road on March 5 and transferred to Lagos.
Dimka’s mental frame became an issue for many especially when on Coup Day, he declared a Dawn to Dusk curfew in a rambling and incoherent coup speech.
Dimka was believed to have tapped into the sentiments of his Plateau kin arising from the overthrow of Gen. Yakubu Gowon to feed his own fantasy for military adventurism.
Even under trial his coherence became an issue and his confession which allegedly implicated Gen. Gowon, Mr. Joseph Gomwalk and Gen. Illiya Bisala has been the source of conspiracy theorists ever since.
He was publicly executed in Kirikiri Prison, Lagos on May 15, 1976.
Joseph Gomwalk: The policeman who left a legacy
MR. Joseph Gomwalk was one of the major figures implicated in the aborted overthrow of the military administration in 1976.
He, however, consistently pleaded his innocence till he was executed by firing squad on May 15, 1976.
Though a policeman who rose through to become a Commissioner of Police, he had been tapped by the then head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon to become military governor of Benue-Plateau State when the state was created alongside others in 1967.
Gomwalk’s is generally acclaimed to have laid most of the infrastructure underpinning the development of the now defunct Benue Plateau State.
He is also believed to have laid the foundations for the tourism potentials that are ascribed to Jos, the capital city.
He initiated the University of Jos first as a campus of the University of Ibadan, reportedly after the nearby Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria spurned his entreaties, and also set up the Daily Standard, a newspaper that at its peak was reckoned all over Nigeria with daily circulation reportedly above 100,000.
Inability to mobilse troops
However, like many senior officials of the Yakubu Gowon administration, he was alleged to have made illicit gains in office, though no firm case was ever made against him.
Those who claimed he was involved in the coup allege that he was moved by sentiments against the removal of Gen. Gowon, a fellow Benue-Plateau man as military head of state, however, no firm case was ever publicly made to show his participation in the coup especially given his inability to mobilse troops given the fact that he was a policeman.
Had he lived he would have been 81 in April.
General Iliya Bisalla: Conspiracy continues
MAJOR General Iliya Bisalla was the most senior officer implicated in the coup attempt. He was also at the time of the coup, the commissioner for defence, (Minister for Defence) and had held senior command positions including General Officer Commanding of the strategic 1 Division, of the Nigerian Army with headquarters in Kaduna.
Given that the trial was conducted in secret, evidence implicating Bisalla allegedly made by Dimka was never made open.
Military prosecutors alleged that Bisalla facilitated operational orders for the execution of the coup, a claim that was, however, countered by Dimka who claimed another officer provided the order.
Sentimental evidence that Bisalla was miffed at being passed over for the position of Head of State after the removal of Gowon and also being passed over for position of Army Chief were also never subjected to the rigour of acceptable judicial interrogation outside the secret military tribunals that tried and convicted him.