By Emeka Obasi
It was six days after Yuletide in 1983. President Shehu Shagari was in Abuja on holidays and waiting for the New Year. Brigadier Ibrahim Bako and Lt.Col. Tunde Ogbeha arrived on a different mission.
Shagari was overthrown but not without resistance by Captain Augustine Anyogo of the Brigade of Guards under Brigadier Mohammed Kaliel. Bako lost his life in the process.
The Beret Boys took over and announced Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State. The military junta stayed away from Abuja choosing to remain at Dodan Barracks, Lagos.
In what the French would call, quid pro quo, Buhari was toppled on August 27, 1985, by his Army Chief, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, while celebrating the muslim holidays. Remember Shagari was on holidays when he was sacked in 1983; parade ground wearing the uniform of a Navy rear admiral.
Babangida also stayed away from Abuja in his first year. However, he decided to celebrate the nation’s 26th Independence anniversary there on October 1, 1986.
It turned out to be more than drama. His second in command, Commodore Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe, excused himself from the celebrations. The Chief of General Staff [CGS] had noticed a breach of protocol in the programme.
Ukiwe was relegated to the number three position, a step below the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. Domkat Yah Bali. IBB hit the six days later in Lagos, Ukiwe was offered the junior position of Chief of Naval Staff, held by Commodore Augustus Aikhomu. The CGS chose to resign his commission. The CNS was sworn in as the new CGS.
Aikhomu joined the Navy in 1958, two years before Ukiwe enlisted in 1960. Babangida became a military cadet as member of course 6, Nigeria Military Training College [NMTC], Kaduna in December 1962.
On December 12, 1991,IBB hurriedly relocated the nation’s capital to Abuja. Some say, as a fall out of the Gideon Orkar-led coup of 1990, which claimed the life of his ADC, Major U.K. Bello.
That quick move was against the recommendations of the Akinola Aguda panel that picked Abuja as the new Federal capital in 1976. It was meant to be a gradual process.
Babangida first took the African Union [then OAU] Summit to Abuja in the middle of 1991. However, there was a scene when Nigerian plain-clothes commandoes brutalized one of the security aides of President Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo Democratic Republic.
All through Babangida’s stay in Abuja, he was not himself. It was like a force gripped him. The general annulled what was considered free and fair elections which was won by his very good friend, Chief Moshood Abiola.
Still bewitched, kind of, Babangida decided to step aside on August 27, 1993. Only God knows what came over the general for he did not plan to quit at that time. He had assured his Service Chiefs, Salihu Ibrahim, Dan Preston Omatsola and Akin Dada, that all was well.
The military chiefs were shocked to hear their retirement on air. Babangida had been nicknamed ‘Maradona.’ As a school boy footballer in Bida, he was known as ‘Block buster.’
Chief Ernest Shonekan stepped in. It was indeed, a ‘One Chance’ government for it was declared illegal by Justice Dolapo Akinsanya. In this case, it was like IBB even dribbled himself.
In his bid to make amends and placate the Yoruba over June 12, Babangida used Shonekan, an Egba man from Abeokuta, like Abiola. It did not work. The South –West rejected the arrangement.
Trust Babangida, he planted General Sani Abacha in the Interim Government. Shonekan was ‘castrated.’ He spent 84 days in office. Justice Akinsanya had ruled that Shonekan’s appointment could not stand because Babangida endorsed it after he quit office.
Abacha had all he needed to fire Shonekan. He chose to be civil about it. Shonekan saw troops with deadly weapons and like a UAC gentleman, threw in the towel.
Abacha finally had his way. He was the one who announced the sack of Shagari. That coup also cost Chief Emeka Anyaoku, his job as Foreign Affairs minister. The man was Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth when he was asked to come and serve. The job was over in two months.
Abacha ‘saw pepper’ in Abuja. I am talking of the man who announced the 1983 coup. In 1995, the Commonwealth expelled Nigeria for hanging Ken Saro Wiwa. And guess who was Commonwealth Secretary General? Emeka Anyaoku.
In January 1996, Abacha lost his son, Ibrahim, in a plane crash.
Among the dead was girl friend Julie—Anne Osholukoya. Friends, Bello Dangote and Omieba Dan Princewill, also died.
In 1997, Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, was accused of plotting to overthrow the Abacha regime. The Shagamu man from Ogun State, like Abiola, was lucky his boss did not sign the death warrant.
And that was because in 1998, Abacha became the first Nigerian leader to die in the presidential Palace. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa died around Sango Otta. Gen. Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi died near Ibadan. Murtala Mohammed died at Obalende.
Abuja had at last taken its first presidential casualty and he was Gen. Sani Abacha, the Brigadier who announced the fall of President Shagari in 1983.
Abacha’s successor, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, was lucky to come out alive. However, History will always paint him as the man who presided when Abiola died in government custody.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came for the second time but lived in Abuja for the first time. He lost his wife, Stella.
President Umaru Ya’radua did not complete his tenure. He did not die in Abuja. And he did not come out alive. Health was an issue, it was a matter of time before death occurred in Saudi Arabia.
- Goodluck Jonathan lost a brother, Mene, on his 50th birthday. His wife, Patience, underwent surgeries in Germany.
Today, Presiden Buhari is in Abuja and must be thoroughly embarrassed that he is regarded as a dead man living as Jibril from Sudan. Unbelievable! His son, Yusuf, survived a bike crash.
Now Shagari is dead. And Buhari is back as president, residing in Abuja.