By Emeka Obasi
There is one part of General Ibrahim Babangida that should be studied in military institutions around the country. While he is best remembered for annulling the June 12, 1993 elections we must also salute his wisdom that saved several lives on February 13, 1976.
Babangida stepped aside as Military President in 1993 in what appeared like a hasty move after several games that made Nigerians dub him ‘Maradona’. It was like the general could dribble everyone including himself in the field of geo- politics.
And these controversies have blocked the positive side of IBB. February 13, 1976 was a day of blood, the day Gen. Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in Lagos.
Lt.Col Babangida was sent by Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Yakubu Danjuma, to battle the coup plotters who had taken over Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi. The idea was to destroy the enemy, at all costs.
Babangida took control of two armoured tanks , rushed to Ikoyi and after studying the situation, thought it would be crazy to level the station just because of a handful of mutineers.
Consideration was given to the civilians that were holed up in the Radio house and fellow Nigerians that moved around the very busy Alagbon close. The place was so crowded that gridlock could have been the other name.
IBB did the unimaginable. He disembarked from one of the armoured cars, dropped his weapon and mustered enough courage to ascend the stairs to meet Lt. Col Bukar Suka Dimka, leader of the ‘young revolutionaries.’
An eye witness, Christian Maduka, got in touch with me recently after reading my piece on Dimka’s escape and painted a picture of the exceptional bravery of Babangida which saved so many innocent lives.
Maduka, a retired police officer, said:” I was on foot patrol that day with some colleagues around Tinubu Fountain, Lagos. At about 11.30 a. m. we noticed two armoured vehicles moving slowly along Nnamdi Azikiwe Street.”
The cops watched the movement keenly. That was in the years when the police would disguise and mingle with the population in the course of duty. Little suspicion or none at all was raised.
“When the armoured cars approached Martin Street, they stopped. Then they moved again towards Ikoyi, we followed. When they got to Radio Nigeria, Babangida asked his troops to give him five minutes.
“He climbed upstairs to meet Dimka. I could hear them clearly. Babangida said he came to pay Dimka a solidarity visit and would be happy if killed by bullet from an enemy, not a friend. That was an act of bravery”, the retired officer added.
That ploy seemed to have calmed Dimka down. Babangida then told him that he was sent to clear the plotters. At this time, they talked like friends. Babangida advised him to leave for good or face the consequences.
According to Maduka : “ Babangida gave Dimka five minutes to move out. Dimka obeyed, ordered his boys to comply and in no time about nine of them escaped carrying AK-47 rifles. They ran towards Carter Bridge.
“While they were pulling out, an officer in one the armoured cars reminded Babangida that his five minutes wait was over. He asked for two more minutes.”
It was after Dimka’s escape that loyal troops stormed the place. After some minutes, the Director General of the Federal Radio Corporation, Christopher Kolade, emerged.
It was quite thoughtful of Babangida.
Perhaps, Kolade would have been in trouble if IBB acted as instructed. Others that would have been harmed included Duty Continuity Announcer, Rosaline Ogunro, Ikenna Ndaguba, Ben Egbuna, Ernest Okonkwo and Sebastine Ofurum.
The bombardment would have also affected the Nigerian Prisons Service Headquarters at Alagbon. Such officers like Jomo Adapoyi and his Aide de Camp, Steven Akiga , were in danger. Soni Irabor and his friend, Clement Akintomide worked there too.
The officers who accompanied Babangida to Radio Nigeria were Major Chris Ugokwe, John Shagaya, Jack Datonye Iketubosin[N/2805], James Ojokojo and Mike Otuwa.
Bullets were exchanged thereafter. Major Ibrahim Rabo, of Nigeria Defence Academy Course Three[ mates include David Mark, Mike Akhigbe, Victor Malu, Festus Porbeni] was arrested by Capt. Yomi Williams. Lt. Lawrence Garba was killed.
IBB’s action did not go down well with the Army high command but his bravery saved lives and eventually Dimka was arrested. Even some of those who escaped were also fished out.
Dimka and IBB were good friends. Both were commissioned Second Lieutenant in December 1963. While the former attended Australian Army Cadet School, Portsea, the latter trained at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, Uttar Pradesh.
Babangida fought the Civil War, got injured at Uzuakoli and ended up in Umuahia where his first son, Mohammed, was born. And stories from both sectors are interesting.
The Biafrans fought dirty in Uzuakoli and captured two Armoured cars in one day. Oyibo Achebe, Chinua Achebe’s younger brother, had released an ‘ogbunigwe’ that hit a Nigerian Sarasin.
It was captured by Biafra and renamed Ndidi [Patience].That was the in 1969, the year IBB got married to former Maria Okogwu. Her middle name was Ndidi. It was after that battle that Biafran commando, Maj.Emeka Ananaba, was promoted Lt. Col.
Enugu Rangers football club, full of Biafran soldiers, was formed in 1970.Babangida was Commander, 44 Battalion, Umuahia, which he named ‘Rangers’. There he found Abraham ‘Assassin Tonica’ Nwachukwu, the man who taught him boxing in Ibadan.
IBB’s cheer mood disappeared when he discovered that Tonica fought for Biafra. He seized all the boxing champion’s medals including the gold from the Independence Day celebrations when he beat Boniface Ukwuoma in 1960 and four as champion of Equatorial Guinea.
Babangida does not forget. In 1991, he created Abia State and made Umuahia capital. Umuahia would have been capital of Imo in 1976 until a last minute call from Brig. Hilary Njoku to Murtala gave it to Owerri.
Only IBB could divide the Mid-West, he created Delta State. Many did not know that Otaru of Auchi, Guruza Momoh, was the Assistant District Officer in Minna who gave Babangida a letter to the Army in 1962.Talk about Mid-West Poly becoming Federal Polytechnic, Auchi. Asaba is home of the Okogwus.