Thursday 13 June 2019

1983 Nigerian Coup D'état And All The Participant

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The Nigerian military coup of December 31, 1983 was coordinated by key officers of the Nigerian military, led to the ouster of the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari, and the installation of Major General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State.

In April 1980, seven months after coming to office, the new President began a delicate game of musical chairs in the high command, kicking Akinrinade upstairs to the constitutionally required position of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), moving Jalo into the Army Chief's slot and appointing General Inua Wushishi, a Muslim northerner from his geo-political zone who was then Commandant of the Staff College, as deputy Chief of Army Staff.  The prestigious but powerless position of CDS relative to Service Chiefs may have been an unintended source of frustration for General Akinrinade.

In October 1981, two years after taking office, Shagari finally made his move, sliding Wushishi into the sensitive position of Chief of Army Staff, kicking Jalo upstairs as CDS, and thanking the retiring Akinrinade for services to the nation.  Thereafter, other than command of the Brigade of Guards, Shagari paid very little attention to internal postings of officers, devolving that responsibility to his trusted Army Chief.  He even warned one of his ministers (Umaru Dikko) not to irritate the military by prying too deeply into their affairs and refused to interfere when Brigadier Buhari, just back from a course in the US, clashed with General Wushishi over his Army posting.  This approach was laid bare when on December 31st, 1983 as he was escaping from mutinous troops who had attacked the Presidential Lodge at Abuja, the President could neither recognize the name of the officer (Brigadier Sani Abacha) announcing the coup on radio** (see full text of speech), nor place his ethnic origin.  Abacha, a Kanuri from neighboring Kano State and "far northerner" like the President, was the Commander of the strategic 9th Brigade at Ikeja Cantonment near the federal capital.

However, the Shagari government did move to end the military career of Nigeria's former Foreign Affairs Minister, Major General Joseph Nanven Garba.  Garba was "larger than life" given his extensive international connections. He was also the former Brigade of Guards Commander who, in collaboration with others, had deposed General Gowon in 1975.  Garba's retirement may have been informed by a sense that he could not be trusted as a "military politician".  However, many others who were left within the service had also taken part in the same 1975 coup.   Wushishi, for example, then Deputy Commandant of the School of Infantry, was the officer who had been sent in a plane around the country to gather senior military officers for the first post-coup meeting in Lagos at which the trioka of Mohammed, Obasanjo and Danjuma were chosen to lead.  He was also a former Federal Minister.  Then a Lt. Col., Babangida, who later emerged as Wushishi's de facto deputy, also took part in the July 1975 coup as the Commander of the 4th Recce regiment and was a member of the Supreme Military Council.  By some coincidence, as of the time of the coup that eventually removed him, the President and C-in-C (Shehu Shagari), the Chief of Army Staff (Inua Wushishi), the Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans (Ibrahim Babangida), the Quarter Master General (Mamman Vatsa), the Commander, Brigade of Guards (Bello Khaliel), the Director of Military Intelligence (Aliyu Mohammed) and the Director of the NSO (Umaru Shinkafi), were all from what used to be "North-West State", which is part of what we now call the "North-West Zone".

This civil-military configuration may have lulled the President into a false sense of security.

The civilian government of the second republic plunged itself into supervising defence acquisitions, reorganization and demobilization.  Sold as a political gesture to the Eastern part of the country, but perhaps informed by cold military calculations, it created a new Army Division based at Enugu (82 Div) with airborne, airmobile, and amphibious brigades.  It also created new Air Force Commands and Staff Branches, and split the Naval Flotilla into Naval Commands.  It acquired new jet fighters and bombers and combat ships.  The Nigerian Defence Academy became degree awarding in January 1983.  The Army Command and Staff College became a tri-service institution while the NIPSS was expanded.  One sensitive issue was the question of delays in the payment of benefits of soldiers who had been demobilized.  The President ordered that no demobilized soldier be asked to leave his barrack accommodation if he had not been paid his benefits.  The sensitivity of the demobilization exercise had partly been responsible for the reluctance of the Gowon military regime (1966-75) to deal with it with dispatch.  For one, many of those mobilized during the civil war came from ethnic minority areas of the country with few natural resources and declining economic incentive for farming.  When it came time to discharge them, there was no economic "net" into which they could be safely thrown without a political or military backlash.  So they were retained in part as a social service but perhaps not unmindful of the fact that they were part of the ethno-military political base of then C-in-C, General Gowon.  When then Brigadier Muhammed came to power in July 1975, his new Army Chief, then Brigadier Danjuma took the demobilization issue by the horns.  The new civilian leaders were well aware that this was one of the grievances behind the coup attempt of February 1976 in which General Muhammed lost his life.

According to the IISS, over the ten year period from 1976 to 1986 the military declined in size from 230,000 to 94,000 personnel.  None of this necessarily meant that the country was less militarized.  Trained soldiers with a military mentality were merely displaced from one sector to another.

Within the military itself as an institution, democratization had very superficial roots.

The new civilian regime also moved quickly to review conditions of military service when it introduced the National minimum wage.  It continued certain reorganizational initiatives started during the previous regime.  These had, however, been motivated primarily by service considerations, with no public input.    It initiated efforts to reactivate the moribund Defence Industries Corporation, which had originally been established by the first civilian government in 1964.    Two truck assembly plants, originally conceptualized by the preceding regime, were established and the military mandated to source all truck requirements locally.  Frigates, patrols boats and helicopters were purchased for the Navy, while interceptors, deep interdiction and ground attack jets were purchased for the Air Force.  The professional recommendations for these acquisitions were made by the military and approved by the civilians.  Interestingly, President Shagari decided that the Presidential air transport fleet, hitherto the exclusive preserve of the Nigerian Airways, would henceforth be entrusted to the Air Force.  It would seem, however, that the trust was not reciprocal.  Certain Air Force officers in the Presidential Fleet became aware of plans for the coup of December 1983 and even tried to use false weather reports to divert the President's plane from Abuja to Kaduna, where Brigadier Bako was laying in wait.  Only the President's refusal to be diverted aborted that particular phase of the coup, which went on to succeed later, although he initially escaped.

Simultaneously, as might be expected in a traditional transitional demilitarization process, the President moved to beef up the Police. A Ministry of Police Affairs was established and Police depots and colleges expanded.  The uniform was changed, salaries increased, new equipment purchased and new barracks built.  But all of this merely served to create envy in certain circles of the military which even interpreted the arming of the Police as a ploy to fight the Army, rather than reduce the reliance on the military for internal security.

Civil-military tensions were testy as evidenced by the Gaius of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3rd Division (Major General Muhammadu Buhari) to cut off fuel supplies and food into Chad, an action caused by border disputes between Nigeria and Chad and which was opposed by President Shehu Shagari. Against further orders by Shagari to avoid breaching Chadian Borders, Buhari's units pursued Chadian intruders about 50 km into Chad. These unilateral actions in the words of military historian Nowa Omoigui "undermined civil-military relations and eventually contributed (among other reasons) to a successful coup on December 31, 1983". Prior to December 31, 1983, the Director General of the National Security Organization, Umaru Shinkafi detected chatter associated with up to 10 coup plots but the NSO was unable to act because of the tenuous and vague nature of the intelligence gathered. One of the key coup participants, Major General Ibrahim Babangida noted in Karl Maier's 'Midnight in Nigeria', the media and financial collaboration of business mogul Moshood Kashimawo Abiola in the coup plot.

Colonel Tunde Ogbeha was tasked by the coup plotters to negotiate the peaceful surrender of President Shagari's Brigade of Guards army unit. Ogbeha was unable to reach Colonel Bello Kaliel, the Commander of the Brigade of Guards and engaged in a Lagos-to-Abuja-and-back seeking game which made Kaliel suspicious. Brigadier Ibrahim Bako was given the responsibility of arresting President Shagari after Ogbeha's successful negotiation of a peaceful surrender. Unknown to Bako was the fact that no such surrender had been negotiated. Additionally details of the plot had not only been leaked to President Shagari but also Captain Anyogo and Lt Colonel Eboma of the Brigade of Guards mounted a defense of the presidential villa in anticipation of an attack. As expected Brigadier Bako arrived at the Presidential villa to arrest President Shagari but President Shagari's guards were not pacified as expected. A firefight ensued leading to the killing of Brigadier Bako.


Major General Muhammadu Buhari (General Officer Commanding, 3rd Armored Division, Jos)
Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (Business tycoon who financed the coup plot according to General Babangida)
Major General Ibrahim Babangida (Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans)
Brigadier Ibrahim Bako (Brigade Commander)
Brigadier Sani Abacha (Commander, 9th Mechanized Brigade)
Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon (Military Secretary, Army)
Lt Colonel Aliyu Mohammed (Director of Military Intelligence)
Lt Colonel Halilu Akilu
Lt Colonel David Mark
Lt Colonel Tunde Ogbeha
Major Sambo Dasuki (Military Assistant to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Wushishi)
Major Abdulmumuni Aminu
Major Lawan Gwadabe
Major Mustapha Jokolo (Senior Instructor, Basawa Barracks - Zaria)
Major Abubakar Umar

Additional notes on Buhari's role
General Buhari has denied his involvement in the December 1983 coup however the example of the late Major Daniel Bamidele betrays Buhari's complicity in the December 1983 coup. Nigerian military historians Max Siollun and Nowa Omoigui note that when Major Bamidele got wind of the coup to oust Shagari, Bamidele reported the issue up to the chain of command to his GOC 3rd Armored Division (Major General Buhari) who was allegedly in on the plot. To prevent Bamidele from leaking the plot, Buhari ordered the arrest and detention of Bamidele for 2 weeks. Bamidele wasn't released until the successful execution of the coup. Learning from this unfortunate experience, Bamidele didn't report any rumours of the so-called Vatsa coup (between 1985 and 1986) and was executed for it. Bamidele's words to the Special Military Tribunal that tried and convicted him are:

"I heard of the 1983 coup planning, told my GOC General Buhari who detained me for two weeks in Lagos. Instead of a pat on the back, I received a stab. How then do you expect me to report this one? This trial marks the eclipse of my brilliant and unblemished career of 19 years. I fought in the civil war with the ability it pleased God to give me. It is unfortunate that I'm being convicted of something which I have had to stop on two occasions. This is not self-adulation but a sincere summary of the qualities inherent in me. It is an irony of fate that the president of the tribunal who in 1964 felt that I was good enough to take training in the UK is now saddled with the duty of showing me the exit from the force and the world."

Additionally, in a 2015 interview, Sambo Dasuki alleges that he and two other military officers (co-conspirators) travelled to Jos to brief Major General Buhari, who was then the GOC of 3rd Armoured Division, on the status of planning for the 1983 coup.

Major General Buhari's Supreme Military Council (SMC) observed a minute of silence for the slain Brigadier Bako during the SMCs first meeting

 Full text of Abacha's coup announcement

Circa 0700 hrs GMT.  December 31, 1983.  Radio Nigeria

Fellow countrymen and women.

I, Brigadier Sani Abacha, of the Nigerian Army address you this morning on behalf of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years. I am referring to the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged; we have become a debtor and beggar nation.  There is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people who are now fed up with endless announcements of importation of foodstuff; health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment.

Our educational system is deteriorating at alarming rate.  Unemployment figures including the undergraduates have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions.

In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to twelve months and in others there are threats of salary cuts.  Yet our leaders revel in squandermania, corruption and indiscipline, and continue to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities.

After due consultations over these deplorable conditions, I and my colleagues in the armed forces have in the discharge of our national role as promoters and protectors of our national interest decided to effect a change in the leadership of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and form a Federal Military Government.  This task has just been completed.

The Federal Military Government hereby decrees the suspension of the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 relating to all elective and appointive offices and representative institutions including the office of the President, state governors, federal and state executive councils, special advisers, special assistants, the establishment of the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly including the formation of political parties.

Accordingly, Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari ceases forthwith to be the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.  All the incumbents of the above-named offices shall, if they have not already done so, vacate their formal official residences, surrender all government property in their possession and report to the nearest police station in their constituencies within 7 days.

The clerk of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, within two weeks, render an account of all the properties of the National Assembly.  All the political parties are banned; the bank account of FEDECO and all the political parties are frozen with immediate effect.  All foreigners living in any part of the country are assured of their safety and will be adequately protected.

Henceforth, workers not on essential duties are advised to keep off the streets.  All categories of workers on essential duties will, however, report at their places of work immediately.

With effect from today, a dusk to dawn curfew will be imposed between 7pm and 6am each day until further notice.  All Airways flights have been suspended forthwith and all airports, seaports, and border posts closed.  External communication has been cut; the Custom and Excise, Immigration and the Police will maintain vigilance and ensure watertight security at the borders.  The area administrators or commanders will have themselves to blame if any of the wanted people escape.

Fellow countrymen and women, the change in government have been a bloodless and painstaking operation and we do not want anyone to lose his or her life.  People are warned in their own interest to be law abiding and to give the Federal Military Government maximum cooperation.  Anyone caught disturbing public order will be summarily dealt with. 

For the avoidance of doubt, you are forewarned that we shall not hesitate to declare martial law in any area or state of the federation in which disturbances occur.

Fellow countrymen and women and comrades at arms, I will like to assure you that the Armed Forces of Nigeria is ready to lay its life for our dear nation but not for the present irresponsible leadership of the past civilian administration.

You are to await further announcements.

Good morning.

CreditDr Nowa Omoigui &

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