Old truth and the Bamaiyi tales
General Ishaya Bamaiyi, one of the closest collaborators to the late dictator, General Sani Abacha, has often benefitted from profitable mendacity. I remember him now on the night of June 9, 1996 when he came as the head of the Federal Military Government delegation to console the family of Kudirat, the brave wife of Chief Moshood Abiola. In the morning of that day, Kudirat was driving to Lagos when her car was accosted in front of the 7up Bottling Company factory in Ikeja. She was gunned down in broad daylight. The leader of the assassination team was later to allege that he was part of the Abacha killer squad.
Now Bamaiyi has spinned his own tales in his book which he called the Vindication of a General. I have not seen nor read the book but I am sure I will not be disappointed by it. I am sure that he would tell us that whatever evil he did or was associated with, he was only obeying orders. After a lifetime of yes-siring and licking asses, Bamaiyi may have convinced himself that it is time for a confessional statement of atonement. As a Christian who regularly takes the Holy Communion, Bamaiyi may have convinced himself that making a confession would allow him to have peace. We need to remember that the bible says that “there is no peace for the wicked.”
But I am worried about the state of his mind and the quality of his thought. He was reported to have said at the public presentation of the book that Sani Abacha, the late dictator, was an honest man. Bamaiyi allegedly said that the money that Abacha squirrelled away into foreign banks account was actually done in the pursuit of national interest. Since 1999 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became our President till now, more than 130 Abacha accounts have been discovered all over the world. More than five billion dollars (at least 2 trillion naira) have been recovered from these accounts so far. With the help of Interpol and other international security agencies, the Federal Government continues the endless search for Abacha stolen billions. Bamaiyi, one of Abacha’s closest collaborators, has now confessed that the monies were stolen in the national interest.
Bamaiyi was one of the officers that helped General Sani Abacha to power in 1993. He came into national reckoning in 1990 when he joined other loyal officers to foil the bloody putsch of Major Gideon Orkar and company in their attempt to end the Babangida regime. He was then the commander of the 9th Mechanised Brigade, Ikeja. By November 1993 when Abacha toppled the regime of Chief Ernest Shonekan, the head of the Interim National Government, ING, in a bloodless coup, Bamaiyi became a member of the inner caucus. By this time, he was now the commander of the Lagos Garrison based in Bonny Camp, Victoria Island. At the height of his power, he was waging a fierce domestic battle that has a tinge of treachery and romance, with his mustachioed elder-brother, General Musa Bamaiyi, the former commander of the National Drug Laws Enforcement Agency. It was the senior Bamaiyi who brought Ishaya into the army in the first place.
His story got more interesting by 1995 when he helped to corral some of his officers to face a military tribunal over alleged coup plotting. When journalists nicknamed the coup, the phantom coup, some journalists like Chris Anyanwu, (who lately served with distinction as a senator representing Imo State), the publisher of the Sunday Magazine, TSM, Kunle Ajibade, the Executive Editor of TheNews magazine and George Mba of TELL magazine were rounded up and arraigned before the coup tribunal. They were accused of being “accessories after the fact of treason.” Some of his officers hold Bamaiyi responsible for their travails and alleged involvement in that phantom coup plot. One of them, Colonel Gabriel Ajayi, had joined Bamaiyi in the church on Sunday and they took the Holy Sacrament together. Ajayi did not know that his commander had already dispatched soldiers to arrest him. As Ajayi was driving home from church, soldiers double-crossed his car. He was dragged out while his wife and children were wailing and thrown into a military truck. His nightmare had begun. He was later sentenced to death.
It was the 1995 phantom coup that confirmed the viciousness of the Abacha regime. Among those arrested and tried before a kangaroo military tribunal were General Olusegun Obasanjo, his former deputy, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, the President of the Campaign for Democracy, CD, Colonel Lawan Gwaddabe, former military governor of Niger State, Akinloye Akinyemi, a former army major and brother of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, former Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The true story of the phantom coup has not been told till today. One hope that Bamaiyi in his book would explain his role in that coup, especially as it pertains to some of the officers under his command. But there was no doubt that he was a good student of the power game, learning from the precipitate fall of General Chris Alli as the Chief of Army Staff. In one fell swoop, Abacha had removed most of the top officers who helped him to power. Chris Alli was succeeded by General Alwali Kazir as the Chief of Army Staff. Kazir was only a stop gap until Bamaiyi came in 1996. Abacha must have been impressed by his sterling performance at the Lagos Garrison.
It is expected that Bamaiyi would explain that he was not a willing collaborator in the reign of evil during the Abacha regime. He was just a soldier obeying orders. He was a leading member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council, AFRC, when the death sentence on Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni nationalist leaders was approved and carried out in November 1995. Saro-Wiwa was the great writer, dramatist and environmentalist who had challenged successive Federal regimes over the degradation of the oil rich Ogoniland in Rivers State. By the laws of Nigeria, his appeal should not lapse until after 30 days. But these soldiers, including Bamaiyi, quickly approved the death sentence and in a gory move, quickly got the nine men hanged. Yet Bamaiyi and all the officers who collaborated in that heinous crime are all educated. They knew the law and they chose to violate it.
No wonder these set of officers were willing to do anything to remain in the system and curry favour from the bestial Abacha. It was also not a surprise that they turned on each other in a vicious dog-eat-dog infighting that weakened the Nigerian military and compromised the integrity of the nation. In 1997 some of the senior officers started meeting to device a way of ending the rule of the tyrant. It seems at that time that most of the senior officers were united in their objective of stopping Abacha on his track of transforming himself into “an elected president,” through the instrumentality of five “official political parties.” Chief Bola Ige, the first elected governor of old Oyo State dubbed these Abacha parties as “the five fingers of a leprous hand.” It was an apt description that struck. So it was understandable too why there was rumblings in the barracks and the generals felt they needed to take action.
But it was Abacha who moved first. One night in November 1997 General Diya and many of his top collaborators were arrested. Diya was the original humane face of the Abacha regime who had promised, while announcing the coming of Abacha in 1993, that “our stay will be brief.” Brave and energetic, he waged a devastating turf battles with Abacha, especially over the attempt by Abacha to transform into a life President of Nigeria. It was a hard headed struggle especially when Abacha had gotten rid of the first set of military commanders who made his coming to power possible.
The day Diya and the generals were paraded before television cameras as they were marched into the military tribunal demonstrated the absoluteness of Abacha’s power. Here were the creams of the military; Diya, General Olanrewaju, General Abdulkareem Adisa and some of the younger officers like Colonel Soda and Major Seun Fadipe, were brought in in handcuffs and leg chains. In a brief but bold remark before the military tribunal, Diya asked: “Where is Bamaiyi? He is the planner and the masterminder!”
From that point on, the tribunal chairman, General Victor Malu, who was later to serve as Chief of Army Staff under President Olusegun Obasanjo, would never again allow the accused persons to have a day in the sun. Not even on the day of judgment when they were supposed to have the final say on allocutus were they given that opportunity. Diya alleged that while the generals, including the commander of the Directorate of Military Intelligence came to him to talk about their desire to remove Abacha, Bamaiyi was playing the role of the traitor. He allegedly was carrying a tape on his body supplied by Abacha henchmen.
For eight long years Bamaiyi was in the hell-hole facing trial for alleged complicity in the assassination attempt on Alex Ibru, the late publisher of The Guardian who once served Abacha as Minister of Internal Affairs. When people like General Diya where returning from prison, he was moving in. Such is the irony of life. It has since become clear why some members of the military clique were so desperate to abort the transition to civilian rule that culminated in the coming to power of Chief Obasanjo in 1999. But for the tenacity and courage of General Abdulsalami Abubakar and a few other officers, the transition would have been aborted by these desperate men. Some members of this clique tried to “persuade” the incoming President to retain them in service in order to “stabilise the military.” Obasanjo rejected such attempt at intimidation and fired Bamaiyi and company on the day he resumed power on May 29, 1999.
It is good that Bamaiyi has made his confessions in his new book. If it serves as part of his atonement, that is good. I understand too that his old collaborator, Major Hamzat Al-Mustapha, is also working hard on his confessions. That is good. I hope it would contain a manual for VIPs on how to survive in Kirikiri Prisons. Some senators might need it for their post retirement engagements.