History: How Abacha saved Babangida’s Life during the Okhar coup of 1990

Coup : It happened on a Sunday, a day divinely ordained by God for Christians to keep holy and worship Him.

In many parts of the country, most Christians were already asleep. As usual, they would wake around 6 a.m. to prepare for Sunday service but exactly 25 years ago, an event which happened in Obalende, Ikoyi, Lagos made many of them to skip service that day.

In the wee hours of the fourth Sunday of that month, many of them were aroused by the ear-splitting sounds of gunfire. Earlier, some food vendors, who were in the habit of selling till around 5 a.m., scampered for cover and the trepidation woke some of the sleeping residents.
Then, they massed at their windows with curtains slightly drawn to behold a military convoy of fighting vehicles, tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) and heavily-armed soldiers marching towards Dodan Barracks, the then seat of government to give back-up power to their colleagues who were already battling with the security men stationed there to take over the number one residence in the country.

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April 22, 1990 was a day Babangida took the decision to take the capital to Abuja which he eventually did on December 12, 1991.
Also, it was a day the then Minister of Defence and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the late General Sani Abacha, proved his loyalty to Babangida. A day the Maradona should be grateful to the late Khalifa because if Abacha, who later removed Chief Ernest Shonekan on Novermber 17, 1993, had wanted to hijack the coup, he would have done it without any resistance.
For many hours, Babangida’s whereabout was unknown. Some said he changed into a fly, some said he disappeared.

Orkar’s broadcast was being relayed to Nigerians intermittently, amidst martial music.

He not only announced the overthrow of the Babangida administration but also the tinkering with the political geography of Nigeria, the excision of the five states, with conditions for their re-admission.
“We wish to emphasise that this is not just another coup, but well executed for the marginalised, oppressed and enslaved people of the Middle Belt and the South with a view to freeing ourselves and our children yet unborn from eternal slavery and colonisation by a clique of this country,” Orkar said.
In many parts of the country, people who considered themselves marginalised were jubilating with university students at the forefront.
In Lagos, students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) staged a solidarity rally. From Akoka, they went to the premises of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Channel 7, Tejuosho in their hundreds. The soldiers guarding the television station even rejoiced with them.

When Orkar and his men came in the early hours, they went about their mission with clinical precision. They stormed the seat of government and since they were least expected, they took the guards by surprise, attacking from the Federal Secretariat end, after seizing the radio station. It was a day Dodan Barracks was heavily shelled.
Orkar’s men met a meek resistance because most of the presidential guards fled due to the superior fire power but a few of them, led by Babangida’s Aide-de-Camp (ADC), Lt. Colonel U.K Bello, stayed to ward off the coupists.
When Bello saw that the firepower was too much for him and his men, he quickly mounted one of the armoured tanks at Dodan Barracks to unleash a deadly blow.
His intention was to secure Dodan Barracks, go to the radio station and, if necessary, level the whole place to dislodge Orkar and his men. Unfortunately, one of the coupists had, a few days earlier, tampered with all the tanks when he came to service them, demobilising them.

One of the coupists was in Dodan Barracks on the eve of the coup to play with the guards. While playing draught with them, he had tactically asked if Babangida was going to spend the night there. The guards ignorantly gave him the answer he needed. So, by the time Bello realised that the tank with which he wanted to launch a counter attack was faulty, it was too late. He was killed instantly.

It was then that Abacha ordered Kurubo to move in with his men to crush the rebellion. He was supported by soldiers from the Ikeja Cantonment.
For hours, the premises of the radio station were turned into a theatre of war aimed at dislodging Orkar and his men.
Similar efforts were made to jam Orkar’s voice out of the air through the facilities of the State Security Service (SSS).
This was finally done a few minutes before noon. By this time, all the commanders of army units nationwide had already pledged their loyalty to the Babangida regime.
With the removal of Orkar, Kurubo came on air to tell Nigerians that the “dissidents have been routed”, urging them to await further announcements.
A few minutes after noon, Bamaiyi also came on air to corroborate Kurubo. A few minutes later, Radio Nigeria went dead which was due to the heavy shelling which affected the equipment.

“Their broadcast was embarrassing and they are already isolated. Most of these disloyal elements have been arrested and are already undergoing interrogations,” Abacha said.
It was believed that one of the reasons given by the coupists for their action was the way most of the ring leaders were sidelined in military promotion. This was believed to be Orkar’s main grouse with Babangida.
A Tiv from Benue, some of his colleagues commissioned same day with him, who were from the core North, had a meteoric rise, becoming his superior officers. This was the same reason given by the plotters of February 13, 1976 when General Murtala Muhammed was killed.

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Many soldiers were arrested and no fewer than 16 officers declared wanted by the Federal Military Government.
Also declared wanted was a fish merchant, Great Ovedje Ogboru, who was believed to have bankrolled the plot and offered his warehouse at Ikorodu as operational base.
He was accused of buying J5 Peugeot buses used by the plotters in carrying arms and men. He was also accused of importing arms into Nigeria for the operation, using his fishing trawlers.

At 2 p.m, two military officers arrived in a jeep to monitor the situation. An hour later, 40 soldiers, dressed in military fatigue, arrived. Then came seven Black Maria vehicles with some of the condemned plotters.
They were brought out in handcuffs, tied to the stakes and shot. The remaining plotters were shot in other locations.
Aikhomu himself confirmed this in a 7p.m. broadcast.
On that day, 43 conspirators were executed, the largest execution of coup plotters in the country’s history. It was a bloody Friday.
Before then, the highest was 32, after the Dimka abortive coup of February 13, 1976.

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