A former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, has said that the winner of the 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, could not have died of natural causes.
Abiola whose election was annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida-led military administration in July 1993 was arrested by the late Gen. Sani Abacha-led junta in 1994 when he declared himself the winner of the election and his resolve to reclaim his mandate.
The business mogul turned politician later died in detention in controversial circumstances on July 7, 1998.
But Bamaiyi, the Chief of Army Staff under the Abacha regime, has insisted in a book that was launched in Abuja on Thursday that former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar owes the nation more explanation on the death of the late politician.
“I believe only Gen. Abubakar and those he used to handle Abiola’s death can tell Nigerians how Chief M.K.O Abiola died. Abiola could not have died the way he reportedly died,” Bamaiyi declared in the book titled Vindication of a General.
Recollecting the circumstances in which he learnt about Abiola’s death in the said book, Bamaiyi, who was also the Chief of Army Staff in the brief period Abdulsalami held sway as head of state, said: “One evening, the Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar called while I was in Lagos to tell me we had a problem.
“I asked him what was wrong and he told me Chief Abiola was dead.
“I was shocked and asked him what we were going to do about it. He told me he was handling the situation.
“I was disturbed because I expected problems in Lagos. But nothing happened.
“I was directed to lead a delegation to Abiola’s house to commiserate with the family and was told Abiola had some visitors, including some Americans.
“He had taken tea, which raised suspicion about his death.
Bamaiyi said the late business mogul never relinquished his mandate in spite of the pains of incarceration.
“At no time did Abiola relinquish his mandate. His death came as a surprise to me because he had been healthy when we met,” he added.
Bamaiyi recollected that former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters and others were involved in a coup plot against the late Abacha in 1995.
He also said the botched 1997 coup allegedly led by a former Chief of General Staff, Gen. Oladipo Diya against Abacha was real.
He said Diya made $60,000 and N2 million cash available for the feeding of soldiers during the coup against Abacha.
He said the plan was to “blow up” Abacha’s car at a function in Sheraton Hotel, Abuja with an RGP-7.
Excerpts from the book, whose launch was presided over by a former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon said: “It will forever remain a puzzle to many Nigerians that two former helmsmen, a former head of state and his deputy, were arrested and tried for the coup that sought to remove General Sani Abacha from power in 1995.
“Interestingly, the 1995 coup, which, either out of ignorance or for political reasons, has been termed ‘phantom’ by the actual players highlights the challenge of lack of honour and integrity among highly-placed officers because of naked pursuit of power.
“Despite spirited denial by these key officers, some of them will always tell the truth, including Col. Lawal Gwadabe and Col. Bello Fadile, whose recordings cannot be denied.
“I want to state clearly and without fear of contradiction that the 1995 coup in which Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was convicted was real.
“I am glad that Gen. Mujakpero, who investigated the coup, stood his ground in asserting that it really happened.
“Gen. PN Aziza carried out his duties by trying and convicting Gen. Obasanjo, and has clearly stated that if he retried that case, he would still convict Obasanjo.
“I know the coup was real and was reported to Gen. AZ Kazir when he was GOC 1 Mechanised DIV, but he did nothing about it until he was appointed COAS.
“I remember going go Gen. Kazir when I was commander of the Lagos Garrison and telling him there were rumours about the coup. He confirmed that he had heard about it.
“I asked him what he was going to do about it, and he said he was handling it. He was my boss, so I did not go further.
“I don’t remember the exact date. But on a Sunday, the COAS, Maj. Gen. Kazir, invited us into his study at his residence.
“Present at the meeting were Gens. Kazir; Olanrewaju who happened to be in Lagos from Jos; Muktar, the DMI; and Adeleke Kola, the provost marshal, and me, Comd. LGC.
“Gen. Olanrewaju briefed us on how the coup plan started from his Division and said that he had lot of officers involved.
“In Lagos, we had two involved officers named Col. Bello Fadile and Col. Gabriel Ajayi- my Col. Administration and Quartering. The decision to arrest these officers was made at the meeting.
“Based on Gen. Olanrewaju’s briefing, it was clear the officers could strike anytime.
“It was decided that Gen. Olanrewaju be given an aircraft to take him to Jos. The same aircraft would then proceed to Yola to bring in Col. Gwadabe, who came to Jos and was put in detention.
“I read some falsehood Colonel Ajayi wrote several times claiming he and I took Holy Communion in the church, but I did not say anything to him.
“I received instruction to arrest him in the evening. I directed CO 26 Battalion to arrest him, and he was arrested.
“If I had received this instruction before going to church, I would have ordered his arrest as soon as he left church.
“I was not involved in the matter again after Ajayi’s arrest.
“Headquarters Lagos Garrison Command (HQ LGC) has always been the venue for coup trials in Lagos and was used as such in 1995.
“After the trial and conviction of Gen. Obasanjo and Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, efforts were made by many Nigerians, including some army officers, to get them released.
“At one point, I went with Gen. PN Azazi to the Head of State and we pleaded with him to pardon the two generals and release them from prison because they were a former head of state and his deputy.
“He promised to look at it. But I was told later, though I did not confirm it, that some security officials advised him against the release, and nothing was done.
“I did not go to Abacha because I had doubts about Gen. Obasanjo’s involvement in the coup based on the briefing we received from DMI, Col. Sabo, the SIP report, and the statements of other coupists.”
Bamaiyi also fingered a former Chief of General Staff, Gen. Oladipo Diya and others in the 1997 Coup plot against Abacha.
The book says: “Again, within a space of two years, Gen. Oladipo Diya, second in command to Gen. Sani Abacha, was caught in the centre of another coup.
“It is an issue which Nigerians have extensively debated and commented upon.
“Unfortunately, the coup plotter, Gen. D. O. Diya, cowardly denied that he masterminded it with the support of officers like Gen. Ibrahim Sabo, who wanted to destroy me.
“Gen. Diya started planning to overthrow Gen. Abacha as early as 1994 when I was at Lagos Garrison Command (LGC).
“At that time, it was the responsibility of the service chiefs to receive the Commander-In-Chief anytime he visited Lagos, which during Gen. Abacha’s time, was occasional.
“The commander LGV would receive the Chief of General Staff (CGS) at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (Presidential Wing) and see him off.
“I always received Gen. Diya at the airport and escorted him to his private residence at Fajuyi Road in Ikeja or the Vice President’s home at Ikoyi, depending on where he felt like staying.
“On one such visit, at his Ikeja residence, he mentioned how Gen. Abacha had not been doing well. He made the statement during the next visit and I asked him what the problem was.
“Gen. Diya mentioned that the Commander-In-Chief did not come to the office early and was not listening to him and other senior people in the government.
“I told him I believed Gen. Abacha would listen to him because of their special relationship. I knew how many times Gen. Abacha had stopped plans to retire him.
“On the next visit, Diya said openly that there was a need to remove Gen. Abacha and that he was being blamed for the failure of the government from various quarters. I asked him which quarters he was talking about but he did not mention specifics.
“Gen. Diya went on to tell me I was one of the officers he trusted and he would rely on me to get Gen. Abacha out of office so the country would move forward under his leadership. I told him I would think it over and get back to him.
“I informed Gen. Abacha, who said he was going to put Gen. Diya on trial. I suggested there would be no evidence for a conviction and Gen. Diya would not be acting alone, so there was need for patience.
“I was appointed the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in April 19996 and Gen. P.N. Aziza was appointed to take over LGC. It became Aziza’s responsibility to receive and see off the CGS (Diya) at Murtala Muhammed Airport.
“After returning to Lagos from a tour of 2 Mech. Div., Gen. Aziza came to me at the COAS official residence. He looked worried, and I said ‘I hope all is well.’
“He later told me how Gen. Diya had told him of the need to overthrow Gen. Abacha, and he believed Gen. Diya was serious about it.
“I laughed first, and Gen. Aziza was surprised. He said, ‘Giwa [this is how we addressed each other since we were such old friends], why are you laughing at something so serious? You know this is a matter of life and death.’
“I told him it was nothing new. Gen. Aziza asked me what I was going to do about it. I assured him I would do something.
“I knew Gen. Aziza would want me to act, and it was in my best interest to do so because if there was an investigation, I would be held responsible for having known about a coup and hiding it.
“I went to Abacha the following day and told him what Gen. Aziza had told me. Gen. Abacha said he wanted to hear from Aziza directly. I sent for Gen. Aziza to meet me in Abuja, and the two of us went to see Gen. Abacha.
“Gen. Aziza told him exactly what he had told me. From Gen. Abacha’s looks, he was not surprised. He directed us to play along with Diya until we knew what he really wanted.
“I suggested to Gen. Abacha that he should call Gen. Diya for Aziza and me to challenge him and then make him resign or retire.
“Gen. Abacha disagreed and said we did not know what had been happening. I later found out that Gen. MC Ali as COAS and some service chiefs were retired because of their alleged plan to remove Gen. Abacha.
“Other meetings took place at a guest house with Gen. Diya, Gen. Olanrewaju, Co 7 Gds Bn, Gen, Diya’s security officer—Major Fadipe and me. Of course, Gen. Abacha was always briefed after the meetings.
“Other meetings were held between Gen. Diya and me in his office. The issue of international support came up, he told me he was working on it.
“When the issue of feeding soldiers was brought up, he provided USD $60,000 to be given to GOCs to provide feeding for soldiers if there was the need.
“The money was taken to Gen. Abacha and I made a joke with him saying: ‘This is your worth at present.’ He only smiled and collected the money and later returned it to me. The money was used as exhibit during the trial.”