Thursday, February 26, 2015 11:18 am
By E. C. Ejiogu
As the Igbo, amongst whom democratic approach to the course of daily existence is the norm often posit, irrespective of the fame and standing in society, whenever a deity becomes way too restless, the proper way to call it out is to reveal to it the choice of wood, which it was carved from. That exactly, is what I have resolved to do here in this piece about General Muhammdu Buhari. Any honest observer of the political scene in the Nigeria project would not dispute the fact that Buhari’s restlessness has become most irksome, and as a result, needs to be addressed.
For everyone whose knowledge of Buhari’s antecedents is sparse—that, for the benefit of the doubt includes someone like former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the rest of his Yoruba compatriots who have elected to bring Buhari back to power through their All Progressive Congress (APC)—rehashing how he cut his teeth on public affairs and sordid antecedents in the Nigeria project is absolutely vital.
Muhammadu Buhari was one of the substantial number of young secondary school leavers from the upper Niger who were spurred by Ahamadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and then premier of the Northern Region and his fellow chieftains of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in a spirited campaign for them to join the army. That was towards the end of de facto colonial rule as the Nigeria colonial army officer corps was undergoing the so-called Nigerianisation process, which the imminent departure of the predominantly British personnel in the corps elicited. The quota system regime, which had been put in place by the NPC Federal Minister for Defence, Alhaji Inuwa Wada, in the period 1958-1966 to guide the recruitment of candidate cadets into the corps had significantly altered its composition as a result in favour of the nationalities that inhabit the upper Niger. For full disclosure, Inuwa Wada was the maternal cousin of Murtala Muhammed, a beneficiary of that quota system, who subsequently played one of the ignominiously perverse roles in the chequered history of the Nigeria project that still festers even today.
It is not only that young Buhari was a beneficiary of that lopsided affirmative action policy that allotted 50 percent of all cadet recruitments into the corps to the Northern Region by de-emphasizing a uniform merit-based academic accomplishment application process in favour of individuals from the nationalities that inhabit the upper Niger to disadvantage their lower Niger counterparts. He was also one of the ‘primary beneficiaries of the promotion exercise in the junior ranks’ of the corps by the incipient Aguiyi-Ironsi headed regime in May 1966 ‘to dilute discontents in the army’. That measure ‘backfired and exacerbated disillusion amongst southern and northern rank and file’ soldiers due to the poisoned atmosphere in the Nigeria project, about which this piece would not engage on due to space and time constraint. Going by recent revelations about Buhari’s certificate, it is evidently clearer now that Buhari was flat out unqualified to enlist in the corps. That makes him a usurper.
In any case, second-lieutenant Buhari was promoted to the rank of substantive lieutenant alongside the many soldiers from the upper Niger who predominated the non-commissioned officer (NCO) ranks and also, the junior ranks of the officer corps. Those beneficiaries included Paul Tarfa, TheophilusYakubu Danjuma, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Ibrahim Bako, Abdullahi Shelleng, Garba Dada who was nick-named ‘Paiko’ and Mohammadu Jega. These individuals named here will subsequently become fixtures in the roll of infamy with specific regard to the persecution of the Igbo in the Nigeria project. The reason being that all of them cut their teeth in public affairs by participating in the wanton spillage of innocent Igbo blood in 1966 and 1967. As if those were not sufficient, they consolidated that ignominious feat with their ruthless roles in the genocidal war, which Nigeria levied on the Igbo in Biafra. Since the shooting phase of their war ended in January 1970, they have unrelentingly sustained their persecution of the Igbo using the structures and power of the Nigerian supra-national state, which they usurped and still control. Buhari’s relentless quest to once again capture the helms of state power as president is in line with their mindset to keep the Igbo in their place in the project. What that means is that the Hausa-Fulani grand project of controlling the Igbo and stalling their recovery from the genocide is still ‘a task that must be done’.
When the research for this piece began more than three months ago, this writer felt that it would amount to a digression to delve into certain accompanying details in the story of Buhari’s involvement in the Igbo genocide. But as the research progressed and the drafting of the story progressed, recent developments have made it necessary to bring in those details.
Some of those details relate specifically to the May 1966 promotions in the army. According to Max Siollun, “under normal circumstances those promotions would not have raised eyebrows. Moreover (sic) they could be justified on the basis of merit and correcting the anomaly of deserving officers that had been passed over for promotion in the past.” The predominance of Igbo in the rank of majors entailed that 18 out of the 21 who were promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel were ‘Igbo speaking’. The perception especially amongst mischief makers and soldiers from the upper Niger was “that their superior officers were murdered in January with the deliberate intention to create vacancies for Igbo officers to fill.” No one cared to objectively recall that merit underscored every factor that entailed the preponderance of Igbo in the rank of major. In the main, it was mostly the Igbo who possessed the requisite educational qualification for enlistment in the officer corps when the approach of self-rule opened up the corps for the recruitment of indigenous men given that the all British face of the corps was about to change.
Furthermore, there were two other factors in play, and both of them were also underscored by merit. As Siollun put it: “in fact (sic) two things happened: several majors were promoted acting lt-colonel and others were promoted substantive lt-colonels. The latter group included several officers who before the coup were already acting lt-colonels, and simply had their temporary/acting ranks confirmed.” Hear Siollun again: “Several of those promoted had been passed over for promotion in the past. For example (sic) Majors Patrick Anwunah, Mike Okwechime, Tony Eze and Alex Madiebo were [Yakubu] Gowon’s course mates at Sandhurst. However, while Gowon had been promoted to lt-colonel in 1964, by mid-1966 the three men were still majors and were now junior to their former course mate, Gowon, even though they were no less capable than him.”
Noteworthy: As Siollun rightly puts it: “Conversely, most junior officers and NCOs were Northern and the primary beneficiaries of the promotion exercise in the junior ranks were logically also Northern…Strangely (sic) there were no complaints about the preponderance of Northern promotions in this category. All eyes remained focused on the Igbo majors promoted to lt-colonel. A group of Northern air force cadets were also dismissed due to their underwhelming educational achievements. The exercise seemed to be part of a broader leaning by Aguiyi-Ironsi away from quota towards a merit based system. Increased emphasis on academic achievement would indirectly discriminate against Northern soldiers.”
But in the actual fact, one would not rightly talk about discrimination in this case given that on the merit factor of prerequisite educational qualifications, those individuals from the nationalities that inhabit the upper Niger were flat out unqualified to even show up at the enlistment centres. Knowing what we know today, Aguiyi-Ironsi did not even touch the tip of the matter talk less going any meaningful far. If he did, one like Buhari and many others from the upper Niger should not have been in the corps at all. The true reason being that unlike their counterparts from the lower Niger, they lacked the requisite educational qualification. The appeasement of one’s natural enemy hardly helps matters in the one’s overall interests at all.
Elsewhere in the true world, Buhari should not have the effrontery and characteristic arrogance to stride around the way he does in public affairs in the Nigeria project. I will cite a quick example to further underscore my immediate assertion above. Some years ago in the US, there was a certain naval officer who committed suicide for the simple reason that it was revealed by the media that he wore a medal of achievement and merit that was not awarded to him. Rather than face a disciplinary panel, that officer walked to the back of his office in the Navy yard in southeast Washington, DC one fine spring morning and blew out his brains with his service revolver. That’s a gentleman officer right there!
A Parade of Genocidists—Buhari, et al Are Implicated
Even in the light of concrete and irrefutable evidence that the 15 January, 1966 majors’ led coup d’état was neither planned, nor executed to singularly target upper Niger politicians and military officers, every commissioned officer, NCO, and rank and file soldier from the upper Niger relied on speculation and sectional prejudice against the Igbo, and circumstantial evidence to convince themselves and believe otherwise. Thus, their justification of their resolve to systematically plot, target and eliminate their Igbo colleagues.
Across the board, the conspiracy and planning involved all officers and rank and file soldier from the upper Niger: “Although senior Northern officers were involved in the planning, most of the spade work…would be carried out by Northern NCOs and lieutenants many of whom had little interest in methodical planning or leniency.” Even some of their wives got involved and “consulted charms, herbalist and native doctors to assess the most auspicious time of retaliating”. “[T]he de facto leader and co-oordinator…was the Inspector of Signals Lt-Colonel Murtala Muhammed, ably assisted by Majors Martin Adamu and Theophilus Danjuma”.
Their coverage of their planning was wholesome, and no army formation was left out. Joseph Garba, then a captain opened up his house on 4, Lugard Avenue in Ikoyi as a regular meeting venue. The more ‘prominent plotters’ according to Garba, in the south are as follows: ‘Lagos: Joe Garba, Murtala Muhammed, Yakubu Danjuma, Martin Adamu, Muhammadu Buhari, Paul Tarfa, William Walbe, John Lougboem, Musa Usman, and Shittu Alao…Ibadan: Jerry Useni, Ibrahim Bako and Garba Dada; Enugu: Lieutenant Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Abeokuta: Lieutenant Pam Mwadkan’.
There were many more. Years later, Garba gloated and admitted that “virtually all other northern officers serving in Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ikeja and Lagos became involved…in one way or another”. They included Lieutenants Malami Nassarawa and Nuhu Nathan in Lagos, Abdullahi Shelleng and I. S. Umar, and Adjutant Garba Dada in Abeokuta. Ibrahim Babangida admitted to an interviewer in the 1990s that one “Captain AhamaduYakubu acted as a messenger by driving all the way from Lagos to Kaduna in order to update Northern soldiers in Kaduna.”
After the successful and wholesome massacre of Igbo officers and men began in Abeokuta 28 July night, it spread to Lagos when some of the forerunners of the orgy in Abeokuta arrived Ikeja in the morning of 29 July to ignite the operation, which was swiftly commenced there “by Lieutenants Nathan and Nassarawa, who managed affairs until their superiors, Lt-Colonel Murtala Muhammed, Majors Martin Adamu, Shittu Allao, and Musa Usman arrived”. Siollun points out that the “other active participants in Lagos included Lieutenant Muhammadu Buhari of 2 Bridage Transport Company, Lieutenant John Longboem, Captains Ibrahim Taiwo and Alfred Gom, Lieutenant Tokkida of the LGO [Lagos Garrison Organisation], and a notoriously violent sergeant from the Idoma ethnic group named Paul Dickson.”
A few samplers of some of the heart-wrenching acts of massacre committed by this horde and the soldiers they commanded against their Igbo colleagues in just Lagos alone where Buhari operated are necessary at this point to underscore the gravity of this genocide: “Igbo soldiers were shot dead in their quarters, some as they rose in the morning, others as they reported for physical training. Northern soldiers had pre-selected Igbo soldiers for elimination. The casualties in Ikeja included Lieutenant Pius Onyeneho [he happened to be from my town, Onicha in Ezinihite in the now Imo State] and the unit education officer, Captain John Chukwueke, who was shot in the presence of his wife, children and mother in-law. Lieutenant John Odigwe attempted to rescue Onyeneho but was unable to do so after he too came under heavy fire. Ironically Onyeneho was a former classmate of one of the mutineers, Nuhu Nathan. Lieutenant Godson Mbabie and his wife were both shot, along with Mbabie’s brother in-law (a school boy). Mbabie’s wife survived her wounds. Captain Kevin Megwa and his wife hid in their wardrobe while their young nanny went around the barracks weeping, carrying their two-month-old baby girl, pretending they had been killed.
“The Ikeja airport in Lagos also turned into an execution ground under the command of the fearsome Sergeant Paul Dickson. Captain Okoye (from Ojukwu’s hometown Nnewi) who was passing through Ikeja airport, was captured, tied to an iron cross, beaten, whipped and left to die an agonising death in the guardroom in what bore the appearance of a ritual murder.
“Ironically (sic) many of the Igbo officers attacked in Lagos were the same officers who played prominent roles in putting down the January coup. Two examples illustrate this. In January (sic) Captain Ugoala had actually interrogated the coup detainees. His anti-coup role in January was forgotten and he was killed by the Northern mutineers. The house of the 2nd battalion’s commander, Lt-Colonel Henry Igboba, was also targeted even though he was one of the officers that were instrumental in putting down the January coup and had been accused of meting out brutal treatment to the January coup detainees. Northern soldiers surrounded Igboba’s house but Igboba managed to escape and shelter at the police college Ikeja.”
Igbophobes and Islamists: Murtala and Buhari Joined at the Hips The relationship, which young Buhari and the other young genocidists that included Martin Adamu, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Baba Usman, et al struck with Murtala Muhammed at the expense of innocent Igbo blood that they spilled evolved during the course of the war against Biafra and endured thereafter. Buhari’s lack of respect for superior authority and his characteristic ruthlessness were no doubt forged at the time.
– E. C. Ejiogu is the author of The Roots of Political Instability in Nigeria: Political Evolution and Development in the Niger Basin (Ashgate, 2011).