Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Festival of Death...

Came across this on

Just before 8:30 a.m. on February 13, 1976, the following curious announcement was heard on Radio Nigeria:

"Good morning fellow Nigerians, This is Lt. Col. B. Dimka of the Nigerian Army calling. I bring you good tidings. Murtala Muhammed's deficiency has been detected. His government is now overthrown by the young revolutionaries. All the 19 military governors have no powers over the states they now govern. The states affairs will be run by military brigade commanders until further notice.
All commissioners are sacked, except for the armed forces and police commissioners who will be redeployed. All senior military officers should remain calm in their respective spots. No divisional commanders will issue orders or instructions until further notice. Any attempt to foil these plans from any quarters will be met with death. You are warned, it is all over the 19 states.
Any acts of looting or raids will be death. Everyone should be calm. Please stay by your radio for further announcements. All borders, air and sea ports are closed until further notice. Curfew is imposed from 6am to 6pm. Thank you. We are all together."

Just prior to this broadcast, then Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, along with his ADC (Lt. Akinsehinwa), Orderly and driver, had been assassinated on his way to work in a thin skinned black Mercedes Benz car without escorts. The unprotected car had slowed down at the junction in front of the Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi, Lagos, when a hit team which allegedly included Lt. William Seri and others, casually strolled up and riddled it with bullets.

Following confirmation of Muhammed's death, Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka, of the Army Physical Training Corps, who (along with some others) had been up for most of the night drinking champagne, then made a quick trip to the British High Commission at about 8 am where he demanded to be put in touch with General Gowon in Britain.


TIME/CNN snapshot of the March 1976 executions of the coup plotters involved in the assassination of Murtala Mohammed.

Usually, Bar Beach on Nigeria's Victoria Island is dotted with sun umbrellas and gaily painted food stalls. Last week it became the scene of a kind of festival of death. Thousands of Nigerians, chanting "Traitors, traitors," jammed the beach, trampling the candy-striped awnings underfoot. A similar throng gathered not far away at Kirikiri Prison, just outside Lagos, the capital. Both high-spirited crowds were assembled to witness the public executions of some 30 soldiers, including four lieutenant colonels and six majors, and a lone civilian. A special military board had convicted them of planning the abortive coup of Feb. 13, in which Head of State Murtala Mohammed was assassinated (TIME, March 1).

"The condemned men are all in mufti," a Lagos radio correspondent announced crisply, giving a running account of the executions on Bar Beach. "Most of them look sober. Some manage to smile at newsmen." Religious confessions, Christian and Moslem, were received by two priests and a mallam (a Moslem religious leader). While the throng looked on, the 15-man firing squad opened up. The shooting lasted ten minutes, as one by one the coup plotters slumped to the blood-soaked sand.

With the executions, Lieut. General Olusegun Obasanjo, who took over the government of Black Africa's largest and richest country after the killing of Murtala, made good on his promise to dole out military justice to those found guilty. Surprisingly, one of the executed officers was former Defense Minister I.D. Bisalla, who had helped bring Murtala to power in an earlier, successful coup last July. Bisalla and many of the others were apparently implicated in the plot by Lieut. Colonel B.S. Dimka, the man who led the Feb. 13 overthrow attempt. Dimka managed to stay at large for three weeks, despite a nationwide manhunt, but he was captured at a roadblock in eastern Nigeria earlier this month.

During the investigation of the coup attempt, 125 people were arrested; 40 have been released. Aside from those already executed, several dozen others are still being interrogated, including Dimka himself. According to the Nigerian government, Dimka has also implicated Yakubu Gowon, the former head of state who was exiled after the coup that brought Murtala to power last July. Gowon, according to the government's charge, instructed Dimka to get together with Defense Minister Bisalla and attempt to overthrow the government. Their reasons for acting, said Nigeria's new defense chief, Brigadier Musa Yarduah, was the government's plan to cut the size of the army by almost half, a move that would transfer the 100,000 soldiers affected to other jobs, but which might leave a number of them out of work.

In England, where he is a political science student at Warwick University, Gowon denied any involvement in the coup attempt. Nonetheless the Nigerian government, which, after all, overthrew Gowon in the first place, seems bent on punishing him. Lagos radio said last week that "legal and diplomatic steps" are being taken to extradite Gowon to Nigeria, though it seems highly unlikely that the British government will accede to the request.

Nigeria's hate-hate affair with military rule (1966-1999) saw the loss of many great lives, and not much by way of economic development and improved standards of living for the populace. As many things as are wrong with this country, let's be thankful that we have closed the door (and thrown away the key?) on those dark days and now live in a time where we have freedom of speech and can at least demand accountability from our leaders.


Ms. emmotions said...

this is a beautiful piece i must confess.

well done!


it is always good to look where you have been so that you can truly appreciate where you are and where you are going.

Nice one.

Bitchy said...

The first section made me so mad. Everytime I listen to/read the first broadcast of a dictator/ coup general, my blood boils. WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Is the question I want to shout at them. HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO AN ENTIRE NATION? It makes me so angry.

Good post Mimik.

Misan said...

@ Ms Emmotions, thanks & welcome to The Beat.

@ Solo, it really is an important part of our history that we're not taught. All we did in secondary school was memorize the dates of the various republics and presidents, but that was it. We weren't taught why these coups & counter-coups occurred, what each new regime brought with it, and what grassroots movements fought against the military. NOTHING! I think we've mentioned it here before, but why isn't History a compulsory WAEC subject/exam (it's lumped together under "one of either Literature in English, Geography or History", so of course most schools/students will take the easy route and offer Literature and Geography and not even bother with trying to teach History)?

@ Bitchy, you know that part made me mad too(reminded me of when the taliban takes over kabul in Splendid Suns), but then i felt this huge sense of disgust at the execution celebration on the beach...How can human beings revel over the murder/execution of fellow humans? But then i thought, if i was given the chance to witness the execution of those responsible for my uncle's assassination, wouldn't I filled with a similar sense of satisfaction as exhibited here? - Most likely.

Naapali said...

I went to military school during Shagari's administration and to my chagrin and pain would endure everyday Nigerians walking up to my father and say "Oga, when una go take over now? we don tire for this civilian govt". I remember my horror at watching people dance in the markets after the "I Brigadier Sani Abacha..." speech came on air.

I sincerely hope the years of misrule by the military have finally convinced Naijas that we should leave the military in barracks and in our past.

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