Navy Commander Dennis Omessa (retd.), in this interview with BAYO AKINLOYE, talks about how he was framed by Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi and his goons in the 1995 phantom coup. He also speaks about how former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan scuttled the implementation of the Oputa panel recommendation
When did you join the army?
I joined the Army on June 28, 1970 as a Regular Corps 12 Officer. I was the chief instructor of the naval faculty in Jaji.
What do you know about the 1995 coup?
I am sure you mean the 1995 phantom coup. On March 2, 1995, I was in my residence when one Lt.-Col. Aka came to me saying that I was wanted at headquarters in Kaduna by Gen. Ahmed Abdullahi. I asked him why he would want to see me. I explained to Aka that I was not an armed robber but a naval officer. I followed him. They took me to Kaduna and kept me in a guest house and I was wondering what the problem was. I met another military officer and asked why I was brought to the guest house. He said they were arresting people involved in a coup. I told them that, as far as I was concerned, there was no coup.
In the evening of that same day, they moved me to another guest house, ‘Kangaroo’ I was kept in an air-conditioned big room with a television and radio. I had all I needed. I was wondering if they were sure there was a coup and I was arrested based on that. In the room, I was listening to a radio commentary. If there was a coup, would I be allowed to listen to the radio? A military officer came to me saying, ‘Oga, I know you.’ I replied him, ‘You know me for what? I don’t know you.’ He further explained how he got to know me and I eventually recalled having met him. He said to me, ‘Oga, let me tell you the truth, there was no coup. Na lie.’ So, later they came for me, put me in handcuffs and I was led away to another place. Then the investigation started; I was called in for interrogation one Saturday night.
What did they say was your offence?
The panel said I was charged with a coup for making a comment. I asked them what the comment was. They said that when one Lt.-Col. Bamgbose was arrested, I was complaining. But I didn’t know any Bamgbose. They asked me to go out. Later, they told me that I was displeased with the arrest of Bamgbose and claimed that I made a comment calling for his release. The truth is that I never made any comment like that. I didn’t know the officer and the officer didn’t know me. That alleged coup was a blatant lie. Eventually, all of us that were framed in the phantom coup were freed, with people like Col. (Gabriel) Ajayi and Col. (Olusegun) Oloruntoba severely tortured. Col. Ajayi went through hell. I was not tortured. Nobody touched me. People like Gwadabe and Emokpae were tortured. Bamaiyi and his cohorts were too wicked.
We learnt you were not happy with former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo set up a panel but failed to implement the recommendation of the panel, despite spending eight years in power. He was succeeded by President Umaru Yar’Adua, who tried to implement the recommendation of the panel in 2009; unfortunately, he died. When he died, I think our file was handed over to his successor, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. But Jonathan was dilly-dallying with the document. He was busy adding other names like (that of former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye) Alamieyeseigha and Gen. (Oladipo) Diya. These ones enjoyed all benefits approved by the Federal Government; they were cleared of every wrongdoing. It is not fair. This is selective justice.
We call on the government to give us justice. Up to this moment, there is no implementation of the recommendation made by the Oputa panel. Our case should even be more pathetic than Diya’s own; we didn’t plan any coup. It was a set-up. Can you imagine the government clearing people like Diya, Alamieyeseigha and Gen. Adisa, and we are left to languish? It is not fair. I am appealing to the Federal Government to implement the recommendations of the Oputa panel. We need to reach some form of closure on this matter. They must realise that what goes around comes around.
Obasanjo’s attitude towards us represents the kind of leadership we have in this country. He was a victim of the phantom coup and I expected him as the commander-in-chief to have issued a directive that we should be restored to our positions and duly compensated. He didn’t do that. Instead, he set up the Oputa panel. Do you call that one a leader? No, he’s not a good example of a leader. I do not respect him again. He is not a good leader. He was an eyewitness to the fact that we were all victims of injustice and power play.
Could Obasanjo be worried that some of you might have been actually involved in the coup?
That’s incorrect. Obasanjo knew there was no coup. Even though he invited us to his office, he failed to do the needful; to ensure that we all got the benefits that we deserved. He called us to apologise that the Federal Government had not looked into the Oputa panel recommendation. He promised to look into it and implement the document. But he never did till he left. It is fair enough to credit the Oputa panel to him. It showed he meant well. But good intentions are not enough in bringing justice to those who have been treated unjustly. Yar’Adua meant well; he wanted to implement the recommendation but died in the process. It was Jonathan who messed up the whole thing (implementation of the Oputa panel recommendations). As I am talking to you now, the file of the recommendations is with the Ministry of Justice. If you go to the ministry, they will tell you more about the file. You should let them know that justice delayed sometimes can be justice denied. Some of us have died, while some are gravely incapacitated. That’s where we are right now. The Nigerian Navy’s motto says, ‘Onward together.’ When we are in the same ship or boat, if we land safely, it’s the captain that goes ashore first. But when disaster strikes, it’s the duty of the captain to see to the safety of his crew and be the last person to abandon the ship. The contrary was the case in the 1995 phantom coup saga as the captain (Obasanjo) abandoned his ‘crew’ to drown. It’s unfortunate.
Why do you think you were framed as one of the people planning to overthrow Gen. Sani Abacha in the 1995 phantom coup?
Let me tell you what I think could have led to being roped into the coup plot that never was. At that time, there were rumours that I was being considered as a military governor of a state. Some officers were saying I should be prepared that I would soon become a military administrator of a state – that was all.
What are some of the Oputa panel recommendations?
The recommendations including quashing of all charges and sentences; paying due compensations to victims and their families; promotion of the victims to appropriate higher ranks, whether serving or retired; medical examination for those who were physically and mentally traumatised as a result of torture by Abacha’s men. What have I done to deserve this injustice? I know where my colleagues are now. Why has the government failed to look into our plights? Why are we being treated unfairly?
Our pains and frustrations have been allowed to go on for more than 20 years. Why? Why should we be treated callously by those who should have known better? We dedicated our lives to serve our fatherland and what did we get in return? A thankless disengagement from the military service? We joined the military to give our best to the nation. We were falsely accused of a coup that never existed in the first place and the government, since 1999, has not deemed it fit to bring about justice in our case. Why do we repay honest people with injustice? There are people who participated in a coup attempt and were granted state pardon and enjoy their full benefits after leaving the service.
Once again, I am appealing to the Buhari administration to look into our case and let justice be done. We can’t wait forever. Some of us have died while waiting for justice. Some of us are battling with bad health due to the torture they went through in the hands of those who framed us. So, will those of us alive get justice before we die? Something has to be done to correct the evil that happened under Gen. Abacha. What else can we ask for? The 1995 phantom coup allegation was senseless. Why would the regime lock people for nothing? I think justice must be carried out swiftly now before it is too late. I have no regret serving in the military though. I have pride in the Nigerian military. It was an honour to serve my fatherland. But nobody should be repaid with injustice for serving the nation meritoriously. (Punchng.com)