Col. Gabriel Ajayi, one of the military officers roped in by former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, in the 1995 phantom coup tells BAYO AKINLOYE that Bamaiyi is a snake in the grass
When did you join the Nigerian Army?
I joined the Nigerian Army on June 27, 1971. I was part of the Regular Course Number 10 of the Nigerian Defence Academy.
What was the first brush you had with the military authorities as a soldier?
Let me state that before I went to the NDA, I had already made up my mind – because I had two and a half years experience in the newspaper industry and I undertook a lot of things knowing that I was academically better than my colleagues. I was far ahead of them in perception and in understanding of everything that was going on in Nigeria and beyond. In Kaduna, there was a time we went for a road march, and we were singing that we were Kaduna soldiers – that was in 1971. So, when we came back, I and two other cadets wondered whether we were actually Kaduna soldiers. We were supposed to be cadets for the Nigerian Defence Academy. We sought audience with the then Lt. Col. Solomon Omojoku, who was an instructor in the academy. But he was busy. We therefore went ahead to see the chief instructor, Lt. Col. Pius Eromobo. In response to our observation, he sent us away regarding us as unserious fellows who had nothing to do. Something else happened while I was in Ibadan – the heartland of Yorubaland. During a conference, soldiers began speaking Hausa. Then, I queried the switch from English to Hausa. My punishment was 15 days in detention.
In Nigeria, we have two armies: the army of the North and the army of the South. The army of the North was peaceful, friendly and was like a family and there were no intrigues or scheming. We had a great relationship with civilians unlike what obtained down South where soldiers will get into public transport without paying, harass the public and even brutalise them. It is only in Lagos that all the coup plotters are settled. There was such a wide difference between us (soldiers) who were serving in the North and soldiers serving in the South. I do not know if things have changed now. Ninety-five per cent of my career was spent in the North. I can only remember a clash between civilians and soldiers in Kano; and the soldiers were punished by the military authorities for that – everybody in the brigade in Kano, including the commander.
How will you describe Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi?
It is not in my character to impugn the sanctity of senior military officers because we worship people like that in the military. Unfortunately, when a senior officer descends into the sewage tank, the officer cannot expect to smell of perfume. I am not obliged to speak derogatorily about Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi but he is a devious person. He is a fraud. For example, see how he bit the fingers that fed him; that is, Gen. Oladipo Diya. It was Diya that single-handedly appointed him as Chief of Army Staff during the Gen. Sani Abacha regime. Bamaiyi is slippery and treacherous; he had no permanent friends and had no sense of loyalty. He lived by the day. Everybody was his enemy and everybody was his friend as the need arose. He was clever by half. This is a man who wrote a perfect confidential report about me and two weeks later, he put my name on the list of officers planning to overthrow the government of Abacha.
I still have a copy of the report he wrote concerning me, describing me as a distinguished Nigerian; worthy officer and two weeks later, he withdrew the letter from where it was kept. He is not a dependable master. He is an unprofitable master. He is very clever and mean. If I tell you the bad comments that Bamaiyi used to make about the Yoruba, you’ll be shocked, but I do not want to offend my friends in the North. He did not deserve to be given a commission in the Army; giving him such was a misnomer. This is someone whom I attended church service with regularly and we ate Holy Communion together. He was supposed to pray for me. He lied in his book that he didn’t know about plan to arrest me but two days to the arrest, he changed the guards in my house.
He would send officers to me, to speak ill of him, trying to entrap me. Instead of condemning him, I would implore them to respect Bamaiyi, that the commander is always right. I knew what he could be up to. He also knew my stance as far as June 12, 1993 presidential election was concerned; he knew my stance as far as discipline in the army was concerned; and he knew my stance as far as military involvement in political issues was concerned. He knew my stance on God. I have never wavered in all that. I am a book freak; I have one of the largest libraries in the Nigerian Army and I have kept a library since 1971. They looted that library. Bamaiyi is an unreliable character. He is very evil. He never read the Bible until he was sent to prison. This is somebody who said there was no God.
How did you become so close to a man you didn’t fancy that much?
I was the President of St. Luke Military Church. He was my church member but he was also my commander. A soldier would still obey his superior and he asked for my opinion about things. Being the president of the church did not affect my work. He wanted to remove me but couldn’t because of the way I conducted myself. Other soldiers warned me to be careful of my association with him, that he could spoil my career. He told me himself that he is a snake in the grass. Bamaiyi said he is more terrible than his brother contrary to what people think. And, he is right; I have known his brother since 1974. He taught me in Nigeria Military College. I was second-lieutenant, he was a lieutenant. He taught me again in Nigerian Army Infantry; I was a captain, he was a major. Then, he was my deputy commandant and I was a training commandant in Zaria. So, I know the older brother very well. I extended the love I had for the senior brother to Ishaya Bamaiyi while serving under him.
What can you say about Gen. Bamaiyi’s book?
His published book is a comedy of errors. I will call it a fictional thriller. It should be titled, ‘The platform of Mallam Bamaiyi’. Just look at him: he spoilt the name of his government and the name of his superiors. He blackmailed as many people as possible. A true general should be dispassionate and diplomatic. He damaged the career of so many fine military officers. Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju replied him that he was lying in his book. Everybody knows he is a liar. The military knew he was a liar. How he was made to become Chief of Army Staff was a mystery to all the officers – it was Gen. Diya, a distinguished military officer, who chose Bamaiyi; even Abacha didn’t want him. I guess Diya didn’t know him very well. I had thought that Bamaiyi would apologise to Nigerians on behalf of the Abacha regime and ask for forgiveness rather than spew falsehood in his book. His book is full of lies.
What about his view as stated in the book that MKO Abiola died under controversial circumstances in the custody of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar?
Don’t mind him. At the Oputa Panel, Gen. Sabo alleged that when Abacha died Bamaiyi said the military should ‘equal the equation’. How could he claim that Gen. Abdulsalami should be held accountable for Abiola’s death when he was among those who tortured Abiola before his death? Bamaiyi was behind many evils done under Abacha. Compared to Bamaiyi, Abacha was a nice man. Bamaiyi’s aim through his book is to pit the Yoruba against Gen. Abdulsalami. What love does Bamaiyi have for the Yoruba to be concerned about the death of Abiola? Don’t mind him; he’s a liar.
How were you involved in the alleged coup of 1995?
Let me tell you something about the 1995 phantom coup that I have not mentioned before. It had five groups of accused – that is, the coup was a compendium or amalgamation of so-called diverse crimes put under the generic title of coup plot. The groups were: one, we the so-called phantom coup victims led by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and others; two, those alleged to be organising guerrilla operations in Lagos with their base in Ojo, led by Major Akinyemi; three, accessories after the fact of treason allegedly led by Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti; four, those charged with leakage of our defence to the outside world under Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline led by Navy Commander Fabiyi and Col. Olu Craig; and five, illegal possession of firearms without Presidential Permit, led by Lt. Col. Izuorgu. No newspaper ever recorded this piece of information that I have just given you. For that phantom coup, I was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad.
Do you mean you were never part of the coup?
There was no coup at all – a coup that was created in the evil imagination of someone. The head of Army’s Legal Services was arrested; a man who had the law-book of Nigerian military; an adjutant of the Nigerian Defence Academy was arrested in Kaduna; Quartermaster Giwa was arrested and (Lawan) Gwadabe in Yola, Adamawa was arrested. How were we going to storm Aso Rock and remove Abacha? What force were we going to use to remove him? The coup allegation was laughable, incoherent and childish. The essence of the coup conspiracy was to knock down NADECO (National Democratic Coalition). Once the coup allegation was thrown up, the nation became divided and distracted from the issue of Chief MKO Abiola and that lasted for almost a year. Everybody was begging for leniency on our behalf. It was no longer June 12, it was a strategy; a deliberate attempt meant to distract the public from agitating for Abiola’s mandate.
Were you at any time sympathetic to the cause of Chief MKO Abiola and his efforts to regain his mandate?
Yes; in March 1994, I wrote a position paper through the Chief of Army Staff to the Head of State, Gen. Abacha, asking him in a humble and most humane way – with proper analysis and points – to de-annul the June 12 presidential election, call the winner and hand over power to him. I urged him to act like Gen. Fidel Ramos of the Philippines. Doing so, I argued, would put his name in the hearts of Nigerians forever as a general who handed over power to civilians; a general who stood on justice. And I said that the problem of the country largely was because of injustice. I stated that beneficiaries of injustice today would become its victims tomorrow. I pleaded that the agitation for the de-annulment of the election shouldn’t be seen as a Yoruba cause,it was a Nigerian issue.
I wrote that paper, produced one confidential copy, sent it to Abacha and made recommendations. That paper was brought before the tribunal that tried me for coup plot, stating that I was not happy with the military regime and that I was angry about the annulment of June 12 election.
But were you happy with the military back then?
I couldn’t have been happy with the way we were behaving – everything contradicted the norms with which I was raised up. I was raised up as a strict Christian. You know when I left the NDA in 1973, my first goal was to read the Holy Bible – to read and study what it says about the military. One of the things I learnt was that we were not supposed to shed the blood of the innocent again; and that rebellion (coup making) is like the sin of witchcraft; while stubbornness is like the sin of idolatry. In the New Testament, according to John the Baptist, soldiers were urged to neither do violence to no man, nor accuse anyone falsely. Following what the Bible encourages soldiers to do, I made sure that soldiers under my command followed strictly my precepts. There was no way I could have been acting the way many of them did. I had a pedigree and a home but many of the soldiers had no pedigree so they behaved anyhow.
Everybody knew me. I was a reference point. Senior officers would come to me to seek counsel on papers they were writing. They knew I was different and that I would never be part of a coup. I was a serious person. Every day, I was in the library reading except on Sundays. Everybody knew my stance and I could not see the reason June 12 should be annulled. How could someone say on behalf of the Armed Forces (an election was annulled) and we were not consulted?
If you had your way, knowing that the military junta was not ready to allow Abiola to exercise his mandate, would you have organised a coup?
No; at that time, coup was no longer fashionable. If not for the phantom coup used to distract the nation, the people would have forced the military regime to accede to their demand – they could have brought down the government. I did not believe and did not see any need for a military coup. I believed the people have the power to force out any illegitimate government. Just imagine 10 million people sitting on the road from Lagos to Ibadan for five days without leaving the road; and from Ibadan to Ilorin, five million people sitting on the road, what would the military do? What would Abacha have done? With NUPENG going on strike and Nigerians enforcing a sit-at-home protest, the masses would give the military the sack. Democracy is a dictate of everybody; there was no need for a coup,the people could have brought down the government by themselves. That is the people’s power.
What do you know about the involvement of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in the so-called coup?
When Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was the head of state, I was a captain; I wasn’t even qualified to be his aide-de-camp. He and Yar’Adua were far superior to us for me to begin to form an opinion about them. When we were told that Obasanjo and Yar’Adua were arrested, we concluded that Abacha had taken his madness beyond expectations. How could he arrest such men and accuse them of conspiring with us to overthrow his government? It was a misnomer. I only knew Obasanjo from distance.
Did you share same cell with him while in prison?
We were held hostage inside the demonic, outskirt prison located inside Ikoyi Cemetery. We were there together in the Inter Centre – a Department of State Services detention facility with an underground dungeon tucked inside the cemetery. I think the name was an abbreviation for Interrogation Centre – until we were scattered and moved to various detention centres when the ruling junta said American marines were coming to rescue us.
You must have had a terrible experience while in detention. Can you tell us about it?
It was a terrible experience. I am still on medication since 1999 that I came out of prison. I am physically damaged by Bamaiyi and his cohorts that I can hardly hold a cup properly in my hand. I lost my manhood during the torture period. I was battered beyond human comprehension because they wanted to obtain a confession that would implicate me in the coup. They put fire in my anus and also in my private parts. I just came back from the hospital today (Friday). The Federal Government was never bothered about our medical predicament. They threw us out of prison naked with no care, claiming they gave us state pardon for a coup we knew nothing about – that’s wicked. I have been spending my hard-earned money on medical bills. My heart ran a marathon race between anger and frustration given what they made my eyes to see. Bamaiyi wanted me dead and he exacted the hatred he has for the Yoruba on me – transferred aggression.
If you meet Gen. Bamaiyi today, what will you tell him?
Because Christ had come to conquer, I am speaking as a matter of truth that I have nothing against him. If I meet today, I will greet him, though he was an unprofitable master. I was loyal to him. Even when he was eventually imprisoned and some people came to me for help concerning that, I did the best I could. Bamaiyi represents the ugliness of this country. He is a replica of what Nigerians are. Don’t blame him: it’s the system that produced Bamaiyi. We have to blame the system. If we don’t change the system, the country will continue to produce the likes of Bamaiyi. We have to restructure this illegal federal system. Nigeria should be attractive to everybody. This is the tragedy of Nigeria; we cannot eat our cake and have it. The system is bad and it can throw up so many Bamaiyis in the political arena; legal system; medical, educational and economic sectors of the country. We need to ensure that public office is not turned to personal possession – it should be something held in trust for the masses.
Did Obasanjo say anything about the coup, Abacha and Bamaiyi in your presence?
We never discussed any of them. Who were they? These people were not examples of sterling characters in the military. They were not people of distinction that you have to copy unlike fine senior officers like Gen. Akinrinade; not Abacha and co. Look, let me tell you, I was doing my Young Officer’s Course in Jaji in 1974, Eromobo was a colonel; he was a commandant and Abacha was a major and Chief Instructor in Nigeria Military Training College. Abacha was teaching us in the classroom and we were all laughing because he was goofing. The commandant knew our set in the NDA; he knew that we were very troublesome. He watched us laugh at Abacha, and then he came inside the classroom and ordered Abacha to get out and never to come back there again. Abacha and his ilk were not distinguished military officers. We couldn’t have sat down to talk about Gen. Abacha or Gen. Bamaiyi; what were we going to say about them? That they stole our money? Abacha pocketed all the military allocation under his command; he never released our allocation – officially appropriated allocation and nobody could ask him.
What do you know about Gen. Oladipo Diya’s $60,000 cash meant to execute the alleged 1997 coup?
I was already in prison as of that time. I don’t know exactly what transpired then. But I would rather believe Gen. Diya’s word than Gen. Bamaiyi’s. Diya is not likely to lie but everyone knows Bamaiyi is a liar. It is sad that 22 years after I was roped in by Bamaiyi, he still continues to lie against me instead of tendering an apology. He owes me an apology. (Punchng.com)