The Palace Coup of August 27, 1985  (PART 2)


In the months before the August coup, Nigerians came to be familiar with routine announcements about this or that politician sentenced to jail, usually for 21 years, often in concurrent sentences.  But many were released too – although one would not suspect so, given the spate of disinformation that greeted the take-over.  On January 1st, for example, as part of the New Year message, 144 political detainees and 2,407 prisoners were released.    Another 85 political detainees would later be “conditionally” released on August 6th, reflecting efforts to pacify restive non-military special interest groups whose causes were being advocated by military insiders.  In between all of this, familiar news reports of persons arrested for writing and publishing uncomfortable articles would pop up now and again – such as was the case with the Editor of the New Nigerian newspaper.  Like various military rulers before him, General Buhari also embarked on State visits to various States, admittedly with less pomp and pageantry.   In early August, however, he took a publicly announced two-week vacation and returned to his hometown in Daura. Shortly after he returned to Lagos, his Chief of Staff (Idiagbon) left the country, accompanied by some senior officials like Major General MJ Vatsa, then Minister for the Federal Capital Territory, enroute to Mecca for pilgrimage.  Against guidelines issued by the regime, Idiagbon’s underage son went along for the ride.

Underneath all of this, however, to discerning observers, fate beckoned.   Within the diplomatic community, for example, it was widely rumored as far back as March 1985 that all was not well in the Supreme Military Council.  Such tensions were amplified by restiveness in the barracks over the decision to proceed with a large-scale reduction in the size of the Army to reduce defence expenditures.  Such demobilized soldiers, however, let loose from the protections afforded by military life, were viewed by civil society as threats because of an alleged increased risk of armed robbery.  But while the regime was pulling in this direction in order to free itself strategically for more social spending, while at the same time dealing with pressures from the IMF, Major General Babangida, in a public speech, said: “Those who advocate less spending on defence cannot win.” He also advocated making Nigeria a major arms-manufacturer to enhance foreign exchange earnings. 

Some key officers even stopped attending meetings. Indeed, before August 27, a rumored military take-over was speculated at least once and then later said to have been postponed.  One well placed Defence Attache in Lagos was overheard in a conversation, asking “Apart from Idiagbon, who is on his side?” – referring, as can be surmised, to Buhari.  In retrospect, some of this diplomatic chatter would appear to have been deliberately spun by military intelligence operatives working for the coup planners.  Such operatives were likely seeking on the one hand to sound out the attitude of some important foreign countries toward another coup, while at the same time carefully distancing the Army from Buhari’s head on collision with Britain – where many senior Army Officers kept private bank accounts.  Such targeted pre-coup “leaks” are usually designed to passively ensure there won’t be unexpected resistance from the international community once operations begin.  They do not imply any connivance by Britain or any other foreign country in what transpired, just an affirmation of official attitudes in those countries to possible scenarios.

But the diplomatic community was not the only circle in which coup rumors were swirling – and not all rumors were intended.  Major General MC Alli, for example, says in his memoirs that Mr. Alex Ibru, a leading business entrepreneur, expressed concern about word on the streets that Babangida was not seeing ‘eye to eye’ with the Buhari/Idiagbon dyad.  Accompanied by then Lt. Col. MC Alli, Ibru even met with Gen. Idiagbon in his house to discuss the matter, but Idiagbon chose to project a veneer of calm, playing down the risk and falsely assuring Ibru that all was well.  On yet another occasion, Lt. Col. MC Alli heard rumors from other sources that a coup was in the offing.  However, like many Nigerian rulers before him, Idiagbon blew off the warning, saying, “Let them try”.

General Buhari himself may have been warned too.  He said during an interview many years later that the intelligence was vague.  Vague, yes, and even deceptive too.  At one point, in what was a high stakes game of deception, the Directorate of Military Intelligence deliberately fed the Press with rumors that Colonel Tanko Ayuba was under surveillance or arrested for coup plotting.   The story was milked for what it was worth in throwing the Nigerian Security Organization off track and off the scent of the real planners (as was the case with Barrientos in the movie “Power Play”).   Ayuba later emerged ‘indignantly’ to deny it all, when in fact, he was an insider in the conspiracy.  The Press was warned to stop spreading rumors.

It is said (but not confirmed) that Major General MJ Vatsa may also have made discrete efforts to warn both Buhari and Idiagbon about rumors of a coup led by Babangida.   Some sources say Vatsa was hesitant to go all out in repeatedly reporting his suspicions about Babangida’s moves because he did not want to be seen as lobbying for Babangida’s position as Army Chief. Nevertheless, this point proved to be a political albatross around Vatsa’s neck when he was later charged in December 1985 for the Vatsa conspiracy against the post-coup Babangida government.  In what must surely count as a curious line of cross-examination, unconfirmed reports say he repeatedly evaded questions about whether he had reported rumors of Babangida’s coup plot to Buhari when Buhari was in power as the legal Head of State! If true, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this line of questioning may have been designed to demonstrate that he had apriori personal animosity or what Nigerians call “Bad Belle” against his classmate and rival, Babangida.  Such arbitrary behind the scene arguments  – along with other long standing interpersonal dynamics and pressure from some middle belt officers in the caucus, citing the Dimka trial of 1976 – may have contributed to his execution in March 1986.  Indeed, in a newspaper interview in January 2001, Babangida said: “Despite the fact that he was my friend, play mate and course mate, he had to be executed. Vatsa was like a scorpion in one’s pocket. If he had been retired he could still have planned a coup from outside…”


Investigating a successful coup is not easy.  Some aspects are obvious but the trail of more detailed evidence (and names of convicts) that is usually left in the public domain after the official investigation of a failed coup attempt just is not there. Based, however, on multiple sources of information of varying quality, including conversations with a few of those who actually took part or directly witnessed the event, it is possible to reconstruct events to some degree, although the full picture may never be known. The investigation, however, is ongoing, and further details may well come to light in time to come – particularly if all the insiders go on truthful record in their memoirs, so that appropriate lessons can be drawn by future generations. 

Some writers like to describe the August 27 Palace Coup as an unusually brilliant operation. However, the truth is that coups hatched at the level of Army or Defence Chiefs often succeed in history – although there have been some sensational failures like Venezuelan coup of April 2002 and the Soviet Coup of August 1991.    In Pakistan, for example, beginning in 1951 with the Rawalpindi conspiracy, there have been ten coup attempts by the Army, four of which  – all organized by Army Chiefs – were successful.  Beginning with Lieutenant General Ibrahim Abboud of Sudan, there is a short list of successful coups in Africa specifically led by Army or Armed Forces Chiefs. These, (not counting the August 1985 coup in Nigeria),  include Generals Houari Boumedienne (Algeria), Ibrahim Maïnasara Baré (Niger), Idi Amin (Uganda) and Abdul Rahman Siwar Al-Dahab (Sudan); as well as Colonel Mobutu (Congo), among others.

Having pre-positioned selected officers in strategic units since early 1984, it was not too difficult to formulate a plan for the coup de grace against Buhari.  The plan was driven by the capabilities offered by penetration of key units – either for full mobilization or passive neutralization, aided to a large extent by the authority structure and prerogatives of the Office of the Chief of Army Staff.  In other words, the means were in place and the motive had been fine-tuned.  What was left was the opportunity.

Various sources claim that planning took place in Lagos, Minna and London.  In Minna, capital of the home state of the COAS and principal location for the conspiracy, the Military Governor, Lt. Col. David Mark, allegedly provided cover, guest houses and other resources for such activity.  Obviously the local Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Olurin, was not ignorant. Other sources say small groups of plotters and enablers also milled in and out of London – particularly around a certain apartment in Kensington.  Lastly, under cover of a nationwide tour of military formations in July, General Babangida was said to have tied up loose ends.

Deception and PsyOps

Deception operations – targeted at the Nigerian Security Organization and psychological operations  – targeted at the Nigerian public to undermine the legitimacy of the regime in the public eye, have already been discussed.  The cynical manipulation of the diplomatic community in Lagos has also been alluded.


Marabouts (particularly in the northeastern part of the country) were consulted to ensure the success of the August coup.  However, the details are beyond the scope of this paper.


Millions of dollars were expended in preparations and activities linked to the September 11, 1973 coup against President Allende of Chile.  Sponsors of the July 17, 1980 Cocaine Coup in Bolivia are said to have invested about $4 million into it.  Coming closer to home, many will recall the problem Major PCK Nzeogwu had in Kaduna in January 1966 when he sent a military task force to Kano to physically get money from the Central Bank – only for Lt. Col. Ojukwu to detain the group. Nzeogwu suddenly found that in the event of a showdown with General Ironsi he had to keep the men paid, and fed.  In other words, “troop welfare”, a key ingredient of morale, had to be organized.  It was not enough to make revolutionary speeches on radio. 

As the country has evolved over time, with a larger Army and more units to visit in coordinating treasonable activities, other nuances appear to have emerged such as the cost of travel, hotel, feeding, etc. for planners.  As the society has become more corrupt and socially insecure, the role of money in helping reluctant officers or soldiers (or their wives and concubines) support the conspiracy has also crystallized in accounts of post-1970 plots. Obviously, questions from potential recruits like, “What would happen to my family if I die or I am caught?” need answers from recruiters.  Then there is the problem of securing logistic items outside the Army chain of command – particularly if Intelligence operatives closely monitor the official system.

Specifically, in 1986, for example, it was alleged during the Vatsa Conspiracy Trial that late General Vatsa provided 100,000 naira as a first installment for the plot under cover of a “farm loan”.  Even more recently, in December 2000, during controversial testimony before the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) sitting in Lagos, General Bamaiyi, former Army Chief, alleged that General Diya, former Chief of General Staff, provided two million naira for the aborted coup attempt against late General Abacha in December 1997.

Coming back to 1985, it has already been noted that some civilians were said to have provided funds for the August plot.  But such sources of direct cash are not the only way money has been laundered in the past for such illegal operations.  One other mechanism has been hypothesized by a knowledgeable insider to explain how money was passed through to the Commander of a critical Armoured unit in Lagos for odds and ends, recruitment and pacification.  Allegedly, the Corps HQ revised the budget proposal for a new Officers Mess upward in many multiples beyond what was needed – knowing that the difference would be available in an operational imprest account for illicit activity.   Among civilian contractors such a line item in the budget might innocently and naively be called “mobilization fee.”

Concept of Operations

A Dictatorship is like a poisonous snake.  To kill it requires a direct hit on the head, not a body scratch or tail step.   The basic concept, therefore, was to isolate and arrest the Head of State very early, disconnecting him from the chain of command; neutralize likely avenues of sympathetic resistance and simultaneously occupy vulnerable points such as Radio and TV stations, telephone exchange, police signals installations, airfields and civilian administrative establishments.  Sources say General Buhari initially left Lagos for Daura for the Sallah break but then returned to Lagos, right into the jaws of the Tiger.

Although he had a stern image among civilians, the Chief of Staff  (Maj. Gen Tunde Idiagbon) had gone from a Staff position as Military Secretary (1981-83) to that of COS, SHQ.  Even before his tour of duty as Military Secretary, it had been a long time since he directly commanded troops.   Therefore, he had no recent command link with or visceral connection to any viable body of troops that he could use to fight the plotters.  This factor of prior command, also raised as an issue with Buhari, is not trivial. When President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was recently briefly overthrown, it was the crack paratrooper unit in which he had previously served that first dissociated itself from the plotters and began the process of returning him to power within 48 hours. 

Nevertheless, Idiagbon had traveled out of the country on pilgrimage, and was, thus, one less major target to be bothered about.  Indeed some sources say he was accompanied by Chief MKO Abiola (who was allegedly well aware of the plot and may have gone along for the pilgrimage as a form of deception and a source of intelligence).  Other prominent military officers on the delegation allegedly included Generals Nassarawa, and Vatsa.  Some sources claim that the NSO Boss, Alhaji Rafindadi was also in Mecca, but I have not yet been able to definitely confirm this because of conflicting accounts. 

Certainly, none of the small neighboring African countries would want to risk offending the new regime by allowing Idiagbon use them for an opposed return – even if he had troops to use. Saudi Arabia (where Idiagbon was visiting) had no record of getting physically involved in military adventures outside the Middle East.  In any case if they had any such inclination, the Buhari regime’s apparent actions against respected Moslem clerics like Alhaji Abubakar Gumi, and the Emir of Kano would be cause for pause. Nevertheless, it was helpful (as a back up) to have a few respected civilian Islamic scholars and Leaders from highly respected royal families in the far north, or their children in the Army, on the side of – or neutral toward – the coup.  As for Britain, Nigeria’s former colonial master, it was clear that the Buhari regime could not expect any sympathy from that direction, after all the flap about Umaru Dikko and withdrawal of Ambassadors.

In the years since the coup, some have speculated that the coup would have been more difficult if Idiagbon was in the country.  The truth is that if the Chief of Staff had been around (or if he returned unexpectedly as happened with Lt Col. Walbe in 1975 from Kampala), his arrest would likely have been handled in the usual way others had been handled in the past.  Units of the Guards Brigade, which had already been penetrated, supplied guards at his residence. 

Other officers deemed to be potentially hostile were to be arrested very early, by key conspirators, using various methods of subterfuge at just after H-hour – the specific time the operation was to begin – probably just after midnight.

The question of political and military timing, as always, was important.  An elaborate military exercise was contrived at about that time, allowing the concentration of many Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Armoured Fighting vehicles (AFVs) at the Ikeja Barracks – which were actually on “standby” for almost a week before Babangida struck.   Although the coup took place in the early hours of the 27th, much of the final mobilization actually started in the morning, between 8am and 9am, just before Mosque time on August 26, 1985, the Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir.  Being Sallah Day, it would theoretically be least expected and alertness not at peak.  The Eid-el-Kabir is the day when Muslims all over the world celebrate the conclusion of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). In most Muslim societies, it is the single most important religious day, celebrated by the slaughter of rams, merry making, exchange of gifts and visits. In Nigeria, it was and remains one of the major national holidays.


>From Ikeja Cantonment, which had been designated as the main concentration point, task groups were to fan out all over the Lagos area, coordinating their efforts with those launched or on stand-by from other military barracks. Key officers congregated at the Armour HQ Battalion Officers Mess in the hours before H-hour.  Drinks and food were freely available to assist bonding.

The designated Coordinating Center (or War Room) for coup activities on D-Day was the main hall of the Bonny Camp Visiting Officers guesthouse on Victoria Island in Lagos.  Security for coup planners was provided mainly by elements of the 6th Guards battalion (supported by a Recce troop) placed on standby at the Camp.

Key fighting units in the federal capital area at that time belonged to the Brigade of Guards and Army HQ formations, although the 9th Mechanized Brigade based at Ikeja was (as had been the case in the past) close enough to be a factor.  Fighting battalions at Owode, Ibadan, Okitipupa, Benin, Akure, Ilorin, etc were more remote but still a threat if they fell under command of hostile officers.  Therefore, support of the entire leadership of the 2nd Mechanized Division, based at Ibadan, and its fighting Brigades (like the 4th and 9th) was essential. Abacha, Shagaya and Inienger were onboard.    Indeed, shortly after midnight, early on the 27th, Brigadier Abacha and most of his Staff Officers at the Divisional HQ in Ibadan arrived in Lagos in a high-speed motor convoy and (other than one late comer) were the last vehicles allowed to go past the tollgate that night.

In Lagos, the Guards Brigade (under Lt. Col. Sabo Aliyu) comprised the Guards Garrison at Obalende (under Captain Maitama), 6th Guards Battalion in Bonny Camp (under Lt. Col Joshua Madaki), 123rd Guards Battalion at Ikeja (under Major John Y Madaki) and the 93rd Guards Battalion at Ojo.  At Ikeja, the Corps HQ Armoured Unit (under Bulus) and 245 Recce Battalion (under Khobe) were on hand, within striking distance of the State House, where some of their subunits were already stationed on guard duty, like Trojan horses.

With the exception of the overall Commander of the Guards Brigade, Col. Sabo Aliyu, the commanding officers of the 6th, 123rd and 93rd Battalions as well as the Guards Garrison had all been recruited into the plot (or had switched sides, depending on one’s point of view).

>From a military standpoint, the coup was basically a “cut off and kill” routine.  One of the first acts of the operation, therefore, would be the closure of the TollGate along Lagos-Ibadan expressway, to cut the federal capital off along that axis.  Seizure of the domestic, international and military wings of the Murtala Muhammed Airport was essential to prevent the Air Force from being able to deploy C-130 tactical transports for loyal troops – in addition to cutting off internal and external civil flights.  In any case, the Chief of Air Staff at that time, Air Vice Marshall Ibrahim Alfa wasn’t hostile to the coup – although the same could not be said for some of his Air Officers Commanding. This concern is what motivated the 202 Armoured battalion in Kaduna (under UK Bello), for example, to deploy Armoured vehicles and park them in a blocking configuration right on top of the runway at the Air Force Base in Kaduna (as was the case in the movie “Power Play”). 

The Lagos State Police Command HQ at Oduduwa Street, Ikeja G.R.A.  and the National Police HQ (Kam Salem House) along Moloney Street were also to be secured to prevent the Police from being used as a surrogate mechanism for mobilizing loyal forces.

Naturally the Radio Station was a key target.  The Duty Officer that day (Odoba) was from the Guards Garrison, whose commanding officer (Maitama) was onboard.  Seizing the Station, therefore, would be a walkover.

Lastly, as noted above, Major General MC Alli (rtd) said the Palace coup was “received with press-inspired fanfare”.  Expectations were for aggressive marketing of the coup by the Concord Group of newspapers in the transitional period before the new regime would settle down to control key state organs of propaganda.  A retrospective re-read of news items in those newspapers in the first week after the coup suggests that such an undercurrent seems to have been in play. To supplement these arrangements, the unpopular Decree No. 4., originally promulgated with unanimity by the SMC, was to be tactically (but only temporarily) abrogated immediately to get buy-in from the strategic “Lagos-Ibadan” Press.



In the morning of August 26th, as Muslims were preparing to go to the Mosque for morning prayers on Sallah day at the Ikeja Cantonment, word came to key players at Tactical levels that the operation was a go, destined for that night.    As the day progressed, therefore, strong indications emerged that something was about to happen.  Efforts were, therefore, made by the C-in-C, the Commander, Brigade of Guards and the ADC to the C-in-C to find out details and prepare for eventualities. 

Lt. Col. Sabo Aliyu, Commander of the Guards Brigade, reportedly kept asking his friend, course-mate and fellow Kano indigene, Lt. Col. H. Akilu, Director of Military Intelligence, if there was any truth to the rumors.  They even attended mosque together that Sallah morning.  Akilu reportedly assured Sabo Aliyu that it had been investigated and that there was nothing to fear.  Part of the confusion, though, was caused by the deliberate  “pseudo-false” rumor planted by Military Intelligence operatives to the effect that Colonel Aliyu Mohammed was planning “something” in reaction to his retirement and that soldiers should be ready for internal security to PROTECT the regime. However, in reality, this proactive rumor and game of smoking mirrors was intended as a pretext to allow the full mobilization of troops AGAINST the regime!

Nevertheless, both Major Jokolo (ADC to the C-in-C) and Col. Sabo Aliyu (Commander, Brigade of Guards) kept shuttling or calling back and forth between Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Ikeja seeking information and checking on the status of units, unaware that they were being monitored by Military Intelligence. Just after 9pm, riding together in Jokolo’s car, on a trip to Ikeja Cantonment, uncomfortably close in time to H-Hour, they were arrested at the gate by soldiers and subalterns from units under Majors John Y. Madaki and Maxwell Khobe, stripped and severely beaten.  In fact shots were fired at the Mercedes car and its tires deflated.  They were later taken and kept at the Officers Quarters in Bonny Camp – a makeshift transit detention point where, thereafter, they were joined by General Buhari, Ambassador Lawal Rafindadi and General Tunde Idiagbon when the latter returned to the country from Mecca a few days later.

In the meantime, earlier in the day, having failed repeatedly to get Brigadier Abacha, GOC, 2nd Division, on the telephone or by signal, Col. Sabo Aliyu sent Captain Maitama of the Guards Garrison on an errand to drive all the way to Ibadan.  He was asked to speak to Abacha personally with a message from the C-in-C to clarify his position.  The Captain (who was already part of the conspiracy anyway) returned to Lagos ’empty handed’, with no reported contact with the GOC.

Similarly, the COAS (Babangida) ‘could not be reached’ by the C-in-C, having left Lagos for Minna, allegedly for Sallah. Needless to say, his Military Assistant – Major Aminu – whom he had left behind in Lagos to assist with coordination and operations could reach him although the Head of State could not.

By nightfall, therefore, the grim nature of the situation was clear to General Buhari. His COS, SHQ was outside the country in Saudi Arabia.  His COAS was away to Minna and was not returning calls.  Neither could he reach the GOC of the 2nd Division.  The Commander, Brigade of Guards had disappeared, arrested at Ikeja. He could not even find his own ADC who had also been arrested.  The  young Garrison Commander he had relied upon to deliver messages to Ibadan suddenly became scarce.  The CO of the 6th Battalion at Bonny camp nearby, Lt. Col. Joshua Madaki*, was not on his side.  The NSO had no fighting units of its own.  The Chairman Joint Chiefs, General Bali, had no Army to command even if he wanted.  The Minister of Internal Affairs, General Magoro, had no Internal Affairs Troops of his own either and was certainly not going to deploy Customs or Prisons Officers against the Army.  Units from the 3rd Division, far away in Jos where Buhari held his last command before January 1984 were too far away – and as was to transpire later that evening, would shortly be without a GOC anyway.  The die was cast and all that remained was for him to wait patiently, surrounded by soldiers from Guards Units of doubtful loyalty at the State House, Dodan Barracks, until daybreak when the curtains fell.  The rug symbolizing the machinery of State had been pulled from under his feet.

*Note that there were two Madakis commanding Guards Battalions at that time.  One was then Major John Y. Madaki, CO 123 Gds Bn at Ikeja, nicknamed “jungle expert” after he returned from a course in Malaya on Advanced Jungle Warfare and Combat Survival.  He comes from a town called Gawu Babangida (renamed after General Babangida) in Niger State and is now a retired Colonel. The other was then Lt. Col. Joshua Madaki, Commanding Officer 6 Gds Bn Bonny Camp, who is from Southern Zaria area of Kaduna State, now a retired Major General.  There was also a third Madaki in the Army, Col. Yohanna Madaki (rtd) who is now well known as a Lawyer but was at one point in charge of administration at the 2 Division HQ in Ibadan.

At H-hour, designated units in Lagos sped toward their objectives. Occupation of vulnerable points or fully mobilized standby status was allotted to officers and soldiers of 123rd Battalion, 245 Recce Bn, 201 Armoured HQ Battalion, the 6th battalion at Bonny Camp and the 93rd battalion at Ojo cantonment. The 123 Battalion (under Major J Madaki) in particular was crucial to securing the tollgate, Lagos State Police Command HQ at Ikeja and the International Airport, in addition to some key road junctions in the mainland area. Although most news reports and commentaries keep describing the August coup as bloodless, it was not. The platoon sent to the Lagos State Police Command HQ, on Oduduwa Street at Ikeja GRA opened fire without provocation at a group of Policemen killing an untold number in the process.

The 6th Battalion (under Lt. Col. Joshua Madaki) was charged with soft operations and standby on Lagos Island – including securing the eastern approaches to Victoria Island from Epe.  The 93rd Battalion at Ojo set up similar observation points along the Badagry Road and in the Port area.

Armoured Vehicles and storm troopers from units commanded by Majors Khobe and Bulus were detailed to primarily move to the FRCN Station Ikoyi and State House Dodan Barracks (mainly Khobe), while also providing secondary support in depth to infantry units deployed to the Anthony, Oshodi and Ikeja areas (mainly Bulus).  Civilians returning from late night Sallah parties in Surulere were startled to stumble into these vehicles along Western Avenue as they made their way their way to Lagos Island that morning. Just before crossing the Eko Bridge into Lagos Island, machine guns on some of the armoured fighting vehicles were even tested by shooting into the air, thereby unnecessarily creating panic. One soldier’s hand was later crushed by an armoured vehicle while trying to open the gate of Dodan Barracks at the launch of that phase of the operation.

At Dodan Barracks, four young Majors were detailed to arrest the Head of State.  They were Majors Umar Dangiwa, Lawan Gwadabe, Abdulmumuni Aminu and Sambo Dasuki.  They achieved this without much ado. In fact General Buhari was said to be waiting for them (some say watching events at the gate on close circuit TV) and allegedly gave orders to bewildered soldiers on the premises that the unusual early morning activities of those who came to arrest him were not to be disrupted.   He accompanied his captors, initially to Bonny camp from where he was later moved (under House Arrest) to No. 1 Hawkesworth Road, Ikoyi. He was there for less than a week before being moved again, probably to a house in Benin-City. Meanwhile the official premises of the Head of State at State House, Dodan Barracks was ransacked and Buhari’s belongings looted by soldiers.

Assisted by an unopposed entry into the Radio Station contrived by the Guards Garrison Commander, Colonel Joshua Dogonyaro’s task was to make the crucial radio broadcast at 0600 bringing the regime of Major General Buhari to an end.

As daybreak progressed, coup coordinators at Bonny Camp established radio communication with all Divisions and Brigades in the country to obtain situation reports and pledges of loyalty in their areas of responsibility.  General Babangida was then contacted in Minna to return to Lagos to take charge and arrangements made for a plane to go and fetch him.  At this point bottles of champagne were opened to celebrate the coup.  A quick meeting of key plotters took place at the Camp after which there was a further radio broadcast to the nation by Brigadier Sani Abacha at 1300, formally appointing Major General Ibrahim B. Babangida, erstwhile Chief of Army Staff, as the new C-in-C.

Analytically speaking, it is important to appreciate the deftness that went into the allocation of highly sensitive tasks in Lagos.  Four different officers, all independently personally connected and fanatically loyal to the Chief of Army Staff, from three different Corps (Infantry – Aminu, Armour – Umar/Gwadabe and Artillery – Dasuki) were entrusted with the arrest of General Buhari. None had a direct command of their own on the ground at the State House. Theoretically mutually supporting, they were likely also intended (without realizing it) to be watching one another. The two officers with direct command of troops and armoured vehicles (Khobe and Bulus) were not entrusted with the arrest of the C-in-C or the radio announcement. Those entrusted with the Radio announcement (Dogonyaro and Abacha) were not entrusted with the arrest of the C-in-C.  The CO of the 6th Battalion (Joshua Madaki) was placed on standby mainly in the Victoria Island area.  Although trusted, the CO of the 123 Battalion (John Madaki) whose boys were in control of the Murtala Muhammed Airport into which Babangida was to fly back, had no tactical dominance of either the State House or Radio Station area of operations.  In coming to Lagos Island from Ibadan to mingle with other plotters, Brigadier S. Abacha was not in a position to draw directly on his own troops from the 2nd Division at either the State House or the Radio Station.  He was dependent on boys from the Brigade of Guards and the Armoured Corps (neither of which he had ever commanded) with no direct independent axis of personal loyalty to him – and his closest Brigade Commander at the 9th Bde, Lt. Col. J. Shagaya, was an IBB boy.  In other words, Major General Babangida could fly back to Lagos from Minna confident that he would not be upstaged on arrival and arrested by ambitious fellow conspirators in a coup-within-a-coup as happened to Colonel Anthony Narriman in the movie “Power Play.”


Shortly after H-Hour, in Jos, the GOC of the 3rd Armoured Division, then Brigadier Salihu Ibrahim was arrested at home by a team of soldiers led by Lt. Col. Chris Abutu Garuba, then Commander, 34 Self Propelled Artillery Brigade, Jos.  The second-in-command of the Recce Battalion at the Rukuba Cantonment, Major Musa Shehu, invited his Commanding Officer, Major Adesina, to a Sallah party at his house.    Assisted by the Commander, 3 Div Signals, Major Shehu waited for Major Adesina – a serious and highly professional officer – to relax completely, comfortably sandwiched between two pretty hostesses.  Then he called him outside for a “message”.  When he came out he was arrested by a group of soldiers, and was even beaten in the process.  Unlike his less fortunate colleagues in Lagos, he was not, however, stripped.

With these two key arrests, the 3rd Armored Division fell into the hands of pro-coup officers.  No further resistance was anticipated.


Operations in Kaduna, base of the 1st Infantry Division, were straightforward.  All the key brigades (Minna, Kano and Sokoto) were in the hands of officers sympathetic to the coup or neutral to it. The only excitement was the decision by Major UK Bello to deploy vehicles to block the runway at the AirForce Base.


Enugu, along with the entire 82 Division area of responsibility was quiet.  The GOC, Brigadier YY Kure, was certainly not opposed to the coup.  Those subordinate officers who were not foretold of the coup simply adopted a wait and see attitude.


Ibadan was quiet.  As previously noted, the GOC, Brigadier S. Abacha was deeply involved in the plot. He left Ibadan shortly after H-Hour for Lagos with most of his Staff Officers.  All his Brigade Commanders were onboard.  The Bde based at Ikeja – under Shagaya – was active.  The Bde in Benin – under Inienger – was on standby. However, the Military Governor of Bendel, Brigadier J Useni . took the extra step of making a public broadcast to “associate himself” with the developments in Lagos.

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