1985 coup: My story -Malu
Malu, who was reacting to the allegation by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Deputy National Chairman, South, Chief Olabode George that he was tried for the failed Mamman Vatsa coup of 1985, provided gripping accounts of the 1976 and 1985 coups, in an expose like none before it.
While denying being tried for the coup, he, however, admitted being interrogated for it because unknown to him, the coup was planned in his own guesthouse.
Here are excerpts:
Bode George, in a recent interview claimed your were once tried for coup?
That is a big lie. If I were ever tried or arrested for coup in this country will it be only Bode George that will know? Let me start with the 1976 coup, the Murtala Muhammed coup. In fact, I came close and I was interviewed after every coup in Nigeria, I think more seriously than other people and I think it was fate.
I got to Lagos on the 12th of February 1976. My host in Ikeja, the late Major Mshelia, he used to be Artillery Brigade Commander in Ikeja Cantonment and by that virtue, he was the cantonment commander. I came on official visit to collect books from Military School. I was the Chief Instructor Military School in Zaria. So I came to collect the military publication from the Army Headquarter Education Library for NMS. I got to his house, he was not in but this has been my closest friend. So, I knew where the keys to the house and cars were kept. He was not married so it was very convenient for us. I could just go into the garage, check which car I wanted to drive, pick the car and go out and that was what I did. I drove out to Ikoyi and didn’t get back until about 2.00am.
By the time I got to the house, everybody had slept. In fact my host, the Major Mshelia didn’t see me. Another senior officer who also came in that night, one Colonel, he is late now, also did not see me. So, it was in the morning on the breakfast table we met for the first time. In fact, Mshalia was saying how could I come to his house and he won’t see me till morning? I said, “Well, I had something to do.”
He did something that if I were very knowledgeable, if I had suspected any thing, I would have known there was something wrong.
Army headquarters used to be on Marina. We were on the table for breakfast. Mshelia brought a radio to the dinning table. It was 7 o’clock and instead of playing the National Anthem so that they would start the broadcast, they started playing martial music and as usual with me, I just made a stupid comment. I said, “Is the head of state dead? Who’s playing marshal music?” We laughed over it and thought maybe it was a mistake from the radio station. This was February 12, 1976. So, we thought when the track was over they would start the news. They played that track and started another track, and then we knew something was wrong so we just stopped eating.
Dimka came up with his “Good tidings.” If you remember if you were old enough to know, when he imposed curfew in the daytime instead of in the night because he was a confused person. Right there and then, my host and I started an argument. My comment was “Who is the stupid military officer that will attempt to over throw Murtala Mohammed at the height of his popularity?” Mshelia challenged me, saying how did I know that Murtala Muhammed was popular? I said, “Are you not in Nigeria?” And we were exchanging very hot words, and then Colonel Yewa intervened, saying “Gentlemen, what is wrong with you? We have a big issue here and instead of trying to think of what to do, you’re arguing about Murtala Muhammed.” So we kept quiet. I was the same person who advised Mshelia. I said “Look, since you are the cantonment commander, get all the officers to the mess so that they can wait for instructions from the Army headquarters.” We waited that day until about 2 o’clock when a message finally came through.
That was after Babangida had succeeded in recapturing the radio station when Dimka was arrested. Those who were commanders were summoned to Army headquarters.
Mshelia went for the meeting and came back very late. The outcome of the meeting was that there was information that if the coup did not succeed, Ibadan Two division was going to march against Lagos. Mshelia was an artillery officer. I’m an infantry officer, very proud one for that matter. So, he said “Look, what am I supposed to do?” I said “You have to deploy your troops to counter any movement from Ibadan before any assistance comes from anywhere.”
We drove on Ikorodu Road. They had not made the expressway then if you remember. So, the only way into Lagos was this way through Ikorodu where you pass through Sagamu. I was teaching and advising him on how he should deploy, where the troops should be to be able to counter any movement. We spent almost the entire day out and came back. I stayed with him for about two days. I decided to go back to Zaria. I got to the airport, one of my best friends who is an air force officer, was then the airport commandant. When I went there, he said “Where do you think you’re going?” I said, “I’m going to Zaria.” He asked for my pass and I told him I didn’t have one. This was about 4 o’clock and he said I must be joking, that I could not leave Lagos without a pass. I left Ikeja Airport and went back to Marina. I went and met General Alabi who was then the principal General Staff Officer.
He was still in the office at around 6 P.M. I told him, “Sir, I came from NMS to collect books when this incident happened. I’m trapped here and I went to the airport but they insisted I must have a pass.” He said “What proof do I have that I came officially?”
I took the letter that my commandant signed authorising me to collect the books. He was not satisfied. He phoned Colonel Odunuyi who was the commandant of Military School. He said, “There is one Major Malu here who is claiming that you sent him.” He said “Yes, that is my chief instructor, military. I authorised him to come and collect books for the NMS.” It was then he signed the pass and gave me.
By the time I got back to Ikeja, there was no flight. I had to spend one extra day. It was on the 4th day I took the morning flight back to Kaduna where my car was parked and drove to Zaria. I was in my house about 3 days after, watching the television when I saw my host tied and was being executed. I sat in the chair and was almost paralysed. I started retracing my steps and remembered that if I had been sensible, this man had no reason to come to the dinning table with a radio because we were all rushing to finish breakfast and go to work.
But more than that, we went to see Major Dabar at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). There was nothing wrong with him. He just chickened out and thought the coup was achieved so that he could get the appointment he wanted. We got there, got into an argument, insulted ourselves and I left. We went to see Major Ola Ogunmekan. He was one of the key planners also. But I think my presence prevented them from actually discussing anything. It was three weeks after they executed these people the investigation properly started. They were coming to take me from NMS to Kaduna. In fact, the intelligence officer that used to come would come with a Volkswagen. I had a Toyota Crown. I told him, “I will get to that place before you. Don’t be afraid.” So, I would drive and go. I would be in Kaduna for almost 40 minutes before he arrived. I went through interrogation every day for about two weeks. My story was consistent. I couldn’t deny those people. I knew all of them. I saw them but I didn’t know anything about the coup. It was at the end of it I was exonerated. A lot of other people who went for the same interview were either retired or dismissed. That was my first encounter.
The Vatsa coup (1985) that he is saying I was arrested for, I don’t know whether he was in Nigeria. I was a Brigade Commander in Port Harcourt. Almost everybody connected with the coup one way or the other had passed through Port Harcourt. As at that time, there was no airport in Owerri. So, any trip to the East if you went by air was either through Enugu or Port Harcourt and being the Brigade Commander, if you came to Port Harcourt, it was my responsibility to host you. Nobody arrested me. They invited me to come to the intelligence office for questioning. I thought I was the only one. When I came, Mike Akhigbe was there. If you remember, I think he was the Governor of Ondo State. David Mark was the Governor of Niger State Tunde Ogbeha was there. Admiral Porbeni was there. These are my course mates I’m mentioning.
When we came, it was like a joke. There was one Colonel Obi. This one is far senior to us. He’s one of the reabsorbed officers who was serving as a Brigade Commander in Makurdi. We went through a lot of interrogation. They were satisfied and they asked us to go. In fact, in my own case, when they asked me to go verbally, I told General Sali Sani who was the president of the Special Investigation Panel that “Look, you invited me with a signal. Everybody in Port Harcourt has concluded that General Malu is involved in a coup. You have to give me a paper. I’m not going back.” I waited for another 3 hours until I got a letter that cleared me that I was not involved in the coup. But let me tell you how close I was to the coup.
One of childhood friends, Wing Commander Danusa Daba was serving in Makurdi. I gave him my guesthouse, very well furnished. My family was in Port Harcourt with me. So, I told him, “Look, Adamu, use this place so that people will not come and carry away my things.” He actually went and held a meeting to overthrow the government in that house. I mean that Vatsa coup. They actually held a meeting in my own guesthouse. That was one. The same Adamu Sakaba had come to Port Harcourt, spent two weeks with me. We were doing parties everyday.
We even used to go to the office together. In fact, in his own case, it was after he was executed that I read what he said in the court. They asked him that we were cheerful friends, he was with me for this length of time in Port Harcourt, how come he did not invite me to join in the coup? He gave a very honest answer, which makes me remember him almost everyday because if he had said anything different, I could have been killed even as an innocent man.
His answer was that he actually came to Port Harcourt to invite me but when he saw the way I was living, doing parties everyday, he changed his mind. Everyday he was with me in the office, either General Babangida or General Abacha would call and I would start telling them how Port Harcourt was and all that. He said he was sure that I would betray him. That somebody who was enjoying this way would not be a part of this thing. That’s the third thing.
One of the officers, a pilot who used to fly General Babangida, Squadron Leader Ahura who is from my state, came on a Wednesday with the late Senator Tarka’s son and one other chap who is the son of our late Tor Tiv. They used to come because partying in Port Harcourt was like a daily thing. They said they wanted me to throw a party for them and it was that same day I got information that my house in Makurdi was burgled. So, I told them “Since you people have nothing doing, you’ll wait here, I’ll go and see what was stolen so that I can come and arrange replacement.” That I will come back the following day.
There were three of them that came in the same vehicle. The two of them said “Well, we have nothing doing so we would wait for you.” Ahura was supposed to fly Babangida the day after. So, he said he had to go to Lagos. We drove two hours in the car from Port Harcourt to Makurdi.
I was driving my Mazda Rx7. The question was: what was this officer discussing with me? That was what the Special Investigation Panel wanted me to satisfy them on. I said well, “It should have been the other way round. This is an officer that was not even in school when I was leaving the secondary school, which he also attended. So, should he be the one inviting me to join in over throwing the government or the other way round?”
They understood the implication of what I was saying. So, I satisfied them on every point but with reference to what George is saying, almost everybody who had had contact with any of those people was invited for interrogation. We were not arrested. We were invited by signal. They said “Report to this place at this time” and we all complied and it applied to almost every other person.
In fact, Colonel Dangiwa Umar phoned to tell me whethe I knew that he was also invited for the interrogation over that coup? I said “Well, I knew my course mate because we came together.” So, where was I arrested and escaped by stroke of chance? Maybe, in his (Bode George’s) imagination. As a matter or fact, that was the main reason why I accepted to try Diya and others. I had been very close to being killed innocently. When I came back from Liberia, I was posted to Ibadan as the GOC. I wanted to go and argue with Abacha to tell him I had been out of the country for two years, I just came back, why me?
At least, I should have got the opportunity of having my disembarkation. When I thought over it, I said “Well, maybe this is an opportunity for me to save others like I had been saved because any careless statement would have meant my execution. That was principally what motivated me to try officers and I did a damn hell of a job.
Bode George has responded to your challenge that he should present his academic record at the Command and Staff College by saying he was a very brilliant student?
Why has he (Bode George) not stated categorically that he did not do what we are saying he did in Jaji? Some dailies wrote that an American War College debunked General Malu’s statement about Bode George’s record. That they wrote to say he was a good and outstanding student. Who talked about America? You are Nigerians like me. You can travel to America for two weeks and come back with a Ph.D. from Toronto that you know doesn’t exist. Why can’t he talk about people here in the country that can vouch for him? We never said Bode George went to an American Naval College and cheated. He went to all those places. What he did there is of no consequence.
Bode George also lied when he said that as at the time he went to Jaji there were foreigners teaching. I went for Staff College course one in 1977. During our time, we had British officers. We had Nigerian officers who were understudying those British. The British didn’t stay more than three and half years. By the time Bode George went to Command and Staff College, it was not a British matter. If they had anybody at all, maybe the directors in the various fields but were not the ones that were teaching. It was our Nigerian officers who were teaching at that time. This thing is not something that happened too many years back.
He said you were academically deficient. That you were at the bottom of your class?
Let me give you the names of my course mates so that you can call any of them and ask about General Malu. Throughout, I’m not only talking about in the Army, I have never failed an examination in my life. I want you to put that on record. In the military, I never failed any promotion examination either practical or written. I never did any examination twice. I always passed at the first sitting and I never went below position number 10 in the Army. I’m not proud to say this but these are matters that are on record.
If I am that daft as George is claiming, that means the whole of Nigeria is daft. We were five Nigerian officers who were nominated and sent to Britain in 1991 to go on attachment to the Royal College of Defence Studies to work with the British team that was to come and open the War College. Why would you send daft officers to come and open the premier training institution in the country? From the Army were General Sam Momah, General Nada and I. From the Navy, it was Admiral Porbeni who was also my course mate.
In the Airforce it was Air Vice Marshal Emma Ombu. The five of us attended the same course with the British team, came back to open the War College. I came, prepared my office very well because I was very proud to be in the premier institution of this country. As I was getting ready and we were just in the process of starting the War College, I was posted to Liberia as the Chief of Staff of the ECOMOG and Nigerian contingent Commander. In fact, my commandant wanted to intervene and that was done by General Saliu Ibrahim who is trying to say rubbish about me. I know he never liked me but I don’t like him also but at least I showed loyalty to him.
He was my Chief. I accepted him despite his shortcomings.
George said your appointment as Chief of Army Staff was unmerited. That it was an act of national balancing and that your course mates such as Tunde Ogbeha and David Mark have done far better than you?
It means Obasanjo was either misled or something else. None of those officers got to the rank of Major General not to talk of Lieutenant General and Chief of Army Staff that I became. That means the mistake was such that nobody else knew me except Bode George. I have excelled on every appointment I have held.
He referred to you as a buffalo?
I wouldn’t insult him. I don’t know what Bode George is, but I look better than he does. His pictures show it, his profile shows it. Bode George cannot compare with me in any way.
He said there is a disconnect between your brain and your mouth?
I don’t take all those things as anything. They don’t mean anything to me. I know people who should have been in psychiatric hospitals that are still being respected because they have money.
For claiming General Theophilus Danjuma was a failure as Defence Minister, he recommended you be taken for a psychiatric evaluation?
I’m talking to you here, is there any indication that I’m deranged? What I said about General Danjuma, I’ll still repeat it. General Danjuma’s achievement as Minister of Defence was that he renamed barracks in the Nigerian Army. It’s not an insult. What I’m saying is a statement of fact.
He was my Minister. That was somebody I used to worship. I can’t be disrespectful to Danjuma for many reasons. General Danjuma is an ex-boy of my school. In fact, he’s almost the permanent president of the Old Boys Association of the college I attended, that is Government College Katsina-Ala. It used to be a provincial secondary school then when he was there. General Danjuma was my GOC. He was a General when I was just a captain in the Army. In fact, I served with him in Port Harcourt in 1970.
I was just a temporary captain for that matter. He became my Chief of Army Staff. I served with him as a major. So, he’s the last person that I would show any disrespect to. The problem in this country is people running away from the truth. And at times, the truth hurts. I’m not afraid of that. When it comes to telling the truth, I tell the truth even about myself. So I didn’t say anything that was derogatory about him. I simply said what was true. If he’s going to be very honest and you ask him today to tell you what he did as a Minister of Defence, I think he’ll have some difficulty answering it.
I remember the statement he made at the Arewa Consultative Forum to apologise to them that during his tenure as the Minister of Defence there was a cabal riding the government of Obasanjo and that was why he could not perform to do the things he was expected to do. I didn’t put those things in his words. Those things came out in his paper. I read it just like anybody else.
The PDP leaders also threatened that you will be dealt with if you repeat in 2007 what you did during the 2003 elections in Kano?
I was in Benue State campaigning for Buhari. I went to three local government areas in my own senatorial district. I went to Zaki Ibiam, Ugba and Katsin-Ala. I never mentioned any political party because I told them I don’t believe in parties. Parties in Nigeria are just a nomenclature. We believe in personalities. I know Obasanjo who is contesting for the PDP is not worth being voted for and told them why they should vote for Buhari. When I saw the state of the rigging that was taking place, I called my friend to send an aircraft to bring me to Lagos, that I didn’t want to be in Benue because if anything happened it would be very easy to put it on people like me. I was not in Kano, I don’t speak Hausa and I’m not from the North. So, who did I go to canvas votes for in Kano? I think Bode George sees things in his dreams.
But, what would they have arrested me for? What is wrong about going to campaign for somebody? I never went to Kano. I attempted to go to Kano after Alhaji Dankabo died to pay condolence. I used to be the Brigade commander in Kano in 1991 and that man did things that earned my respect. We were in the process of building a guesthouse for the GOC and Chief or Army Staff. We had a very small piece of land, which was not good enough and the location was not good. I was wondering what to do and somebody advised me that I should go to Alhaji Dankabo that he owned all the land around where our barracks was. I met Alhaji Dankabo. When I told him, he said “You are my guest in this place. Take as much of the land as you want and build whatever you want.” I never knew anybody could do this. I wrote a letter to the Army headquarters to request that they wrote him a special letter to thank him on behalf of the Nigerian Army.
The second thing that happened was that when we were fighting Charles Taylor in 1993, only two airlines were bringing our soldiers, our ammunition and everything. Kabo Air and Okada Airline. In fact, I even recommended that those pilots be given medals for bravery. They would land the aircraft and bombs would be flying over the aircraft and killing people behind and they never stopped for one day.
Dankabo decided one day to come with one of the flights.
I think he was curious to know what was happening when his flight landed at the airport and the bombs were raining. He put hands in his pocket, brought out $10,000. He said I should go and do welfare for my troops. Which was exactly what I did.