*‘Vindication of a General’ launched in Abuja
One time Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, has alleged that the betrayal of the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, by members of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) resulted in his continuous detention and eventual death.
The event, held at the NAF Conference Centre in Abuja, had in attendance some past and present generals of the Nigerian Army.
Bamaiyi said he decided to write the book for posterity and for people to be rightly informed about his “unfair treatment” and his eventual vindication.
He explained that “as Chief of Army Staff, I experienced the most turbulent tenure and challenges in the history of the Nigerian Army. The most challenging of them is my unfair incarceration for eight years, but I overcame all these and came out in one piece.
“I take responsibility for whatever is written in the book; I can defend it because it is the truth. I therefore urge whoever that wants to criticise the book to be objective and honest in doing that.”
The Chairman of the occasion, Retired General Yakubu Gowon, said that although the book was essentially on personal experiences of Bamaiyi, leaders and policy makers would learn a lot from it.
He said that “while readers may only wish to focus on how Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi himself fell victim of power play and intrigues, he draws our attention to the compelling larger picture. He showed that the greatest casualty after all was the Nigerian military which lost its reputation of professionalism, discipline and patriotism as a result of misguided adventure into politics.”
The 16-chapter book, with 252 pages, was reviewed by Prof. Sam Egwu, a Professor of Political Science at University of Jos.
Egwu noted that the book addressed the need for respect for human rights in democracy, and the deplorable state of Nigerian prisons, among other social issues.
Bamaiyi, who served under the military administration of late Gen. Sani Abacha was on December 10, 1999 charged with attempted murder of Guardian Newspaper Publisher, Alex Ibru.
He was charged alongside former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to General Abacha, Major Hamza al-Mustapha, and others by the Lagos State Government.
Bamaiyi was, however, discharged and acquitted on the 2nd April, 2008 of any wrongdoing in the saga, after eight years in detention.
Bamaiyi, in his autobiography said the advice of NADECO to Abiola that he should not accept his conditional release was the reason he was kept in detention indefinitely by the former dictator, General Sani Abacha, until he passed on.
Bamaiyi, who was Chief of Army Staff between March 1996 and May 1999 and was one of the powerful men in that regime until he fell out of favour with the late dictator, so accused NADECO leaders of pushing the late Abiola to declare himself as president in 1994 without being committed to such move.
Bamaiyi’s claim is however at variance with historical facts which show that NADECO leaders staked their lives for the actualisation of Abiola’s June 12 mandate, resulting in the deaths of some of them including Chief Alfred Rewane, who was murdered in cold blood. Chief Abraham Adesanya, escaped assassin’s bullets by the whiskers while a host of others went on exile.
In his book, Bamaiyi claimed that the NADECO leaders only impelled Abiola to declare himself as president but failed to accompany him to the declaration ground, an indication of their insincere support for the late politician. He also claimed that even in death, NADECO leaders still betrayed Abiola.
“A lot has been said about late Chief Abiola’s arrest and efforts toward his release. The fact remains that NADECO members paid only lip service to Abiola’s release after deceiving him into declaring himself President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If they were sincere and actually supported him, they would have accompanied him to where he declared himself President.
“It is also obvious that Abiola was abandoned after his death, which some people suspected that it had the support of some NADECO members. After Abiola’s death, one would have expected some reactions at least from Lagos, but there was no reaction anywhere,” he claimed.
The former army chief also claimed that following the failure of NADECO to lead the way for the release of Abiola, he (Bamaiyi) and former President of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Pascal Bafyau, along with Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), General Ibrahim Gumel, met and resolved to make case for Abiola’s release.
“There are some Nigerians who made efforts to get Abiola released. After Abiola’s arrest, the late General Ibrahim Gumel – then the Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), the late Mr. Pascal Bafyau – then the President of NLC and I met at Headquaters Lagos Garrison Command on Kofo Abayomi Street. We discussed the implications of Abiola’s arrest.
“After reviewing the situation, we decided to meet Gen. Abacha. Gumel and I went to Gen. Abacha and pleaded for Abiola’s release. We convinced Abacha that Abiola was not going to be a threat and could be handled. Abacha agreed to release Abiola with some conditions.
“We conveyed Abacha’s agreement to release Abiola to Bafyau who briefed some NADECO members on Abacha’s readiness to release Abiola with some conditions. These NADECO members advised Abiola not to accept release with conditions and kept him in detention. Initially, Abiola accepted the conditional release and a judge was brought to Abuja to perfect it. The release documents were ready and Abiola was to go and sign them but some NADECO members advised him against doing so, and he remained in detention until Abacha’s death,” Bamaiyi said.
The retired general also addressed allegations that the United States budgeted $50 million for “Abacha Project” with the intention to destabilise Nigeria.
Whereas the $50 million was said to have passed through Bamaiyi, he denied knowledge of the plot, saying it was an allegation cooked up by some enemies of the late Abacha.
According to excerpts from the book, Bamaiyi claimed: “The Abacha project (AP) was said to be a US-sponsored plot with a budget of US$50m meant to destabilise Nigeria. Of this amount, the sum of $10m was said to have found its way into the military already. A member observed that, of recent, money had been changing hands in the military…
“The member then alluded to the recent deployment of troops of the 223 Tk Bn in Zuru by COAS in which the CO, Maj. Dogara was made to arrest and humiliate the NDLEA Chairman, Major-General MM Bamaiyi, on an issue that had no bearing on national or military security. The fact that the troops were called out by COAS without the knowledge of the GOC was considered worrisome to a member who felt the action should be weighed against recent developments affecting COAS Vis-a-Vis national security.
“At the end of the meeting, it was recommended that a joint PRC/Council of States meeting be held to include all military ministers at which the issue of the consensus adoption of the (Commander-in-Chief) C in C was to be tabled. I was to be spokesperson to the press to get me committed. Interestingly, the meeting was chaired by Idi Musa, a close friend of mine. I never had anything to do with NADECO. I only read about them in newspapers and knew some of them only by name.
“The question of having anything to do with the US Embassy was most embarrassing….The Abacha project was unknown to me. I believe it was an invention of the writers. They wrote that the Abacha Project was said to be a US-sponsored plot with a budget of $50m which they claimed was passed through me to the military.
“I believe these people deceived Abacha till he died. To the best of my knowledge, there was never anything between the Nigerian Army and the United States of America to destabilise the Abacha government. The officers who attended this meeting must have been Abacha’s greatest enemies and made Abacha ineffective toward his end.”