Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Muhammadu Buhari: The portrait of another genocidist***

(Muhammadu Buhari)
By EC Ejiogu

As the Igbo, amongst whom democratic approach to the course of daily existence is the norm often posit, irrespective of the fame and standing in society, whenever a deity becomes way too restless, the proper way to call it out is to reveal to it the choice of wood, which it was carved from.  That exactly, is what I have resolved to do here in this piece about General Muhammdu Buhari.  Any honest observer of the political scene in the “Nigeria project” would not dispute the fact that Buhari’s restlessness has become most irksome, and as a result, needs to be addressed.

Vital rehash

For everyone whose knowledge of Buhari’s antecedents is sparse—that, for the benefit of the doubt includes someone like former Lagos state governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the rest of his Yoruba compatriots who have elected to bring Buhari back to power through their All Progressive Congress (APC)—rehashing how he cut his teeth on public affairs and sordid antecedents in the “Nigeria project” is absolutely vital.

Muhammadu Buhari was one of the substantial number of secondary school “leavers” from the upper Niger of Nigeria who were spurred by Ahmadu Bello, the sardauna of Sokoto and then premier of the north region, and his fellow chieftains of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in a spirited campaign to join the army.  That was towards the end of de facto colonial rule as the Nigeria colonial army officer corps was undergoing the so-called Nigerianization process, which the imminent departure of the predominantly British personnel in the corps elicited.  The quota system regime, which had been put in place by the NPC federal minister for defense, Inuwa Wada, in the period 1958-1966 to guide the recruitment of candidate cadets into the corps, had significantly altered its composition as a result in favor of the nationalities that inhabit the upper Niger.  For full disclosure, Inuwa Wada was the maternal cousin of Murtala Mohammed’s, a beneficiary of that quota system, who subsequently played one of the ignominiously perverse roles in the chequered history of the “Nigeria project” that still festers even today.  

It is not only that Buhari was a beneficiary of that lopsided affirmative action policy that allotted 50% of all cadet recruitments into the corps to the north region by de-emphasizing a uniform merit-based academic accomplishment application process in favor of individuals from the nationalities that inhabit the upper Niger to disadvantage their lower Niger counterparts.  He was also one of the “primary beneficiaries of the promotion exercise in the junior ranks” of the corps by the incipient Aguiyi-Ironsi headed regime in May 1966 “to dilute discontents in the army” (Siollun 2009: 92).  That measure “backfired and exacerbated disillusion amongst southern and northern rank and file” (Siollun 2009: 92) soldiers due to the poisoned atmosphere in the “Nigeria project” about which this piece will not engage on due to space and time constraint.  Going by recent revelations about Buhari’s certificate, it is evidently clearer now that Buhari was flat out unqualified to enlist in the corps.  That makes him a usurper.  

In any case, second-lieutenant Buhari was promoted to the rank of substantive lieutenant alongside the many soldiers from the upper Niger who predominated the non-commissioned officer (NCO) ranks and also the junior ranks of the officer corps.  Those beneficiaries included Paul Tarfa, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Ibrahim Bako, Abdullahi Shelleng, Garba Dada, who was nicknamed “Paiko”, and Muhammadu Jega (Siollun 2009: 92).  These individuals named would subsequently become fixtures in the roll of infamy with specific regard to the persecution of the Igbo in the “Nigeria project”.  The reason being that all of them cut their teeth in public affairs by participating in the wanton spillage of innocent Igbo blood in 1966 and 1967.  As if those were insufficient, they consolidated that ignominious feat with their ruthless roles in the genocidal war which Nigeria levied on the Igbo in Biafra.  Since the shooting phase of their war ended in January 1970, they have unrelentingly sustained their persecution of the Igbo using the structures and power of the Nigerian supranational state which they usurped and still control.  Buhari’s relentless quest to once again capture the helms of state power as president is in line with their mindset to keep the Igbo “in their place” in the project.  What that means is that the Hausa-Fulani grand project of controlling the Igbo and stalling their recovery from the genocide is still “a task that must be done”.

When the research for this piece began more than three months ago, this writer felt that it would amount to a digression to delve into certain accompanying details in the story of Buhari’s involvement in the Igbo genocide.  But as the research progressed and the drafting of the story progressed, recent developments have made it necessary to bring in those details.

Some of those details relate specifically to the May 1966 promotions in the Nigeria army. According to Max Siollun, “Under normal circumstances those promotions would not have raised eyebrows.  Moreover (sic) they could be justified on the basis of merit and correcting the anomaly of deserving officers that had been passed over for promotion in the past” (Siollun 2009: 92).  The predominance of Igbo in the rank of majors entailed that 18 out of the 21 who were promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel were “Igbo speaking”.  The perception especially amongst mischief makers and soldiers from the upper Niger was “that their superior officers were murdered in January with the deliberate intention to create vacancies for Igbo officers to fill” (Siollun 2009: 91).  No one cared to objectively recall that merit underscored every factor that entailed the preponderance of Igbo in the rank of major.  In the main, it was mostly the Igbo who possessed the requisite educational qualification for enlistment in the officer corps when the approach of self-rule opened up the corps for the recruitment of indigenous men given that the all-British face of the corps was about to change.

Furthermore, there were two other factors in play, and both of them were also underscored by merit.  As Siollun puts it: “In fact (sic) two things happened: several majors were promoted acting lt-colonel and others were promoted substantive lt-colonels.  The latter group included several officers who before the coup were already acting lt-colonels, and simply had their temporary/acting ranks confirmed” (Siollun 2009: 91).  Siollun elaborates: “Several of those promoted had been passed over for promotion in the past.  For example (sic) Majors Patrick Anwunah, Mike Okwechime, Tony Eze and Alex Madiebo were [Yakubu] Gowon’s course mates at Sandhurst.  However, while Gowon had been promoted to lt-colonel in 1964, by mid-1966 the three men were still majors and were now junior to their former course mate, Gowon, even though they were no less capable than him” (Siollun 2009: 92).

Noteworthy: As Siollun again rightly puts it, “Conversely, most junior officers and NCOs were Northern and the primary beneficiaries of the promotion exercise in the junior ranks were logically also Northern … Strangely (sic) there were no complaints about the preponderance of Northern promotions in this category.  All eyes remained focused on the Igbo majors promoted to lt-colonel.  A group of Northern air force cadets were also dismissed due to their underwhelming educational achievements.  The exercise seemed to be part of a broader leaning by Aguiyi-Ironsi away from quota towards a merit based system.  Increased emphasis on academic achievement would indirectly discriminate against Northern soldiers” (Siollun 2009: 92).

But in the actual fact, one would not rightly talk about discrimination in this case given that on the merit factor of prerequisite educational qualifications, those individuals from the nationalities that inhabit the upper Niger were flat out unqualified to even show at the enlistment centers.  Knowing what we know today, Aguiyi-Ironsi did not even touch the tip of the matter not to talk of going any meaningful far.  If he did, one like Buhari and many others from the upper Niger should not have been in the corps at all.  The true reason being that unlike their counterparts from the lower Niger, they lacked the requisite educational qualification.  The appeasement of one’s natural enemy hardly helps matters in the one’s overall interests at all.

Elsewhere in the true world, Buhari should not have the effrontery and characteristic arrogance to stride around the way he does in public affairs in the “Nigeria project”.  I will cite a quick example to further underscore my immediate assertion above.  Some years ago in the US, there was a certain naval officer who committed suicide for the simple reason that it was revealed in the media that he wore a medal of achievement and merit that was not awarded to him.  Rather than face a disciplinary panel, that officer walked to the back of his office in the navy yard in southeast Washington, DC, one fine spring morning and blew out his brains with his service revolver.  That’s a gentleman officer right there!

A parade of genocidists—Buhari et al

Even in the light of concrete and irrefutable evidence that the January 15, 1966 majors’-led coup d’état was neither planned, nor executed to singularly target upper Niger politicians and military officers, every commissioned officer, NCO, and rank and file soldier from the upper Niger relied on speculation and sectional prejudice against the Igbo, and circumstantial evidence to convince themselves and believe otherwise.  Thus, their justification of their resolve to systematically plot, target and eliminate their Igbo colleagues.

Across the board, the conspiracy and planning involved all officers and rank and file soldier from the upper Niger: “Although senior Northern officers were involved in the planning, most of the spade work … would be carried out by Northern NCOs and lieutenants…” (Siollun 2009: 98).  “[T]he de facto leader and co-oordinator … was the Inspector of Signals Lt-Colonel Murtala Mohammed, ably assisted by Majors Martin Adamu and Theophilus Danjuma” (Siollun 2009: 92).

Their coverage of their planning was wholesome, and no army formation was left out.  Joseph Garba, then a captain opened up his house on 4 Lugard Avenue in Ikoyi as a regular meeting venue.  The more “prominent plotters” in the south, according to Garba, are as follows: “Lagos: Joe Garba, Murtala Mohammed, Yakubu Danjuma, Martin Adamu, Muhammadu Buhari, Paul Tarfa, William Walbe, John Lougboem, Musa Usman, and Shittu Alao … Ibadan: Jerry Useni, Ibrahim Bako and Garba Dada; Enugu: Lieutenant Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Abeokuta: Lieutenant Pam Mwadkan” (Siollun 2009: 99). 

There were many more.  Years later, Garba gloated and admitted that “virtually all other northern officers serving in Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ikeja and Lagos became involved … in one way or another” (Siollun 2009: 99-100).  They included Lieutenants Malami Nassarawa and Nuhu Nathan in Lagos, Abdullahi Shelleng and I. S. Umar, and Adjutant Garba Dada in Abeokuta (Siollun 2009: 100).  Ibrahim Babangida admitted to an interviewer in the 1990s that one “Captain Ahmadu Yakubu acted as a messenger by driving all the way from Lagos to Kaduna in order to update Northern soldiers in Kaduna” (Siollun 2009: 99).

After the successful and wholesome massacre of Igbo officers and men began in Abeokuta July 28 night, it spread to Lagos when some of the forerunners of the orgy in Abeokuta arrived Ikeja in the morning of July 29 to ignite the operation, which was swiftly commenced there “by Lieutenants Nathan and Nassarawa, who managed affairs until their superiors Lt-Colonel Murtala Mohammed, Majors Martin Adamu, Shittu Allao, and Musa Usman arrived” (Siollun 2009: 104).  Siollun points out that the “Other active participants in Lagos included Lieutenant Muhammadu Buhari of 2 brigade transport company, Lieutenant John Longboem, Captains Ibrahim Taiwo and Alfred Gom, Lieutenant Tokkida of the LGO [Lagos Garrison Organization], and a notoriously violent sergeant from … Idoma … named Paul Dickson” (Siollun 2009: 104).

A few samplers of some of the heart wrenching acts of massacre committed by this horde and the soldiers they commanded against their Igbo colleagues in just Lagos alone where Buhari operated are necessary at this point to underscore the gravity of this genocide: “Igbo soldiers were shot dead in their quarters, some as they rose in the morning, others as they reported for physical training.  Northern soldiers had pre-selected Igbo soldiers for elimination.  The casualties in Ikeja included Lieutenant Pius Onyeneho [he happened to be from my town, Onicha in Ezinihite in the now Imo State] and the unit education officer Captain John Chukwueke, who was shot in the presence of his wife, children and mother in-law.  Lieutenant John Odigwe attempted to rescue Onyeneho but was unable to do so after he too came under heavy fire.  Ironically Onyeneho was a former classmate of one of the mutineers, Nuhu Nathan.  Lieutenant Godson Mbabie and his wife were both shot, along with Mbabie’s brother in-law (a school boy).  Mbabie’s wife survived her wounds.  Captain Kevin Megwa and his wife hid in their wardrobe while their young nanny went around the barracks weeping, carrying their two-month-old baby girl, pretending they had been killed. Furthermore:
The Ikeja airport in Lagos also turned into an execution ground under the command of … Sergeant Paul Dickson.  Captain Okoye (from Ojukwu’s hometown Nnewi) who was passing through Ikeja airport, was captured, tied to an iron cross, beaten, whipped and left to die an agonizing death in the guardroom in what bore the appearance of a ritual murder.  Some of the Igbo survivors (military and civilian) at the airport were flogged on Dickson’s orders.  Dickson stayed on as head of security at the airport for several years and somehow bagged himself and automatic promotion to captain in the process (and later again to major).  The air force officer that had been briefed to fly to Calabar to release Awolowo from prison (Major Nzegwu) was also killed. Ironically (sic) many of the Igbo officers attacked in Lagos were the same officers who played prominent roles in putting down the January coup.  Two examples illustrate this.  In January (sic) Captain Ugoala had actually interrogated the coup detainees.  His anti-coup role in January was forgotten and he was killed by the Northern mutineers.  The house of the 2nd battalion’s commander Lt-Colonel Henry Igboba was also targeted even though he was one of the officers that were instrumental in putting down the January coup and had been accused of meting out brutal treatment to January detainees.  Northern soldiers surrounded Igboba’s house but Igboba managed to escape and shelter at the police college Ikeja.  (Siollun 2009: 104).
Igbophobes and islamists: Murtala and Buhari joined at the hips

The relationship, which Buhari and the other genocidists that included Martin Adamu, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Baba Usman et al struck with Murtala Muhammed at the expense of innocent Igbo blood that they spilled evolved during the course of the war against Biafra and endured thereafter.  Buhari’s lack of respect for higher authority and his characteristic ruthlessness were no doubt forged at the time.  He witnessed, firsthand, his idol Murtala Mohammed’s characteristic disdain for and “little respect for authority” (Ibrahim Haruna, in Siollun 2009: 165) throughout his time as warfront commander in Benin, Asaba, and during his three-time ill-fated attempts to invade Onitsha from across the River Niger.  He witnessed and probably participated in the war atrocities that Murtala Mohammed ordered in Benin, and Asaba.

The apparent unity of purpose that prevailed amongst all the genocidists from the upper Niger before and during the massacre of their Igbo colleagues, and their prosecution of the war against Biafra, began to fray and give way at the seams a little after the war ended.  Murtala Mohammed’s disdain and rivalry with Gowon grew, and “Muslim soldiers from the far north such as Lt-Colonels Muhammadu Buhari, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and Ibrahim Babangida” were at the top of the list of those who lined up support for Murtala Mohammed against Gowon.  They—“Colonels Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Ibrahim Taiwo, Abdullahi Muhammed, Ibrahim Babangida, the director of supply and transport Muhammadu Buhari” (Siollun 2009: 176) spearheaded the plot that removed Gowon and installed Murtala Mohammed head of junta in 1975.  Their coup d’état against Gowon “was a watershed in that it was the first time in Nigeria’s history that executors of a coup apportioned political appointments between themselves” (Siollun 2009: 185).  They have not left the scene ever since.  The “Nigeria project”, indeed the Igbo have been worse off for it.


Siollun, M., Oil, Politics, and Violence: Nigerias Military Coup Culture, New York:  Alegora, 2009).
EC Ejiogu is the author of the paradigm changing The Roots of Political Instability in Nigeria: Political Evolution and Development in the Niger Basin (Farnham: Ashgate Publishers, 2011).

***See also Professor Ejiogu’s  “Benjamin Adekunle  The portrait of a genocidist”,
http://re-thinkingafrica.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/benjamin-adekunle-portrait-of-genocidist.html (accessed 16 February 2015).

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