Change has been the present watchword on most Nigerian lips. However in the event that there has been are a change, it has only occurred with the military deciding to take over and interfere in the legislative issues, one of such interference is the failed Gideon Orkar coup.In different parts of the nation, people of different circumstances and foundations upheld this battle for change a message which the as of late instated Buhari administration spilled crosswise over bill boards, impacted on the radio, pushed via the Internet and advertised on TV screens. Actually interpreted, the general population’s serenade.

In a democratic Nigeria, the main constitutional change in government gets through the polling booths. However with the pressure tension aura of the polity, there were fears of the conceivable utilization of real force to verify the ideal outcome.

on the 22nd of April 1990, According to an article  Culled Nigerians woke up to the sound of martial music on their radios and the voice of Major Gideon Orkar announcing a forceful takeover of the government of General Ibrahim Babangida in what would become dubbed ‘the bloodiest coup’ attempt in the history of Nigeria.

“”To stop Babangida’s desire to cunningly, install himself as Nigeria’s life president and by so doing, retard the progress of this country for life…; …the need to stop intrigues, domination and internal colonisation of the Nigerian state by the so-called chosen few…; and…the need to lay a strong egalitarian foundation for the real democratic take off of the Nigerian state or States as the circumstances may dictate.””

Such autocratic benevolence, however strategic or sincere, was nothing new. For a sapling state with six hostile takeovers at the end of its third post-independent decade, Nigeria’s political future was already on shaky ground. Orkar’s assumed role of protector and gatekeeper of Nigerian people and their democracy was therefore the standard rhetoric of every coup plotter since 1960. General Babangida, who replaced Buhari in an inter-military coup in 1985, was initially received with welcomed relief at home and in the West in light of the hard handedness of Buhari and his own personal charisma. Unlike his predecessor however, Orkar’s counter-coup was not widely accepted by the Nigerian public who feared the precipitation of another civil war and had little faith in a military rebellion against a regime that was still very much in power.

Orkar made a temporary decision to excise five Northern states from the Federal Republic of Nigeria pending when some conditions he put forward were met – one of which was “to install the rightful heir to the Sultanate, Alhaji Maccido, who is the people’s choice.” The then president, Ibrahim Babangida had appointed Ibrahim Dasuki as Sultan of Sokoto after the death of the Sultan, Siddiq Abubakar, forgoing Alhaji Maccido, the son of Sidduq Abubakar, who was perceived by other Northern elites as the rightful successor. This caused large scale unrest in Northern Nigeria. The excised states included, Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi. In effect, he announced the temporal splitting of the country, a decision that instantly alienated up to half the army and destroyed chances of his success.

But the question remains to be asked: what makes a man take up arms against his own state? Who was 38-year-old Major Gideon Orkar? A Tiv man happily married with five children, Orkar was well-positioned for a bright career in service.  Little more is known of the man beneath the uniform due to the staunch code of silence upheld by his family, understandably protective of his memory. This in part has led to the popular misconception that Orkar was the mastermind of what was later referred to as ‘the Niger Delta Coup’. According to the historian Max Siollun, in reality, Orkar was an ethnic outlier and late recruit brought in to secure the participation of armoured troops. Seemingly willing to fight and die for his convictions, his sense of idealism may best be captured in these words from his coup broadcast:

““We wish to emphasize that this is not just another coup but a well-conceived, planned and executed revolution for the marginalised, oppressed and enslaved peoples of the Middle Belt and the South with a view to freeing ourselves and children yet unborn from eternal slavery and colonisation by a clique of this country.””

Were these words just another attempt to misguide Nigerian citizens as to their underlying intentions? Or was Orkar simply front-of-house for a more seasoned set of players? Whatever the case, this notion of unfair treatment meted out from the Northern States was to be the motivation in his decision to excise the five states, albeit temporarily. Had the suspension been properly enacted, it would have led to an untidy and tension-prone upheaval. In Lagos, soldiers from existed states were detained while their indigenes were required to repatriate within a week. A respective exodus applied to people from the Middle Belt and Niger Delta settled in the five northern states. Both groups would be allowed to return to their prior residences in the Republic only once the mutineers’ conditions were met.

The true repercussions of this excision never materialized as the coup plot failed within 24 hours. It has been speculated that the success of the coup plot may have triggered a second civil war, and there have been counter speculations that its consummation would have saved Nigeria and her citizens from the degree of decay and rot evident in the Babangida-led system. As the former Inspector General Police, M.D. Yusufu would put it by the end of the 1990s:

““Babangida was even worse than Abacha. Babangida went all out to corrupt society. Abacha intimidated people with fear. With him gone now, you can recover. But the corruption remains, and it is very corrosive to society.””

Whether unfulfilled foresight or misguided altruism, it would be unwise to present the current political culture as Orkar’s vindication. It is however curious to note that the five states which were excised in his coup broadcast hold fundamentalist views distinct from the political and social culture of the Nigerian collective, and in the particular case of Borno, hosts the epicentre of terrorism in Nigeria. This suggests a radicalism of the North and deepening socio-political disconnect with other parts of the country. It is arguable that this “deepening socio-political disconnect” is a result of the significant disparity in literacy and education, between the North and the southern parts of Nigeria.

Perhaps the more poignant emblem of Orkar’s legacy is Dodan Barracks. The seat of military power at the time of the coup, the barracks once stood for notions of pride, unrivaled strength and the authority of the armed forces. Now a relic of its former glory, since the move of the seat of power to Abuja in 1991 shortly after the failed coup, its surrounding Obalende neighborhood has fared poorly with infrastructural negligence and the dwindling of social amenities such as electricity and water supply have proven fertile grounds for insecurity and environmental hazards. That said, the decrepitude of infrastructure applies to most of the country. A corollary of this move from Lagos is the rapid development and expansion of Abuja (FCT), as the entire apparatus of the Federal Government of Nigeria was transferred to a purpose built city.

The coup plotters were forced to surrender hours after the plan was set in motion as they were routed in Lagos by loyalists and regional commanders failed to follow any of their orders. On Friday, July 27, 1990, a total of 42 conspirators including Major Gideon Orkar, were executed by firing squad according to the military tradition that makes treason punishable by death. Though trumped by the 1966 coup’s death toll of over 200 people, it remains the largest execution of coup plotters in the country’s history, breaking the record of the 1976 coup led by Lt. Col Bukar Dimka in which 32 people were executed.

in an interview held  on the 11th of May 2009 culled from Major Abubakar Adamu Mohammed, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to erstwhile military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, has given an insight into why the bloody Orkar coup of April 1990 failed.

Major Mohammed in an exclusive interview with Daily Sun in Abuja on the coup, which almost terminated the Babangida regime cited confusion among the coup leaders, Major Gideon Orkar and Lt Col. Tony Nyiam over the killing of the Aide-de-camp (ADC) of the president, Lt Col. U.K. Bello, as one of the flaws, which caused the plotters’ failure.

“Orkar was pretty close to ADC’s wife. When she saw him (Orkar) because she told me later that she was in a good hand. He (Orkar) was there before the coup started and I went out and came back and he was taking her along to FRCN and they saw a dead body. So, he (Orkar) asked Col. Nyiam, who is this person you killed. Col. Nyiam said ‘that is the ADC to General Babangida, UK Bello’.

“He (Orkar) said why should you kill him because Col. Nyiam did not know Zainab. UK Bello’s wife was standing there and she knelt down and started begging. He (Orkar) said no; nothing will happen to you. So, there was a kind of misunderstanding there because deep down in his (Orkar’s) heart, ADC was not meant to be killed. They were only aiming at destroying the regime.

“There was confusion between Orkar and Nyiam when UK Bello’s wife broke down in tears and begged them not to kill her. And I think that was partially what caused the failure of the coup,” he explained.Abubakar said the coup was also put down easily because the coup plotters used those he described as inexperienced soldiers, most of whom had just left the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and recruitment depots. He disclosed that Gen. Babangida’s nonchalance to advice on sensitive security issues, coupled with the late Lt. Col. UK Bello’s confidence in his course mate, Major Gideon Orkar, caused the lapses that enabled the coup plotters to gain access to Dodan Barracks.

Abubakar also spoke about the Vatsa coup from the benefit of a soldier who arrested the late FCT Minister and noted that the coup was real and borne out of envy. He also said Babangida knew his friend and late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, would succeed him two years before he stepped aside.

Speaking on Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the CSO to the late Gen Abacha, Major Mohammed said the security chief would not have been in the mess if he had not defied his (Mohammed’s) warning.

Major Al-Mustapha is currently in prison custody in Lagos for his alleged complicity in the murder of some prominent Nigerians during the era of the late General Abacha.

He said an innocuous advice he gave to the aides of the late Head of State which he said was based on his knowledge of their boss, was jettisoned but that General Sani Abacha confirmed his fears when he arrived to assume duty as Head of State.

“And that was the period I was able to see the way Hamza (Al-Mustapha was almost teleguiding everybody. Then, I called him and cautioned him to be careful. I said you are too wild. I have seen where Generals were kneeling down to beg for appointments but in the end, they will nail you.

“He was surprised and looked at me. He said this is a new time and I said no problem and that was the last time I saw him,” he said.

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