At this time 36 years ago, December 31, 1983, President Shehu Shagari was settling into State House (Aguda House), Abuja, for his final night as President. The overthrow of his government would be completed over the course of the next twelve hours of darkness.
In the hours preceding Shagari’s arrival in Abuja from Logos where he had earlier attended Friday prayers at Obalende, Lt Col Tunde Ogbeha, Nigeria’s defence adviser in Harare and a significant actor in the coup plot, tried to secure the non-violent capitulation of Aguda House.
Ogbeha, among other peripheral actors drawn from the ranks of his mates, was one of three principal actors drawn from the Regular Course 3 cohort, Lt Colonels all, who partook in the coup. The others were Lt Cols David Mark and Sabi Aliyu, the Guards Battalion Commander in Lagos.
The apex conspirators in the 1983 coup were principally a posse of powerful brigadiers clustered in two cells in the cities of Lagos and Kaduna. There was one rare exception – Maj Gen Ibrahim Babangida, director of army staff duties & plans. He was the plotter’s helmsman in Lagos.
Other principal conspirators in Lagos included Brigadiers Tunde Idiagbon, Sani Abacha and Colonel Aliyu Gusau Muhammed, director of military intelligence, who funded the coup plot to a substantial degree from his directorate’s budget
At this time on 31 Dec 1983, a repetitive sequence of relays of a coup speech which commenced on the network service of Radio Nigeria at 0700hrs had become a half-hourly affair
Addressing Nigerians over the airwaves was a rather obscure Brigadier Sani Abacha, commander 9 Mechanised Brigade, Ikeja, Lagos. He had also kept his GOC, Maj Gen Muhammadu Jega, blindsided to his involvement. Jega was pro-Shagari.
So obscure was Brigadier Sani Abacha on the day that in his memoirs, “Beckoned to Serve”, Shagari later revealed that he had never heard the name before and did not even have an idea of which part of Nigeria Abacha hailed from!
At H-hour, one of those deployed his troops to travel to Abuja from Kaduna with Brigadier Bako in his quest to arrest the president while the other seized and occupied the Kaduna State Govt House.
Two of those officers were Major Lawan Gwadabe (RC 8) and Major Al-Mustapha Jokolo(RC 9). The other two were course mates, majors also who were civil war veterans and members of the final wartime cohort of Nigeria Emergency Commission cadets
At the level of junior commanders, a posse of four majors who would later hit the limelight nationally, participated in the planning at Kaduna and we’re fiercely loyal to Brigadier Bako. In the years to come, some came to be known as IBB boys.
On the 29th of December 1983, the duo of Brigadier Bako and Lt Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi, both operating at the Kaduna end, flew to Lagos to harmonise plans for the execution of the plot. It was to be the final trip of the charismatic Bako’s life to Lagos.