Lt. Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, a former Chief of Army Staff, in his new book, “Vindication of a General”, gave an account of how some certain senior officers engaged in battle to succeed General Sani Abacha, who died on June 8, 1998.
Bamaiyi said that after Abacha’s burial in Kano, the most high ranking military officers immediately returned to the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa to decide on who would become the next head of state.
According to Bamaiyi who noted that he wasn’t interested in becoming the head of state at that time, said that the choice of who to succeed Abacha was narrowed to the then Chief of Defence Staff, Abdulsalami Abubakar, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Jeremiah Useni and Lt. Gen. Bamaiyi (himself).
“We returned from Kano and went into the Chambers to decide who would become the Commander in Chief. While in Kano, some senior officers had decided that the COAS (Bamaiyi) would take over the government,” Bamaiyi said in page 252 of his book.
“I had never been interested in any political office, had avoided them so far, and had no intention of taking up the position of Commander in Chief. I made this clear to the senior officers who insisted I should take over, including Generals SVL Malu, Magashi, and Aziza.
“I was aware that some junior officers who were against my taking over as Commander in Chief because they knew I would not tolerate them in service.”
“Officers were not prepared to accept an officer with a record of conviction as a head of State. The issue of succession now fell to me, and some of the commanding officers and the staff told me I had to take charge to save the situation. I told them I believed in Abubakar and we should support.
“While this was going on, some junior officers were campaigning against Useni and me. They believed that once I took over, they would be in trouble, but I never had any intention of taking any political post. I had joined the army not for politics.
“When I told the senior officers I would (not) take over as Commander in Chief, the officers close to me said I was going to regret my action. I did not believe them because General Abubakar and I had been very close since we had been Lieutenants and played hockey for 2 Mech. Div. with Generals Shehu Yar’Adua, and Useni.
“As soon as we got into the chambers, Abubakar started distributing papers as if there were going to be an election. Meanwhile, people were there with Bibles and Qurans because they did not know who the Commander in Chief was going to be.
“It took a lot of persuasion to get the officers to accept Gen. Abubakar. This was why during the swearing in of the Commander in Chief, the Quran and the Bible were brought into the chambers unknown to many officers and the PRC members.”
According to Bamaiyi, after the meeting, no decision was reached as papers were passed around for officers to nominate the next Head of State and Commander in Chief.
“When it was my turn, I got up and announced we had all agreed that Gen. Abubakar was to be the Commander in Chief and had been promoted to a four-star general. Abubakar was sitting next me. That was how we succeeded in making Gen. Abubakar the Commander in Chief in spite of his record of conviction.”
Gen. Bamaiyi noted that he was glad that the minutes of the meeting which was taken by one T. Fagbemi clearly stated that he (Ishaya Bamaiyi) nominated Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.
He however, stated that he regretted supporting Gen. A Abubakar after he emerged as the Head of State, because he (Gen. A Abubakar) changed.
Retired General Bamaiyi stated that the new Head of State, did not only doubt his loyalty but also felt threatened by him.
He added that one of the reasons was that he was opposed to the decision of a former military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida to return another former head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, to power.
“He (Abubakar) started holding meetings with Generals Babangida and Aliyu Gusau. I was receiving reports of their getting together. I did not bother myself about such meetings because I knew we were not staying long in government.
“Unknown to me, Gen. Abubakar had already committed himself to Generals Babangida, TY Danjuma, and Aliyu Gusau on General Obasanjo’s coming in to take over from him – a proposal I totally objected to, which I told Generals Abubakar, TY Danjuma, and Aliyu Gusau in very clear terms.
“My stand did not go down well with the generals, and Gen. Abubakar started feeling unsafe. He started using some officers, especially from Intelligence, to write all sorts of reports against me saying I was too ambitious and wanted to be the Commander in Chief since no one would have stopped me from taking over after General Abacha’s death.”
Obasanjo eventually became the President of Nigeria in 1999 and ruled for eight (8) years from 1999 to 2007.
Lt. Gen. Bamaiyi was charged in 1999 with an alleged murder attempt on a Guardian newspaper publisher, Alex Ibru, during the Abacha regime.
He was in detention for nine (9) years before been discharged and acquitted on 2 April, 2008.