Magazine article New African

Nigeria: 16 Soldiers for Coup Trial; Nigerians like to Believe That They Have Seen the Last of Military Coups. but a Recent Coup Plot to Overthrow Obasanjo's Government Has Changed All That. Pini Jason Reports from Lagos

Magazine article New African

Nigeria: 16 Soldiers for Coup Trial; Nigerians like to Believe That They Have Seen the Last of Military Coups. but a Recent Coup Plot to Overthrow Obasanjo's Government Has Changed All That. Pini Jason Reports from Lagos

Article excerpt

In mid-June, Major Hamza Al-Mustapher, one of the dreaded security chiefs of the late Gen Sani Abacha, and 15 other military officers and six civilians were recommended for court marshal by a Special Investigation Panel (SIP) for allegedly plotting to overthrow President Obasanjo's government.

Among the six civilians are two foreigners from neighbouring Benin Republic. One suspect, Navy Commander Yakubu Kudambo escaped from custody during interrogation, and was declared wanted by the Navy. He may be tried in absentia. Others include Iorbee Ihagh, the deputy controller of the Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in Lagos where Al-Mustapher was held on court remand. Al-Mustapher had been standing trial for the last five years for the attempted murder of the publisher of The Guardian newspaper of Lagos, Alex Ibru, who, at the time of the incident, was the internal affairs minister under Gen Abacha.

In April this year, Nigerians woke up to the shocking news that operatives from the Directorate for Military Intelligence (DMI), with the aid of a detachment of Mobile Police, had "invaded" the Kirikiri Prison and "abducted" Major Al-Mustapher to an unknown destination.

First reports claimed that Mustapher had staged his own escape. But later, his family raised an alarm that he had been shot and wounded. It was while denying the alleged shooting of Mustapher that the government revealed that the DMI had taken him in to answer questions about an alleged "security breach". Then it turned out that many military officers had also been arrested for plotting to topple Obasanjo's government.

To avoid embarrassment, the government tried to downplay the matter. It resorted to the use of a euphemism "security breach" to refer to the plot. But sources told New African that the plot was serious and Al-Mustapher, the ringleader, had planned every detail from his prison cell.

The plan was to use surface-to-air missile to shoot down Obasanjo's helicopter between Ikeja airport in Lagos and his Ota Farm outside Lagos. Uprisings were to follow simultaneously in military formations across the country.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Because of the deplorable condition of the road leading to the president's farmhouse, he uses helicopter to connect the place. The missile was allegedly smuggled into Benin Republic through a trader. It was to be assembled there waiting for the D-Day which, according to sources, was to be in January 2004. But the day was postponed when the missile did not arrive.

New African has learned that this was the third serious attempt on Obasanjo's life since he came to power in May 1999, although the government would not admit it because there has been no trial. …

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