Editor’s note: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it, they say. That's why today we are recalling the day when the Government leader, Major General Muhammadu Buhari was overthrown.
1985 coup and detention
On the evening of August 26th 1985, Major General Muhammadu Buhari was joined in his residence by Majors Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (a Harvard University educated officer born into an aristocratic northern family who was also the former ADC to former Chief of Army Staff Hassan Usman Katsina), Lawan Gwadabe, Abdulmumuni Aminu and Sambo Dasuki. Dasuki is the son of former Sultan of Sokoto Ibrahim Dasuki.
After the five men watched the evening news, the army officers arrested Buhari at gunpoint. At 6am on Tuesday August 27, 1985 Brigadier Joshua Dogonyaro announced in a nationwide broadcast that Buhari had been overthrown in a bloodless military coup led by General Ibrahim Babangida (who also unseated the elected civilian Government and installed General Buhari on December 31, 1983). After having a champagne breakfast to toast their success, the plotters' inner caucus held a meeting at Bonny Camp to flesh out details of the new leadership.
The meeting was attended by the following officers: Ibrahim Babangida, Maj-Gen Sani Abacha, Brigadier Joshua Dogonyaro, Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed (head of military intelligence), Navy Commander Murtala Nyako, Lt-Col Ahmed Abdullahi (Minister of Communications), Lt-Col Tanko Ayuba (commanding officer - Nigerian army signal corps), Lt-Col John Shagaya (commanding officer - 9th mechanised brigade, Ikeja), Lt-Col Anthony Ukpo, Major Abubakar Umar (Administrator of the Federal Housing Authority).
Nigerians were kept in the dark about the new leader until Maj-Gen Sani Abacha made a follow up broadcast at 3.30pm to announce that Babangida had been appointed the new leader. Babangida said he was unanimously chosen to lead by the new caucus without any disagreement. After the coup, Buhari was detained for more than two years, badly affecting his family life and causing him to divorce his wife Safinatu upon his release.
The coup speech that overthrew Buhari on August 27, 1985
I, Brigadier Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, of the Nigerian Army, hereby make the following declaration on behalf of my colleagues and members of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Fellow country men, the intervention of the military at the end of 1983 was welcomed by the nation with unprecedented enthusiasm. Nigerians were unified in accepting the intervention and looked forward hopefully to progressive changes for the better. Almost two years later, it has become clear that the fulfillment of expectations is not forthcoming.
Because this generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country but Nigeria, we could not stay passive and watch a small group of individuals misuse power to the detriment of our national aspirations and interest. No nation can ever achieve meaningful strides in its development where there is an absence of cohesion in the hierarchy of government; where it has become clear that positive action by the policy makers is hindered because as a body it lacks a unity of purpose. It is evident that the nation would be endangered with the risk of continuous misdirection.
We are presently confronted with that danger. In such a situation, if action can be taken to arrest further damage, it should and must be taken. This is precisely what we have done. The Nigerian public has been made to believe that the slow pace of action of the Federal Government headed by Major-General Muhamadu Buhari was due to the enormity of the problems left by the last civilian administration. Although it is true that a lot of problems were left behind by the last civilian government, the real reason, however, for the very slow pace of action is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the ruling body; subsequently, the business of governance, has gradually been subjected to ill-motivated power play considerations.
The ruling body, the Supreme Military Council, has, therefore, progressively been made redundant by the actions of a select few members charged with the day to day implementation of the SMC's policies and decision. The concept of collective leadership has been substituted by stubborn and ill-advised unilateral actions, thereby destroying the principles upon which the government came to power. Any effort made to advise the leadership, met with stubborn resistance and was viewed as a challenge to authority or disloyalty. Thus the scene was being set for systematic elimination of what, was termed oppositions.
All the energies of the rulership were directed at his imaginary opposition rather than to effective leadership. The result of this misdirected effort is now very evident in the country as a whole. The government has started to drift. The economy does not seem to be getting any better as we witness daily increased inflation. The nation's meager resources are once again being wasted on unproductive ventures. Government has distanced itself from the people and the yearnings and aspirations of the people as constantly reflected in the media have been ignored. This is because a few people have arrogated to themselves the right to make the decisions for the larger part of the ruling body.
All these events have shown that the present composition of our country's leadership cannot, therefore, justify its continued occupation of that position. Furthermore, the initial objectives and programmes of action which were meant to have been implemented since the ascension to power of the Buhari Administration in January 1984 have been betrayed and discarded. The present state of uncertainty and stagnation cannot be permitted to degenerate into suppression and retrogression. We feel duty bound to use the resources and means at our disposal to restore hope in the minds of Nigerians and renew aspirations for a better future.
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We are no prophets of doom for our beloved country, Nigeria. We, therefore, count on everyone's cooperation and assistance. I appeal to you, fellow countrymen, particularly my colleagues in arms to refrain from any act that will lead to unnecessary violence and blood shed among us. Rest assured that our action is in the interest of the nation and the armed forces. In order to enable a new order to be introduced, the following bodies are dissolved forthwith pending further announcements: (a) The Supreme Military Council (b) The Federal Executive Council (c) The National Council of States.
All seaports and airports are closed, all borders remain closed. Finally a dusk to dawn curfew is hereby imposed in Lagos and all state capitals until further notice. All military commanders will ensure effective maintenance of law and order. Further announcements will be made in due course. God bless Nigeria.