1990: Gideon Orkar, for a Nigerian coup

Add comment July 27th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1990, Nigerian Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar and dozens of others* were shot for a coup attempt against that country’s military strongman, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

Orkar was the guy on state radio early on the morning of April 22 announcing the revolution:

On behalf of the patriotic and well-meaning peoples of the Middle Belt and the southern parts of this country, I , Major Gideon Orkar, wish to happily inform you of the successful ousting of the dictatorial, corrupt, drug baronish, evil man, deceitful, homo-sexually-centered, prodigalistic, un-patriotic administration of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.

The dictatorial, drug baronish evil man had himself come to power in a 1985 coup, and when not fending off coups kept busy reorganizing the state to his satisfaction and stalling on the promised civilian handover. (“IBB” ultimately held an election in 1992, invalidated the result, and turned over power the next year to understudy dictator Sani Abacha.**)

Said state reorganization was not to the liking of Orkar et al, and the putsch broadcast accused Babangida of wanting to make himself into a president-for-life.

Intriguingly, the broadcast also proffered a strong regional critique of “the favoured class and their stooges” who were gobbling up “the supposedly national wealth derived in the main from the Middle Belt and the southern part of this country, while the people from these parts of the country have been completely deprived from benefiting from the resources given to them by God.”

Accordingly, the government of the abortive coup intended “a temporary decision to excise the following states namely, Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi states from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Those states, at the time, constituted the entire northern band of Nigeria, which was also the stronghold of Islam in Nigeria. (Babangida was a Muslim, as was his successor.)

What “excision” of the northern states might have meant in practice was never realized, since Babangida escaped his would-be usurpers and prevailed when the sides fought it out over the course of April 22. One survivor of the coup later described the grievance in these words: “Anytime we went to the Hausa areas in the North, we were given Hausa and Islamic regalia and if you didn’t wear it, they would not be happy with you. It got to a stage that if you were in the Army, you have to speak Hausa.”

So, if inclined to cast a gimlet eye upon the inroads of sharia in those same northern states, one might view Orkar as some sort of prophet. He and his comrades certainly strike many as a nobler and more far-sighted clique than the usual “autocratic general” type.


On trial for their lives: from left to right, Capt. Harley Empere, Major Gideon Orkar, Capt. Perebo Dakolo, Lt. Cyril Ozoalor, Lt. Nicholas Odeh

Despite the fate of Orkar and others this date, some of the plotters managed to escape the country to a better fate. For instance, Major Saliba Mukoro fled to the United States, got advanced degrees in criminal justice, and was a Mississippi Valley State University professor prior to returning to run for a governorship in 2011. (He lost.)

* Amnesty International makes it (pdf) 42 on this date, including Orkar and nine other officers — plus 27 others executed on September 13. Most of the executed and some other casualties of the affair are enumerated here.

** Abacha is the guy who hanged Ogoni poet/activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1986: Mamman Jiya Vatsa, warrior-poet

2 comments March 5th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1986,* Nigerian Major-General Mamman Jiya Vatsa was shot (along with nine others) by command of his childhood friend — the dictator Ibrahim Babangida, whom Vatsa was allegedly plotting to overthrow.

A gifted writer since youth, Vatsa was just a nameless twenty-something junior officer in the early 1970s when he emerged onto the national literary scene.

In the 15 years before his death, Vatsa churned out 20-plus volumes, mostly poetry. He had a special inclination for writing for children.

Simultaneously, his star ascended in his professional sphere.

Risen to General, Vatsa was part of the Supreme Military Council of the previous dictator.

But by December of that year,
Vatsa and dozens of others were arrested.

Testimony against them — much of it of the speculative or torture-induced variety — described a ring of officers piqued at the Babangida coup (Vatsa was out of the country when it occurred) and keen to undo it. The scheme would have been only one of many such hatched or imagined in an unstable political situation that surely made the new big man nervous.

In the end, “only” ten (the nine others are named here) were stood up against the wall for the alleged plot. Many others, however, were imprisoned or purged, a lasting injury to the Nigerian brass that particularly crippled its air force.

Babangida, of course, rejected clemency appeals from the Vatsa family he knew well. He has since justified his harshness by arguing that Vatsa would have continued plotting against him in prison or in forced retirement. “Rawlings did it in Ghana,” Babangida said. “And you know Vatsa was very stubborn.”

The fatal tribunal’s judge** is less certain, and is hardly the only one to doubt Vatsa’s guilt outright.

I don’t know, nobody ever asked.
That was how some heroes died.
They died.

-Vatsa, “They Died” (Voices from the Trench)

* Some sources give March 6 as the execution date, but contemporaneous western press reports (admittedly an impeachable source) prefer the 5th. For instance, the March 6 Chicago Tribune says the executions occurred on “Wednesday” (the 5th).

** Ironically, Vatsa himself had once sat on a tribunal for another group of failed putschists, the 1976 Dimka coup.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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