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IFRA Special Research Issue Vol. 1

Terror as a political weapon: reflections on the bomb explosions in Abacha’s Nigeria

Isaac Olawale Albert


Nigeria witnessed the most agonizing moment in her political history, from 1994 to 1998, when the country was ruled by General Sani Abacha. The problem started with the annulment of the June 12, the 1993 presidential election, which Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola was popularly believed to have won. The hues and cries that greeted the annulment forced Président Babangida to surrender power to Chief Earnest Sonekan on 26 August 1993. General Abacha seized power from Sonekan on 17 November 1993 and resorted to the use of state terrorism to contend with the challenges posed by the human rights and prodemocracy activists who fought for the de-annulment of the 1993 election. Bombs exploded in différent parts of the country, these were blamed on NADECO and NALICON. This paper takes a critical look at the nature of the bomb attacks and poses the fundamental question: ‘Who were the terrorists and what did they want?’ A review of the attacks on some key individuals, including two military administrators and the Chief of Staff (General Diya), suggests to us that the agents of the Abacha regime were behind the bomb explosions, the bombs were meant to incriminate, implicate and intimidate pro-democracy and human rights activists, who were usually blamed for the attacks, the regime also used the explosions to validate its highhandedness against the ‘opposition’.

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Note portant sur l’auteur1

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1Nigeria witnessed the most agonising moment in her political history between 1994 and 1997 when General Sani Abacha govemed the country, the problem started with the annulment of the June 12 presidential election in 1993, which Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola was popularly acclaimed to have won, the hues and cries that followed the annulment forced the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, out of power on 26 August 1993, he handed over power to a hurriedly constituted Interim Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan. Some pro-democracy groups challenged the appointment of the latter and the new regime was declared an illegal outfit. General Sani Abacha, who was then the Chief of Army Staff, seized the opportunity to organise a palace coup against Shonekan, he thus became the Nigerian Head of State in November 1993, pro-democracy and human rights activists continued to call for the de-annulment of the June 12 élection and for the hand-over of political power to Chief Abiola, these brought them on a collision path with the Abacha regime.

2The most vocal of these pro-democracy groups included the National Democratie Coalition [NADECO], led by Chief Adekunle Ajasin and later, by Chief Anthony Enahoro, the other was the National Liberation Coalition [NALICON], The two of organisation fought the Abacha regime using passive resistance, they campaigned for international sanctions to be imposed on Nigeria as a way of curbingthe excesses of the country’s military. None of them engaged in any physical violence.

3The Abacha regime responded against the ‘‘opposition” in various violent forms, bombs exploded in some major cities in the country - Lagos, ibadan, onitsha, Kaduna and Ile-Ife. Some prominent Nigerians - Rear Admirai Babatunde Elegbede [Rtd.], Admirai Olu Omotehinwa, alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Chief Alfred Rewalne, Chief [Mrs.] Bisoye Tejuosho, alhaja Suliat Adedeji and Dr. Shola Omosola, to name just the most prominent - were assassinated by people suspected to be agents of the Abacha regime. Some other people narrowly escaped being killed, this category of Nigerians included Chief Abraham Adesanya, the leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba cultural group; Chief Bola Ige, the current Minister for Justice, Alex Ibru, a former Minister for Internai Affairs, General Alani Akinrinade, a retired army officer considered to be “military commander” of NADECO; Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a popular human rights activist in Lagos; Air Commodore Dan Suleiman [Rtd.], one of the few Northern Nigerians in NADECO; Professor Omo Omoruyi, the former Director of the Centre for Democratic Studies, Abuja; Justice Omotunde Ilori, a prominent social critic; and Chief Abiola Opadokun, the Secretary of NADECO, a number of serving military officers were also targeted by the terrorists, the most prominent were Colonel Buba Marwa, the Military Administrator of Lagos and Lt. General Oladipo Diya, the Chief of General Staff [Deputy to General Sani Abacha].

4The attacks on these people took two major forms. Some were attacked by hired assassins using automatic light weapons, and the others by explosive devices, our focus in this paper is on the latter, we have limited ourselves to the issues pertaining to bomb attacks because as it is impossible for us to study all cases of state terrorism during the Abacha regime at a single breath. Such an issue is better handled in a book project, in the light of this, the present paper takes a general look at the nature of the bomb attacks in Abacha’s Nigeria and poses the fundamental question: ‘‘Who were the terrorists and what did they want?” For a very long time it was difficult to say with any precision who the terrorists were and what they really wanted, the government pointed accusing fingers at NADECO and NALICON: the latter and other pro-democracy and human rights groups in the country blamed the bomb attacks and assassinations on the Abacha regime, the available evidence supports the position of the latter, this paper reviews the nature of the bomb attacks, the impacts are also discussed.

Définition of Terrorism

5Terrorism is defined as ‘‘the systematic employment of violence and intimid” [Brown 1992: 32-58], Shultz [1978] too sees it as ‘‘…the threat or use of extra normal forms of political violence, in varying degrees with the objectives of achieving certain political objectives/goals”, to Stohl [1988:3] it is ‘‘the purposeful act or the threat of the act of violence to create fear and/or compilant behaviour in a victim and/or audience of the act or threat”. Examples of terrorism include kidnapping, especially when employed on a consistent basis, bomb attacks, hijacking, arson, public execution, armed attacks, hostage-barricade situations, and other serious threats to life and property.

6At the risk of oversimplification, terrorism could be said to have four main purposes. First, it is either organised by the ‘‘pposition” to discredit or/and over- throw a regime or used by those controlling the institutions of power as a tool of political oppression. Second, it is aimed at giving a ‘‘minority” group a voice in a society, within this context, Stohl [1988:5] noted agreeably that the ‘‘violence of the terrorist act is not intended simply to destroy but also to be heard. For a regime the terror is a message of strength, a warning designed to intimidate, to ensure compliance without the need to physically touch each citizen”, third, it could be used to win specific concessions through ‘‘coercive bargaining ”, it is assumed here that the opposing party might not accept the position of the other party ex- cept force was employed, within this context some scholars refer to terrorism as the ‘‘diplomacy of violence” [Schelling 1966] and “coercive diplomacy” [George et al 1977]. Fourth, terrorism could be deliberately instigated to expose the true nature of a regime or an insurgent group. For example, an insurgent terrorist group could push a regime into taking certain actions that could make the regime become répressive, and hence illegitimate, in the court of [local and international] public opinion, on the other hand, a terrorist regime could use the reaction of the targeted group as an excuse for autocracy, arbitrary arrests, military build-ups etc.

7Terrorism, whether at the national or international level, is usually targeted at state or business sector institutions and property which may be bombed or burnt; it may also be targeted at prominent political figures or members of their families, who may be assassinated, kidnapped or blackmailed, in this way, normal life is disrupted and the society is forced to reflect on the claims of the movement, the trouble with terrorism as a political tool is that, in more cases than not, the victims are not the actual targets but innocent members of the society, most of those who get killed by bomb-blasts are bystanders, shoppers etc.

8Terrorists around the world use three methods for carrying out bomb attacks: planting bomb in a public property [building, aircraft, etc.]; physically throwing the explosive device at the target; planting the bomb in the body of the terrorist, the last method is terrorist himself is killed as the bomb or the object he seeks to use as an explosive device goes off, terrorists using this last method are known as ‘‘suicide bombers”.

The Political Antecedents and Dimensions of the Bomb Attacks

9Until October 19, 1986 when Dele Giwa, Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch Magazine, was killed by a letter bomb sent to him by a yet-to-be-identified assail- ant, terrorist attack was assumed by Nigerians to be a game of the developed world that could afford the technology involved. Nobody ever imagined at all that Nigeria, too, could join the list of nations where political adventurers attack people and institutions with bombs, when the news of the death of Dele Giwa was therefore announced, the entire Nigerian nation was shocked and defiled, many literally saw it as the beginning of the end of the world, which the Bible and the Koran predicted. Several Nigerians were of the view that the government was behind the dastardly act; but only a few human rights activists, like Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana, came out boldly to point accusing fingers at the government, they took the matterto court and lost. Since then the Nigeria Police have been “searching” for the killer[s] of Dele Giwa, the “frustration” of the police in their attempt to get to the root of the problem is reflected in a statement made on the incident in 1996 by the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr, tunji Alapini: “There is no new development [in terms of dues to solving the murder], if there is any development we would let the world know it, but we have not closed the file.” This escapist statement contradicts the statement made by a senior police officer in 1986, immediately after Dele Giwa was killed, the officer said that only the military had the capacity for packaging the bomb and that only the Nigerian military could explain the source of the bomb [Tell, December 30 1996:16], Subsequent bomb attacks on individuals and on Nigerian cities occurred between 1994 and 1997, and the police were ostensibly unable to determine who was behind the attacks.

10Terrorism assumed its second stage of maturity in Nigeria after 1993, follow- ing the annulment of the June 12 presidential election, which Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola was popularly believed to have won, the annulment was followed by riots in many parts of Nigeria, the rioters and the police and military men that con- fronted them were very brutal in dealing with one another. Several hundreds of people were killed on the streets of south-western Nigerian cities, the struggle was sustained by the activities of the many human rights organisations and oil workers unions in the country, as well as by the international community, which condemned the annulment in strong terms, when Babangida could no longer push his ambition to remain in office, he “stepped aside” in August 1993 and put in place an interim government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan, an industrialist.

11Différent forms of public protests greeted the Shonekan administration, the most outstanding was the highjack of a Nigeria Airways airbus A300 by a group of Nigerians who called themselves “Movement for the Advancement of Democracy” [MAD] led by one Jerry Yusuf, this was the first case of a plane hijack in the history of Nigeria, the hijackers claimed to be protesting against the annulment of the June 12 election, the Nigerian Airways plane was diverted to Niamey in Niger Republic, the hijackers demanded the de-annulment of the election, they later surrendered to law enforcement agents in Niamey and were each sentenced to eight years imprisonment, the boys were not released from jail until 2002. Chief Abiola, who at that point in time had not taken the decision to use non- constitutional means to claim his mandate, quickly denied any link with Jerry Yusuf and his MAD [Agekameh 1996:17].

12The new administration continued to face a legitimacy crisis untilat was overthrown in a palace coup led by General Sani Abacha in November 1993, the expectations of many Nigerians were that the Abacha administration would heal the wounds created by General Babangida by de-annulling the June 12 election and then quitting the stage, this was suggested in General Abacha’s maiden address to Nigeria, the man, however, had a different agenda, he overthrew the Shonekan administration for selfish reasons, this brought him on a collision course with the pro-democracy and human rights activists in Nigeria, as the government clamped down on public opinion and threw several public opinion moulders, like journal ists, human rights activists and the supposed “opposition”, into long detentions without trial, a few Nigerians who saw themselves as having vital roles to play in shaping the future of the country went on exile and from there started organising themselves into various pressure groups, a few human rights activists who remained in the country to continue the struggle died mysteriously or were detained by the government on flimsy charges, it was within the context of such confrontational politics that bomb attacks became part of the political system in Nigeria.

13The first bomb attack in Abacha’s Nigeria took place on May 31, 1995 at Ibrahim Taiwo Stadium in Ilorin during the state launching of the Family Support Programme initiated by Mrs, maryam Abacha [West Africa, 19-25 June 1995:960], the guests were already seated in the stadium. Suddenly an explosion was heard and people scampered for safety left and right, the explosion went off a few minutes before the commencement of the programme and the arrivai of Mrs.

14Abacha, the explosion rocked the entire stadium, killing and maiming several peo- ple, most especially school children who had come to witness the occasion. No state officiai was hurt, but Major-General Karim Adisa - then Minister of Works - who had come to receive the first lady [in his capacity as an indigene of Kwara state] was so frightened that he took cover in an odd corner of the stadium, he wept openly after the incident and swore to bring the perpetrators of this “das- tardly act to book”. Several people were arrested on account of this blast, but the arrests were based on mere suspicion rather than on facts, three of the arrested persons were released 18 months after, when the charges against them were with- drawn by the Attorney General of Kwara State [Ifowodo 1996:49],

15At 10.20 p.m., on November 14, 1996, another bomb went off at the Domes- tic/International Airport link road in Lagos, killing Dr. Sola Omotshola, the Security Chief at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, and his cousin, Mr. Nelson Gbolahan Kasim [Alawode 1996:15], the bomb was popularly believed to have been planted in Omotshola’s officiai car, other bomb explosions recorded in 1996 included those at the Aminu Kano Airport in Kano; Durbal Hotel and the Defence Industries Corporation in Kaduna; the police zonal headquarters, Zaria; the “Mammy” market at the military cantonment, the Air Force base, and along Mobolaji Bank- Anthony Way, ail in Ikeja. Lagos; and at Onitsha, Ile-Ife and Ibadan.

16The last three bomb attacks in Abacha’s Nigeria were against three top military officers: Colonel Buba Marwa, the Military Administrator of Lagos State and General Oladipo Diya, Abacha’s deputy, the attack on Marwa took place in December 1996 as the Military Administrator was on his way to his office, as he made a detour close to the Sheraton Hotel and Towers on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja into Opebi Link Road, a bomb exploded, ripping through the last car on Marwa’s convoy. Lance Corporal David Umoh, who was inside the unlucky vehicle, had one of his eyeballs plucked out, police Corporal Olusola, another occupant of the car, was fatally wonded A passer-by, akpata Collins, was also wounded. Six of the cars parked in the adjacent taxi park at the Sheraton Hotel were extensively damaged. Flying shrapnels damaged two rooms located on the fourth and sixth floors of the Sheraton, the police, who arrived at the scene later, reached the immediate conclusion that the fragments of the bomb were similar to those found at the spot where Omotshola was bombed, indirectly insinuating that NADECO and NALICON were responsible, almost 48 hours after the attempt on Marwa’s life another bomb went off at Alausa, a few metres from the Military Administrator’s office, wounding several civil servants and security men [Agekameh 1996:11-12], the bomb was said to have exploded around 7.55a.m, when a Lagos State Transport Company bus carry ing about 65 men to work at the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation, from the Ikeja military cantonment, climbed unto a refuse dump around Alausa, the bus in which the work- ers were carried was mangled, and so much was the impact of the bomb that a section of the tarred road in the vicinity was cracked, the wounded passengers included some soldiers.

17The attack on Diya took place on December 13, 1996, he was billed to travel to Makurdi on that day for the burial of the mother of Major-General Lawrence Onoja, his principal staff, he arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, a few minutes late for the journey, as he was trying to board the aircraft, which would have conveyed him to Makurdi, a bomb went off, blowing one of the security operatives in the vicinity into shreds.

18The last and third major bomb attack before the death of Abacha took place on September 2, 1997, the victim was the Military Administrator of Ekiti State. Seven people were wounded in the explosion, four of them seriously, the Military Administrator escaped unhurt, as usual, the pro-democracy movements in Nigeria were accused of being responsible for the incident.

Who were the Terrorists?

19In some other parts of the world, it is common to find a group claiming responsibility for bomb attacks, in the Nigerian cases mentioned above, nobody claimed responsibility for anything. Nigerians were therefore left to guess what was really happening, this left room for all kinds of unhealthy suspicions.

20As noted above, most of the bombs were targeted at military institutions, men and public officers, this might lead us to the cheap conclusion that the bombers must be civilians trying to intimidate the military out of power, this was the position that the Abacha administration consistently pushed, all the bomb attacks were blamed on either NALICON or NADECO, the Abacha administration consistently argued that the bomb attacks were a continuation of the “opposition’s plans to destroy the Nigerian state”. Each time a bomb went off anywhere, the police simply pointed accusing fingers at the opposition instead of conducting a thorough investigation, as the Civil Liberties Organisation said in one of its an- nual reports [Ifowodo 1997:49], the police worked more on suspicion than on facts in dealing with the terrorist attacks. Each bomb attack was followed the next day by a pro-Abacha public demonstration during which banners, which appeared to have been printed in advance, were displayed condemning NALICON, NADECO and pro-democracy activists like Professor Wole Soyinka and others.

21It was popular knowledge among Nigerians, however, that the Nigerian military were responsible for the bombings, there were three possibilities. Some pro- democracy groups within the military could have been responsible for the bombings. General Abacha hid under this kind of excuse to retire several Southern Nigérian military officers, collectively referred to as “NADECO Officers”, the second possibility was that General Sani Abacha was responsible for the bombings, the bomb attacks, in that case, were targeted at making the opposition unpopular, having been presented to other Nigerians as being responsible for the bombings, abacha probably expected that the more the opposition became discredited the more popular his own regime would become, and the more reasons he would have to issue more damaging military decrees, the third possibility is that Abacha’s boys were responsible for the bomb attacks in their effort to make him more security-conscious and, therefore, amenable to different kinds of manipulations, we consider the second and third scenarios to be more credible, in other words, General Abacha and his boys were responsible for the bomb attacks.

22The first grounds for suspecting that the government was responsible for the attacks were indicated in 1996 when Omotshola was killed, on November 28 1996, that is, two weeks after Omotshola’s death, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, the Commissioner of Police for Lagos State, addressed a press conference, during which he described Omotshola as a NADECO agent, according to Tsav, the bomb that killed him and Kazim was meant for a sabotage mission at the airport, tsav described Kazim as “a sabotage agent working for Wole Soyinka’s National Liberation Council, NALICON”. Narrating how the incident happened, the police boss noted:

‘‘Analysis of where the bomb was placed indicated that it exploded inside the car, if it were placed at the bottom of the car...the whole châssis would have been mangled, on the contrary the chassis was still intact.. with the evidence before the security agencies, it is believed that Kazim was carrying the bomb on his laps on the way back to the airport when it exploded in his face, tearing his face into two..” [Oladipo 1996; 16]

23How did the police come to the conclusion that Kazim was an agent of NADECO and NALICON? The police claimed that it broke into Dr, omotshola’s office immediately after thé blast in the presence of his deputy, Mr. O.F. Adeboye, and found therein a travelling bag, a suit and a tie and Kazim’s passport, number B736°249, the bag allegedly contained some computer spare parts, letters addressed to General Alani Akinrinade [a former Chief of Defence Staff], a radio frequency counter and a dividend cheque from Trans International Bank, Ibadan for the sum of N34,670, written in Akinrinade’s favour, the police went further to describe Kazim as a “computer technologist with vast knowledge in bomb making”, at the end of the press conference, the police commissioner refused to take any questions from the journalists present.

24Members of Omotshola’s family dismissed the police allegation, claiming that the former Chief Security Officer of the MMA had no relationship whatsoever with NADECO or NALICON. Mr. Kazim was described as his casual friend. Miss Omodele Omotshola, the 26-year-old-daughter of Omotshola raised a number of questions:

‘‘Can a man who holds a doctorate degree in criminal justice be so daft as to keep such incrim inating things in a public office? The whole thing is just like a poorly rehearsed set up. You said Kazim is a bomb expert, yet he placed the bomb on his laps, as an expert won’t he take precaution to ensure it didn’t go off or if explosion became inevitable won’t he throw the thing off before it exploded, was he a suicide bomber? I can’t get the logic...They searched the office on 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th of November more than four times why didn’t they dis- coveranything incriminating?” [Oladipo 1996; 16]

25Some relations of Omotshola also confirmed what Omodele said and noted that nothing incriminating was found in her father’s office, about 35 items were taken away from Omotshola’s office. None of them included anything on bombs or explosives, the Commissioner of Police was asked by Oladipo [1996:16-17], during an interview, why it took the police the second search to find anything incriminating in Omotshola’s office, alhaji Tsav responded:

‘‘I have not entered that office once myself, as soon as the blast occurred, we assigned men to investigate the case, the first and second teams went in with bomb disposai experts and the police, and that was it, what happened initially was that those that went in there initially were anxious to check the bags left behind by the man, they did not conduct a thorough search initially, but then we received additional information on the issue, it was then that they went again fully prepared for the task, and don’t forget that the place has been under lock and key since the incident, there are lots of junks in the office, but what really gave room for discovery of additional incriminating pieces of evidence was that when the police visited the office again they went with mine detectors, the mine detectors will find anything, and that was what allowed the police to get the additional information.”

26By ail indications, the police explanation was not neat; it thus supported the claims of Omodele that her father’s case was a ‘‘poorly rehearsed setup”, as faras members of Omotshola’s family were concerned, agents of the Abacha regime murdered the former Chief Security Officer of Murtala Mohammed Airport.

27One of the journalists who were conducted round Omotshola’s office reported that the place where the bombs were said to have been was too conspicu- ous for any police team not to have found them during the first search, it was also during the second visit by the police team that General Akinrinade’s letters were discovered, where as Kazim’s bag was searched and probably taken away as an exhibit during the first search.

28General Akinrinade described the whole development as a police conspiracy, he claimed that Nigerian security officiais had been intercepting his letters since he went on exile. Some of these mails, including the one on his dividend from the Trans International Bank, he claimed, must have been planted in either Omotshola’s office or in Kazim’s bag to nail him, he asked, ‘‘When did letters sent through someone you don’t know become a proof of your guilt...I am not a member of NALICON and NADECO to which I belong is not NALICON’s patron” [quoted in Alawode 1996:17-18].

29Evidence collected from the attempt to bomb Diya’s plane in 1996 also suggest that agents of the Abacha regime were responsible for the bomb attacks during the period, as noted earlier, one of the security operatives that brought the explosive to Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport at Abuja died during the 1996 explosion, one other security operatives that had worked with the dead man suffered first degree burns but were still alive, abacha boys soon took him to hospital where he was later “helped” to die, before his death, [and this is probably the main reason for his extermination] this man was reported to have told Major Fadipe, the Chief Security Officer to Diya, that they were sent by Major Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer to Abacha, to plant the bomb in Diya’s plane, the plane would have exploded 10 minutes into the flight TheNews 28 December 1998:32], Being a member of Abacha’s cabinet, Diya himself knew where the bomb came from, in an interview granted to journalists immediately after the blast, he described himself as a “loyal officer” and wondered why such an ev il thing should be targetted at him, what Diya was saying, in other words, was that such bomb attacks were only meant for disloyal people, this helped to confirm what Nigerians had been suspecting for a very long time: that most of the bomb blasts in Nigerian cities could be attributed to the military.

30The picture of what was planned against Diya and of who was responsible for the bomb attacks in the past became clearer immediately after General Abacha died. General Abacha frustrated all efforts made by Diya and his Chief Security Officer to have the bomb attack probed, a few days later, General Abacha, who wanted to eliminate his deputy by all means, came back for Diya, the latter was accused of planning to overthrow the Abacha regime, he and some other officers were sentenced to death by firing squad, before the death sentence could be carried out, however, General Abacha died in June 1998. Diya and the others were later released by General Abubakar, the new Head of State, who was well informed about the treacheries and evil machinations of the Abacha era.

31Long before Diya’s 1996 case, some Nigerian journalists had always been speculating that the bomb attacks in Abacha’s Nigeria were the handiwork of some fifth columnists rather than the human rights and prodemocracy activists that the regime was pointing accusing fingers at, the most reliable evidence for this came from Colonel Mohammed Buba Marwa of Lagos State, who would have been killed in one of the attacks officially blamed on NADECO, he noted during a press interview:

‘‘...with a fair degree of certainty I was pretty certain it was not NADECO, that was why I never accused them throughout the pe- riod the thing happened, i have been a student of revolutionary warfare, indeed, as a student at Staff College, I wrote about this in my faculty paper, in a revolutionary campaign, those who are supposed to be the revolutionaries, people who are trying to change the system, in general try to separate the bourgeoisie from the proletariat, because they always try to demonstrate that they are working for the masses. Now, the position of NADECO has been along those lines whether rightly or wrongly and within the military establishment they were determined also to gain the support of the soldiers who in this wise represent perhaps an equivalent of the masses; to demonstrate to them that their officers are cheating them and so forth. Now, I am not saying that it is a fact that officers cheat their men or anything, i am only laying out the strategy they use, if they use this strategy, they will not then by themselves attempt to alienate the men, and so, when the bombings started hitting at the soldiers, it was clear to me that this was not a NADECO strategy because they will not be hitting at soldiers, if they want to assassinate people, it will be the officers and if the buses carrying the soldiers from the cantonment in Ikeja to Lagos always pass the route, why single out the soldiers? You expect NADECO instead, to bomb the officers rather than the men, but you know it was the soldiers attached to Sanitation Task Force men that were bombed, it was such an accurate bombing because that is a peculiar and unique route that they used to take at a particular time not to mention my own case. You need a certain degree of military planning to demonstrate that was the right ambush point to do this type of thing, that was for a moment of little puzzling but clearly it pointed the arrow away from NADECO in my own judgement...These bombings would have been either from within the establishment it self, or they could have been by some arrangement, may be with some foreign supporters..Or they could be from the retired cadre”. [TheNews 24 May 1999:16]

32In a lengthy interview granted to Tell Magazine [August 28, 2000], Colonel Yakubu Bako. former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State [under Abacha] provided some vital information that could be used to establish how and why the bombings in Abacha’s Nigeria took place, he was a member of Abacha’s kitchen cabinet and he contributed in no small measure to giving focus and direction to the Abacha regime, until he later tell out with Abacha, tell described him as “a self-confessed acolyte of Abacha”, he described Abacha as a gentleman until 1994 when NADECO gave him an ultimatum to resign, abacha was said to have become more deadly when the National Constitutional Confab, inspired by Late General Shehu Yar’Adua, gave him a deadline on which to leave office. ‘‘All these made Abacha to become a changed man...We tried to give him advice but Abacha had so many security ‘misadvisers’ who misadvise him for selfish interests” [Director 2000:15], those who wanted some favours from Abacha only needed to suggest an evil plan against NADECO and the pro-democracy movements, and things worked automatically for them, this was the beginning of the problem.

33A careful analysis of how Colonel Bako came on a collision path with Abacha and eventually got imprisoned on a charge of possessing an unlicensed gun sug- gests how Abacha recruited most of the people responsible for the bombings in Nigeria during his regime:

‘‘When Abacha trusted you, he gave you personalised assignments, and if you disappointed him, he would go to any length to deal with you, i can trace my problems with Abacha as beginning from 1994, when I was MILAD of Akwa Ibom, one night, I was with him in Abuja, he gave me a list of NADECO officers in Akwa Ibom, he said that what he wanted was that when I got back, I should ensure that these people were rounded up, and that if it required signing of Decree 2 to keep them permanently in jail, we should do it.., but after waiting for so long till 1995 and I didn’t give him any news of any arrest or detention, not to talk of killing anybody in Akwa Ibom, he summoned me to Abuja in late 1995 and asked what was happening, abacha became very annoyed, initially my name was among the ben- eficiaries of Osborne Road [Ikoyi, Lagos] land allocation, but for this my name was removed”.

34Abacha gave him another assignment:

‘‘Chief Anthony Enahoro came to Akwa Ibom and, unknown to the chief, he was being trailed. So when he got to Akawa Ibom, the chief checked into Metro Hotel, Uyo, with a different name, immediately he checked in, I got a phone call from Abuja, and when I picked it up, Abacha was on the line, he said that he was aware that Enahoro was in Akwa Ibom, and that he came in with a bus, he instructed that I should make sure Chief Enahoro and the bus did not leave Akwa Ibom, and that since Enahoro checked into the hotel with a fake name, it could easily be denied that he was the one that got killed or burnt in Akwa Ibom State… I worked on a strategy to frighten the chief out of Akwa Ibom State, what I did was to call the director of the State Security Services [SSS], I sent one of my operatives to go and inform the SSS director that Chief Enahoro was in town, but he should not tell the man I sent him, he should claim he bumped into Enahoro personally, and when the SSS director was told, instead of coming straight to me, he went to Metro Hotel and confronted Enahoro saying, ‘‘As a prominent Nigefian, why sneak into Akwa Ibom State? What if anything happens to you, who will be responsible”... Enahoro checked out of Metro that same night... So, I phoned General Abacha that night, telling him that while I was preparing to carry out his instructions, Chief Enahoro checked out, he just banged the phone on me, and he never forgot that incident.. And that could have been his reason for leaving me to float for 10 months after my removal as MILAD. I had no posting for 10 months.”

35The third assignment was the last straw:

“Abacha was on the line and he asked me to come and see him immediately. I got to the villa and met him seating alone in the inner chambers. When I sat down, he asked me if I could recall the break into Bauchi prison last year [June 1996]. At the same time that incident happened, Gani Fawehinmi was in that prison. He now asked me what could have been the public opinion if, mistakenly, Fawehinmi was killed by the armed robbers. I told him that it could have been a major disaster because there was no way we could have explained ourselves out of it...Throughout my explanation, General Abacha kept quiet. Thereafter, he told me that a similar prison break-in should take place in Yola in that 1997. And that as a trusted personalised staff, he was giving me the role of leading the break-in, and I would be assisted by other people I would get to know later. He said that what he really wanted me to do was to break into Yola prison, kill one or two prisoners, release many armed robbery suspects and awaiting trial suspects, just like what happened in Bauchi prison, and most importantly, I must make sure General Olusegun Obasanjo, then in Yola Prison, was killed.”

36Colonel Bako was provided with an Uzzi rifle for the assignment because his personal weapon, a Colt 45mm pistol that he brought back from US in 1983, was considered not fit for that kind of assignment. The killing range was just 200 metres. Sumaila Shaibu, one of the security men blown up in 1997 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport during the attempt to bomb Diya, was asked to work with Colonel Bako on this mission. He must have been involved in several other bombing missions in the country before nemesis finally caught up with him.

37Colonel Bako once more failed to carry out this assignment. As usual, he went round and round and came back with nothing “positive” to report to Abacha. He was later arrested during the Diya coup and accused of being in possession of the same pistol Abacha earlier saw him with, he was jailed for 10 years. The officers who carried out the bombings reviewed in this paper must have been more loyal people than Bako. The latter did not kill anybody because he had the kind of conscience that did not fit into the mould of the Abacha regime. He paid for it.

38Another indication that some Abacha boys were responsible for the bomb attacks could be inferred from one other incident. In July 1997, there was the celebrated case of the arms and ammunition stolen from the armoury of the Direc- torate of Military Intelligence [DMI] in Lagos. This singular occurrence was be- lieved to have sent shivers down the spine of General Abacha [Abubakar 1997: 20- 25]. It was feared that the weapons could be used for plotting a coup d’etat or assassinating some prominent political figures in the country. Shortly after, six soldiers from the DMI were arrested with some bombs, bags of chemicals for manufacturing bombs and explosives, a detonator, high voltage dry cell batteries and over 200 live bullets, by July 25, 1997 the number of soldiers arrested in respect of the arms theft had risen to 15, the arms were said to have been used to carry out an illegal “military” operation at Ihiala, Anambra State. Some of the weapons were later recovered from Ihiala, the hometown of Chief Victor Okafor, alias Ezego [King of Money], a business man in Lagos.

39What really happened? How did it start? A film on the exploits of Ezego, one of the kingpins of 419 [swindlers] in Nigeria, was watched by the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie some time in June 1997. Most worrisome to the IG was the nature of the sophisticated weapons at the disposai of the sus- pected criminal and members of his gang. A contingent of 1°200 crack men, drawn from mobile police units in Benue, Plateau, Niger, Kadunaand Sokoto States was given the assignment of arresting Ezego. Six hundred of them were to “burst” his home at Ihiala and the rest were to go to Lagos where Ezego had most of his businesses. They were basically out to look for information on the sources of Ezego’s sudden wealth and to see if anything incriminating could be traced to him.

40In the early morning of June 25, 1997 the security men stormed their targets. Several people were arrested with Ezego, they were soon released but Ezego was detained. He was later given a clean bill by the police and therefore released.

41Immediately after his release, Ezego went after those he believed to have masterminded his harassment by the police, he was said to have planted some weapons at the backyard of one of them - Chuma Nzeribe, the plan was to implicate the man in illegal arms dealing, the military men sent to dump the weapons there were the same people that came to arrest Chuma, the mission could, however, not be carried to a logical conclusion because it was an “unauthorised operation”, the people at the DMI soon heard about it and the weapons were discovered to have been stolen from DMI. Ezego was detained by the Nigerian military. Within a short period, he was released. This was surprising. The Ezego case, if it had been faithfully followed, would have revealed where the various bombings in Abacha’s Nigeria were coming from, it would have revealed where the illegal bombs were obtained. Why should a civilian be found with bombs and still be released without any trial? All these happened during the Abacha regime when innocent Nigérians like Chief Olu Falae, Chief Durojaiye and others were hounded into indefinite detention by the military on the suspicion of being responsible for the bombing of Nigerian cities, even when nothing was found on them.

42Mr. Chuma Nzeribe of Umudike village, Ihiala, Anambra State, on whose compound the arms and ammunition were planted in 1997 petitioned the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission [HRVIC] sitting at Abuja in 2001, he alleged that some officers of DMI tried to asssasinate him in August 1997. The officers, according to Chuma, planted bombs, explosives and live rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition in his house during the period, in the process of responding to these charges, more light was shed on what actually happened. Brigader Sabo, then Director of DMI, was summoned by the commission on the matter in June and July 2001. His successor. Colonel Stephen Idehenre was summoned in September, in the process of responding to the charges, both officers made statements that could be used to establish that the military were responsible for most of the bombings in Abacha’s Nigeria.

43Brigadier Sabo claimed to be a student at the National War College when the atrocities were committed. He tried to blame the incident on Colonel Idehenre who acted in office for him. Sabo saw this as an opportunity to hit at some of his former bosses in office-most especially General Abdulsalami Abubakar [who succeeded Abacha as Head of State] and General Ishaya Bamaiyi, the former Chief of Army Staff. The two facilitated the retirement of Sabo immediately after Abacha died.

44Insinuating that the majority of people that worked with Abacha participated in the atrocities of those years, he noted that it is a truism that some people rel- ished in crises to make money during the ill-fated Abacha regime. They faked situations of insecurity and, thereafiter, got imaginary suspects to deal with: “These people could create problem and then go and report to the system and thereafter ask for specific amount of money to quell it.., but some of the violations were not done with the knowledge of Abacha. Some were done by people for their own aggrandizement but they did it in such a way to suggest they were fighting for the government. I wish he was alive to tell his side of the story” [Okolo 2001:53].

45It was the turn of Colonel Stephen Idehenre [rtd.] to address the HRVIC on the Chuma-Ezego matter in September 2001. He told the commission that he had completed his term as the Acting Director when the alleged atrocities took place, idehenre used the opportunity to hit at his former boss. He accused him of being responsible for most of the atrocities committed during the Abacha regime, he alleged that one Colonel Majoyegbe, who worked for Sabo, masterminded the bombs and explosives allegedly planted in Nzeribe’s house. For planting the bombs, he claimed, Sabo was compensated w ith a Toyota Land Cruiser and Majoyegbe got the gift of a BMW car [Agekameh 2001:31].

46Tell Magazine [September 24, 2001] later followed up the Chuma-Ezego case and came to the conclusion that the bombings in Nigeria were the handiwork ofthe Sabo-led DMI, the magazine made reference to a security report put together by a senior DMI officer [probably Colonel Idehenre] in 1996 which gave an indication ofthe involvement of DMI operatives in the attacks. A collective décision was reached at the organization, on the wake of the bombings, to mount night surveillance on certain routes in the Lagos metropolis considered to be targeted by the bombers. The next bomb attack took place at a place not covered by the surveillance team. The noose was further tightened and, with time, the bomb attacks moved out of Lagos to some other parts of Nigeria, suggesting that some people within the DMI were responsible for the attacks. The security report on the Ihiala incident further pointed to the possible involvement of the DMI in the bombings that took place in different parts of Nigeria:

“The planting of the bomb at Ihiala had similar characteristics as all the ones earlier planted in Lagos, it was buried in a shallow dugout, the same way all the bombs that had exploded in Lagos since November 19, 1996 were buried.” [cited in Agekameh 2001:31]

47The possible conclusion we can draw from the above is that the Abacha boys, whether on the instruction of their boss or because of their own insatiable need for gratification from their boss, were responsible for the bombings. NADECO and NALICON were implicated in the problem to paint them black. The existence and activities of these pro-democracy groups could, however, be a major reason why the Abacha boys found it so easy to convince their boss about the bombings.

Impact on Governance and Urban Life

48Political terrorism follows three important paths: one, act or threat of violence two, the emotional reaction to such an act or threat, and three, the social effects resulting from the acts and reaction [Walter 1969]. The impacts of the bombings in Abacha’s Nigeria are best seen in the emotional stress they created, as well as their social effects on decent urban life. The main goal of terrorists is to create fear in a society. Those responsible for the bomb attacks in the Abacha era excellently attained this objective. Nigerians were really afraid about where to visit and where not to, as they did not know where the next bomb would explode and who was, going to be the next victim.

49The bomb explosions provided the Abacha regime with grounds for increased arbitrariness and political oppression. The regime presented the “faceless terrorists” as enemies of Nigeria and General Abacha and his boys as a group working for the survival of the Nigerian estate. Repressive political measures were explained as steps taken to protect the security of the Nigerian state. Arbitrary arrests thus followed each ofthe explosions. As noted earlier, the bomb explosions were blamed on some prominent human rights activists. In March 1997, the government formally charged Dr. Frederick Faseun [leader of Oduduwa People’s Congress], Chief Olu Falae [former Federal Minister of Finance], Professor Wole Soyinka [who was on self-exile in America and Europe], Lt. General Alani Akinrinade [another exile] and a few other Nigerians for the bomb attacks. They were all accused of “conspiracy to levy war against the federal military government of Nigeria” and “causing explosions in various parts of Nigeria” [CNN March 12, 1997]. Faseun and Falae were already in detention. Wole Soyinka, who was contacted by the CNN, dismissed the charges brought against them as “an old familiar charge that’s now being dusted off to tie it in with this spate of bombings. This is a plot to liquidate us...Abacha is a psychopath, and a pathological liar...He knows he doesn’t have one shred of proof connecting me to these bombings.” Soyinka blamed the bomb attacks on the army: “I don’t know who is behind the bombs. He [Abacha] has created so much enmity in the army that I think the army could be responsible, it is very divided.”

50Mr, Bagauda Kaltho, a Nigerian journalist, human rights activist, and the Kaduna Senior Correspondent of The News, was kidnapped on the 18th of January 1996 as a resuit of his write-up on the phantom coup of 1995. His article punctured the arguments of the Abacha military junta. He was detained at Abuja and Jos prisons and died in the process of being tortured, the information about Kaltho’s death was first announced by the Reporters Sans Frontières [RSF] of France. Until then, the government claimed to be unaware of what happened to Kalto. The Huri-Laws, a human rights group in Lagos, filed a suit on 19th September 1998 [after the death of Abacha] to press for the release of Kaltho’s body and for officiai information on what killed him. On the same day, Zakari Biu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of the Taskforce on Terrorism and Bombing, called a press conference at which he alleged that Kaltho was killed during a bomb explosion that took place at Durbar Hotel in Kaduna HURI-LAWS NEWSLETTER 1998:1]. The same Zakari Biu, a man popularly mentioned as being responsible for torturing political prisoners during the Abacha regime, had announced in the past that he did not know the identity of the “unidentified bomber” in Kaduna. To make his story look “acceptable”, he claimed to have found beside the bomber a copy of Wole Soyinka’s book, “And the Man Died”, this, in his calculation, meant that the bomber was sent by Soyinka. The question Nigerians have since been asking about Kaltho is: “Did the journal ist corne out from detention to carry out the Kaduna bomb attack?” What we are trying to insinuate here is that the bombings provided the Abacha boys with explanations for some of their murderous acts.

51The bomb attacks also became a veritable vehicle by which the government diverted the attention of the people from substantive issues in politics. Each blast was reported and discussed in the NTA and Radio Nigeria news for several weeks, the television and radio stations, most of which were state-controlled, were either reporting the blast, the reaction of some selected Nigerians to it, the solidarity visits to the Head of State by one group or the other, or interviews with Nigerian security officiais on when and how to catch the terrorists. All these were aimed at attracting sympathy for the government and condemnation for NADECO [and its “foreign collaborators”] which were considered to be the source of the problem. Through this kind of diversionary tactics Nigerians were led to forget about the fundamental issues in their nation’s development while “sympathising” with the Head of State “whose genuine efforts towards lasting democracy” were being thwarted by “subversive elements”.

52During each of the solidarity visits to the Head of State, the visitors took time off to launch tirades on NADECO, on human rights activists in exile, like Professor Wole Soyinka and General Alani Akinrinade, and on American. United Kingdom and other western nations considered to be providing support for the terrorists with a view to either derailing the genuine efforts of Abacha towards democracy or to enslaving the black man a second time. At the end of such a “solidarity rally”, the State Administrator would make some well-rehearsed political statements and assure the demonstrators that their message would be delivered to the Head of State. For the next two nights this might form the main news item on the NTA 9 o’clock news.

53The terrorist attacks provided grounds for greater arbitrariness by the Nigerian police and military. Those arrested for the bomb explosion in Ilorin had the case against them withdrawn in 1996 when it became obvious that there was no way of getting them convicted based on mere suspicion, in the letter w ithdrawing the charges against them, the Attorney-General of Kwara State noted that the “allégations against them were merely based on suspicion which no matter how strong cannot take the place of legal proof’ [Ref. No. Justice/Leg.41 Vol.34/383]. The government arrested some NADECO members in Nigeria. Chief Olu Falae, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was one of those clamped into detention on the charge of being responsible for some of the bomb attacks. Some prominent members of the organisation were also placed on the “wanted” list of the police. Those declared wanted included General Akinrinade, Chief Anthony Enahoro. Dan Suleman etc, professor Wole Soyinka of NALICON was also dcclared wanted on account of the bomb blasts in the country.

54Security around several foreign consulates and international organisations in some major Nigerian cities - most especially Lagos -became tightened, this may have become necessary for two reasons. First, the embassies probably feared that the agents of Abacha could come and plant bombs in the premises as punishment for supporting the pro-democracy movements against Abacha. The embassies also probably feared that enemies of the Abacha regime could plant bombs in the embassies to further embarrass the Abacha government, people visiting the embassies were thoroughly screened with electronic devises to ensure that they were not carrying any explosive devices on their person. Two days after the car of Marwa of Lagos State was attacked in 1996, the United States called on its citizens to steer clear of the major airports in Nigeria during the rest of the year so that they are would not be victims of likely future blasts [Agekameh 1996:18]. In response, the Nigérian government started to point accusing fingers at the US as a major funder ofthe bombers. Following the 1995 blast at Ilorin, the Head of State, General Sani Abacha and his wife Maryam steered clear of state functions taking place in any part of south-western Nigeria. This part of Nigeria was believed to harbourthe terrorists, between 1995 and 1997 when he died, Lagos or any south- western Nigerian town was a “no-go” area for the Head of State, at a point, he even stopped worshipping at the Central Mosque in Abuja. As Nigerians said, the Head of State was simply “holed up in Aso Rock”, haunted by his own ghost.

55Our conclusion in this paper is that the bombings in Abacha’s Nigeria were carried by agents of the regime to protect themselves. These attacks took place in major Nigérian cities - Ilorin. Lagos. Kaduna, Onitsha - because of the plethora of potential targets - human and structural - that exist there and also because of the greater visibility of these cities and the kinds of socio-political activities in them. What was experienced in Abacha’s Nigeria is a textbook example of “establishment terrorism”, which may be defined as “the threat and/or employment of extranormal forms of political violence, in varying degrees, by an established political system, against both external and internai opposition” [Shultz 1978:11 ], in the years to come, more light will be shed on what actually took place during this dark period in Nigerian history, the contents of this paper are part of the historical reconstruction that has to be done.



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Notes de fin

1 Peace and Conflict Studies Programme, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan

© IFRA-Nigeria, 2005

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