…Denies knowledge of alleged $50m US plot to destabilize Nigeria
By Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Former Chief of Army Staff, General Ishaya Bamaiyi, has stoked fresh controversy over the incarceration and death of the acclaimed winner of the June 12,1993 presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola, as he claimed that members of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) merely paid lip service to the business mogul’s travails in the hands of the then military administration led by General Sani Abacha.
He also accused them of misleading Abiola into rejecting a conditional release offered him by Abacha.
Bamaiyi, who held sway as Chief of Army Staff between March 1996 and May 1999, made the claims in his book entitled “Vindication of a General” presented to the public in Abuja, also debunked the report of an alleged plot by the United States of America (U.S) to destabilize Nigeria with the deployment of $50 million..
Dismissing NADECO members as merely paying lip service on the detention and death of late Abiola, the former COAS said categorically that NADECO members who were known for battling Abacha and his military junta to a standstill were not committed to the struggle to secure Abiola’s freedom. In the 243-page book, he wrote: “A lot has been said about late Chief Abiola’s arrest and efforts toward his release. The fact remains that NADECO members paid only lip service to Abiola’s release after deceiving him into declaring himself President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“If they were sincere and actually supported him they would have accompanied him to where he declared himself President.” He continued: “It is also obvious that Abiola was abandoned after his death, which some people suspected that it had the support of some NADECO members. After Abiola’s death, one would have expected some reactions at least from Lagos, but there was no reaction anywhere.” Bamaiyi noted that following the failure of NADECO members to strongly make a case for the release of Abiola, he, former president of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Pascal Bafyau, and Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI) had to meet and resolved to take up the initiative of working for the release of the politician.
He narrated further: “There are some Nigerians who made efforts to get Abiola released. After Abiola’s arrest, the late General Ibrahim Gumel – then the Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), the late Mr Pascal Bafyau, then the President of NLC and I met at Headquarters, Lagos Garrison Command on Kofo Abayomi Street. We discussed the implications of Abiola’s arrest.
“After reviewing the situation, we decided to meet Gen. Abacha. Gumel and I went to Gen. Abacha and pleaded for Abiola’s release. We convinced Abacha that Abiola was not going to be a threat and could be handled. Abacha agreed to release Abiola with some conditions.
“We conveyed Abacha’s agreement to release Abiola to Bafyau, who briefed some NADECO members on Abacha’s readiness to release Abiola with some conditions.”
However, he said, “These NADECO members advised Abiola not to accept release with conditions and kept him in detention. Initially Abiola accepted the conditional release, and a judge was brought to Abuja to perfect it. The release documents were ready and Abiola was to go and sign them, but some NADECO members advised him against doing so, and he remained in detention until Abacha’s death.” On the US, Bamaiyi said, “the Abacha project (AP) was said to be a US-sponsored plot with a budget of US$50m meant to destabilize Nigeria. Of this amount, the sum of $10m was said to have found its way into the Military already. A member observed that, of recent, money had been changing hands in the military…”
He continued: “The member then alluded to the recent deployment of troops of the 223 Tank Battalion in Zuru by COAS in which the CO, Maj. Dogara was made to arrest and humiliate the NDLEA chairman, Maj-Gen MM Bamaiyi, on an issue that had no bearing on national or military security. The fact that the troops were called out by COAS without the knowledge of the GOC was considered worrisome to a member who felt the action should be weighed against recent developments affecting COAS vis-a-vis national security.
“At the end of the meeting, it was recommended that a joint PRC/Council of States meeting be held to include all military ministers at which the issue of the consensus adoption of the Commander-in-Chief was to be tabled. I was to be spokesperson to the press to get me committed. Interestingly, the meeting was chaired by Idi Musa, a close friend of mine. I never had anything to do with NADECO. I only read about them in newspapers and knew some of them only by name.
“The question of having anything to do with the US Embassy was most embarrassing. The Abacha project was unknown to me. I believe it was an invention of the writers. They wrote that the Abacha Project was said to be a US-sponsored plot with a budget of $50m which they claimed was passed through me to the military. “I believe these people deceived Abacha till he died. To the best of my knowledge there was never anything between the Nigerian Army and the United States of America to destabilize the Abacha government.
“The officers who attended this meeting must have been Abacha’s greatest enemies and made Abacha ineffective toward his end.”