The affairs in 2010 underscored the spectre of a brutal power play that loomed over Goodluck Jonathan as the country’s first president from a minority ethnic group.
Aretired Nigerian Army general has admitted knowledge of an attempted coup d’état to overthrow President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, a disclosure that underscored the spectre of a brutal power play that loomed over the country’s first president from a minority ethnic group.
Kukasheka Usman, a brigadier-general who served for years as army spokesman until his voluntary retirement in 2019, said he was part of a closed group of officers who worked with then-Chief of Army Staff Abdulrahman Dambazau to manage the violent overthrow that was brewing among the military top brass.
“When we visited 44 Reference Hospital, Kaduna, people were asking when is the announcement going to be made about taking over the government. I’m so happy General Akinyemi, the GOC 3 Armoured Division, is still alive. You can ask him,” Mr Usman said while speaking at the 2022 Blueprint Newspapers Annual Public Lectures and Impact Awards on Tuesday in Abuja.
Mr Usman said Mr Dambazau did not execute the coup largely due to his so-called patriotism and entreaties of foreign diplomats.
“The international community showed concern to the extent that they had to meet with him, where he promised that he will not take over the government,” Mr Usman said. He said some politicians were also involved in the defunct coup moves, which had reached an advanced stage that only a “phone call” from Mr Dambazau would have been enough to set things in motion.
“A simple phone call to him (General Akinyemi) to roll out the tanks and General Dambazau would have been head of state, but he resisted that temptation,” the retired brigadier-general claimed. Mr Akinyemi, a retired major-general, led the armoured division in Jos for several years.
“I am saying this with every sense of responsibility because, at that time, the same group of politicians were the ones lobbying him to take over government unconstitutionally. We have the records, and when he started writing the memoir, with due respect to him, I told him that he had to mention the names of the individuals so that posterity will remember them for who they are,” Mr Usman added.
But despite publicly asserting direct knowledge of the coup efforts, Mr Usman did not clarify whether or not Mr Jonathan was briefed about it, or how the matter was handled. He was also silent on how the officers who prepared the purported coup and demanded a timeline of an announcement were treated, indicating Mr Dambazau and the larger military leadership at the time might have shielded the officers from treason charges.
Discussing a coup is a criminal offence that should ordinarily attract a court-martial, as it is considered a grave threat to national security.
Whereas Mr Usman claimed Mr Dambazau had respect for the Nigerian Constitution and its democratic underpinnings, the former chief of army staff was widely known to be dismissive of the former president.
In 2010, Mr Dambazau deployed Nigerian troops across Abuja and shut down the capital city’s only international airport without informing Mr Jonathan, who was the acting president at the time. Mr Dambazau took the action to secretly bring an ailing President Umar Yar’Adua into the country.
Mr Yar’Adua died a few days later on May 5, 2010, and Mr Jonathan fired Mr Dambazau in September 2010, months after he asserted full control of power.
A spokesman for Mr Jonathan did not return a request seeking comments about whether or not the president was aware of an attempt to overthrow his government. Mr Jonathan’s succession of Mr Yar’Adua in 2010 and his subsequent election the following year for a four-year term marked key historical moment for Nigeria’s democratic experience.
He was the first president out of Ijaw, an ethnic minority in Nigeria’s oil-rich south. He was widely pilloried as an Ijaw-Christian president by the opposition and his government was preoccupied with the Boko Haram insurgency consuming the northern Muslim regions of the country. In 2015, Mr Jonathan lost to Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator who had joined forces with some elements that promised to make the country ungovernable for Mr Jonathan.
Mr Jonathan, who repeatedly alleged a gang-up against his leadership, said he immediately conceded defeat to Mr Buhari to avoid an outbreak of violence. Hundreds of Nigerians were killed in 2011 when Mr Buhari failed to concede defeat to Mr Jonathan and rejected calls to pacify his irate supporters on a nationwide rampage.
The Boko Haram insurgents had also named Mr Buhari as an emissary for peace talks with the government in 2012, which collapsed abruptly as the insurgents ramped up bombing of government and private facilities. The sect had been responsible for about 35,000 civilian and law enforcement deaths and displaced over 150,000 civilians as of 2019 when its deadly campaign reached 10 years.
Mr Buhari denied any ties to Boko Haram, and the insurgency has continued seven years into his administration. Mr Dambazau joined Mr Buhari’s campaign in 2014 and was named the cabinet minister in charge of internal affairs when Mr Buhari formed his government in 2015 — serving until the end of Mr Buhari’s first term in 2019.
Mr Usman did not return a request seeking comments about his role in the purported coup. A phone number for Mr Akinyemi did not connect, while Mr Dambazau did not return calls seeking comments about how he remembered Mr Usman’s characterisation of the coup affairs.
Found in a similar situation in 2017, erstwhile Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai had managed the situation differently. He ramped up security measures amid heightened rumours of a military takeover, racing to the Presidential Villa to emphasise the military’s allegiance to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was exercising presidential powers for then-hospitalised Mr Buhari.
An army spokesman did not return a request seeking comments about whether the current military leadership would investigate Mr Usman’s disclosure.