Friday, February 13, 1976 was a black Friday in the history of Nigeria that students of history needs to have it at the back of their minds for posterity. The charismatic Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed was gunned down few minutes drive from his office at the Dodan Barracks at his prime age of 38.
When Lt. Col. Bukar Dimka of the Nigeria Army Physical Training Corps stepped out of his official residence on Macpherson Road, Ikoyi, in the early hours of February 13, 1976, he had one agenda in mind; the killing of the then Head of State, Gen. Murtala Muhammed.
He achieved that criminal act by gunning down the Kano-born Head of State a few minutes after the latter left the Dodan Barracks, Obalende, the official seat of the Federal Military Government at the time.
Muhammed official black Mercedes Benz was riddled with bullets near a petrol station on Bank Road, (now Murtala Muhammed Drive) opposite the Federal Secretariat, Ikoyi. Killed along with him were, his ADC, Lt. Akintunde Akinsehinwa and driver.
After the assassination, Dimka had made a broadcast at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) studio,
“Good morning fellow Nigerians, This is Lt. Col. B. Dimka of the Nigerian Army calling. I bring you good tidings. Murtala Muhammed deficiency has been detected. His government is now overthrown by the young revolutionaries. Any attempt to foil these plans from any quarters will be met with death.” “Everyone should be calm. Please stay by your radio for further announcements. All borders, air and sea ports are closed until further notice. Curfew is imposed from 6am to 6pm. Thank you. We are all together.”
Two days after Muhammed was assassinated, Dimka was declared wanted for treason and murder by military authorities. He was eventually caught at a checkpoint at Abakaliki on March 5, 1976 and brought to Lagos the following day.
On March 6, 1976, the Federal Government promptly issued a statement of his arrest as follows: His arrest followed a massive manhunt operation mounted by a combined team of the Army and Police in the area.
The previous day, Lt. Col Dimka had checked in at a local hotel in Afikpo under the name of Mr. C. Godwin of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Enugu. Later, on his request, the Hotel Manager secured for him a girl, Miss. Beatrice Agboli, with whom to spent the night.
A few hours later, the local Police security was alerted and they closed up on him. At about 10.30 pm, he bolted away through the window of the toilet of his hotel room into a nearby thick bush, abandoning his car with a dangling registration number ECC 6253.
The continuous joint manhunt operation by the Army and Police resulted in his subsequent arrest near Abakaliki.
Barely few hours after he was brought to Lagos, he was interrogated by the Military Board of Inquiry led by Major Gen. E. O. Abisoye.
However, while Dimka was being quizzed, 32 people including Major Gen. Illiya Bisalla, who had already been tried for their roles in the attempted coup were executed in Lagos on March 11, 1976.
The only civilian executed among them was Abdulkarim Zakari, a graduate of University of Ibadan, who was said to have led Dimka and others into the studios of the NBC on February 13, 1976. The broadcaster was also cited as the man who signed for martial music records from the NBC library the previous night.
Just as the first batch of coup plotters were executed, Dimka’s trial begin after he was presented to the Press on March 11, 1976.
Handcuffed, Dimka who wore a Katftan dress watched journalists listen to a tape recording of his appearance before the Board of Inquiry for about five minutes. He confirmed that the voice on the tape was his own and that it was a recording made at his interrogation. He emphasized that the statement was not made under duress.
According to a Daily Times publication, 13 Years of Military Rule 1966-79 the highlights of Dimka confessional statements included, Frankly speaking, I should say the beginning of the coup idea was around January this year (1976).
He said he had discussions with some persons including former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon in London and when he returned to the country, he decided to assign responsibilities to members of the young revolutionaries conscripted into the plan.
But Gowon, who was in exile at the time denied any prior knowledge of the coup attempt.
Dimka also claimed the coup plot was hatched by young officers who resolved not to involve any Lieutenant Colonel and above except himself in a bid to effect a change of government.
In his confessional statement, he said, Gen. Bisalla had complained to him and expressed his frustration that despite being a Member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), each time there was a decision to be taken, he was either sent to one place or the other.
Dimka said, “Bisalla Told me that whatever will happen he want us to go ahead, and work out the details.”
Explaining how responsibilities were distributed, the leader of the coup plot said “When I met Major Rabo, he said that he had finally distributed responsibilities. Major Rabo was for target one- Head of State, Lt. Dauda was for target two- Lt. Gen. Obasanjo, Lawrence Garba was for target three- Lt. Gen. Danjuma.”
Major Gagara was for Ilorin and Sokoto, Jos had nobody. The main centres of operations were Kaduna, Ibadan, Benin where there are Radio stations.
He also listed the targets of attack, that is, those to be eliminated as the Head of State, the four GOCs, Col. Babangida, Col. Bajowa, Col. Mohammed of Sokoto, Col. Ibrahim Taiwo of Kwara, Col. Abdullahi of Jos and Col. Jemibewon of Ibadan.
Dimka also confessed before the Military Board of Inquiry how Zakari showed him the NBC broadcasting section on February 12, a day before the coup attempt.
On how the ex-Head of State was killed, he said, “I stood at George Street with Major Rabo to wait until such a time when the Head of State car was coming out. There, one Capt. Malaki who was to give the warning order. Capt. Malaki was to be on the watch to signal Major Rabo and Lt. William Seri on the approach of the vehicle. So I came up and I was at the Petrol Station waiting.'”
™I was behind while we were talking when the Commander-in-Chief car passed. In fact, I did not even see it until when Malaki said the car has passed. So, we rushed in and then followed and the car was held somewhere just opposite the Petrol Station.
Lt. Seri was approaching the car when we stopped and Major Rabo rushed to him, then the firing started.”
Dimka confessed that after the Head of State was assassinated, he went to the NBC and made his broadcast that the young revolutionaries had taken over the government.
At the end of his trial, coup leader and a number of others were found guilty of treason and murder. Their death sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Military Council.
Dimka and seven others were eventually executed by firing squad at Kirikiri Prisons on May 15, 1976, for their part in the abortive coup. Also executed among the squad was the former Governor of the then Benue Plateau State, Joseph Gomwalk.
However, two NCOs, Sgt. Clement Yildar and Corporal Dauda Usman escaped and were never found. They were declared wanted by the authorities.
The situation led to the promulgation by Olusegun Obasanjo regime of certain retrospective decrees and new military laws justifying mass executions for coup participation.
Second Broadcast by Dimka before arrest and execution:-
This is Lt. Col. B.S. Dimka. I now explain why we the Young Revolutionaries of the Armed Forces have found it necessary to overthrow the six month old government of Murtala. On the 29th July 1975 the Government of General Gowon was overthrown. Some of the reasons given for the change were:
a. Corruption b. Indecision c. Arrest and detention without trial d. Weakness on the part of the Head of State
e. Maladministration in general and a host of other malpractice. Every honest Nigerian will agree with me that since the change over of government there has not been any physical development in the whole country generally.
All we have is arbitrary dismissal of innocent Nigerians who have contributed in no less amount to the building of this great nation.
A Professor was arrested, detained, dismissed and later taken to court on an article which every honest Nigerian will agree that all the points contained in that article were 100% truth.
The sad point about it all is that those who initiated the retirement or dismissal exercise are the worst offenders.
You will be informed about the ill-gotten wealth in my next announcement.
The Acting General Manager of the Nigerian Airways was invited to the Dodan Barracks and detained without trial.
The people of this country have been living in a state of fear. The Armed Forces promotion exercise is still fresh in your minds.
Whatever reasons they have for the promotion one can only say that they are ambitious.
They in fact took over power to enrich themselves. We are convinced that some of the programmes announced for a return to civilian rule are made to favor a particular group.
To mention only one. Maitama Sule is a politician. But has been appointed Chief of Commissioners for Complaints.
This is to prepare him for the next political Head at all cost. How many of you know that Maitama Sule is on a salary of N17,000 p.a.?
In view of what I have just said and a lot more which time will not permit me to mention, we the Young Revolutionaries have once again taken over the Government to save Murtala from total disgrace and prevent him from committing further blunders and totally collapsing the country before he runs away in the name of retirement to enjoy the huge fortune he got through bribe which he has now stored outside this country. I believe that charity should begin at home.
Please stay by your radio for further announcements.”
The story was put together by Adesoji OMOSEBI
Editor’s Note: SOJ WORLDWIDE ONLINE NEWS paid a tribute to a great patriot, late Gen Murtala Muhammed who ruled Nigeria for only six months but his life terminated at his prime by disgruntled elements led by Col Dimka 47 years ago (February 13, 1976).
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