There was no waiting, since all tasks had earlier been assigned. Immediately the head of state, General Murtala Muhammed, was shot, his killers dispersed. And their leader, Colonel Bukar Zuka Dimka moved to the Radio House, Ikoyi Lagos. It was part of the plan. Earlier, while on George Street, Lagos, waiting for their target, a staff of Radio Nigeria, AbdulKarim Zakari, had met Dimka to tell him all was set.
Zakari was the eye of the coup plotters at the broadcasting house, and had already been tipped as the Federal Commissioner for Information. He had gone the previous day to sign and collect a record of marshal music and was in his office as early as 6.am on the day of the putsh, it was when he did not see Dimka that he went in search of him, meeting him at George Street, Lagos,in ambush for the military ruler.
And when Murtala had been left dead, Dimka rushed to the Radio House where Zakari was ready for him. Initially, there was an argument between Dimka and his men at the gate of the broadcast house: he would not make the coup broadcast because there were not enough soldiers to confront any eventuality; he asked Major Rabo who had just drove in for more soldiers.
Rabo went to the Brigade of Guards, and within five minutes, soldiers were rushing out from the barracks. Dimka was now happy: he went back to Zakari and made his broadcast. Most of the statement were ramblings, and lack cohesiveness. The most significant however was that Dimka had said “Fellow Nigeria” instead of Fellow Citizens. He also imposed a curfew from dawn to dusk, in place of dusk to dawn.
Even then, the broadcast was being relayed every 30 minutes, and the whole country knew there had been a coup, and that the head of state had been killed. Dimka was banking on the success of his own assassination of Murtala, believing others too would have accomplished their mission. It was on this assumption that he picked an NBC Land Rover, and drove it out of the station.
He met one of his men, Dauda Usman, coming in a Range Rover. He stopped him, exchanged the Land Rover, and instructed Usman to go and man the Radio House. With this, Dimka drove the Range Rover to the British High Commission in Lagos. He met the High Commissioner, Sir Martin Le Quesne, and told him there had been a change of government; the envoy replied he had already had the announcement.
Good. But Dimka had a message to be delivered: he wanted the British Embassy to get in touch with Yakubu Gowon and tell him to immediately move from London and come to Togo, where he should wait for further announcement. But the High Commissioner refused; he said he was not going to be a messenger for the coup plotters. And Dimka left in anger after 35 minutes, soliloquizing that when the new government was stabilized, Martin would pay dearly for his insolence.\
When he left the British High Commission, Dimka rushed to the airport to see how things were going. He met some officers and warned them the coup had been a success and that if they should attempt a counter-offensive, those involved would pay with their lives. After this, he returned to the Radio House, anxious for more operational reports.
But while he was moving round the town, other things were going on elsewhere of which he was not aware. Yakubu Danjuma and other senior officers were on the move. Danjuma was not aware that he missed death by the whiskers when he joined Alabi Isama in his boat to row to his office on the Marina, Lagos. Those who were to kill him could not do so because he was in the midst of the others.
But by the time he got to the office, the news was everywhere. Domkat Bali was the one who rushed to his office and broke the sad news: Murtala had been assassinated. He quickly asked for a radio and heard the coup broadcast. He sensed his office was not safe enough, and moved into a more secured place, Bonny Camp, from where he talked to General Olusegun Obasanjo, and the Inspector General of Police, M D Yusuf.
After consultations with his General Officers Commanding, he launched a counter attack. He sent for an officer called Ibrahim Babangida and gave his instructions. By then, Dimka’s name was on the air, and Babangida was known to be close to him. Besides, Babangida and Bali were two officers who had both served under Danjuma during the war. Now, came another war situation, and the two officers were again put in charge.
Danjuma told Babangida who was commanding the Recce Squadron to get to Ikeja Lagos where his armoured cars were parked and secure his unit as swiftly as he could. As he was about to leave, Danjuma further suggested to him that he should go on a motorcycle since the roads were said to be clogged with traffic. And that once he had his armoured vehicles ready, he should dislodge his friend at the Radio House.
Dimka too was waiting for his other warriors on the field, but none had returned so far, and the commander of the coup plotters was becoming restive. Something was telling him, though, that there might have been serious problems.
L-R) Vice Admiral Michael Adelanwa, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (Chief of Staff, General Olusegun Obasanjo (Head of State & Commander in Ch92_n
He was on this line of thought when he saw the first Ferret or Panhard, he thought it was Col Aliyu whom he had sent for that came in with full support for the coup. But when the two armoured cars screeched to a stop, it was Babangida that came out of one of them, and he shouted Dimka’s name. Dimka thought the boys had come to recapture the Radio House, most especially when the remaining cars drove in. And he came down with his rifle.
Babangida approached, and Dimka looked on. Then Babangida said, Look, I have not come here to arrest or do anything to you, and I have no weapon on me. But if you should be the one to kill me, I should be happy it was you, because I was not expecting you would be the one to kill me.”
After this, Dimka lowered his guard, and Babangida moved closer. Dimka was still uncomfortable, saying Babangida had come to give him the Chukwuma (Nzoogwu) and Nwawo treatment. Nwawo, a friend of Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was sent to him in Kaduna to bring him to Lagos under the pretext that Aguiyi Ironsi, the then Chief of Army Staff was expecting him to be part of the new government, but was arrested on getting to the airport. And Nwawo laughed.
So, this was the fear of Dimka when he too saw his friend, Babangida who was telling him Danjuma was expecting him. They chatted for a while, but Dimka said he would not go to see Danjuma immediately, and that what he needed from Danjuma was to give him a note of assurance that no harm would come to him and the boys if they abandoned the cause. Babangida left, promising to return by 3pm.
At least, Dimka was a bit relieved with the hope that Babangida would return with a note from the Chief of Army Staff. It was under this expectation he arranged an NBC car to take Babangida out of the Radio House, while the armoured cars remained in the compound.
As he was waiting, Christopher Kolade, the DG of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) who was also hooked in the Radio House, walked to him and asked if he had any other message for the nation, he said he had none. Kolade advised him to change the time of the curfew, to take off the morning and the “fellow Nigeria” but he said the man should wait as things would soon take the desired shape. But Kolade insisted, and he agreed, requesting for new tapes.
Then the tapes were coming in, and there was another rush from the gate. The armoured cars moved in so quickly that no one knew how they did it. And it started to happen immediately. Lawrence Garba told Dimka that it was like Babangida had returned quickly before his 3pm appointment. But when he peeped out again, he saw that another 3 tonners was coming up with troops, and said he was not sure if Babangida was bringing any message, but he was sure of the troops.
Immediately the tonner arrived, the troops embarked, the armoured vehicles took position, and the shooting began. They were shooting at the Dimka boys, and most of them were taken by surprise, and killed while attempting to get their arms. Then others started to surrender, while other boys abandoned their position and fled. It was in the midst of this that Dimka came down, having refused Garba’s advice to hide in a room.
When he got down, he found out that the two entrances there were already sealed. He instinctly decided to go through the barbed wire, and he saw that the soldiers there were not the ones with him in the morning. But he moved on.
On getting near the soldiers, they looked at him: he was in his uniform without cap and belt, but a rifle. A sergeant looked at him and shook his head, and told him to pass over the barbed wire in Hausa thus: “Za ga wu chi abi ka, ba kwo mi.”
After escaping the besieged NBC, he went towards the Federal Secretariat then under construction and came out at Alagbon Close. He continued to march on, passing through the Golf Course and coming out at Ikoyi Club. He stopped a Land Rover, and he was taken home.
Just like that, Dimka shot his way to escape and found his way to his Macpherson Road, Ikoyi, Lagos home. The situation was so vigorous and exerting that the first thing Dimka asked for was cold water. His wife asked if he would eat, he said not now. He drank the water, changed his dress, and combed his hair. Ready to move!
By this time, the press had besieged Dimka’s house, and they wanted to hear from him, since his name was still on the radio announcing the coup, and warning senior officers and military governors not to do anything impudent.
But Dimka was not ready to see the press, he instructed his senior wife to tell the news-hunters that he would brief them soon, but he had to go out now. He slid into his car, and moved. The radio continued to play the martial music, and no one had changed his coup broadcast. He rushed to the cantonment; the gate was locked. He sped to the airport; nothing was happening. Surely, he was in total confusion. It was in this state of mind that he drove back to Maryland, turned left, and moved aout of Lagos.
Meanwhile, Danjuma continued to work with his GOC’s most of who were in Lagos attending a military’s establishment conference. Quickly, Alani Akinrinade instructed his office in Kaduna to dissociate itself from the coup. So the Garrison Commander, Lt. Ibrahim Bako distanced the 1st Infantry Division Kaduna from the Lagos show.
Similar announcement came from Kano, where Lt-Col Fakunle not only dissociated his command from the Lagos action, but reaffirmed his loyalty to General Muritala Muhammed’s government. Mamman Vatsa also spoke from Calabar, asking people not to be misled by the Lagos announcement. Group Captain Usman JIbrin denounced the coup from Kaduna and Umaru Muhammed did the same from Sokoto. Col Muhammadu Buhari, the Governor of Borno State, phoned in from Maiduguri, and Col Atom Kpera, the Governor of Anambra State, spoke from Enugu.
By about 4pm, the boys at the Radio House had recaptured it and the martial music stopped. Yet senior military officers were still skeptical, for they did not know the numerical strength of the plotters, how ewell-connected they were and how far they could go. But since the Radio House had been taken over, it meant things were going the loyalists’ way.
By about 5, o’clock, in the afternoon, it was confirmed that the plotters had been routed, and a meeting of all the military leaders was called at Dodan Baracks, where Obasanjo who had just come out of S. B. Bakare’s house presided, and all those with Danjuma in Bonny Camp and Alani Akinrinade in attendance. There and then, Obasanjo was made the new Head of State, and after the formal announcement of Murtala’s death, he made his first national broadcast later in the evening of the day, assuring the citizenry that all things had been brought to normalcy.
The second day, 14 February 1976, the Police issued a statement saying that Lt. Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka, the leader of the mutiny was wanted for treason and murder. It had earlier been reported that Dimka, named as the killer of General Murtala Muhammed, had been arrested, but the police later said that he escaped during the battle at the Radio House. It said Dimka was last seen at his house on Macpherson Road, Ikoyi, wearing shirt and trousers.
“The wanted person drove off in a Renault car; he is dangerous and believed to be armed. Any person or persons harbouring this dangerous criminal are committing an offence, the penalty of which is very grave. Dimka is about 33 years, five feet six inches tall, slim built, round faced, with a set of white teeth, one deep tribal mark on each cheek, waxed walrus moustache, large eyeballs and thin lips. He drinks and his is fond of pub houses.”
That was the police announcement, and since then, Dimka was declared wanted. Everybody was looking for him, and his name was on the lips of every Nigerian. The Federal Government, on 19 February 1976, announced a member of the board investigating the coup attempt with Major-General Abisoye as head.
Others to serve on the board with the General Officer Commanding the Army 3 Infantry Division were: Adamu Suleiman, Deputy Inspector General of Police; Captain Olufemi olumide, Federal Commissioner for Works; Lt-Col Mamman Vatsa, Lt-Colonel Mukhtar Muhammed and Lt-Col Joshua Dongoyaro.
But the police and the board looking for Dimka could not get him, for while they were busy combing Lagos, and laying ambush near his house, the most wanted man of the time was cooling off in Jos. He had managed to get there. But whle he was enjoying himself, he ran into a snare, and he was nearly caught. He abandoned his Renault car, and fled to the east.
He was in Afikpo by the evening of 4 March 1976. It was in this area Dimka was apprehended on Friday, 5 March 1976. How was he arrersted? The Daily Times of 6 March 1976, reported the arrest of Dimka this way:
Public Enemy No 1 Is Found
He is found. Yes, Lt.-Col. Bukar Suka Dimka, Nigeria’s most-wanted criminal. Dimka who killed General Murtala Muhammed has been found. He was arrested at Abakaliki in Anambra State yesterday, Friday. Ironically, he committed the heinous crime on a Friday—February 13. He was caught exactly 21 days later.
Dimka was arrested by vigilant security men at a check point near the border between Benue and Anambra States. An official of the CID in Enugu said yesterday: “Yes, it is true that Dimka had been arrested”. He, however, did not give further details.
Dimka assassinated the former Head of State last February 13, in his attempt to topple the Federal Government. The attempt failed, and he disappeared into thin air. He was immediately declared a wanted person.
After committing his crime, Dimka stormed the studios of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in Lagos where he made an ungrammatical and nervous broadcast to the nation.
And before his dissident clique was being flushed from the NBC, Dimka escaped and went straight to the British High Commission, where he asked to be allowed to contact General Gowon to come back and head his new government.
From the Radio House, Dimka was said to have driven to his home in Ikoyi, Lagos where he quickly changed into a civilian clothe and escaped in a Renault car. Last Sunday, a Renault car with plate No 824490 was reported abandoned in front of the Nigerian Army Chapel Hill Street in Jos, the Benue State capital.
Before his arrest, there was a concerted effort to smuggle him out of Nigeria, by a wonma said to be one of his wives in the east. The Daily Times further reported:
‘Woman planned Dimka’s escape’
As the nation searched desperately for assassin Bukar Suka Dimka, a woman was busy planning to take him across the border in Cross River State. A police source in Calabar said that the woman had finalised arrangements to help fugitive Dimka out of the country.
He was to have been smuggled out of the country to the neighbouring Cameroun Republic. Dimka was on his way to the Cross-River Slate to link up with the woman said to be one of his wives when his luck ran out.
The wife was said to be a worker on the mainland area of the state and was believed to have been in regular contact with him. The dragnet closed in on him at a joint road block mounted by officers and men of the 126 Battalion of the Nigerian Army and the Abakaliki Police Command.
He had earlier checked in at a local hotel in Afrikpo under the name of Mr C. Godwin of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Enugu.
Meanwhile, a massive hunt began for the woman who was believed could help the authorities in their inquiries on Lt-Col Dimka’s movements in the area.
As soon as news reached Calabar, the Cross River State capital, that Lt.Col Dimka had escaped through a hotel window in Afikpo, the police swiftly moved into the strategic road junctions in the area paths leading to farm lands and outlets they heavily guarded and all vehicles were stopped and searched by the police.
But for his love for women and booze, Dimka might had escapeed. He got himself into trouble while looking for a woman to lay. It was reported in the papers of the time thus:
Dames-his soft spot
Dimka, the man whose dreams of ruling Nigeria came to nothing on February 13, Is a chronic womanizer. Even, with threat of death by firing squad hanging on him, he was still in search of his pleasures – women and wine.
Official sources said that the first thing the fugitive officer did when he sneaked into a hotel in Afikpo last Thursday was to ask for a woman with whom to sleep for the night.
The unsuspecting hotel manager secured one for him.
But as usual with him, his identity, which he had laboured so much to hide, was soon discovered. And so the notorious womaniser could not spend the whole night with his new “lover” as alerted security men surrounded the hotel.
Still remembering his training in physical education, Lt.Col. Dimka, that had checked into the hotel under an assumed name jumped out of the window and made for the bush.
In his rush to escape, he abandoned his car with a dangling registration Number ECC 6253.
Among things found in the hotel room were military identity cards belonging to various people and a driving licence in the name of another man.
But the continuous joint man hunt by the army and the police resulted in his subsequent arrest near Abakaliki.
Thanksgiving prayers were offered on March 6, in several mosques in Ilorin, Kwara State, to mark the arrest of Lt.Col Bukar Suka Dimka. Most people in the town jubilated openly throughout the weekend over the arrest of Dimka and called for the public execution of all those involved in the abortive coup.
On Saturday, 6 March 1976, Dimka was flown to Lagos from Enugu. And on arrival, just like the kenery, Dimka started to sing, mentioning names and places. What did he say? Was General Yakubu Gowon involved in Murtala’s assassination?