Wednesday 9 November 2022

February 13th 1976: The Abortive Coup Led by Lt. Colonel Bukar Suwa Dimka

Lt. Colonel B.S. Dimka being tied to the execution stake. Photo Credit: Estate of Godfrey E M Denedo.

Photo and Newspaper document of the infamous abortive coup d’├ętat led by Lieutenant Colonel Bukar Suwa Dimka on Friday, February 13th 1976.

Dimka led the ambush in which the military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed, was assassinated while being held up in traffic. He had been making a short journey from his residence to Dodan Barracks, the seat of government in Ikoyi, Lagos.

Dimka would visit the British High Commission in Lagos to request that he be put in contact with the exiled General Yakubu Gowon, who had been overthrown in July 1975 by Muhammed.

The request was refused by the High Commissioner Sir Martin LeQuesne.

Dimka and his cohorts took over the National Broadcasting Corporation building from where his coup speech was broadcast to the nation. Among the grievances held against the government of Murtala Muhammed was the policy of demobilising large numbers of soldiers, promotions granted to senior figures in the junta and Nigeria's perceived tilt to the political left by supporting the Soviet-backed MPLA in Angola.

Dimka escaped from broadcasting house when his men were overpowered and was on the run until early March. A wave of arrests followed his interrogation and "confession" in which he implicated many officers including Major General Iliya Bisalla, the Federal Commissioner for Defence.

Bisalla was among the first batch of officers and men executed on March 11th, 1976.

The Federal Military Government (FMG), now headed by Muhammed's successor, Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo, called on General Yakubu Gowon to return to Nigeria from British exile to face questioning.

Gowon emphatically denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the coup and offered to provide written answers to questions or to answer the questions on neutral territory.

Brigadier Shehu Yar'Adua, the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, was particularly keen to place Gowon in front of his accuser, Dimka, and for this reason Dimka was not executed in March. However, with the prospect of Britain extraditing Gowon in the manner that it had extradited Chief Anthony Enahoro to face treason charges in the early 1960s diminishing, the Supreme Military Council took the decision to execute Lt. Colonel Dimka and six others. Executed alongside Dimka was Mr. Joseph Gomwalk, a Police Commissioner who had been a military governor. A kinsman of Gowon (most of the alleged Coup plotters including Maj. Gen. Bisalla and Dimka were from the Christian Middle Belt), Gomwalk had been tried and acquitted by a military tribunal but, in defiance of the "double jeopardy" principle, was retried and convicted.

General Gowon was stripped of his rank and pension and placed on a fugitive list which ironically included his Civil War opponent, Lieutenant Colonel (General of the army of secessionist Biafra) Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Gowon was pardoned and allowed to return to Nigeria where he had lived since completing his doctorate at Warwick University, England.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

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