Osoba @ 80: “My detention and escapes from Abacha’s killers”

To be 80 years on earth is a great milestone. And to live up to that ripe age in a country where  life expectancy average is below 50, an obelisk or pyramid or sphinx should be erected! So, for Chief Olusegun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State, who will be 80 in July, it is an occasion for big celebration. In fact, his birthday will be marked with the public presentation of his autobiography, titled ”Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics” at Eko Hotel, Lagos, on Monday 8 July 2019.

Published by Lanre Idowu’s Diamond Publications Limited, the book is a narrative of Chief Osoba’s life- his school days, his pranks, his life as a great reporter, his genius as a manager, his politics, and his pro-democracy struggles, etc. TheNEWS has a copy and we present a story from two chapters: “Close Encounters With Death” and “Dark Days Under Abacha.”

Just like other democracy lovers, Osoba was just going about associating with all kindred spirits in the struggle. He did not know that he too was a target like Dr. Alex Ibru, the publisher of The Guardian who was shot on 2 February,1996 and Senator Abraham Adesanya who escaped Rogers’ sniper attack on January 14, 1997.

Osoba writes: “I never knew my life was hanging by a thread until Sergeant Rogers revealed that I was high on the list of Nigerians targeted for death by the hit squad. Such was my naivety and ignorance of the grim reality that even when my friend, Dr. Alex Ibru, the publisher of The Guardian was shot on February 2, 1996; I drove from Abeokuta to Lagos to stay with him at St. Nicholas Hospital. When Senator Abraham Adesanya escaped Rogers’ sniper attack on January 14, 1997, in which his car was riddled with bullets, I was one of the first people to visit him. I did not know that I too was marked for a similar fate.”

Dr. Alex Ibru

How did he know that he was to be in the killer’s cross hair? The revelation came at the Special Investigation Panel set up by the transitional military regime under General Abdulsalami Abubakar after Abacha’s death when Sergeant Rogers (real name, Barnabas Jabila Mshela), the marks man and his boss, Major Al-Mustapha, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, were having a serious argument. Rogers listed Osoba’s name among those he was to eliminate. The revelations rendered Osoba’s jaw slack!

In his words: “I was, therefore, in total shock when I learnt of the conflict and confusion between Sergeant Rogers and Major Al-Mustapha during their interrogation by the Special Investigation Panel set up by the transitional military regime under General Abdulsalami Abubakar after Abacha’s death. In the drama, well captured by TELL magazine (February 13, 2012, p. 35) Rogers’ boss, Al-Mustapha, vehemently denied ever sending him to kill anyone. An enraged Sergeant Rogers countered, insisting: “You sent me. You sent us to RUTAM House. You sent us on an assignment for the assassination of Alex Ibru, Kudirat Abiola, Segun Osoba, Bola Ige, (and) Abraham Adesanya. You sent us on these assignments.”

Major Hamza Al-Mustapha

Sgt. Rogers

When Al-Mustapha persisted in his denial, Osoba narrates, Rogers rebuked him sharply. ‘I believe you should be bold enough to come out and say the truth. Why (are you) denying this? I believe you should be bold. Because you’ve been telling us that you are going to protect us, we should not worry. You should be bold enough to come out. And you are a major!’ This drama was set against the backdrop of the June 12, 1993 crisis and its aftermath.”’

The first attempt on Osoba’s life was on the night of 23 August, 1994 when, as he narrates in the book, his house was invaded. Fortunately, members of his family had travelled out of the country. Nobody was home, except the state security agent attached to him as a former state governor. Suspecting that the intruders were armed robbers, he opened fire on them. When he exhausted his ammunition, he scaled the fence and took cover in the compound of Osoba’s neighbor. His gatekeeper was not so lucky. He was shot and wounded in the head. He was rushed to Royal Cross Medical Centre, Obalende, where Dr. Seyi Roberts and Dr. Doyin Okupe attended to him and saved his life.

“It was clear to me that this was the handiwork of Abacha’s goons. There was no evidence of breaking in. They gained access with their expert security keys without damage to my bulletproof doors. They ransacked my bedroom, took my expired passport, as well as letters Chief M.K.O. Abiola had written to me from his detention. This incident happened on the eve of August 24, 1994, Abiola’s first birthday in detention, which we had planned to mark with a mass rally at Abiola’s residence in Ikeja. That same August 23, 1994, Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s office was also hit and his security man, badly injured. The next day, Abacha’s thugs went to Air Commodore Dan Suleiman’s house where they attempted to burn the house down,” Chief Osoba writes.

There was another attempt on his life in Abeokuta when his house was set on fire on 7 September 1995, at about 2am. Fortunately, He does not sleep early. Osoba just heard a spark. By the time he rushed out of bed, the whole place was filled with smoke. His Boys Scout and leadership training programmes in Man O’War Bay during his secondary school days had taught him that when there is fire, you don’t stand erect. Instead, you crawl, to avoid inhaling carbon monoxide that could suffocate and kill. That, according to him, was what saved him. His bedroom was totally burnt. He lost a lot of documents, photographs and irreplaceable valuables.

He made a beeline for the Fire Brigade in Abeokuta to seek help. Providentially, he had re-equipped and modernized the Fire Brigade in 1993 when he was governor. He reaped the dividends. They contained the fire, said he.

Abacha, left, and Abiola. Between them at the back is Tinubu.

Osoba goes further: “Thunder, it is said, doesn’t strike twice at the same spot. But these ruthless killers came back, hoping to finish their grisly assignment. Abacha’s killers returned one day to my Dolphin Estate home in Lagos and waited all day long for me to come out for them to strike. Usually, I used to take evening walks to three of my neighbours who were non-NADECO members but were totally sympathetic and very supportive of NADECO. They were Mr. Segun Olusanya, Chief John Akinleye and Chief Adeyi.

“If Rogers and his squad had known my habit, they would have ambushed me during one of my evening visits to my neighbours. The confession of Sergeant Rogers made the headlines in all the newspapers on January 12, 2000. The Punch screamed: “Rogers Weeps”. The National Concord reported: “Rogers Opens Up”.

“The Comet, which later morphed into The Nation, reported: “Sergeant Rogers Speaks at last: How we went in search of Porbeni, Ige, Ibru, Osoba, Adesanya on killing missions”. Whilst being cross-examined by then Lagos State Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Rogers disclosed how as a member of the Strike Force he had been assigned to assassinate four persons. According to him, “They are the owner of The Guardian newspaper, Mr. Alex

Ibru, Chief Segun Osoba, Mr. Bola Ige and Pa Abraham Adesanya. He (Mustapha) gave us some money through the OC MOPOL. He also gave us N25, 000 to give Danbaba for a work well done.”

In Osoba’s case, Rogers revealed that they didn’t initially know where he was living in Dolphin Estate: “We went to Dolphin, searched but could not locate Osoba’s house. Then we came back to Dodan Barracks. OC MOPOL came in and said there is an informant, one Alhaji Lateef, who speaks Hausa language fluently. It was this Alhaji Lateef who gave us a clear description of Osoba’s house situated just opposite the express road. We waited there from morning till evening, (but) we did not see the man.”

The third in his series of hide-and-seek games with the Abacha Security machinery occurred one quiet Saturday morning in 1995 when his chauffeur, Peter, called him up on the intercom at home that he needed to brief him on an important security development. Agitated, he informed Osoba that he was suspicious of some strange movements around the house. He said he saw Osoba’s chief detail as governor alighting on the main road and that the car from which he dropped drove past the house with some people only to return empty. Osoba got the message that his former chief detail, SSS operative, must have escorted some of his colleagues to identify his residence. Osoba writes:

“I asked Peter to take my wife’s school bus. I climbed in and lay flat on the floor and managed to escape what turned out to be an attempt to arrest me. At Ikoyi hotel I dropped off, hailed a cab and headed straight to the mainland residence of my brother-in-law, Mr. Stan Olawanle Adeyemi. This was the beginning of almost one year in self-imposed detention. Stan and Gboyega Onabanjo (Chief Bisi Onabanjo’s son) were the only persons who knew my hideout. Stan arranged a Togolese cook to cater to my needs throughout. My only means of communications was my 090 mobile phone.”

In the chapter, Dark Days Under Abacha, Osoba narrates how General Sani Abacha deceived Abiola and pro democracy community, his take-over of power from Chief Ernest Shonekan, the financial burden of the struggle on Abiola (leading to why he advised those who wanted to work with Abacha to do so), formation of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Epetedo Declaration by MKO Abiola and his arrest of political leaders.  Osoba also revealed the supportive ans sympathetic roled played by Oba Rilwan Akiolu, the a Police top brass, to the struggle.

On deceit, Osoba narrates that the Abacha story is intertwined with the Abiola story.  It is the story of guile, deception, manipulation and Machiavellian power game at play.  “On September 24, 1993, Abiola returned home from temporary exile.   He returned to a hero’s welcome at the Ikeja Airport.  While Abiola was away making contacts and canvassing for support in Europe and the United States, attempting to lobby foreign government, into pressurizing the new government in Nigeria to respect his mandate, we were holding the fort at the home front in Nigeria for the same goal and purpose.

“We were making contacts around the country, pulling all the strings to ensure the termination of the Interim National Government and the swearing-in of Abiola.  It was not an easy struggle at all.  I was leading a group of some SDP governors to consult with top military officers – Service Chiefs and Commanders.  We met the retiring Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Salihu Ibrahim, and the Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Oladipo Diya.  Abiola’s running mate Babagana Kingibe also did his bit, arranging a meeting between  some SDP governors and a few others with the then Minister  of Defence, General Sani Abacha.  The SDP governors included me, Governor Kolapo Ishola and Governor John Oyegun.  We had a long discussion with General Abacha on the way forward.  Specifically, we discussed how to de-annul the elections and install Abiola as president.

“We didn’t know we were dealing with a cunning man who had his own agenda.  Abacha promised that he would arrange a meeting between us, the Abiola group and his “boys” in the military so that we can reach an agreement on the way forward.  Unknown to us, Abacha and his so-called “boys” had a different plan which would unfold later.

In the post-annulment period, Abiola, according to Osoba, had developed this uncanny confidence in Abacha.  It was obvious that Abacha had charmed Abiola into believing that he was on his side, and he would do everything to help regain his mandate.  Abiola’s faith in Abacha must have, as Osoba puts it, been bolstered by Abacha’s role when Abiola was in exile between July and September 1993.  “The Head of the ING, Chief Earnest Shonekan, who had strong links with the British government – based on his years as head of the United Africa Company (UAC)-had been using Baronet Lynda Chalker, the Tory Minister of State for Overseas Development at the Foreign Office under Prime Minister John Major to persuade Abiola to remain in the UK and not to return to Nigeria.  Chalker regularly kept tabs on Abiola and regularly encouraged Mr. Major to discourage Abiola from returning to Nigeria because of the fear that his return might destabilize the ING contraption.  On his part, Abacha who had been posing as Abiola’s supporter encouraged Abiola to return home, assuring him of safety and security in Nigeria.  It was all a game plan.  It turned out that Abacha was merely pursuing his own interest.  He needed the instability and tension that would arise from Abiola’s return as the smokescreen to hijack power from Shonekan.”

On Abiola’s financial loses and consent to those who wanted to serve Abacha, Osoba explains that Abiola was subjected to all kinds of financial harassments. “ I remember the case of one key Abiola supporter who came asking for a lot of money and spinning a tall story what he wanted to do with the money to help Abiola political cause.  Abiola obliged him.  About thirty minutes later, he returned to Abiola’s house at Ikeja, shedding crocodile tears and claiming robbers had taken all the money from him at gunpoint.  Abiola knew the man was lying, because there was no report of any robbery around Ikeja that day, but he still gave the man another fat sum of money.”

“’What do I do?’  Abiola told me shortly after, a sarcastic smile playing across his lips.  “Politics in Nigeria is a big money game.  Everybody wants your money.  Even the highly placed members of this party all want to bleed you to death financially.  It can’t continue like this.  That is why I am asking those who want to work under Abacha to go ahead, because I need to free myself from this heavy moral and financial burden of providing for everybody.”’

Ernest-Shonekan

After Abacha elbowed Shonekan aside, it was clear that the General would not hand over power to Abiola. Thus, the leading politicians of the day formed NADECO, the major organization that emerged in this period which helped to shape the anti-military and pro-democracy . According to Osoba, NADECO was roughly a product of another organization which existed before the June 12 crisis.  This was the Committee for Unity and Understanding (CUU).  The overriding motive of CUU was the campaign for power shift from the north to the south.  It was, according to Osoba, started not long after the Babangida transition-to-civil-rule programme started.  Founders and key members of the CUU included Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Chief Sam Mbakwe, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, Chief Edward Kobani, Chief Lulu Briggs, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Alhaji Abdulazeez Ude, Ambassador Tanko Yusuf and General Theophilus Danjuma.

Osoba writes further: “However, when the June 12 election was annulled, the CUU in conjunction with such groups as the Movement for National Reformation (MNR) led by Chief Anthony Enahoro, Egbe Ilosiwaju Yoruba, led by General Adeyinka Adebayo, Afenifere led by Chief Michael Ajasin, the Progressive Alliance for Justice and Unity (PAJU), Justice Forum and National Patriotic Front (NPF) and several other pro-democracy and human rights groups like Beko Ransome Kuti’s Campaign for Democracy came together to form NADECO in General Adeyinka  Adebayo’s house, GRA, Ikeja.  Papa Ajasin emerged as the leader of the new group.  The group now included politicians and activists throughout the country who were committed to the validation of the June 12 presidential election results.  This was on May 15, 1994. Eventually, 49 people representing these organizations signed the document establishing NADECO with the following preambles:

Whereas the military as an institution is essentially authoritarian and cannot therefore midwife democracy in Nigeria; whereas the Nigerian political class which has been abused, subverted and humiliated in the past ten years for cooperating and working with the military political agenda, how now realized that there is no alternative to democracy in Nigeria; now therefore, the leaders of the major  democratic and progress organizations and eminent Nigerians hereby resolve to create a nationwide, broad-based political reform where all democratic and progressive forces can find accommodation for a joint struggle for the restoration of democracy and true federalism in Nigeria.”

Osoba further revealed the founding 49 signatories to NADECO : Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, Mallam Lawal Dambazzau, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Major General Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd.), Chief Bola Ige, Commodore Dan Suleiman, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Col. Yohanna Madaki, Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Rev. Tunji Adebiyi, Chief Ade Ojo, Chief Ralph Obioha, Chief Empire Kanu, Chief Michael Anyiam, Dr. Sola Soile, Vice Admiral Akin Aduwo, Chief E. Duru, Mr. Nick Dazzang, Mr. Labaran Maku, Dr. A. A. Akingba, Mr. Babas Eko Oyekanmi, Mr. Alex Ayatolla, Mrs. Sarah Jubril, Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, Mr. O. P. Edodo, Mr. A. Barber, Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, Chief Olusegun Osoba, Chief John Odige-Oyegun, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Alhaji Mohammed Siraj Hamza, Dr. Wahab Dosunmu, Otunba Aboyade Cole, Major General Olufemi Olutoye (rtd), Chief Sobo Sowemimo, Dr. Steve Achema, Chief Olaniwun Ajayi, Chief Olu Falae, Brigadier-General Jonah Jang, Chief Abraham Adesanya, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun, Mr. Emmanuel Njiwah, Chief Vincent Nwizugbo and Dr. Uma Eleazu.

When Abiola returned from South Africa in May 1994 he, as Osoba reveals, was renewed and re-energized.  NADECO leaders invited him to a meeting where he was asked to confirm if he was ready to actualize his mandate and lead the struggle.

On Akiolu, Osoba writes: “Soon after NADECO was formed, in May 1994, I was arrested in my house and became the first of many others to follow later.  I called the BBC correspondent on my mobile phone to announce my arrest which was immediately relayed live on the BBC Radio World Service as I was being driven to the Police Headquarters in Kam Salem House, Lagos where I would be detained.  The security agents were everywhere looking for other NADECO leaders to arrest.  The man in charge of my interrogation was one Auta, a deputy commissioner of police.  I was left in very humiliating condition in a large, rat-infested office where about twenty policemen had their desks.  Once the policemen closed for the day, the big rodents took over.  A combination of four desks served as my orthopaedic bed. However, I was lucky that one of the commissioners of police at Kam Salem House, then Prince Rilwanu Babatunde Akiolu-who later became the Oba of Lagos as Oba  Rilwanu Babatunde Akiolu 1-gave me the key to his office and asked me to  sleep there every night.  I was grateful for this but was apprehensive that I could put Akiolu in trouble if found to be aiding and abetting an “enemy” of the regime.  He asked me not to worry.  I also used his office phone to contact my colleagues in the struggle.

“Later, Commodore Dan Suleiman and I were charged to court for forming an “illegal organization called National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).”   Interesting enough, the man who led our defence in court was Chief Abraham Adesanya, himself a leading member of that “illegal organization.”  Others like Chief Enahoro and Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti of the Campaign for Democracy were also arrested.  Former Governors Bola Ige and Balarabe Musa were also detained with us briefly.”

On Epetedo Declaration and Abiola’s arrest, Osoba reveals in his book:“It was NADECO’s mission and activities that eventually helped to mobilize the people and propel Abiola towards the Epetedo Declaration on June 11, 1994, where he declared himself the President of Nigeria.  NADECO gave the Abacha regime an ultimatum to vacate power and swear in Abiola as president.  It was unprecedented.  For the first time in Nigeria’s history, a non-violent, civilian organization would issue an ultimatum to a government in power to end its reign and allow a popular government to be installed.  NADECO’s ultimatum was clear and definite.  Abacha must hand over power to Abiola by May 31, 1994!  I did not participate in the Epetedo Declaration programme because it was in between the time I was either in police detention or hiding away from arrest.

“As tension rose in the country in the mobilization for Abiola’s self-declaration, the Abacha regime decided to clampdown, imposing a climate of fear on the country.  Many of the activists were arrested while protesters were harassed, arrested or even killed.

After declaring himself president, Abiola also went into hiding.  He first sought refuge in the house of Late Prince Supo Adetona, a leading member of the Hope Family, led by the late Chief Debo  Akande.  The members of the Hope Family were highly placed professionals who were not politicians, but were, nonetheless, committed to supporting credible people to secure public office.

“Prince Adetona’s house was considered not safe enough for Abiola because it was well-known as the meeting point for the Hope Family.  He was transferred to the house of Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, another member of the Hope Family living in Victoria Island.  But again, it was realized his house was no longer safe as the place might have been compromised.  He was moved from there to the mainland, to the house of Mr. Jide Sawyer where he hid until he emerged in public on June 23.  He had been in hiding for eleven days.  He stopped over in Surulere to address a mammoth crowd.  From there, he made a triumphant, ride home to Ikeja, followed by the “people’s army” of motorcycle (okada) dispatch riders and crowds of supporters hailing him.  It was a scene straight out of the Bible when Jesus was making his triumphant march to Jerusalem before his arrest and crucifixion.  In the evening, they came for Abiola and took him away, never to return back alive.”

Osoba also tasted detention and he was seriously sick. It was through the intervention of his friends, Peter Ajayi and Felix Adenaike, who were monitoring his deteriorating health in secrecy that the military authorities allowed him to be flown abroad. In his words:  “At a point, they decided that something urgent had to be done, given my circumstances and the fact that I could not even seek emergency medical help.  Peter knew Abacha’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo.  They became acquaintances in Kano in the sixties when Peter was a young reporter and Gwarzo, a young policeman in Kano.  Peter and Felix contacted Gwarzo and pleaded with him to order the release of my passport on humanitarian grounds, so as to allow me travel to the UK for treatment.  Retired Inspector General of Police, Alhaji M. D. Yusuf and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi also put in words on behalf. Fortunately, Gwarzo agreed and ordered the release of my passport.  When I got to the UK, I had to undergo a major operation at The Princess Grace Hospital, Nottingham Place, London. Mr. Jonathan Johnson, a renowned orthopaedic surgeon, carried out the operation which lasted about three hours.”

In all, Osoba is grateful to God. He writes in the opening page of the chapter, Close Encounters With Death: “I was a marked man. Death hovered over me like the sword of Damocles. I did not know a price had been put on my head. The best sniper in Nigeria, leading a death squad made up of General Sani Abacha’s elite Strike Force, a team of efficient and ruthless killers trained in Israel, North Korea and Libya, had been detailed to eliminate me.  This is the story of my close shave with death. My story is not different from that of the character in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Everybody on the ship died during the voyage, but The ancient mariner alone survived. And he lived to tell his story to a wedding guest. Today, I am also telling my story, not to a wedding guest, but to my countrymen and to the whole world. Like Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae music legend, I am singing my Redemption Song, my song of freedom; my song of gratitude to God who delivered me from the lion’s den. The God who delivered me from the executioner nicknamed Sergeant Rogers

Source: The NEWS

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