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The Aborted Coup Against Shagari: Richard Akinola

Down Memory Lane:

Few days ago, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Buratai, alluded to how some politicians were making moves to influence some members of the armed forces to use unconstitutional means (euphemism for coup d'etat) in our current democratic setting. For me, it is not enough for the Army Chief to take umbrage over this alleged moves but if true, to take decisive steps to arrest all those involved - both the politicians and the soldiers because we cannot afford any move to truncate this hard-won democracy. Hence, l decided to refresh our memory about how a similar move was dealt with during the early stages of the Shehu Shagari government.

Barely two years after Alhaji Shehu Shagari assumed office as the first civilian Executive President of Nigeria, a coup attempt was uncovered by the security agencies. It was spearheaded by a Borno State businessman, Alhaji Bukar Zanna Umoru Mandara who in 1981, enlisted the support of some members of the armed forces to topple the government of Alhaji Shagari and in the process planned to kill Alhaji Shagari, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then leader of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), late Mallam Aminu Kano, then leader of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), late Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, then leader of the defunct Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, then leader of Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and all officers in the army above the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Alhaji Mandara was arrested on February 6, 1981 by the operatives of the defunct National Security Organisation (NSO), the precursor of the DSS and later charged to the Federal High Court, Lagos on a four-count charge of treason. The charges against him read:

COUNT ONE:
"That you, Alhaji Zanna Bukar Umoru Mandara, between March 1, 1981 and January 30, this year did form an intention to remove during his term of office otherwise than by constitutional means, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation and manifested such an intention by overt acts to wit:
Solicited, incited, endeavoured to persuade and to procure Major Mohammed Yunusu, Sergeant Garba Muga, Sergeant Jonathan Adzande, Sergeant Sani Kasim, Corporal Ibrahim Ango and Warrant officer Adamu Attaboh to take part unconstitutionally in the removal of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commanderin-chief of the Armed Forces.

Gave four tickets of the Nigeria Airways to Warrant Officer Adamu Attaboh in names and routes outlined below so that he could recruit soldiers in other military locations in Nigeria in furtherance of the intention referred to and in overt act (i) above,
Mr Adamu (Lagos Maiduguri-Lagos)

Mr..U. Audu (Lagos-Maiduguri-Lagos)
Mr. A. Huhu (Lagos- Maiduguri-Lagos)
Mr. A. Abudu (Lagos-Maid-Lagos).
And you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 41 (a) of the criminal code (cap. 42 laws of the Federation).

COUNT TWO
That you Alhaji Zanna attempted to incite Sergeant Garba Muga, Sergeant Jonathan Adzande and Corporal Ibrahim Ango, from their duties and allegiance to the President and you, thereby committed an offence punishable under section 44(a) of the criminal code (Cap 42 laws of the Federation).

COUNT THREE
That you, Alhaji Zanna did incite Sergeant Garba Muga, Sergeant Jonathan Adzande and corporal Ibrahim Ango to commit an act of mutiny and you thereby committed an offence under section 44(b) of the criminal code (Cap. 42 laws of the Federation)

COUNT FOUR
That you, Alhaji Zanna attempted to cause disaffection among persons serving as members of the Armed Forces of the Federation, Sergeant Joel Baku Kilba and Warrant Officer Bukar Dunama Lassa by the offer of money and wrist watch to each of them and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 46 A (i) (a) of the criminal code (cap 42 laws of the Federation).

The case was prosecuted by Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), then AttorneyGeneral of the Federation, while Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN) was the defence counsel to Alhaji Mandara in a trial that was held in camera for security reasons and in which ten witnesses, mostly security personnel, testified for the prosecution. But the judgment was made public.

In finding Alhaji Mandara guilty of treason on July 30, 1982, after a four hour judgment, Justice Fred Anyaegbunam, then Chief Judge of Federal High Court held that from the evidence before him, the plan was to kill President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, Mallam Aminu Kano, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and all officers above the rank of Lt.Colonel in the Army.

If this had succeeded, Justice Anyaegbunam said, the country would have been thrown into a holocaust. He recalled that Mandara told the soldiers he recruited for the coup that the government of Shagari was bad; that there was no money, coupled with the fact that he was not getting as many contracts as he was used to.
According to the judge, Mandara told the soldiers he recruited for the coup that out of the only N20 million contract he got in Abuja, he was asked to give 15 per cent of it to the Minister in charge of Abuja, while five per cent went to the ruling National Party of
Nigeria (NPN).

Describing Alhaji Mandara as a greedy businessman, the judge wondered how a person who bagged a N20 million contract from the government could plot against the same government.

"No words are strong enough to condemn the diabolical activities of the accused. From the evidence before me, the accused is a very rich man who should have thanked his God and enjoy his wealth with his family but because of his insatiable lust for money, he still wanted more".

Justice Anyaegbunam disregarded Chief William's argument that the soldiers who testified against him be treated as accomplices. The court therefore found him guilty of treason and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.

Mandara appealed against the conviction at the Court of Appeal on a technical ground that the Federal High Court that tried him had no jurisdiction to do so.
The court ruled on November 18, 1983 by a split decision that the Federal High Court had the jurisdiction, thereby affirming the conviction.

Alhaji Mandara headed for the Supreme Court which on Friday, April 6,1984 held that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to try him in view of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Bronik Motors and Anr V Wema Bank Ltd of June 10, 1983 where the court held that by virtue of section 7 (3) of the Federal High Court Act, it had no jurisdiction to try the case. The court therefore ordered that Alhaji Mandara be discharged and acquitted forthwith. Alhaji Mandara, who was barely literate when he went to prison was in the Supreme Court on the day of the judgment and had to ask his lawyers what the verdict was because he just learnt good English in the prison.
I was there the day he was discharged by the Supreme court and l highlighted it in my Law column then in Vanguard. Alhaji Mandara was incensed with me over this observation in my column and he fired me a protest letter, denying that he wasn't an illiterate.

                                           Richard Akinola

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