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SHAGAYA:AN OFFICER UNGENTLEMANLY

                                                                                                                                                                Thursday March 19,2009

 BY JOSHUA YAHAYA                                                                               Newsdiaryonline.com

 

According to his official resume, Shagaya was born on September 2, 1942 to MalIam Sikji Miri-Wazhi alias Shagaya and Mrs. Maryamu Zwancit. He obtained his primary school education at Nyer and later SUM Primary School, Langtang between 1952 and 1959.  Between 1960 and 1964 he attended the Nigerian Military School (NMS) Zaria. After graduation from the NMS, Zaria, he was posted to the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps then (Recce Squadron) between 1964 and 1966 where he rose to the enviable rank of a corporal.

Perhaps his most memorable experience in the army was the night of July 28, 1966; it was indeed the Night of the Long Knives in Abeokuta. In retrospection, this experience must have set the career tone for 24-year Cpl. John Shagaya with its rich mix of intrigues, hatred, treachery, blood-letting and mutiny.  Later on in his military life these traits would continue to manifest, and willy-nilly, brought him to the attention General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), the master-coupist of all times!  

The following is an account of what happened on the fateful night of July 28, 1966 which altered the destiny of Nigeria, and perhaps Shagaya, for all time:

At about 9:00 pm that night of 28th Lt. Col. Gabriel Okonweze, Commander of the Abeokuta Garrison received an information to the effect the northern officers in the Nigeria Army were positioning to strike against the military government of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, over his non-action against Igbo officers who executed a coup killing prominent Northern political personalities as well as military officers. He was tipped off by Lt. Col. Patrick Anwunah, General Staff Officer (1) for Intelligence at Army HQ in Lagos. What Okonweze didn’t know at the time was that although such a plan was afoot it had been shelved to another date and the coup leader, Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed had duly communicated this to other conspirators. But when Okonweze stumbled on the information he took measures to secure his command in Abeokuta: he summoned his unit commanders to brief them in the Officers’ Mess.

In the end he admonished: “What we are going to do is to avoid what happened in January where officers were taken unawares. We are going to wake up all soldiers, ask them to go to the armoury to get issued with arms and ammunition."

The officers at the briefing included: Major John Obienu (Recce Commander), Lt. Gabriel Idoko, Lt. DS Abubakar ("Datti Abubakar", Recce), Lt. IS Umar, and Lt. AB Mamman (Arty). Others were Captains M. Remawa (Recce 2ic) and Domkat Bali (Artillery Battery Commander). Lt. E.B. Orok (Recce) came later

Shortly after the briefing, an Igbo non-commissioned officer (NCO) was sent around the barracks shouting "Come out, come out, there is trouble; go to the armoury and collect your armour." Some northern soldiers were alarmed thinking that another Igbo uprising to “finish what they did not finish in January” coup was again taking place. Quickly they mobilised and took control of the armoury which happened to be under the custody of one Corporal Maisamari Maje, a Bachama. In next to no time the northern NCOs at Abeokuta had set up a small guard of northern soldiers to protect the armoury while they proceeded to disarm the quarter-guard.

This is how the military historian Prof. Nowa Omoigui, MD, narrates it verbatim in his publication: OPERATION ‘AURE’: Northern Nigerian Military Counter-Rebellion July, 1966:

Having secured the armoury, Sgt. Kole, issued weapons and ammo to a section of assault troops. Assisted by Maje, and including Corporal J. Shagaya, the group advanced to the Officers Mess under the direction of the duty officer….Once in the mess they ordered all officers present to raise their hands. When Okonweze challenged them, he was summarily executed right there and then. Major John Obienu, Commander of the Recce Squadron, sitting next to Okonweze, was also shot dead. Lt. E Orok, driving in to join them, saw what was happening, shouted at the soldiers, and was himself shot dead right under the tree where he parked his car. In the chaos, some northerners were shot too, notably Lt. Gabriel Idoko, mistaken for Igbo because he was wearing an "English dress". He was lucky to survive. Some Igbo soldiers (other ranks) in the garrison were subsequently rounded up and shot (read more on www.omogui.com).

What is remarkable about this episode is that it was the decisive factor that forced the hands of the initial conspirators to execute the purge of July 29, 1966. It remains in the realm of speculations whether the planned coup would have taken place, at all, or the form and manner it would have taken. What is incontrovertible, however, is that Cpl. Shagaya made his name early in the history of coup-making even before he became a commissioned officer!

In 1967, a year after the mutiny, Cpl. Shagaya attended the short service combatant course at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, and upon completion and commissioning as a second lieutenant, was posted to 3 Marine Commandos where he participated in the Nigerian civil war 1967-1970. Since the uprising in Abeokuta, his name has featured in virtually all the coups that subsequently took place in this country. Talk of accumulated experience!  

At his 60th birthday celebration, John Nanzip Shagaya, announced with considerable aplomb that he was proud to be called “IBB boy.”

Although this statement sent shockwaves around the country, most especially in the middle belt region, long tired of its elite’s sheepish kowtowing to elements of the northern feudal oligarchy, such expression of approbation coming from one coup maker to another was hardly surprising. 

Many progressive members of the middle belt rue at the naivety of this fellow who many had hoped that with advancing age would finally purge himself of the fawning servility and self-effacement to the former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida. Given the typical “use and dump” mentality of the wily members of the oligarchic Northern Establishment, for which, he and his co-travelers, the so-called Langtang mafia, were victims in the early 90s, Shagaya ought have been more circumspect in his utterances. But, alas, he appears to suffer from a chronic delusion of his place in his master’s heart.

“That label,” he told ThisDay newspaper at the time, “is a compliment to the fact that we were loyal to ourselves." When coupists use such terms as loyalty, it means something else. Why were they loyal to themselves, and not to the nation, as expected of men under arms? Secondly, the use of the phrase “loyal to ourselves” is misleading in the sense that it suggests a relationship based on mutual respect. But was that, indeed, the true description of the relationship between Shagaya and IBB? We shall soon find out.

On the 18th anniversary of the coup that brought IBB to power, Shagaya presented a book titled Governance in Nigeria: The IBB Era; an Insider View. The occasion which took place on August 27, 2003 was chaired by IBB’s Minna neighbor and former Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar.

In his speech, Babangida admitted that Shagaya was “a participant in the exercise that brought our regime to power.” But the next paragraphs were perplexing; they require a more careful reading to decipher what the sly ex-military President was saying. It was a crafty dénouement. Till date, I have my doubts whether the fawning Shagaya has comprehended its full implication.

This is what Babangida said: “I am sure that John will allow me the indulgence of accusing him of being also a believer, an apostle and indeed a disciple of the programmes and policies of the administration…His intimate knowledge of our views and conviction over the years equipped him to understand our motivations and informing ideals.” 

From the outset, it is obvious that IBB does not share the bunkum of “loyal to ourselves.” His reference to Shagaya by his first name at such formal gathering reveals his condescension for the fellow. Let’s cut out the barracks bulls***t about military perk system; this guy, John, is a grandfather, for goodness sake! IBB intentionally employed a cynical put-down syndrome which is common to all superior-inferior relationships. In the American slave plantations or apartheid South Africa every blackman is a Sam, Frank, or George. In the oligarchic set up in the North, the feudal hangers-on are not differently called; they are Sule, Garba, John, Joe, etc; no Mallam, Alhaji or Mr.

Read the text again more carefully; does the text collaborate Shagaya’s notion that he was an “insider” in IBB’s governance? Babangida is suggesting here in his speech that Shagaya was an outsider who he could indulge by accusing him of thinking that he was “a believer, an apostle and indeed a disciple of the programmes and policies of the administration.” This statement throws more light on the type of regime IBB ran and the people, like Shagaya, who supported it. There were people that ran the show and there were those who were the window dressing.

The fact is that the ex-President used a very spiteful language to describe the role of people like Shagaya. Why did he, for example, say he would “indulge” Shagaya by accusing him “of being also a believer…?” You indulge children, the weak, the hapless, etc; you don’t indulge your equals or superiors, even in accusing them. The word indulge means spoil, pamper, pander, cosset, make a fuss of, coddle, humor, or treat. I cannot see in which context it could connote respect, equality or mutual loyalty. But the term bears all the critical elements of “use and dump” and that was precisely the point IBB wanted to make. And he made it eloquently, too.

 

 

Shagaya, like his fellow Langtang cousins, Jerry Useni, Joshua Dogonyaro and Domkat Bali, were members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), yet IBB is suggesting that their understanding of the regime’s “programmes and policies” were garnered through “intimate” association only; that they were not in the kitchen were the cake was being baked. In other words, Shagaya and co. played absolutely no role in forming “the programmes and policies of the administration.”

Whatever, Shagaya and his ilk may want to think, IBB had no intention of sharing his glory with them. He had only used them and it irks him that they would preposterously carve any “insider” role for themselves other than the one he had given them; dispensable corteges. In spite of such crude put down, however, it is unbelievable that Shagaya still gladly fights IBB’s proxy wars. This is a man who saw at close quarters IBB’s humiliation of  his own people, the so-called members of the Langtang mafia, but has remained tenaciously and shamelessly tied to the former dictator’s apron-strings.

IBB humiliated the revered Lt General Domkat Bali, the then Joint Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Defence, by asking him to take over from Shagaya as Minister in the Interior Ministry. Considering that Shagaya was far younger than Bali and as a fellow Taroh, could as well be termed a relation, he did not see any thing wrong with Bali’s short shrift treatment. However, when recently IBB was being accused of ogling Aso Villa during rumours that President Umaru Yar’Adua may abdicate the Presidential Seat, Shagaya rushed to his defence, saying: “I have no right to speak on his behalf based on my age, experience and relationship and the tradition of the Nigerian military. He (IBB) cannot aspire to take over from the man who is younger than him in age (my emphasis), and who is the younger brother of his colleague, especially when they maintain a cordial relationship.” How ironic! Is this not what is called the middle belt affliction; the tendency to pull your own kind down but defend the interloper with your last once of blood? Shagaya didn’t see anything wrong in his elderly kinsman, Bali taking over from him back in those days, but he would die ten times than see his mentor, IBB, take over from a younger Yar’Adua.

General Bali, a man of high principles, resigned his commission as the result of this humiliation but, I can bet my last kobo that if the opportunity presented itself, IBB will grab power from anyone far younger than Yar’Adua!

It is the pull-him-down attitude by fellow middle belters that has led to the systematic decimation of the middle belt power elite as an alternative fulcrum of leadership in Nigeria. Similarly, for his loyalty to IBB, Dogonyaro was blinded from seeing the conspiracy between his former boss and General Sani Abacha which cost him his career. Shagaya was personally demoted from the rank of Major General to Brigadier by the same oligarchic forces he had dutifully served.

But did Shagaya learn any lesson from his misadventure with the Northern oligarchy? No. At one point, he became the founding member of the United Nigeria People Party (UNPP) under which he sought for the Senatorial seat for the Plateau South during the 1999 elections but which was actually a façade for IBB’s political ambition. For the 2003 elections he joined the All Nigeria People Party (ANPP) and was woefully defeated once again. While parading as an ANPP stalwart he also called himself the National Co-ordinator of the Democratic Mandate Group (DMG) for Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB).

During the swearing-in of the Bayelsa State chapter of DMG executive members at Women’s Affairs Centre, Yenagoa, Shagaya declared emphatically that IBB would be the President come 2007. It did not come through but he got lucky, this time around, to be elected into Senate. With the various problems confronting his constituency in particular and Plateau State, in general, you would expect that Senator John Nanzip Shagaya would settle to the role of statesmanship deserving of his office, won’t you? 

Today, however, Shagaya is still fighting another Babangida agenda in Plateau State. Remember that it was IBB’s unilateral creation of the Jos North Local Government in 1991 with lopsided wards favoring a particular ethno-religious group that is responsible for the incessant crises in the city. IBB intention was to spite the indigenous population by promoting the interest of its Muslim settler elements. To people like Shagaya, “a believer [and] an apostle” of his policies, as long as the crumbs kept falling from the dinner table everything was alright; in the bargain he got Langtang split into two local governments while bigger local governments in the state remained intact; the two Langtang local governments formed a Federal Constituency while more spatial and heavily populated Mangu combined with Bokkos to form one; same as the three local governments of Pankshin, Kanke and Kannam which also combined to form another. Is it this selfishness that forms the basis for Shagaya’s undying love for the obnoxious dictator, IBB?

In his interview with ThisDay to mark his 60th birthday he claims: "One thing my upbringing dictates for me to do is to be upright, be truthful in whatever I do. In my relationship with other beings, and lesser mortals, one has to do so with fairness." Fairness, indeed! Tell that to the marines.

Since, the violent crisis of November 28, 2008 in Jos North, Shagaya has made reckless utterances that cast him as a megaphone of external interests, and not a senator representing Plateau State. When mercenaries were arrested with guns and fake army and police uniforms in the centre of Jos during the curfew imposed as a result of the sectarian violence, he was quoted as denouncing the use of the term “mercenaries” to describe the hoodlums by the state government.

He did not even offer his own definition befitting of a man with some experience in military matters. Certainly, the foul-mouthed Chairman of Okene Local Government Council, who called them vigilante, did better than Brigadier Shagaya; at least he made an attempt at disinformation. Shagaya appeared just to be pricked by the exposure of the armed mercenaries, making one to wonder whose side he was anyway. Yet it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Shagayas of Langtang the very phenomenon of “mercenaries” given their experience during the 2002-2004 violent strife in the area. But if Shagaya wants to put up a deceitful face to the world, or to his supposedly paymasters in Minna, he needs to explain why of all the 17 local government headquarters in Plateau State, it is only in Langtang, his hometown that the voice of the muezzin is not heard at all?      

It is tragic that at the time the Plateau State government is rallying support across the state to overcome the crisis that recently broke out; the likes of Shagaya are teaming up with a breakaway section of the Peoples Democratic Party to fight the progressive state government under Governor Jonah Jang. It is common knowledge that those sponsoring this parallel party are the same who not long ago were calling for the imposition of state of emergency on the state. Having failed woefully to have their way they are now organizing to scuttle the laudable programmes of the Jang administration.

Dr. John Shagaya ought to be told some home truths, which perhaps, his age-old obsession with fawning would not permit him to see. (By the way, yes, John Shagaya is a Doctor of Letters of the St. Clemens University. This is a university company based in the Turks and Caicos Islands-don’t bother if you don’t know where that is; suffice to add that it is a well known money laundering haven. This ‘university’ has a new campus in – of all places - Mogadishu, Somalia , and which specializes in giving ‘degrees’ to those who are desperate  to covet them, either in Nigeria or in other parts of the underdeveloped world).

Dr. John Shagaya ought to be told that if he can’t represent his people well, he should not court their ire by fighting them. This is not Abeokuta of the 60s or the military of the 80s; this is the new Nigeria, the emancipated middle belt and the democratic era! If he can’t deal with the reality of the Plateau condition, he could, as an alternative, contest the Senatorial seat of Minna Central come 2011 and see how he fares as an IBB boy!  

   JOSHUA YAHAYA IS THE RESEARCH CORDINATOR; INFORMATION FOR DEMOCRACY AND DEVELOPMENT,JOS

 

 


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