Years back On December 23, 1985, the Vatsa family had just concluded plans to travel to Calabar because,
usually, they spent the yuletide in the Cross River
State capital, ( Sufiya is Efik Tribe ), the Id-el-Fitri in Minna,
Niger State ( General Vatsa is Nupe Tribe ) and the Id-el Kabir in
After the necessary packing for the trip, the
family waited for the return of General Vatsa from
the Armed Forces Ruling Council, (AFRC), meeting
he had attended. He returned home late, so the trip
was postponed till the following day.
At about 12
midnight, while Sufiya was watching a movie in her
bedroom, her husband, who was working in his
study, rushed in to tell her that IBB had sent for
him. The wife protested that it was too late in the
night and that General Vatsa should phone his boss to shift
the meeting to the following morning.
As this debate was going on, Lt. Col. U.K. Bello led
a team of soldiers to Vatsa’s home at Rumens
Street, Ikoyi, Lagos. The soldiers, who came with
armored vehicles and military vans, surrounded the
house. Vatsa told his wife who was upstairs to
peep through the window.
Unable to contain her
fear, she rushed downstairs and insisted that if the
soldiers would take away her husband, then she had
to follow them. Sufiya insisted on driving General Vatsa in
her own Pengeot 404.
At this point, General Vatsa directed
that the children be woken up, and he kissed them
one after the other. Haruna, the first son, who was
in the Nigeria Military School, Zaria, followed them
While UK Bello drove in the
fore of the convoy, Sufiya and General Vatsa were chauffeur-
driven in their own car in what later turned out to be
a merry-go-round about Lagos till about 2 a.m when
they stopped at 7 Cameron Road, Ikoyi. General Vatsa was
ordered out of the car.
As he made to enter the
building, Sufiya ran after him but she was rudely
pulled back by the soldiers. The General turned and
gave his wife a bear hug, an embrace that was their
last. He urged his wife to take care of their children,
Haruna, Fatima, Jibrin and Aisha.
Sufiya returned home dejected. To her shock, the
military authorities had withdrawn the official
domestic staff. At 5a.m, she prepared breakfast of
fried yam and pawpaw, drove to her husband’s
detention centre but was told she could not bring in
Another surprise awaited General Vatsa’s wife. A soldier
came in and said: “Madam, Oga’s wife, Mrs
Mariam Babangida, said I should carry General
General Vatsa’s telephone handset to her.” Fatima, Vatsa’s
daughter, clung to the gadget. A struggle ensued
between the 15-year-old girl and the soldier, whose
muscles bulged like the biceps of Michaelangelo’s
statues. Sufiya asked her daughter to let go of the
probably bugged set.
Worse still, some gruff, fierce-looking soldiers, led
by Vatsa’s former Aide-de-Camp (ADC), Captain
Maku, an intelligence officer of Idoma extraction,
had led other soldiers in laying siege to the family’s
house. “Madam, no visitors, no phone calls, no
going out,” Maku snapped as he reclined on a
settee in the living room, an improvised toothpick,
peeping out of a corner of his mouth.
protested that the family needed to buy foodstuff,
Maku, whose friendly disposition when he was
Vatsa’s batman had changed, commanded that the
woman and her children “must manage.”
After three days of captivity, Sufiya could not endure
it any longer. She told Maku: “Look, I am going to
the market. If you refuse me, it means between you
and I, somebody will die.
I will show you I am a
soldier’s wife.” She took her car, and without
bothering about the soldiers, who cocked their guns
menacingly at her, rammed it into the gate, which
gave way as the soldiers scattered capriciously in
different directions. She got to Falomo, bought
bread and eggs, and decided to see one of her
husband’s friends, General Gado Nasko. Before the
visit to Nasko, however, Sufiya had driven home
and, since her daughter was, coincidentally, at the
gate, had dropped the food and driven to the
Sufiya’s mission was to ask Nasko to fix a meeting
between her and IBB to find a way to settle the
matter. Although soldiers at Nasko’s house gave
her the cold shoulder, her persistence worked.
Nasko, who said he was aware of the problem and
would try to arrange the meeting, asked Sufiya to
see him in the evening. Her hope soared.
reason was the special relationship between her
family and IBB’s. “When we got married,” Sufiya
was reported as saying, “I thought IBB and my
husband were of the same family. The two wore the
same size of dress and pair of shoes.
drop his dirty wears in our house and put on my
husband’s. When IBB traveled out, for a further
military training my husband took care of Mariam
and her children. General Vatsa, apart from
mounting the horse when IBB married Mariam,
bought their first set of furniture from Leventis on
IBB was also my husband’s best
man during our wedding. Whenever Maryam’s
Mercedez car broke down, she used to drive my
Peugeot 404. We were close.”
Another disappointment awaited Sufiya when she
returned to her Rumen’s Street residence, Ikoyi. A
soldier from Bonny Camp was waiting for her with
an order that the family should vacate the house.
Another military officer said the car should be taken
to Army Headquarters for security check after which
they broke into the car’s glove compartment and
confiscated General Vatsa’s manuscripts. In frustration,
Sufiya hired a trailer and moved the family’s
belongings to Kaduna.
She and Fatima, however,
returned and stayed in Nwakana Okoro, her brother-
in-law’s house at Queen’s Drive, Ikoyi. When the
military authorities bugged Okoro’s telephone, the
lawyer, a Senior Advocate, of Nigeria, became
attempts by Sufiya to see her husband were
frustrated by the military authorities. It was only
Fatima’s trick that worked a bit. Posing as a lawyer,
she would follow other counsels into Vatsa’s
detention centre and trial venue.
General Vatsa however, sent Sufiya a note from Kirikiri, saying: “Do not beg Babangida, He is after my life. Take care of the children. I know it is not easy but God will help
When he was to be executed, Vatsa requested that
his wrist watch and wedding ring be given to Sufiya.
“But by the time they brought the watch and the
wedding ring, the ring wasn’t my wedding ring, so I
rejected it. “Till today, they have not returned the
ring to me,” Sufiya was quoted by a family source.
Sufiya was, therefore, left in the cold, without any
wealth to fall back on.
Vatsa had only one plot of
land in Abuja, but it was taken over by the late
despot, General Sani Abacha. At a point, Sufiya
approached General Jeremiah Useni, one-time
Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, in a bid to
reclaim the land.
Useni called for the file and told
General Vatsa’s wife to pay for the land rent. She, however,
complained to Useni: “When my husband was a
minister in FCT, he refused to allocate land to me,
his wife. He said it would be immoral for him to
give me land. He said his successor would give
Useni looked the other way while Sufiya and
her family were deprived of the land.
Not all of General Vatsa’s friends abandoned the family,
however. “One of his friends came to our aid.”
Sufiya once said. “Every other person that was
dining and wining with my husband immediately
switched over to IBB. Even my children today are
not identified with.”
To keep body, soul and the family together, Sufiya,
of Efik descent, would travel to Calabar, in Cross
River State, and bring food from her people to take
care of her children in Kaduna where she has vowed
to remain. Apart from buying and selling, Sufiya
used to engage in poultry and cattle rearing. In fact,
she injected life into her Sava Farm, which she set
up in 1971 after the civil war. But robbers ruined
Sufiya believed her husband was innocent of the
crime for which he was executed. She once
lamented to her husband’s family:” It is painful that
my husband was executed as a coup plotter even
when he was not. And till this moment, we don’t
know where he was buried.
That Gen. Domkat Bali
interview published in TheNews magazine is one of
the good things God has done to us in the Vatsa
family. Before, some people did not believe that
Vatsa was not a coup plotter; but Bali’s confession
explained it all.
They should release the corpse of
my husband to me so that he can be given a
befitting burial. That is my prayer.”
It was for this reason that Sufiya wrote a letter,
dated June 15, 2006, to President Olusegun
Obasanjo, where she stated: “Although there was no
iota of evidence linking my husband with the
phantom coup, he was convicted and sentenced to
death by the Special Military Tribunal which
purportedly tried him and other coup suspects.
husband’s appeal to the Armed Forces Ruling
Council against his illegal conviction was yet to be
considered when the Head of State, General
Babangida had him secretly executed along with the
other coup convicts.”
She claimed in the letter that Bali confirmed her
husband’s innocence in TheNEWS’ interview when
he said: ‘“My regret is that up till now, I am not
sure whether General Vatsa ought to have been killed
because whatever evidence they amassed against
him was weak. My only regret is that I could not
say, don’t do it.
I am not so sure whether we were
right to have killed General Vatsa.” Sufiya, therefore,
requested the Obasanjo administration to prosecute
General Babangida for “the murder of my husband,
Born on 3 December 1940, Major General Mamman
Vatsa attended the Government Secondary School,
Bida, Niger State. He enlisted in the Nigerian Army
on 10 December 1962 and was trained at the
Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna and the
India Military Academy. Vatsa was in charge of the
21 Battalion during the Nigerian Civil War, after
which he became an instructor at the Nigerian
Defence Academy, Kaduna. Apart from his position
as Principal Staff Officer at Army Headquarters, he
commanded the 30 infantry Brigade (Ogoja) until
July 1975. As the Commander of the Brigade of
Guards, a post he held until 1979, General Vatsa oversaw
the movement of its headquarters from Dodan
Barracks to Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island,
One proof of his loyalty to his Commander-in-Chief
was when, as Commander, Brigade of Guards,
Calabar, he was the first to go on air to kick against
the 13 February 1976 coup, led by Lt. Col Buka
Dimka. During the trial of suspects involved in that
coup, he was the Tribunal Secretary.
was appointed the Commander, Brigade of Guards
under General Olusegun Obasanjo. Mrs. Vatsa once
revealed: “My husband drove General Obasanjo to
his Ota farm after he handed over power to the
civilians in 1979.”
As Nowa Omoigui wrote, Vatsa was Commandant
of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry (NASI) from
1979. “He, along with Lt. Col Bitiyong, developed
the Special Warfare Wing and established the
doctrinal basis for the establishment of the 82nd
Composite Division of the Nigerian Army in Enugu.
In fact, it was General Vatsa who suggested that the Division
be called the “82nd Division” – after the 82nd West
African Division, Burma.”
As an accomplished poet and writer, Vatsa was
able to publish eight poetry collections for adults
and 11 for younger ones. Some of his book titles
are Back Again At Watergate (1982), Reach For The
Skies (1984), and Verses for Nigerian State Capitals
(1973). His pidgin poetry collection is Tori for Geti
Bow Leg (1981). His pictorial books are Bikin Suna
and Stinger the Scorpion.
His literary interests transcended merely reeling out
volumes of verse. He organized writing workshops
for soldiers and their families, assisted the
Children’s Literature Association with funds, as well
as allocating a piece of land in Abuja for a writers
village for the Association of Nigerian Authors.
General Vatsa was so pre-occupied with creativity that he
always carried jotters to the toilet, dining table and
the bedroom. There were books strewn around in
the family’s apartment so much that, Sufiya once
threatened to “throw these books out.”
General Vatsa’s journey to the great beyond started on 17
December 1985 when the military authorities
arrested over 100 officers from the Army, Navy and
the Air Force.
General Vatsa was picked up seven days
later. They were, for two weeks, investigated by the
Brigadier General Sani Sami led Preliminary Special
After this, 17 of them were
dragged before a Special Military Tribunal, set up
by Bali, at the Defence Minister, at the Brigade of
Guards Headquarters, Lagos.
The accused officers
were Lt.-Cols. Musa Bitiyong, Christian A. Oche,
Micheal A Iyorshe, M. Effiong; Majors D.I Bamidele,
D.E. West, J.O Onyeke and Tobias G Akwashiki.
Others were Captain G.I L Sese, Lt. K.G. Dakpa,
Commodore A.A. Ogwiji, Wing Commanders B.E.
Ekele, Adamu Sakaba; Squadron Leaders Martin
Luther, C. Ode and A Ahura.
The tribunal, chaired by Major General Ndiomu, tried
the officers under the Treason and Other Offences
(Special Military Tribunal) Decree 1 of 1986. Other
members of the tribunal were Brigadier Yerima
Yohanna Kure, Commodore Murtala Nyako, Col.
Rufus Kupolati, Col E. Opaleye, and Lt. Col. D.
Muhammed. Alhaji Mamman Nassarawa, a
commissioner of police and Major A Kejawa, the
Judge Advocate, were also members.
regime accused General Vatsa of trying to overthrow it by
hiding behind a farming loan to Lt-Col Bitiyong, a
charge which the general denied.
As Nowa Omogui, a military analyst explains in his
essay, ”The General Vatsa Conspiracy”, Bitiyong was
allegedly tortured to implicate Vatsa “by making
reference to certain private political conversations
they had, which Vatsa denied.”
There were further allegations that Luther, Oche,
Ogwiji and Bitiyong held a meeting at the Lagos
Sheraton Hotel and Towers in November 1985.
Iyorchie, Bitiyong, Oche, Ekele, Sakaba and
Bamidele also allegedly met in Makurdi.
such as the diversion of the presidential jet to a
pre-arranged location by pilots in the executive fleet
(Luther and Ahura), as Omogui put it, were floated.
Oche allegedly held a meeting with Major
Akwashiki, Commander of the 6th Battalion, Bonny
Camp, and Onyeke, after a game of squash in
Lagos and spoke about the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) loan.
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Akwashiki was sentenced to
death, but this was commuted to life imprisonment.
He was however released 10 years later by the
Oche, it was also alleged, mentioned the plot to his
nephew, Peter Odoba, a young lieutenant of the
Brigade of Guards who, as Omogui wrote, informed
then Lt. Hamza al-Mustapha, an intelligence officer
to the Chief of Army Staff. Obada was charged with
“concealment, recommended for dismissal and a
long jail term.”
On 6 March 1986, however, General Vatsa, Iyorshe,
Bamidele, Ogwiji, Ekele, Sakaba, Luther, Akura were
executed.General Vatsa had taken his trial and sentence with
cheerful equanimity like the writer that he was. His
vintage smiles revealed more than his words. “I
leave you with smiles as smiles surprise people.
But I will tell members of the Nigerian Army that
the day you start insulting yourselves, others begin
to join you,” he said.
To buttress his position that there was rivalry
between IBB and Vatsa, Omogui referred to an
interview that Eniola Bello of THISDAY had with IBB
in 2001 when he turned 60. ‘“Babangida said it was
after Vatsa’s coup was foiled that he realized his
childhood friend and classmate planned the coup in
line with a deep-seated personal rivalry, going back
to their days as young officers.
NO. 3 General Mohammed Magoro
NO. 6 General Mamman Jiya Vatsa
NO. 9 General Ibrahim Babangida
NO.10 General Garba Duba
NO. 13 Colonel Sani Bello
NO. 16 General Abdulsalam Abubakar
NO. 21 General Gado Nasko
NO. 23 General Sani Sami
unconsciously, he and General Vatsa had been great
competitors; that as a young officer, whatever he
did General Vatsa equally did and whatever General Vatsa achieved,
he also went after. He said it was Lt. Gen. T.Y.
Danjuma who pointed this out to him from their
Babangida gave this rationalization to justify his
refusal to pardon General Vatsa. He said when he first heard
his childhood friend was planning a coup, he
decided to do nothing but monitor him. He added,
however, that Vatsa came to him to complain thus:
”You heard I was planning a coup and couldn’t even
ask me. What kind of friend are you?” To this,
Babangida said he replied: ”I didn’t believe it, or are
you planning a coup?” He said Vatsa replied in the
negative and the matter was forgotten until there
was evidence of the plot.
Babangida said he
instructed that Vatsa be arrested and detained to
prevent him from impeding investigation into the
Babangida argued: “However, Vatsa tried to escape
through the air conditioner hole. I couldn’t
understand why he was trying to escape if he was
not involved in a coup plot.
But while watching the
video of his execution, I turned my eyes away when
I saw him remove his watch and ask a soldier to
give his wife. I couldn’t continue watching.”
Babangida added that he couldn’t retire or imprison
General Vatsa because he believed the guy could still have
planned a coup either in retirement or in prison.
“Rawlings did it in Ghana and you know Vatsa was
very stubborn,” IBB Said.
Omogui, however, lamented the tragedy that befell
Vatsa: “Vatsa maintained to the very end that the
money was for farming. Others alleged, however,
that after being tortured for two days, Bitiyong
implicated General Vatsa by making reference to certain
private political conversations they had, which General Vatsa
denied. But Vatsa was accused of harbouring “bad
blood” against his friend and classmate Babangida,
dating back to the Buhari regime and possibly
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”He was also obliquely accused of reporting
Babangida’s coup plot to Buhari before he left the
country for pilgrimage along with Major General
Tunde Idiagbon in August, 1985. Actions he later
took as a Minister to accelerate many military
applications for certificates of occupancy for land in
Abuja, came to be viewed as efforts to buy the
support of one or two of the plotters. Rumors that a
civilian had introduced him at a party as Nigeria’s
next President were even aired.
”All of this was, of course, circumstantial. But they
took him to the stake, which was quite an anti-
climax to the career of a brilliant man who never
took part in any coup in Nigeria. Indeed, Mamman
Vatsa was the first to go on air in Calabar to
denounce the Dimka coup, and was later the
Secretary of the Obada panel that tried Dimka and
others in 1976. This little detail may have earned
him some latent enmity in certain circles of the
Army which later contributed to his death.”
There is also a very strong belief that General Vatsa may
have been a victim of political intrigues because of
his intellectual sagacity, being a writer and soldier-
poet, and his significant indifference to the military
politics at that time.
In fact, his ordeal had attracted
three leading Nigerian literary icons, Chinua Achebe,
Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Clark Bekederemo,
who had gone to plead with Babangida for
clemency, only to be shocked by news of his
execution few minutes after departing Dodan
Barracks, venue of the meeting.
General Vatsa also wrote military exams for General Babangida and General Abacha, that help them to the top, they were not comfortable with him, so to cover up they roped him in a fake coup, no gun was fired!, just an arrangee, he died for nothing! His brain was fiiled with knowledge.
They were afraid of him not because of his military prowess but his brain capacity.
Hajia Sufiya Vatsa, wife of the late former Minister
of the Federal Capital Territory, General Mamman Jiya
Vatsa, was at the forefront of the struggle to ensure
that justice is done in the Vatsa case but her
campaign was cut short in the early hours of
Monday, May 21, 2007 when she died.
Hajia Sufiya Vatsa, widow of the late former
Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, General
Mamman Vatsa, died aged 56 on May 21, 2007 at
her residence in Kaduna after a brief ill
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