By Vincent Akindele
‘My Sojourn plus 100 Days with General Sheu Musa Yar’Adua in the Death cell’ is a chronicle of the life and times of Colonel Olusegun Oloruntoba with a well-documented personal account of Nigeria’s years of darkness under the ruthless military junta from 1993 to 1998.
He was a character in the tragic drama in which Gen. Sani Abacha and his gang of tormentors held sway. His patriotic role and demand for fairness and justice as regards the wicked annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections were mischievously counted against him and some compatriots who were to be forced out of the stage through death!
He was condemned to death through a kangaroo court for a phantom coup. He landed in the death cell where he spent four years and four days. His experience in the death cell could be likened to that of the biblical Daniel in the lion’s den. How he has survived and lived to recount his harrowing and horrifying ordeals was equally a miracle strikingly similar to that of the biblical Daniel who came out of the lion’s den triumphantly unharmed by hungry lions which could have gladly feasted on his flesh.
By divine design, today, Oloruntoba is an Oba, His Royal Majesty (HRM), Olugbede of Gbede Kingdom: A kingdom of 10 towns.
Through the five-chapter book, the retired Army Officer takes readers through his life journey from birth at his country home, Okoro-Gbede, in Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State; his steady and enviable career progression in the Military with a section devoted to his 100-day-stay with General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in the death cell. The book, profoundly presented with a foreword written by Professor Olu Obafemi and the author’s profile by Natts Onaja Agbo, promises readers a delightful and pleasurable encounter.
In chapter one, the author takes readers to his humble background as a village boy who engaged in a hunting expedition with the use of hunting dogs, bows, arrows, digging tools, cutlasses and a catapult. His hunting skill at that early age prompted his father to think that if a child could be old enough to do exploits in hunting, it was time for him to start schooling. His father took him to the Anglican Primary School, Okoro-Gbede for admission.
To his chagrin, his son was disqualified as he failed to scale through the hurdle of raising his right hand across his head to touch his left ear. The father would not accept such a cheap and unfair method of screening, he was persistent and insistent in his resolve that his son was old enough to be considered for admission. This paid off as he was eventually admitted, though not without the intervention and support of two teachers who were well-known to his father. In primary school, the author was performing excellently distinguishing himself in Arithmetic and English.
Upon completion of his primary education, he gained admission into Queens College of Commerce, Bukuru which was later shot down as it was declared as an illegal school by the Government of Northern Region. This unfortunate incident made him lose two academic sessions as his father thought that he should learn a trade. He had a shot at learning furniture, Typing and Shorthand at different times. In 1966, he sat for entrance examinations into six secondary schools and passed all but settled for the Provincial Secondary School, Okene where he distinguished himself in Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics.
After his successful completion of secondary school with a good grade in the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE), he enrolled for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in the same school. While in the lower six of the HSC programme, he sat for the qualifying exam into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), he passed and was admitted as a member of the Eleventh Regular Combatant Course that resumed training on 3rd January, 1972. His brilliant performance at the NDA Certificate of Education moderated by the University of Ibadan qualified him for admission into any university in Nigeria or abroad. He was among the top 10 in the class which afforded him the privilege of being posted to the station of his first choice which was the Nigerian Army Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (NAEME).
On assumption of duty, the Corps Commander, the late Col. G.K Lawson advised the author and his colleague, Second-Lieutenant Michael Abiodun Dare to obtain a degree in Engineering from a recognized university before they could be accepted to serve at the NAEME as to him, they were too young. To pursue that goal, they were given two weeks ‘Open Pass’ to look for admission. He secured admission into the Amadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria to study Mechanical Engineering. Upon completion of the programme, he was posted to 2 Division NAEME workshops as the OC Repairs Company serving as second in command to the Commander. He later proceeded to Cranfield Institute of Technology, Bedford, England (now University of Cranfield) where he obtained a Master of Science Degree in Industrial Engineering Production Management.
Chapter two captures the events that led to the 1995 phantom coup as emanated from the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections which the author describes as the freest, fairest and most peaceful elections ever held in Nigeria but was annulled by the military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Bademosi Babaginda. The annulment, expectedly, sparked nationwide protests. On a sad note, in response, the military junta ordered soldiers to open fire on unarmed protesters and this led to the loss of lives and many of the protesters sustained serious injuries.
The author further notes that on many occasions, both the senior and middle-level officers in the Army met with the military junta and made it clear to them that the annulment was unacceptable, and for peace to reign the results of the elections should be revalidated and the winner should be declared. In this chapter, the author alludes to the famous Epetedo Declaration where Chief M.K.O Abiola declared himself as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Under Gen. Sani Abacha, Nigeria witnessed the darkest days when state murder was the order of the day. This chapter on page 27 provides the list of prominent Nigerians that were murdered by the military Government of Gen. Abacha: They were Pa Alfred Rewane, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Admiral Babatunde Elegbede, Mr. Toyin Onagoruwa (son of Chief Olu Onagoruwa who was the Attorney General and Minister of Justice under Gen. Sani Abacha), Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Lt-Col O.O Akinyode, SSgt Patrick Usikpeko, Alhaja Suliat Adedeji and Dr. Sola Omatshola. Also, the author notes, “the demonic wind of terror blew like a hurricane throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria.” So, in the early hours of February 27, 1995, the Abacha government announced the phantom coup and the arrest of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Col Lawan Gwadabe, Col. Olusegun Oloruntoba (the author), seven other military officers and seven civilians among whom were human rights activists and journalists.
Chapter three focuses on the arrest, detention, trial and death toll of the victims of the phantom coup. It is discussed under subtitles: the fruitless search, 100 days with Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in the devil’s den, kangaroo court waiting room, journey to Kiri-Kiri Prisons, documentation into the death register, the last bus stop and Gen Yar’Adua’s daily routine at the death cell and his humanitarian services in the prison were recorded for posterity. The author describes the state of the Nigerian prisons between 1995 and 1999 as the home of death and horror, the centre for de-humanization, the camp for frustration and incubation for under-aged criminals.
In chapter four, the author gives 26 of his memorable philosophical and prophetic declarations while awaiting execution which he described as his utterances from the wilderness from February 27, 1995 to March 4, 1999. One of them reads: “The weak take delight in being wicked, brutal and sadistic but the strong are always associated with gentleness, humility and modesty.”
Chapter five is titled, “Cry your Own Cry 1995-1999” which is the inscription on the building at the Kiri-Kiri maximum prisons that contains the death cell as a rude message to the prisoners who are condemned to death to start mourning for themselves before execution. Besides, death had come closer as soldiers who were to carry out their execution were already stationed at the prison and the firing stakes were also numbered with the author as no. 3. ‘Cry your Own Cry’, is crafted in a poetic form like that of the biblical Prophet Jeremiah’s lamentation on the land Israel, as the author’s own lamentation of the pains, horror, oppression, victimization and hopelessness that characterised the dark years of the reign of terror by the late maximum dictator, Gen. Abacha while the military government left Nigerians to cry their own cry. Sad!
The book ends on an appealing note with what the author calls ‘annexes’, discussed in parts A to F: A is on the historic meeting of the political prisoners of the phantom coup with the Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo who was incidentally one of them. Part B is the letter to the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; Part C is another letter to the Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; and part D, is a memorandum to the House of Representatives that was presented by the distinguished Senator Dino Melaye then as a member, House of Representatives in July 2008. Annexes B, C and D have a common theme as “an appeal seeking justice, compensation and rehabilitation for the victims of the 1995 phantom coup.”
They read in parts: “On behalf of the murdered, the tortured, the victimised, the imprisoned, the de-humanised, the abused and the deprived during the Gen. Sani Abacha’s demonic reign of terror, 17th November 1993 to 8th June, 1998 for (the Federal Government of Nigeria) to look into the suffering of the victims of the 1995 phantom coup to give an appropriate relief having been used as sacrificial lambs for the democracy Nigerians are enjoying now…and the implementation of the Oputa Panel’s recommendations on human rights abuses” at the time. E and F are the comprehensive lists of the victims of the 1995 phantom coup and 1997 set-up coup respectively.
It is significantly gratifying that the foreword of the book was written by Olu Obafemi, a poet, playwright, author and professor of English who is the author’s kinsman from Okunland. There couldn’t have been a better attestation to the book and the author than having this erudite and a literary giant presenting it to the reading public: The university teacher states, “for the fact that the author of this book was co-victim of the 1995 phantom coup, we cannot but conclude that every sentence in the book is authentic.”
The book, written in simple language with flowing prose and the diction firmly appropriate, is not without a few jargons that reflect the author’s military background and the engineer in him. The use of proverbs, biblical allusions, figurative expressions and a collection of photographs that tell of the author’s remarkable stages of his life and attainment make the book excitingly engaging and enjoyable.
However, the book is not without its peculiar shortcomings. There is no doubt that it is a good book but it lacks some basic features of a book. There is no copyright page with identifiable International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and publisher’s details; it is neither indexed nor referenced. This flaw has reduced the beautiful literary work to a mere printer’s work. The outlook and the packaging of the book obviously indicate that it was hurriedly released probably to meet a deadline. The cover does not befit the status of the author either as a retired senior military officer or a first-class Oba. It is, therefore, expedient to engage a reputable publisher to repackage and make the good book available to the entire world.
Despite these oversights and shortcomings, the book is unequivocally a compulsory read for all lovers of good books. Everyone: The young and the old; students, researchers, administrators and teachers of History will find the book greatly useful.
Vincent Akindele, a Journalist, lives in Ibadan (08132262807).