Urhobo Historical Society

Subject:         The Orkar Coup of April 22, 1990 Part 2
   Date:         Fri, 21 Jun 2002 08:51:51 EDT
   From:        Nigeria2Day@aol.com
     To:         undisclosed-recipients:;

The Orkar Failed Coup of April 22, 1990
Part 2

By Nowa Omoigui, MD, MPH, FACC


After the radio station in Lagos was regained by loyal troops, there was a brief announcement by Lt. Col.  GT Zidon followed by the following broadcast by Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha:

"I, Lieutenant-General Sani Abacha, Chief of Army Staff, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, have found it necessary to address you once again in the course of our nation's history.  In view of the unfortunate, development early this morning, I'm in touch with the CGS, Service Chiefs, GOCs, FOCs, AOCs, of the armed forces and they have all pledged their unflinching support and loyalty to the federal military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who is perfectly safe and with whom I am in contact.

"Early this morning there was sporadic firing by a few disloyal and misguided soldiers in some isolated parts of Lagos, followed by an embarrassing radio broadcast.

"Fellow Nigerians, you will all agree with me that the reasons given for this grave misconduct are significantly motivated by greed and self-interest. The soldiers involved decided to constitute themselves into national security nuisance for no other cause than base avarice.'

'Most of these disloyal elements have been arrested and are already undergoing interrogation.  The remaining dissidents are advised in their own interest to report to the nearest military location and hand over the arms and ammunition in their possession.  All formation and unit commanders are hereby directed to exercise effective command and control.  "At this stage, let me reiterate our commitment to pursue vigorously the transition programme.  No amount of threat or blackmail will detract the federal military government's attention in this regard.  We are set to hand over power to a democratically elected government in 1992.  I wish to assure all law-abiding citizens that the situation is now under control and people should go about pursuing their lawful interest.

"Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
"Thank you."


A broadcast was also made by President Babangida:

"Fellow Nigerians, I salute you all, first and foremost, let me assure you further that the unfortunate situation of this morning in some parts of Lagos has been brought under control by loyal troops as earlier stated by the chief of army staff and chairman, joint chiefs of staff, Lieutenant-General Sani Abacha with whom I have been in contact and he is with me this evening.

"I also want to seize this opportunity to commend all members of the Nigerian armed forces the Nigeria police and security agents for the gallant and professional manner the situation was contained.

"Let me also congratulate the civil populace for their continued support for this administration.  I wish to state that all law-abiding citizens should go about their normal duties and their safety guaranteed.  Let me also assure the diplomatic community and all foreigners in the country that the security of their lives and property is hereby guaranteed.

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Thank you for your co-operation."


Isolated and surrounded, with the coup clearly headed for failure, the most senior officers involved, Lt. Col Nyiam and Major Saliba Mukoro initially contemplated a suicide pact, but then escaped from the radio station and eventually left the country for  exile in Britain and the US respectively.

Great Ogboru, the civilian alleged to be a key co-factor, also slipped out of the country to Europe.  Mukoro later became an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at a University in the U.S.  Security agents detained and hounded those elements of their respective families left behind.  But unconfirmed reports later suggested that on Major Mukoro's  wife simply walked away from supposed house arrest at Ikeja cantonment in Lagos and found her way abroad.    Great Ogboru's brother was jailed and it is said that even after fully serving his jail term, General Abacha refused to release him.

How did Mukoro and Nyiam escape from Radio Nigeria?

According to Col. Nyiam, in a 2000 interview with the Guardian:  "At the point of battle when we had, as it were, allowed all soldiers loyal to us to engage, we decided that we would walk like officers out of that zone with the resolve that it will be better to be shot standing than crawling. And we walked, there was no disguise. How we walked out of the encirclement is what I called the mystery and I give that glory to where it belongs....I will say that when we left the zone of the conflict itself between 1.00 and 2.00 a.m., here again we give credit to the poor Nigerians around the shore of the new third mainland bridge.

There were a lot of poor people who lived there, who lived in the shanties. Those people immediately created a force to ferry anybody involved in the action across the water to the other side and I must say that when we got there they were so generous that even in the heat of it all when they were giving us water to drink, they felt that their water was too dirty for me to drink and they went and bought mineral - that shows you the generousity of the poor.

They felt we were too good to drink their water so they gave us soft drink. It was these same poor people who became our scout and helped us to walk through Isale Eko and thereafter when we got to a point on the old Carter Bridge, we asked them to go back and we walked on foot. Again, there were soldiers, how they did not see us - that credit goes to God. In cases where soldiers, the police and other forces saw us, they ignored us and even helped us to go through. In effect, people should not be over critical of the police or disown soldiers because many of them have been suffering from the same problems average people go through. In summary, the mystery and experience of this body and mind talking to you and Mukoro is only but a demonstration of God's power."

Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar was arrested along with about 300 other military personnel and more than 30 civilians. In the usual Nigerian pattern of mass arrests and reactive witch hunting, some journalists considered unsympathetic to the regime were also detained and newspapers even closed.

Following a Board of Inquiry, cases were referred to a Military Tribunal chaired by Major General Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu.  The Chief Prosecutor was Brigadier General Tunde Olurin while Lt. Col. Akin Kejawa led the defence.

In July 1990, Major GG Orkar and 41 others were convicted for treason and executed by firing squad after confirmation of sentences by the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC).  Nine other defendants were jailed while 31 soldiers were acquitted.

Following a serious controversy inspired by allegations made by some of the convicts - as they were about to be shot - that those acquitted by the first tribunal were fellow putschists acquitted on ethnic grounds, the AFRC ordered the retrial of 31 of the surviving accused by a new tribunal headed by Major General Yohanna Yerima Kure. The Chief prosecutor this time around was Lt. Col. Kemi Peters while Lt Col JOJ Okolagwu led the defence.

In September 1990, therefore, a second batch of 27 executions was carried out.

It has been said that the core Bendel (Edo/Delta) and Rivers (Rivers/Bayelsa) plotters were not remorseful about the rebellion.  Captain Empere in particular was very defiant and identified the late Isaac Adaka Boro as his mentor and hero.  He and others were driven by deeply held feelings that although their exploited lands produced Nigeria's oil wealth, their people had little to show for it.  It is fair to categorize the rebellion, therefore, as a "resource control uprising".


Major GG Orkar

Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar was Tiv from Benue State. He started his officer cadet training at the NDA in 1972 with the 12th Regular Combatant Course.

He was commissioned in December 1974 in the rank of Second Lieutenant and posted to the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps School in Ibadan. He did particularly well on the Armour Young Officers course and was later sent for some specialized courses in gunnery.  Indeed he was recognized as a gunnery expert by his colleagues.

There is an unconfirmed story that as a subaltern, he was once granted six months seniority over his colleagues based on outstanding performance representing his commanding officer back in the seventies.

As a junior officer he also attended several courses in the Nigerian Army School of Infantry. He was on the first Nigerian contingent that was sent to Chad Republic and he later served in the 22 Armoured Brigade.

He passed both the junior and senior divisions of Staff College with flying colours.

His last posting was as a member of the Directing Staff of the Command and Staff College.

Major GG Orkar was said to have been recruited into the plot just a few weeks before April 22, 1990.

Lt. Col Gabriel Anthony Nyiam

GA Nyiam attended primary school in Lagos before going to the Nigerian Military School in Zaria.  He subsequently attended the Nigerian Defence Academy as part of the 9th Regular Combatant Course, beginning in January 1971.

Upon completion of his program at NDA he was inducted into the Corp of Engineers.  He attended Earthwork University in Edinburgh and undertook a second degree at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. During this period he was seconded to the British Army, where he says he imbibed the culture that "soldiering is an honourable profession in the defence of the weak".

When he returned to Nigeria he joined General Babangida's staff at the AHQ. He was a staff officer at the AHQ until just before the putsch when he was posted to the Commmand and Staff College at Jaji as a Directing Staff.

Lt. Col UK Bello

Lt Col Usman K Bello was an indigene of Niger State. Gwari by tribe, he started his Officer Cadet training with the 9th Regular Combatant Course in January 1971 at the Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna. He was commissioned in the rank of Second Lieutenant in June 1973 and posted to the Recce Regiment.

He attended several courses in the Nigerian Army School of Infantry and some Armour officers' courses in Britain and the United States.

He was ADC to Brigadier SM Yar Adua when the latter was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. He  was also the Brigade Major 24 Armoured Brigade before he proceeded to the Command and Staff College (CSC) for his Senior Division Course. At CSC he did very well and came first in order of merit.

Bello was not a university graduate but he put all his energy into making a career of the army.  His last posting before being deployed to Dodan Barracks was as the CO of the Recce Battalion in Kaduna.  As a Lt Col, he replaced Major MS Dasuki as ADC to President Babangida. Even as ADC he sought permission to undergo airborne training in the Nigerian Army School of Infantry. This was not a normal practice for one at his age and rank

Bello commanded tremendous amount of respect from all ranks. The President had a lot of confidence in him.



(For full details, see Guardian and Vanguard newspapers dated April 15 & 16, 2000)

What was the objective of the April 1990 rebellion?

According to Lt. Col. G Anthony Nyiam, who was the most senior officer involved in the uprising (but not the leader), the aim was "to have a caretaker government with a view to do two things at that time. One was to do a proper national census and a proper election and also set up a framework for a national conference."

In an interview with the Sunday Vanguard Newspaper published on April 16, 2000,  Nyiam also said   "With that in mind, we never had any idea that we were going to govern anybody. It was just to restore power to the people. That is to restore democracy. Our aim was that there was going to be a caretaker committee which was going to be headed by a former minister under President Shagari."

How did Nyiam get involved?

Nyiam volunteered information that he was recruited into the conspiracy in February 1990   "when some junior officers approached me to express their discontentment with the system...Because, I did not completely trust them, I did not give any word whether I would support the plan or not. Instead, I started to watch them. I watched them for about one month to see if they were serious or the intention was to set me up. These were young officers who really meant business because they were full of zeal. Because of their enthusiasm and anger, they were anxious that the coup be carried out almost with dispatch. But, I continually urged restraint as what they wanted would not have given room for much planning. Eventually, we came in to try to reorganize and look at things, how we could do it better. But, along the line, the action leaked. We had envisaged the possibility of a leakage and had, as a result of that, put in place contingency plan so that we would not be arrested like General Mamman Vatsa and co."

How did the plot leak?

"The details of the contingency plan was that we would move if the coup plot leaked. And true to what we thought, several days before action was to be carried out, our intelligence reports indicated that the plan had leaked. This obviously forced us to immediately take up arms."  He went on:  "In fact, another senior officer, a mate of mine who was the link between the young officers and myself, eventually sold out, that is, he was the source of the leakage. When we realised that our plans had leaked, that led to the pre-emptive action we took. I remember we took our action without any arm, it was in that night that our resources were got by first of all taking over Apapa."

Why was the so called "Far" North excised from Nigeria?

On the question about the excision of some far northern states, Nyiam said:  "If you read our speech (on the coup), you will find out that our position was based on the presumption that the then Sultan was imposed on the people of Sokoto and that the act was the beginning of the destruction of the traditional institution. The act ostensibly destroyed the Sokoto caliphate by causing division between the two houses. It was on the basis of this that we said that state would not be re-absorbed (if we had succeeded in taking over government) into the country until that traditional stool had been restored to the proper person. If you read the conditionalities, you are likely to discover that what we were saying was that sultanate would not have fitted into the new order that we envisaged. We did not see the action as a coup but as an uprising, to correct some anomalies."

But in a separate interview with the Sunday Guardian newspaper, Nyiam was also reported as having 'defended the coup broadcast in which some states in the far North were exercised from the country, saying he is more convinced now that the action was proper. He said: "We saw it coming [excision]. After the Mamman Vatsa's coup attempt, I travelled with Abacha within the country to meet traditional rulers and Army Commanders to speak to soldiers. Anytime we went to the Hausa areas in the North, we were given Hausa and Islamic regalia and if you didn't wear it, they would not be happy with you. It got to a stage that if you were in the Army, you have to speak Hausa. What I am saying in effect was that, there was a gradual acculturation of other people who have superior culture." '

What was Nyiam's relationship with General Babangida?

Nyiam was reported (by the Sunday Guardian) to have admitted being an "IBB boy".  The newspaper said: 'The former military president, he added, commissioned him to work on a diarchy based on Egypt's Abdel Nasser model where the military, produced the president while the civilians produced the prime minister. Explaining that it was part of the self-succession agenda of Babangida and the late Abacha, he said that being so close to Babangida, he had access to privileged information which showed that the former military president was not at all in a hurry to quit the political stage except by an uprising.'

Further, Nyiam, explaining his initial attraction to the former President, also stated that:  "In a nutshell, we all came in to help Babangida whom we thought was a man who meant well. If one goes back to his earlier contribution, he was doing very well and we all gave him our support. But then, when we saw the things that were coming up; things like the way people from the South were being maginalised, in NNPC; how Ebitu Ukiwe was thrown out of power to make room for Abacha, and a host of other things that happened. It was also at this period that the OIC thing started. All these put together made one reason that one cannot just be an officer in name and watch his people being marginalised or being made victims or killed. At the time also, Dele Giwa was murdered."


Like all failed coups before it, the April 1990 coup led to certain reactive (i.e. witch hunting) measures by the military against the services, units or corps that were thought to have been deeply involved in it. Military Police Battalions were downsized.  A similar phenomenon occurred after the Vatsa conspiracy. However, this angle is outside the scope of this article.

In his seminal work "The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army", Major General Mohammed Alli, former Chief of Army Staff, who as a Colonel in Kano had dissociated himself and his Brigade from the coup, described the Mukoro/Orkar et al coup as one "imbued with undue radicalism."

He opined that in execution, the revolt "suffered communication disconnection" (whatever that means) but that it had nevertheless "shaken the nation and the northern hegemony to their very foundation and fabric."   Alli says that the 1990 coup, "like its predecessor in 1966" opened  "a more precarious and frightening chapter, pointing to and crying for fundamental changes in the nation's political structure and the basis of existence and control of the Armed Forces."   However, "as soon as it was subdued and suppressed, the nation went back to business as usual."

One obvious consequence to civilians was the acceleration of the movement of the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1990 by the Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida.     It was also reported by some pundits that he was rattled by the experience and lost a considerable amount of self-confidence for quite some time.  This temporary newfound humility extended to some of his apologists but it was also mixed with passive-aggressive behaviors driven by fear and insecurity.

The failure of the coup, however, marked the beginning of the rise of Lt. Gen. Sani Abacha who was now increasingly being referred to in the Press as the Khalifa (successor).   Whatever anyone said of him, few could doubt his ferocity and deliberate calm under conditions of extreme danger that befell him on April 22.  He had proved his mettle.   As former Panamanian dictator General Noriega once said:  "The ultimate sign of virility is the ability to hold on to power."

It was widely acknowledged that Abacha could quite easily have taken power for himself if he wanted - although he was not highly thought of by so called 'IBB boys'.  Clearly, Babangida owed him plenty and became increasingly beholden to his attitudes - particularly since there was some discussion of the merits and demerits of Babangida's abandonment of Dodan Barracks - albeit involuntarily.

Another officer who benefited from the failure of the April rebellion was Brigadier Ishaya Bamaiyi of the  9th Brigade.    He was rewarded with the Command of the Brigade of Guards and it marked the beginning of his eventual ascendancy into the rarified atmosphere of service chiefs.  It is also possible that Major General Chris Alli's eventual emergence as the first Chief of Army Staff under General Abacha may have been influenced by the standing he gained with the "caucus" during this coup attempt.

According to Kunle Amuwo, who carried out a research project on General Babangida's "personal rulership" project, the 1990 rebellion, coming as it did in the setting of Babangida's "permanent transition" undermined his credibility and may have been a factor in the way the public reacted to the deaths of over 150 middle grade officers in a subsequent C-130 plane crash in 1992.     Amuwo holds the opinion that 'Even though Babangida lamented that "a whole generation of young officers (mainly Majors) has been wiped out" by the air crash, the public thought his government may have had a hand in it.

During their trials, Major Gideon Orkar and his men reportedly told the military tribunal that their coup was in three layers; that unless all young officers were killed, there was no hiding place for the regime. Over 160 officers perished in the crash. That the public tended to give credence to this story is, itself, a measure of lack of trust in the General as his "tenure" dragged to an end.'  The public's reaction to the gutting by a suspicious fire of the Ministry of Defence building in 1993 followed similar lines.

But there were other consequences.  Although most people dismissed the so called conditional expulsion of the "far" north as a silly gamble, according to Professor Julius Ihonvbere, the coup forced certain "deep-rooted" conflicts and "critical issues" to the front page of the national discourse.  Never too distant from national institutional memory anyway, right from the days of the 1957 Willink Commission report, the Ifeajuna/Nzeogwu insurrection of January 15, 1966, the Isaac Boro "Niger-Delta" rebellion, the Petroleum and Land Use Acts, these were to play out in later years as the Ogoni crisis, small concessions by Babangida on the 'onshore-offshore' issue, creation of OMPADEC, June 12 imbroglio, and more recent undercurrents of the "Sovereign National Conference", "Power Shift", "Resource Control", "Federalism", and "Sharia" polemics.

There are observers who say that these fault lines in Nigerian politics portend an inevitable earthquake.    I prefer the nuanced Chinese interpretation (as was once observed by the late President Kennedy) - that every crisis presents both danger and opportunity.


A full accounting of the dead and injured from the April 1990 rebellion is not yet possible, in part because of the secretive nature of events surrounding the incident.  However, it is widely assumed to be the bloodiest attempt to seize power in the history of Nigeria.

EXECUTED (incomplete list)

Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar
Captain N Harley Empere
Captain Perebo A Dakolo
Capt AA Nonju
Lt. AE Akogun
Lt. CN Odey
Lt. Cyril O Ozualor
Lt. NEO Deji
2/Lt AB Umukoro
2/Lt EJ Ejesuku
SSgt Julius Itua
Sgt Martins Ademokhai
Sgt. Pius Ilegar
WO2 Monday Bayefa
L/Cpl Francis Ogo
L/Cpl Jepta Inesei
Cpl. Sunday Effiong
L/Cpl Sam Mbakwe
L/Cpl Albert Ojerangbe
L/Cpl Godfrey Deesiiyira
L/Cpl Emma Oyemolan
Sgt. Stephen Iyeke
Cpl. Joseph Efe
WO Afolabi Moses
L/Cpl Idowu Azeez
WO Jonathan Ekini
S/Sgt Solomon Okungbowa
Private Richard Iseghoei
Private Egwolo Makpamekun
L/Cpl Edogamen Friday
S/Sgt Jolly Agbodowi
Sgt. Etim Umoh
L/Cpl Sam Obasuyi
Ex. Serviceman LC Otajareiri
Ex. Pvt Osazuwa Osifo
Ex. Pvt CP Wasiu Lawal
Ex. Pvt Peter Unuyoma
Ex. Pvt Synalman Goodluck Emefe
Ex. S/Sgt Samson Idegere
Pvt. Emmanuel Onoje
Trooper Roland Odogu
Corporal Lateef Awolola
Pvt. Dickson Omenka
Corp Ehietan Pius
Private Iroabuchi Anyalewechi
Private Henry Eguaoyi
L/Cpl Martins Odey
L/Cpl Sunday Asuquo
Trooper Celestine Ofuoku
Pvt. Anthony Korie
Pvt Thomas Angor
Pvt Edem Basi
Pvt Joseph Odey
Trooper Obioma Esiworo
L/C Magnus Ekechi
WO2 Godwin Donkon
Sgt. Ojo Adegboyega
Pvt Peter Abua
Pvt. Phillip Akamkpo
Sgt. Shehu Onleje
Corp Olanrewaju Ogunshola
L/Cpl Luka Yang
Trooper Malkily Ayogu
L/Cpl Andrew Onah
Michael Ebeku

OTHERS  (At least 69 were officially executed, so this
list is incomplete)

Lt. Col. UK Bello (General Babangida's ADC)
Lt. killed during altercation at Ikeja cantonment gate
3 - 5 soldiers at Ikeja

Captain Charles Idele   (Idele was one of the coup leaders.  He was Military Assistant to the Commandant,  School of Infantry, Jaji.  He left Jaji and came to Lagos to partake in the coup.  His corpse was reportedly found wearing the uniform of a Major on the grounds outside Ikeja cantonment gate where he was shot by loyal troops. )

OTHERS (numbers unknown, from fighting at Dodan Barracks, Obalende and the Radio Station)


L/Cpl Ezekiel Akudu
Pvt Ibrahim Egwa
Sgt. John Alilu
Sgt. Andarich Eladon
L/Cpl David Amo Amo
L/Cpl Vitalis Udzea

L/Cpl  Celestine Nebo
L/Cpl  Wapami Adigio
L/Cpl  Mike Odeniyi
L/Cpl  Kingsley Aromeh
Sgt. Lawrence Ademola
Signal Man Fatai Daranijo
Pvt. Godwin Airomokha
Sgt. John Benson
L/Cpl  Vincent Ozigbo
L/Cpl  David Oke


An unknown number of soldiers and officers were discharged or retired from the military in a  subsequent purge.   The highest ranking of these was a Brigadier (from Bendel) who held the office of Director of Army Staff Duties and Plans.  His career ended by virtue of the fact that Major Saliba Mukoro (widely presumed to be the leader of the rebellion) was his Military Assistant.  The Brigadier was never charged, never found guilty of involvement, and was even reportedly involved in putting down the revolt. But in the Byzantine world of dog eat dog military politics; the so-called "caucus" organized his departure from the Army.