•In 1986, Over A Coup Plot
On 5th March, 1986, Major Gen. Mamman Jiya Vatsa was killed by a staccato of bullets that ran out of rifles of the firing squad men who had an assignment to execute 14 Military Officers, including the late Major General Mamman Jiya Vatsa who had been condemned to death for Treason, by the Gen Idiomu-led military tribunal that delivered a Guilty verdict on coup plotters.
People were surprised about the verdict that sent someone who was a childhood friend of the then Military President, Ibrahim Babangida to an early grave. Those involved in power games at the state level, however, asserted that childhood relationship could not save the neck of a person involved in Treason, especially in a military government.
On the 23rd December, 1985, Major General Mamman Jiya Vatsa was in his study late into the night when he received a telephone call from the Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, inviting him to Dodan Barracks. Vatsa was in his study. He was the Minister of the Federal Capital Terrority and a member of the Armed Force Ruling Council (AFRC). He put a call to his wife, Yufiya, who was in the sitting room watching a programme on television, telling her that Babangida had invited him to Dodan Barracks.
The wife protested, telling her husband that it was too late in the night to go to Dodan Barracks. They were still arguing on whether to go to Dodan Barracks that night or not when Lt. Col. U.K. Bello led a squad of soldiers into Vatsa’s residence on Rumens Street at Ikoyi, Lagos. The military men came in armourd cars and military vehicles. At that point, it was clear to Vatsa and wife that it was no longer a courtesy invitation, but an arrest. Vatsa could see that his residence had been surrounded by soldiers.
At the point of leaving his home, he beckoned to his wife, gave her a bear hug, kissed her and also kissed his first son, who was a student at a Military College in Kaduna. The military contingent drove out of Rumens Street, Ikoyi Vatsa’s residence with the Major General as a captive and, of course, a prisoner. He left his Ikoyi residence never to return to it. Against him was an allegation of treason and coup financing. Vatsa was even fingered to be the leader of the coup.
Among charges read to himb and other military officers at the military tribunal that tried them was that despite being the first senior military officer to denounce Dimka’s coup, he had already seen himself as the next president, military president, and he was even accused of donating N10,000 to fund the coup.
Yufiya, Vatsa’s Efik-born wife, thought she could be of use in resolving what she regarded as crisis between two friends. Vatsa and Babangida were contemporaries. Today, one of them is dead, while the other is still alive. Their relationship dates back to their pre-school days when they were best friends. Vatsa and Babangida were classmates at Government College, Bida and had joined the Army the same year after their secondary school days. Their youthful relationship was not only broadened while in the military service, but Vatsa was on record to have mounted a horse when Maryam wedded Babangida in a colourful celebration of an intimate friend’s wedding. Besides, Vatsa took it upon himself to obtain a new set of furniture on hire purchase at Leventis. This kind gesture was to give the new couple a set of furniture that befitted their new status. Besides, Babangida was the best man at Vatsa’s wedding. All these made Yufiya believe that she could use a feminine touch to thaw the cold frozen relationship between her husband and Babangida.
All her efforts to see Babangida were from all look of things, rebuffed. In quick succession, the official house-help was withdrawn and Vatsa’s family was sent packing from the Ikoyi residence. Yufiya never knew that in a game of power, players have no room for a personal relationships. The eyes of all players are on the ball. No government treats coup planners kindly, not to talk of a military government.
Treachery is ruthlessly dealt with by the military government as there could be no room for any consideration in dealing with coup plotters.
Soldiers know abinitio that a failed coup means death to the planners. It was, therefore, not a surprise when the Gen. Idio-Mu-led tribunal delivered a death verdict on Vatsa and his colleagues. Vatsa and other convicts were to die by firing squad. On March 5, 1986, Vatsa and 13 other Military Officers were executed.
Their execution which attracted a loud public condemnation was regarded a proper diet to serve coup plotters. The public sympathy was not unconnected with the goodwill which Vatsa had built as a poet and patron of the association of writers. Vatsa was not only a poet but also a writer, who had many titles under his hand.
Major General Vatsa was a product of the Nigerian Military Training College from where he graduated in 1962. He went to India Military Academy to complete his official training programme and came out a 2nd Lieutenant. Vatsa could be said to be among the first set of coup plotters who carried out the counter-coup of July 1966 to avenge Nigeria’s first coup of January 15, 1966, that were spearheaded by the Southerners, the five majors. Four Igbo and one Yoruba. Vatsa was a Lieutenant at 4th Battalion, Ibadan where Major General Aguyi Ironsi who was on a visit to Ibadan and his host, the Military Governor of the defunct Western region, Lt-Col Fajuyi, were killed.