The Guardian (Lagos)

11 September 2001

Nigeria: Ex- Deputy Intelligence Chief Inplicates Sabo in Phantom Coup Saga

Abuja — It was a time for counter-accusations yesterday as another version of details was given on the 1995 phantom coup for which President Olusegun Obasanjo and his former deputy, the late Maj.-Gen. Shehu Musa Yar'adua were jailed. And, from all indications the search for the truth may have just begun.

One-time Director of Military Intelligence, Col. Steve Idehenre (rtd) told the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel on human rights violations that his predecessor, Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Sabo framed up the duo for trial for the alleged offence.

Idehenre also gave graphic details of what he called 'atrocities' perpetrated by 'a killer gang' in the military including Gen. Sabo, and the spate of bomb blasts which he also traced to the former intelligence chief.

Idehenre who was the military's chief spook between May 1996 and August 1997, listed those he called members of the killer squad in the military to include Air Vice Marshal Idi Musa, the then chief of defence intelligence, Col. Kolawole Olu, Col. Frank Omenka and Sabo.

Idehenre spoke as a witness in a petition by Chief Chuma Nzeribe who alleged that live ammunition was planted in his house by some military officers in collaboration with a deceased businessman, Victor Okafor, at Ihiala Anambra State.

Idehenre who was led in evidence for about four hours by his lawyer Tobe Doris, blamed one Col. Majobe for planting the bombs, asserting that he (Majobe) worked for Gen. Sabo to plant several such bomb across the country during the Abacha dictatorship.

Nzeribe had alleged that Okafor, who was called 'Ezeego' (king of money) used his military connection to punish him because of his (Nzeribe) rising political profile in the local government.

The audience could not control their emotions in spite of the new stringent rules rolled out last week by Justice Oputa when they shouted in amazement as soon as Idehenre told the commission that all that General Sabo had told the commission were blatant lies to victimise Lt. Gen. Ishaya R. Bamaiyi (rtd.)

The audience was stunned when Idehenre gave graphic details of how Sabo allegedly fed Abacha with lies about some people plotting to overthrow his government even as he diclosed that the late military leader was virtually a prisoner to the antics and intrigues of Sabo.

Recounting what happened in the case of Nzeribe, who was detained at the DMI, Idehenre said: "My lord, when I discovered that Victor Okafor was behind the plight of Nzeribe, I ordered his arrest and ordered investigation before I left."

Idehenre faulted Sabo's claim of not being at DMI when Nzeribe was arrested, saying that he took over from Sabo when the man was arrested and he released him only for Sabo to order him re-arrested.

Alleging that Sabo had lied on oath before the commission, Idehenre also said he (Sabo) received a Jeep gift from Okafor which was later discovered to have been stolen from the United States.

He said: "My lord, General Sabo is a liar, he has been telling you lies for the past three months... blantant lies."

When asked whether Sabo lied only in the case involving Nzeribe, Idehenre said that he lied in virtually all the petitions he (Sabo) had given evidences on at the panel.

Idehenre alleged that Sabo belonged to a cabal in the military responsible for the atrocities perpetrated under General Abacha.

He said: "General Sabo belongs to a group in the military called the 'killer squad' which specialised in falsification, lying, writing false reports, coercion, extreme wickedness of man to man. The hallmark of this group is vendetta and wicked plots against perceived enemies."

He added: "My lord, almost all the atrocities, bomb blasts that took place during General Abacha's regime were carried out by General Sabo's group."

Alleged that Sabo masterminded the arrest of several civilians who were detained at the notorious DMI underground cell, Idehenre absolved Generals Abdulsalami Abubakar and Bamaiyi of any blame.

He said: "My lord, General Sabo fed General Abacha with all types of lies in order to curry favours and money. He took time to re-arrest all the people that I released including Chief Nzeribe who was clearly set up by Colonel Majobe."

Another damning allegation was the fraudulent cashing of N1.5 million monthly from the DMI under Idehenre by Sabo while he was at the National War College in Abuja.

His words: "When General Sabo was at the War College, Abuja, he was the defacto Director of Military Intelligence even though I was nominally in charge. He ordered the arrest of so many people. I even became tired of arresting people on his orders. He (Sabo) made several reports of coup to Abacha while I wrote to Abacha telling him these were phantom coups and he swore never to forgive me for daring him."

Idehenre who alleged that Majobe was offered a BMW car gift and N200,000 by Okafor, also asked the commission to order the arrest of Sabo.

Asserting that Sabo was not a credible officer he had claimed to be, Idehenre who alleged that Colonel Majobe an English graduate wrote examination of the war college for General Sabo said thus: "I was interested in uncovering those behind the spate of mysterious bomb blasts, little did I know that my people including General Sabo were behind the bomb blasts!"

Speaking on other alleged wrong-doings by Sabo while at the war college, Idehenre said: "General Sabo always took N1.5 million every month while he asked us to give N100,000 to his wife".

Idehenre who alleged that Sabo received car gift from the late businessman Victor Okafor in order to deal with Nzeribe, said: "Ezego organised money for General Sabo and gave him a state-of-the-art Toyota land cruiser with American specification. The car which was stolen from the United States in 1997 was worth 100 million but was later discovered by Interpol and is now kept at the United States Embassy. General Sabo was questioned but could not clear his name"

Explaining how the car gift was made to Sabo, Idehenre told the panel that Ezego said he was donating it to the General because of what he called "outstanding" performance of the General at the War College even as he alleged that the custom papers for the car were forged.

Absolving Bamaiyi of blame in the atrocities that took place during Abacha's regime, Idehenre said: "General Bamaiyi was one of the only military officers who stood up to challenge General Sabo in his diabolical activities. Bamaiyi ordered that all the civilians illegally detained at the DMI be released."

On the 1995 coup, he said: "General Yar'adua was not involved in the phantom coup just as Generals Yar'Aduaand Obasanjo were not involved. General Muktar who was at the DMI then discovered that both Yar'adua and Obasanjo were set up so he did not recommend their prosecution, which caused his transfer. The transfer of Muktar gave way to General Sabo who had no previous intelligence training to take over the position of head of DMI"

His words: "General Sabo sent some officers through Colonel Olu to go to Obasanjo's farm in Ota and get some features of the place which would help in implicating General Obasanjo. The officer who was told to go in plainclothes did not know why he was sent with N10,000 to buy eggs from the farm".

According to Idehenre, Sabo as head of the DMI, tortured Col. Bello Fadile to implicate Obasanjo. He also accused him of seeking political favour from President Obasanjo when he sought to lie that it was Bamaiyi who wanted Obasanjo killed for the 1995 phantom coup.

Idehenre accused Sabo of spending N2 million quarterly on marabouts (ritualists) in the guise of safeguarding the government of General Abacha just as he also alleged that Sabo buried live cows in Aso Rock in order to give Abacha the impression that he (Sabo) was loyal to the self-succession bid of the former ruler.

The witness, who stunned the audience when he displayed a newspaper publication of all strategic military repairs undertaken by the General Abdulsalami Abubakar government, asserted that Sabo ought to have been detained for divulging top security secrets which are now on the internet.

He gave details of attempts by Sabo and Abacha's former Chief Security officer, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha to take over government at the demise of Abacha and absolved Abubakar and Bamaiyi of any conspiracy in the death of the former ruler.

He said: "General Sabo and Major Mustapha invited the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the minister of power and steel on the 8th of June 1998. Generals Bamaiyi and Abubakar were told by the duo that General Abacha wanted to see them so as to ensure that their plan to succeed Abacha was not stalled.

Justice Oputa adjourned the matter till today at the close of Idehenre's testimony as the panel also dismissed a petition by one Chief G.O. Akinluyi against Nigerian Agip and Shell Petroleum because the matter fell outside the commission's mandate.

Another matter dismissed because the petitioner was absent was that of Professor E.E. Ezenwu who alleged that his son was unlawfully killed by gunmen hired by Professor Theo Vincent, and some administrators at the University of Port Harcourt. A police investigation set up by the Inspector General found out that the allegations were unfounded.

Therefore the commission will entertain the petition by the rights activist, Beko Ransome Kuti over what he termed unlawful arrest, detention and destruction of family property.

Those fingered as witnesses in the petition include President Obasanjo, Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

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