The leadership of the Nigerian Army in 2015, led by Kenneth Minimah, a lieutenant general, activated a last-minute plan to truncate that year's presidential election to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from being declared winner, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.
But the plot failed after four senior officers charged with executing it deliberately failed to deliver on the task.
A two-year investigation by this newspaper revealed that after the results of 35 states and Abuja were released by INEC on March 31, 2015, indicating that then President Goodluck Jonathan was losing the election, the top hierachy of the army made a desperate push to halt the release of the pending Borno State result.
They also worked hard to trigger confusion and violence in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, to stalemate the presidential election.
The expectation, those familiar with the matter said, was that the orchestrated chaos in Maiduguri would spread to other parts of the country in a manner that would cause Mr Jonathan to declare a state of emergency, and suspend the declaration of final result of the poll.
Four officers -- Lamidi Adeosun (Major General), Hamisu Hassan (Brigadier General), Danladi Hassan (Colonel), and Mohammed Suleiman (colonel) -- were charged with executing the gameplan.
However, the officers, fearing the possible repercussion of carrying out the order passed to them by army headquarters, tactically failed to execute the strategy, our findings show.
At the time, Major General Adeosun was the general officer commanding 7 Division (based in Maiduguri) while Brigadier General Hassan was the chief of staff of the Division. Colonel Hassan was 7 Division's Garrison Commander while Colonel Mohammed was the intelligence chief of the Division. As Garrison commander, Colonel Hassan had the troops in Maiduguri under his command while Colonel Suleiman had the civilian JTF under his control.
TWO COLONELS AND A PLOT
PREMIUM TIMES first got hint of this matter in late 2016 after one of its reporters stumbled on separate court filings by Colonels Suleiman and Hassan. The Nigerian Army had in June 2016 suddenly unjustly retired the officers and 36 other top army officers from service.
After their appeals to the authorities for reinstatement failed to yield result, Colonels Suleiman and Hassan sued the Army at the National Industrial Court. The documents they filed in court included letters they wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him to intervene in their cases.
In paragraph two of his own letter to the President, Colonel Suleiman wrote, "It was with shock that I received a phone call from an officer of Army Headquarters Department of Military Secretary on 10 June 2016 informing me of my compulsory retirement from the Nigerian Army and requested that I should come to collect my retirement letter. After receiving the letter, a press release was made by the Nigerian Army spokesman that the retirement affected officers who were either indicted by the Presidential Investigation Panel on the arms contracts with the Office of the National Security Adviser or were partisan in the 2015 General Elections.
"I want to respectfully state, Your Excellency sir, I was not involved in any way in the stated issues. I have not committed any offence as I was not invited to any board of inquiry for investigation nor charged or court martialled for any offence. In addition, Your Excellency sir, the then Garrison Commander of 7 Division and myself , then 7 Division Intelligence Commander, were ordered to scuttle and stop by all means the 2015 Presidential Election results of Borno State from being announced but instead we took the path of honour by standing firm on loyalty to our nation and sticking to our oath of commission.
"The then General Officer Commanding & Division is fully aware. A recorded audio clip of part of the design to scuttle the election results from Borno State is hereby attached."
Colonel Hassan's letter to President Buhari, dated June 23, 2016, is similar to that of Colonel Suleiman. He narrated how he and his colleagues were ordered to "to scutle and stop by all means the 2015 Presidential Election results of Borno State from being announced".
"A recorded audio clip of part of the design to scuttle the election results from Borno State is hereby attached," the officer told the president.
The letters were delivered to President Buhari through the Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin, a general.
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, promised to revert to this newspaper when asked on Sunday what action the president took on the claims by the officers. He was yet to do so as at the time of publishing this report.
This newspaper launched an investigation to determine the authenticity or otherwise of the two colonels' claims. Over a dozen interviews with those familiar with the matter helped shed light on a plot that could have truncated Nigeria's democracy and perhaps plunge the country into monumental political crisis.
Some of those interviewed by this medium asked not to be named because they are still in service and could be punished by army authorities for divulging details of an episode that could cast the Nigerian military in bad light.
Some of the key characters in the plot told PREMIUM TIMES they were not ready yet to discuss the matter.
When this reporter met Major General Adeosun (now director of operations at Army headquarters) in Maiduguri last December, he declined to discuss the matter. Brigadier General Hassan stuck to the same position, saying as a serving officer, he needed express permission from army headquarters to discuss any matter with journalists.
Army spokesperson, Sani Usman (a brigadier-general who voluntarily retired from the army on February 8), said only the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai (a lietenant general), could permit officers to speak on the matter. But no such permission has been granted till date, with authorities at army headquarters repeatedly saying Mr Buratai was away in Maiduguri to deal with the resurgent Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East.
Colonels Hassan and Suleiman repeatedly declined requests to be interviewed by this newspaper. When he was first contacted in December 2018, Colonel Mohammed warned this newspaper against publicising his letter to the president, saying it was a 'classified' document. When contacted again in January, the officer requested this reporter to leave him alone to concentrate on his case at the National Industrial Court.
When this reporter telephoned Colonel Hassan on January 29, the officer said he was out of Abuja, and could be available for a meeting on his return the following day. The officer then failed to answer or return multiple calls. But on February 10, the officer responded to a text message, saying he was away in the South-South geopolitical zone.
THE ORDERS FROM ARMY HEADQUARTERS
Those familiar with the plot said as the collation of the presidential election result progressed in Abuja on March 31, 2015, army headquarters grew increasingly uneasy. As it became clear that Mr Jonathan was on the verge of losing to Mr Buhari, the top hierarchy of the army led by the then Chief of Army Staff, Mr Minimah, promptly activated a plot to derail the process.
Mr Minimah hails from Rivers State in Mr Jonathan's south-south region. Officers close to him said he preffered a PDP victory at that election.
One serving officer who witnessed the entire episode but cannot be named so he is not punished by army authorities told PREMIUM TIMES, "Army headquarters instructed GOC 7 Division (Major General Adeosun) to do everything within his powers to truncate the collation of presidential election result at the INEC office in Borno while also ensuring there is chaos at the place.
"General Adeosun then instructed Brigadier General Hamisu Hassan to summon Colonels Mohammed and Hassan to 7 Division Headquarters. When the officers arrived, the GOC gave them the message from headquarters that they should stop collation of results at INEC State office.
"That they should close INEC Office and instigate crisis there. The GOC told them army headquarters believed any crisis at the INEC office in Maiduguri would most likely spread to other parts of the country based on the mood of the nation at the time.
"The officers were confused but they saluted the GOC and left. After some hours the officers returned to persuade the GOC to disobey the COAS directives. They argued that deliberately triggering violence in Maiduguri was not in the nation's interest and could be disastrous to the careers of everyone involved in the plot.
"The GOC eventually agreed with the officers, and it was agreed that everyone should cut off communication with army headquarters. So the officers switched off their phones after the GOC told army headquarters his officers were on the field executing the directives.
"Meanwhile Colonels Mohammed and Hassan kept buying time while convincing the GOC that it wasn't in the nation's interest and what they swore to do as officers. They remained incommunicado until Jonathan conceeded defeat and congratulated Buhari."
The drama in Maiduguri unfolded that day just as Godsday Orubebe, a key political associate of Mr Jonathan, was disrupting the collation of results in Abuja, accusing the then chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega, of bias.
Mr. Orubebe, then the Minister of Niger Delta, seized the microphone, and for several minutes insisted Mr. Jega leave the results collation centre at the International Conference Centre. Mr. Orubebe was unyielding as Mr. Jega and other INEC officials appealed to him to allow the collation go on. He said the collation would not continue except Mr. Jega left the venue for his office to "address PDP complaints". Mr. Orubebe was later led away from the podium before announcement of results continued.
A top military officer said Mr Orubebe's action at the collation centre in Abuja was part of a bigger plan to truncate that election. Other plans, he said, were to be executed in other places. He said the Maiduguri gameplan was part of those plots which were not eventually executed.
JONATHAN, MINIMAH SPEAK
Some officers told PREMIUM TIMES the orders to truncate the announcement of the Borno result were issued to Mr Minimah by the Jonathan presidency and some leaders of the then ruling party. This newspaper was unable to authenticate that claim.
A spokesperson for Mr Jonathan said his principal gave no such instruction to the Army. "The president could not have given such an order," spokesperson Ikechukwu Eze said. "Given the kind of person he is, and what he stands for, it is just not possible."
Mr Jonathan made a concession call to Mr Buhari while collation of result was still underway, a move that shocked many political pundits and earned him global acclaim.
A former Nigerian military head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, said last Thursday that by accepting defeat in 2015, Mr Jonathan, saved the country from political crises.
But the latest revelation on the botched plot to truncate the election in Borno suggests the former president accepted defeat even as his key allies strategised to cause confusion.
When contacted, the then army chief, Mr Minimah, said he could not remember ever issuing any order to Major General Adeosun to truncate the collation of the Borno result and trigger violence. He pleaded to be left alone to enjoy his life in retirement.