A retired Nigerian Army general, Haldu Hananiya, has detailed why President Muhammadu Buhari hurriedly enacted the infamous Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation law, popularly known as ‘Decree 4’ in 1984.
Mr Buhari, the then head of the military regime in 1984, had pencilled down Mr Hananiya’s name and seven other top military officers for posting as ambassadors.
But in an exclusive report, the Guardian Newspaper of Nigeria exposed how the Buhari-led junta made efforts to reshuffle the ambassadorial lists – which angered the regime.
To punish the two Guardian journalists – Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson – who authored the story, the regime hurriedly packaged Decree 4 and applied it retroactively against the journalists.
The regime arrested the two men, tried and jailed them under the Draconian law.
Mr Hananiya, 80, in his new book, ‘All Eyes on Me,’ says, “There was indeed an attempt to replace my name with Haruna’s (another army General) as the High Commissioner to the UK.”
“But for the (Guardian) publication, I would probably have been posted to another country, with (IBM) Haruna sent to the UK as High Commissioner,” Mr Hananiya said.
In the book, Mr Hananiya explained that the Buhari-led military regime was “embarrassed that their plan (to make changes) leaked.”
Though the military government denied making changes to the ambassadorial list, Mr Hananiya, 80, says, “I later confirmed that the (Guardian) story was true.”
“Decree Four was hurriedly drafted and enacted to punish the two journalists (Messrs Irabor and Thompson) who broke the story,” he said in the book.
This revelation comes nearly 40 years after the two journalists were convicted and incarcerated by the then military regime.
The retired military officer, who trained in both the United States and the UK, decried the retroactive application of the notorious Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation law known as ‘Decree 4’.
Mr Buhari on April 17, 1984, after toppling the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari in December 1983, hurriedly promulgated Decree 4, with the sole aim of jailing Messrs Irabor and Thompson for refusing to divulge the source of their information on the ambassadorial list.
Mr Hananiya, then a serving major general in the Nigerian Army, had been designated to proceed to the United Kingdom as the Nigerian High Commissioner by the military junta.
‘Reasons Buhari wanted to replace my name’
Giving reasons for Mr Buhari’s attempt to substitute his name, Mr Hananiya, a Christian from Plateau State, North-central Nigeria says, “While we were preparing to move to London, I began to hear murmurs that the UK was too strategic to send me because I am a Northern Christian.”
“The position of High Commissioner to the United Kingdom was considered one of those positions,” the octogenarian said.
Mr Hananiya noted that Mr Buhari, being a Muslim, and his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, also a Muslim, were uncomfortable with a Christian diplomat in a strategic country like Britain.
He listed the other top military brass who were for the ambassadorial postings to include Zamani Lekwot, a major-general; Abdullahi Shelleng, a major general; D.E Okujagu, a rear admiral; H. Eghagha, a brigadier, L. Uweyzor, an air commodore; R.A. Adegbite, a commodore, and A. Ajanaku, a commodore.
Mr Hananiya further disclosed that his initial ambassadorial posting was to Washington, but that they later discovered the U.S. “would not accept a serving General as an ambassador.”
‘Biggest masquerade behind 1983 coup’
The erstwhile Nigerian envoy to the UK, detailed how Mr Buhari, who was the Commanding Officer of 3 Division in Jos, kept the coup away from him in December 1983.
Mr Hananiya recalled he was spending the Christmas holidays with his family at Yankari, Bauchi State, when Mr Buhari promised to join them.
“Unknown to us, while Buhari was making a promise to join us in Yankari, he had other plans,” Mr Hananiya said.
“On December 30, 1983, the Second Republic (Mr Shagari’s government) was toppled by a coup initially announced by Sani Abacha (late head of state),” he recalled.
Mr Hananiya enumerated the coup plotters to include Ibrahim Babangida, Tunde Idiagbon, Sambo Dasuki, Aliyu Gusau, Ibrahim Bako, Halilu Akilu, David Mark, Tunde Ogbeha, Abdulmumini Aminu, Lawan Gwadabe, and Mustapha Jakolo.
He described Mr Buhari as the “biggest masquerade” behind the putsch that ousted Mr Shagari.
‘Acrimonious relationship with Obasanjo’
Reflecting on his military career, Mr Hananiya recalled the testy relationship with then Olusegun Obasanjo, whom he deputised as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters.
Mr Obasanjo, who would later serve as Nigeria’s elected president from 1999 to 2007, was the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, which was the second-in-command position under the regime of the then head of state, Murtala Muhammed.
He served in the Chief of Staff position from July 29, 1975, until February 13, 1976, when Mr Muhammed was assassinated in a failed coup d’état. Mr Obasanjo became the head of state following Mr Muhammed’s death.
Mr Hananiya said the sour relationship between him and Obasanjo while he was Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters “resulted in (him) being dragged before the Justice Belgore Tribunal of Integrity to defend his integrity.”
According to Mr Hananiya, he was neither “innocent nor guilty,” but admitted that he was “bruised.”
Segun Adeniyi on Decree 4
While describing the Draconian Decree 4 issued by the Buhari regime, Segun Adeniyi, who wrote the foreword to the book, notes that the decree, “empowered the federal military government to close any media house deemed to be ‘acting in a manner detrimental to national interest’, and to jail journalists for inaccurate reporting that ‘bring government officials into ridicule or disrepute.’”
Mr Adeniyi, a former spokesperson to the late President Umar Yar’adua and chairman of Thisday Newspaper’s editorial board, describes Mr Hananiya’s book as “highly revealing.”
But despite being jailed by the administration of the then Head of State, Mr Thompson declared his support for Mr Buhari’s presidential bid in January 2015.
Mr Thompson said his support for Mr. Buhari was based on the belief that Nigeria needed a person of his character to fight corruption, and the impunity that had defined President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, this newspaper had reported.