A former chairperson of the EFCC, Farida Waziri, says former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and his former military deputy, Musa Yar’Adua, and others were falsely accused in the alleged 1995 coup attempt by the regime of late dictator, Sani Abacha.
Mrs Waziri served in the legal team that worked with the special investigative panel (SIP) set up by Mr Abacha on the alleged coup. She said in her newly released memoir, Farida Waziri: One Step Ahead, that Mr Obasanjo, the late Shehu Yar’Adua, Lawan Gwadabe, and Chris Anyanwu, at the time a newspaper editor, were all framed up, The Nation newspaper reported.
The former EFCC boss described the alleged coup as ”dubious.”
”There was something dubious about it. Historians called it a phantom coup. In other words, a conspiracy by the powers-that-be against selected targets critical of the state of the nation. Well, I have no opinion about that,” she said.
The late dictator, who was Nigeria’s 10th head of state from November 17, 1993, till June 8, 1998, jailed both Messrs Obasanjo and Yar’Adua for treason in March 1995.
According to a 1995 BBC World Service report, the coup was supposed to take place on 1 March 1995 during the Eid-el Fitri festival.
Mr Obasanjo spent three years in prison before his release in 1998, following the death of Mr Abacha. He was initially sentenced to death before another military panel set up by Mr Abacha reduced the sentence to 30 years and again to 15 years.
Mr Yar’Adua who served as the Chief of Staff during Mr Obasanjo’s 1976 – 1979 military government, died on 8 December 1997 while serving his own 25-year jail term in Abakaliki prison.
In the case of Mr Yar’Adua, Mrs Waziri recalled how his chief accuser was later found to have framed Mr Yar’ Adua up.
She said, “For example, the chief accuser who claimed he attended the coup meeting in Yar’Adua’s lkoyi home couldn’t identify the house when driven around the neighbourhood.
”Neither could he identify critical places where clandestine meetings allegedly occurred with the general in attendance. His claim that about fifty (50) guests attended a dinner in Yar’Adua’s sitting room was proven false.
“When taken into the general’s home, he found a living room that could barely accommodate twenty, not 50 visitors. He had lamely changed his statement to “I was standing by the window.
“Caught in a web of lies, he later confessed that an SSS operative gave him a written report, with the instruction to copy the information about Yar’Adua’s involvement in the coup.
“When completed, burn the book,” that was the instruction according to him. We found the book hidden in the ceiling of his home. The accuser was handcuffed and subsequently tried,” Mrs Waziri said in her book.
She said after the conclusion of the investigation, the panel had agreed on treasonable felony as Mr Yar’Adua’s indictment but was surprised this was changed to treason.
“After reviewing the evidence, the legal team agreed on treasonable felony for Yar’Adua. The basis was that he might have known about the coup, but it could not be proved. We drafted charges for a treasonable felony and closed for the day.
“The next morning began on a dramatic note. Others were seated by the time I arrived. I found them in a pensive mood. My jovial greeting drew solemn responses. My off-hand question ‘have we finished for the day’ drew murmurs. My file laid face down on the table. I turned it over and got a shock.
“General Yar’Adua’s indictment had changed to treason. I could hardly contain my anger: “What is this? Didn’t we all agree yesterday on treasonable felony?” “None of them replied.
“They sat in subdued silence. I was so upset for this blatant interference with judicial due process that I dropped the file and abandoned the morning session.
“I went home and told Ajuji, my husband, what happened. Just be careful was all he said. That was hardly satisfactory to me.
“I headed to the Force Headquarters to complain to the Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie.
“We know what is happening,” he said. “Sometimes, there are things beyond our power to control or influence.
“So it was that General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was sentenced for treason. Sadly, he died in prison.”
Mrs Waziri said it was obvious something was not right in his case for two fundamental reasons.
She added that another colleague on the legal team agreed “this man (Obasanjo) is innocent” of the allegations against him by the end of his trial.
The former EFCC boss also narrated how she had thought of going home to prepare food for Mr Obasanjo but was warned on the implications.
“First, General Obasanjo was a superior military officer to all those at the helm of the current government. Second, most of the officers with whom he allegedly conspired were not even commissioned into the Nigerian Army when he was a ranking officer,“ she said.
“One evening after an interrogation session, it was getting late, and Obasanjo, a diabetic patient, was waiting for his meal of beans from his farm in Ota.
“There was a delay in getting the meal to him. He was in a great deal of discomfort as his blood sugar level began to drop. Feeling sorry for him, I approached the senior officer and offered to dash home, not far, to prepare a meal of beans for him. The officer smiled and said nothing.
“I missed the message. Another officer pulled me aside and cautioned me about getting involved with the detainees, to avoid getting implicated.
“What if you prepare food for him and something happens?
“The legal team ultimately sentenced General Obasanjo to death; the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison, and the transitional government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar pardoned and released him from jail.”
A spy detective
The book, which is due for launch on Tuesday, surrounds her life as a spy and detective at the Nigerian Police. In pages, she narrated how some soldiers dug up a boys quarters room located in Ikoyi, Lagos State, by creating a pit filled with refuse from the dustbin, which she said was with an intent to make the room unhealthy for junior suspects to be kept in for interrogations and torture.
She also recounted her interaction with some of the high-profile persons accused in the foiled coup. On her encounter with late Mr Yar’Adua, she said, ”I studied him through the one-way glass window. He sat quietly in the room, nervous and chain-smoking, wracked intermittently by fits of cough.
“When I had the opportunity, I entered the room and politely said to him, ‘Sir, why are you doing this to yourself? It seems smoking is not good for your health.’ He gave me a wry look. ‘If you were in my shoes, what would you do?’ he asked.
“’If I were in your shoes, I would be praying,’ I responded. “As an observer of most of the SIP sittings during the trial of General Yar’Adua, I had the conviction that he was falsely implicated. The witnesses arranged against him could not substantiate their claims.”
She also recalled her encounter with Ms Anyanwu, an editor and later politician. who was imprisoned from 1995 to 1998 for treason after “reporting on a failed coup d’état.
“However, I broke my own rule. I couldn’t help but sympathise with a few of the suspects. For instance, Chris Anyanwu was a friend, a popular journalist, editor and publisher (and senator years later). The least I could do was to encourage her to eat and keep her spirit up. I urged her to write all she knew about the incident truthfully.”