Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila should expect a petition from the General Iliya Bisalla family soonest to cleanse the stigma hanging on those he left behind in 1976 following the February 13 coup.Femi Gbajabiamila
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The Bisallas have a case because the man was executed based on evidence presented by Lt.Col. Bukar Suka Dimka to the Gen. Emmanuel Abisoye led Military Tribunal that tried the coup plotters.
Dimka was a very unstable character, a heavy drinking philanderer who could have beaten the head cutting record of the wild Wa of Burma [Myanmar]. General Emmanuel Obada described him as a drunkard. Gen. John Mark Inienger tagged him a head hunter.
If Musa and Nuhu Bisalla have not made up their mind to take this case to the National Assembly, I expect Bishop Benjamin Kwashie to lead this crusade. They should push for a presidential pardon for Gen. Bisalla.
President Muhammadu Buhari has recognized Chief Moshood Abiola as a national hero even if posthumously. June 12, has replaced May 29, as Democracy Day.
Bisalla ran into trouble from the moment his Sandhurst Course 27 mate, Murtala Mohammed, became Head of State on July 29, 1975.Murtala chose Yakubu Danjuma as Army chief.
Bisalla was appointed Minister of Defence [ Federal Commissioner for Defence] and was to report to Danjuma. Mohammed Shuwa and Ibrahim Haruna, both Murtala’s mates, were also appointed ministers but unlike Bisalla, were not part of the Supreme Military Council.
Murtala, Bisalla, Haruna and Shuwa were at various times General Officers Commanding [GOC] during the civil war. Bisalla replaced Shuwa as GOC One Division, Nigeria Army on May 12, 1968.
On December 4, 1969, GOC, Third Marine Commandos division, Col. Olusegun Obasanjo, visited the GOC One division office, Enugu. Col. Bisalla was away but his General Staff Officer, Grade One, Lt.Col. Yakubu Danjuma, received the visitor.
By July 1975, all officers including Danjuma were Brigadiers [Brigadier General]. Some other NMTC course one members like Alani Akinrinade, Martins Adamu, David Bamigboye and Abisoye had also risen to that rank.
Murtala promoted Danjuma and Obasanjo, who was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters , to Lieutenant General and made all others major general. It was said that Bisalla was not happy about that.
Honestly, as a human being, Bisalla was entitled to grievance but he had benefitted in the past. In 1967, after the death of Col Joe Akahan, Bisalla replaced him as Army Chief. That also caused disaffection.
Officers like Col. Adeyinka Adebayo, Lt. Col. David Ejoor, Lt. Col. Hassan Usman Katsina, Benjamin Addekunle and Obasanjo were overlooked. It did not take long for Gowon to reverse that decision by selecting Katsina.
Katsina was junior to Ejoor and Adebayo. Even at that, they were senior to Akahan who was appointed ahead of them. It did not start with Maj. Gen. Yakubu Gowon.
It was Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi’s idea of placating the North after the January 1966 coup. Lt. Col Gowon emerged as Army chief, above his superiors, like Adebayo, Lt.Cols Wellington Bassey, Conrad Nwawo, Adekunle Fajuyi, Hilary Njoku, Philip Effiong, Ogere Imo and Ejoor.
Only Murtala knew why he appointed a Defence minister under a military regime. Ironsi did not. Gowon also ignored it. And only God can explain why the Defence minister had to report to the Chief of Army staff.
In the First Republic, Ironsi as Army chief, was subordinate to Muhammadu Ribadu and Inua Wada respectively, as Defence ministers. Even today, the service chiefs take directives from the Defence minister.
This alleged bottled up grievance was held against Bisalla when Murtala was killed. And simply because there was so much among Gowon, Bisalla and Dimka, there was no way out.
The Gowons and the Kwashies hail from around Pankshin but their parents moved to Wusasa, Zaria as missionaries. Bisalla married Mildred Kwashie and Gowon’s elder sister married S.K. Dimka, who later became Kwara State police commissioner.
Another police commissioner, Joseph Gomwalk, first governor of Benue Plateau State, had a Kwashie, Helen, as sister in-law. This was the setting before Murata ascended the throne.
On Gowon’ wedding day, April 19, 1969, Col. Bisalla was the Military Coordinator. Mrs Bisalla was one of the Four Ladies–in-Waiting. One of the five bridesmaids was Elizabeth Dimka. Another Dimka, Mary, played a prominent role.
Gowon was alleged to have supported the 1976 plot. Everyone close to him suffered. His brothers, Moses, a Squadron leader and Isaiah, a captain were arrested. Bisalla, Gomwalk and Helen were also detained. Dimka, the coup spokesman, ran away.
Then Dimka was arrested and he began to sing like a weaver bird. Based on his drunken confessions, Bisalla was trapped and executed. Gomwalk was killed too. Helen and Isaiah were imprisoned. All got President Shehu Shagari’s pardon.
Bisalla maintained innocence till death. His last words were: “I was to be set free yesterday, but for this boy Dimka who implicated me. God knows I didn’t know anything about it. Allah Sariki.”
Bisalla never took part in any previous coup. As GOC, he was said to have frowned at a fellow GOC who was bombing Biafran civilian targets. At the end of the war, there was Bisalla Cup, for football competition in the East Central State. Vasco da Gama beat Neptune, Aba 2-1 to win in 1972. A street was named after him in Enugu.
Bishop Kwashie should move to Abuja. Mrs Salamotu Gbajabiamila is there already. They need to clear Bisalla’s name. Salamotu was just eight when she lost her father. Musa was 11 and Nuhu, six.
It happened in Ghana. In 1979, Jerry Rawlings signed the execution of three ex-leaders: Okatakye Afrifa, Kutu Acheampong and Fred Akuffo. Former and serving Service Chiefs like Robert Kotei, George Boakye and Joy Amedume were not spared.
In 2001, their bodies were exhumed and reburied following John Kuffour’s presidential pardon. Kotei’s sister, Mrs Gladys Dorlo Kokailey, took the matter up.
Bisalla’s children should get in touch with Col. Paul Ogbebor. His name was deleted by Gen. Domkat Bali in 1976. James Danbaba was freed, last minute. Bisalla was almost going to be set free until veto power worked. Bisalla could, at least, rest in peace.