IN MEMORY OF JUNE 12
I brought 8,000 rifles and Special Guns to Start Liberation War in Nigeria-Prof Banjo
A Professor of Human Anatomy, Olusegun Banjo has revealed his bid to overthrow the regime of the late General Sanni Abacha through the force of arms. Banjo is immediate junior brother of the late Col. Victor Banjo who was killed by the defunct Biafra authority led by Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu.
In an interview conducted by Deputy Editor, The Nations, ADEWALE ADEOYE, Banjo revealed his plot which involved the importation of several cache of sophisticated weapons which he brought into the country.
Having hired a Vietnamese Major and an expert in Guerilla war fare and other retired American soldiers to give him training in a plot that took one year to hatch, Banjo set for Nigeria in the autumn of 1995 hoping to embark on war that would put an end to the Abacha’s despotic reign.
He said if his plans had succeeded, the story of Nigeria would probably have been an entirely different stroke from the present. He had a dream, a very awkward and somehow astonishing, if not intriguing one.
He said the episode began in 1994 in the heat of campaign against June 12 annulment. A sordid experience at Ojuelegba, in Lagos , where he watched in four people were shot, by soldiers changed his consciousness from peace to arms. ‘They had no In utter amazement how five people were shot, by soldiers changed his consciousness from peace to arms. ‘They had no weapons; they were only throwing stones at the soldiers. They retaliated and shot five people, one woman and four boys dead. ‘ I watched it with my eyes, not that I was told.’
Banjo said after the shooting the people, the soldiers walked away and even had a toast of drinks at a not too distant beer café leaving the victims to bleed to death. ‘They were so happy. The soldiers seemed fulfilled.’
He said he watched people who were close to the scene of the gory act wail in agony as the corpses were loaded cramped together in prefabricated trailer containers. From that moment, he said he made up his mind it was time to fight Abacha’s regime with the same weapon the regime relied on to hold in awe, the populace.
Banjo who studied anatomy at the Makerere university Uganda, University of Oxford and the famous medical college of the University of Pennsylvania, United states, transferred his life savings from the banks to the hands of gun dealers.
Relocating into the US in the autumn of 1994 Banjo made contacts with several people, who believed in his cause, that is, armed rebellion against what was then considered a patriarch state that was equally isolated by most democratic nations. According to him, he visited America and European airports, for two weeks, studying the security, weighing the options, sifting the air tight airlines from those as loose as cannons.
His bid was to import several consignments of weapons on Nigeria . Eventually he succeeded in getting the arms, but was caught by a combination of fate and irony. In 1995, after sourcing the arms, Banjo set out for Nigeria , with the hope of coming to start a conventional war to oust Abacha. In his containers were 8,000 Ak47 rifles, SKS rifles, and the Israeli Uzis. ‘I chose the SKS because it is a perfect assault rifle. It is laser guided; it aims straight at the target and with a natural strength of marksmanship.’
He bought land to air missiles, a bullet cutting machine, about I million pieces of drugs, dangerous bullets, some that could penetrate steel as thick as four inches. The ship carrying the cargo was Nigeria bound. Banjo and his wife travelled by air and landed in Cotonou , Benin Republic. The goods were well secured. The couple would land into the waiting hands of supporters. He had hoped he would catch in on the vexations mood of the living population, traumatized and pauperized by the then distortional regime.
Banjo in a chat with The Nation’s DEPUTY EDITOR, ADEWALE ADEOYE said the destruction of a people’s culture, lack of free speech, lack of the adequate provisions for people to choose their leaders, poverty, and the suppression of the will of the people ‘will always produce the extreme of hate against the government.’
How did you get yourself involved in the struggle for the actualisation of June 12 election by adopting the armed option?
It’s a long history. It has to do with the terrible cheating the people of this country have experienced. For a long time right from independence when Chief Obafemi Awolowo and other Yoruba leaders were being tried by the government of Sir Tafawa Balewa , I knew that one day the Yoruba and all the oppressed people, may need to fight to liberate themselves. The history of Nigeria is a painful one. We are several steps backward. After independence, power was handed over to people who do not belief in democracy, these are people that do not belief in accountability or transparency.
They have no respect for free speech and a plural society. These are the feudal lords, they believe the rest of the people are serfs. If you listen to the campaign in the 1960s, I’m a living witness, I remember when the Sarduana of Sokoto said that the conquest of Nigeria which his grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio began, was stopped at Ilorin, but that he would continue until he got to Lagos and impose the wish of the feudal North on the rest of the country. Then at independence the United State’s President, Kennedy, referring to Nigeria , said a ‘new nation is born in Africa, that has the resources and power to rise to our ( US ) level in 15 to 20 years.’ He added: ‘Let’s give them a unique birthday gift.’ He then announced that the then US government would give Nigeria a steel industry. But the Federal Government controlled by the feudal North said Nigeria did not need it.
Where was the steel industry to be cited ?
No place was decided, but certainly it would have been in the Southern part of the country because of manpower. Then Balewa and Sarduana refused it, that it would only benefit the South because they, the North were not having the manpower. We know the rate of education in the west and South at that time, at the rate Southern Nigerian was going, there should be nobody that would not be able to read and write at the age of 30. I remember Awo saying the North should follow the South closely otherwise the gap between the South and West would be too large and we won’t be able to stay together. But the North said we should slow down so that they could catch up. That is what is still going on today. Then, the military took over, although it was tribally executed. Only officers of Northern and Southern regions were killed. My senior brother, Col Victor Banjo was spared; he was not part of the coup. He was the one who infact stopped what could have degenerated into civil war in the army as a senior officer then.
He spoke to young Hausa soldiers to accept Ironsi as the Head of State. But what did Ironsi do? He had an agenda, my brother was to be his deputy. Victor said he would stay with Ironsi, but he said he should go to Western Region, but instead my brother suggested Col Adekunle Fajuyi to lead the West. If you follow the political agenda right from independence, it is the North that wants the South under domination and then the looting that we are seeing now, the rape of democracy, the pauperisation of the people and the emergence of the worst human beings as managers of men and material, when those whom the people voted for are being sidelined by the central government.
To us it is looting, but to them (North) they think they are taking their right. In the feudal system the operators think Nigerian money belongs to them. There were times, in the 60s that Sarduana signed cheques of the national treasury.
Now on the June 12 election, what propelled you to going abroad to buy several arms to wage war against Abacha?
In Lagos after the election, there were lots of protests; young people were using stones to resist the stealing of their votes and the daylight political robbery. I was there in Lagos , I saw it, some soldiers opened fire on several innocent people protesting for their future.
They killed all of them. The soldiers were laughing with glee. Ha, I could’nt sleep. I felt extremely bad. I cried. That was when I decided I would organise armed struggle against Abacha. Things have really gone bad. Few people holding on to billions of naira stolen from you and me and they are still ruling us by force. Things are turning for the worse in Nigeria . Those of us in the University as a senior lecturer, if we got N1000, in the 1970s, we changed it to 3,300 dollars. It was 30 kobo to the dollar. After General Ibrahim Babangida came to power in 1985 our salary went to N60 to 100 dollars per month. When you look at the devaluation index, done to impoverish the South, to take the economic power out of the South, you can see the progressive attempt to dehumanise us and attempts to subjugate the people of this country who are outside the feudal framework.
How did you begin the armed struggle?
It is a true story that in all wars, it is intelligence that you can use to defeat dictator’s army. If you take all dictators in history, it is intelligence that defeated them. After the shooting incidence in Lagos , I started reading books on military weapons of all types from all countries. My preparation took a whole year. I read books about dictators across the world. Good enough, I knew Idi-Amin Dada, his mother was my patient in Uganda where I practiced as a doctor. Then I decided the best weapon to buy was the SKS which is a very powerful rifle, you can shoot from 1000 metres away. The SKS is equipped with riflescope and laser beam. It stokes and reflects back and calculates the defense and you can dial it on the rifle scope. Each had a silencer attached, so you can see it’s a very good weapon for urban guerrilla war fare. I read a lot of books, I learnt to disorganise any army and to put them on the hot spot.
The next is AK47, the AK and the SKS use the same types of bullets. The SKS is a mild automatic fully or semi-automatic, that is when you are many.
I love SKS because you can conceal it under Agbada. From a corner, 400 yards away, you can shoot. There was the need to teach a brutal dictator who thought he knew everything a bitter lesson. I got all these with personal means, I bought ballistic air missiles. I bought machines that could cut and produce several bullets. To arm a soldier costs 10,000 dollars. I bought top military booths that were metal protected, what the Germans are using, anti-sneak trousers etc. When I started it was my money, I spent close to 60 million dollars. I carried 8 suit cases with arms through the Airport, my friend who was with me was shaking like hell. But for two weeks, I was studying movements at the Airport, I knew the weak and strong airlines. It was amazing. I was bent on confronting Abacha. It was June 6 that myself and my wife, an Ibo arrived Cotonoue with the arms. Interestingly, one of the boxes broke out of the 8 boxes, somebody covered with a kind of rope, without knowing the content. Maybe an angel was with us.
In the containers, there were lots of things, machine guns, engines that could be used to produce bullets, Uzi, SKS etc, and I had lots of pistols for officers. The big one was the container; we had about 8000 assorted guns in the container.
How did you get your training ?
We had some training in the US. I hired retired American soldiers to train us. I hired a Vietnamese Major who trained me in Guerilla war. I went to hire a range, I was going to build a core army of few people. The important thing was to get the arms.
So what happened at Contonue?
It is just one of those things. I had bribed and paid 1.5million naira. They did not open the containers. But the day we went to collect then, that morning, a call came from Copenhagen that we should deposit another 5000 dollars, that meant I had to go to Lagos , to get the money and change it to dollars, I decided we had to off load. That morning, I could have left my Car as surety, if I had known, but I was so tired, so I hired a vehicle to off load. Another mistake was that we could have moved the vehicle out but instead we decided to offload, considering demurrage and other things if I had to leave the container to go to Lagos to raise 5000 dollars. I had sent some of my men out. The port officials came back and watched us offload, but there was no way they could know the content at that time. But suddenly, one of the off loaders discovered just the stuck of a gun and he invited the genderless. They swooped on us. I did not know the very unkempt off loader was also a state security spy.
What did the gendarmes do?
They seized the container. But they had not known the full disclosure of what was inside. They now insisted they would go through the container. I told them I was going to eat, so I used the opportunity trying to get people to use their network to help get the container released. The port security said they would go through the container in our presence. When they eventually opened it, they were amazed. They did not know the guns. They had never seen the guns before. The government of Benin Republic hadn’t seen such guns before, guns that could shoot 700 bullets in less than one minute, assorted bullets, those that could pierce steel of four inches, Russian bullets and all that.
They were mad with you?
They were not mad with us. We just told them the guns were not against the government of Benin . They said but this is for the army, this is for army, they then asked, is it against Abacha, and I said ‘Yes.’ The leader of the security team said ‘Yeah it is good for you to do that. It is time you people should teach Abacha a lesson.’ He said, ‘are you Yoruba’ I said ‘Yes.’ He said ‘ha, it is time for you Yoruba to fight back.’ The other senior officers came that night, including the defense Minister of Benin Republic and the Minister for Interior. They met and said ‘we will allow you to go.’ Latter they came and asked me ‘where is your training base?’ I said not in Benin Republic . They said ‘we can give you a training base’ and why not, but that their officers must train with use.
So they said its okay. We talked till morning, other officers came, their most senior General, one who had a Yoruba name, he too assured us they would not get involved in our quarrel in Nigeria . So they kept us there. The following week, Nigerian Generals, Abacha’s Chief Security Officer, CSO, Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI Col Omenka, Brigadier Sabo, including our ambassador and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi, they all came. There was a big meeting of Beninese Executives. We were latter told they would allow us to go. But latter we were told by top Benin security that Abacha had passed on 100million dollars to the government of Benin . That was what the Benin people themselves told us. We were then arrested and taken to prison.
Initially they treated us well. They were also afraid of the consequences, not knowing who were with us in the struggle. We were in Port prison for 10 days, before we were taken to another prison and kept for another period. Then we said myself and my wife, we had to plan our escape. I had a knife with 26 functions. One night we cut the bar, the wood, right to the wall, around 1:30 am . We took our mattresses and put it over the wood, just about to jump over the wall. Before then, during the interrogation, Ngozi said I should be allowed to go and that she would take responsibility for all the actions saying I knew nothing. She said she was the one that bought the weapons with the hope that if I was freed, I would continue the struggle. But because as a woman, they asked her to go but she said no, she would go to prison with me.
Tell me about the escape plan?
Yes, Just before we jumped the wall, people outside saw us and they raised alarm. They would have killed us. We had to retreat back into the room in the prison. They shackled me for one week. They wanted to know what I used to cut the bar.
When they came in I would throw the knife inside my shit in the small pot. They would search and said I swallowed it. They could have found it, when they were gone, I would take the knife and wash the knife. For one week I did that.
At one point, they tried to set us against each other, they would tell her things I did not say and tell me things that she did not say. But we were matured and kept the secrets to ourselves.
Was the interrogation done in English?
It was done in English but all the interrogations were written in French. When they finished, they said we should sign. We said no, that we did not understand what was written. They now looked for someone who could write English. Then they took us to court. The judge said she heard our case but that our names were not on the prison register. She said we were being illegally detained since we were not indigenes of that country. She discharged us. They rearrested us. We had no lawyer. They read the charges in the court during the second trial, they said we were trying to overthrow the government of Benin . I told them the arms were not found in our possession. Good enough, there is an ECOWAS law, goods in transit can’t be broken. The judge agreed. On the second charge, that we wanted to overthrow the government of Benin , they should prove it, we told them. The prosecutor demanded for two weeks to prove the case.
At that time some army officers in Benin were accused of trying to over throw Soglo, the President of the country. So the judge discharged us because they could not prove it. After that, while reading her judgment, someone in the courtroom called her that there was a VIP phone call. It was President Soglo that called him as we heard later. We were to be detained on presidential order, according to the judge. I asked the judge, he said it was a political decision. We wrote Soglo, a letter of protest, he did not reply. This was when the torture began. I was tortured, I was put in a house just near a septic tank, having being separated from my wife. One side of the septic tank were faeces, the other uncompleted room, no ventilation, it was a gas chamber, they metalled the door, with a peeping hole. I was inside, within a minute I was feeling unconscious. I noticed I was to sleep with maggots. Due to my training, I went to the tiny peeping hole and received fresh air. I never had any sleep. They came to check me every one hour. I slept on the opposite wall. I was taken to Quide. My wife left in Cotonue. I was left for another four months in Quide.
How about the feeding condition in Cotonue?
I was given Garri throughout. Three people used to come carrying a gun, one person would open the door. One day, one officer said ‘this man will die overnight’. Later they brought my wife. In her case, she developed pterygoid plexus (infection at the base of the brain).
That infection tracks the brain, so I had to create a hole with blade to drain the purse as an anatomist. She also had pneumonia, I was sick for six weeks, I could not walk. In fact, on new year’s eve, 1995, I thought I was dying. I told my wife in case I didn’t make it, there were certain things she should do. I kept all to myself. Then I went to my room but fortunately I survived the sickness.
After Soglo, Kerekou became the President. He made money out of our predicament.
Did Abacha make any move to fetch you?
Yes, there was a day under Soglo that Abacha ordered that we should be fetched by helicopter, it was on a Sunday, but the helicopter did not arrive. He was putting so much pressure on Soglo. We understood that Soglo wanted to hand us over to Abacha, but that President Bill Clinton intervened that we should not be handed over to Abacha that he would kill us. Other powerful Presidents intervened. Later, Abacha threatened to invade Benin Republic , but he was dared by the US.
We were taken to court. In the middle of the 14th month in 1996, Kerekou could not pay salary of police and civil servants, so he went back to blackmail Abacha using us to trade. The judiciary now realized our life was in danger because we were being used to trade. The Attorney General of Benin called us and said ‘look, your life is in danger.’ He now offered to help us. He would charge us for possession of firearms, the sentence is just one year, we had spent 14 months already. He said ‘we’ll let you go.’ That morning, the Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic , our ambassador went to the prosecutor and said she should release us to them. A week later, we were taken to court. They took us to court. The judge was a lady who told me in Yoruba “Ogbon ni mo fe da lati ti fi yin sile o. (I want to use some legal tricks so that you can regain your freedom). She looked at Ngozi and said ‘you are a woman’, Obinrin gidi ni e. (You are a strong woman.)
How did you get to arms struggle, the woman asked my wife. She replied that freedom is a gift from God that anything she did to liberate her people was right. We were released by the woman judge. Suddenly the whole place was flooded with Nigerian soldiers. The Benin judiciary kept us somewhere till nightfall.
At day break, we went to Canada embassy but Canada had no full diplomatic status with Nigeria . We went to French embassy, when the Ambassador came she said we must leave, ‘ France cannot sabotage Nigeria because France has several interests in Nigeria’, she said. We went to American embassy, the Ambassador said I’m a US citizen, but I said no. That night we were almost swallowed up at Cotonue. The third day in the morning, thousands of Nigerian security operators were looking for us, but we were 200 k/meters away in a village. The lawyer that wanted to assist us after our release was given a brand new Pajero by Abacha.
He lied that the vehicle was sent to us by Nigerian human rights.
How did you cope thereafter?
We escaped to Ghana . There were attempts to kidnap us. Moshood Fayemiwo helped us. He was the Nigerian journalist who helped our escape. God helped us. The United Nations, (UN) refugee office that we visited was compromised. Moshood followed us to the border. The UN official said he should phone her as soon as we got to the border, but I told him not to do that. We later heard Abacha had given her millions of cash. When Fayemiwo returned without notifying the woman, the woman was crying. The next day, she resigned her job and ran away from Benin republic.
In Ghana , we didn’t sleep in one place more than one night. I had about 50 passports with different names. I never used my name in any hotel.
Did Abacha reach out to you in Ghana?
There were attempts to kidnap us in Ghana . One journalist was involved. They located one Hotel that we were but failed. President Jerry Rawlings protected us initially. When Abacha wanted him to send us to Nigeria , he lied by saying we had a lot of money in the Ghana Stock Exchange and that if we left the country, Ghana would suffer. I heard that latter some Ghanian officials got 25 million dollars from Abacha. I was with Bunmi Aborishade, a Nigerian journalist in Ghana who also helped me a lot. He was also in exile in Ghana . We had to quit Ghana because of the threat. We bought tickets and left for Uganda . President Yoweri Musevem gave us political asylum until Abacha died. I had known Museveni as a University student in Uganda and remember he has a lot of respect for Abiola who funded the guerrilla war led by Museveni against dictatorship in Uganda . Later in Uganda , some officials sent us away. We were forced to flee to Kenya , a people without a nation.
In Kenya , when we arrived, the security officials said ‘We’ve heard about you.’ Their President Arap Moi and top ministers and the Minister of Interior came to us. The Interior Minister said ‘okay we will not detain you, but you cannot stay in Kenya .’ They returned us back to Uganda but we were not allowed to enter the country the second time. Newspaper headlines in Uganda gave us support. They took the case up. Musevem said why should you deport them. He denied his involvement in the earlier deportation because Abiola gave him money when he was fighting for justice. We slept in the airport for one month. What surprised us was that a Nigerian army batch, about 42 of them came to learn computer in Uganda around the time we were in Uganda. We suspected foul play. We were again sent to Zimbabwe . As soon as we arrived the country, we were surrounded by security operatives. We were in the Airport until we were again returned to Uganda .
Did you think you picked any of these traits from your brother late Col Banjo
He did not anticipate he would be killed. My sister cautioned him.
It was terrible when we learnt that he was dead.
Did he send any message before he was killed?
He wanted to set up a Yoruba army, that was his mission. He told the family. But he said if he came to the Yoruba territory, without the Yoruba backing, he would be like an invading force. But he was worried that if the Yoruba people continued to play into the hands of the North, we would imperil our future. He feared that if the Yoruba did not make adequate preparations, the feudal forces would kill our scientists, our doctors and our engineers.
How did you access the political and economic situation in the country today?
Take what happened in the South West elections, it’s a shame, Ekiti, Osun and many others across the country. We still allow enemies of the people to rule the country. We must realize that as long as we allow the wrong people to rule us, to come through fraudulent electoral forces as we see now, the country will never join the comity of developed and prosperous nations where her citizens and leaders will walk tall anywhere they go and they will earn the respect of peoples and nations all over the world and not now that our leaders are laughing stocks in the comity of nations. I was driven by June 12 to embark on this struggle, if the right people are in power, the efforts of people who took part and those that are dead would be appreciated. Are you not surprised that today despite my sacrifices for democracy, even to get a job as Professor of Anatomy even in my home state of Ogun is a big problem? The unity of Nigeria partly depends on free and fair election. As it is today, democracy in Nigeria is a ruse.This interview was first published in The Nation on Sunday, June 2009
NOTES: Prof Banjo died a tragic death in 2018, having lived in penury for several years after his return to Nigeria in 2001. His Igbo wife had no child for him during the traumatic period. But two weeks after Prof Banjos’ death, his wife delivered a baby boy which his revolutionary father never had the privilege to know.