Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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On the 13th of February 1976, General Murtala Mohammed who was barely six months in office as Nigeria’s Head of State left his residence in Ikoyi on his way to his Dodan Barracks office in Lagos. In the spirit of his government’s low profile policy, he moved without security escorts and in an ordinary, unarmored car.
He soon got trapped in the typical Lagos traffic jam of the time. Waiting in ambush for him was a band of whisky besotted army mutineers led by Lt. Col. Bukar Suka Dimka. As the unsuspecting Head of State waited for the traffic to clear and make way for him to move, Dimka and his band opened fire, instantly killing the Head of State, his Aide de Camp Lt Akinseshiwa and his driver.
Dimka, the leader of the mutineers then rushed to the head office of the Federal Radio Corporation to make an incoherent announcement on the stations network saying the Federal Military Government led by General Murtala Mohammed had been overthrown. Nigeria was thrown into utter confusion.
The attempt to topple the government of Murtala Mohammed was definitely ill timed. The government had embarked on spontaneous populist policies that endeared it to the majority of Nigerians: the sacking of public officers believed to be corrupt; the creation of new states; the movement of the Nation’s capital from the decrepit and crowded city of Lagos to an afresh location, were some of such policies. It was inconceivable that any right thinking man would want to topple a government riding such a high wave of popularity.
There was therefore a sigh of relief when it was announced later in the day that the attempt was a mere mutiny and not a successful coup. The relief was short lived as by the following day, the official announcement came that General Murtala Mohammed who was so much loved was killed in the mutiny. Worse still, the government announced that the man who led the assassination squad was on the loose.
The government offered a handsome reward for whoever arrested Dimka and two of his close collaborators, Captain Dauda Usman and Sergeant Clement Yildar all of the Nigerian Army were also on the run. With these dangerous men still at large, Nigeria could be said to be sitting on a time bomb. If they could murder a popular Chief of State in broad day light and in full glare of the people, there was nothing they could not try their hands on.
A young Nigerian patriot, imbued with the love of country and call to duty, a police constable was able to bring the whole country out of the climate of fear and trepidation. His name is Abdullahi Jika Iya. He was on duty at a police check point near Abakiliki in Eastern Nigeria – one out of thousands of such check points set up all over Nigeria in the wake of the national emergency. Anybody who has passed through such check points in Nigeria knows that nothing serious goes on there. The police would normally demand and get a small bribe and then the vehicle moves on without a check.
Not so for the patriotic crime buster Abdullahi Jika Iya. Dimka had taken to his heels when his plot to overthrow the government came to grief. All the way from Lagos, he was able to find his way to a place as far away as Abakiliki. There were officers superior in rank to constable Iya at that particular check point. They did the usual Nigerian police thing and allowed the vehicle in which Dimka was travelling to pass. If not for the eagle eyed police constable and his patriotic instinct, Dimka would have continued his cross country race further afield as his collaborators – Garba Usman and Yildar – have done up till date. He captured Dimka and for this daring move he instantly became a National celebrity.
It all ended there. The last news report about this patriot was published by the New Nigerian of March 8 1976. The newspaper reported that he was to travel to Lagos to brief the Military Board of Inquiry set up by the government on how he was able to identify and arrest Dimka. All the promises to him were only made to be broken. No rapid annual promotion, no handsome financial reward, no National honor, in fact nothing.
In 2002, crime buster Abdulahi Jika Iya was serving at Uba, a border town between Borno and Adamawa States when he fell ill. He could hardly pay his hospital bills and after a protracted battle with his strange ailment, he gave up. Twenty six years after he performed the extraordinary feat at Abakiliki, he had risen only to the rank of Inspector, the rank with which he died in 2002. Many of his contemporaries with no exemplary record like his own had moved much higher in rank.
He left behind a wife Aisha Jika Iya, an elementary school teacher and two children. On a recent visit to Yola, I was privileged to meet the family he left behind and was almost heartbroken when they revealed to me how hard it has become for them to survive. They said after the death of their bread winner, they had no house of their own so all that was paid to them in death benefits was used to build a house in Yola where they now live.
The two children – a boy and a girl – have managed to go to school through the sweat of their mother. They have a diploma each. Currently, they are unemployed and their mother keeps struggling, sometimes borrowing money to make sure they attend interviews. None of such interviews have yielded fruits.
Nigeria is strange country. Mediocrity, even crime is rewarded and patriotism despised. Sadly therefore, President Buhari will not succeed in his war against corruption and crime when men of exceptional integrity like crime buster Abdulahi Jika Iya are not rewarded and their families left to suffer after all the sacrifices they have made for mother Nigeria.