When Dimka pulled a gun at me — Mbazulike Amechi, Nigeria’s 1st aviation minister
By Vincent Ujumadu
Amechi who is now among only about five ministers of the First Republic government still alive was also host for about six months to the young South African anti-apartheid fighter, Nelson Mandela having hosted him in his No 5 Okotie Eboh Street, Ikoyi , Lagos official residence.
Following the military intervention of January 15, 1966, Amechi relocated permanently to his home town in Ukpor, Nnewi South Local Government Area, Anambra State.
Amechi now in his eighties in this interview speaks on issues relating to the military intervention in politics, his encounter with the late coup plotter, Col. Buka Suka Dimka among other national issues. Excerpts.
Did you expect the army to intervene into the governance of the country when they did on January 15, 1966?
It was something that was never expected. Nationalists who fought for the independence of the country through various conferences with the British colonial masters and the various political parties and sectional interests and fashioned out a country based on what the British colonialists did in 1914 by amalgamating the North and the South.
Great benefit to Nigerians
Having worked very hard, we believed that we would have a big country that will be of great benefit to Nigerians and their country and Africa generally.
During the series of conferences, there were compromises here and there and we eventually founded a big nation called Nigeria. In 1962 we revised the constitution and our relationship with the British government and eventually founded a big nation called Nigeria.
When we revised the relationship with the British government in 1962, they eventually left and we designed a Republican Constitution and became Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We ran government for six years and suddenly one bright morning in 1966, a most unpatriotic action was taken by the military. At independence, we created a military service – Army, Navy Air force- and the police which was already there and issued weapons to these armed forces to defend and protect the country against foreign aggression or any serious internal struggle.
We promoted the young ones who could never have got promotion under the colonial government, to encourage them to be patriotic.
Can you therefore assess the performance of the military within the period that they held forth in government?
Well, Gowon continued to rule after the civil war. Murtala Mohammed took over from Gowon and Murtala was killed by some soldiers in the Army.
One of them was Bukar Dimka who I had an encounter with in Onitsha when he was a major. The killing of Murtala Mohammed brought Obasanjo into the picture and Obasanjo needed to hand over to the civilians for his own safety.
He knew that the preponderance of the military interest was in the North and so he rushed and handed over to Shehu Shagari in 1979.
In 1983, the military struck again and took over. So if the intention of the military was to curb corruption as they claimed that politicians were corrupt, why was it necessary for one military to take over from another military?
General Buhari taking over from Shagari was to make sure that an Igbo man did not take over from Shagari.
The NPN had an agreement that after Shagari, the next president would be Igbo and thereafter a Yoruba man. So these people don’t want to hear that an Igbo man will become the president of this country.
Intention of the military
Again, if the intention of the military was that noble and honourable, why was it necessary for Babangida to take over from Buhari?
And why was it necessary for Abacha to take over from Babangida? Even Abacha wanted to be life president as he created five political parties and all of them were made to nominate him as their presidential candidate?
So the military in totality misruled Nigeria for a whole 38 years thereby destroying all the foundations the nationalists and the founding fathers laid.
Talking of founding fathers and nationalists, are there some of them still living like you that you relate with?
As far as I am concerned, there are only very few. Here in the South, I am aware that I am alone. Richard Akinjide came in at a stage, but as for those who were ministers from the beginning, I am the only survivor one here in the South.
In the North, we have Shehu Shagari, Maitama Sule and Shetima Ali Mungonu. There was another one, Inuwa Wada who died a few weeks ago. So as far as I can remember, there are only four or five of us still living.
Is the government taking care of the surviving nationalists?
I don’t know if any government is taking care of any of us anywhere, at least not in this part of the country. No government in Anambra State or in Igbo land has recognized somebody like me.
When Ngige was governor, he used to send Christmas gift to me. He did it once or twice. Peter Obi did it only once. He sent a cow and a bag of rice and some drinks.
Outside that, nothing else. The only governor that was treating me well was Theodore Orji. All others, nothing. Look at the road to my place. They only bring equipment here when election is coming. Once the election is over, they remove their equipment.
The other part of the road was done, but because this one passes through my compound, they don’t want to do it. I don’t know why they are doing it. After all I am not a politician anymore and I am not in competition with anybody. The only thing is that when something is bad, I say it.
What was this your encounter with Dimka after the civil war?
When the war ended, I sent my brother in my Chevrolet car to purchase something and it got missing. I eventually traced the car to Onitsha Army Barracks where Dimka was a Brigade Major.
He had already removed the number and replaced it with a military plate number.
When I asked why he took my car, he pulled a gun and pointed it at me and asked why he should not kill me. I told him I did not have issues with him and asked why he should seize my car? I walked away and petitioned the Army.
One day the then Provost-Marshal, Col Anthony Ochefu drove to my house and said there was an allegation that the car was used for armed robbery. Three days later, he came back and said that somebody should follow him to bring my car back. When the car was brought, I saw three new tyres and three batteries in it. That was how my car was returned.
After about a year, I met Dimka at the Ikeja Airport. He was wearing mufti and he told me he was Col Dimka and I shouted. He said he was sorry for what he did to me. So after the killing of Murtala Mohammed, Dimka ran away.
One day, a Reverend Father, Vincent Madike came to my house and informed me that Chief Chukwurah, the proprietor of Africa College, Onitsha asked him to come and inform me that Dimka was hiding in his house in Abatete and he didn’t know what to do and needed my advice.
I advised him to go to police headquarters in Lagos to see AIG Ezekwem and to tell him that Dimka was in his house.
When he did, they delayed him and required him to make statements. When for two days he did not come back, Dimka became apprehensive and asked Chukwurah’s wife why her husband was not back.
On the second day, I went to Abatete and I told Chukwurah’s wife that I came to see Dimka. She was surprised that I knew that Dimka was there and I assured her that he was my friend. As we were talking, Dimka came down and I told him to be a man and be courageous as a soldier, I told him it was improper to be hiding in a man’s house. So he took off and stupidly, he was caught with girls at Itigidi in Cross River State.
You preferred Buhari to Jonathan during the last election, are you satisfied with his performance so far?
I did not campaign for any of them. I said the two presidential candidates should tell Ndigbo what they had for them in their programmes if they won.
Campaigning for Jonathan
Because they refused to do that, I advised Igbo people to vote according to their consciences and not to follow the recommendation of Ohaneze led by Enwo Igariewei who were campaigning for Jonathan.
I know that Jonathan was a child of circumstance. He was an imposition on Nigerians because Obasanjo picked him and Yar’Adua. When Yar’Adua could not make it, Jonathan became president of Nigeria.
Up to the time he became president, he never contested any election until 2011 and he eventually failed in his second term bid. He surrounded himself with people of questionable character. He failed to recognize those who voted massively for him.
Buhari has been in government for only few months. He’s trying to recover stolen funds but my grouse with him is that the war against corruption appears to be one sided.
Some of the heaviest looters are in his party and in his government. He shouldn’t concentrate on the opposition party alone.
As a matter of fact, when he is through with the looters at the federal level, he should go down to the states because there is more stealing in the states than at the federal level. Some of the state governors were just rogues. They did things that were unimaginable.
Would you say the military of today is meeting the aspiration of the military you established at independence?
Maybe the present military is trying to correct the mistakes of the past. The military of our era up to 10 years ago were nothing to write home about. The military should remain apolitical and I pray that they will continue to do the nation proud.