All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains Aremo Olusegun Osoba on Monday reflected on how he escaped assassination five times during the military regime.
He recalled that he was a ‘’marked man’’ because of his objection to the annulment of the historic June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Chief Moshood Abiola.
Although the eminent politician and two-time governor of Ogun State said he did not know that a price had been put on his head by the late Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha’s elite Strike Force, he had lived to thank God for his survival.
Osoba, journalist, businessman and elder statesman, reflected on the dark days of the military rule in his 341-page memoir: ‘’Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics’,’ published by Diamond Publications Limited. The book will be presented to the public next Monday as part of activities marking his 80th birthday in Lagos.
The veteran journalist and former Managing Director of Daily Times said little did he guess that he was also marked for liquidation after his friend, the late Dr. Alex Ibru, and his leader, the late Senator Abraham Adesanya, were shot in Lagos.
He recalled: “I never knew my life was hanging by a thread until Sergeant Rogers revealed that I was high on the list of Nigerians targeted for death by the hit squad. I was, therefore, in total shock when I learnt of the conflict and confusion between Sergeant Rogers and Major Al-Mustapha during their interrogation by the Special Investigation Panel set up by the transitional military regime under General Abdulsalami Abubakar after Abacha’s death.
“In the drama, well captured by TELL magazine (February 13, 2012, p. 35) Rogers’ boss, Al-Mustapha, vehemently denied ever sending him to kill anyone. An enraged Sergeant Rogers countered, insisting: “You sent me. You sent us to RUTAM House. You sent us on an assignment for the assassination of Alex Ibru, Kudirat Abiola, Segun Osoba, Bola Ige, (and) Abraham Adesanya. You sent us on these assignments.”
“When Al-Mustapha persisted in his denial, Rogers rebuked him sharply. “I believe you should be bold enough to come out and say the truth. Why (are you) denying this? I believe you should be bold. Because you’ve been telling us that you are going to protect us, we should not worry. You should be bold enough to come out. And you are a major!” This drama was set against the backdrop of the June 12, 1993 crisis and its aftermath.”
Osoba lamented that the polity trembled under Abacha when his killer squad went after pro-democracy crusaders and anti-annulment forces, including the late Chief Alfred Rewane, the late Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), Commodore Dan Suleiman and Lt-Gen. Alani Akinrinade, whose property were burnt by soldiers.
Painting an awful picture of repression and intimidation, the former governor said it was confounding to him that members of the killer squad waited in front of his house for a whole day to kill him, as claimed by Sergeant Rogers.
He added: “It was the divine hand of God at play also when, unknown to me, Rogers had trailed my car from Lagos to Sagamu interchange with intent to kill me, but was delayed at a military checkpoint, shortly after I had passed, long enough for me to vanish from their sight till I got to Abeokuta. Aside from Rogers’ failed attempt, I escaped my killers on many occasions, most of the time without even knowing that a death squad was stalking me.”
Narrating series of attempts on his life, Osoba said: The first attempt on my life was on the night of August 23, 1994 when my house was invaded. Fortunately, members of my family had travelled out of the country. Nobody was home, except the state security agent attached to me as a former governor.
“Suspecting that the intruders were armed robbers, he opened fire on them. When he exhausted his ammunition, he scaled the fence and took cover in our neighbour’s compound. My gatekeeper was not so lucky. He was shot and wounded in the head. He was rushed to Royal Cross Medical Centre, Obalende, where Dr. Seyi Roberts and Dr. Doyin Okupe attended to him and saved his life.
“It was clear to me that this was the handiwork of Abacha’s goons. There was no evidence of breaking in. They gained access with their expert security keys without damage to my bulletproof doors. They ransacked my bedroom, took my expired passport, as well as letters Chief M.K.O. Abiola had written to me from his detention. This incident happened on the eve of August 24, 1994, Abiola’s first birthday in detention, which we had planned to mark with a mass rally at Abiola’s residence in Ikeja.
“That same August 23, 1994, Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s office was also hit and his security man, badly injured. The next day, Abacha’s thugs went to Air Commodore Dan Suleiman’s house where they attempted to burn the house down.”
Osoba recalled that when the killer squad visited again, they burnt his house, adding that he escaped by whiskers.
He stressed: “They struck again on September 7, 1995, when they set my house in Abeokuta on fire at about 2am. Fortunately, I don’t sleep early. I just heard a spark. By the time I rushed out of bed, the whole place was filled with smoke. My Boys Scout and leadership training programmes in Man O’War Bay during my secondary school days had taught me that when there is fire, you don’t stand erect. Instead, you crawl, to avoid inhaling carbon monoxide that could suffocate and kill. That was what saved me.
“My bedroom was totally burnt. I lost a lot of documents, photographs and irreplaceable valuables.
I headed straight to the Fire Brigade in Abeokuta to seek help. Providentially, I had re-equipped and modernised the Fire Brigade in 1993 when I was governor. I reaped the dividends. They contained the fire.”
Osoba said after their failed attempts in Abeokuta, the ruthless killers came to his Dolphin Estate home in Lagos and laid siege for a whole day, adding that, unknown to them, he had gone out on a visit to his neighbours, Mr. Segun Olusanya, Chief John Akinleye and Chief Adeyi.
He added: “If Rogers and his squad had known my habit, they would have ambushed me during one of my evening visits to my neighbours. The confession of Sergeant Rogers made the headlines in all the newspapers on January 12, 2000. The Punch screamed: “Rogers Weeps”. The National Concord reported: “Rogers Opens Up.
“The Comet, which later morphed into The Nation, reported: “Sergeant Rogers Speaks at last: How we went in search of Porbeni, Ige, Ibru, Osoba, Adesanya on killing missions”. Whilst being cross-examined by then Lagos State Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Rogers disclosed how as a member of the Strike Force he had been assigned to assassinate four persons.
“According to him, “They are the owner of The Guardian newspaper, Mr. Alex Ibru, Chief Segun Osoba, Mr. Bola Ige and Pa Abraham Adesanya. He (Mustapha) gave us some money through the OC MOPOL. He also gave us N25, 000 to give Danbaba for a work well done.”
Osoba pointed out that, although Rogers did not know his Ikoyi residence, an informant, one Alhaji Lateef, who spoke Hausa fluently, gave a clear description of the house in Dolphin Estate.
The former governor said vigilance was the watchword during the dark days, noting that his wife, Aderinsola, was also being trailed to her school and market.
To report suspicious movements around the house, he said his wife, a former Customs officer, strategically gave permission to some tyre vulcanizers to ply their trade opposite the house to enable them report suspicious movements or activities.
Osoba said when he went underground for almost a year, security agents from Alagbon Close, Ikoyi usually invaded his family’s privacy to ransack the building between 2 am and 3 am under the guise of looking for him.
He said he literality fell into depression when Mustapha and others were discharged and acquitted in court, adding that he only regained his composure after The Guardian newspaper on July 31, 2013 came out with a well-researched and lucid editorial, which reflected his concerns.
Venting his anger, Osoba said: “What the judgment has done is to authenticate impunity. It reinforces the conviction that here in Nigeria, only the small man pays for his crimes. Above all, it means that all those behind the dastardly acts and litany of woes freely dispensed by the Abacha regime have finally got away, literally with murder, in a manner that calls to question the essence of government or its readiness or capacity of discharge its basic responsibility of protecting lives and property, and enforcing law and order.
“With justice now put off over these murders and the killers still unfound, the cleansing Nigeria needs remains elusive. And the blood of the victims, still raw on the pavement of the hearts of Nigerians, cry out ever more loudly for justice.”
Osoba disclosed that when he decided to go under, a prominent businessman, Dr. Oba Otudeko, took the risk of hiding him in his office for about six weeks. However, when he came out of hiding, he was promptly arrested and detained at Police Force Headquarters.
The former governor recalled that he escaped being arrested for the second time in June 1994, after he led former Edo State Governor John Odigie- Oyegun, his Anambra State counterpart, Emeka Ezeife and Dr. Doyin Okupe to Abiola at his Ikeja residence to discuss his proposed declaration as president.
He said: “On my way back from Abiola’s Ikeja residence, my wife called me up again on my cell phone to inform me that the house had been sealed up by security operatives who were looking for me. This was around 9 pm. I quickly diverted to my father-in-law’s residence in Yaba and sent the driver away.
“When I called my wife up that I had taken refuge at her father’s, she objected on the ground that it would be too easy for the government to figure it out that such a place would be my likely port of call. Thanks to her quick thinking, she suggested that I should relocate to Abule-Oja, to the home of my auntie, Princess (Mrs.) Adefunmilayo Aderinsola Oyekan-Williams.
“How did I survive in Abule-Oja? My hostess was a lady of the old Lagos stock. Hers was an impeccably clean and well-ordered home, where everything was in the proper place. The environment spoke volumes of her background as the elder sister to the then Oba Adeyinka Oyekan II, the Oba of Lagos. Hers was an enviable pedigree of well-trained Isale Eko Christian family.
“With a well-trained house-help, Mama and I were alone upstairs in her apartment. A young man and his fiancé lived downstairs. I therefore felt very secure here. An octogenarian, she treated me like a child, waking up at night to check that I was well and safe.
Recalling how he escaped being captured for the third time, Osoba said: “The third in my series of hide-and-seek games with the Abacha Security machinery occurred one quiet Saturday morning in 1995 when my chauffeur, Peter, called me up on the intercom at home that he needed to brief me on an important security development.
“Agitated, he informed me that he was suspicious of some strange movements around the house. He said he saw my chief detail as governor alighting on the main road and that the car from which he dropped drove past the house with some people only to return empty. I got the message that my former chief detail, an SSS operative, must have escorted some of his colleagues to identify my residence. I asked Peter to take my wife’s school bus.
“I climbed in and lay flat on the floor and managed to escape what turned out to be an attempt to arrest me. At Ikoyi hotel I dropped off, hailed a cab and headed straight to the mainland residence of my brother-in-law, Mr. Stan Olawanle Adeyemi. This was the beginning of almost one year in self-imposed detention. Stan and Gboyega Onabanjo (Chief Bisi Onabanjo’s son) were the only persons who knew my hideout. Stan arranged a Togolese cook to cater to my needs throughout. My only means of communications was my 090 mobile phone.”
Osoba lamented that gruesome murders outlived the military regime, stressing that eminent Nigerians, including the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Harry Marshall (March 3, 2003) Aminasoari Alfred Dikibo (February 6, 2004), Funso Williams (July 27, 2006), Kunle Arojo, Dipo Dina, and the Lukotun of Ake, Chief Yomi Bamgbose, the Iyaloja of Ijebu Ode , Alhaja Alimot Shadia Elewuju, the Onimole of Lagos, Kayode Adesina, Animashaun Age, and Gen. Muhammadu Shuwa, were assassinated after the restoration of civil rule.