On August 27, 1985, he was taken out of Dodan Barracks, the then seat of government, in Ikoyi, Lagos, by those who had overthrown him in what was popularly called a palace coup.
President Muhammadu Buhari was not to return to a place that was his abode for 20 months, and from where he administered the country, till January 13, 2022, almost 37 years later.
Dodan Barracks is that military garrison that originated from the site of a battle during the Burma campaign of World War 2 by the 82nd West African Division, which had a strong Nigerian contingent. The Barracks became the official residence of military heads of state after their incursion into governance, and the Supreme Military Headquarters during the Nigerian Civil War, which lasted between 1967 and 1970. It was there that Gen. Yakubu Gowon received the formal surrender of the Biafran forces. Murtala Muhammed lived there as head of state. Olusegun Obasanjo did, and Muhammadu Buhari, too.
In April 1990, some daredevil mid-level officers, led by Major Gideon Orkar, stormed Dodan Barracks, attempting to overthrow Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who had led the 1985 coup and succeeded Buhari as head of state. And from then, what was hitherto a fortress began to lose its invincibility. By December of the following year, Babangida moved to Abuja, to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, which remains the seat of Federal Government till today.
Back to August 27, 1985. Babangida, popularly called IBB, was Chief of Army Staff. He had installed his loyalists, called IBB Boys, in sensitive command positions over the months. And while Buhari, and his deputy, Babatunde Idiagbon, were busy trying to retool the country, salvage the economy, reorientate the people towards discipline and diligence, IBB had his eyes on power, and was plotting.
Buhari trusts, implicitly. He’s still the same way today. So he left the Army completely to Babangida, while he concentrated on the salvage work, fighting corruption, knocking order into the system. IBB and his boys then struck.
When the head of state was first arrested, he was reportedly taken to Bonny Camp, a military formation in Victoria Island, Lagos, from where he was moved to a detention facility in Benin, Edo State. He was to be there for over three years, while they went through his affairs with a fine tooth comb. Nothing was found against him. He was eventually released to live his life as a retired army officer in his Daura, Katsina home.
Buhari left Dodan Barracks as a captive in 1985. He returned there last week, not only as a free man, but as President of the country, democratically elected, and running to the end of a second term in office. Right is the person who said the downfall of a man is not the end of his life. And right also is that man who said some setbacks are mere stepping stones in life. And of course, right is the Good Book, that infallible book, when it says: “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” (1 Corinthians 15: 43).
Where are most of those who plotted to remove Buhari from power today? Not as well favored as the man. They stopped what was a sure move of Nigeria to a solid, stable, disciplined land, where probity and accountability would be the order of the day, and gave us what was worse than business as usual. They bastardized and corrupted all our institutions, raped democracy, and left the country in a turmoil, topsy-turvy. But 30 years after the self-serving overthrow, Nigerians themselves brought Buhari back to power in 2015. They did it again in 2019. The stone that the builders rejected had become the head of the corner.
How did Buhari’s return to Dodan Barracks happen? It was in this wise: Head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, had died. The President was billed to visit Ogun State, to commission some landmark projects done by Governor Dapo Abiodun. Why not kill two birds with one stone? It was decided that after finishing in Abeokuta, President Buhari would proceed to the home of the Shonekans, in Ikoyi, Lagos, to condole with the family.
The Ogun trip took us to Ijebu area, then to the capital, Abeokuta, where five projects were commissioned in all. It was an exacting, grueling schedule. But trust President Buhari. When he has set his heart on something, he gets it done.
We flew in helicopters from Abeokuta, direct to a field in Dodan Barracks, the former seat of power. There, a convoy of vehicles was waiting, and we drove through the former abode of our number one citizens, came out at Alagbon, and then to the old Federal Secretariat, long abandoned, and now an eyesore on the landscape.
I saw the monument erected for Murtala Muhammed. He had been assassinated at that spot on February 13: 1976, while driving to the office from Dodan Barracks.
Soon, we drove into Lugard Street, where the Shonekans live. The President condoled with the family, as led by Margaret, the widow. The job done, we entered our vehicles, almost about 5 pm, and drove again through Dodan Barracks, where we boarded the choppers, to Murtala Muhammed Airport in Ikeja, and back to Abuja, arriving at dusk.
As we drove through Dodan Barracks, I saw vestiges of a former fortified city, where men of power lived. But the place had lost its glory. Structures had been erected indiscriminately everywhere, the buildings were dilapidating, and surely needed new coats of paints. The tall fence, with barbed wires, were standing like a flag at half-mast. Thy glory oh Dodan Barracks is slain upon the high places. How are the mighty fallen! Right was William Shakespeare, in his portrait of the seasons of life, when he said, “Last scene of all,
That ends this strange and eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
That is the state of Dodan Barracks. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. I could not believe what I saw of the former seat of power. Unkempt is the word.
Back in Abuja, I went to meet President Buhari. I wanted to know if it was his first visit to Dodan Barracks since that fateful day in August 1985 when he was taken away involuntarily, and what were his feelings about the state of the place?
“Yes, it was my fist visit since the day I was removed. I’d not been back since then, till that day,” he said.
And the general outlook of the place?
“I was really surprised at what I saw. I couldn’t have found my way through, if I was alone. The place had changed! I wonder why they lost control of the aesthetics, with buildings erected indiscriminately.”
It is said that the then President Obasanjo had ceded Dodan Barracks to the Police in 2004. True? If so, why is it not maintained? Why is there no development control? Our past military leaders lived there. It is part of our history. Even if it is to turn it to a national monument, Dodan Barracks needs to be preserved for posterity.
I remember the tall, young, gangling Muhammadu Buhari, and his unsmiling kindred spirit, Tunde Idiagbon, holding court in those days in Dodan Barracks. They wanted to knock sense into our head as a people. Forces of revision knocked them out. And that fortress itself has been kayoed. Enfeebled. Anesthetized. Who will energize and invigorate Dodan Barracks again? A vital part of our history goes, if that place goes down.