Forty one years after General Murtala Mohammed was killed in a coup d’état, Audu Garba, aka Audu Dimka, the driver of the late Col. Bukar Sukar Dimka, who assassinated Murtala, goes down memory lane on the relationship between the two army officers, the coup and life after in this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday.
Why are you called Adamu Dimka?
My name is Audu Garba. However, many people, especially within the military, called me Audu Dimka because of my closeness with the late Col. Bukar Sukar Dimka.
Could you tell us how you joined the military?
I joined the military at the age of 15 at the beginning of the Nigerian civil war. Some of my friends and I were sitting and admiring the then Emir of Bauchi’s car when he came on a visit to Kontagora and a man approached us to ask if there were volunteers to join the Nigerian Army to salvage the country. I indicated interest. So we enlisted in Kontagora and moved to Minna for screening and training.
We were moved from Minna to Kaduna for further training and then deployed. I was posted to the 22 Infantry Battalion under the command of Abdullahi Shelleng.
Tell us your experience in the war.
I was posted to Enugu, and that time Lt. Col. Bukar Sukar Dimka was deployed to replace Shelleng. We were on patrol from Iyinachi to Achigwe one day, when we came across a truck which blocked the way. The vehicle was abandoned by the Biafran soldiers with the key in the ignition. Before our commander could give the order, I jumped into the truck and drove it out of the way. Dimka was impressed.
Was that the reason he picked you as his driver?
One day while we were doing some fatigue in the field around Ofuma, I felt a hand on my back and when I looked up it was a Bifaran solder. They were four. They tied our hands and took us to their battalion, where some European mercenaries questioned us. They then led us to their commander who ordered that we should be killed. As fate would have it, an officer from the headquarters arrived. He ordered that we should be taken to the headquarters where we were handed over to a commander, simply referred to as George. We later learnt that George was Dimka’s course mate at the NDA (Nigeria Defence Academy). He asked me, “Small boy, what are you doing on the warfront?” I answered, “I am a soldier.” He then ordered that we should be taken to the guardroom, an underground bunker.
We met five other Nigerian soldiers who were also captured at different locations. Few days later, there was a change of guard. We discovered that the new guard always came with ogogoro, (local spirit) and also smoked hemp. One night, he drank and smoked heavily and soon fell asleep. One Corporal Samuel and I went and shook him to be sure he was not awake.
We crawled into the bush. We went through the bushes for days until we got to a Nigerian camp in Oji River. The late Dimka was delighted about our escape, and since then he made sure I stayed close to him.
How long did you fight in the war?
For about two years.
How did you feel driving an officer of the late Dimka’s calibre?
I never liked the idea but I had no choice. The assignment brought us closer, so much so that people thought we were related. I was popularly known as Audu Dimka because of our closeness.
You said Murtala liked Dimka, how close where they?
Very close, so much so that when Murtala was moving to Lagos, he took Dimka along as the Commander of the Physical Training Corps. We were always in the State House to see Murtala.
Did Dimka take you along to Lagos?
He took me along and even put me in charge of the M.T.O. I complained privately to him that the office was beyond me. But he said I could handle it.
As head of the M.T.O, I had to recommend another officer, Olayiwola, to Dimka as driver, but still he insisted I drove him whenever he was travelling outside Lagos and also be responsible for taking his children to school.
What can you tell us about the events of February 13, 1976?
I went to Dimka’s house as usual that morning to take the children to school but the children were not where I used to pick them. I asked the cook to check their room but he said he wasn’t supposed to go to the main house at that time of the day. So I went into the children’s room but they were not there.
I then knocked at Dimka’s wife, Hassana’s door. I asked where the kids were and she told me to check their room. When I told her that I had already checked, she panicked. She checked her husband’s room but neither he nor the kids were there.
As I was going out of the house, I saw cartons of alcohol, I went back to ask madam if there was a party last night. She said there was nothing like that and she followed me to the living room. When she saw the condition of the living room she was shocked. “I hope this man is not courting trouble,” she remarked.
As I was driving back to the barracks, I ran into some officers in mufti, pointing guns and ordering me to stop. The boarded the car. One Lt. Peter Chigari ordered one of them to explain what was happening to me. They ordered me to drive to the Ikeja barracks and assured me that they would not harm me. When we got to the barracks and met Col. Dimka. Dimka then told me of the plan to overthrow Murtala Mohammed. I was shocked and he noticed my unease. He asked why I was nervous and I had to tell him the truth, that the man he was planning to overthrow was his close friend and confidant.
Then I told him I needed to go and settle my brother who came in from Sagamu so that he could return to his base. He agreed but ordered one Staff Sergeant Clement to monitor me.
Later that day the news of the coup came. I was shocked despite my earlier encounter with Dimka.
What happened after that?
I was at home for about a week. Then I was in the mosque one day when some people came to alert me to run, that some military officers where in my house to arrest me. I refused to run because I had done nothing wrong. Before I got home the officers had left. The following day I drove to the Dodan Barracks where I was asked to make a statement. I was then taken to Kirikiri prison, where I was held for five months and 13 days.
All my mates who were arrested in connection with the coup were tried and executed.
One day I was invited for questioning, I pleaded that they gave me opportunity to say my prayers. Surprisingly, we were taken to Apapa where we were told that we had been retired with our full benefits.
How did you receive the news of Dimka’s execution?
I felt very terrible even though I expected that he would meet that fate. I was in Kirikiri prison then.
How would you describe the late Dimka?
He was a core and committed military officer who loved his job and also cared for his subordinates.
Were you in touch with his family after his execution?
I was close to the family before his death and we kept up the relationship afterwards. His children: Rifkatu, who is currently in America, Zack and Rahila have been visiting me in Minna. I was also in touch with his wife, Hassana, before her death.
How has life been 41 years after your retirement?
Life has been tough, especially that my entitlements have not been paid several years after I was retired. But Alhamudullillah, I have been surviving on farming.
You said you were retired and not dismissed. Why have your benefits not been paid?
Three months after I was retired, I was issued my card, but I discovered that the service number on it was not mine. I complained and was referred to the Army Headquarters in Lagos. I kept going there for years but the situation was not rectified. The situation worsened when we ran into armed robbers on my way to Lagos one day for the same purpose. I crawled into the bush while they were searching passengers. When they searched my bag and it contained military documents, they burnt it. I resigned to fate.
However, when the Yar’Adua administration decided to pay all retired military personnel who had not collected their benefits, I went to the Army Records in Lokoja to see how I could get back my documents. After two months, I was successful, but all attempts to get my entitlements paid failed before Yar’Adua died.
What is your next line of action on the matter?
I appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Army Staff to intervene in getting my benefits paid.