After Birnin Kebbi, he served as Brigade Major in the Brigade of Guards in Lagos before being posted to the Command and Staff College in Jaji as a Directing Staff (DS) in 1984 after the Buhari coup. It was as a DS (and Lt. Col.) that he was arrested on December 20, 1985, tried (by a predetermined military court) and executed (along with Vatsa and a host of other brilliant officers) on March 5, 1986 – his only son’s birthday. That he was executed on his son’s birthday is not the only macabre twist to that tale. Their executions were specially recorded on videotape and passed around amongst the inner caucus of the regime for entertainment. It was from this experience that Abacha got the idea of videotaping Saro-Wiwa’s hanging.
After the arrests were made public in December 1985 the then Head of State was reminded in an appeal by one of Mike’s former bosses (and now a prominent member of the Obasanjo Government) that their lives should be spared because “conceptualization” (if true, as alleged) was not the same as carrying out a coup attempt. [This premise is what saved Major Akinyemi’s life many years later in an unrelated plot.
But the Maradona responded by saying that they would pay for it. At least one individual in the know told me that Mike was described as the “master-mind” of the conceptualization process – and, therefore, the one person who could not be spared. Much of the subsequent public pretence that they were executed against the wishes of those who authorized their killing was plain propaganda.
News of his execution was received with unbelievable consternation among his former instructors in Canada and Britain. I mince no words when I state that his loss (along with some of those with whom he was executed) was one of Nigeria’s greatest tragedies. Up until this day officers who knew him continue to miss him and all he represented. As his friend and one who knew him very well, I personally do not think I have yet recovered. Trapped in Rochester, NY, unable to do something quick enough to prevent the catastrophy that was unfolding thousands of miles away, I wept and wept and wept.
The curious thing is that Mike was an ultra-ultra-professional officer – one who NEVER believed in coup plotting. He was very uncomfortable after the Shagari coup – stating that inspite of the obvious problems with that regime, the military had no business interfering – a sentiment which taken together with his role as Brigade Major to then Guards Brigade Commander Colonel Bello Khaliel almost led to his retirement in January/February 1984. He did not see how officers, many of whom were mediocre and not above corruption in their management of day-to-day Army matters and resources could claim that they had come to save Nigeria.
The circumstances that conspired to place him and others in a crisis of conscience that eventually led to an alleged conceptualization of a plot to unseat the evil genius (after Babangida himself unsat Buhari) are in of themselves a fertile subject for military sociological research. Suffice it to say that he knew that Babangida WAS going to be disaster for the country. In an unrelated 1984 conversation with me early after the Shagari coup, he described Babangida as a “master of intrigue”.
With the benefit of hindsight we all now know that Lt. Col. Mike Iyorshe and the other December 20/March 5 patriots were right and patriotic in their thinking. Had they truly carried out what they were accused of conceptualizing, Nigeria would have been spared the pain of the Babangida/Abacha years. Much of what you have read in the press about pro-IMF sentiments is TOTALLY false. Mike had no interest in politics – beyond a clear idea of his loyalties to the nation. He felt that that was the preserve of politicians. His goal in life was to rise to head the Army or Armed Forces. The Army WAS his life.
I would like to use this medium to appeal to the Nigerian government to release his corpse and those of the others who were murdered on March 5, 1986 to their families for a proper and befitting burial. There is nothing in Nigerian or British civil or military law that says that the corpse of an executed civilian or officer belongs to the State.
Nowa Omoigui, MD Columbia, SC