Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)

During our stay in Lagos there was an attempted coup. The head of state, General Murtala Mohammed, was assassinated, shot in his car by a group of dissident soldiers led by one Colonel Dimka.

I happened to be on my way to work and was quite close to the scene of the assassination. Word rapidly spread among the drivers in the traffic jam that ensued, and we turned round, picked up our daughters as quickly as possible from their school and went back to our house to await events.

That evening, Colonel Dimka announced in a halting and nervous voice on the state radio that his faction had taken over the government and a ‘dawn to dusk curfew’ would be effective immediately!

Even when subsequently corrected, this was most inconvenient, as the Nigerian Open Golf Championship was about to take place, and we each had a visiting professional staying with us. The coup was rapidly put down, although the curfew (dusk to dawn, by now) remained in force.

We had been invited to dinner with our bank manager, a close friend, who lived immediately across the main road, and was also hosting a visiting professional. As we lived on a corner and had two gates, the main one on the side road but a rarely used one on the main road, we agreed that it would be reasonable to break curfew as we only had to cross the road, and instructions were accordingly given to our night watchman that he was to leave the gate on the main road unlocked.

When, after midnight, having enjoyed our friends’ usual over-generous hospitality, I volunteered to cross the road first and open the gate, I was aghast to find it firmly locked. I dropped into the none-too-salubrious ditch and crawled round to the front gate, opened it, and found the night watchman fast asleep in the car port (as, I suspect, was his wont). At this point I needed to wake him without making too much noise or indeed showing too much of the raw anger I was feeling towards him, manhandled him to the main road gate, which he opened, and the rest of the party crossed the road without incident.

It was only later that we learned that Colonel Dimka had been staying in a house just up the road which was being staked out by the Nigerian army, and that our midnight road crossing could have had a very unhappy outcome if a trigger happy soldier had noticed us crossing the road during the curfew.

In due course Dimka was caught; it was known that he had a weakness for strong drink and loose women, and he was quickly caught in a brothel with a bottle of whisky beside him. Dimka and his fellow conspirators were subsequently shot at a public execution on Bar Beach, the local pleasure beach.

We had been out visiting friends that evening and had left our young daughters at home in charge of their nanny. “Daddy, we saw this weird film on TV last night” said our elder daughter the following morning. “There didn’t seem to be much story to it, but it was all about these people getting blindfolded and then shot on a beach.” After that, we tended to take the girls with us when we went out.

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