How Babangida Murdered Mamman Vatsa In Okigwe, Imo State

Sava Farm, a nondescript piece of property situated at Malali area of Kaduna city, does not reveal the importance of its occupant. It is owned by Hajia Sufiya, widow of General Mamman Vatsa, executed over a controversial coup by the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986. With its brown gate, half brick, half metal perimeter fence that looks as if it would collapse any time with the heavy rains, and the rusty signboard defaced by four posters of Isiah Balat who is campaigning to be governor of Kaduna State, the farm stands as a relic, in sharp contrast to the more prosperous-looking Federal Government College and the Kaduna State Water Board nearby.

The bushy farm looks like an abandoned American ranch after a typical Red Indian invasion. An aide who doubles as the gate-keeper opened the gate. As the reporters’ feet shuffled on the cobblestones that had seen better days, a quick survey of the premises showed a once-buoyant animal husbandry business. Another gate, on the left, leads to where Sufiya lives. With a quick detour, the visitors were ushered into the front of the main bungalow. The circular forecourt is habitat to flowers crying for pruning. Peeping out of the circle was a white Mercedez Benz 190 that stood as if, driven by some invisible hands from outer space, it was ready to engage the reverse gear, receding further into the dense flowers, away from the intruders…A rickety Peugeot pick-up van and an abandoned white farm truck complete the picture of neglect. Sufiya’s balcony is a testament to a woman who, when she was happy, was in love with nature. Her suspended empty bird cages, creeping flowers, pots of cacti and aloe vera stand as proof. A long white hose meandered on the floor, a mark of half-hearted gardening.

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Like her property, Hajia Sufiya Vatsa is a lone historical figure, abandoned in her woes and penury by successive governments after IBB executed her husband over a questionable coup. During a visit to her Sava Farm by three journalists from TheNEWS, the woman cut the picture of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, who, after being disappointed by her suitor, refuses to see the sun, fails to change her wedding gown and leaves her watch permanently “at twenty minutes to nine.” Unlike Miss Havisham, however, Sufiya’s separation from her husband came from the machination of a third party – IBB. Since then, life has been horrible for her family.

Daily, Sufiya sits by two high-definition photographs of her husband: one in mufti and the other in military gear. When this magazine visited her, she wore a brown wrapper, deep brown headgear with an ankara top embossed with brown irregular designs. She sat behind a small centre table set with assorted drinks, beverages and local herbal solutions. In front of her was a shelf with a rectangular mirror, on which an old television set was placed.

Another symbol of her state of mind and the neglect she suffers was an abandoned grey aquarium, tilting against the wall under the portrait of a medieval soldier riding a chariot, shooting an arrow. Under another congested table in front of her was a green book, Makers of Modern Africa. A reading lamp, about four chandeliers and a dining table required dusting just as her life requires rehabilitation. An extension of her melancholy was that, contrary to expectation, she declined an interview since it would bring back a deluge of old, painful memories.

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Sufiya’s journey into the abyss of poverty began on 23 December 1985. The family had just concluded plans to travel to Calabar because, usually, they spent the yuletide in the Cross River State capital (Sufiya is Efik), the Id-el-Fitri in Minna, Niger State and the Id-el Kabir in Kaduna. After the necessary packing for the trip, the family waited for the return of General Vatsa from the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) meeting he had attended. He returned home late, so the trip was postponed till the following day. At about 12 midnight, while Sufiya was watching a movie in her bedroom, her husband, who was working in his study, rushed in to tell her that IBB had sent for him. The wife protested that it was too late in the night and that Vatsa should phone his boss to shift the meeting to the following morning.

As this debate was going on, Lt. Col. U.K. Bello led a team of soldiers to Vatsa’s home at Rumens Street, Ikoyi, Lagos. The soldiers, who came with armored vehicles and military vans, surrounded the house. Vatsa told his wife who was upstairs to peep through the window. Unable to contain her fear, she rushed downstairs and insisted that if the soldiers would take away her husband, then she had to follow them. Sufiya insisted on driving Vatsa in her own Peugeot 404. At this point, Vatsa directed that the children be woken up, and he kissed them one after the other. Haruna, the first son, who was in Military Training School, Zaria, followed them downstairs, weeping. While UK Bello drove in the fore of the convoy, Sufiya and Vatsa were chauffeur-driven in their own car in what later turned out to be a merry-go-round about Lagos till about 2 a.m when they stopped at 7 Cameron Road, Ikoyi. Vatsa was ordered out of the car. As he made to enter the building, Sufiya ran after him but she was rudely pulled back by the soldiers. The General turned and gave his wife a bear hug, an embrace that was their last. He urged his wife to take care of their children. Sufiya returned home dejected. To her shock, the military authorities had withdrawn the official domestic staff. At 5 a.m, she prepared breakfast of fried yam and pawpaw, drove to her husband’s detention centre but was told she could not bring in any food.

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