Friday 13 February 1976 –
I was the early morning duty continuity announcer on Friday 13 February 1976, exactly 45 years ago. My shift commenced at 5:30 am and would have finished at 11:30 am. Things were going on smoothly until about 7:20 am when a rather scruffy man with red eyes as though under the influence of alcohol or other substances, in army uniform and armed with a gun, walked into the continuity studio with another army officer and one of my colleagues, a producer in the Hausa Service of Voice of Nigeria. The scruffy officer was later to announce that he was Dimka. He said as they came in, ‘any resistance from these people, shoot’. He then demanded to use my microphone. I got up and he took over my seat and my microphone. He then announced that there had been a coup and that the Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed had been killed. He proceeded to make the infamous ‘dawn to dusk curfew’. He read from a scrap of paper. After the announcement he asked if I had military (martial music) to which I said no. The colleague who accompanied the officers left immediately and returned quite quickly with a compilation of martial music records possibly from the music library. He seemed to have pre-compiled them. I was commanded to play them after Dimka’s announcement. I was not overly scared at this point. I thought to myself, ’just do as you are told’ especially as the man was armed with a gun.
Dimka left the studio and returned 15 minutes later to repeat his announcement. As he walked out of the studio after the second announcement, I followed him and his ‘accomplices’ though at that time I had not realised my colleague was an accomplice. I walked out with them to see if I could find any senior staff member to report that there had been an incident in the studio. We met the Director General, Dr. Christopher Kolade at the door of the continuity studio. He had been in his office upstairs, had heard Dimka’s announcement and had come down to investigate. Dimka happily announced to him that the then Head of State had been killed and that he Dimka would be returning to make further announcements. Quick thinking Dr. Kolade advised him to record his statement on tape instead of broadcasting the same message live every 15 minutes. I believe that advice saved lives that fateful day because it removed him from that area of Broadcasting House for the time being. His recording was subsequently played at 15 minutes intervals and bridged with martial music as commanded.
I was made to understand that Dimka later returned to make a fresh recording in one of the studios downstairs. This must have been about 11:00 am. Not long after, as I later learned, the army arrived in full force and completely surrounded Broadcasting House, Ikoyi, Lagos and proceeded to open fire at the station.
When the firing started the walls were shaking and I could see dust falling to the floor of the continuity studio. It felt like a bomb had been dropped on the building. It was as though the building was being razed. Mind you I had never witnessed a bomb being dropped on a building before except on foreign films. I realised then, when the building started shaking that this was a serious matter.
There were 2 studio managers and myself in the continuity studio that morning.
When the shooting started I instantly turned off the martial music that I was playing. (My mum and dad happened to be listening to the Radio that morning and when that music stopped they thought I had been shot).
The firing seemed to be directed at the continuity studio. The studio managers and I were separated by a glass partition. I quickly went over to the studio managers when the shooting stopped briefly and suggested they came over to my side of the studio which was situated in the inner part of the studio. We hid under my console. Soon after, the shooting started again.
Some bullets tore through the heavy doors and the glass partition and struck the records rack where fill-up records were kept. It was my first time of seeing the metal objects called bullets. I took some home later, I believe three, as a reminder of what happened that day.
When the shooting subsided about 30 minutes later; I suggested coming out of our hiding and out of the studio as it appeared that the shooting was being aimed at this part of the building. We could see bullets all over the corridor floor outside the continuity studio. As we came out we knocked on office doors but realised they were all locked and no one was responding. We moved further out to where we could be seen: I was leading the group of three with our hands up. It was then we saw the entire building surrounded by soldiers with guns pointing at it from the metal railings outside the main gate. The first time the soldiers caught sight of us I thought I heard ‘fire’ and we ran back. We tried calling out again to staff in offices to see if we could hide there but no one answered and the offices were still locked! I said to my two colleagues ‘we have to get out of here; the studio is being shot at’. We tried one more time and heard ‘hold fire, civilians.’ We were then led by some fierce looking soldiers down the bullet ridden staircase. They demanded to know what we were still doing in the building and where we were when members of staff were being moved from the building. All studios are sound proofed so we did not hear staffers being moved and no one came by the Continuity studio to alert us. There must have been a lot of panic on that day and as a result we were left behind.
We were taken by the soldiers to a sand-filled swampy area away from the building where we found members of staff who were still at the station that morning lying on their stomachs, on the ground and soldiers standing over them with their guns. We were made to join them on the ground. I remember one of the soldiers enjoying what was going on and saying “I like this, I have not shot for a long time”. There was a sigh of relief when colleagues and bosses saw the three of us.
Later that evening all other members of staff were allowed to go home. The afternoon and evening duty announcers did not show up because everyone had been advised in Dimka’s broadcast to stay at home. I was the only continuity announcer available so I was made to go back to the same studio to continue broadcasting to the nation. The two studio managers who went through the initial ordeal with me did not return to the studio with me. I cannot remember who replaced them at their desk but I think it was just now one instead of two.
I continued working as normal but as could be expected it was mainly about the coup the rest of the day; the News was all about it, interspersed with normal music this time (not martial/military) and reminding our listeners about the updated curfew; ‘dusk to dawn’ this time. I worked from 5:30 am till close down, just after midnight.
I was taken care of by the soldiers who provided me with hot dinner at about 10:00 pm, my first main meal of that day. I cannot remember what it was but it was delicious; I had not thought of food the whole day! After close down at 5 minutes past midnight, armoured vehicles accompanied our staff car to drop me off at home. My parents were delighted to see me safely back. They had been anxious all morning, afternoon and night with no word about their daughter. Not many people had land line phones; we did not. Mobile phones did not exist.
About three hours after being dropped at home the armoured vehicles and the office car returned to take me back to Broadcasting House to open the station. My parents would not let me leave home that morning but I told them not to worry, I would be alright. So, at the crack of dawn on Saturday14 February1976 I was back in the same studio, opening the station once again at 5:30 am. My very brave and courageous colleague and best mate, Siene All-well Brown who was not on the roster to work that morning risked everything and drove down to take over from me. She made it possible for me to go home to rest from the ordeal of the previous day.
I later heard that the command from high up in the Army ranks was to raze the entire building, but that another thought of the innocent civilians in the building and advised otherwise. I cannot say for sure who was involved in these decisions.
Dimka obviously escaped capture on that day but not the other accomplice officer who came to the studio with him. I understand he was shot dead.
I had only been at this job three years when this incident took place. I was frightened no doubt on the day of the coup but I kept my cool. I was later told by colleagues and listeners who heard me after I returned to the studio to get the station running again, that at no time did my voice betray any fright or discomfort.
I feel grateful that on that fateful day, Friday 13 February 1976 I did not let my nation down at its most critical time. I feel most grateful to God for sparing my life.
I had no idea my colleague who came to the studio with Dimka was involved in the coup until much later. He must have compiled the martial music in advance. He provided the records so quickly!
Dimka was arrested a few weeks after the coup and sadly that colleague was later executed by firing squad along with him and the other coup plotters.
I pray for peace and stability in our country Nigeria and in the whole world.
Account by Rosaline Ogunro nee Ogbangwor.
A great soldier. May his soul continue to rest in peace.