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Five charged with planning to shoot down Obasanjo's helicopter

[Nigeria] Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at the UNCC for his keynote speech.
President Olusegun Obasanjo's term in office ends in 2007 (IRIN)

Four military officers and a civilian have been charged with plotting to kill Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo by shooting down his helicopter with a missile.

Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the former head of personal security of the late military ruler Sani Abacha, Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Umar Adeka and a civilian, Onwuchekwa Okorie, appeared at the federal high court in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos on Thursday to face two count charges each of treason.

All three men pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Two other military officers, Navy Commander Yakubu Kudambo and Lieutenant Tijani Abdallah, were charged in absentia.

All five could face execution by firing squad if convicted of the alleged offences.

According to the charges, Al-Mustapha gave various sums of money through Okorie to Abdallah between November 2002 and March 2004 "for the purpose of purchasing a Stinger surface-to-air missile to be used in shooting down the President's helicopter with the President on board".

Abdallah subsequently made several trips to Togo and Cote d'Ivoire in an effort to acquire the US-made shoulder-fired missile, the charge sheet said.

Meanwhile, Kudambo prepared the draft of a coup speech outlining a new regime to replace Obasanjo's elected government, it added.

After the charges were read out and the pleas were entered, presiding judge Daniel Abutu ordered the accused to be remanded in military custody.

He then adjourned the case until 28 October.

Thursday's court appearance constituted the government's first blunt admission that a coup plot against Obasanjo had been uncovered since dozens of military officers were arrested and interrogated in April this year.

At the same time, Al-Mustapha, who had been in detention since 1999 in connection with the murder of several opponents of General Abacha, was transferred from prison to the custody of the Directorate of Military Intelligence.

There he was made to answer questions over what the government described at the time as "a security breach".

Abacha seized power in 1993 and ruled Nigeria with an iron fist until his sudden death from apparent heart attack in June 1998.

Abacha, who is generally viewed as one of the most corrupt rulers in Nigeria's history, jailed Obasanjo for 15 years for plotting to topple his regime.

General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was the most senior military officer at the time of Abacha's death, succeeded him as head of state.

Abubakar rapidly initiated reforms to return Nigeria to elected government after 15 years of military rule.

He freed Obasanjo from jail and Obasanjo, a retired army general who served an earlier stint as military head of state between 1976 and 1979, went on to contest and win the presidential elections of 2000. He was re-elected for a second four-year term in April last year.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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