1966 Coup: How I Tried To Save Late Ahmadu Bello’s Life – Driver


Recounting the bloody coup which transpired 50 years ago, in the year 1966, the surviving chief driver, Alhaji Ali Sarkin-Mota of the premier of northern Nigeria, narrates how he fruitlessly tried to save the Premier, Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, from being killed.

This was the first-ever military coup that occurred in Nigeria precisely on January 15, 1966, led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu that resulted to the death of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria; and other important people like Chief S.I. Akintola, the Premier of Western Region, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of Nigeria, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Federal Minister of Finance and other military officers.


Alhaji Ali Sarkin-Mota (89 years old), recalls that on January 15, 1966, at about 1:30am after the killers of the late Sardauna had gained access into his residence, one of them demanded to know from him (driver) the whereabouts of his boss, a question he feigned not have understood since it was asked in English.

“I pretended that I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he asked me in Hausa, ‘Ina Sardauna?’ I told him that since we returned from playing five (game), I had not set my eyes on the premier”,

Sarkin stated that he was cleaning up the cars at that time when he heard the Sardauna calling out to his barber to hurry up with what he was doing because he (Sardauna) wanted to shave. Sarkin-Mota said that soon after, the Sardauna turned to him and said he overheard him talking to some people.

According to his story, the household was going about their normal domestic life without knowing that the soldiers had already killed and dislodged the real policemen deployed to guard the premier’s residence. So he didn’t know who those men were or what their mission was, and from his response when the Sardauna inquire about who he (Sarkin-Mota) was talking to, it was quiet obvious.

“I told him yes, that it was the security guards or, rather, the policemen guarding the house. Alas! I was wrong in my calculation. I didn’t know they were soldiers who had succeeded in getting access to the State House and positioned themselves in strategic places.

The premier then sent one of his aides, Maman Bakurato, to buy ‘kilishi’ (dry meat) and ‘Suya’ (roasted meat) for him. He then called me again and asked me to go upstairs and bring some soft drinks (tango) for the so-called soldiers,” Sarkin-Mota recounted.

His story continued:

“They were three of them, and one of them told me that they were giving me five minutes to tell them where the Premier was or they would kill me. I told them they could go ahead and kill me because I was ready to die. They left me and started searching for him all over the house but they did not see him.

“Then they went to his wives’ quarters and chased them out of their rooms. As soon as the premier’s wives joined my wife in our own quarters, they (soldiers) began shooting. They came back, followed me to my room, broke the door to the room and smashed the window, thinking the premier was hiding in my room. They bent down and removed the mattress in my room. Helpless and frustrated, the soldiers were just shooting sporadically while at the same time, the premier’s wives were shouting and wailing.

“One of them, was just reciting ‘inna illahi’ (Islamic prayers). All of a sudden, one of his wives saw him (Sardauna) in jallabiya (long gown) without a cap. When she gave him a wrapper to disguise himself and quickly run away, he refused, telling her that ‘what they were looking for is here’. I moved to where the premier was standing and I held his hands. My intention was to take him to my room but the sound of a gunshot fired at our direction separated the two of us.

“They cut off the electricity in the house. Inno, his wife, again saw him and she ran towards him. The soldiers followed her; one of them shouted: ‘where is Ahmadu Bello?’ And the premier responded, ‘I am here!’ He was standing just close to the toilet and one of his wives, Hafsatu, held him tight. One of the soldiers asked her to leave him and run for her life, but she refused, telling the soldiers boldly that she preferred to die with her husband.

“Without wasting time, they shot and killed the two of them. This was at about 4am on January 15, 1966. Immediately it happened, I fainted. It took one month before I could regain my memory,” Sarkin-Mota narrated.

In summary of the coups that took place in Nigeria since July 1966, there have been Five successful coup; Two abortive coup; One attempted coup and Three alleged coup.

Casualties Of The First And Second Coup Plot In Nigeria:

  • The first military coup in Nigeria (January 1966) claimed 12 lives (Eight Soldiers and Four Top Politicians)
  • The July 1966 coup also claimed 12 lives (all soldiers).

The List of Principal Coup Plotters In Nigeria As Listed By Wikipedia include: 

  • 2nd Lieutenant Sani Abacha (3rd Battalion Kaduna)
  • Lieutenant D.S. Abubakar (Abeokuta Garrison)
  • Major Martin Adamu (2nd Battalion Lagos)
  • Lt Colonel Joseph Akahan (Commander, 4th Bataillon Kaduna)
  • Major Shittu Alao (Nigerian Airforce HQ, Lagos)
  • Lieutenant Ibrahim Babangida (1st Reconnaissance Squadron, Kaduna)
  • Lieutenant Ibrahim Bako (4th Battalion, Ibadan)
  • Lieutenant Muhammadu Buhari (2 Brigade Lagos)
  • Captain Isa Bukar (Federal Guards Lagos)
  • Lieutenant Yakubu Dambo (3rd Battalion Kaduna)
  • Lieutenant Garba A. Dada (Adjutant 4th Battalion Ibadan)
  • Major Theophilus Danjuma (Principal Staff Officer, Army HQ, Lagos)
  • Sergeant Paul Dickson
  • Lieutenant Buka Suka Dimka (Nigerian Military Training College Kaduna)
  • Lieutenant Garba Duba (1 Reconnaissance Squadron Kaduna)
  • Captain Joseph Garba (Federal Guards Lagos)
  • Lieutenant Mohammed Balarabe Haladu (4th Battalion, Ibadan)
  • Major Abba Kyari (Artillery, Kaduna)
  • Sergeant Sabo Kwale (Abeokuta Garrison)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Murtala Muhammed (Inspector of Signals, Lagos)
  • Second Lieutenant Muhammadu Gado Nasko (Artillery, Kaduna)
  • Lieutenant Malami Mahe Nassarawa (2nd Battalion, Lagos)
  • Lieutenant James Onoja (4th Battalion, Ibadan)
  • Corporal John Shagaya (2nd Reconnaissance Squadron, Abeokuta)
  • Lieutenant Abdulahhi Shelleng (Company Commander, 4th Battalion, Ibadan)
  • Captain Ibrahim Taiwo (Lagos Garrison Yaba)
  • Lieutenant Paul Chabri Tarfa (Federal Guards, Lagos)
  • Captain Baba Usman GSO (Grade II), Army HQ, Lagos)
  • Major Musa Usman (Nigerian Air Force, Lagos)
  • Lieutenant William Walbe (2nd Battalion, Lagos)
  • Lieutenant Mamman Vatsa (4th Battalion, Ibadan)
  • Captain Abdul D.S. Wya (3rd Battalion, Kaduna)