Inside Friendship Hotel where Dimka was arrested
By Uchenna Inya
Much may not have been heard about where Lt. Col Suka Dimka was spotted and arrested. Dimka who played major role in the February 13, 1976 abortive military coup against the government of General Murtala Mohammed fell in love with a place called Ehugbo in Afikpo Town, Afikpo North local government area of Ebonyi State because of the socio-cultural lifestyle of people of that area. The people are known for their hospitality and generosity. Coupled with the natural beauty of their town, this might have been another reason that attracted Dimka to the area.
Dimka was very popular in the Ehugbo community and despite being declared a wanted person by the Federal Government, he was moving freely in Afikpo town until he was spotted along the popular Eke Market Road disguised in a turban and was eventually arrested. He lodged in a hotel in the area, the Friendship Hotel, which was very popular in the town masquerading as a government agricultural officer with a fake name, Mr. C. Godwin. When our correspondent visited the hotel, none of the staff could comment fully on Dimka as they said none of them was born at the time he lodged there and that they heard the story of his stay in the hotel like every other person. ‘’We heard he stayed here like every other person. None of us the workers could give the full details of his activities in this hotel though he was very popular in our town according to the account of elders who were alive when he was here in Ehugbo,’’ one of the staff said. The employee who gave his name simply as Abagha said economic activities in the Friendship Hotel were still on although not as they used to be and that the hotel had undergone renovation.
An elder in Afikpo town and one of the members of the traditional ruling council, The Essas, Chief Jasper Okoro, who witnessed Dimka’s stay in Ehugbo and his participation in some activities like playing football matches which was one of his (Dimka’s) hobbies, told Saturday Telegraph that Dimka was industrious, a peacemaker, team player and a bridge builder during his stay in the town which endeared him to the people. His words: ‘’let me state that Dimka was an officer here; we came back from Biafra (Civil War) and met him here. He was very popular in the town. I was a teacher when the coup took place and Dimka and his partners were declared wanted. At that time, the radio kept announcing that whoever finds him should report to the police as some benefits will be given to the person. So, at intervals of 15 minutes or thereabouts the radio continued to make the announcement. ‘’There was a case when we came back here as students and remember we were officers too in the Biafran Army.
The government at that time had said no victor no vanquished and that we should relate with the military. ‘’So, there was a time we played football with the military men; they were staying then at Government College in Ehugbo before they moved to Enugu State. This College was where the military was based, it was their headquarters and that was where we went to play football with them. We scored a goal against the soldiers playing barefooted while they played with their boots. ‘’When we scored against them, there was some fracas because they were trying to humiliate us and beat us up. It was Dimka, an officer then, who intervened.
We were relating with him. He was so popular in our town. ‘’While some officers were not known in Afikpo, Dimka was very popular and he was very free with the young men who came back from Biafra, he was trying to integrate our youths into the army in keeping with the directive of the Federal Government. He was not somebody that could hide in Afikpo; he had a lot of friends. Unfortunately, when he was declared a fugitive, it was easy for him to be noticed especially in Afikpo.’’ On how he was eventually spotted, Okoro who is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors continued: ‘’There was a young man, a teacher about my age, his name is William Iweozor; he was one of those who knew Dimka very well and even if it was in the dark, he would recognise him. As the boy was driving his father’s Mobilet (a form of motorcycle) he spotted somebody (Dimka) who had disguised himself by wearing a turban and was strolling in the area where Afikpo mosque is located. So when he was strolling along along Eke Market Road, a very popular road, Iweozor came to some people and announced that he has seen Dimka. ‘’Some people who were around admonished him to be mindful of what he was saying and that how could he say he had seen Dimka who must have left the shores of Nigeria. How could he come here when he is well known in Afikpo? “When he raisied the alarm, people cautioned him of the consequences, that if he continued shouting he saw Dimka and they discovered that the person was not Dimka he would go in for it but he was persistent.
He went to the police in Afikpo and reported; the military mounted serious check points on the road. In fact, every two or three kilometres there was a check point from Afikpo to Abakaliki and Abakaliki to Afikpo because he had given notice that Dimka was in Afikpo and that he had been seen him’’. Okoro revealed that Dimka had a beautiful and permanent girl friend who hailed from Afikpo town, who was dear to him. He stated that Dimka took up accommodation in Friendship Hotel which was then the most popular hotel in the town and that he lodged there with a fake identity as an agricultural officer. According to him, when Dimka checked the room which the hotel management showed him, he later changed it. “He said: ‘’The room he checked in initially had burglary proof but he said he didn’t like the room so they changed it to another room where the toilet had no burglary proof. In the midnight, following the alarm raised by someone that he had seen Dimka, soldiers stormed the place and barricaded the hotel. ‘’The person who spotted him, William, traced him and saw that he entered the hotel and immediately alerted the soldiers. Dimka’s girlfriend who is an indigene was equally seen entering that hotel. ‘’When she was seen entering that place, the alarm was equally raised. It was seriously suspected or almost confirmed that he was in the hotel; he came with a Renault car and when the boot was opened and searched there were so many plate numbers discovered.” On how Dimka escaped from the Friendship Hotel, the community leader noted that after the alarm was raised that he was inside the hotel, the whole area was barricaded by soldiers who only concentrated on the front of the hotel. He stated that the soldiers later knocked on the door where Dimka and his girlfriend were staying.‘’
At that moment, Dimka knew there was trouble, he told his girlfriend to go and open the while he escaped through the toilet window and ran away,’’ Okoro disclosed. Another leader in the area, Chief Uroh Irem, said there were checkpoints in the area to ensure that Dimka was arrested following his escape from Friendship Hotel. He explained that soldiers on the roads didn’t recognise him despite the fact that they had photographs of him. ‘’Soldiers could not identify Dimka; what they did then was to tell passengers in a vehicle to come down, search them and tell them to move on. The truth is that the police officers and soldiers at the check point could not spot him. ‘’He got to a particular check point after the usual routine of stop and search, as they were about to move, Dimka told the driver not to move; he came out himself and called a police sergeant who was later promoted to a police inspector and told him that he was Dimka. ‘’Before he disembarked from the vehicle he must have thought ‘for how long would I be hiding?’ He saw that he was approaching the brigade headquarters where some of the officers will identify him, so he beckoned on the police officer and said ‘I am Dimka’. He said this while hitting his chest; ‘I am the man you have been looking for’. He then brought out his hand and he was handcuffed immediately and taken away,’’ Irem said.