Coup was planned during football matches

Published on 01/08/2009

By Willis Oketch

A football coach knows how important timeouts are for a team’s performance. But have you ever imagined the briefing session could be used to bring down a government?

The soldiers who planned the aborted 1982 coup used to brief their co-conspirators at the Eastleigh Airbase football pitch, a former soldier revealed to The Standard on Saturday.

The attempted coup leader Hezekiah Ochuka after he was arrested. Photo: File/Standard

The former Air Force officer claims Hezekiah Ochuka, the officer who planned the coup, would organise frequent soccer matches and use the time to brief junior soldiers about the progress made in planning the coup.

Hell breaks loose

Mr Okodo Otieno says since senior officers did not like mixing with their juniors, Ochuka took advantage of that to organise several football practice sessions.

He says Ochuka was popular among the juniors, who referred to him as major general.

Otieno, who admits he was a member of the Revolution Council of Change (RCC), says Ochuka formed the movement with the knowledge and support of prominent politicians.

But on August 1, Otieno was nowhere near the barracks.

“I was in a bus travelling from Kisumu to Nairobi from leave when I heard over the radio the Government had been overthrown.”

On arriving in Nairobi at 3.30am, he found a dark city, he recalls. He says sounds of gunshots scared the driver. He drove back to a police station in Limuru but the police turned the bus away.

“We realised that police officers had been ordered to operate as civilians,” explains Otieno.

He reached Eastleigh Airbase in the morning and surrendered to the Kenya Army.

Facing the music

“We were stripped naked at the gate of Eastleigh Airbase before being frogmarched to the guardrooms. It was hell for some of us who surrendered. We were taken to a court martial and tried,” says Otieno, who refused to have his picture taken.

He was released after he proved he was on leave when the coup occurred. Like Otieno, ex-senior gunner Joseph Onyango was fired from the Air Force after being linked to the coup.

He says he has no regrets, as it was a precursor to more freedom “in the country and the army itself”.

“This is why I still respect ex-coup leader Ochuka,” says Onyango, who is the Deputy Secretary General of Transport and Allied Workers Union.

He says before the attempted coup, there was discontent in the armed forces, which he claims was riddled with corruption, tribalism and nepotism.

“In most cases, semi-literate soldiers were promoted while those who deserved promotion were left out since they were not from politically correct communities” he says.

He says junior officers often complained of poor pay and mistreatment.

“We used to hear about a planned coup during our drinking sprees in the junior officers’ mess at the 77th Battalion,” he says.

He notes this was early in 1982 when many educated Kenyans had joined the armed forces and wanted change.

Information about the coup caused excitement among youthful soldiers who were eager to know the plotters.



Read all about: Hezekiah Ochuka attempted coup kamiti prison mutineers soldiers army Eastleigh barracks Kenya airforce



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