Following is a summary of the testimony (Dhivehi) of Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to parliament’s Government Oversight Committee on January 9, 2013.
Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam was head of military intelligence until late 2011. At the time of the transfer of power, General Nilam was commander of the marine corp. In the wake of his testimony to the Government Oversight Committee, General Nilam was suspended and relieved of his duties by Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim on January 18, 2013.
As his first intimation of a plot to overthrow the government through the security services, Nilam took note of an opposition demonstration on January 24, 2010, during which Umar Naseer led protesters to the MNDF headquarters and rattled the gates.
“My field officers [in the intelligence department] said they were seeing signs of something abnormal about to happen. But we could not know what it was, right?”
Nilam ordered the gates to be shut before the protesters made their way to the Republic Square or the “green zone” where gatherings are prohibited.
“I see now that there is a connection between the incidents that night and February 6. This is what I feel.”
In November 2010, a senior officer serving under the Vice Chief of Defence Forces Farhath Shaheer shared information of an alleged plot to assassinate President Mohamed Nasheed during a live-fire exercise on November 11, 2010. Based on the forewarning, President Nasheed did not attend the Republic Day function. The case was sent to police for further investigation.
In late 2011, then-Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaan removed Nilam from his post as head of military intelligence. Within three months, he was appointed to two posts before being made commander of the marine corp.
Nilam learned that Tholhath made the decision on his own without consulting the commander-in-chief. Nilam saw that President Nasheed trusted the defence minister.
In November 2011, Nilam sent a six or seven page letter to President Nasheed expressing concern with Tholhath’s actions. The defence minister was interested in “very quickly purchasing expensive instruments.” Tholhath also made a number of changes to the military top brass, shuffling senior officers, including Commander of Special Forces Colonel Giyas.
A month after Nilam was removed as head of intelligence, his former deputy, Colonel Abdulla Zuhuree, was also transferred.
Prior to the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, General Nilam participated in a meeting on January 15, 2012 with the Supreme Court bench, senior police officers and military officers to discuss national security threats posed by the judiciary.
In a meeting with senior military officers a day before, Tholhath spoke about taking the judge under military custody. Nilam opined that any person could be detained if he was a threat to national security. He however advised against moving too quickly and suggested planning and coordination with other institutions.
But the minister wanted it done immediately and asserted that he would take responsibility “even after 40 years.” Police had officially requested military assistance at the time in accordance with the law.
On the night of February 6, 2012, Nilam was unaware that the military was brought to red alert, the highest security status. He found out later from a timeline of events. Contrary to normal procedure, the duty head did not inform him nor was a message sent.
Nilam was having coffee with Chief of Defence Forces Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel when he saw Specialist Operations (SO) police on television running towards the artificial beach. The generals then made their way to the operation room. Both were in plainclothes. Nilam did not have any operational command at the time.
Shortly afterwards, SO officers returned to the Republic Square and began their protest or strike. Nilam decided against going to the barracks at Kalhuthukkala Koshi for his uniform.
“I felt staying inside would be better than going because it was unclear how this was unfolding. So I stayed as I was. It kept getting dragged on and on. And as I recall the then-President came [to the military headquarters] some time around dawn.”
Fearful of the potential threat to domestic security, Nilam remained inside the operation room and returned to the room despite being sent out six or seven times by Tholhath.
Nilam stayed close to President Nasheed, who was asking the operation commanders to clear the Republic Square of mutinying police. Nilam warned of dangerous consequences if the situation dragged on and worsened. He later learned that the military ranks were not functioning and some soldiers wanted to join the mutiny.
Nilam thought that a violent confrontation between police and the military might have been the desired outcome of the then-opposition. After the break of dawn, President Nasheed went out and addressed the mutinying police but they remained defiant.
More police officers kept joining the protest at Republic Square as false rumours began to circulate. About 45 soldiers from Kalhuthukkala Koshi came to the Republic Square. Nilam learned later that military police opened the gates to let the soldiers out.
Military officers also joined the police officers and opposition activists in taking over state broadcaster MNBC.
The president, defence minister and chief of defence forces were issuing orders because “the [military] lines weren’t working.”
“I was really saddened. This was not something I ever saw inside the military. There has been insubordination. There are former officers here [among MPs on the committee]. There is insubordination. But things have never happened like this in such an operation.”
Nilam saw a president in a “very helpless state”, which was “a sad moment.”
“We are entrusted with the duty and responsibility of protecting the country’s independence and sovereignty. It is truly disturbing to see something like that from [the military].”
The situation inside the barracks was chaotic. Soldiers were filming on their phones or cameras although it was strictly prohibited.
Nilam also learned that the military did not have “any control of [presidential residence] Muleeage after 7:00am or 7:30am in the morning.”
Police and ex-servicemen entered Muleeage after 7:15am on February 7. Nilam heard later that some officers of the Special Protection Group (SPG) guarding the President and Vice-President had joined the mutiny.
He also learned later that First Lady Madam Laila Ali was taken out of the presidential residence in a car whose number plates had been changed to avoid detection.
Nilam was surprised and saddened when the CoNI report did not include any recommendations for the MNDF. He believed it was important to thoroughly investigate the role of the military in the events of the day.
“That is because if something like this happens and it is not investigated, the consequences will be very dangerous. We are in that state now.”
Following the change of government, Defence Minister Nazim asked Nilam if he believed the transfer of power amounted to a coup or a revolution.
Nilam replied, “Looking at it academically, this has all the characteristics of a coup. Some signs are what would happen before while other signs are what occurs during the event. Then we have what happens afterward. I have even looked into this and studied this along principles that academicians would consider. So I told [Nazim] that this has all the characteristics. He didn’t say anything else.”
Under Maldivian law, a “coup d’etat” could not be carried out without the military’s involvement as the offence is specified and prohibited in the Defence Forces Act of 2008.
Inside the military headquarters, Nilam overheard President Nasheed refuse assistance from two foreign nations before he decided to resign.
“[The President] said this is an internal matter. He answered both calls in much the same way.”
Considering the chaotic situation at the Republic Square, there was possibility of bloodshed “if it dragged on” and the president’s life was in danger.
Nilam was present when current Defence Minister Nazim relayed the ultimatum to Tholhath for the president’s “unconditional” resignation.
Nilam saw military officers bang the president’s car with their boots while he was escorted to the President’s Office from the military headquarters. He also noted that current Chief of Defence Forces General Ahmed Shiyam took over as acting chief before President Nasheed officially resigned.
“There are a lot of questions here. I believe that this should be investigated thoroughly and looked into. These are very serious matters.”