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Dogs Eat Dogs

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“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Did you know that after killing the Prime minister of Nigeria (1960-1966), The Right Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, KBE (1912-1966), and Finance Minister, Festus Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966)- (continued from Caught Napping of 15/08/15 by this writer), Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna (d. 25th September, 1967), the run-away mastermind of the military coup in Nigeria, then fled Nigeria to meet the leader of Ghana and its predecessor’s state, the Gold Coast (1951-1966), Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), who was renowned to have rejoiced about the overthrow of Balewa’s “feudalistic and retrogressive” government? Col. Adewale Ademoyega (1933-2007), one of the five majors in the Nigerian Army who organised the 15th January military coup in the country, reports in his memoir- Why we struck, the story of the first Nigerian coup:

“In Ghana, he was received in audience by the Osagyefo, Kwame Nkrumah who was said to have been delighted that the feudalistic and retrogressive Balewa Government had been overthrown.”

Nkrumah granted political asylum to Ifeajuna and lodged him alongside other Nigerian fugitives of the Balewa government such as Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010), Ayo Adebanjo (b. 1929) and Samuel Goomsu Ikoku (1922-1997), Action Group’s General Secretary and Ideologist:

“He [Nkrumah] therefore gave Ifeajuna political asylum and lodged him with Sam G. Ikoku, who himself was a fugitive from the tyranny of the Balewa Government.”

Dr. Nowa Omoigui also states expressly in - The Key Players of the 1966 Rebellions- Where Are They? :

“Ifeajuna assassinated Brigadier Zak Maimalari, Lt. Col. Abogo Largema and the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa.

“When it became obvious that Lagos ops had failed, he and Major D.O. Okafor bolted for the East, where they are said to have had a meeting with the regional premier, Michael Okpara. Ifeajuna later sneaked back to Lagos from where he was driven to the border with Dahomey by two federal civil servants (one of who was his brother-in-law), en-route to Ghana. He was welcomed by President Nkrumah and sent to Winneba to stay with Sam Ikoku.”

Ifeajuna and Ikoku would, less than a month later, be repatriated to Nigeria following the 24th February 1966 coup d’état by Brigadier Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa (d. 1979), who ousted Nkrumah and became friendly with Ironsi. Later on, Yakubu Gowon’s propagandists concluded that it was Nkrumah’s Ghana that sponsored the 15th January 1966 coup in Nigeria. Even the whole world was misinformed by the media that the said coup was the brainchild of Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (1937-1967). Ikemba Nnewi, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1933-2011), whom Ademoyega described as “both crafty and selfish and would neither give nor withhold his loyalty” but ran with the hares and chased with the hounds, attempted to set the records straight in his book, Because I am Involved (pg. 164), when he named Ifeajuna, and not Nzeogwu, as the mastermind behind the coup plot and shockingly, the one who also bungled it with his sudden, unwarranted and unexplained disappearance which afforded Ironsi ample time to organize a fight back:

”A major fallacy of Nigerian reportage resides in the continued designation of Chukwuma Nzeogwu as the leader of the 15th January 1966, coup d’état in Nigeria. The leader was Emmanuel Ifeajuna. He conceived the idea, hatched the plot, recruited the participants and launched the action. He also botched the plot. His inexplicable moment in the coup which, to all intents and purposes, had succeeded, enabled General Ironsi to re-impose the army on the situation in the vital area of Lagos.”

Then Daily Times’ editor-in-chief, Peter Osajele Enahoro, who claims to be in possession of Ifeajuna’s handwritten account of the tragic event until 29th July 1966, the day of the counter-coup when he got a call to destroy the manuscript which he carried out, recently delivered an assertive support to Ojukwu’s claim against the famous official version. The same document which Nzeogwu, who was draft a whole two months after the conspiration had advanced, condemned as “Emman’s lies”. Enahoro clarifies in his memoir, Then Spoke the Thunder:

“Nzeogwu has been credited with top billing as the master planner partly because he was successful in Kaduna – bastion of Northern political pride at the time – but mostly because his broadcast, unprecedented in Nigerian history, gave a revolutionary voice to the events of that day and thus drew a national focus that turned him into a folklore figure.

”Nzeogwu’s true place in the story of January 15, 1966 was that he achieved its main objectives in the capital of the Northern Region, and in the absence of an expected dawn broadcast by Ifeajuna from Lagos, he went on air in Kaduna at midday to stake a claim that should have come from the Federal capital, where Ifeajuna, the arch originator of the plot, had woefully failed to fulfil his assignment before fleeing the country.”

Dim Ojukwu, who didn’t get to write his pledged memoir which was to be titled “The Book”, was in good company with Omoigui, who also chips in affirmatively:

“Major Ifeajuna, graduate of University College Ibadan, Mons Officer Cadet School trained, was the overall leader of the January 15 mutiny and operational commander of Lagos activities. Along with Major Okafor and Captain Oji, he was a member of the original core of conspirators which farmed out to recruit others. ”

Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema, in The Shot that shook the Nation: Reflections on the January 15, 1966 Coup of Saturday, 15th January, 2011, further discloses:

“By virtue of his education at the University of Ibadan, Ifeajuna was exposed to radical intelligentsia like Christopher Okigbo and J.P. Clark who sowed the seed of a coup to redress Nigeria’s ills in him.

“Ifeajuna’s sensitive post as the Brigade Major of the Second Brigade of the army at the time made him an inevitable hub for the plot.”

In the interim, the coupists became completely devastated by the news of the narrow getaway of the General Officer Commanding, Nigerian Army (1960-1966), Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (1924-1966), and they never recovered from it. The mere fact that the Federal Guards had now become hostile meant the loss of the then Officers’ Mess which earlier served as their tactical headquarters. In fact, as early as 18th January, Enugu had been taken by Ironsi, who while accepting the so-called "invitation" of the politicians in his own broadcast to the nation as the new Head of State, “suspended certain parts of the constitution; set up a national military government, with the office of military governors in each region; and outlined the policy intentions of his regime briefly. We comprehend in Nigeria: The 1966 Coups, Civil War and Gowon’s Government – Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Fact book, that:

“By the time a disparate group of junior officers struck first in January 1966, the officers were still politically naive and had yet to master the art of coup planning and execution. This inexperience partly explains why Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and others, who masterminded the coup, failed to take over state power. Instead, Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, commander in chief of the army, became Nigeria’s first military ruler.”

Ironsi’s man, Lieutenant-Colonel David Akpode Ejoor, OFR, GCON (b. 1932), who was also allegedly marked for death by the coupists, was fully in control of the Eastern Region Government as well as its troops. But for lack of trust owing to his survival of the coup, Ejoor was later removed from Enugu and appointed Governor of the Mid-Western Region. Obviously, by this feat alone, the Ironsi train had indeed been accelerated beyond the reckoning and anticipation of the fleeing plotters.

Meanwhile, in Kaduna, the Nzeogwu-led “Operation Damisa” also claimed the lives of Brigade Commander, Brigadier Ademulegun and his pregnant wife including several officers from the North and the West. Senior Kanuri officers which included the Commander of the 4th Battalion based in Ibadan, Lieutenant Colonel Abogo Largema, the Chief of Staff Army HQ, Colonel Kur Mohammed, were equally killed. Other officers killed included the Deputy Commander of the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, Colonel Ralph Sodehinde, Major Adegoke, the Adjutant-General of the Army, Lieutenant-Colonel James Yakubu Pam and the Quartermaster-General of the Army, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Unegbe, the only officer of Igbo origin who lost his life in the coup. Ademoyega narrates, ibid:

“…There was no plan whatsoever to arrest or kill all the officers above the rank of Major as was later claimed by the extreme Northern propagandists… Even among those earmarked for arrest, only four were Northerners, two were Westerners and two were Easterners. But the North had always had more than 50% of the intake of officers into the Army since 1961, and more than 70% of the intake of the other ranks. Therefore, if casualties were to happen, it was more likely to be in that proportion than anything else. The wicked propaganda that followed the coup was only made possible by the weakness and non-revolutionary principles of the Ironsi regime, which bore no semblance to the well ordered and well controlled government that was envisaged and could have been run by us if our plans were fully executed. ”

Later, Lieutenant-Colonel Hassan Usman Katsina (1933-1995), who first reaped from the “palace coup” by his promotion from Major to Lieutenant-Colonel, was sworn in as Governor of the North at a short public ceremony inside the Brigade Headquarters premises, where “Nzeogwu took the salute and formally handed over the reins of the” Northern Nigeria Government to him. The duo of Major Alexander Madiebo and Colonel Conrad Nwawo, working separately, were let loose to prowl around Nzeogwu. Having concealed their true motives masterly, they succeeded in working out the ground rules and getting him to agree to hand over to Ironsi:

“Madiebo did not work alone. He found a useful ally in Lieutenant-Colonel Nwawo, the Nigerian Military Attaché in London, who was specially flown down to speak to Nzeogwu, but he belonged to the old brigade of officers who grew from the ranks. In short, he was Ironsi’s type and did not grasp the principles of the revolution. He made it out as if he came to Nzeogwu as a friend and was speaking in the national interest. He pretended as if he carried a message of truth from Ironsi when in fact he was merely being used as an instrument of decoy, deceit, bad faith and revision. He invoked his long standing friendship with Nzeogwu and won his ear, though not his heart.”

Nwawo narrates his experience in Nzeogwu’s Mentor, Col. Nwawo, Spills the Beans of Monday, 20th September, 2010 by Josfyn Uba:

“I had to be called back because I was a very senior military officer. I was a Lieutenant Colonel and I happened to be from the same region with Major Nzeogwu. Apart from that, I was also Nzeogwu’s teacher in Military School and we had a very good relationship. So, that relationship had to be tapped to get Nzeogwu convinced to follow me to Lagos...On that day in Kaduna, I addressed the officers and told them of my mission which was to go with Nzeogwu to Lagos. The address was cordial and the parade was good. He was more like my own son and he had no problem as he too, briefly told the officers that he was going to Lagos.”

Nzeogwu, lacking moral, military and psychological support of his fellow coupists, mistook their deceit and mischief for good advice, and promptly removed the accent on his planned military attack on the South to flush Ironsi out, cancelling the operation in its entirety. Katsina, with one side of his mouth, praised Nzeogwu and lauded his principles in his coruscating speech, and with the other, he promised to provide strong leadership capable of calming nerves as a result of the military incursion to power and the assassination of prominent aforementioned political leaders from the region.

Governor Katsina ensured that the Prime Minister got a befitting burial in Bauchi. Soon after the burial, Katsina, Sir Kashim Ibrahim, the ousted Governor of Northern Nigeria, now Katsina’s adviser, and the Grand-Khadi of the North among other dignitaries returned to Kaduna; but they were still determined to find out what exactly happened to the Sardauna and the Prime Minster. Their chance to get down to brass tacks came when shortly after the new military government was in the saddle, General Ironsi, the Commander-in-Chief, invited all the four advisers to the Military Governors to Lagos for briefing. They were Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam (1906-1995), Chief Samuel Jereton Mariere (1907-1971), Sir Kashim Ibrahim (1910-1990), and Sir Odeleye Fadahunsi (1901-1986), who had replaced Sir (Oba) Tadeniawo Adesoji Aderemi (1889-1980), from the East, the Mid-West, the North, and the West respectively. It was at this meeting that they asked Ironsi to confirm what they already knew that he had been aware that there was going to be a coup and had made no plans to stop the tragedy from happening.

The response of Ironsi, who succeeded the British General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army (1963-1965), Major General Sir Christopher Earle Welby-Everard, OBE, KBE (1909-1996), on 9th February 1965 to become the country’s first indigenous GOC, smacked of a classic example of Nigerian hypocrisy. The Umuahia-born soldier was unsure whether to make no bones about his disapproval of the coup plotters and their political views which will lead to their trial in a military court or simply continue to deal with them as revolutionaries in tandem with the five conditions he had agreed to with Nzeogwu, and knew he needed to deal suavely with these advisers. He responded by claiming that he doubtlessly listened to tales of a looming coup d'état from the military rumour mill, but that the Prime Minister was at the time spending his leave of absence in Bauchi, where he (Ironsi) decided to go in order to inform him personally. In the meantime, he briefed the Prime Minister’s secretary, S. Olabode Wey, who was leaving to escort him to Bauchi, but that the Defence Minister, Alhaji Inuwa Wada, overruled them both, saying:

“If this is what you’re going to tell the Prime Minister in Bauchi, don’t go. I’ll tell the Prime Minister this when he comes back and I don’t think anything like this will happen in Nigeria.”

That was the gist which Ironsi, who was reported marked by the coupists for elimination, but for his escape, related to the now deeply depressed four advisers to the regional Military Governors. Alaba Williams, who wants Nigerians to remember the former head of state as one of the fallen heroes of the tragic political events of 1966, recounts in Ironsi, A Forgotten Hero Keeps Returning:

“If he [Ironsi] had knowledge of the plans by those officers to eliminate the major regional political actors of the First Republic, his actions before and after that coup did not explain.”

When Ironsi asked for the suggestions of his advisers, he got a deafening silence. According to Sir Kashim, the advisers walked out thereafter, fully aware that he had been economical with the truth. Soon, there were a record number of complaints regarding the selective killing of civilians and army officers which left the Igbo mostly unscathed:

“But there was anger in the North following the success of the coup in the North and partially in the West. The Eastern politicians were saved of the horrors of the coup either by omission or commission.”

The facts of the situation definitely belied Nzeogwu’s testimony in Kaduna about “the people we’re taking out of action”, as only Northerners and Westerners had fallen victims to the legalised form of butchery. Wikipedia informs:

“The fact that none of the high-profile victims of the 1966 coup were of Igbo extraction, and also that the main beneficiaries of the coup were Igbo, led the Northern part of the country to believe that it was an Igbo conspiracy.”

Odia Ofeimun posits in The Forgotten Documents of the Nigerian Civil War published online Sahara Reporters of 21st October, 2012:

“How easy, for instance, would it have been to stamp the January 15, 1966 Coup as being merely an Igbo Coup if it was known that the original five majors who planned and executed it were minded to release Awolowo from Calabar Prison and to make him their leader – as the Ifeajuna Manuscript vouchsafed in the first weeks of the coup before the testimonies that came after? What factors – ethnic frigidity, ideological insipidity or plan sloppy dithering could it have been that frustrated the coup-makers’ idealistic exercise since they were not even pushing for direct seizure of power? I concede that knowing this may not have completely erased the ethnic and regionalist motivations and overlays grafted by later events. But it could have slowed down the wild harmattan fire of dissension that soon engulfed the initial salutary reception of the coup.”

In a rejoinder, Igbo Coup, Biafra: Damola Awoyokun, Too Small To Be A Hercules, carried by Vanguard of 2nd May, 2013, Mazi Chike Chidolue, similarly debunks the tribal accusation and maintains that the “revolution” was truly a Nigerian affair:

“On the January 15, 1966 revolution, it is now known, settled and agreed that the FIVE MAJORS who planned and executed it, had as the final part of the operation, to free Awolowo from Calabar prison and make him their leader. With this in view, why do you (Damola Awoyokun) persist in calling it an Igbo coup? The best interest of Ndigbo will not and cannot be served by Awolowo, as the new leader of the revolution, were the coup to have succeeded in Lagos. If it were an Igbo coup, the arrangement would have been that power would be ultimately handed over to an Igbo man not to Awolowo.”

Ojukwu, the “Ezeigbo Gburugburu”, in his book, ibid (pg. 188), also alludes to the irony inherent in the claim that the military overthrow of the Balewa Government on 15th January, 1966 was an Igbo coup:

“It is said that the 1966 coup that failed was strictly an Igbo coup, but then the irony of history is that it was the late General Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo who single-handedly dismantled the coup in Lagos, while my humble self, another Igbo man rendered it immobile in the north.”

Williams concurs with Ojukwu, stating ibid:
“In the aftermath of January 1966, it was Ironsi [an Igbo], who battled to patch up the disaster and saved Nigeria an imminent ethnic assault.”

Alexander Madiebo, whom Ademoyega describes in his book as “an enemy of a revolutionary Nigeria”, unmasks northern leaders as the brains behind the redefining of the January 1966 putsch, and says,

“...the Northern leadership redefined the January Coup as an “Ibo Coup” as opposed to a “Southern Nigeria Coup” and thus exonerated all other tribes except the Ibos.”

In a May 1967 interview with Dennis Ejindu, Nzeogwu also dispelled the tribalism charge in both “conception and execution” of the January coup and somewhat blamed their three colleagues “stationed in the South” for the failure of the coup, saying:

In the North, no. In the South, yes. We were five in number, and

initially we knew quite clearly what we wanted to do. We had a shortlist of people who were either undesirable for the future progress of the country or who by their positions at the time had to be sacrificed for peace and stability. Tribal considerations were completely out of our minds at this stage. But we had a setback in the execution. Both of us in the North did our best. But the other three who were stationed in the South failed because of incompetence and misguided considerations in the eleventh hour. The most senior among them was in charge of a whole brigade and had all the excuse and opportunity in the world to mobilize his troops anywhere, anyhow and any time. He did it badly. In Lagos, even allowing for one or two genuine mistakes, the job was badly done. The Mid-West was never a big problem. But in the East, our major target, nothing practically was done. He and the others let us down.”

But in a recent interview, the Military Governor of the defunct Midwest Region, Major General Ejoor, who claimed that himself and Yakubu Gowon were also marked for death by the plotters, corroborates the tribal incrimination of the coup, and upholds that it was truly an Igbo affair. He submits that the Igbo political and military leaders had vested interest in carrying out a military coup capable of tilting the country’s political space more in their favour right from independence in 1960 because Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996), an Igbo man, was only a nominal Governor-General and later President, whereas Sir Abubakar, a commoner from the Jese ethnic group of the Hausa stock, wielded real power as Prime Minister:

“The Igbos wanted to rule. Why they wanted to rule was that (Nnamdi) Azikiwe was the then Governor-General and more or less Head of State. The constitution did not give any power to Azikiwe. So, this annoyed the Igbo people and they used to say: “How can we run a constitution in which the Head of State cannot advise the government, the government cannot contact the Head of State for any advice?” So, the answer was well to take over since they were already leading and yet they had no control over the government. That was why the Igbo soldiers decided to organise a coup. But at that time, there were four major leading officers who included me, Yakubu Gowon, Bassey and Ojukwu. Igbo people relied on Ojukwu for the coup and they were able to convince the Yoruba. Ojukwu and Banjo now contacted me and Gowon for a coup. But we refused.”

As these allegations of sectionalism and tribalism raged, the names of Northern officers and men who took part in the coup were ingeniously left out in such a manner that it appeared neither of them partook nor approved of the actions. Colonel Ademoyega would retort:

“Some months later, when allegations of tribalism and sectionalism were mounted against us and abuses hurled at us, no mention was made of any Northern officer or men. It was made to seem as if they had neither taken part nor approved of the actions, whereas many Northern officers and men did not only take part and approve of the coup, but were extremely jubilant and most vociferous that the revolution should continue.”

Only officers of Southern extraction (about 130) were hushed into prison. Officers like Lieutenant-Colonel Banjo; Majors Ademoyega, Aghanya, Anuforo, Ckukwuka, Nzeogwu, Okafor and Onwuatuegwu; Captains Adeleke, Gbulie, Nwobosi, Oji, Ude and Udeaja; Lieutenants Amuchenwa, Anyafulu, Ezedigbo, Okafor, Okaka, Okocha, and Oyewole; Second Lieutenants Azubuogur, Egbuikor, Ejiofor, Igweze, Ngwuluka, Nweke, Nwokocha, J.C. Ojukwu, Olafimihan and Onyefuru etc. But, of the jubilant and vociferous Northern soldiers who took part, not a single one was arrested, not to say, detained. Likewise, all politicians of Northern extraction whom Nzeogwu had detained were immediately released by Ironsi, while their Southern counterparts remained behind bars, at least for as long as Ironsi remained in power.

In the heat of events, the notions everyone formed of the dealings, which some of the eliminated army officers had with the powerful politicians of the time, were as exceedingly nebulous as they were glossed over. It was no secret at all that following the state of complete disorder, confusion and violence that accompanied the 1964 general election as well as the 1965 Western Region election organized by Eyo Ita Esua (1901-1973), the politicians openly courted the friendship of the army’s top brass when it became obvious that the future stability of Nigeria would depend on the military. Williams inscribes, ibid:

“The military was a sensitive organ in the midst of conflicting regional interests. Those who exercised rare vision knew that over time, the military would play a major role in Nigeria’s political history.”

Onyema likewise evaluates, ibid:
”Highly politicized officers were in cahoots with ambitious politicians. This situation cut across all tribes. Small wonder Ironsi once lamented that ‘I asked for soldiers and am being given politicians dressed in uniform.”

Ironsi’s advisers were not impressed by his incoherent explanation and they concluded that he had betrayed the Prime Minister, holding him, in a way, responsible for his death. Although forecasting trouble may not be an exact science, they feared that the North would avenge itself in the fullness of time. Their fear would turn out to be prescient.

Twice, privately, Sir Kashim told General Ironsi to his face that his approach to government was wrong, cumbersome and almost wholly ineffectual. The first occasion happened in Lagos, and the second occurred in Kaduna (See Power Broker). Also, the former Governor advised the Head of State to equally appoint “civilians of impeccable integrity and honesty”, and not just military men, into the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and proceeded to suggest the names of such Northerners and Southerners when asked to do so. But Ironsi probably took exception to the former Governor’s prescriptive attitude and refused to bother himself with the subject again, other than he began to appear as if he favoured a particular side. Colonel Ademoyega posits, ibid, pp. 162 & 163:

“We did not favour any side. We did not seek to wear the garb of any political party. This we knew for sure. Ironsi, on the other hand, surrounded himself with a particular tribe and chose the political policies of a particular party. That tribe was the Ibo and the party was the NCNC. He could not see that this kind of situation called for the balancing of ideas, principles and personalities. Just as the Balewa Government of the NPC blindly and exclusively pursued the policies of the NPC oligarchy, so did Ironsi, now in the saddle of power, blindly and exclusively pursued the policies and principles of the NCNC elite. This made utter nonsense of the military takeover, and the people did not delay to tell him so.”

Thereafter, the Ironsi government sent a delegation that consisted of a handful of cherry-picked diplomats and some influential Nigerians like Adekunle Ojora, Mohammed Dungus, C.C. Mojekwu and Sir Kashim’s Secretary, Alhaji Ibrahim Abdulmalik among others, to some Muslim countries to explain the situation in Nigeria and to defuse the potential violent situations at home as well as deep religious undercurrents circulating in the Islamic world that the coup in Nigeria was executed by Christians who supplanted the country’s hitherto Muslim leadership.

The delegation, which was led by Sir Kashim, proceeded straight to Khartoum in the Sudan, and met President Ismail al-Azhari (1900-1969), who expressed optimism about his country’s continued relations with Nigeria, and added that, despite the coup event, Sudan’s respect for Nigeria remained very strong. The delegation soon departed from there and moved to Cairo, Egypt, where it met the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein (1918-1970), who confirmed his acquaintance with Prime Minister Balewa and a personal friendship with the Sardauna. Nasser, an unrepentant jackboot and a garlic eater in search of company, professed to be content with the situation since coup d’états were universally recognised and that Nigeria would survive the bad weather. Colonel Nasser, along with General Muhammad Naguib (1901-1984), the first President of Egypt (1953-1954), had led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 which overthrew the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, more formally known as the Alawiyya dynasty (1805-1953) in Egypt and Sudan, and heralded a new period of modernization and socialist reform in Egypt together with a profound advancement of pan-Arab nationalism, including a short-lived union with Syria from 1958 to 1961. So, being a beneficiary of “the barrel of the gun” he, Nasser, Egypt’s second president (1956-1970), was obviously not prepared to express a preference for democratic rule over and above autocratic regime.

At a time, the Nigerian delegation hurriedly journeyed from Cairo to London for briefing, during the May 1966 riots in the North. News had filtered in that Eastern Nigerians were being massacred in Northern Nigeria in protest against Decree No. 34 of 24th May, 1966 that sought to over-centralise the government of Nigeria. Ojukwu observes, ibid:

”A close look at the events of 1966 will show that the counter-coup that toppled the Ironsi regime was anything but a spontaneous uprising in reaction to the now notorious Decree No. 34. This decree merely centralised the administration of Nigeria in a manner to facilitate military command.”

A certain Zendy, in his comment to John Serek’s Re: Letter to Southern Nigerians Particularly Yoruba people whom he accuses of peddling falsehood about Ironsi and the aforesaid decree on the blog of Nairaland Forum, bickers:

“Yes, Ironsi promulgated the unification decree, however, that did not

erode the essential components or regionalism. All 4 regions were still in existence when Ironsi was killed. The regions still controlled their resources. Ironsi needed that decree to enable him rule as a military leader who is used to uniformity. It was Gowon who came in and abrogated the regions, created states and made them mere appendages of the Government at the centre.”

Moreover, Ademoyega, on his own, indicts the regime of Hassan Katsina for providing some backing for the rioters, ibid (pg. 158):

“They claimed that the riots were a practical protest against the over centralisation of government by the Decree No. 34 of May 24, 1966. If it was so, it was a shame that the Hassan Government in the North did not act promptly to halt the riots. Instead, his government both connived with rioters and tacitly supported them. This was made evident by Hassan’s refusal to use troops to prevent or suppress the riots; and when a unit commander like Major Shuwa used his initiative to suppress the riots in Kano and prevent them in Katsina, he was roundly reprimanded by Hassan and made to withdraw his troops, with the effect that the rioters even had freer hands to run down their victims.”

Eventually, the delegation went back to Cairo in continuation of its trip, and then moved on to Iraq where it met the country’s president, Abdul Salam Mohammed Arif Aljumaily (1921-1966), who offered his condolences and promised to pay General Ironsi a visit when he settled down some more, but he died barely a month later (on 13th April, 1966). From there, the delegation arrived in Jeddah and met the Saudi King, Abdul Aziz Al Saud (1906-1975), who gave assurances that the unfortunate coup would not in any way alter his country’s relations with Nigeria. From there again the delegation flew to four other North African countries namely: Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya, but as a matter of deliberate policy, suffered a less hospitable reception and a mood of cautious optimism in the last two countries, because King Hassan II of Morocco (1929-1999), whose Alwawi dynasty had reigned over Morocco since the 17th century, and King Mohammed Idris al-Sanousi of Libya (1889-1983), probably perceived the coup as capable of annihilating their own monarchies from their respective thrones. In fact, it is needless to add that Libya, originally called United Libyan Kingdom at independence on 24th December 1951, suffered an army takeover barely three years later (on 1st September 1969), when Colonel Muammur Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, popularly called Colonel Gaddafi (1942-2011), seized power in a bloodless military coup which overthrew the country’s first and only king (1951-1969), King Idris I, who was then in Turkey for medical treatment. Gaddafi went on to rule Libya for a whopping forty-two years and was killed after an assault on his birthplace of Sirte on Thursday, 20th October, 2011.

On its way back home, the delegation stopped briefly in neighbouring Niger Republic where it met nationalist politician and first president of independent Niger from 1960 to 1974 Hamani Diori (1916-1989), whose hospitality was said to be instantaneous and all-embracing. In the end, General Ironsi, who according to Nzeogwu actually joined the Army as a tally-clerk and stayed a clerk most of the time, got great feedback from the delegation on its return that it had succeeded in disabusing “the minds of African Muslims” regarding the non-religious nature of the 15th January 1966 coup in Nigeria.

By now, the confidence of the Ironsi government, which had now managed to find its feet, began to bolster as well as burgeon and so, it decided to strengthen its powers by promulgating decrees and continuing its efforts to secure the country and the perimeter but its effectiveness turned out to be, at best, effete and uncertain. Much as there were some crucial “political decisions” necessary for “the survival of his regime”, the so-called intellectuals and civil servants such as Francis Nwokedi, the first Nigerian permanent secretary, “who clamoured for unity in Nigeria” but perceived “the legacy of the Sardauna as” promoting inequality and injustice invariably causing disunity, continued to demand for “an administrative restructuring of the country in order to provide the necessary framework” for the evolution of Nigeria. But as events turned out, their demand, although patriotic, proved not only a rather naive aspiration but “also a complete misunderstanding of the recent history of Nigeria where”, in the first place, “opposition to Southern domination particularly of the civil service”, became the actual bedrock of Northern nationalism. Osuntokun provides further, ibid (pg. 108):

“The Northerners and Westerners’ preference for federalism over Unitarianism was because of the fear that the aggressively and increasingly Western-educated Igbo people would come to dominate the civil service and use the apparatus of the bureaucracy to control the economic life of the country. Some of the advisers of Ironsi were genuine in their nationalism, but others used the amiable General to advance personal or ethnic tendencies.”

Even General Ironsi’s anxiety and commitment to substitute wisdom for enthusiasm got the better part of him especially when matters reached debating how Nigerians could eschew politics of acrimony and bad blood based on ethnic tendencies. A man who had chosen to serve a very contentious and divided people, the irrational Ironsi, perhaps, saw monsters while it lasted, as he failed to confront the issue of Awolowo’s release head-on, given the huge and unrelenting pressure piled on him to do so. As a military head of state that enjoyed absolutism, the Yoruba felt disappointed that he was not prepared to be magnanimous. The announcement of a pardon (by General Ironsi) for Chief Awolowo, would, no doubt, have been greeted enthusiastically as a gesture of national reconciliation among the Yoruba, and they would have provided his administration the necessary political backbone in return. Ademoyega queries, ibid (pg. 163):

”If Ironsi’s advisers,…were really nationalistic, or even rational and politically healthy, as they claimed they were, why was it that they did not advise Ironsi to release Chief Awolowo, Enahoro, Jakande and other political prisoners of the Balewa Government? If he had done that, the West and Mid-west would have identified with his regime. Instead, he sought for and got only the approval of the Easterners and the Ibos of the Mid-West. This particular point he did clearly dramatised by his partisan approach to promotions and appointments both in the civil as well as in the Military services.”

Nzeogwu also accused Ironsi of tribalism, when he told Ejindu in the above mentioned interview that he did not like everything in his administration:

“Yes, everything. First he chose the wrong advisers for the work he half-heartedly set out to do. Most of them were either mediocre or absolutely unintelligent. Secondly, he was tribalistic in the appointment of his governors. Thirdly, the Decree 34 was unnecessary, even silly in fact.”

Paden agrees with Ademoyega and Nzeogwu, stating candidly in his book, ibid:

“The Ibo agenda was implemented by General Ironsi who kept Awo in jail after the military coup in January 1966.”

Victor Oshisada equally states in the Guardian on Sunday of 15th June, 1997:

“In 1966, when Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power by default, he refused to release Chief Awolowo from Calabar prison. He said there were no political prisoners in the country. Yet everybody knew Awolowo and his colleagues were jailed to silence them. If the Igbos had prevailed on Ironsi to do the right thing, perhaps the civil war might never have happened. Our political history might have been different if the Igbos had co-operated.”

In his own letter to General Ironsi titled “Prerogative Of Mercy: Section 101 (1) (A) Of The Constitution Of The Federation Act 1963,” Chief Awolowo, “a modern cast leader”, who according to the Ikemba, had left Nigeria with “indelible, standards beside which future aspirants to public leadership can be eternally measured”, had pleaded for his own release by cajoling Ironsi thus:

“I most sincerely appeal to you to be good enough to exercise, in favour of myself and my colleagues, the prerogative of mercy vested in you by Section 10 (I) (i) (a) of the Constitution of the Federation Act 1963, by granting me as well as each of my colleagues A FREE PARDON. If you do, your action will be most warmly, heartily, and popularly applauded at home and abroad, and you will go down to history as soldier, statesman, and humanitarian.”

But, Ironsi, who at age 17 worked as a civilian store man at the Nigerian Ordinance Depot, Apapa, Lagos, before enlisting as a private soldier in the 7th Battalion of the Nigerian Regiment in the early 1940s, refused bluntly to do what was required of him. He could have easily granted Awolowo’s freedom on compassionate grounds using the tragic event of the death (in a car crash) of his first son, Olusegun Awolowo, Snr. (1939-1963), who had joined other defence counsels to represent his father during his treasonable felony trial. Justice Sowemimo, the trial judge, not only delivered his judgment thirteen days after this tragic incident, on 11th September, 1963; he also found time to secretly visit the Sardauna in Kaduna soon afterward as published by Nigerian newspapers at the time. The story was never denied, but its full import was not lost on the Nigerian public. Neither was Chief Awolowo’s warning of a possible anti-justice backlash in the country as a result:

“The present twilight of democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law will change into utter darkness, but after darkness, and this is commonplace, comes a glorious dawn. With a brave heart, confident hope, and with faith in my unalterable destiny, I go from this twilight into the darkness, unshaken in my trust in the providence of God that a glorious dawn will come in the morrow.”

General Ironsi’s not-so-clever handlers continued to make it possible for him to hedge his responsibility, so that throughout his short reign, he avoided making a firm decision on the matter of Awolowo’s release. To push the bounds of probability a bit far, General Ironsi had probably convinced himself (as Osuntokun explains, ibid (pg. 108) that setting Awolowo free might be wrongly construed to give vent to the thinking in the North then that the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) sponsored the January coup. Or, put in another way, the General might have felt releasing Chief Awolowo at a time when the North still believed the UPGA instigated the January coup would be a mistake on his part. Whatever and however? It was a glaring miss of opportunity needed to rally the West behind General Ironsi. Likewise, Ironsi failed to prevail on the grief-stricken North which had grown dangerously suspicious of every move by his government:

“He prevaricated because of the fact that political accommodation of Chief Awolowo would confirm the widespread feeling in the North that the coup was instigated by the United Progressive Grand Alliance. Because of this fear, Ironsi missed the opportunity to forge a united Southern constituency while at the same time he did not satisfy the North which was gripped by the fear of being without a shepherd. All attempts by Sir Kashim to provide a rudder for the North’s ship did not satisfy the Northerners who were accustomed to the braggadocio of the Sardauna.”

According to Professor John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, pseudonym J.P. Clark, a Nigerian poet and playwright:

“What became clear was that it was not the Nigerian Army that seized power on January 15, 1966. It was a faction of it, racing against another to secure power for the political alliance of their choice. This group was for UPGA. It beat the other one to the gun, the faction in full support of the governing NNA alliance. That Ifeajuna said, explained the pattern of targets and killings.”

Lacking traits of caring and compassion, therefore, General Ironsi mindlessly chose this tense period, 24th May, 1966, to yield to military expediency given that the army was well suited to a single chain of command. He promulgated the infamous Decree 34 which over-centralised the administration of Nigeria. This also did away with the regions and threw up provinces in their stead.

“He (Ironsi) also as per the proposal of a single-man committee passed the controversial Unification Decree No. 34 aimed to unify Nigeria into a unitary state. This decree effectively gave preferential treatment to the Igbo in Unified State where the Regions no longer had any sort of autonomy from the Federal Government.”

Not done, Ironsi empanelled bureaucrats to determine further development and progress that hinged on unifying the civil service and so on and so forth. The Head of State emphasized that his reforms were not only fiercely patriotic, but also geared towards the national interest. He, thus, hoped to have allayed the fear of the North. At first, Ironsi’s argument seemed to have considerable merit, but it suffered greatly when placed side-by-side the fact that Northern Nigeria, in those days, lagged behind seriously in Western education. It was this deficiency that militated against the Region’s understanding and acceptance of Ironsi’s Unitarism. Williams, however, maintains that Ironsi was a patriot, and declares:

“Gen. Ironsi believed so much in the unity of Nigeria...To secure the people’s confidence, Ironsi’s regime managed to distribute key positions in a manner that reflected federal character. The Supreme Military Council (SMC) had nine members including the four regional governors, Service Chiefs and the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police. The 23 Permanent Secretaries’ jobs in the Federal Public Service were shared among eight Northerners, seven Midwesterners, five Westerners and three Easterners...”

Forlornly, the Igbo and Yoruba, on the other hand, who go around bragging that they alone account for the largest number of skilled and erudite Nigerians couldn’t even work as one in the framework of Nigeria’s socio-political setting even as it is crucially required for nation building. This led Kingsley Onuoha to conjecture in a Monday, 28th September, 2009 Nigeria World published article titled, Why Northerners Dominate Nigeria and Corrective Remedy- Part 1:

“Were these two (Igbo and Yoruba) disparate and progressive groups of Nigerians to work together for mutuality and commonality of interests, it would be for the greater benefit of Nigerians generally irrespective of tribe or region. Regrettably, their unwillingness to bury the hatchet, whether ‘justified’ or not, and their clinging to retrogressive primitivism and unhealthy clannishness in the context of 21st century world, constitutes the primal crux of political blindness of Southern Nigeria political class (es?) particularly in its perennial power struggles with their Northern Nigeria nemesis.”

Osuntokun reports that even then the four regions (North, East, Mid-West and West) still enjoyed the suffix ‘ern’ to read ‘Northern’, ‘Eastern’, ‘Mid-Western’ and ‘Western’. It was the fear of the tremendous consequences that may accompany the half-hearted change in the mould of an Elastoplasts’ solution to a far greater problem, combined with the dread of a possible ‘capture’ of the country by the Igbo, and the slightly offensive way in which the memory of the Sardauna was being vilified by some Igbo traders in the Northern cities at the time, that prompted the pervasive resistance to the measure in the Region. Further combined to this is the fact that northern politicians were not discouraged or barred from meeting and planning clandestinely which led to the emergence of a widespread covert movement organized to avenge the terrible loss of human lives incurred by the region in the 15th January 1966 coup.

General Ironsi’s efforts failed to pacify northern politicians and soldiers. Of particular note here is the fact that, having gone earlier to see the Sultan of Sokoto, Sir Siddiq Abubakar III (1903-1988), in attempting to allay the fear of the North concerning the unification decree, General Ironsi had some two days before the 29th July 1966 retaliation coup, summoned a meeting of chiefs and emirs to Ibadan to discuss the need for absolute loyalty from them to his government:

“As the General was visiting the regions and reconciling with traditional rulers across the country, plans were in top gear to pull the carpet under his feet.”

The more placatory he spoke at the said meeting, the more the North, which rather than endure what it perceived as humiliation and ill-treatment meted out to it over the split in the central cabinet in 1953 over the acceptance of a target date for securing self–government, and which as a result began to talk openly about the possible secession of the region, remained unconvinced due largely to widespread rumours that the Ironsi regime was selecting and persuading graduates of Eastern Nigerian origin to join the officers’ corps of the Nigerian Army. A move seen in the North as capable of reversing the region’s lot where recruitment of soldiers into the Nigerian Army had been based on ethnic quota system via which Northern Nigeria was provided 60%, Eastern Nigeria got 15%, Western Nigeria 15%, and Mid - Western Nigeria 10%:

“In his policies and actions, Ironsi did little to allay the fears of Igbo domination. He failed to place the coup plotters on trial as northern leaders demanded, and he appointed Igbos to sensitive governmental positions. Against all advice, Ironsi promulgated Decree Number 34 of 1966, which abrogated the federal system of government and substituted a unitary system; he argued that the military could only govern in this way. Given the already charged atmosphere, this action reinforced northern fears.”

Perhaps, the last straw that broke the back of Ironsi’s camel was that the “hard drinking, swash-buckling general was not on top of events,” and was equally not readily intelligible to the antics of his self-seeking advisers, much less to resist being used by them. Also, unlike General Sanni Abacha, GCFR (1943-1998), who came twenty-seven years after him, and “was ruthless in dealing with any hint of internal political dissent,” Ironsi was not tough enough to apply full military rigours to forcefully dip the country’s head under the icy waters of his policies. His carrot and stick approach, therefore, failed lamentably:

“But when all is said and done, the poor General could really not be blamed for the failure of his regime. He was faced with a revolutionary situation in a largely conservative country where inter-ethnic suspicion was the order of the day.”

Or, could it probably be that General Ironsi was not unmindful of the limitation inherent in the country’s small army back then which, due to the massive killings of fellow officers by the coupists, had become seriously factionalised and thereby driven a wedge into whatever remained as e spirit de corps and camaraderie crucial “to an effective military machine”? The General might equally have doubted whether his orders would have been obeyed in the event that he opted for “strict military discipline” because of the aforementioned “destruction of the cohesion of the army.”

However, the only two options opened to him were either to implement “a policy of blood and iron” which he did not have the ability to carry out, or to apply “a policy of surrender” by way of a handover to the political class whose irresponsibility had provoked the coup in the first place. Had he preferred the surrender option, only Chief Awolowo and Sir Kashim Ibrahim could have assuaged the situation to a point. But even then the North would have lashed out against Awolowo because of his so-called politics of antagonism and confrontation towards the region. Northern NPC leaders, particularly Governor Kashim Ibrahim, who felt more comfortable with the more co-operative Igbo NCNC leaders, had remained confounded in the face of their inability to get along with the Action Group Yoruba leaders despite sharing a lot with them ‘historically and culturally’:

“Sir Kashim had always wondered why a predominantly Yoruba Party with which the North, and particularly Bornu, shared a lot historically and culturally, could not see eye to eye with the Northern leaders. In fact Sir Kashim felt more at home with the Igbo leadership of the NCNC which had always been able to get on with the NPC without the rivalry and antagonism which characterised the North’s relationship with the Western region dominated by the Action Group.”

Sir Kashim would also have been opposed by the South on the grounds of furthering “the Sardauna’s regime,” and if so, would actually have appeared a fake for lacking the Sardauna’s legitimacy conferred on him by his ancestral link with Othman dan Fodio (1754-1817). Sir Kashim’s only link with royalty stemmed from his marriage to Nana el-Kanemi, Shehu Umar Ibn Mohammed Laminu el-Kanemi’s daughter, whom he had divorced because the union produced no children. He was merely “the son of and grandson of mallams,” which was not the same as royalty. That apart, “Sir Kashim’s political horizons” suffered severe limitations, which became more glaring when juxtaposed with the fact that “he was a typical Northerner” who neither cared for the South nor was national in his outlook, and who seemed to have found Lagos, the then Federal capital city, unbearable.

General Ironsi could not also have looked in the direction of the former Premier of Eastern Nigeria (1959-1966), Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara (1920-1984), who at 39, became the nation’s youngest premier, in view of the popular thinking among Nigerians that the 15th January 1966 coup, which completely altered the political landscape of the country, was an “Ibo made.” Also, the Yoruba might kick against Okpara and other NCNC leaders for their role in liquidating Awolowo politically so as to “annex his kingdom” in his absence. Ogunsanwo clarifies in Awo, Unfinished Greatness (pg. 94):

“The NCNC leaders appeared to be enjoying the unfolding political events in the West especially as they affected their old rival, Obafemi Awolowo. As far as they were concerned, this brewing crisis was an opportunity for the NCNC to settle old scores and conquer new territory. If Awolowo was eliminated from the political scene altogether, who knows, the Ibo-dominated NCNC might even annex his kingdom, the Western Region. Zik, their master, ensconced in the State House, might have cause to have the last laugh.”

For whatever the above speculation was worth, General Ironsi, who, instead of sleeping peacefully in his own bed, as Ademoyega states in Why We Struck, would quite frequently and quietly embark on his quick nocturnal walks into a naval gun boat on the Lagos lagoon to pass the night “like a sailor” for fear of being killed, seemed doomed. Retrospectively, it seemed as if he most certainly was negligent, failing “in his interpretation of the term, Nigeria”:

“This is why Ironsi, suddenly finding himself at the pinnacle of a glory he did not create, also suddenly found himself at sea, and as if to prove this point, he literally started to go to sleep, almost every night, at sea.”

Not a few then wondered “for how long would General Ironsi continue to ride upon the crest of popularity which greeted the coup of 15th January 1966?” Some even asked for how long would Nigerians tolerate the man’s ineptitude and mis-governance? Yet, several others demanded to know for how many more months would the country be buried under the apparatus of his regime? To remain in power by force, Ironsi courted disaster frontally when he not only promoted more than twelve Igbo officers from Major to Lieutenant-Colonels in one fell swoop, but also entrusted them with both senior and sensitive positions in the Army as well as the Air Force without regard to “the principle of federal character” meant to ensure some parity of representation for each area:

“Apart from these, only three others were promoted from Major to Lieutenant-Colonel; and those three were Northerners. Their promotions stepped from the guilt of Ironsi and his ill-conceived notion of placating the Northerners. But in so promoting the Northern officers, he jumped over the heads of five Yoruba officers whom he did not care for, thus giving people the impression that the coup was designed and executed to achieve and promote Ibo domination of Nigeria. Again by so doing, he alienated the relatively few Yoruba officers who also needed to be placated, if placation was necessary for the Northerners. In this way, he separated the Easterners and the Mid-West Ibos from the remainder of the officers of the Armed Forces. Therefore, in the trouble that followed, the Ironsi’s type did not receive the sympathy of the others.”

In what, therefore, appeared like a case of dogs eat dogs, and sharing a remarkable resemblance with the one it overthrew six months earlier (15th January 1966), the Ironsi regime became a stalked prey, worried about takeovers by ethnic predators. At the appropriate time (on the night of 29th July, 1966), the avenging predators landed suddenly. The bang of the Northerners echoed across the political landscape and, like wild fire, it consumed General Ironsi and his “strategic officers,” as they stumbled around, one by one, in utter chaos, unable to withstand the tide of history, which stood overwhelmingly against them:

“The coup of January 1966 was seen by many northerners as an attempt by the Igbo people of the east to dominate the federation. A successful countercoup six months later led by northern soldiers demonstrated the degree to which soldiers had become politicians in uniform.”

Continued in THE PAYBACK...


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