Dogs Eat Dogs

First Posted 1st October, 2015 And Updated 4th December, 2015.

“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 Honorable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966), and the egregious Finance Minister, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh (1919-1966) - (continued from Caught Napping of 15/08/15 by this writer, visit ), Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna (d. 1967), the escapee architect of the 15th January 1966 military coup in Nigeria, later surfaced in the land of the “Warrior King”, Ghana, to meet its first Prime Minister and President (1951-1966), The Right Honorable Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), who was well-known to have rejoiced that Balewa’s “feudalistic and retrogressive” government had been removed from power? Col. Adewale Ademoyega (1933-2007), one of the five majors in the Nigerian Army, who organized the military rebellion in the country, reports in his 272-page memoir- Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup (Evans Brothers, 1981):

“In Ghana, he [Ifeajuna] 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, a prominent 20th-century campaigner of Pan-Africanism and a founding member of the Organization of African Unity, 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.”

The “two federal civil servants”, however, turned out to be two well-known Nigerian poets, Professor John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, pseudonym J.P. Clark (b. 1935), and Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo (1930-1967) in You Must Set Forth At Dawn, the extraordinary life account of Professor Wole Soyinka (b. 1934). The first African recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in October 1986, who derived the title from one of his poems, divulges:

“JP, I always suspected, did have a first-hand knowledge albeit vague, of the very first coup d’état in 1966. With Christopher Okigbo, he had accompanied one of the principals, Major Ifeajuna, across the border, the latter in female disguise. JP turned back at the border while Christopher crossed over to the Republic of Benin (then Dahomey) taking charge of Ifeajuna who was by then virtually an emotional wreck…”

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, who worked untiringly to have Ifeajuna back in Nigeria as he also did to have Nzeogwu fetched from Kaduna. Ademoyega remarks, ibid:

“Ifeajuna soon told me of the story of his escape to Ghana, of his reception over there and his eventual repatriation to Nigeria. He made many apologies for leaving us in the lurch. He expressed his confidence that Ironsi would soon be overthrown.”

Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon’s propagandists were to later conclude that it was Nkrumah’s Ghana that sponsored the “well-intentioned” 15th January 1966 coup in Nigeria. Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (b. 1929), former Governor of Lagos (1979-1983) and Minister of Works and Housing (1993-1998), evokes in the Comet of Saturday, 15th January, 2000:

“The first coup by Nzeogwu was well-intentioned. The situation in the country had deteriorated. As you can recall, there was violent reaction in the Western Region against the imposition of the NNDP on the West by the Federal Government.”

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, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1933-2011), whom Ademoyega describes as “both crafty and selfish and would neither give nor withhold his loyalty” but ran with the hares and chased with the hounds, later attempts to set the records straight in his political dissertation, Because I am Involved (Spectrum Books, 1989), when he spots 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. Ojukwu exacts a rectification of the misleading label on page 164 of the book:

“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.”

Foremost journalist and former Daily Times’ editor-in-chief, Peter “Peter Pan” 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 drafted a whole two months after the conspiracy had advanced, condemned as “Emman’s lies” and which General Olusegun Obasanjo (b. 1937), quoted copiously from in Nzeogwu: An Intimate Portrait of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (Spectrum Books, 1987)- his 164-page biographical details of his pal and roommate. Enahoro clarifies in his 750-page treaties Then Spoke the Thunder, a private report and mirror image of Nigeria’s crisis of leadership, which spanned more than five decades of his professional career and launched at the NIIA, Victoria Island, Lagos on Wednesday, December 2, 2009 by the late Asoju-Oba of Lagos and corporate guru, Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas (1935-2015):

“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 fulfill his assignment before fleeing the country.”

Dim Ojukwu, who didn’t get to write his pledged chronicle 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 from 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 (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. Col. Gbulie concedes:

“The story of this coup is amazing; the majority of officers who took part in the coup were Igbos, no doubt about that, also majority of the officers who quelled the coup were Igbos. Let me name those who stopped us, Ironsi was the ring leader, without Ironsi we would have succeeded in that coup. Ironsi was at a party when he was informed. Interestingly, it was a northerner, Col. Pam, who called Ironsi on phone to alert him of the coup, that he heard shootings, so Ironsi came to the 2nd Battalion and brought out troops to quell the coup. I said I will name them, Ironsi himself, Ojukwu that led us in Biafra, If you doubt me check his book “Because I am Involved”, go and check it, Ojukwu was playing a double game in that event, while he gave us the impression that he was with us, at the same time he was with Ironsi to stop us, but he never for a day made a statement against the coup of January 1966, not for once, quote me on that. And when they succeeded in stopping us, Ironsi made him the Governor of Eastern Region. Then the next is Madiebo, Madiebo was holding meetings with us in Kaduna, he was in charge of Artillery, he was with us. In fact, it was Madiebo that we thought of sending to Lagos to negotiate the terms of our surrender to Ironsi but because he developed cold feet, we had to send Obasanjo, who gave us the impression that he submitted our terms of surrender to Ironsi, we could not ascertain whether it is true or false but in spite of that, Ironsi started picking us one after the other. Then we had Nwawo who was Company Commander. Ironsi used Nwawo to ensure that Nzeogwu surrendered to him (Ironsi) who was the GOC, so that scaled it. So when people talk about Igbo coup, it gets me annoyed, when Yoruba writers keep on emphasizing this, we need to put things in perspective.”

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 Defense 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. ”

In its planned walloping of the West to contain its political uprising, and simultaneously end the guerilla insurrection in Tiv land, the ruling NNA government had banked on engaging its henchmen in the military to get the job done on 17th January 1966, but were speedily outwitted two days earlier by their rivals within the same Nigerian Army whose sympathy resided with the opposing alliance, UPGA. J.P. Clark attempts to situate the political reality in the military of the period:

“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.”

Later on, Lieutenant-Colonel Hassan Usman Katsina (1933-1995), son of the Emir of Katsina (1944-1981), Sir Usman Nagogo da Muhammadu Dikko, (1905-1981), and grandson of the Emir of Dukko, 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 officially relinquished 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, “an unknown entity among the Ibos in the Eastern region” according to Nwafor Orizu, Senate President of the First Republic, who, in his capacity as acting President, ditched his cabinet ministers and threw his weight behind Ironsi (his kinsman) to emerge as the new helmsman. Having concealed their true motives masterly, Madiebo and Nwawo succeeded in working out the ground rules and getting Nzeogwu to agree to hand over to Ironsi. Ademoyega recalls:

“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 own 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 (just as Lieutenant-General Olusegun Obasanjo, whom Major-General James Jayeola Oluleye (1929-2009) described in his book Military Leadership in Nigeria: 1966-1978 (University Press Ltd., 1985) as “sly, self-opinionated and vindictive”, was said to have been “full of praise and admiration for Nzeogwu and men of the revolution” only to malign them later), 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. Like Judas Iscariot (died c. 30-33 AD), who regretted his role in “the kiss and betrayal of Jesus” (7-2 BCE-30-36 AD/CE) to the Sanhedrin for thirty silver coins, Nwawo too continues to regret his role in making Major Kaduna Nzeogwu surrender to General Aguiyi-Ironsi. The second Nigerian military officer to receive the Victory Cross from the British for gallantry and leadership after Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi (1926-1966), Nwawo finally throws up before Emmanuel “Emma” Okocha, author of Blood on the Niger: The First Black-On-Black Genocide, (Triatlantic Publishers, 2006) during Christmas of 1994 in Onicha Olona, Umuezechime, and returns an individual guilty verdict on himself:

“Until my final day, I will continue to regret my fateful mediation, leading to the capitulation of Major Nzeogwu to General Ironsi. Under my helpless escort, after his surrender in Kaduna, Nzeogwu was arrested, humiliated and thrown into jail on arrival at the Ikeja airport. Ironsi failed to keep his words, his soldiers honor as per our agreement with the January 15 boys. I’m guilty and it is my eternal sin to have failed the young man and his very popular revolution.”

In the period-in-between, 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. The invitation of all the four advisers to the Military Governors to Lagos for briefing by General Ironsi, the Commander-in-Chief, shortly after the new military government came on board, presented them the chance to get down to brass tacks. The advisers 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 inquired from Ironsi if he could confirm what they already knew that he had been alerted that there was going to be a coup and had made no plans to stop the tragedy from episoding:

“Sir Kashim then asked Ironsi how he could have allowed the tragedy to happen or if it was true that he had been unaware that there was going to be a coup.”

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 (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 rumor 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 Defense 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.”

Ifeajuna also somewhat makes plain Ironsi’s blamelessness, saying, in response to J.P. Clark’s probing in Accra, Ghana, about whether General Ironsi knew of their arrangement:

“Well, not really, I was just a Brigade Major, and you don’t always get that close to a General. But I remember on some of those briefings on the situation in the West, when I said it couldn’t go on forever like that, he growled that we junior officers should not go and start anything foolish.”

So, who had or didn’t have prior knowledge of the January 15, 1966 coup? Gbulie retorts:

“Most Nigerian leaders had prior knowledge of the January 1966 coup, period! Let me start with Tafawa Balewa, he not only heard prior knowledge of it, he equally refused the offer made him by the British High Commissioner to take refuge on a British ship moored off the high seas in Lagos. If he didn’t know why did he refuse the offer? On Ahmadu Bello, he knew, even Akintola had to go to Kaduna to warn him on the need to take precautions but he refused, but Akintola said that before anybody will kill him, he will first kill someone, that was why he opened fire on Nwobosi and co that went for him in Ibadan, he opened fire and shot Egbiko in the head, (by the way Egbiko died recently after a brief illness), also Ademulegun knew, he was the Brigade Commander in the North, he knew. But they were all fatalistic about it, no one wanted to do anything, Ahmadu Bello was telling people where he should be buried if he dies,…Even Ironsi called a meeting of senior Army Officers warning them about the coup, even Ademulegun called us to a meeting in Kaduna and told us that a new political party was springing up in Nigeria and they were going to have a meeting in Kano with the aim to use the army to destabilize the country, he warned that if anybody knows anything, he should be informed so they all knew about it, they knew.”

When Ironsi asked for the suggestions of the four advisers to the Military Governors, 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.”

An Eyewitness Account, by one Daniel Godo Princewill in Kaduna, reveals by the same token:

“After the January coup, the head of my department Mr. N.Y. Kirby [Territorial Controller, North] called me up to take care of the personnel in the exchange and some other P&T installations in Kaduna. A few hours later, out of sheer curiosity I went to the Sardauna’s house. I was amazed to find that all the Northerners there showed no signs of grief. Some Hausa friends told me that the coup was Godsend, but that its only fault was that nobody was killed in the East.”

Also, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai (b. 1926), NEPU’s second-in-command to Mallam Aminu Kano (1920-1983), who geared the Northerners towards pulling off the pogrom that followed (See African Revolutionary: Life and Times of Nigeria’s Aminu Kano by Alan Feinstein (b. 1931), claims in The Story of a Humble Life: An Auto-biography, Vol. I (Amana Publishers, 2004), that:

“At the beginning, most NEPU members were happy with the military takeover. It was only after some few days that they started to think twice about the situation…the way some Igbo traders at Sabongari market in Kano started to treat Northerners.”

Gowon’s Mid-West State Governor (1967-1975) and Abachsa’s Labour and Productivity Minister, Brigadier Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia (Retd.), who by his own admission was hardened to believe in the sweet innocence of Nigerian soldiers until January 15, 1966, recollects the early “ecstatic jubilation” that greeted the putsch by all and sundry. The Benin-born retired soldier ominously comes clean in his 272-page book, Years of Challenge (Heinemann Educational Books, 1991):

“Although the ordinary man on the street welcomed the change of government, rejoiced and danced away in ecstatic jubilation, the atmosphere was muggy.”

Yes, muggy and overcast for a while as the delay of the Ironsi Government to punish the January 15 boys in line with the demand of Northerners dashed hopes of an early end to the crisis. Journalist and public affairs commentator, Haruna Muhammed, a known Ojukwu critic, who became Chief Press Secretary (1998-1999) to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (b. 1942), considers in his article scornfully titled BECAUSE HE WAS INVOLVED available in the rested Today weekly newspaper of September 3, 1989:

“The reason for the handover, we are told, is for Ironsi to restore law and order. Yet, Ironsi did not contemplate punishing those who, on Ojukwu’s own admission, breached law and order.

A whole group of Igbo in the North were now being held responsible for the transgression of a few of them. Author of the 286-page book, No Place to Hide: Crises and Conflicts inside Biafra (Fourth Dimension, 1985), Bernard Odogwu, who rejects the incriminating accusation that January 15 was a striking plan to shut down all resistance which hitherto militated against Igbo supremacy in Nigeria (despite the tribal and discriminating technique employed by the coupists), bemoans:

“…yet the inescapable fact is that the Igbos are already as a group being condemned by the rest for the activities of a handful of ambitious Igbo army officers; for here I am, with the rest of my Igbo colleagues, some thousands of miles away from home, yet being put on the defensive for such actions that we were neither consulted about, nor approved of. Our Northern colleagues and friends now look on us as strangers and potential enemies. They are now more isolated than ever before. Their pride is hurt; and who would blame them?”

Justly, “who would blame them?” 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 legalized form of butchery. Wikipedia supplies:

“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.”

Major General (now President) Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, who as a mere Second Lieutenant in charge of Transport back then was too low-ranking to participate meaningfully in the January coup, speaks similarly about his impressions in an exclusive interview carried by the Sun newspaper of Saturday, 22nd December, 2012. He tells Eric Osagie and Paulinus Aidoghie in Abuja:

“You see, senior military officers had been killed and politicians like Sardauna, Akintola, and Okotie-Eboh. They were killed. And then in the military, Maimalari, Yakubu Pam, Legima, Shodeinde, and Ademulegun; so really, it had a tribal tinge.”

In the Sunday Guardian of 6th May, 2007 on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the bereavement of Chief Awolowo, poet and polemicist, Odia Ofeimun, Awo’s private (political) secretary (June 1978 till…?) and President, Association of Nigerian Authors (1993-1997), demystifies the “tribal tinge” which the coup of January 15, 1966 had been forced to get high on. At the same time, he ventures the whys and wherefores of the actions of the coupists:

“The 1966 Coup plotters planned to hand over power to Awolowo. People were told that it was an Igbo coup but that is not correct. The plan of the coup makers was to release Awolowo from jail and make him their leader.”

Ifeajuna’s manuscript validates Ofeimun’s standpoint: It reads diabolically:

“We also believed that Chief Obafemi Awolowo had become recognized as the rallying point of our nation. If we attempted any set-up without him, we could quite easily end up opposed by the relatively progressive political parties. For him, therefore, we had the post of executive president or prime minister depending on the reaction of our General. But, we were also afraid that he could refuse to accept power handed over to him by us…Meanwhile, we planned to get the elders of the state to help us get him to agree. If in the end he refused, he was to be held and decrees were to be issued in his name.”

Five years later, Ofeimun would conjecture in The Forgotten Documents of the Nigerian Civil War published online by Sahara Reporters of Sunday, 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 plain 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 seven months later titled, Igbo Coup, Biafra: Damola Awoyokun, Too Small To Be A Hercules, taken by Vanguard of Thursday, 2nd May, 2013, Mazi Chike Chidolue, also 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, whom Col. Ben Gbulie, one of the January 15, 1966 coupists and author of The Five Majors described as his idea of an ideal leader for his being “selfless, generous and caring for people”, as well dispels the tribalism charge in both “conception and execution” of the January coup and somewhat faults 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 claims 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 favor 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 organize 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.”

However, Col. Gbulie tells Kelechi-Deca Anyanwu, in a Monday, 11th November, 2013 interview, January 1966 Coup: Awolowo was our choice- Col. Ben Gbulie, that Ironsi played into the hands of northerners like Yakubu Gowon and M.D. Yusuf (1931-2015) who helped to twist the facts to suit their claim that it was an Igbo coup. He states further:

“Although 60% of the officer corps of the armed forces was of Igbo extraction, which did not make the coup an Igbo Coup

“It is noteworthy to say that people have not analyzed the situation in perspective. It was Awolowo who would have benefitted from that coup. Even the northerners were well aware of this fact but as soon as it failed, the Yorubas chorused that it was an Igbo coup. It was in a sense Awolowo’s coup, he was to gain from it, we shared same values with him, he has tried one before but it failed. We were to liberate him from Calabar prison and make him Prime Minister; we liked his policies and his administrative skill. The major problem of Nigeria was mediocrity but Awolowo could not be described as a mediocre, which was why we wanted him to lead. But when it failed, Nigerians behaved true to type and everyone joined the winners while the losers were castigated and thrown into prison. It is shame.”

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 put it in plain words:

“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:

“Those NPC ministers detained by Nzeogwu were promptly released and were never rearrested. At the same time, various categories of politicians of the NNDP and the NCNC in the West and the East respectively were detained and were not released till Ironsi lost his place.”

As events heated up, 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 had 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.”

Osuntokun too protests the extraordinary close friendships that involved a number of the butchered soldiers and some political figures in the country which the sleaze and corruption that surrounded the Balewa Government had presaged, ibid:

“In the heat of the events, no one could rationalize the fact that some of the eliminated army officers had possibly gone beyond their professional calling in their association with politicians.”

Onyema likewise notes the odd symbiosis between the established political parties-cum-politicians on the one hand and the Nigerian Army-cum-soldiers on the other, 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 explanation cut no ice with his advisers who concluded that he had betrayed the Prime Minister, and they somehow held him responsible for Balewa’s death. Although forecasting trouble may not be an exact science, these advisers feared that the North would avenge itself in the fullness of time. Their fear would turn out to be prescient. In fact, J.D.F. Jones (1939-2009), a Financial Times’ diplomatic correspondent, who was widely criticized at the time as “irresponsible and unprofessional” for trying to weep up a self-fulfilling prophecy, feared on 17th January 1966 that the Northerners might:

“…already have begun to take revenge for the death of their leader, the Sardauna of Sokoto, on the large number of Igbo who live in the North.”

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 pp. 106 & 107). 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 ever again, other than he began to appear as if he favored a particular side. Colonel Ademoyega exonerates the Ifeajuna/Nzeogwu group to which he conceitedly belonged, ibid, pp. 162 & 163:

“We did not favor 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 Ibrahim, 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. From there, the delegation 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).

In Cairo, Egypt, the delegation was received by 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 recognized 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 ousted the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, more officially recognized as the Alawiyya dynasty (1805-1953) in Egypt and Sudan. The revolution heralded a fresh era of transformation and socialist restructuring in Egypt together with an insightful progression of pan-Arab nationalism, as well as a brief amalgamation 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 promulgated by the Ironsi Junta to centralize the government of Nigeria. In Power with Civility: A Biography of Rear Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu written by Ogbonna Oleka and Ndubuisi Ofondu (Nekson Publishers, 1998), the Abia-born retired Naval chief, Military Governor of Imo State (1976-1977) and Lagos State (1977-1978), an Igbo, admits:

“That Igbos, including soldiers in the barracks, teased their Northern counterparts about what they regarded as swapping of fortune, served to fray tempers. It was not long before Northerners vented their spleen on their Igbo guests. A Sin party of killing of Igbos throughout all nooks and crannies of the Northern Region kicked off.”

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 four 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.”

Certainly, Zendy missed out on the words of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi at the sundown of Tuesday, 24th May, 1966 in a nationwide broadcast to Nigerians where he promulgated Decree No. 34 to facilitate the infamous Unitary System his regime palmed off on the country till today. Gani Muhammed reproduced Ironsi’s relevant quote from the said broadcast in How AGUIYI-IRONSI CAUSED NIGERIA’S PROBLEM, NOT 1914 AMALGAMATION (visit ...) Ironsi announces:

“…The former regions are abolished and Nigeria grouped into a number of territorial areas called provinces. Nigeria ceases to be what has been described as a federation. It now becomes simply the Republic of Nigeria.”

On Friday, 27th May 1966, Ironsi’s announcement was met with nonviolent protests organized by civil servants and students. These peaceful protests were to later escalate the following day into full blown riots which lasted several days. The reason being that since the coup of January 15, 1966 the Igbos assumedly began to put on airs displaying and distributing distasteful and odious photos and images that showed Major Nzeogwu standing on top of the murdered Sardauna. Ornamented with stickers and labels of these photos and images, a few of them allegedly engaged in real shouting matches with some northerners in the marketplaces in the northern provinces of Sokoto, Kano, Zaria, Bauchi and Katsina, declaring: “Shi ne maganin ku” suggesting “He [Nzeogwu] is the one who can knock sense into you [Northerners].” Also, a string of recklessly disdainful, contemptuous and mostly provocative swipes featured in two articles, Nelson Ottah’s Why Nigeria Exploded and Coz Idapo’s Sir Ahmadu Rose in His Shrouds and Spoke from the Dead, which were published in the June edition of Drummer magazine and circulated in the North at the time. The articles allegedly ridiculed as well as disparaged Northern leaders’ response to the Igbo officers’ killing of Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and senior army officers from the region namely: Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, Colonel Kur Muhammed, Lieutenant Colonels James Pam and Abogo Largema, etc. In actual fact, Idapo’s article allegedly featured a malicious cartoon where the esteemed bumped off Premier of Northern Nigeria was seen pleading for Idapo’s forgiveness:

“These articles were blamed for the May 1966 riot in some Northern cities which led to approximately 600 Igbo deaths.”

Even the wives of Northern soldiers were not spared as they became the butt of cruel jokes and spiteful taunts in the hands of the wives of Igbo soldiers. This also helped to crystallize the conspiracy theory. Ademoyega, however, 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 centralization 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 arriving Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where it 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 (1889-1983), 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 neighboring 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 religious nature of the 15th January 1966 coup in Nigeria:

“Eventually, they returned home and reported to the Head of State [Ironsi] that efforts had been made to disabuse the minds of African Muslims about the religious nature of the coup.”

The confidence of the Ironsi government, which was yet to find its feet, continued to wane as it persisted to grapple desperately for control of the country. But, rather than repeal the challenging Decree No. 34, it decided to strengthen its powers by promulgating more decrees and continuing in 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 political decisions crucial to its survival, the so-called intellectuals and civil servants who surrounded Ironsi such as the all-powerful Chief Francis Nwokedi, the first Nigerian permanent secretary (Special Duties) who clamored for unity in Nigeria but perceived the legacy of the Sardauna as promoting disparity and injustice which invariably caused disunity, continued to demand for an administrative restructuring of the country in order to provide the necessary framework for its evolution. Some analysts, however, believe that the hard luck of Nwokedi, who many distinguished as Ironsi’s Svengali, was being Igbo like Ironsi, as well as having served the United Nations in the Congo the same time Ironsi led the UN peacekeeping mission there, which made his foreign foes, like Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce, 8th Baron Thurlow (1912-2013), and his successor, Sir David Hunt (1913-1998), both former British High Commissioners to Nigeria (1963-1966) and (1967-1971) respectively, as well as Nwokedi’s Northern enemies to blame every villainy of the Ironsi Government on his excessive ideals. The perceived wrongdoings comprised the regime’s lopsided appointments and postings, failure to punish the January 15 coup plotters, charging Nwokedi to solely commission a unified Nigeria, abolishing the compulsory Hausa test for civil service positions in the North, promulgating Decree No. 34 which split the country into 35 provinces and unified the civil service against advice, amongst several others. Nigerian Wiki offers:

“Under Ironsi, Nwokedi held only the post of Commissioner for Special Duties charged with preparing a report on the administrative reorganization of the Civil Service. But in the context of Unification Decree No. 34 of 1966, his adversaries, especially the foreign ones began to spread the falsehood amongst their Northern clientele that he was the sole person put to execute Ironsi’s plan to take away administrative powers from the entrenched Native Administrative system in the North. However, the plain truth was that Decree No. 34 passed by the military hierarchy (without dissent) was aimed at the de-regionalization of the Civil Service, dissolution of “tribal unions” and the creation of non-ethnic based Town Development Unions where mere domicile entitles every citizen to participation and the creation of trans-ethnic citizenship and entitlements. These were clearly things aimed at correcting the distortions the colonialist had entrenched in terms of attempting to create a true national order, but its failure was not the failure of idealism, it’s the failure of tactics and stratagem.”

But as events turned out, that ‘demand’ by Nwokedi and his co-travelers in the Ironsi regime, although patriotic, proved not only a rather naive aspiration, but in addition a total misinterpretation of Nigeria’s recent history where, in the first place, resistance to Southern control, predominantly 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.”

Gani Muhammed also notes that Ironsi’s promulgation of Decree 34 was all rather a rush as “the matter was still being discussed”. Additionally, he implies that some of the blame for the massacre of Igbos in the north during the May riots must be borne by Lt. Col. Ojukwu for his blatantly careless announcement made in Enugu on 25th May, 1966 which raised the alarm of Igbo domination among civil servants and politicians of the North. Mohammed reprimands, ibid:

“Unification was believed to offer Igbos vast new employment opportunities in the “northern frontier”. The flip side of this was the provocation of morbid fear of domination in the North. It was learnt that the matter was still being discussed in the SMC when Ironsi suddenly promulgated the decree. That said the then Eastern region Governor Lt. Col. Ojukwu did not help matters for the General when, the next day after promulgation on May 24, he publicly announced in Enugu that on the basis of seniority, Igbo civil servants would be transferred to other regions and Lagos. Needless to say, he unintentionally sent shivers through the northern civil service because that region was not only educationally disadvantaged but traditionally paid the lowest salaries in the federation, automatically relegating northerners to the bottom of any unified civil service.”

In fact, the tough, gutsy Nwokedi took a lot of criticism for his hard-line stance not for the Unification Decree No. 34 being his favorite hobby-horse, but for imprudently becoming its only protagonist in the cabinet who held up to it without shifting ground.:

“More importantly, he [Francis Nwokedi] was the only one in the establishment who supported the idea of unitary system, not because he proposed it, but because it was the policy of the government he was serving at the time. Perhaps, his undoing was that while other fair-weather supporters began to backtrack in the face of the political onslaught that followed, he felt it was proper for him to stand firm, even when all around him was collapsing. Call it stupidity or courage, it shouldn’t be seen for more than what it was.”

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 Chief Obafemi 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, the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance as well as first Premier of Western Nigeria (1952-1959) and Leader of the Opposition (1959-1963), 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,…[Francis Nwokedi, Pius Okigbo, and Lt. Colonel Patrick Anwunah] 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 dramatized by his partisan approach to promotions and appointments both in the civil as well as in the Military services.”

Even Kaduna Nzeogwu too did not holdup to accuse Ironsi of tribalism as well as knock his Decree 34, when he tells Ejindu in the above mentioned interview that he detests everything about 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, who agrees with Ademoyega and Nzeogwu, hisses 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 favor 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 defense counsels to represent his father during his treasonable felony trial. The honorable George Sodehinde Sowemimo, the trial judge who served as a Judge in Nigeria for 32 years and ultimately becoming Chief Justice of Nigeria (1983-1985), 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.”

In the meantime, an insistent talk on the internet between historical revisionists and chronological hardliners of Igbo and Yoruba extractions respectively, concerning who actually released Chief Awolowo from Calabar prison back then, has been going on in a rather perplexing and cheerless manner; for the reason that a supposed straightforward fact like this is allowed to spawn such a varied reading owing to Nigeria’s poor record keeping and, perhaps, tribalism (and both sides seem well-informed on the subject). In an article, Who Released Awolowo From Prison: Ojukwu, Gowon or Ironsi? published on Friday, 3rd October 2014 by Ogbuefi Blogs, the reader is served a passage from evidently Awolowo’s diary (hopefully to lay the matter to rest). The passage hints that, contrary to widely held believe, General Ironsi had indeed proposed to release the foremost federalist and author of Path to Nigerian Freedom, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution, and Strategies and Tactics of the People’s Republic of Nigeria, amongst others, a fact made known to Awolowo after his “actual release” on 3rd August 1966. Then Head of State, Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon, who received Awolowo “at his Headquarters” in Lagos following his release from prison, later appointed him Federal Commissioner for Finance and Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council (1967-1971). Awo’s easy to understand diary reads:

“I will let my Diary for 3 August speak briefly here. (1) Crossed the prison gate into freedom at 7.56 a.m. (2) Plane took off from Calabar at 8.30 a.m. (3) Arrived Ikeja airport at 9.32 a.m. (4) Saw Gowon at his Headquarters. (5) Returned to Ikenne alone in triumph. At this juncture, it is of interest to narrate the nature of Ironsi’s proposed release as it was disclosed to me after my actual release. The plan was to take me to Ikoyi prison until it was judged safe to set me free. A cell had been prepared for me there which contained extra facilities. If I did not like the place, I could be placed under house arrest at Ikenne. If I wanted to travel abroad, every facility would be afforded me to do so. That was why my intended release was not announced, even though a plane had been dispatched to Calabar to bring me to Lagos. Until negotiation with me on the above lines had been concluded, Ironsi’s team did not want the public to know that I had been transferred back to Ikoyi prison or to my house under house arrest, with my own consent.”

Despite the fact that Ojukwu’s name featured nowhere in the above extract, some other persons maintain that Awolowo, a former Secretary of the Nigerian Motor Transport Union, was actually released by Col. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu who then held sway in the Eastern Region. A seemingly aggravated Odumegwu-Ojukwu himself also lends credence to the story, stating emphatically in a Monday, 9th July 2001 interview with Rudolph Okonkwo in Boston, USA, and re-issued by Republic Reporter, New York, of Wednesday, 24th September, 2014, that he took care of Awo’s discharge. The Ikemba further rationalizes:

“We’ve said this over and over again, so many times, and people don’t understand; they don’t want to actually. If you remember, I released Awolowo from jail. Even that, some people are beginning to contest as well. Awo was in jail in Calabar. Gowon knows and the whole of the federal establishment knows that at no point was Gowon in charge of the East. The East took orders from me. Now, how could Gowon have released him in Calabar? Because of the fact that I released him, it created quite a lot of rapport between Awo and myself and I know that before he went back to Ikenne, I set up a hotline between Ikenne and my bedroom in Enugu. He tried like an elder statesman to find a solution. Awolowo was a funny one. Don’t forget that the political purpose of the coup, the Ifeajuna coup that began all this, was to hand power over to Awo. We young men respected him a great deal. He was a hero.”

Columnist Zents Kunle Sowunmi’s analysis of matter increasingly diverges from those made above. On Tuesday, 15th January 2013, the Oracle avers in 1966 Nzeogwu Coup: Hero or Villain?

“Those who said his [Nzeogwu’s] plan was to release Awolowo from jail were very economical with the truth, he never said it in any of his statements, he never told or requested Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi to respect this point either when he surrendered to him, and when the mess he created finally became the civil war, why did he join the Biafra not the Federal Government he said he loved before he planned the Coup that led to the mess? All those will explain his hidden agenda if he had any at all.”

Nevertheless, a little over a year after the RR publication (precisely Thursday, 15th October 2015, General Yakubu Gowon (Retd), Nigeria’s head of state (1966-1975) while speaking to journalists after paying a condolence visit to the Awolowo’s at Ikenne, Ogun State, on account of the death of HID Awolowo (1915-2015), re-echoes what everyone had always known (or made to believe) that his regime released the late Awo from Calabar prison to bring the political unrest in the South West to a close and guarantee “peace” across the Western Region:

“It was my fortune and I thank God that it was me that had the opportunity to release Papa [Awolowo] from prison from Calabar to Lagos and certainly to be able to help us have peace in the West at that time…”

Gowon furthermore states:
“You’d remember Operation Wetie and the coup and what not. So we had to seek mama’s [HID’s] support to see if we can get papa to come and join the government to help and of course, our hope was that when that happened we would be able to finish as quickly as possible so that we can return to democracy.”

But Obi Nwakamma, a historian and scholar, however expresses his revisionist interpretation in line with Ojukwu’s claim:

“Ironsi’s order was fully carried out by the administrative requirements that compelled the Governor of the East to issue administrative writ to the Director of Prisons in Eastern Nigeria to comply. It is as simple as that. If Gowon issued an order in that regard, Emeka Ojukwu would have very clearly and deliberately ignored it to fully press the point that he was under no obligation to heed Gowon’s authority and Chief Awolowo would not have been released. He would most likely have ended up in the East, like Banjo and co during the war all of whom were released by Ojukwu’s orders. Awo’s diary confesses quite clearly that Ironsi’s regime had kept his release “secret”. Why did Ironsi feel the need to tread carefully about such a matter? Would it be to placate the East, the West, or the North? From who was Ironsi keeping this secret and why? Who would be more grieved by the news of Awo’s release?”

Among several other comments favorable to Nwakamma’s views found on the blog of Nairaland, one chiefly reads:

“For the avoidance of doubt: Ironsi’s SMC passed a resolution to release Awo (with the exception of Hassan Katsina who voted against) then it was up to Ojukwu as the governor of the East to effect the SMC resolution. Ojukwu released Awo on 7/27/66!”

However, one Nwakamma critic, with the nickname, PenSniper, disagrees with the historian, (regardless of Awo’s mention in his book, ‘My March through Prison’ that he declined the single-engine aircraft). He blubbers, ibid:

“Foul. Awo did not reject any plane. His diary account was explicit- he had no inkling Ironsi planned to release him until after the actual release. Obi Nwakamma, the so-called historian, mischievously misinterpreted Awo’s own account for reasons best known to him. How about this hypothesis - That Awolowo was released from prison after Ironsi’s death was incontrovertible? This was immediately followed by Gowon’s takeover. Given the fact that Ojukwu was naturally averse to this scenario, if he then had released Awo as is being touted, the question is: Would he have allowed Awo plus the plane to be taken to Gowon? I doubt.”

Ofeimun’s little poseur is hard to ignore, ibid:

“Imaginably, a government that moved quickly to enact a Unitary Decree could not have been in a hurry to release a sworn Federalist from jail. The question is: if Ojukwu signed the warrant, how did the effectuation of the warrant wait for so long until it coincided with the order given by Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon at the head of the revenge coup, for Awolowo to be released? This is an important question because Awolowo was not released until seven months after the first coup of the year. This historic task fell upon the revenge coup makers who had toppled General Aguiyi-Ironsi after a rigorously organized pogrom against the Igbo, with a number of other Southerners added to the kill. It was certainly to gain a wider base than their Northern security ambitions allowed that the release of Awolowo from Calabar Prison was announced. It leaves a sneaking feeling that Ojukwu’s power over the Eastern Region, to which all Igbo in the Nigerian diaspora had to return in search of a safe haven, had not yet become so all-pervasive as to be able to countermand a swiftly executed decision by Federal authorities intent on releasing Awolowo from jail. Nor would it have been politic for Ojukwu, even if he had the power, to attempt to prevent Awolowo from being released after a Federal order to that effect. It would have amounted to holding Awolowo hostage.”

As things stood, General Ironsi’s apparently 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 (at least publicly) on the matter of the release of Awolowo, a former teacher in Abeokuta, clerk at the famous Wesley College and correspondent for the Nigerian Times. To push the bounds of probability a bit far and endeavor to fix some of Nwakamma’s posers above, General Ironsi may have 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 that releasing Chief Awolowo at a time when the North still believed the UPGA instigated the January coup would be a blunder on his part. Whatever and however? It was a glaring miss of opportunity needed to rally the West behind him (General Ironsi). Likewise, Ironsi failed to prevail on the grief-stricken North which had grown dangerously suspicious of every move by his government. Osuntokun pounds:

“He [Ironsi] 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.”

Lacking traits of caring and compassion, therefore, General Ironsi mindlessly chose this tense period 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-centralized the administration of Nigeria, 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, the Ironsi regime’s espousal of the villainous Decree No. 34 meant that he 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 stresses further, ibid:

“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 this is crucially required for nation building. This led Kingsley Onuoha to infer 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. Wikipedia alludes:

“The lack of Igbo humility has been identified as one of the factors that sparked the pogroms, resulting in popular hostility toward the Igbo.”

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 rumors that the Ironsi regime, aside failing to punish the coup plotters, planting Igbos in sensitive, juicy spots in his government and promulgating decree 34, was also conscripting graduates of Eastern Nigerian origin into 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 and friends, much less resist being used by them. Walter Schwarz affirms:

“General Ironsi’s trust in his friends leads Nigeria back to tribal strife.”

Also, unlike General Sanni Abacha (1943-1998), who came twenty-seven years after him, and was brutal in tackling any insinuation of domestic political rebellion or dissent, Ironsi was not tough enough to apply full military rigors to forcefully dip the country’s head under the icy waters of his policies. His carrot and stick approach, therefore, failed disappointingly. Professor Osuntokun bewails:

“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 factionalized and thereby driven a wedge into whatever remained as esprit de corps and camaraderie crucial to an efficient military apparatus? The General might equally have doubted whether his orders would have been obeyed in the event that he opted for stringent military discipline because of the aforesaid ruin of the cohesion and unity 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.

“Awolowo would have been unacceptable to the North.”

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’ (See Titans’ War of 07/04/15 by this writer- ):

“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 characterized 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 scheme, and if so, would actually have appeared a sham for not possessing the Sardauna’s influence and legitimacy bestowed on him by his family connection with Othman dan Fodio (1754-1817). Sir Kashim’s only relation 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 and grandson of mallams, which is not the same as royalty. That apart, Sir Kashim’s political perspectives suffered strict limitations, which became more glaring when juxtaposed with the fact that he was a classic Northerner who neither worried about the South nor was nationalized in his viewpoint, and who seemed to have found Lagos, the then Federal capital city, unbearable:

“…he [Sir Kashim] would have been perceived as continuing the Sardauna’s regime. However, he would have been considered a poor copy since he lacked the legitimacy which the ancestral link of the Sardauna with Uthman bin Fodiye conferred.”

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’:

“He [Ironsi] could not ask Okpara because the widespread allegation that the coup was Igbo-inspired would have made this politically unwise.”

Similarly, the Yoruba would have kicked 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 is worth, General Ironsi, who, instead of sleeping peacefully in his own bed, as Ademoyega details in Why We Struck, would quite habitually and calmly embark on his swift night-time strolls into a marine cannon vessel 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 misrule? Yet, several others demanded to know for how many more months would the country be buried under the apparatus of his regime? Swayed that Ironsi was plunking down on a time bomb, Odogwu had then cogitated:

“…I think the General [Aguiyi-Ironsi] is sitting on a time bomb, with the fuse almost burnt out. We shall wait and see what happens next, but from my observations, I know the present state of affairs will not last long. A northern counter-action is definitely around the corner and God save us when it explodes.”

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 and was worried about the vicious and sadistic takeover that was being planned by northern, ethnic predators. Rather than guarantee that “no innocents” were penalized for the misdeeds that a few ruthless and blood-thirsty Igbo soldiers-cum-a lackluster Igbo-led government-cum-a handful unsympathetic Igbo civilians pulled off, the marauding gang of northern soldiers now desolately reviled the entire Igbo. At the appropriate time (on the night of 29th July, 1966), the avenging predators landed suddenly on those army officers mainly of Eastern extraction whom they had come to regard as their potential foes who must be eliminated. 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.”

Sowunmi describes the January 15 1966 coup as the greatest selfish miscalculation ever made by those tasked with executing the coup in the Eastern Region. He writes, ibid:

“In Yoruba land, there is an adage that says, when you plan to blind someone be sure both eyes are affected, if you mistakenly spare one of the eyes, he or she will look for you with a revenge with the eye you mistakenly spared, the coup plotters did not carry out the same treatment in the East like they did to the leaders in North and West of Nigeria, like the adage says it became the eye that was spared, later, it consumed even the Eastern Region from a figure close to 2 million lost innocent people. If sincerity of purpose and complete execution had been applied to the rule of the game by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, like Nzeogwu and Major Ademoyega did in the West and North respectively, on a death that could have affected three or four of their leaders, maybe the civil war could have been avoided, even the second coup which Col. Adekunle Fajuyi was also a victim. January 15th 1966 coup was the greatest selfish miscalculation of those given the duty to carry out the coup in the East of Nigeria. It created a negative chain of reaction.”

Odogwu raps it up here with a portentous entry on his special note pad on January 23, 1966:

“I shudder at the possible aftermath of this folly [January 15 coup] committed by our boys in Khaki; and what has kept coming to my mind since the afternoon is the passage in Shakespeare’s MACBETH – ‘And they say blood will have blood.’”

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Articles by Ajiroba Yemi Kotun