The Nigerian Army before 15 January 1966 was one big family, where tribe or region was never an issue. Some of us joined the army straight from secondary schools and knew nothing other than the interest which we had for the armed forces. We knew nothing about politics and knew little about politicians from the pages of newspapers. For us, it was all about comradeship and professionalism. We were told to be loyal to the government and that our role as officers was the defence of the territorial integrity of the nation. In all formations, as officers, we ate together, trained together and played together. Promotions in the army depended on merit and fairplay. We were truly one happy family. Then suddenly, a group of officers staged a very bloody coup d’etat which overthrew the federal government.
The main characters at the centre of the coup are no longer secret because a lot has been said about them through police investigation reports and on the pages of national daily newspapers. There have been many interpretations of the 15 January 1966 coup and the aftermath by various writers. It is today over three decades that the coup took place, but the memory of it still remains fresh as part of our dark history.
Insight by the actors, some of who are still living today, have revealed how and why they struck. There are also many writers on the subject who have highlighted the actions of the principal actors and their accomplices. Some were privy to correct information and put across what actually happened. Some have merely distorted facts, with a view to absolve criminal actors to turn the course of history and to earn cheap favours. It is in the light of this that I felt obliged to state my experience in the areas where I was involved, for the sake of history and posterity.
THE SHADOW OF 15 JANUARY 1966 Coup
It was on 11 January 1966 when I returned from Kano, after seeing off General Sir Welby-Everard, the former General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, back to the United Kingdom after a one month official visit to Nigeria, that I witnessed what I can now claim to have been the shadow of the coup. The General was in Nigeria on the invitation of the Ministry of Defence to commission a new Defence Headquarters in Lagos and I was appointed to be his Aide-de-camp (ADC) during that period. He took advantage of his return to Nigeria to visit some military locations in Lagos, Kaduna and Kano. At the end of the visit, he returned to the UK through the Kano Airport on 11 January, 1966.
After the General’s departure, I went straight to the 5th Battalion Officers’ Mess in Kano to relax and wait for a flight to Lagos. In the mess, I met Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Commanding Officer and some of his officers enjoying mess life. It was my second time of meeting this impressive man who was sharing jokes with his officers. The first time was in Congo Kinshasa when he was the Quartermaster-General of the Nigerian Army in 1963. After his formal address to us in the mess, I remember asking him how the Nigerian Army was coping with officers’ idiosyncrasies, having trained in various countries. His reply was that he would not tolerate any officer coming to him saluting without a cap saying, ‘Hi Colonel’. We all laughed. I think he remembered me well.
I saluted him and proceeded to meet my old friends who I had not seen for some time. Because I walked into the mess with my Sam Brown Belt on, Ojukwu threatened to order me to buy drinks for all the officers in the mess. It was customary for Nigerian Army officers to remove their belts while relaxing in the officers mess. But I told him that as tradition demanded, we, the proud officers of the Federal Guards, do not remove our belts in the mess, and that was why I did not remove mine. In a soft voice looking straight at me, Ojukwu said, I have forgiven you because Federal Guards officers are always in a hurry to move to the airport to mount Guards of Honour. I relaxed and enjoyed myself.
I returned to Lagos that evening. When I arrived at No. 4 Lugard Avenue, Ikoyi, my residence, I rushed upstairs and went straight to the flat of Lt. Ezedigbo to let him know that I was back. I opened his door without knocking and I saw him with three young officers in the room in a pensive mood. The officers were Lt. Igweze, Lt. Oyewole and 2/Lt Nguluka. Igweze at that time had been posted to Supply and Transport Company, Apapa. I had no idea what they were talking about but it must have been something very serious. They were surprised to see me, especially when I did not knock before barging in. Oyewole and Nguluka were officers from the Supply and Transport Company, 2nd Brigade, Apapa. I was in uniform and in a hurry to go to my room to change.
Leaving the door ajar, I jokingly said,
I have caught you. You cannot do anything, especially you Nguluka, bloody S&T officer.
Nguluka and I were friends and we joked a lot whenever we met. He was a regular visitor to our mess and really it was not a surprise he was there. Similarly, Oyewole was a good friend of Lt. Igweze, formerly of the Federal Guards. There was, therefore, nothing to suspect when I shut the door and went to my room. It was in the normal spirit of comradeship which we were used to in the army. But the mood in which I found them seemed unusual. What could they be discussing in Ezedigbo’s room at that time? They appeared to have taken my outburst for possible information that I must have heard, for they did not stay long after the intrusion before they dispersed. Even my friend Nguluka did not stay to challenge me on my unfair comment on him. Ezedigbo later came to my room for what I now perceive to be a diversionary talk after his visitors had left. Indeed, I suspected nothing evil as it was back to business as usual between us.
THE 15 JANUARY 1966 Coup
Planning and Execution
The details of the planning and execution of the coup has been discussed in many books written by critiques and some of the surviving plotters. While some of the plotters tried to justify why they struck, others confessed that they were conscripted to take part or be killed. It is today over 40 years since the coup took place, but the event is still fresh in the minds of some people. Many of the plotters have died with their conscience. Some people say nemesis caught up with them as most of them died the same way their victim went. Through reports of interrogations and self confessions, it was clear that the coup was carried out in bad light and grossly misguided. It was a fact that majority of the young officers and men were used by the ringleaders against their will, but in the end, had to suffer the consequences of their actions. It was a coup that was motivated by greed and false self confidence. It was a sectional coup which set in motion, the seed of hatred and mistrust among people who had lived together in harmony for decades. It was a product of political development and military gang up against the day.
The idea of the coup was alleged to have been initiated in August 1965 by Major Donatus Okafor of the Federal Guards, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna of 2 Brigade Headquarters and one Captain O. Oji. These officers were joined by Major I. H. Chukwuka, Major C. I. Anuforo, Major C. K. Nzeogwu and Major A. Ademoyega. This is highly disputable because of professional background and positions held by these officers, as well as their intellectual capacities. For instance, some of them were from the ranks before getting commissioned while some were staff officers or in command of small units in the army. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that this collection of motley officers could form and run a government. However, behind them were some faceless politicians who, through their behaviours and utterances before and after the coup, showed that they were the real initiators and had hoped to be the beneficiaries. By November 1965, the number of officers in the plot had doubled, all of whom were of Igbo extraction, with the exception of a few Yoruba officers. The point to note here is that, if the plotters had acted on their own as army officers in the interest of the country as a whole, why and how did they fail to find colleagues from the North? The army was very united. Trust and respect among officers was very high. The sectional nature of the coup, to my mind, was the strongest weapon that was used to defeat their lofty ideas.
Indeed, it was impossible to recruit reliable officers from the North because most the targets for elimination would be from the North and a few from the West. Because of their number and the strategic positions they held in the army, they thought they could do it alone with the backing of their civilian supporters. That was where they went wrong. Most of the young officers and men who were drawn for the operations in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna were from the Signals, Supply and Transport, Workshops and Support Units. In all the centres where they operated that night, none of the five Infantry battalions were engaged, except in Kaduna where Major Nzeogwu deceitfully used the “C” Company of 3 Battalion under the guise of his Exercise Damisa. The composition of troops they assembled would not stand against combat units if things went wrong. They failed to take cognizance of that in their plan. From the onset, they started from a position of weakness. Their strength was the cover of darkness and the element of surprise. Before they struck on that early morning of 15 January, their deliberations were broadly as follow:
(a) To arrest key targets in Kaduna, Ibadan, Lagos, Enugu and Benin. The plan stipulated that wherever resistance to arrest was encountered, the individuals concerned were to be killed.
(b) To use selected units of the army due to the secrecy and aims of the operation, hence the limitation to use mainly soldiers who would be loyal to them.
(c) To select officers and men for the operation and avoid leakage of information.
(d) To assassinate all senior army officers from the North because they were considered to be obstacles to the success of the coup.
(e) To select a suitable time and date for the operation.
They decided to strike on 15 January when all their targets would be in place. The choice of 15 January was because they wanted to make sure that Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of Northern Nigeria, who was away in Mecca, in the country. The other factor was to ensure that the Heads of State of the Commonwealth countries attending a conference in Lagos had left for their respective countries. It was also the night when Brigadier Maimalari, the Commander, 2nd Brigade, would host his officers to a dinner in his house. All the officers who were listed as targets would be at the Brigadier’s party. The party was attended by General Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army.
In Lagos, on the night of the operation, a meeting by members of the inner circle was held after attending the dinner. It afforded them the opportunity to know who among their targets were present and where they had lodged for the night. As for me being unaware of what was going on, I went to a nearby cinema, returned to residence about 10.30 pm and went to bed, not knowing that within a few hours of sleep, there would be a big knock on my door to wake me up to face an uncertainty.
The H-hour (Time of Operation)
The operation started simultaneously at 0200 am in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna under the command of the ring leaders: Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and Captain Nwobosi. No operation took place in Benin and Enugu because there were no targets in those cities .
In Lagos, Major Ifeajuna addressed the operators and talked about the political situation in Western Nigeria. He said the politicians had failed to find a solution and the country was heading to chaos and disaster. He put it to the gathering why they had to act. Some officers who were hearing the information for the first time were said to be reluctant to comply with what Ifeajuna said, but it was made clear to them that they would be regarded as saboteurs and might suffer death as a consequence. Likewise, some of the non-commissioned ranks were given no previous information of the true nature of the action in which they were called to execute but had no choice. In the long run, they all had to comply.
Consequently, tasks and targets were issued to various groups for abduction and killing of key personalities and occupation of sensitive posts. Details were as follows:
(a) Abduction of the Prime Minister and the Federal Minister of Finance by Major Ifeajuna and two 2/Lts.
(b) Killing of Colonel Mohammed and Lt. Col. Unegbe by Major C.I Anuforo and one 2/Lt.
(c) Killing of Brigadier Maimalari by Major D. Okafor, Capt. O. Oji, and one 2/Lt. from the Federal Guards.
(d) Killing of Lt. Col. Pam by Major IH Chukuka, and one 2/Lt.
(d) Occupation of the Control Room at Police HQ, known as Lion Building by one 2/Lt.
(f) Occupation of P & T Telephone Exchange by two Lts.
g) Occupation of N.E.T. Building by one 2/Lt and a section of soldiers.
The Federal Guards Officers Mess at Ikoyi was named as the rendezvous for all teams on completion of their tasks. The 2 Battalion was strategically avoided. On the night of the operation, myself and one Lt called Osuma were avoided and left totally uninformed by our OC Major Okafor and our junior colleagues who participated in the coup, They reckoned we would be saboteurs. The gang took full advantage of the element of deceit and surprise that night and cowardly stormed the residences of their targets and murdered them one by one in cold blood. –
In Lagos, the casualty list included the following: Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister of the Federation of Nigeria, Chief F. S. Okotie-Eboh, Finance Minister of the Federation, Brigadier Z. Maimalari, Commander of the 2 Brigade NA, Colonel K. Mohammed, Chief of Staff Nigerian Army, Lt-Col. A. C. Unegbe, Quartermaster General, Lt-Col J.T. Pam, Adjutant General, Nigerian Army and Lt-Col A. Largema, Commanding Officer 4 Battalion, Ibadan.
In Ibadan and Kaduna, the officers assigned to carry out their assignments did so with ruthless efficiency. Major Nzeogwu, who commanded the Kaduna zone of the operation, had rehearsed his troops under the guise of Exercise Damisa. Their targets were S. L. Akintola, Premier of Western Nigeria who was killed, and Chief Fani Kayode, who wisely surrendered to be arrested. In Kaduna, the targets eliminated were Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of Northern Nigeria and his senior wife. Brigadier S. Ademulegun, Commander of 1 Brigade NA and his wife. Colonel R. A. Shodeinde, Deputy Commandant, Nigerian Defence Academy, Ahmed Dan Musa, Senior Assistant Secretary (Security) to the North Regional Government, and Sergeant Duromola Oyegoke of the Nigerian Army.
In addition to the foregoing, a number of political leaders and civil servants were arrested and detained in military establishments at Lagos and Kaduna. Among them were Sir Kashim Ibrahim – the Governor of Northern Nigeria, Alhaji Hassan Lemu – Principal Private Secretary to the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Aba Kadangare Gobara, Assistant Principal Private Secretary to the Premier of Northern Nigeria and Chief Fani-Kayode, the Deputy Premier of Western Nigeria. Chief Kayode was to be taken alive to the Federal Guards Officers Mess when they had dumped the corpses of those who were killed in Lagos.
Towards daybreak, Major-General Aguiyi – Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army appeared at the Posts & Telegraph Building and told the officers and men who had been deployed by Major Ademoyega to return to their bases. The troops complied. He told the soldiers that he was preparing troops of the 2 Battalion to confront the rebellion. The General then went to the 2 Battalion, Ikeja, where he discussed with Lt-Col Hilary Njoku, who at that time should have reported to his new posting in Kaduna. The question to ask here is, “Was the General not supposed to be a target for elimination since he was one of the officers who could have been one of the obstacles to the success of the coup? How was he able to go about without being shot by the forces of rebellion? Which troops were protecting him as he drove round that night when there were shootings all over Ikoyi where his senior officers were being killed? By 0400 am, all the targets in Lagos had been eliminated and it was time to consolidate at the Federal Guards, Ikoyi.
How Fani-Kayode was Saved
After the killing of Akintola, Capt. Nwobosi ordered his men to proceed to Abeokuta to collect a 105 mm Howitzer from the battery gun park and proceed to 2 Battalion, Ikeja. On the way out of Ibadan, Fani-Kayode begged Capt. Nwobosi to release him, but Nwobosi refused and informed him that he had orders to take him to the Federal Guard Officers’ Mess in Lagos. The party drove to Dodan Barracks where they arrived around 07.00 am. Before their arrival in Lagos, things had changed against them through the efforts of Lt-Col Yakubu Gowon and Major Murtala Mohammed and they were all arrested. Lucky Chief Fani-Kayode was handed over to me by Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon, with the instruction to look after him as best as I could. He said I should not disclose his presence in the mess to anyone. I did as I was told until the 17th when he was collected by Lt-Col. Victor Banjo who claimed that it was an instruction from Lt-Col. Gowon. The Deputy Premier was shaken when he appeared at the Officers mess, but he was not harmed. Rather, he was lucky. At the end of it, he was full of appreciation for his safety in the mess. The soldiers travelling in the 3-Tonner with the 105 mm Howitzer were arrested on arrival in 2 Battalion lines, Ikeja. Gowon and Mohammed were able to coordinate the arrest of some of the officers and men who took part in the coup, especially in the Signals and Transport units in Apapa. By daybreak, the ring leaders were no longer together to plan the next course of action. They had killed their superior officers and the key political figures in cold blood but were unable to consolidate because they did not have the troops to advance their plan. The collapse of the coup was eminent.
After the killings in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna that night, Ifeajuna and Okafor proceeded to Enugu and held discussion, with some top government officials in the region.
It was in Enugu that they later became aware that events in Lagos and Kaduna had turned sharply against their plan. They separated and went into hiding after the collapse of the coup. Ifeajuna eventually escaped to Ghana where he was received at government level and was sent to Winneba as a guest of the government.
It is at this point that I have to give account of my experience of the events that took place that night and the days after as the only officer left in the Federal Guards.
The 15 January 1966 coup was a turning point in the history of the nation. It was the day that the military turned against itself through a coup that had support of some faceless politicians to overthrow the legitimate government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Although the plot had leaked to the ears of those who later became victims, it was dismissed as a hearsay because of the loyalty which the Nigerian Army was noted for. But some people have described some of the plotters as eccentrics and fanatics who had imported foreign ideas through reading revolutionary books when in school. They had probably joined the army with a purpose to effect changes in government through the barrel of the gun in the guise of patriotism. But their strategy turned out to be faulty. They could not claim to represent the interest of Nigeria while they operated as a tribal group. In the long run, they merely succeeded in sowing the seed of hatred and death among millions of Nigerians through subsequent events.
About 4.30 am that morning, I was disturbed by hard knocks on the door of the house. I heard someone calling, “Sir, Sir, wake up.” I woke up and I looked down through the window. What I saw frightened the hell out of me. It was a Landrover full of soldiers in battle dress. Feeling confused, I thought for a moment that they had come to arrest or shoot me. I could not think of the reason for their being there at that time. But I heard the voice of Samuel Tayo, the Guards RSM, who led the troops to my residence saying,
Thank God, so he is still alive. He said, Sir, come down now, now, the country is in confusion. As we dey here now is not good for we. Them don kill the Prime Minister, and Maimalari. Please Sir, hurry let us go to the barracks.
What a rude shock. I quickly went knocking on Ezedigbo’s door, which was facing mine, but he was not there, so I returned to my room. Where had he gone to? I asked myself, for it had not dawned on me that a coup had taken place. Coups and counter-coups were not part of the subjects I was taught as a cadet in Nigeria or Canada, but surprisingly I found myself caught in that situation. Who were those behind it and how safe was I?
In that state of confusion, I started to put on my boots but realised that I was still in pyjamas. When I got out of the initial shock, I knelt down for a short prayer. I remember having prayed:
Lord, I don’t know where I am going at this moment but give me guidance and take charge of my life.
From then on, I became fully composed and ready for the unknown. I quickly dressed up in battle dress and rushed down to the waiting Landrover. I did not know if they were really taking me to the barracks or kidnapping me but I had faith in myself and confidence in RSM Tayo. With a quick glance benina, I realised that most of the soldiers in the Landrover were from the North and only Tayo and one Lance Corporal Jimo Were from the West. They all looked grim and confused. Tayo tried to tell me what had taken place during the night and how they risked going to find out about me. He said the shootings were heard from the senior officers’ residences in Ikoyi and that troops were moving recklessly all over the island. When I asked the RSM whether he had seen the Officer Commanding, Major Dkafor, and the other two officers of the unit, Ezedigbo and Igweze, Tayo said ‘them no dey’ meaning they were not around. He said they were worried by the sounds of gunshots of the night and in the confusion, got wind of what was going on. Tayo told me that the OC Major Okafor and the officers, as well as the senior NCOS of the Motor Transport section of the unit, all of whom were Igbos could not be seen in the barracks and that was why they risked going to find out if I was still alive. The firing had by then stopped. At that stage, my mind quickly went to the meeting of Ezedigbo and the three S&T officers on 11 January 1966 and concluded that they were discussing their role in the coup. Their absence in the barracks confirmed it. It was equally the same reason why Lt. Igweze, a sharp infantry officer from the Federal Guards, was for no reason, posted to the S&T before the coup. It was all confusion and suspicion in the barracks that early morning. There were no officers and the situation was delicate.
Until 15 January 1966, officers and men of the army cared less about their ethnicity or state of origin. It was all about respect for one another in the service of our country. It was trust, loyalty and comradeship at all levels. But the sectional murders of that night ushered in ethnic sentiment. It was a surprise to me when I learnt of the involvement of my Officer Commanding, Major Okafor who was never identified with tribalism. Even more surprising were some of the reasons advanced for the coup, which was to eliminate political profiteers, and corrupt political leaders. I cannot testify against the integrity or professional competence of the young officers but the memory of Okafor’s involvement in financial misappropriations was fresh in my mind. As majors and captains, they were company commanders or staff officers at battalion or Brigade Headquarters in the small army, as it were. How then could they claim to have answers to the political problems of a country so diverse in culture like Nigeria, barely six years after independence? However, many had linked the coup to the outcome of the 1964 Federal elections between the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) group, and the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) group. The UPGA was predominantly built around an eastern political party and a faction of a western political party. Could that have attracted sympathy from the young Igbo officers with one or two Yoruba officers?
The leaders of the coup recruited many young officen and men from selected units, and ordered them to participate or be killed. Over 50% of the officers and men whom they recruited for the night operations were only told of the plot that night. They were given no option. I had persona knowledge of some of them, especially the young officer whom we trained together. Their main targets in the arm) were Brigadier Maimalari, Col. Kur Mohammed, Col. James Pam, Col. Largema, and Col. Unegbe, all in Lagos. Others were Brigadier Ademulegun and Col. Shodeinde in Kaduna. The political leaders marked for elimination included the ‘Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of Northern and Western Regions, Sir Ahmadu Bello am Chief Samuel Akintola respectively. They believed however, that the abduction and killing of the political leaders would not be difficult as they were guarded by the police who were lightly armed.
The coupists took full advantage of the element 0 surprise and struck simultaneously in the early hours of January 15, 1966 in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna, when their targets were ill bed.
In Lagos, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna made a careful selection’ of junior officers and men for the operations from the Army Workshop, Signals, and Supply and Transport units. To ensure that Maimalari, the key threat did no escape, the assignment was given to Major Okafor, the Officer Commanding Federal Guards. The soldiers of the Federal Guards unit were not expected to present any serious opposition to him. At the scheduled time, Major Okafor, assisted by Lt. Igweze, led a platoon to Maimalari’s residence at No. 11 Brown Road, Ikoyi and overpowered the guards by killing the guard commander who challenged them. The sound of the pistol killing the Guard commander awoke Maimalari from his sleep. It must have been obvious to him that he was the target. So he escaped through the I boys’ quarters and headed for the Federal Guards barracks. Unfortunately, he ran into Major Ifeajuna, his Brigade Major and Lt. Ezedigbo by the Ikoyi Golf Course which lay adjacent to the mess. They killed him on the spot and proceeded to eliminate the other senior officers on their hit list, in their houses. Others like Abogo Largema were hunted for and killed at the Ikoyi Hotel. Ifeajuna, Okafor and Ezedigbo went to the Lodges or the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa
Balewa, and the Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, and took them alive to where they were later killed in the bush along Lagos-Abeokuta road.
In Kaduna, the night operation was carried out under the command of Major Nzeogwu’s. Nzeogwu carefully coordinated the operation immediately after the end of his exercise damisa in the early morning of January 15, 1966. The soldiers were issued live ammunition after the exercise That looked suspicious to some soldiers who questioned the rationale for getting live ammunition after the exercise was over. However, Nzeogwu convinced them that they were going for another special internal security operation. He handpicked the officers and men who went with him to the Lodge of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern Region, where they killed Sir Ahmadu Bello and his wife in cold blood and set the Lodge ablaze. As part of the conspiracy, some unit commanders in Kaduna and some other locations who were sympathetic to the plot, positioned themselves to be inaccessible on the day of the coup. The Governor of Northern Nigeria, Sir Kashim Ibrahim was arrested and taken to the officers mess but his life was spared. Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, the Commander of 1 Brigade and his wife were however brutally murdered by Major Onwatuegwu and two other officers. All the killings took place between the hours 02.00 to 04.00 a.m on 15 January 1966.
In Ibadan, the operation was easier for there were only two targets, the Premier of Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and his deputy Chief Fani-Kayode. It was conducted by Captain Nwobosi and his men of the 2 Field Battery.: They first arrested the Deputy Premier and forced rum to lead them to the Premier’s Lodge. Both Chief Akintola and Chief Kayode we,re to be arrested and taken to the Federal Guards Officers Mess, Ikoyi, Lagos. Whilst Fani-Kayode wisely surrendered to be arrested, Chief Samuel Akintola tried to fight back until he ran out of ammunition. He surrendered thereafter and asked for mercy but his assailants did not spare him. Chief Fani-Kayode was however lucky not to have been killed, and was brought to the Federal Guards in the morning but fortunately for him, the tide had turned against the plotters and Fani-Kayode was handed over to me by Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon with instructions to take good care of him in the Officers Mess, Ikoyi, arid not to disclose his identity to anyone for security reasons.
REACTION IN THE BARRACKS
A junior officer is supposed to take legitimate orders from his superiors. His loyalty is to his country first according to the laws of the land. But there comes a time when you are totally ignorant of what is going on around you and have to decide on a course of action alone. Sometimes you have to
lose the fear of death to be able to decide and do what YOt conscience dictates. That was the situation with me in t}; early hours of that fateful 15 January 1966.
When we got to the barracks, a soldier asked me, “08 (sir) what is happening?” I looked at him and said we sha know soon, just keep calm. There was confusion and th soldiers looked agitated. They wanted to know what to do but as disciplined soldiers, someone had to give them order’! Faced with that circumstance, I decided to take commani of the troops in the absence of the Officer Commanding anl ordered that the-armoury and magazine be opened so tha arms”and ammurrltiop be given to the soldiers. I also order€( them to observe and report suspicious movements and will utterances of the soldiers in the barracks. We could not takr chances as no one could tell who was involved at that stage Realising that Major Okafor and my other colleagues wen probably involved, I thought that I was alive only by thl grace of God.
Tayo and the senior NCOs hailed the idea of taking uF arms as I commanded them to. They were ready to figh back at the slightest provocation. Within minutes, eveRs soldier had his rifle and ammunition ready to shoot i: necessary. The dawn of mistrust had set in. Later in the day 2/Lt Joseph Osuma surfaced. He was not with me that nigh’ but was definitely not one of the night operators. Throughout the period ahead, he maintained low profile in the barracks
We were on our own throughout the night without instructions from anybody and I was left to take the initiativE on my own and waited for my fate. The opportunity came when the dissident officers started to troop into the barracks after they had completed their killing assignments. It appeared the coup plotters had planned to regroup in the
PROFILE IN COURAGE
PROFILE IN COURAGE
Federal Guards Barracks in Okafor’s office for their next line of action. They did not expect any opposition there, being Major Okafor’s unit. But they grossly miscalculated. The ‘Canadian Tiger’ 2/Lt. Tarfa, was awake and ready for any eventuality. I had already heard of the killings that had.taken place that night and made up my mipd to face the sitUation squarely, whatever the consequences may be.
While alone in the barracks, I decided to be curious and looked into the loose files on the table in Okafor’s office. There were many loose papers on the table which did not make sehse but l’ was shocked to find one signal message from Major Nzeogwu to Okafor in one of the files. It read:
Ensure the Tiger is in the net. Even if it means recruiting more captains.
Without any doubt, the tiger referred to was Brigadier ZakariyaMaimalari. The coup could only succeed if Maimalari was killed.
By the early hours of daybreak, 15 January 1966, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) started broadcasting that there had been a sectional mutiny in Nigeria and that the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and the Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh had been killed in Lagos. They also reported that the Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Samuel Akintola the Premier of Western Nigeria had been killed by the coup plotters. The army on that night, lost its best officers through the coup and the list included Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, the Commander 2 Brigade; Col. Kur Mohammed, the Army Chief of Staff; Lt-Col. Abogo Largema, Commanding Officer 4 Battalion; Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, Commander 1 Brigade; Col. Shodeinde,
COUPS AND COUNTER-COUPS
Deputy Commandant of the NDA, Co!. James Pam, Adjutant-General of the Army, and Co!. Unegbe, Quartermaster-General of the Nigerian Army. The news of the killings shocked all officers and men of the Nigerian Army except those who were secretly sympathetic to the coup. Row could fellow officers murder their own in cold blood in the guise of taking over from a legitimate government by force? By what justification did any of the officers named as targets fit into the category of people whom they described as swindlers and obstacles to peace and progress in the country?
THE DOUBTS ABOUt GENERAL IRONSI
One issue that has agitated the minds of many people was the whereabouts of General lronsi that night and what role he played, if any, towards suppressing the coup. At about the time Major Okafor and Lt. 19weze were at the gate of Brigadier Maimalari’s house, Mrs Elizabeth Pam, (wife of Lt-Col. James Pam, the Adjutant-General) was frantically telling General lronsi on telephone that some soldiers led by Major Chukwuka and 2/Lt. Onyefuru were at their house at No.8 Ikoyi Crescent, knocking on their door trying to get in to kill her husband. She also told lronsi that there were gunshots at Maimalari’s house which was nearby. Mrs Elizabeth Pam told me that she was amazed at lronsi’s rather cool reaction to her frantic call. She said lronsi kept saying, “I see, I see,” and the telephone went silent.
Apologists alleged that General lronsi was also a target but that he escaped assassination from Major Okafor and found his way to the 2 Battalion, lkeja to mobilise troops to suppress the coup. However, his alleged escape to Ikeja
must be a miracle because at the time in question, the route between Ikoyi and Ikeja was virtually dominated by the coup operators. The authenticity of his “escape” was questionable because soldiers were deployed on both sides of Carter Bridge, the only link between the Island and the Mainland. The soldiers were under instruction to arrest and kill any of the targets on their list. How then did the General materialise in Ikeja? Some claimed that he simply brushed his way through the troops. But it was a fact that then: were no skirmishes between the Flagstaff House, No 1 Glover Street, Ikoyi,. his official residence, and Ikeja, that fateful night. J:ieI1ce, the l<!Rs ,ter .• claim could not be credible. One can, therefore, conclude that ih all likelihood, the General was not on their list of targets. The very negative reaction of Nzeogwu in Kaduna to news of Ironsi’s “escape” in Lc;tgos confirms this opinion.
At the 2 Battalion Headquarters, the General met with Lt-Col. Hilary Njoku, the former Battalion Commander, who on that day should have been in Kaduna on posting to the NMTC. It was alleged they were mobilising tro0I;s to move to Ikoyi to confront the operators of the coup. Martin Adamu who was the Adjutant of the unit got wind of the General Officer Commanding’s presence in the barracks through the troops’ movement and alerted Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon who had moved to Ikeja that night. Gowon’s whereabouts before then was not known to the coup plotters. He too, would have been a target for elimination had they known where he was. Gowon had just returned to the country from the United Kingdom the night before, and he was due to take over command of the 2 Battalion from Lt-Col. Hilary Njoku. He had attended the party in Brigadier Maimalari’s house the previous night but left a little earlier for Ikeja to rest.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
COUPS AND COUNTER-COUPS
Before leaving the party, Gowon paid courtesy to the GOC( General Ironsi, who humorously said,
Make sure you enjoy yourself very well tonight because you cannot be sure of what tomorrow will bring.
While General Ironsi’s comment could have been a mere coincidence, Gowon was naturally surprised to hear from Major Adamu, the Adjutant that Ironsi was in the barracks in the early hours of the mprning. His immediate reaction was ‘why the Generat and NOT the Brigadier.’ He joined the General. and the officers of the battalion, among who were Rs t-Co1. Hil’lry tjjoku, Majors Osuji and Igboba who were said to be mobilising troops to move to Lagos Island to counter the coup. GowoRs was yet to take over from Njoku but it turned out that he was the one who eventually moved the troops from Ikeja to Ikoyi after some hours of indecision among the officers.
At last, before 6.00 a.m. on that day 15 January 1966, Nigeria’s first sectional coup had come and gone – a very sad day for Nigeria and a landmark in the course of ethnic discord. It was a day that will be remembered for ever as the longest and darkest in the history of the natibn; the day which sowed the seed of tribal sentiments ald separatist movements, contrary to what the perpetrators claimed they set out to eradicate.
By the time Gowon got to the Island with the troops, shootings had ceased and all the targets had been eliminated. He was, however, able to link up with Malam Ahmadu Kurfi, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence. Together with Gowon, they went round seeing the families of the victims and later, troops of the Federal Guards, Ikoyi, and Apapa. Kurfi stoo.d out against the cou£ and
PROFILE IN COURAGE
fearlessly went with Gowon to all places that early morning. Gowon was also able to coordinate the arrest of some of the officers and men who took part in the coup especially in the Signals and Transport units in ApapaRs through the efforts ot Major Murtala Mohammed and others.
THE MORNING OF 15 JANUARY 1966
After completion of assignments by the various groups, they agreed that all parties. would rendezvous in the Federa] Guards to plan the next action. The first of the dissidents tC’ swaggRs r into thRs barracks after 9.00 a.m. that morning. looking scruffy but confident of himself was 2/Lieutenant Nweke, from a Signal Unit, Apapa. He walked in alone and headed straight to thRs office of Major Okafor, probably to send back some messages and wait for others to join him We were surprised at seeing him because he was not an officer of the unit and neither was he accompanied by anRs ¬of our officers like Ezedigbo or Igweze. I was natural1Rs inclined to talk to him but his countenance surprised me From then on, I could see that we were heading for a possible showdown. He was left to walk into the office before I
ordered for his arrest and confiscation of his rifle. He offered
little resistance when being disarmed but he kept looking back as if others were coming behind. We sent him to the guardroom at once and waited for a possible reaction. When I tried to find out about the Federal Guards officers, he told me to wait and see., Soon after, five other junior officers including two captains walked into the barracks, one after the other and we overpowered and disarmed them. What
. surprised me was the logic of their entering into the barracks in singles and at regular intervals. It was probably because we did not fire to alert anyone so they thought all was as
COUPS AND COUNTER-COUPS
they had anticipated. However, that was to our advantage, as they were unable to offer joint resistance.
The unexpected arrest must have caused communication problem when they were stopped from sending back any situation report from the Federal Guards. At about 9.30 a.m., Lt-Col. Hilary Njoku the former Commanding Officer of the. 2 Battalion and Lt-Col. George Kurubo from the 3 Battalion in Kaduna walked into -the barracks. They had no armed escorts behind them. They were the first senior officers to come ints> the barracks that morning. I felt happy initially when I. saw them. and gave full compliments as expected. I had known Col. Njoku as Commanding Officer, 2 Battalion during a Brigade Exercise in the field code named Belly Ache, near Abeokuta in mid-1965. I did not know Col. Kurubo before then. He was actually based in Kaduna but had suddenly and unexpectedly left Kaduna for Lagos in the evening of Friday January 14. I expected to get information from them about what was going on and what to do. They did not tell me their mission or even ask for the Officer Commanding the unit, but I could see they appeared disappointed at seeing the situation in the barracks. The soldiers all looked battle ready as if they had received orders from a different source. Njoku asked me if some officers had been there and I told him that six junior officers had come in but I had disarmed and put them in the guardroom. He asked me if he could see them and I took him to the guardroom. He became upset with what he saw but he did not tell me to release them. The officers looked miserable.
I thought I was going to be commended for my action but I got the opposite. It was as if I had committed a serious offence by disarming and detaining the officers in the guardroom. Obviously disappointed with the situation, they
.——————————.——.-.—.— … — .. – .. __ ._. __ ._-Rs =
did not waste time in the barracks. But as they started to drive out, they reversed suddenly and Kurubo called me to see him. He then told me to go to Number 2 Park Lane, Apapa, the residence of Col. Kur Mohammed, to offload a double barrel gun which was dangerously lying on the floor. According to him, Mrs Mohammed was weeping and could not listen to them whep they visited her. It was clear to me that I did not impress them so I became hesitant to carry that stt:ange order, which was meant, in all likelihood, to peeLrrie awax.fiRs m my troops. That further complicated my position about the situation, being ignorant about the extent of their involvement in the plot. But that did not put any fear in me. It was obvious to me that they were sYmpathetic to the coup and having heard that officers like Zakariya Maimalari had been killed, I lost the fear of death as well. Here I was as a subaltern. By 10.00 a.m., I was still on my own without any instruction from any senior officer. I became increasingly curious about their mission buf maintained my respect for them as senior officers.
While we wondered what next to eRs pect, we saw c section of soldiers in two Land-rovers fully arme< approaching the barracks. One of the Land-rovers had; 106mm gun mounted on it. We had no idea who they wer and what their mission would be. But I was not moved. had surrendered my life, come what may. The issue < distributing arms and ammunition to the soldiers at rn initiative, and ordering them to shoot to kill if challengE would be enough crime before the coup planners. RSJ Tayo, S/Sgt Daniel Langtang, Sgt. Ali Maiduguri and CI Sani Dabai were the strong men in whom I had a lot confidence. We all resolved to fight if the visitors behavi in a suspicious manner regardless of their 106mm gun. E
PROFILE IN COURAGE
COUPS AND COUNTER-COUPS
when we stopped them at the gate to find out who they were, the officer leading the group, a Lieutenant William Godang Walbe, told us that they were there to wait for Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon who was coming behind. I immediately suspected him a,s he was not wearing any rank on his shoulders. When I challenged him to that effect, he said he forgot to put on his rank on the shirt because he was in a hurry to come out. I asked him why Gowon did not come with them since he was fully armed with a 106mm gun mounted on the Landrover. He replied that’Gowon was on his way coming from Ikoyi, where hE: had gone visiting the families of the officers Rs lRs Rs d during the night. I listened carefully to his response but I dio not know Walbe well enough to trust him. To be sure he was not taking me for a ride, I disarmed him and his men and forced them to squat on the ground with their hands up till Gowon came.
Gowon came in about twenty minutes later, heavily escorted with troops to link up with Walbe and to see what was happening at Dodan Barracks. When he drove into the barracks, he was surprised to see Walbe and his men under arrest, completely disarmed. He asked me why I disarmed them and I told him that I could not trust the officer because I had not received any orders from my superior officers since morning. I also told him that all the officers of the unit had participated in the coup and that we had arrested and locked up six dissidents in the guardroom but that Lt-Col. Njoku and Lt-Col. Kurubo had come in earlier and left without giving me any instruction. He did not comment about them but simply commended us for our action and wondered how we were able to remain calm and orderly in the face of all the confusion. He too asked me to show him the officers in the guardroom and I took him there. He addressed them
PROFILE IN COURAGE
Gentlemen, I believe you know why you are here. I am afraid you will remain here until the situation becomes clearer.
Before he left, he told me not to take orders from anRs officer except those who had clearance from him.
Gowon’s visit boosted our morale since that was the firs:: time we had received encouragement and clear instructiOl. from a senior officer whose loyalty was not with the coUf “ plotters .. We were-told that things would be better, but tha: we-should remain tau”tious. For the rest of us from that den up to the 16 January 1966, the barracks remained closed« “I, all officers and men from other units in Lagos except th09f • who had clearance from Gowon. Later in the day, Gower ‘ brought in Chief Fani Kayode, Deputy Premier of Westen:
Region and told me to ensure his safety and comfort as mud as I could. He said I should not disclose his presence in fur mess to anyone. I did as I was told until the 17th when, >. was collected by Lt-Col. Banjo who claimed that it wRs instruction from by Lt-Col Gowon. The Deputy Premier wa: shaken but he was full of appreciation for his safety in thf mess.
THE PASSWORD “BLACK Boy”
The night of January 16 and the early hours of the 17th we..:: a long time for us in the barracks. All through the night, fj’t were under the threat of a possible counterattack by the coUf plotters. All this time, I remained the only officer in commanc of the troops in the barracks. Together with the senior NCOs. we planned how to defend ourselves in the barracks in cast
COUPS AND COUNTER-COUPS
of an attack. We covered all likely approaches with machine guns, roadblocks and senfries. As the atmosphere of uncertainty even among the soldiers intensified, we tried to restrict the movement and issued a password – “Black Boy”. I thought the response “Boy” was easy enough to remember by all when challenged. Unfortunately, that was to lead to the death of one of our best riflemen, Corporal Sarwuan, an illiterate soldier.
It was about 1.00 a.m. ‘on that fateful morning of 17 January when Corporal Si;lrwuan was returning from where he had gonRs .to ease himself that he was challenged by RSM Tayo. Seeing a soldier”coming ill the dark, Tayo challenged, “Halt. Who goes there?;’ “Friend,” the Corporal replied. “Advance to be recognised.” As Sarwuan advanced forward, Tayo for the third and last time said, “Black.” But Sarwuan kept advancing forward towards him without replying. He had forgotten the password “Boy.” Under the cover of darkness, Tayo could not identify him and concluded the man was an enemy. Without further challenge, Tayo fired a short burst of sub-machine gun at him and he collapsed and died on the spot. The sound of the sub machine gun sent shock waves throughout the barracks that nigh!. We thought we were being attacked by the dissidents and automatically everybody had his rifle cocked ready to fight back. The atmosphere became so charged as we tried to figure out what went wrong. Realising that it was one of our soldiers, Tayo pleaded, “It was a big mistake. It was a mistake.” Indeed, it was a tragedy that night. Cpl. Sarwuan was Tiv by tribe and a good rifleman. The reaction of other Tiv soldiers to Sarwuan’s death became a big problem for me to contend with. They could not believe it was a mistake and threatened
PROFILE IN COURAGE
to kill Tayo in retaliation. It was indeed one of the mas: difficult nights for me as I tried all alone to convince diffiC’llt characters like Sgts. Adeyongo Nor, Tsav and Yupu Gbom that Tayo’s action was not deliberate but a mistake. I mad£: a passionate appeal to them on behalf of Tayo, telling theBe that it could have been anyone. I had to keep Tayo in hidint: for the rest of the night for tempers to cool down. Tbf situation could have exploded into a free-for-all shoot-ott that night but it was miraculously averted. We burie”’; Cor’poral Sarwuan the following morning as the firs: accidental casualty of the coup from the Federal Guards.
During the tense period of uncertainty from the 15 to r
, Jail.’Uary 1966, thet:e was no government in the country a.nc General Aguiyi-Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding tbf army had not addressed the army, so tension remained hig-¬Although the coup had collapsed, the feeling that thf situation could still get worse was on the minds of soldiRs throughout the country. In the interim, the only ctedibllt voice was that of the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Malan:
Ahmadu Kurfi. Even the Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Stilt Kolo was outside the country. Ironsi meanwhile was in toud with Nzeogwu in KadWla through telephone conversation:¬over the matter. Nzeogwu was said to nave dictated hiE conditions of surrender to lronsi before the collapse of tilt coup. But surely, his authority over the troops he deceive.: in his Exercise Damisa had eroded. He had no fightinf troops under his command to threaten anyone. Therefof’t what he must have said as a condition for surrender .•. ¬General lronsi was an empty threat.
On my part, the decision to authorise the soldiers to tau arms and ammunition because all the senior officers 0:
COUPS AND COUNTER-COUPS
northern origin as well as some from the West had been killed, hardened their resolve to fight whoever were responsible. That too, apparently became a measure of my defence as well as my personal security because I was the only officer available who they could rely on. When they learned that our OfficerRs Commanding was one of the coup
. leaders :’.at mastermindeo the killi ilgS in Lagos and the other places, their loyalty to’ Okafor was totally lost and I became the ‘only’ office! to rely on. They were ready to fight to protect me;’
The othRs r” factors “that cGntributed to the frustration and collapse of the coup was the arrest and detention of the young officers early that morning. The 2 Battalion in Ikeja and the Federal Guards in Ikoyi were the only two fighting units in Lagos. They avoided recruiting troops from these units for obvious reasons. Okafor and Ifeajuna knew that no northern soldier would agree under any circumstance to kill the Prime Minister or any of the officers mentioned as targets. It was obvious that they had no contingency plan to sustain their action, judging from their selection of ‘soldiers, being mainly from signals, workshop and transpo!’t units in Lagos. As a result, their position was weak immediately after the murders of the night. The 4 Battalion in Ibadan became a no-go area to the perpetrators and suspects when the news of the murder of their Commanding Officer, Lt¬Co!. Largema, got to the ears of the loyal troops. The situation upcountry was similar. The troops of the 3 Battalion who had just finished the deceitful exercise damisa, immediately turned against Nzeogwu when learnt of the true meaning of the coup. The principal actors were in disarray and no longer in control of any unit which they
PROFILE IN COURAGE
used for the operations in Kaduna, Lagos and Ibadan. Further North in Kano, Lt-Col. Ojukwu’s 5 Battalion was not involved, although accounts now publicly available from coup conspirators suggest that he knew more than he let 00 initially. Nevertheless, he successfully kept his battalion under control as he waited to see who would blink first iN the confrontation between Ironsi and Nzeogwu.
In retrospect, with the vacuum in Governmen leadership, the strong resol.ve of the soldiers of northem origin, and the absence of any contingency plan to sustain ‘ their action”. the loyal army could have reinstalled the Governmept wit:hitJ, days of the coup under any senior office!’ “ from the North or the West or any legitimate civiliam politician successor. Immed,iate action could then have beem instituted against the perpetrators.
While the silence and uncertainty continued two daRs Rs after the coup, manoeuvres were going on among thf’ ministers and politicians under the Senate President, Chief Nwafor Orizu, in Lagos, to find a way forward. At the saJ.’Df’ time, General Ironsi was said to be in frequent telephollf’ conversation with Major Nzeogwu in Kaduna. Nzeogw’f’l had dictated to Ironsi his terms of surrender in which m’ demanded for total freedom for all those who took part i! the coup and prohibition of all the politicians from retul”I1i.nf: to office. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the President of the Federatiar was at the time of the coup out of the country, supposeRs on a health cruise to the Caribbean, even though the Statf House physician, Dr Idehen, had returned to Nigeria unablk to explain the reluctance of the President to return.
In the heat of confusion, a small group consisting of SOIm:’: members of the cabinet among whom were Alhaji ZCl11lli,
COUPS AND COUNTER-COUPS
Bukar Dippcharima, the second most senior cabinet mfuister, Dr. Kingsley Mbadiwe, Alhaji Tanko Galadima, Alhaji Maitama Sule, Dr. Elias, Kam Salem, Haman Maiduguri and Ahmadu of Kurfi met under the chairmanship of Senate Leader, Dr Nwafor Orizu to collect intelligence and plan counteraction. General Ironsi, the General Officer Commanding the Army was also present and he was asked to give report about the situation. He told them that the majority of the army was loyal and that the military will be crushed, KaRs Salem( the Inspector-General of Police, suggested tp.a.t BritiRs J1 trpops should be invited to come and crush the mutiny but that was discountenanced. When the coup took place, all the feqeral ministers were in Lagos having attended Federal Budget Meeting. In that circumstance, the Government was intact and could on one hand, function under the control of Senate Leader despite the killing of the Prime Minister and absence of the president from the country. The cabinet, could on the other hand, nominate an acting Prime Minister before fresh elections could be held. There were moves from key members of the cabinet to appoint Alhaji Zanna Bukar Dipcharima, being the most senior Cabinet member to act as Prime Minister but in a private meeting between the leader of the Senate, Chief Orizu and General Ironsi, they came out with the report that the control of the army could not be restored unless the government was handed over to the army. Orizu agreed and unconstitutionally handed over power to Major-General Ironsi, as Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. The decision was against the views of the Ministers except those who had prior knowledge of the coup. The opposing ministers held that view because General Ironsi had initially told them that what had occurred was only a mutiny. Indeed by 17 January 1966, the “mutiny”
. Rs ‘”” .. ,Rs -_.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
had practically collapsed in all the regional capitals ant Lagos. There was no active resistance throughout till!? couhtry except in Kaduna where Nzeogwu was stil “bluffing” as if he was in control of troops. All the key coUf leaders had either been arrested or gone into hiding. fu General knew that all the loyal officers and men in Lagor., and other plac Rs s where the’killings took pla:::e knew the stalk’ of the rebellion. The army therefore, did not have to sei!Jf power. BuRs ,the ministers were presented with a fait aCCOmlB. and General Aguiyi-lronsi took over power and became tful! first Military Head of State of Nigeria.
REACTIONS AFTER THE COUP
To many officers and men especially those from the northen parts of the country, the total elimination of their serum officers and political leaders was a serious matter and ca.l.le.t for immediate punishment against the coup plotters. EVeiIlr though many soldiers in the army had not seen Rs politicians who were killed, they had heard of them ani known of their importance to the nation. On the other h because the army was small, they had seen and ad . the qualities of the articulate and brilliant Brigadi Maimalari and Ademulegun and the other top mili officers. It was, therefore, difficult for those who joined army without political motive to comprehend the mur,
of such high calibre of officers by a group of medi officers, mainly from support units of the army. T. generated a lot of animosity against the coup plotters those who shared their ideology. Those were the reacti, from the army and the general public especially from , northern part of the country and some part of the West w’ .,,’ called for action against the coup plotters. That was to General Ironsi’s problem .
IRONSI, THE FIRST MILITARY HEAD OF STATE
Before the coup of 15 JanuaryJ966, General Ironsi had total loyalty of the ,army. He was highly respected by his subordinate commanderS’ in” the army. Ordinary soldiers loved seeing and hearing him talk. He had a good sense of humour. Calm, coolheaded and very pleasant. However, after the coup, the respect he enjoyed was lost. The absolute loyalty of the army which he had commanded for over one year became shaky due to perceptions of his alleged and strongly held belief of his complicity in the coup.
Attempts have been made to make the public believe that the coup failed because of General Ironsi’s intervention and that he accepted the offer from Chief Orizu, leaCler of the Senate to become Military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Federal Republic of Nigeria. But based on his actions and inactions on the night of the coup, it became difficult to absolve him from knowledge of the plot. From his long conversations on telephone with the coup leader, Major Nzeogwu, and the conditions put forward regarding safety and freedom from trial of Major Nzeogwu and his colleagues in the coup plot, it was difficult to dissociate him from knowledge of the coup. Observers, therefore, said that his takeover of the
PROFILE IN COURAGE
Government simply legitimised the coup. It was th leadership of the coup that changed abruptly and authoriRs to carry on with the objectives of the coup passed on to h.i.rE That, would seem to be a problem in lronsi winning bad the loyalty of the army and the cooperation of the genera public in moving the country forward. For example, one C1 his first major political reform was to abolish the four regioll! that made up the federation and rename and transform theIIJ .into group of provinces. He initially appointed militar:r governors to these new group of provinces as follows:
Lt-Col. Hassan Usman Katsina, Military Governor, Northern region (later, Northern Group of Provinces).
Lt-Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, Military Governor, Western region (later, Western Group of Provinces).
Lt-Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Military
. Govern@!of’fue J:2;astern region (later, Eastern Group of Provinces).
Lt-Col. David Ejoot, Military Governor of the Mid-West Region (later, Midwestern group of provinces).
Ironsi’s first problem as a Head of State, was how to restore discipline, trust and calm in the armed forces especially the army. There was a serious uneasiness among the troops and the army was not the same loyal disciplined army he commanded before January 15, 1966 •. It was now an army that had become divided in loyalty and suspicion for one another. It was an army that wanted to know the , rationale behind the one-sided killings of officers from one part of the country by a group of young officers, covertly supported by politicians mostly from the southern part of the country. The General needed to convince the army that he was taking appropriate steps to solve the situation. To
help him achieve the desired sanity and calm, he appointed Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon, the only remaining surviving senior officer from the North to the post of Army Chief of Staff. He knew and bE7lieved the troops would listen to Gowon. The brigade commanders he appointed were Col. W. U. Bassey, a fairly elderly officer, for 1 Brigade, in Kaduna with Major Samuel Ogbemudia as Brigade, Major and Lt-Col. Hillary Njoku, the former Commanding Officer of the 2 Battalion as Commander 2 Brigade, in Lagos. The calibre of the officers appointed as brigade commanders in place of the slain ones did not command’ the same respect their predecessors enjoyed. This fact additianalfy made it difficult for the new commanders to run the commands effectively, At Battalion level, among the new commanding officers was Lt-Col. Mohammed Shuwa as 5 Battalion Commander, Lt-Col. David Ogunewe as Commanding Officer 1 Battalion, after Ejoor’s appointment as Military Governor of Midwestern region, while Lt-Col. Murtala Mohammed became Inspector
, of Army Signals.
A few weeks after the coup, the General invited a cross section of officers to the State House Marina for discussion on the issues which were no doubt paramount on his mind. By this time, there was a general calm in almost all the units. He was however not very comfortable with the Federal Guards. The reason for this was because all the officers of the unit except me were part of the coup thereby compromising discipline and loyalty in the unit. After his address to the gathering on security, I was surprised to be asked by the General to say the grace before the lunch. I was ‘surprised because there were senior officers of the army Chaplain Corps like Monsignor (Col.) Pedro Martin, and Revd. (Col.) Hunter of the Anglican Church present and why
PROFILE IN COURAGE
poor me! Anyway, I prayed thus:
Our Heavenly Father, thank you for our presence in the State House today in the interest of our country and for the meal before us. Help the General in the big task ahead of him for the sake of our country.
All said, Amen.
At the end of my prayers, Monsignor Martin jokinRs threatened to recruit me into the Ghaplain Corps of the am We had a good lunRs h in the State House and the Gene talked about general security in the country and charg the nRs w unit commanders of the Nigerian Army, calling
, thRs m talk t9 tlie soldiers and maintain peace. It seemed General was not too happy with the soldiers of the Fede Guards where I happened to be the only officer whom’ soldiers could trust. No senior officer had been appoinj to take charge after Okafor. Sentiment over the killing top officers of northern origin had continued to spread the army and General Ironsi’ was conscious of that. 1 general public from the North were also resentful of ruthless killing of the Prime Minister, and the PremieJ: the North and the West. They had started calling officer northern origin in the army cowards an9. calling for rever It was already a delicate period and anything could trig a revolt in the country.
With General Ironsi in power, the aggrieved people VI anxious to know when the perpetrators would be brou to book for their crime. That would have assuaged temp But that did not seem forthcoming. Although initi arrested and confined in Lagos prisons, they were 1 scattered to various places, mostly in the Eastern reg Some of them, like Okafor, were kept at Abeokuta pr
while Nzeogwu, the ring leader although sent to Enugu, was enjoying preferential treatment as a prisoner. Major Ifeajuna, the leader of Lagos operations initially escaped to Ghana where he was received by secret collaborators and syml’athisers in that country. He was later repatriated after the February 24, 1966 coup against Nkrumah.
Whilst the people in the north lamented their losses, it was jubilation by certain sections of the country especially in the East and sections of the West. To them, the coup was a victory against the North and Major Nzeogwu was seen in Enugu as Rs . hero. Ir).’ addition to this, Nzeogwu had put forwa.rd several c,pnditions before his surrender to Ironsi. It included release from custody of all officers and men who had taken part in the coup. Dr Michael Okpara, Premier of the Eastern Region was not affected by the coup neither was Chief Dennis Osadebey of the Mid – West. Chief Okpara was simply told to move from Enugu to Umuahia on the advice of Ifeajuna and OkafoI’.
General Ironsi, therefore, had a difficult task on his hands as he tried to satisfy the coup plotters (and their praise singers in the press) on one hand and on the other, to carry the rest of the country along. This situation notwithstanding, Ironsi embarked on what many interpreted to be promotion of Igbo dominance by introducing a unitary system of government and abolishing of the regions.
FEDERAL GUARDS WITHOUT A COMMANDER
While waiting for confidence to be restored in the army, the Federal Guards remained without a substantive officer commanding for about one month. I was only a Lieutenant and thus did not qualify for the appointment. There was no immediate substitute for me from the other units that could
be trusted with the soldiers. Another Igbo would not be suitable at that time. We suddenly seemed to have lost confidence in one another and the esprit de t;:Jrps which was the’ bedrock of the army seem to have been lost.
Lt-Col. Patrick Anwunah, the new Colonel, General Staff (Operations) of the army was a frequent visitor to the Federal Guards who used to implore us to be disciplined, calm and loyal as were all other units in the army. He charged me to talk to the soldiers because I was the only one who they listened _to. We were in a difficult situation. Patrick Anwunah, an •. •ofHcer and a gentleman, never used threatening language when talking to us even when some soldiers showed open disrespect. He maintained his calm and convinced me of his genuine effort to see that tempers cooled down. Lt-Col. Gowon of course was a regular visitor to the unit telling us while deprecating the heinous acts of the coupists acts, to keep the peace. He equally went round telling other units in the army to do the same. The theme of his speeches was discipline, peace, law and order, and loyalty to the Government. ‘We had to move oRs ’ he argued.
It was unfortunate that we found ourselves in that condition where hatred and contempt for ‘one another quickly spread across the country. Hundreds of people from the North living in Lagos and the East were finding their way back to the North for fear of further escalation of the situation. Even a simple joke could spark a quarrel between former friends. I recall a fight between a northern woman and a young Igbo man at Obalende supermarket. They disagreed over the price of an item and the Igbo man in a joke said, ‘Is your ‘papa’ still selling kolanuts in Umuahia?’ The lady felt insulted at the simple joke because her father did not even know Kaduna let alone Umuahia. Before the coup,
PROFILE IN COURAGE
that would easily have passed as a joke but it turned out to be a nasty one. Such was the nature of perceived arrogance among those who applauded the coup in Lagos and many other places where the Igbo dominated.
BEN OCHEI ApPOINTED NEW OFFICER COMMANDING FEDERAL GUARDS
Major Ochei was by no means a bad officer. In fact, he was an officer and a gentleman to the core. It did not take me long to know him. However, the Federal Guards as I have said earlie!,.became a’troubled unit soon after the coup. Their loyalty.to any,Jgbo officer became shaky after the involvement of their commander in the January coup. It was a new phenomenon in the army. Soldiers in the army werERs never known to doubt the loyalty of their commanders before the coup. It happened four weeks after when Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon drove into the barracks one afternoon with an officer called Ben Ochei. He told us on the parade that Ochei would be our new Officer Commanding in place of Okafor. He said he had worked with Ocheiand that he was a trusted officer. That did not go down well with the soldiers even though Gowon said he was a trusted officer. Ochei was a good officer who needed no introduction’to soldiers, and he was certainly qualified to command a unit like the Federal Guards. But the memory of what had just happened in January was fresh in our minds. Simply put, Ochei was an Igbo like Okafor, and sadly the blind loyalty which soldiers had for their commanders regardless of where they came from had evaporated. Things changed on 15 January 1966 when, for the first time, they became aware of which tribe they belonged: Hausa, Y oruba, Igbo, Kanuri, Tiv etc.
A very unfortunate development. We were uncomfortabJ to have him as a new Officer Commanding. The soldiel grumbled and many of them said they would prefer to b posted out of the unit. They said January 15 had shocke them and that Major Ochei could easily plan to kill thet should anything like that happen again.
But Ochei said he was not Okafor. He asked us to tru: him. Ochei had in his hand the bust of a woman beautifull carved on wood as a walking stick. He appeared restlef when Gowon was presenting him, and kept fidgeting wit the Rs ig stick. He kept saying,
Oh 12por ple, I can assure you I am not Okafor.
Because some of the soldiers could not understand wh, he meant by the words “I can assure you,” they thought r was saying” Aika Show Yu”, One curious soldier asked i Hausa, “Me nene aika show you din ne?” meaning, “whc is this I can assure you?” After the long introduction, Gowo had his way and Major Ben Ochei became our new OfficE Commanding, four weeks after the coup. When Ochei too over the command, the soldiers nicknamed him “Major An Show Yu.” Soon after that, we officers t}.Ilder him and tl RSM adopted his type of walking stick as a fashion whie later became formal for all officers in the Federal Guards 1 carry.
We adjusted to the order under Major Ochei within short time, surprisingly. On his part, he tried everything 1 justify what Gowon said about him. He was extraordinari accommodating and cautious. He wanted to earn t1 confidence of the soldiers and tried to lead by example. f organised durbars to talk to the men hoping to raise the morale and to m Rs “e them forget what had happened. I ga’
PROFILE IN COURAGE
him my loyalty because he was genuinely sincere in his words. His harshest words when a soldier committed an offence were:
‘I will flick you over to the Brigade:
The army is no longer what it used to be.
Captain Joe Garba who was out of the country during the period of the coup returned to the unit in March 1966 at the end of his service with the United Nations Observer Force in Kashmir. Garbawas shaken on arrival and lamented the killings of the senior officers, particularly Brigadier Maimalari, his mentor. He wanted to know everything about what-happooe& dRs uing his absence. He felt very disappointed that Major Donatus Okafor, our DC, whom we respected very much, let us down by the level of his involvement in the coup. He became second in command to Major Ochei by seniority.
THE COUNTER-COUP OF 29 JULY 1966
In my opinion, the death of Brigadier Zakariya }1aimalari was the main recipe for all the crisis that trailed the 15 January 1966 coup. He was revered by his superiors and subordinates alike. Had he escaped that night, Nigeria would have been spared of all the coups and counter¬coups that followed. The perpetrators and their supporters would have been rounded up and dealt with in a military precision. There would have been no military government and subsequent self- proclaimed messiahs in uniform. There was no one like him in the Nigerian Army.
‘.I’,”kIl’,’.-………..-_. Rs Rs .. _.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
Unlike the 15 January 1966 Coup, which took most of 1 army and the general public by surprise, the 29 July 1Rs Counter-coup did not happen as a surprise to many peol Commonly referred to as revenge coup, there were seVE reasons why it took place. First and foremost was the 0 sided nature of the 15 January 1966 Coup which focu mainly on officers and political leaders from one sectiOJ the country. Secondly, the failure of the Governmen General Ironsi t,o take concrete action against perpetrators of the 15 January 1966 coup. Thirdly, Goyernment: s tendency to operate in line with the dict Qf :the coup leaders. Fourthly, provocative and unguar
pronouncements by supporters of the coup against
feelings of people from the North in general. Statements
See this man?, na him kill your papa,
holding up Nzeogwu’s portrait as a hero who killec Ahmadu Bello; or,
Maimalari has gone to greet his mother but he would be back soon.
Such were the provocative pronouncements supporters of the coup, which created hatred nation and pressure for quick retaliation. After several month gone by without any positive action, the public start be anxious and frustrated with the Government. Mean, there was a very tense atmosphere, and repeated urg retaliation were common on the lips of the commonp in the North. They openly condemned the northern oj and soldiers and called them cowards, urging th revenge the murder of their military and politicalle Soon it was no longer secret that northern troops
planning to revenge the January coup. However, even when tension was that high, the routines and general administrations including promotions of officers and other rankRs were going on. On the 19 April 1966, for example, I was one of eight officers from our course who were promoted to the rank of substantive full Lieutenant.
The moves to carry out the coup were widely known to the authorities and the generality of Igbo officers even in the last few weeks but nothing could be done to stop it. There was strong rumour though, that the Igbos were planning tp’ stage another coup to wipe out the remaining officers of northern origin. In the Federal Guards, we were made to believe that a popular dancer and entertainer from the North, who was livirlg in Obalende, Lagos, popularly called T. A. This Thing, would be hired to perform for the troops at night, during which time a grenade would be thrown into the crowd to kill or injure as many soldiers as possible. Elsewhere in other units in the army, the rumour that the Igbos were planning similar action persisted. Personally, I did not believe the rumour because they were no longer organised, and neither had they have the troops to carry out such operation. The chances of surprise were no longer there. I thought the rum ours were deliberately created – as a form of psychological operation (PsyOps) – to ginger up the northern elements for the planned counter¬coup. It worked and heightened their resolve to strike. Even when close surveillance was kept on officers who were suspected to be behind the impending coup, it was not possible to deter their resolve to retaliate the January event. Blood beget blood and no one had the power to take innocent lives and be expected to get away with it.
After the January operations, the plotters tried to make
public believe that Nzeogwu had threatened to march trooF down South to Ibadan and Lagos to crush any oppositio that would stand against him. That was an empty statemer because his authority over the troops which he deceitful] manoeuvred in after his exercise damisa, had been erode totally by the afternoon of January 16 when the casualty li: of the night killings in Lagos and Kaduna and Ibadan bl came known to the rest of the troops. There had never bee a coup in Nigeria before, so the experience of hearing the many officers ‘were murdered by fellow officers was unprel edented and perplexing. That was the essence of the di: quiet in Kaduna, Ibadan and Lagos.
An Igbo coursema te of mine from 1 Recce Squadrol Kaduna, told me his story many years after the civil wa According to him, on that fateful day of January 15, he We detailed in the morning to take a platoon to Mando VillaRs on Kaduna – Lagos road to set up a roadblock. Whi carrying out the assignment, he heard the soldiers, main: of northern origin, talking about the coup.. He said what 1 heard frightened him. The soldiers were talking about tl names of officers who were killed in the-coup in Lagos ar were wondering why all of them were Northerners. TI young officer sensed the potential danger ahead from tl way the soldiers were discussing the issue and saw it as threat to his life as an Igbo man in that, bush. He tactical melted away and disappeared for good. That typifies t] atmosphere in the army soon after the coup. Nzeogwu Ie grip and became vulnerable to reprisal by the same troO] of the 3 Battalion and the support units which he used f, the operations in Kaduna. Some close observers wI watched him a few days after the operations described hi as one who projected bravado but looked frightened at
PROFILE IN COURAGE
E– -.””’.Rs …. – .,Rs _
worried about his personal safety. From January until June, the siRs uation in the country was that of uncertainty as everyone attuned to undercurrents waited for the inevitable retaliation.
The pressure to take action against the coup plotters was amplified by sections of the media through public condemnation in the daily newspapers especially The New Nigerian, published in Kaduna. In its publication of 3 June 1966, under-the caption: ‘Bring the guilty ones to book,’ the highly respectedRs ’Sunan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Sir Abubakar 111, had to appeal to the public for calm. That exemplified the level to which the situation in the country had deteriorated. Feeling very uneasy with the situation in the country, General lronsi, on a day visit to Kano on 22 July was quoted as saying:
It is a shame if we cannot live together in peace.
The pressure against the Government was high and from then on, it was only a matter of time. Then came July 28 when he summoned twenty-four traditional rulers to assemble in Ibadan to discuss burning issues on national unity and the way forward. He appealed to the traditional rulers for support to help calm their subjects for the country to move forward. But the burning issue, which was the fate of the coup plotters, had not been resolved. He could not get the cooperation needed without attending positively to the injustices of the January coup. Sadly, coups beget coups and his presence in Ibadan presented a golden opportunity to topple his government. All officers of northern origin saw it as a retaliation of the 15 January 1966 Coup which was unfortunately perceived as an Igbo affair. Unfortunately, General lronsi lost his life for what he probably did not
TRs K”’’’-””””” •• _Rs •.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
It was the counter-coup that put the nation’s fate balance – to remain one or break up. The issue of who W01. takeover from Ironsi was not relevant at that moment as so: officers like Murtala Muhammed had suggested a bre up of the federation. This was in line with c1amour demonstrators in th.e North chanting “Araba,” the Ha word for “Let’s part or separte.” But soon after Iron Government had been decisively overthrown, pressure’ nioimted on the leaders not to allow the country to bJ up.
I recall what happened that night in the Federal Guc Our task was to seize all key installations on the Is: including Carter Bridge, the only link between the Is and the Mainland. There was no order to kill any offic soldier except for those who might appear hostile t There was no primary intention as far as I know, to J the coup bloody. However, as the H-hour approached, not see Captain Garba, as we had planned. (H-hour s means the time to start the operation). I’rang him to fin what was holding him back and he r.eplied in a shaky that we had to be careful. He said,
You know we are the only two officers on the Island and if anything goes wrong, they will come and kill us here.
I was surprised at hearing that and replied,
You are a coward, we have been told what to do. We are not going to kill.
I dropped the telephone on him and picked submachine gun and drove out in my small car to
meet him in his residence. An Igbo officer, Captain Asoya was next door to me but of course he was not a target. It was possible he was aware when I drove out.
Halfway there, I was stopped by Lt-Col. Murtala Mohammed, the coup strongman, coming from the direction I was going, in a Landrover with armed soldiers behind him. He was surprised to see me alone in my small car and asked where I was going. He thought I was trying to run away and hide somewhere. He appeared to be in a hurry. I told him that I had not seen my QOlleagUe and I was going to get him out so that we could get on with our assignment. On hearing that Garba was still in his house, Murtala became furious an.d shouted,Rs ,• ‘”
Tell him I will break his neck if he is afraid.
He continued in the direction of the barracks.
I got to the house and found my friend nervously preparing to come out.
We got to the barracks a little later than planned.
However, when we got to the barracks, Joe lost his nervousness and took control of the operation with an unexpected degree of precision. The ..soldiers were absolutely loyal to us and were ready to do what we told them. In order not to create panic and anxiety that night, we appointed a tough Sgt. called Bonlap to lead a section of soldiers to visit and invite all Igbo soldiers one after the other to the office. Our aim was to prevent any possible shoot-out by some estrange soldiers who might do something that could aggravate the situation. When they realised that they were the only group being assembled, they became jittery. We calmed them by assuring them that
nothing would happen to any of them. It was not a pleasant task but the situation demands that it should be done that way. The soldiers involved numbered about twenty-one altogether. We completed our task successfully without a single shot fired. Most importantly, no Igbo soldier was killed in Dodan Barracks throughout the period. It was a delicate operation that required that we give due respect to our Igbo or minority gr9uP soldiers who though felt restless, remained calm and orderly; they accepted our assurances. :me situation’was quite delicate and could have turned nqsfy had a,ny..,one reacted otherwise. The army was going through a d1fficulHime because we had lost the esprit de corps. The Igbo soldiers, though restless, remained calm and took our advice. Our handling of the situation in the Federal Guards paid off but elsewhere in Lagos, things did not go as well.
The 2 Battalion at Ikeja exploded and many soldiers were killed in the barracks. Many Igbo officers and men who felt unsafe escaped and some of them took refuge with us in the Federal Guards on learning that there was no killing in Dodan Barracks. There were as many as 30 soldiers from the 2 Battalion and other units in Lagos who came over into the Federal Guards and we accommodated them. Even some of the soldiers who were most vocal for retaliation before July 29 became friendly to their Igbo colleagues in the barracks throughout the trying time. Major Ochei, the Officer Commanding Federal Guards, was safe and no attempt was made against his life. Garba and I visited him at his No.5 George Street, Ikoyi residence the following morning and assured him of his safety.
The coups of January and July 1966 heightened ethnic difference and mistrust, especially between the East and the North. While the Igbos cried for mass killings of their
PROFILE IN COURAGE
, .. “” .
kinsmen in the North and Lagos, the Northern people claimed there was mass slaughter of their people in the East and accused the Igbos of starting the trouble by the murder of their political and military leaders in cold blood. The coup of July 29 led to a mass exodus of officers and men of Igbo origin from the Nigerian Army to Enugu to form what was called the Eastern Area Command of the Nigerian Army. No wonder then that those soldiers who left us and eventually metamorphosed into Biafran soldiers continued to hold us in high regard after the civil war for our maturity in saving their lives during the July 29, 1966 counter-coup.
JOE GAiniA, Oe’FRs ’oERAL GUARDS
After Major Ochei left for the East, Capt. Joe Garba took over command of the unit with me as second-in-command. We had developed excellent understanding between ourselves and together we set out to make the Federal Guards a better unit. We later received new officers posted in from other units to bring the Federal Guards to battalion strength. Among them were Samson Tomoye, Olad’lYo Popoola, Alexander Panox, Akpokabayen and Bassey. They were all lieutenants.
BLACK SCORPION AS A MASCOT OF THE FEDERAL GUARDS One morning, Garba and I discussed the events that took place when he was in Kashmir and how we in the Federal Guards managed to go through the difficult days of the coup without a senior officer giving us direction. We talked about the way and manner the coup leaders planned to use the Federal Guards as a rendezvous after the night killings and how our alertness and prompt action thwarted their plan.
‘<fIlRs ”L __ “” __ –
.;Rs Rs Rs _.
We talked about our courage in the face of the unknown and the successes we achieved before the situation returned to normal. We then decided to adopt a mascot for the Federal Guards to commemorate the bravery of the officers and men for being resolute against the 15 January 1966 coup and subsequently before taking decision, we invited RSM Tayo
. to join us in the discussion. Tayo and I worked hand in hand from the time he led soldiers to my residence, early that morning of 15 January 1966 to the time the situation returned to normal. He spoke about,the’inspirations which he said I gave them in tRs e: face of uncertainty and described me as a scorpion against an elephant,.”sighting a few examples of my actions. Tayo said my decision to take charge of the situation that night, in thRs absence of the Officer Cornrnanding the Federal Guards and giving authority to soldiers to resist the coup, saved the situation. This in the long run led to the collapse of the coup in Lagos. He spoke appreciatively about my encounter with Lt-Cols. Njoku and Kurubo on the officers that were arrested, disarmed and locked up in the guardroom, as well as the detention’ of Lt. Walbe and his men despite their superior weaponry. Finally, Tayo spoke about how I saved his life from Sgt. Adeyongo Nor and Cpl. Yupu Gboko after the shooting of Cpl. Sarwuan who was shot because he forgot the password on the night of January 16, 1966. After thorough review of the events, Garba agreed that our conduct of the operations exemplified bravery and self-sacrifice in defiance of the coup. Garba was a very innovative officer who had great ideas for the future
• of the Federal Guards in the Nigerian Army.
We talked about risks, guts, loyalty, wisdom and heroism, all in relation to what we wanted the Federal Guards to be known for. “We acted manfully”, we thought,
EROFILE IN COURAGE
Rs ’i ‘f
and thus finally decided that it was most appropriate tl adopt a black scorpion as a mascot. That was how tht scorpion came about as a mascot for the Federal Guard: which metamorphosed into Brigade of Guards till date.
In order to actualise our thoughts, we decided that, should proceed to London along with a sample drawing 0: a Black Scorpion. I went to the military uniform designers Hobson and Sons Ltd, with instructions that it be inscribed on stable belts which’we had also designed to be ‘Green, Red, Green’ in striped colours. I met Mr Christopher Brown, the Chief Executive, who welcomed me warmly and was happy to satisfy my needs as quickly as possible. We asked the Hobson and Sons Limited, to produce 3000web-belts, a few thousand shoulder flashes and plumes, all in the new colour, Green Red Green, for the soldiers of the Federal Guards. We took into account possible future increases in strength of the unit, hence the number 3000. The belts, shoulder flashes and plumes arrived in good time and every soldier felt a sense of pride to be seen in thRs new outfit. It was colourful and distinct. Subsequent commanders who came after us embraced the fine tradition which has lived on till date. It is also good to note that the legacy of loyalty, courage and heroism of the author and men of the Federal Guards on that fateful day of the 15 January 1966 Coup has lived on to date and in the annals of the history of the Brigade of Guards, Nigerian Army.
GOWaN, THE SECOND MILITARY HEAD OF STATE
After Ironsi’s death, the next senior officer who should have taken over leadership of the country was Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe. Ogundipe was a balanced, experienced and highly¬respected officer in the Nigerian Army. He was General
Everard’s choice to succeed him as General Offi Commanding the Nigerian Army but the Minister of Defel Alhaji Ribadu and the Prime Minister Sir Abubakar deci< on Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi, who had earlier commanded the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces•in
. Congo. Ogundipe could not take over the mantlE leadership after lronsi because in the prevailing situat he did not command the respect of the army. subsequently opted to be Nigeria’s High Commissione London. The honour and burden of leadership fell on Co!. Yakubu Cowon to become Head of State c
Commal1der;in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria OJ
1 August 1966. Rs
Gowon as th,e new Head of State, inherited m problems. He allowed Lt-Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Lt-I Hassan, Lt-Col Ejoor to remain in their position:
Governors of the Eastern, Northern and Mid-Western reg respectively. Whilst he appointed Col. Adeyinka Adel: to became Governor of the Western Repion on the deat Col. Adekunle Fajuyi who was killed in Ibadan along 1 General Ironsi during the 29 July Ceup 1966. He neE wisdom and patience as well as firmness to get on win task of moving the country forward. The time nee reconciliation. He appealed to all parties concerned to peace a chance and made all conciliatory moves to hea wounds brought about by the January and July couI 1966. He demanded and called for support from the regi military governors which he got from most of them ex Lt-Col. Ojukwu who rejected his leadership and that 0 country.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
RELEASE OF CHIEF OBAFEMI A WOLOWO FROM KIRIKIRI PRISON
Soon after Gowon became Head of State, one of his strategic moves in early August 1966 was to release from prison Chief Obafemi A wolowo, the highly influential former Premier of the West, who had been imprisoned by the Balewa government for treason. I had the honour to bring the Chief out of the Kirikiri Ma)timum Prison to take him to No. 36 Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. General Gowon appointed him Cortunissioner of Finance and Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council. 4fter the latter appointment, A wolowo called his people to support the Federal Government against the rebellion. Awolowo denounced all allegations that he would take the West out of the federation if the East seceded.
When he came out of the prison gate to enter the Limousine, I saluted him smartly and introduced myself. He was definitely informed of the release plan before my arrival. I could see he was impressed by my turnout and the courtesy I gave him. In the Limousine on the way to Ikoyi, he said to me, “Officer, what did you say your name is?” I answered, “My name is Paul Tarfa:’ He appeared interested to know more about me and asked again, “Where do you come from? I said, “You will not know the place sir, because I come from a small village in the North”. He said, “No say it”. Then I told him, ‘the name of my village is Garkida in Adamawa Province.’ Chief A wolowo replied, “I was there during the 1959 Federal Elections. I landed on a primary school football field in a helicopter from Biu. Yes, I know the village./I It was the first time I met Chief A wolowo and I had great respect for him.
PROFILE IN COURAGE
SEARCHING FOR PEACE: THE ABURI, GHANA, MEETINGS Six months into the Government of Gowon and the continuing estrangement between General Gowon and Lt¬Col. Ojukwu, General Ankrah, the Military Head of State of Ghana arranged for the leadership in Nigeria to meet in Aburi, Ghana. They met on the 4th and 5th of January, 1967. That meeting afforded them opportunity to discuss their problems on a neub;al ground. They attended the meetings with delegates made up of military and civilian staffs, viz:
-(:6lonel Rs obRs rt Adebayo,
-Lt-Col. C. O. Ojukwu,
-Lt-Col. H. U. Katsina,
– Lt-Col. David Ejoor,
-Commodore J. E. Wey,
– Major Mobolaji Johnson,
– Alhaji Kam Salem,
– Mr T. Omo-Bare,
Military Governor, West:
Military Governor, East, Military Governor, North, Military Governor, Mid-West Head of the Nigerian Navy Military Administrator, Lagm Inspector-General of Police Deputy Inspector-General of Police
The meetings which were held at Peduase Lodge, Aburi Ghana on the 4th and 5th of January 1967, discussed variou: issues affecting the future political status of the country an< the demand by Ojukwu for a confederal system 0 government for Nigeria. Ojukwu wanted Eastern RegiOl by that arrangement to have a separate army and police fore and to renounce the use of force as a means of settling th crises in Nigeria. They agreed to continue with thei
negotiation and peace talks, exchanging information on quantities of arms and ammunition being held by army units in each region. During these talks, the question of the Nige’rian state remaining as a single entity was most paramount in the minds of the Nigerian delegation, while the eastern regional delegation wanted decentralisation of the federation, calling for confederation. Gowon and the Nigerian delegation called for a return to federal system prior to the Unification Decree. The Aburi agreement was subsequently adopted with minor modification to preserve the unity and entity of Nigeria and was overtaken by successive events.
The delegates also agreed that the use of force should be renounced as a means of settling the crisis in Nigeria. They agreed that negotiations and peace talks should continue on the exchange of information on quantities of arms and ammunition of army units in each region. But in the end, preservation of Nigeria as a single entity was paramount in the minds of the Nigerian delegates. While Ojukwu wanted a complete decentralisation of the federation, Gowon stressed that the country should return to its position before 17 January 1966 when Irons! took over. In other word, implementing the Aburiagreement to the letter would have ended the federation of Nigeria.
Back home in Nigeria, Ojukwu continued to defy the Federal Government. Some of his actions were extreme provocation. The catalogue of his provocations to the Government of Gowon was long. They included the seizure of property belonging to the Northern States Marketing Board, the hijacking of a Nigeria Airways Fokker Friendship 27 aircraft with which he used to bomb Lagos and the environs, the takeover of Federal Government offices, Central
“,” •. Rs .::-:. =:::::-: .. ———-Rs Rs . —— ..
Bank Building, and withholding of Federal Revenue, etc. He also confiscated one third of the rolling stock of the Nigerian Railways and stopped the transportation of oil products from the refinery at Port Harcourt to the North. Ojukwu announced the takeover of all federal institutions in the East including port, post and telegraph and the Nigerian Railways. By these actions, it was only a matter of time for Ojukwu to unilaterally declare the Eastern Region as an Independe:ot State. While he persisted with these defiant moves, he seemed to be encouraged by a reported prcmouncements from the West Region that if he was allowed to: go OU!,ot’!,he federation, the West would also follow suit. As though to buttress this point, some elites and political leaders including some highly respected army officers also joined in the agitation against the presence of northern troops in Lagos and the West, demanding that they should return to the North. Such officers included then Major, now General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Lt-Col. Adeyinka Adebayo, now a retired Major-General.
One afternoon, standing by the gates of Qodan Barracks, Garba and I were amazed and bemused to watch a procession of Yoruba elders delegation carrying placards saying ‘Northern troops must go.’ They proceeded to the State House, Dodan Barracks, to present their demand to General Gowon. I could remember one senior officer among them, saying ‘Our demands are not much, all we want is that northern troops must go, so that we can get on with the job of reconstruction’. It was disappointing to some of us but we understand that that was the feeling at the time in the country.