FORTY-SIX years ago, the counter coup to the first coup of that January claimed the lives of Gen Thomas Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host Lt-Col Francis Adekunle Fajuyi. Ironsi was in Ibadan as part of his reconciliation tour, after the first coup that killed mostly prominent Northern politicians and army officers.

Both Ironsi and Fajuyi fought in the United Nations operations in the Congo. Ironsi led the contingent. Ironsi was the target of the coup plotters, but Fajuyi, then military Governor of Western Region, died protecting his leader and guest.

They remain the most unsung military officers of their era. Accusations against Ironsi were that he made laws to facilitate Igbos leadership of the country and he failed to punish the first coup plotters. These were at most speculations.

Six months in power, Ironsi was murdered. He has been demonised, blamed for every Nigerian challenge, and accorded no respect, though he was medalled for his leadership in the UN Congo operations. Fajuyi is tarred with the same brush over his refusal to turn in Ironsi. Ordinarily, it should have counted for him as an act commensurate with his status as an “officer and gentleman”.

Lt-Col Yakubu Gowon announced himself Head of State on 1 August, without accounting for Ironsi. The military Governor of the Eastern Region, Col Ojukwu rejected Gowon’s leadership and, wanted to know where Ironsi was and insisted that Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, the highest ranking officer after Ironsi, should assume command.

Killing of Igbos in the North continued with an intensity and bestiality that made earlier killings child’s play. By October 1966, over 50,000 Easterners were killed in a week. More than two million Easterners fled the North.

These events cascaded to a crisis that tore the country apart. Negotiations finally collapsed in January 1967, in Ghana, The Aburi Accords, which each side gave a different interpretation.

When Lt-Col Gowon created 12 states in May 1967 to replace the four regions, Lt-Col Ojukwu declared Eastern Nigeria the Republic of Biafra.  A brutal  three-year war claimed more than two million lives.

These summarise the dark side of Nigeria after independence. A rash of publications on the war has failed to address the causes of the war. The books have mainly served to document bravery of some officers who had commands in the war. Their accounts are hardly different in substance.

If the January 1966 coup was an Igbo coup, does that explain riots across the North that targeted unarmed and defenceless civilians – children, women, among them pregnant ones whose bowls were ripped?

Nigeria is only months to its centenary, it would benefit from dismantling the falsehood that justify military rule and the war.

 

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