My Layman's View

October 18, 2013

From the Archives: The forgotten political crisis of 1964 and the coup of 1966

From the Archives: The forgotten political crisis of 1964 and the coup of 1966

Tafawa Balewa

Between 1960 (the year of Independence) and 1966 (the year of first military coup), many events of great political importance had taken place. The area called Mid-Western State (consisting of non-Yoruba people) was carved out of the Western Region – leaving the Eastern and Northern Regions (with their restless minorities) intact.

The ruling party in Western Region (Action Group)  had split into two factions – one led by Chief Awolowo and the other led by Chief Akintola.  After the expulsion of Chief Akintola from AG, he formed a new party, NNDP with a section of the NCNC (West) under Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, a Cambridge University trained lawyer and father of Femi Fani-Kayode.  The NNDP later merged with the ruling party (NPC) to form NNA.  The NCNC and the remnants of NCN (West) and Awo‘s faction of Action Group merged to form UPGA under the leadership of Dr M. I. Okpara, the Eastern Region Premier.  Chief Awolowo had been jailed for treasonable felony.

It was UPGA that precipated the political crisis of 1964 by refusing to participate in 1964 elections on the ground of irregularities – absence of free, fair and just elections in Northern and Western Regions.  The party asked the President, Dr Azikiwe not to invite the parliamentary leader of the victorious party, NNA, to form a new government.

However, the President agreed to ask the Prime Minister to form a broadly based national government (after he had been legally advised that under the 1963 Constitution, the President could not by himself form a new government).  The 6-point programme submitted by the Chief Justice of the Federation, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola and Chief Justice of Eastern Region, Sir Louis Mbanefo which included the formation of a national government and dissolution of the Western House of Assembly (to allow for new elections) was adopted reluctantly by both UPGA and NNA.

Later, it turned out that the Peace of 1965 was not satisfactory to UPGA supporters.  The Yoruba wing was not happy because Awolowo‘s release from prison was not part of the negotiation and the Akintola government could not be voted out in an election believed to have been heavily rigged.  Western Region became really Wild, Wild West, with violence as an acceptable weapon of settling political differences. Political violence became wide-spread and unbearable that something had to happen. The coup of 1966 (a year after the Peace of 1965) was popular  in many parts of Eastern, Western and Mid-Western Regions.

The responsibility of the coup of 1966 could be traced to the doors of UPGA political thugs who turned the Western Region into a theatre of war and the inability of Tafawa Balewa government to ensure that the people of Western Region had a government of their choice through a fair and just election.

Some observers believed, and rightly so, that the description of the 1966 coup as ‘Ibo Coup‘ was a misnomer. The ‘five majors‘ involved in the coup were believed to have seized the opportunity of a broken political process to carry out their nasty personal animosities against their senior colleagues in the army. They committed murder and should have been charged accordingly after the mutiny had been crushed.


I was not pleasantly surprised when my reference to Biafra in my column last week drew undue re-action from the usual quarters.  My observation was that there was nothing glorious in the old Biafra (former Eastern Region) that could not be found abundantly in the present South-Eastern states which are better funded, more developed and arguably blessed work quality leadership.  Some blind readers of my column turned to political abuses and odious references to Lagos and Ibadan.

My reference to Lagos is the city  where the old ‘Biafrans‘ live comfortably, peacefully and perhaps always dream of that ‘golden age‘

As I have mentioned several times in this column, the Nigerian civil war was a sad one because it was unnecessary but also costly – a fratricidal conflict.  The outcome of the war with Nigerian victory was nothing special as it often happened in wars, one side would eventually emerge victorious.  The resolute defense put up by the Ibo would remain an abject lesson for any future aggression against people driven to the wall.

Many Yoruba officers and soldiers lost their precious lives in the suicidal attempts to take Onitsha by sea and also along the Abagana Road in another attempt to capture Onitsha.  Onitsha was eventually captured and the war has ended more than 40 years ago, but the Yoruba tribe is being hounded by those who perhaps, were too young or were not born to understand fully the Biafran tragedy.

It is true in history that Oyo military force was absolutely defeated by the Fulanis in the 1830s and Oyo-Ile, capital of Oyo Empire was captured, completely destroyed and totally deserted.  That incident ended the glorious Oyo Empire which lasted for more than six centuries – a sad historical event.

It is also on record that the victorious Fulanis, encouraged by their victory over the Oyo forces, thought of subjecting the whole Yoruba race and dip their Quran into the Atlantic Ocean.  The new capital, Oyo was created by Prince Afonja and Oyo military force was re-organized under Ibadan, a rising Oyo military power.

The heavy Fulani forces were soundly defeated and completely routed in Oshogbo in 1840 by Ibadan Army (not total Yoruba Army), with Ogbomoso forces detailed at the rear to cut supply to the Fulani forces and deal with the retreating losers.  The victory over the Fulani forces in 1840 saved the Yoruba country from foreign subjugation until the British conquest of Ijebu and Oyo.

However, in the midst of confusion by ethnic threats on both sides, non-indigenes are brightening the economic scene of the South-West by commercial co-operation and Ibo investments are joyfully becoming decisive and profitable.  Incidents of mixed marriages have aided the course of social understanding and reduced mistrusts, envy and enmity.

For the records, shortly before the civil war, I wrote an article in the Daily Times titled, “CAN WE AFFORD TO FALL APART”? After the war in 1970, I put in another one in the Daily Times, NOW THAT THE GUNS ARE SILENT.