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Ademoyega: Leader of first coup

By Emeka Obasi
Historian in the saddle, undetected by history. Trained by the Brits, full of revolutionary energy. It is strange we are yet to see Major Adewale Ademoyega as  the brain behind the January 15, 1966 coup d’etat.

File Copy : Nigerian Army, Adegboyega picture not available
File: Nigeria Army

Dim Emeka Ojukwu thought Emmanuel Ifeajuna  was the unseen boss. Some  give it to Chukwuma Nzeogwu. Uninformed compatriots still refer to it as an Igbo coup. All these assertions, have over the years shielded the man who worked it all out.

Ademoyega, from Ode Remo in today’s Ogun State, was 32 at the time the young Majors struck. By young majors, I mean Nzeogwu, Ifeajuna,  Christian Anuforo, Donatus Okafor, Humphrey Chukwuka , Timothy Onwuatuegwu and Ademoyega.

Like Ifeajuna, Ademoyega  graduated from the University. Both also attended the Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, England, like Okafor. While Ifeajuna earned a degree in Chemistry from the University of Ibadan, Ademoyega possessed a degree in History from London University.

Nzeogwu, Anuforo, Chukwuka and Onwuatuegwu were bred at the elite Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. All the other majors were Ademoyega’s seniors militarily because he enlisted in 1961 and was commissioned in 1962. Nzeogwu was 29, Ifeajuna, 31.

What stood Ademoyega out was political experience. He joined the Army as a District Officer[D.O.] Ifeajuna had little administrative experience having worked as a senior clerical officer and teacher. Nzeogwu’s best was a secondary school certificate.

Ademoyega enlisted with one thing on his mind: to grab political power. “ I came to the Army with a heart pointed towards finding a solution to Nigeria’s political problems,” he said in his book, Why We Struck.

The day Ademoyega faced the Military Selection Board, he made friends with Lt. Ifeajuna. The other civilian who turned up for the interview was, Uche Chukwumerije, who was at the University of Ibadan with Ifeajuna.

According to the Historian: “ Ifeajuna received Uche and me particularly well. We discussed the political turn of events in Nigeria and unanimously came to the conclusion that the military was likely to be the only solution.”

Chukwumerije passed the test but failed to join the Army. He had expressed surprise at seeing Ifeajuna in the Army recalling how he developed cold feet after a planned demonstration during their Ibadan years.

At the time, Ben Obumselu, was president of the Students Union while Ifeajuna served as Director of Information. Ademoyega promised Chukwumerije that should  Ifeajuna repeat that in the military, he would be appropriately handled.

When Ademoyega reported for training at the Military Depot, Zaria on October 31, 1961, the closest person to him was, Lt. Nzeogwu, Training Officer[Subalterns]. Nzeogwu offered his car to his cadet friend to move about town.

Next phase of training was at Mons. Ademoyega was commissioned Lieutenant on April 12, 1962. On return to Nigeria, he was posted to the  Second Battalion, Abeokuta. That was shortly before the Western Region went wild.

In the absence of the Fourth Battalion, Ibadan which was in the Congo on a peace mission, the Second Battalion was sent to the regional capital. Later in 1962, Ademoyega’s battalion also served in the Central African nation.

The British were apparently monitoring Lt. Ademoyega. After receiving his Commission, he visited the Nigeria High Commission, London. The subaltern tried to let Lt.Col Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, a superior officer and Defence Attache, know that the officer corps of the Army had to be Nigerianised.

He also made this known to another senior officer, Lt.Col. Samuel Ademulegun. For an officer who was yet to be posted, this signaled danger. Thus British officers halted the posting of graduates as combatants after Ademulegun  failed to  move to the Education Corps.

Lt. Ademulegun, alias ‘Cyintomen,’ was the sixth university graduate to join the Nigeria Army. The first five were Ojukwu, Victor Banjo, Olufemi Olutoye, Ifeajuna and Oluwole Rotimi, all his seniors.

By 1965, Major Ademoyega was ready to hit political power. The man had done his calculations well. He loathed Ojukwu under whom he once served in Kaduna. Both were Historians. Ojukwu graduated from Cambridge and was the son of a millionaire.

Banjo was Ademoyega’s  pal and had revolutionary tendencies. Like Ojukwu, he was a Lt. Col. That was not good for ambition because both Ojukwu and Banjo were also nursing presidential plans. They could have known about the Majors’ plan.

Olutoye got to know, from Nzeogwu, in far away India when they went for a course with Major Gabriel Okonweze. It is like Ademoyega deliberately kept away fellow Yoruba officers.  Lt. Fola Oyewole was only called up by Ifeajuna a day to the coup.

Major Olusegun Obasanjo shared apartment with Ademoyega in Kaduna and was fondly called ‘Ezigbo Obam’[My good Oba] by Nzeogwu. Neither Ademoyega nor Nzeogwu exposed the plot. Captain Ganiyu Adeleke was drafted in the last minute.

Ademoyega looked at Ifeajuna’s credentials as Nigeria’s first Commonwealth gold medalist. He picked Nzeogwu as the country’s first Military Intelligence Officer and banked on the Sandhurst training of Anuforo and Onwuatuegwu.

Ademoyega also made sure the Igbo officers he picked were highly detribalized. Nzeogwu spoke fluent Hausa and attended St. John’s College, Kaduna with Anuforo. Okafor who was born in Kaduna and was said to have a Tiv mom.

Ifeajuna taught at Ilesha Grammar School and Ebenezer High School, Abeokuta. Ademoyega monitored all these people and the plan was to free Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

The officer who organized the aircraft that would bring Awo from Calabar Prison was  Major Theophilus Nzegwu, the first Igbo Air Force officer, whose wife bore a Yoruba name, Aina.

Ademoyega and Nzeogwu fixed January 15, as D Day. He was in Kaduna for that. And Ademoyega was supposed to broadcast to the nation. He did not task himself with the arrest of anyone.

The coup failed in Lagos. He blamed Okafor. Ademoyega ran to Kaduna. Then found himself in Biafra. He punched Ifeajuna in prison, survived the war. At the end he was bold enough to admit it was not an Igbo coup. That followed him to the grave in 2007.

By Emeka Obasi


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