By Emeka Obasi
You do not need to take part in a coup d’etat to be chosen as leader. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was in jail for treasonable felony when the first military coup took place on January 15, 1966. The young majors wanted to make him Prime Minister.
As a consultant historian, mine is to say it from a very objective and analytical point of view. The problem with Nigeria is that some of our leaders are insincere, they do not want the people to see the truth. That caused them to remove history from our school books.
I know many will disagree with me. That is alright but I also challenge them to an international debate to fault my claims. I seek not to protect or project Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. I write as one who understands Nigerian history.
Some of those who took part in the January 1966 coup, came out boldly to say that their plan was to release Chief Awolowo from prison and make him prime minister.
Captain Emma Nwobosi, who led the Western Region operations is still alive. Major Emma Ifeajuna confided in a few friends. Maj. Wale Ademoyega said this much in his book, ‘Why We Struck.’
Much later, it happened in Ghana in 1979. Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings was detained at Burma Camp, Accra, awaiting execution after being condemned by the Col. Joe Enninful led court martial for the abortive coup of May 15.
On June 4, his friend, Maj. Kojo Boakye –Djan, led a platoon of other ranks to set Rawlings free. They took him to the radio station to announce himself after which he became Chairman of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council [AFRC].
It also happened in Bangladesh. In 1975, Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman was in captivity when Col. Abu Taher set him free and gave him power.
Back home in Nigeria, Brigadier Murtala Mohammed was flown back from London in 1975, to become Head of State. The plot to oust Gen. Yakubu Gowon was hatched by officers like colonels Alfred Aduloju, Abdullahi Mohammed, Anthony Ochefu and Lt.cols Ibrahim Babangida and Shehu Yar’adua.
That was also how Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari became military leader in 1983. He was doing his job as a GOC in Jos, when younger officers, led by Maj. Haruna Mustapha Jokolo, offered him the big job.
In 1998, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was released from gaol by the Minna Mafia. The idea was to pacify the South-West following the death in custody of Chief Moshood Abiola. That was how Obasnjo became civilian President.
Awolowo was the centre piece of the first military coup even if he was in jail. The way the plotters acted, it was obvious they had soft spot for the former leader of opposition.
Ademoyega and Maj. Chris Anuforo had made arrangement in Lagos for Capt Emma Udeaja to fly to Uyo with Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to hand over to Awo after the coup.
The Nigeria Air Force plane to do that was to be made available by Major Theophilus Enwezor Nzegwu, the first Nigerian to be commissioned as an Air Force officer, in 1959.
That probably explained why Maj. Emma Ifeajuna was bent on not hurting the prime minister during the coup. The circumstances surrounding Sir Abubakar’s death remain in the realm of mystery.
The same Ifeajuna that shot his commanding officer, Brig. Zakari Maimalari and killed Lt.col Abogo Largema at Ikoyi Hotel, Lagos tried to be civil with the prime minister.
On sighting Balewa in his bedroom, Ifeajuna was alleged to have said: “I come here with respect. I will take you with me. We know all the trouble going on in the country is not your fault.”
Ifeajuna, accompanied by Lt. Fola Oyewole and other ranks also assured Balewa’s Aide de Camp, Kaftan Nangasu, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, that no harm would befall his boss.
“I will look after him,” the Army officer added. All the soldiers who invaded the Prime Minister’s official residence stood at attention when they saw him and gave out smart compliments.
When Nangasu came out with a revolver, Ifeajuna quickly disarmed him. His grandson, simply identified as Sunday, also struck an Army sage. They beat and let the kid go.
President Nnamdi Azikiwe knew
there was going to be a coup. The Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello was also hinted by the Western region Premier, Chief Samuel Akintola.
Some 24 hours to the coup, Akintola, was in Kaduna and spent time at the Premier’s lodge with Brig. Sam Ademulegun, commander, One Brigade, Kaduna. Akintola wanted them to escape to Niger Republic. The Sardauna refused.
Zik quietly went on medical leave abroad. His doctor, Humphrey Idehen and ADC, Lt. John Obada were released by the president.
While Awo was in detention, his party, the Action Group and Zik’s National Convention of Nigerian Citizens formed an alliance. According to a top member of the NCNC, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, Awo enjoyed some benefits.
The Eastern region government under Chief Michael Okpara pleaded with an Igbo house owner who lived across Uyo prison to vacate the house for Awo. Every night, Chief Awolowo would sleep there only to go back to jail next door in the morning.
Mrs Hannah Awolowo was placed on ministerial salary by the NCNC government and Chief Awolowo had domestic staff whose wages came from Enugu.
There was soft spot for Awo especially after he lost his first son, Segun, in a car crash on July 10, 1963. He heard the news on radio while serving at Broad Street Lagos Prison.
Ademoyega was from Ode Remo, close to Awo’s Ikenne. Ifeajuna taught at Ilesha and was at the University of Ibadan with Awoists like Bola Ige and Wole Soyinka. Nzegwu’s wife was Aina, a Yoruba.
Even when the majors handed over to Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, the man tasked with investigating them, Lt.col Yakubu Gowon, slowed down. Later he chose Awo as his Number Two.
Everything was done to make Awolowo Prime Minister. It was Ifeajuna’s job to spare Balewa. He claimed he did. Balewa was later found dead. Awolowo was released, after another coup.