1966 coup

By Emeka Obasi

Questions should be asked and answers provided. The January 15, 1966 plot, the first Military coup in the History of Nigeria, was aimed at destroying all that was ever achieved by the Igbo. The consequences are staring us all in the face.

Ndigbo entered the First Republic on a high note and as the movement of History progressed there was little to bemoan. Dr. Nnamdi Chukwuemeka Azikiwe climbed from Senate President to Governor General and ended up as the first President of the nation.

All Presidents of the Senate until January 15, 1966 were Igbo. Dr. Dennis Chukwude Osadebay replaced Zik. Dr. Abyssinia Akwaeke Nwafor Orizu succeeded Osadebay. He also became Acting President of the country in October 1965.

When a fourth region, Mid-West was created, the Premier was Osadebay. The import was that of the four regions that made up the country, two were headed by Igbo men. Dr. Michael Iheonukara Okpara was Premier of Eastern Region.

The first indigenous Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dr. Jaja Anucha Nwachukwu, was Igbo. When Jalo Ibrahim from the North took over, the Deputy Speaker was Chief Emmanuel Chikere Akwiwu.

In Academics, two of the Vice Chancellor’s were from the Eastern Region. Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike was VC, University of Ibadan while Prof. Eni Njoku headed the University of Lagos. Both were distinguished scholars. Dike was the nation’s first professor of History, Njoku, first professor of Botany.

In the Army, the GOC, Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi, from Umuahia was the first African to command United Nations troops. Quarter Master General, Lt. Col. Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe had two of his Sandhurst mates holding key positions.

Lt. Col Mike Nduka Okwechime commanded Nigerian Army Engineers (NAE). Lt. Col Alex Atta Madiebo, the country’s first Sandhurst trained Artillery officer was head of the Arty Regiment. Their junior, Maj. Tony Okoro Eze was in charge of Army Signals.

Lt.Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, first university graduate to join the Army was Commanding officer, Fifth Battalion, Kano.The two brigades in Lagos and Kaduna respectively had Igbo officers as Brigade Majors.

Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna was in Lagos, Alphonsus Animam Keshi held the position in Kaduna. And the first woman to enlist as an officer,  Capt. Josephine Okwuekeleke Tolefe, was Igbo as well.

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This was the situation when some young majors decided to topple the government that had Igbo personalities in powerful positions. Wale Ademoyega, Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Ifeajuna, Christopher Anuforo, Donatus Okafor and Humphrey Chukwuka planned to sack Dr. Azikiwe as president and install Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba as prime minister.

In the process, a lot of Yoruba blood was spilled. Brigadier Sam Adesujo Ademulegun, Commanding officer, First Brigade, Kaduna was killed with his wife, Feyisitan. Col. Raphael Shodeinde was also killed in Kaduna, his wife was injured.

In Ibadan,  Premier of the Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola was assassinated. Maj. Samuel Adegoke was not spared. Sergeant Daramola Oyegoke was shot in Kaduna, by his boss, Nzeogwu.

Prominent Northerners lost their lives. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa died in Lagos. Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello , itwas murdered in Kaduna with his first wife, Hafusat.

The cream of Northern military was wiped off. Brig. Zakari Maimalari, Col. Kuru Mohammed, Lt.Col Abogo Largema and Lt.Col Yakubu James Pam were all shot in Lagos.

Igbo blood was shed. Col. Unegbe died in Lagos. Okpara and Osadebay would have followed suit as a subaltern, Lt. Jerome Oguchi, from Umuoji, was despatched to join the bloodletting. His vehicle broke down on the way and when he eventually arrived Enugu, Okpara had an August Visitor in Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus.

The majors had pencilled down Lt. Col. David Ejoor, an Urhobo, to take over as Army Chief from Ironsi. Nzeogwu moved to Ademulegun’s office after Onwuatuegwu had done the dirty job.

It is obvious that the majors were so selfish that they ended up turning other Nigerian nationalities against Ndigbo. Nzeogwu and Onwuatuegwu did not have to kill women with their husbands. Agreed, Hafusat volunteered to die with the Sardauna but she could have been spared.

The coup led to a counter coup that destroyed whatever advantage the Igbo had in the officer corps. Ironsi was murdered in Ibadan. And this was the same man that stemmed the exercise in Lagos.

Civil War followed and over five million Easterners perished. The Eastern RePropertygion, a fast growing economy in 1966 was decimated. Port Harcourt, built by the Igbo became a nightmare. Abandoned became a new phrase of lamentation.

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