December 29, 2021

1966 Coup: How violence was unleashed on northern officials in London High Commission-Amb Ukume

1966 Coup: How violence was unleashed on northern officials in London High Commission-Amb Ukume

*Northern offices wrecked,Ahmadu Bello’s photograph desecrated,he claims

*Claims all northerners ordered back to Nigeria,Ibos retained, absorbed into Fed. Civil Service

By Joseph Erunke

ABUJA–THE January 15,1966 coup carried out by some mutinous Nigerian soldiers,led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna,had turned Nigerian diplomats and officials in London High Commission against their counterparts from northern extraction with violence unleashed on the latter,a former Nigerian ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire,Denis Ukume,has said.

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Ukume,who at the time,was a Senior Information Officer at the Northern Nigeria Agent General’s Office,at the Nigeria High Commission, editing government’s monthly magazine, Northern Nigeria News, and also performed the normal information and public relations work,said the turnout of events at the high commission in faraway London following the sudden development in Nigeria came as a surprise to them given the cordial relationship among Nigerians in the commission.

“The esprit de corps that existed among the officials of the four Agent-General Offices in London and their federal counterparts was stupendous. It was therefore, incomprehensible when the military violently seized power in faraway Nigeria and violence was unleashed on northern officials,and their offices wrecked at the High Commission,”he said in a 134-page published book,titled:”I Believe”, which he launched in Abuja.

According to the 83-year old former ambassador,”The magnificent life-sized colour photograph of the much-respected Premier of Northern Nigeria,Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello,the Sadauna of Sokoto,that prominently adorned the passage way at the Northern Office at the Commission was desecrated.”

“The office furniture was completely smashed up as as our screwed-up officers fled for their dear lives. Our secretaries were roughed up as they scampered to safety. Those that dared to stay behind were well and truly beaten up.

“A day after the coup,a strongly worded message came from Lagos ordering all the officers from the Agent General Offices to return to Nigeria immediately. Officers from the East, however,were asked to stay put. Few days after,they were reportedly absorbed into the mainstream of the Federal Government Civil Service under the unification of the Federal Republic of Nigeria decree,” he claimed in the book.

Ukume said prior to the infamous coup,”Northern Nigeria Government had embarked on a massive campaign to attract foreign investments to the region and had released an expensive publication,The Industrial Potentialities of Northern Nigeria.”

“Government had also engaged a high-profile public relations outfit in the UK as part of the exercise. The Chief Information Officer,the late Alhaji Magajin Danbatta and I accompanied the Northern Nigeria Minister of Trade as he toured Scotland and other parts of Britain in this regard,”he added 

He explained that,”With our infrastructure extensively damaged, the Agent-General ordered the temporary closure of the office”, adding however that “trade enquiries continued to pour in as potential investors visited the High Commission in droves.”

“Following this development,the Agent-General instructed I should report for duty everyday and use part of the reception hall of the High Commission as my office and receive visitors there. I also doubled as trade officers while the rest of my colleagues continued to stay away.

Our salaries, allowances were stopped,I was sued in County Court as I couldn’t pay my rent

He said:”Following the order for the officers to return home immediately,we booked our passage on the Aureol,the shipping liner,to return to Nigeria as early as we could. Payment of our salaries and allowances had been stopped. I was the only officer hit hardest by this arbitrary decision. The rent on my house was due and the Finance Department was arranging to make payment when the military struck.

“My landlord later sued me at the County Court and I was to be evicted when I decided to vacate the premises. I now no longer had anywhere to stay.

“I flew back to Nigeria on June 28,1966. The army struck the following day. All my colleagues who stayed behind and we’re waiting to sail on Aureole were immediately absorbed into the Federal Government Civil Service. They were now diplomats of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“And me? Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Joda tried to get me back to London to join my colleagues,but to no avail.”

He recalled his struggle to get back to London High Commission after a counter-coup:

“He (Joda) even went on to make contact with the Chairman, Federal Public Service Commission in Lagos in this regard. I then returned to the Ministry of Information to head the Press Section. The fierce Civil War had now erupted,and a publicity committee of the War Council was formed with Alhaji Ahmed Joda,a  member of the War Council as Chairman,and I as Secretary. I also manned the Research Department of the ministry. I monitored reactions of various countries to the war,and wrote press releases on the successes of the federal troops in the war zones.

“When top British journalists arrived Kaduna to make on-the spot assessment of the war,I was detailed to lead them to the rear command base in Makurdi under the late General Shuwa,and to the war zones.”