First City Monument Bank, FCMB

By Emeka Obasi

Tunde Bakare is a politician whose rallies do not go beyond his pulpit in Lagos. He is very ambitious and dreams of becoming president.

Politics is full of terminological inexactitudes so I am not shocked that he knows nothing about Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.Bakare is into everything, he switched from Islam to Christianity.

A lawyer turned preacher and activist; I would score him zero in history. This man may know not his past. Bakare, possibly does not care about the future, little wonder he wants to rewrite history.

Prime Minister Balewa, the ‘Golden Voice’ was not like today’s politicians, especially those whose campaigns are mounted in one church. A beacon of peace, Balewa was a gentleman, admired by many for his humility.

Balewa died in the January 1966 coup. How he died remains in the realm of controversy, but  many have been made to believe that the Prime Minister was shot by Major Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna, an Igbo and Black Africa’s first Commonwealth gold winner.

Bakare set  tongues wagging with an obnoxious claim that Balewa cursed the Igbo before he was assassinated. The neo politician added that the curse was to make sure no Igbo will ever rule Nigeria after wetting the Prime Minister with alcohol before shooting him.The devil indeed, is a liar.

Balewa was not killed by Ifeajuna. No one poured alcohol on the gentleman politician in January 1966. Someday, the mystery of Balewa’s death will be resolved. Maybe, there are secret files which have not been discovered.

What happened was that Ifeajuna led troops to Balewa’s official residence in Lagos. He arrested the Prime Minister quite alright, but did everything possible to avoid bloodshed even when he had cause to kill, within the premises.

On entering the house, there were five police guards and two officers. Kaftan Nangasu, one account describes him as a Chadian, was Balewa’s Aide de Camp (ADC). There was alternate ADC, Maxwell Orupabo, an Izon.

Nangasu put up a fight but Ifeajuna disarmed him. Nangasu’s little boy, hit a soldier. One of the police guards refused to surrender his rifle, he was dazed with a blow by another soldier. This same Ifeajuna would later shoot Brig. Zakari Maimalari and Lt. Col. Abogo Largema, his superiors, that same bloody night.

Nangasu’s account of Ifeajuna’s encounter with Balewa tells the story. Ifeajuna paid the Prime Minister full compliments and assured even Nangasu that Balewa was going to be taken without harm.

“Whilst going along with Alhaji (Balewa) the major (Ifeajuna) said to him, we know all the trouble going on in the country is not your fault”, Nangasu told the special branch. 

Ifeajuna also ‘’straightened up, saluted and said, I come here with respect. I will take you with me.”

The Prime Minister was escorted to the major’s Mercedes Benz car and driven away. After shooting Maimalari and Largema, Balewa was moved to a military Landover while the Benz conveyed the bodies of the slain senior officers.

The coup failed and Ifeajuna fled to Ghana through Seme border. He was driven across by his friend, Chris Ifekandu Okigbo. The fate of the Prime Minister was unknown until his body was discovered around Coker Plantation, Ilogbo, on the Lagos-Abeokuta Highway on January 21, 1966.

Segun Osoba was a reporter with Daily Times. He rode his scooter to the site and saw what looked like a fresh body. There were neither bullet holes nor blood stains. It was Balewa, lifeless, but in a sitting position by a kola nut tree.

Times camera man, Saka Kasumu, took some shots and both ran back to Lagos. The films were developed and handed over to their Managing Director Alhaji Babatunde Jose. The photographs strangely, were never used and Osoba’s report was buried by stories that Balewa’s body was decomposed and had to be taken away to Bauchi through Kaduna for burial.

Ifeajuna confided in Okigbo that he did not shoot Balewa. The Prime Minister according to the soldier, died of asthma.

The coup plotters actually planned to take the Prime Minister to Calabar to hand over to jailed Opposition Leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Ifeajuna and Okigbo were Awoists and had attended University College, Ibadan. Both also taught at Fiditi Grammar School before Ifeajuna joined the Army in 1960. It was through Okigbo who later died as a Baifran major in 1967, that Chief Mathew Mbu heard the asthma version.Balewa so believed in Mbu, a Boki man from the Ogoja area.

His wife, an Igbo, Catherine Anigbo hailed from Eke in Udi. He wanted to know from Okigbo why Ifeajuna killed his boss. Mbu served in the Prime Minister’s office variously as Minister and Special Assistant.

Prof. Femi Aderibigbe who was close to Balewa said he was sure Balewa was not asthmatic.  Late Prof. Emma Okocha was told by someone who knew, that Balewa was.

In the same vein, Osoba did not see blood stains on the Prime Minister’s body. That is the puzzle. Bakare just woke up from the wrong side of the bed to ignite ethnic tension.

He was a kid in 1966. I am not sure his law books taught him history.  It is a bad dream for  a man who should be serving holy communion to serve hurting concoction.

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