By Chuks Iloegbunam
PASTOR Tunde Bakare of The Citadel Global Community Church recently spoke through his hat while preaching a sermon.
He told his congregation that, during the January 15, 1966 military action that toppled the First Republic, the soldiers that took Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa removed his turban, poured wine on his head and force-fed him with the alcohol.
For abominating him, Balewa, just before he was shot, pronounced a curse on Ndigbo, to the effect that no one from the ethnic group will ever bear rule over Nigeria.
Mr. Bakare’s story, fanciful as it sounds, is a pack of lies. This article, therefore, is to educate Mr. Bakare and others of his misguided persuasion with the truth, of which Jesus, the Christ said in John 8: 32: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
On the mundane level, no one removed any turban from Sir Abubakar’s head. The turban is a headdress. Soldiers invaded the Prime Minister’s official residence at around 3.00 a.m, when the man was in bed. Did he sleep turbaned? Do people sleep in their headdresses?
Apart from that picture in which presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari appeared in suit and tie, wearing a wan smile and looking almost comical with his receding hairline, there hardly is another photograph of the man in which a cap does not adorn his head.
Would his traditional fondness for full dressing gear ever mean that he went to bed in a hat? Do women sleep with all those accessories they routinely assemble on their heads for public events? Tafawa Balewa’s turban was not removed because he wasn’t wearing one when his adversaries closed in on him.
Muslims are by injunction forbidden to consume alcoholic beverages. The story that the Prime Minister was bathed in wine and inebriated with it is aimed at sustaining the opprobrium first established by revisionists in 1966.
Also his recovered body showed clearly that he hadn’t been shot. The lies spewed by Mr. Bakare have one source. They always had a single objective: the monopoly of political power by the geo-political North. There are many such lies still enjoying vibrancy in the country.
Three of them should suffice for our argument. One, when General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s regime was toppled, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon, who succeeded him, was going to sunder the country by announcing the Republic of Northern Nigeria, for the simple reason that political power had left the region.
Gowon is still denying this fact, despite incontrovertible evidence to its certitude. (See the document marked CAB/128/41 at the British Public Records Office at Kew Gardens, London. It contained the minutes of the British Cabinet meeting of August 2, 1966 that was declassified after a 30-year moratorium.
It incontrovertibly shows Gowon’s secessionist tendency after they assassinated General Aguiyi-Ironsi.) Two, Gowon said in his maiden speech as Head of State that there was no basis for Nigerian unity.
He denies the statement to this day. As a matter of fact, his government disingenuously published a misleading version of his speech, claiming that he had only discounted national unity in a unitary dispensation.
But, the BBC Monitoring Service recorded Gowon’s broadcast live, and the transcript is forever available. It has Gowon saying: “Suffice it to say that putting all considerations to the test, political, economic as well as social, the basis of unity is not there…”
Three: Nigeria’s military leaders met in Aburi, Ghana, on January 4 & 5, 1967, for a conference to avert the contingency of civil war.
They reached an agreement. Back in Nigeria, Gowon reneged on the agreement, an agreement he denies to this day, even though the Aburi proceedings were audio-recorded from start to finish.
Had the agreement been implemented, the civil war might well have never occurred. The military action of January 1966 was called and is still called an Igbo coup.
How could a putsch intended to install the Yoruba Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Prime Minister be an Igbo coup?
Here’s Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu: “Neither myself nor any other lads was in the least interested in governing the country. We were soldiers and not politicians. We had earmarked from the list known to every soldier in this operation who would be what.
“Chief Obafemi Awolowo was, for example, to be released from jail immediately and to be made the Executive President of Nigeria.”(See West Africa magazine of July 29, 1967, page 981). And here’s Major Adewale Ademoyega: “At the end of the first week of January, Major Anuforo and I arranged to meet Captain Udeaja, a young engineering graduate from the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, UK. We met in Major Chukwuka’s house at the Ikeja Cantonment but Chukwuka himself was not there. Having briefed Udeaja generally and got his consent, we gave him his task.
“He was to fly a special plane provided for the purpose to Calabar on the morning of D-Day, to effect the release of Chief Awolowo and bring him to Lagos on the plane. We had already arranged for a plane of the Nigeria Air Force to be made available that morning.
“This was done through Major Nzegwu (not Nzeogwu) of the Air Force.”(See Adewale Ademoyega: Why We Struck: The Story of the First Nigerian Coup, Evans Brothers Limited, Ibadan, 1981; pp 68-69).
The Nzeogwu and Ademoyega stories were corroborated by no less a person than Chief Awolowo, thusly: “It was learnt after the January coup that the authors had planned to release me from Calabar, fly me to Lagos, and install me as Head of State whether I liked it or not. If I refused the offer, they were prepared to govern in my name until I was persuaded to accept the offer. The authors of the coup had no plan to govern the country under a military administration.”(See Obafemi Awolowo, My March Through Prison, Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Limited, Ilupeju Lagos, 1985; page 297).
In spite of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the myth of the Igbo coup has been sustained to this day. According to Ademoyega, the innermost circle of the coup plot was composed of three Majors: Adewale Ademoyega from Ode Remo in today’s Ogun State, a History graduate of the University of London; Emmanuel Ifeajuna from Onitsha, a University of Ibadan Science graduate; and Chukwuma Nzeogwu from Okpanam, a town bordering Asaba in present day Delta State. Besides these facts, there were 50 Majors in the Nigerian Army on the morning of the coup; 24 of them were Igbo.
About 20 of these knew nothing of the coup and never participated in its execution. The coup cost the life of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Chinyelu Unegbe, the Quarter-Master General of the Nigerian Army.
Chinyelu Unegbe was Igbo from Ozubulu in today’s Anambra State. General Aguiyi-Ironsi put down the coup; he was Igbo from Umuana Ndume in Umuahia in the present Abia State. These facts have never constituted extenuating circumstances. The coup must forever be labelled an Igbo coup, a lie from the pit of hell that continues to be used as a basis for the sporadic massacring of Ndigbo and their consignment to fourth-class citizenship in their own country.
All these lies are the reason Nigeria is a failed state. And unless these lies and countless others are finally and permanently abrogated, Nigeria’s chances of resurrection are unequivocally non-existent. In a sense Pastor Bakare is a tool in the hands of forces he scarcely recognises.
The fibs he told his church members were as old as 1966. The precursors are from the top echelons of Northern Nigerian hegemony, but their lies first surfaced in book form when the Hudahuda Publishing Company of Zaria published John M. Paden’s Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto in 1986.
This is Professor Omo Omoruyi in The Tale of June 12; The Betrayal of the Democratic Rights of Nigerians (1993) (Press Alliance Network Limited; 1999.) “President Babangida ruled out any Yoruba person if Chief Abiola who had been with the military and the North in various capacities could not win the support of the ethno-military clique.
He ruled out the Igbo on the argument that the country and definitely the North would not buy an Igbo then or in the near future. More seriously, he argued that the Yoruba and the Igbo did not have strong representation in the Armed Forces to provide them with the kind of protection they would need. This is still at the heart of democratisation today”(page 253).
Professor Omoruyi, who was the Director-General of the Centre for Democratic Studies and, more importantly, Babangida’s closest confidant, sought clarification from the military President. “This was when (General Babangida) called my attention to the feeling in the North about an Igbo as President.
“He thought that it would violate the curse placed on the Igbo by the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa before he was executed on January 15, 1966. Sir Abubakar was quoted to have said: ‘I know you are going to kill me; you will never get a Prime Minister like me. The Igbo will suffer for twenty-five years.’”(Page 262.)
Now, under Pastor Bakare, the consummate wielder of the microphone, the falsehoods got added embellishment. The curse preventing any Igbo from becoming President over a period of 25 years assumed eternal dimensions.
The snippety nonsense of turban and wine got thrown in. No one seemed to underscore the impotence of the curse by General Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo being Balewa’s immediate successor.
I reacted thus to this story in Ironsi: Nigeria, The Army, Power And Politics (Press Alliance 1999; and Eminent Biographies 2019): “The story that was put out claimed that Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa ‘cursed’ the Igbo, saying they will not rule Nigeria for 25 years. By the time Babangida used this fiction to discount an Igbo President in 1993, 27 years had elapsed since Sir Abubakar died. Yet, the “curse” was still potent. Babangida himself had no qualms marrying into a “cursed” ethnic group and raising four children who by extension must be half cursed.
The main point here is that, apart from Sir Abubakar’s lack of locus standi to curse the Igbo, (how many million curses will the thousands of Igbo victims of the 1966 pogrom utter?), the story is patently false. Its authors lacked authenticity because their story was bereft of citation and attribution.
The most detailed account of the interrogation of those that carried out the coup of January 1966 was released by the regime of General Yakubu Gowon. The details also appear in Crisis And Conflict in Nigeria: A Documentary Sourcebook (Oxford University Press, 1971) by A. H. M Kirk-Greene.