British secret files on Nigeria’s first bloody coup, path to Biafra

Jun 12 2016 - 3:01pm
Nzeogwu: Led soldiers to kill Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna

Nzeogwu: Led soldiers to kill Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna


By Damola Awoyokun

Damola Awoyokun, an engineer and historian has perused hitherto hidden dispatches from British diplomats and intelligence officers on Nigeria’s first coup—a very bloody one—executed by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna on 15 January 1966. The coup in which political leaders and military officers of northern Nigeria extraction were majorly killed triggered a counter-coup and eventually declaration of Biafra and a civil war.
TheNEWS today shares the rare insight into the bloody event of 15 January 1966 and we believe it may serve as a good lesson as the drums of war are being sounded in some parts of our country

Kaduna

It was a soundless morning, dark, pulsating, starless. The harmattan spiked the 2am air with prickly cold and fog. With his finger to the trigger, the 28-year-old Major Patrick Chukwuma Nzeogwu addressed the soldiers from Charlie Company of the 3rd Infantry Battalion and some Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC) personnel. They were armed with fury, submachine guns, knives, grenades, torchlights, rocket launchers. Nzeogwu reeled about how the politicians had dragged the country to the cliff of fall and kicked it down into a worst-case scenario. He reeled about nepotism, large scale looting of public wealth, persistent poverty of the people, the yearnings of millions hollowed out by afflictions, the epidemic of insecurities, the Tiv riots, the Western Region’s daily bloodletting, the country’s tireless race to the bottom instead of high up to the plane of regard.

He pointed to Sardauna’s residence right behind him as the ultimate symbol of the filth Nigeria had become. His fellow soldiers were stunned. They did not know they had been turned into reluctant rebels. They thought this was supposed to be another night’s training exercise the brigade high command had approved for them which they started two weeks previously. Nzeogwu then asked the soldiers to concentrate on how to be necessary and to feel proud that they were the ones called upon to rescue the nation, to show the way, to be the new founding fathers of a better Nigeria. In other words, like Homer’s Illiad, he was asking them not to see the epic bloodbath that was about to start as an outbreak of evil, but their generous contribution to the redemption and welfare of the nation.

They Charged Forward

Four hours earlier around 10 o’clock, the last lights in the Sardauna’s household had gone out. They were expected to wake by 4am to eat suhur, the predawn meal to begin the fast. Ramadan started on 23rd December 1965. A week earlier, the Prime Minister Mallam Tafawa Balewa Abubakar met the Queen and the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He had invited all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers for a special meeting in Lagos from 11- 12 January to resolve Rhodesian crises. It was the first of its kind outside London. On 19 December, he went to the small village of Arondizuogu in Orlu for the commissioning of his trade minister, Dr Ozumba Mbadiwe’s Palace of the People. Built by Italian contractors, it was a three-storey affair resplendent with blue terrazzo walls, swimming pool and a fountain, grand conference halls and event rooms, red carpet and gilt chairs. All these in a village where most houses were still born of mud and thatched roofs.

Since the first tarred roads were constructed in 1890s in Lagos, and the first dual carriage way in Nigeria – Queen Elizabeth Road – appeared in 1956 in Ibadan, no road in Arondizuogu or in Orlu had ever been graced with bitumen before. Yet Mbadiwe situated the grand palace there as a source of pride for his people. At the commissioning ceremony, the Eastern Premier, Dr Okpara never saw the project as a white elephant planted by megalomania and watered by corruption, rather he hailed the project as “a great achievement for one of the priests of pragmatic socialism to have been so clever to accommodate this building within the context of pragmatic African socialism.” The press placed the value of the house at least half a million pounds. Mbadiwe said it was “at most £40,000.” After the commissioning, Abubakar then proceeded to his farm in Bauchi for his annual leave. On Tuesday 4th of January, he joined the retinue of well-wishers in Kaduna airport to bid farewell to his in-law and godfather, the Sardauna, who was going to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra, a lesser hajj, in the company of 184 other state-sponsored pilgrims. The cost of the one-week pilgrimage to the government was around £17,000.

Nigerian soldiers Drawn from Charlie company of the 3 rd Infantry Battalion believed they were going for another night military exercise!

Nigerian soldiers Drawn from Charlie company of the 3 rd Infantry Battalion believed they were going for another night military exercise!

That morning, The New Nigerian newspaper wrote an unprecedentedly scathing editorial laying the blame for the region’s financial woes and lack of development on Sardauna inefficiencies and ineptitude and asked him to “put his house in order.” When Nzeogwu read the editorial, he went straight to the paper’s newsroom and demanded to see the writer. He was in his uniform and his eyes were red. No one knew him nor had seen his face before. The staff did not know what to make of his demand. The expatriate managing editor Charles Sharp then stepped forward. Nzeogwu shook his hands and said the content and tone of the editorial reflected their thinking in the army and they had resolved to put that house in order. The newsroom did not understand what he meant until the morning of the January 15. The paper was the first to publish for the world the picture of Sardauna’s house still smouldering in the flames of Nzeogwu.

Meanwhile, the premier of the Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola received a tip from his NNDP ministers in the federal cabinet that after the Commonwealth special meeting, the Prime Minister planned to impose a state of emergency on the Western Region, drop him as an ally and appoint a federal caretaker just as he did in 1962. Market women staging protests against skyrocketing costs of foodstuffs, burnout cars, shot and charred corpses, politicians and civil servants’ houses set on fire, intellectuals’ houses emptied onto the street were weekly occurrences in the West. Ever since the rift between Awolowo the Action Group leader and Akintola his deputy, the Western Region that was an Africans-can-do-it model of governance and jaw-dropping development was turned into a landscape of sorrow, blood and tears. With fund from the public treasury and under the command of Fani-Kayode the deputy premier, Akintola’s well-armed hooligans held the upper hand while AG’s bully-boys sponsored by Dr Michael Okpara and the NCNC leadership were on the defensive. After the elections of 11 October 1965, Akintola used the state broadcasting services to announce false counts while the Okpara-sent Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Service team secretly camped in Awolowo’s house declared the correct results ward by ward. On the night of 15th October, when Akintola was to announce himself the winner, Wole Soyinka, with a generous assistance from his pistol, forced the Western Broadcasting Service to air his own subservice tape asking Akintola to resign and go. Akintola and his supporters went berserk. The police declared Soyinka wanted and he fled to Okpara in the East for temporary refuge until his arrest on 27th October 1965.

TheNews hard copy that is circulating in Nigeria

TheNews hard copy that is circulating in Nigeria

On Thursday, 13th January when Sardauna arrived from Mecca, Akintola flew to Kaduna to meet him to dissuade Abubakar from imposing a state of emergency on the West or replace him with an Administrator. Akintola had recently buried his daughter and staunchest ally Mrs Modele Odunjo who on 26th October died allegedly of overdose of sleeping pills. She was married to Soji Odunjo, who was a staunch enemy of her father and he was also the son of the Alawiye’s Chief J.F. Odunjo whom Akintola also sacked as the Chairman of Western Region Development Corporation for being pro-Awolowo. Akintola had also sent his son, Tokunbo (who died in 1973) faraway to Eton College in England. He had imported the first ever bulletproof car into Nigeria: an £8000 Mercedes Benz. As the 13th Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, he felt unchained and fired up for a total fight. With more men and firepower, he told the Sardauna, he would crush all disturbances from AG’s supporters and their Eastern sponsors. The Sardauna promised to discuss his request with the Prime Minister. Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu, a 27-year-old instructor at the NMTC who was detailed to track Sardauna’s daily movements reported this surprise meeting with Akintola to the Revolution’s high command. From his No 13, Kanta Road residence, Nzeogwu promptly dashed to the Kaduna airport where Sardauna had already gone to see off Akintola. Nzeogwu went to the VIP lounge saluted the Sardauna and wished Akintola safe journey back home convinced that in 48 hours at most, both VIPs would be counted among the dead.

Ahmadu Bello: killed by Nzeogwu during Ramadan

Ahmadu Bello: killed by Nzeogwu during Ramadan

That evening, Nzeogwu went back to the airport to pick up his best friend Major Olusegun Obasanjo the Officer Commanding the Field Engineers who had just finished his course in India and flew in via London. Obasanjo’s deputy Captain Ben Gbuile was supposed to pick him up at the airport but he was busy mobilising for the Revolution. And so he telephoned Nzeogwu who promptly came to the airport. Though they slept together in the same room, Nzeogwu never told him of the death awaiting certain personalities.

The following day, 14th January, Bernard Floud a British MP and director of Granada TV (now ITV) which partly owned the Northern Region Television Station was staying at the plush Hamdala Hotel in Kaduna. He had met with the Sardauna briefly to discuss funding and expansion of the television reach. They were supposed to meet the following day Saturday 15th January to continue the business talk. But there would be no tomorrow.

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below
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  • Mazi Arevalo

    Igbo will go to war, Fulani will send the Hausa and some Middle belt people to war, Yoruba will hide, wait for who wins to serve him. Today, if the Fulani says jump to Yoruba, jumping becomes a done deal. But Yoruba forgets that Fulani will never trust Yoruba, Fulani can only work with Yoruba to the extent of master servant type relationship. To the writer, there is nothing new about what you consider new revelation. Note also that 1967 is not 2016 and a lot has happened in human world.

    • michaelnze

      You are damn right … The third marine commando was hiding. Benjamin adekunle (black scorpion )was hiding. You must be playing some video games stuffs in your imaginations

      • Mazi Arevalo

        Where is he today, have they not used and dumped him. Remember, he regretted every part he played in the war because of the position he found himself after the war. You are right, Adekunle fought hard, even much more than Buhari and Babangida, and like Awolowo, he could never be a president of Nigeria. Give me more Yoruba names and I will tell you which dungeon they are placed by their owners – Fulani. Of recent is the former governor of Lagos, I have forgotten his name. Unless if you choose not to pay attention to the treatment you get from your masters, a problem common with the indentured mindset, I have nothing else to tell you. Remain serving Fulani and causing confusion to the Nigeria state. No nation survives acting in the manner of Yoruba; zero sense of originality, everything is based on copy. Whereas Fulani is too barbaric, some Yoruba people are the real danger facing Nigeria. And as I write, I wish to offer my strong apology to people like Governor Fayose, Femi Fani Kayode and few more brave ones whose characters are best served considered to be people of other nations other than Yoruba. God forbid a people.

        • michaelnze

          If I can infer from your crooked logic, When Zik went into coalition with NPC. Igbos were slave of the FULANIS in 1960. when Ekwueme was a VP , you mean the IGBOS were never slaves to the FULANIS in 1979/83 . Your hatred of other tribes is be-clouding your reasoning. It is now for the very first time the Yorubas join with Fulanis to form government that’s it becomes an abomination. It shows your election loss was simply a pain you cannot bear. Did the IGBOS ever vote for ZIK in the second republic ??? They simply voted for Hausa – Fulani party NPN. This shows you don’t know your history. So you mean they too are slaves to the FULANIS. My friend, your logic is warped and your reasoning is shallow. It seems you don’t know about the THIRD MARINE COMMANDO . Go and read about the nigerian civil war and the formation of the third marine commando then you know that when the Southwest wants to fight, nobody can stop them. The real cowards are the ones that ran away to cotediviore and all the commanders that surrendered alive. Go and ask the Yoruba people, no one leads a war and surrender alive. I don’t know why you hated the Yorubas, have they ever massacred any Igbo group at peaceful time in the history of this country ?? They have been wonderful host to you people in their lands, giving you sways of lands to build your markets. I don’t just understand what warrants this caustic hatred. If anything, the south west has shown that politics is dynamic. They have lived as opposition without hating and insulting any NIGERIAN tribe. My final note- to be in the opposition you don’t have to hate anybody. It’s not a primitive tribal war, it’s democracy. Let’s learn to live in peace with each other rather than fanning the embers of discord. My dream for this country is to have a NIGERIAN president of Igbo extraction. It will never reduce anyone. As long as it is democracy. You can continue to hate as much as you like, but don’t forget the best societies or tribes in the world are the ones that can organize themselves and the ones that prioritized collective interests over individual interests .

          • Edeki Suku

            Honestly we don’t need the presidency of Nigeria,we need Biafra.

          • Ajah Exodus

            They have always been the rebel, double mouthed people who you think support you and yet go behind you to do otherwise. Why do you think God hates those who bear false witness and regards it as an abomination. In a murder case, the killer might just be ignorant of who he is killing but the person who points out the victims whereabout to the killer is the devil himself, the mastermind. Thats where the whole yoruba-Igbo facade comes in. Yorubas have not killed the igbos but have been responsible for their deaths in many ways. Is this not history repeating itself? We have a fulani head, cost of foodstuffs have skyrocketed, protests in the western region, politicians hunted and their houses seized or confiscated,militancy in the south south. I foresee another revolution but this time the south east and south south wont be tagging along with the yorubas. Nzeogu’s best friend was obasanjo, and he betrayed him. Ojukwu’s second in command and foreman was Banjo and he betrayed him which led to take over of Benin by Nigerian soldiers. Even when Soyinka rose against akintola, he ran to Micheal Okpara in the east. The igbo’s have always tried to ally with all tribes in the political sphere but didnt know they were dealing with people without integrity, whose Yes can turn to No.

          • Riot50000

            Yorubas Are The Problem With Nigeria says Sanusi Lamido Sanusi …
            pointblanknewsDOTcom/…/yorubas-are-the-problem-with-nigeria-says-sanusi-lamido-san…
            May 6, 2015 – The Yoruba political leadership, as mentioned by Balarabe Musa, has shown itself over the years to be incapable of rising above narrow tribalI …

          • michaelnze

            In your narrow reasoning and analysis. You will believe your handwriting. You are inferring that all other tribes and nationalities would have lived together in peace if the Yorubas don’t exist in nigeria your position like others of your background shows deep envy of the Yorubas. It’s only bigots and psychopaths who always believe others are the problem and not them. You refused to explain in your own words how the Yorubas have become nigerias problem. You also refused to summarize why lamido and Musa said the same. I’m not a yoruba, but I believe their geographical position continues to give them economic advantage in this country. Unless we practice fiscal federalism , that advantage cannot be removed .in nigeria, every tribe has a unique stereotypical perception of the others. It depends on which one you want to hate or envy most.

          • Riot50000

            YES.
            You are not Yoruba.
            You adopted an Igbo Name to write your none sense while denying being Yoruba, just like your people, the Yorubas adopt Igbo names when you do your international drug runs and 419 so that when you get caught, every one thinks you are Igbo.
            What other names do you go by, nwa Africa, michaelnze, and what.
            The Northerners are no fools.
            They know they can always count on the Yoruba to get whatever they want as long as they get offered Bones from the master’s dining table, DESPITE the fact that ALMOST EVERY PROMINENT YORUBA SON HAD AT ONE TIME OR THE OTHER BEEN VIOLATED BY A NORTHERN TYRANT RULER OF NIGERIA.
            Does the Yoruba Man have self esteem and shame?
            EVIDENCE over the past 50 years say NO!

          • michaelnze

            Mr ethnic jingoist, that shows how much you know Nigeria . So u mean michael is an Igbo name ?? Or u mean IGBOS are the only one with NZE in their names ???is nzebokhoale an Igbo name ?
            You must be enjoying your foolery and poor social education. My friend, who needs an Igbo name. Go and check the prisons in Brazil ,india thailand , holland Philippines etc nobody will tell you, you don’t need one. Good name is better than gold and silver

          • Riot50000

            Yep! Just another “MINORITY” still licking his wounds and still answering to “Mr NOBODY IN HIS FATHER LAND”
            Go away, FOOL!
            IGBOPHOBE

          • Timmy Okybay

            Thank u very much for this sensible comments..u are really a world educated person…

        • Riot50000

          Yorubas Are The Problem With Nigeria says Sanusi Lamido Sanusi …
          pointblanknewsDOTcom/…/yorubas-are-the-problem-with-nigeria-says-sanusi-lamido-san…
          May 6, 2015 – The Yoruba political leadership, as mentioned by Balarabe Musa, has shown itself over the years to be incapable of rising above narrow tribal …

          • George Abejide

            Everyone has an opinion
            The west at a point were voting Zik against their own kinsmen. That is no tribalism. Another glorious opportunity was missed in 1979 when Awo and Zik with parts of the middle west should have teamed up but Zik referred to as the beautiful bride then chose to go with the north.
            Today we have Igbo councilors, commissioner and house of assembly members in the west.
            Nowhere else will you find this in Nigeria, be it north south south or even the south east. Those are facts. Until all of us come together as one and put away primordial sentiments we shall continue to run from pillar to post

  • Ola66

    So this is the sin of the Igbo, interesting ha!

  • Ibro

    All are lies , the stupid Ahmadu bring nigeria into this present mess , may Allah punish him and his generation , usually a greedy person dies stupidly

  • Ibro

    The caption of the book suppose to read British report on why we joined nigeria side due to the fear that the oil region will be going for France

  • Ola66

    And the Fani Kayode junior knew all these?

  • May30th1967

    Well, I did not read where I signed the dotted line for Nzeogwu and Co to kill anyone, or take over the Govt.
    So, why am I marginalized and hated formething I did not do, and most likely would not have condoned?
    I was only a toddler then.
    YORUBA TROUBLE MAKERS WERE THE MAIN REASON WHY THESE YOUNG MEN OVERTHREW THE GOVERNMENT AND PRECIPITATED THE CURRENT ANIMAL FARM CALLED NIGERIA

    • barBeachBoy

      The major issue behind the coup was the open question “who was in control of Nigeria”?
      Here are two pages from Madiebo’s book: The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War that answer the question why the Nigerian Army rose up (not just Nzeogwu and co) to challenge a status quo where a regional administrator was deploying the Nigeria Army without even notifying Army high command. It starts with the paragraph headed by “the height of political manouvering”

    • barBeachBoy

      (2 of 2) from Madiebo

    • George Abejide

      The fact was simply that the west was making ground breaking progress at the time and in the effort to checkmate the rising star a lot of evil was devised and deployed. The Midwest was carved out, some of the judases were set against the western leaders to create chaos. That Nzeogu and co and exterminated the leaders of the north and the west while the eastern leaders miraculously escaped death was what led to the vengeful counter coup. How then can it be suggested that Yorubas caused nigeria’s or Igbo’s travails.

  • ola

    Coward and ethnic bigot revolutionaries

  • Ms. Thenjiwe Obong

    what an eye opener? very interesting story.

  • Ajah Exodus

    I like this story cos the revolutionalists were in their twenties and their decisions mattered and were felt. Present day politicians should take note. History has a way of repeating itself.

    • barBeachBoy

      It makes for entertaining reading, the only trouble was that “the revolutionaries” were being “teleguided”; “NNA Plan To Wallop The West” written by Ademoyega “why we struck” (1 of 2)

      • Ajah Exodus

        Hmmm interesting …. thats true!!… Thanks, I’ll look for the book

    • barBeachBoy

      (2 of 2) NNA plan to wallop the west, quoted from a book written by one of the participants Wale Ademoyega

  • barBeachBoy

    At the time Kano was the international airport; if Ben was to have picked him up in Kaduna, who was supposed to have picked him up in Kano. The return to Nigeria as quoted by OBJ himself in the book he authored called “Nzeogwu”

  • Abiola Oludele

    Esterners are behind the Nigeria woes in all ramifications, leave the solders alone, if their Leaders Zik and Eastern Premier had not sponsored the Operation Weti e, I do’t think we will be here today!

    • Ajah Exodus

      Young man read ur history well, There was chaos in the west, the yorubas were very much against themselves. ok what will u say of Akintola rigging election and annoucing fake results and then Wole soyinka going on air to publish the real results and the ran to seek asylum in his friends place Michael Okpara in Abia state. Not long Akintola and conglomerates caught up with him and arrested him. many examples my man…. a lot happened. people like Nzeogu took actions according to their opinions when they say that the elites were behind the troubles in country especially in the west because that was the centre of development in the whole Africa.

    • Riot50000

      EMIR OF KANO BEGS TO DISAGREE, AND HE’S MORE IN TUNE WITH NIGERIA THAN A STUPID FOOL LIKE YOU.

      DOThttp://pointblanknewsDOTcom/pbn/exclusive/yorubas-are-the-problem-with-nigeria-says-sanusi-lamido-sanusi/

      The Yoruba political leadership, as mentioned by Balarabe Musa, has shown itself over the years to be incapable of rising above narrow tribal interests and reciprocating goodwill from other sections of the country by treating other groups with respect. Practically every crisis in Nigeria since independence has its roots in this attitude.
      The Yoruba elite and area-boy politics;
      Igbo marginalisation and the responsible limits of retribution; and
      The Yoruba Factor and “Area-boy” Politics.
      My views on the Yoruba political leadership have been thoroughly articulated in some of my writings, prime among which was ” Afenifere: Syllabus of Errors” published by This Day (The Sunday Newspaper) on Sept 27, 1998. There was also an earlier publication in the weekly Trust entitled ” The Igbo, the Yoruba and History” (Aug. 21, 1998).

      In sum, the Yoruba political leadership, as mentioned by Balarabe Musa, has shown itself over the years to be incapable of rising above narrow tribal interests and reciprocating goodwill from other sections of the country by treating other groups with respect. Practically every crisis in Nigeria since independence has its roots in this attitude.

      The Yoruba elite were the first, in 1962, to attempt a violent overthrow of an elected government in this country. In 1966, it was the violence in the West which provided an avenue for the putsch of 15th January. After Chief Awolowo lost to Shagari in 1983 elections, it was the discontent and bad publicity in the South-West which led to the Buhari intervention.

    • Pappy

      Easterners are not behind Nigeria’s woes, Nigeria’s problems are caused by the entire regions of Nigeria. Ask yourself who created conditions for the soldiers to act, Nigeria was still headed for a dangerous civil war with or without the actions of the 1966 majors.

  • Ositadinma Egeonu

    Sidelining OBJ from the coup…well done?

    • George Abejide

      The one sidelined eventually became the one who received the instrument of surrender. Just imagine the stone which the builders rejected eventually rose to become the chief cornerstone

  • Blunt Arrow

    This is certainly different from any thing I have read concerning the 1966 coup.

  • Blood really flowed that night and Nigeria has never remained the same.

  • Battleaxe

    Hard men of those days in their 20s

  • Riot50000

    Yorubas Are The Problem With Nigeria says Sanusi Lamido Sanusi …
    pointblanknewsDOTcom/…/yorubas-are-the-problem-with-nigeria-says-sanusi-lamido-san…
    May 6, 2015 – Yorubas Are The Problem With Nigeria says Sanusi Lamido Sanusi …. Mobile-friendly – CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to the National .

  • Riot50000

    https://wwwDOTyoutubeDOTcom/watch?v=_WSosECbcmM

    SUMMARY OF HATRED FOR IGBO MAN

  • Riot50000

    Yorubas Are The Problem With Nigeria says Sanusi Lamido Sanusi …
    pointblanknewsDOTcom/…/yorubas-are-the-problem-with-nigeria-says-sanusi-lamido-san…
    May 6, 2015 – Yorubas Are The Problem With Nigeria says Sanusi Lamido Sanusi …. Mobile-friendly – CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to the National .