Nigeria’s first coup, Biafra: British Secret files (Part Two)

Jun 19 2016 - 5:22am

Damola Awoyokun offers  the second and third part of his revealing fresh narrative on Nigeria’s first coup on 15 January 1966, using hitherto secret British diplomatic and intelligence files. This sequel tells how Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu held sway as military governor of Northern Nigeria for several days, how Yakubu Gowon in Lagos and David Ejoor in Enugu crushed the mutiny inspired by Emmanuel Ifeajuna and majorly ethnic Igbo military officers,  the days of national confusion  and political crisis  before the emergence of General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi as Nigeria’s military head of state. The writer provides some other troubling additional insight: the pollution of  national values very early in Nigeria’s march to nationhood, by political leaders, who preferred to whitewash confirmed, convicted  crooks and fraudsters, using the specious paint of politics 

Nzeogwu: Led soldiers to kill Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna

Nzeogwu: Led soldiers to kill Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna


The Counter Attack
Lagos – Gowon

The soldier who nipped the coup in the bud and ensured it failed miserably was Gowon. Lt Col Yakubu ‘Jack’ Gowon left the shores of the country on May 1965. He was then Adjutant General at the Army HQ. Because of his distinguished performance in Congo Peacekeeping mission, he was asked to attend the elite Joint Services Course at Latima House, Buckinghamshire, UK. The course was designed for lieutenant colonels on how to plan and execute tri-service operations. While the course was drawing to an end, the Army HQ told him that he was coming home to become the commander of the 2nd battalion, in Ikeja Lagos. His ship docked at Apapa Wharf, Lagos, on the morning of Thursday, 13th January 1966 and Lieutenant T. Hamman, a brigade staff officer was sent by Ifeajuna, to pick him up. (Gowon and Ifeajuna were both 31 years old.)

Gowon’s heartthrob, Edith Ike was there to welcome him too dressed for the occasion. Jack did not inform her of his arrival date but her network within the Army HQ kept her alerted and ensured she was neither surprised nor outmanoeuvred by fast-eyed competitors whose rears were so shapely and soft as if Lagos lagoon was stored in their back pockets. Lt Colonel Hillary Njoku the erstwhile commander of the 2nd battalion had been reassigned to the NMTC in Kaduna. He was slated to vacate his residence on January 16. Ifeajuna then offered Gowon a reservation at the posh Ikoyi Hotel pending the time Njoku left. Gowon then went to see Lt Colonel Pam at No 8 Ikoyi Crescent Ikoyi whereas Adjutant General, Gowon used to live before he went on course in England. He wanted to stay with him for some few days and catch up what he had missed about the army and the country. Pam’s twins Ishaku and Ishaya and the girls Jummai and Kaneng rejoiced “Uncle Jack!! Welcome Uncle Jack!!” when they saw Gowon filling up their doorway. Pam and Gowon were both on the Editorial Board of the influential army journal, The Nigerian Magazine. They were also both from Middle-Belt region though Gowon was Anagas and Pam was Birom. Pam was the first officer in the Army from the Middle Belt. Pam advised Gowon that since he would soon take over from 2nd battalion, he should rather be close to Ikeja not be in Ikoyi. Had Gowon accepted Ifeajuna’s Ikoyi Hotel reservation, he would have ended up like Abogo Largema. Had he stayed with Pam, he would have been slayed like Pam.

Yakubu: He made sure the coup failed miserably.

Yakubu: He made sure the coup failed miserably.

On Friday, the morning of 14th January, Gowon went to the brigade headquarters in Apapa to see Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari the head of the brigade under whose formation he was would serve. Largema, the CO of 4th Battalion in Ibadan was there too attending the Brigade Training Conference. Major M.O. Nzefili, Largema’s second in command called in from Ibadan that the Western Region’s police commissioner, Chief Odofin Bello came to the barracks to request a detachment for some IS operations. It was Maimalari who later called Nzefili back. He told him to tell the commissioner to place his request via Army HQ. Maimalari’s intention with the cost implications. He had argued that his brigade’s men, arms and ammunition, his supply and transport were being used to provide internal security for the West’s political crisis hence his brigade deserved more appropriations.

Maimalari had also circulated a signal signed by Ironsi that certain unnamed officers backed up by politicians were planning to cause trouble. He asked his commanders to tighten security when they get back to their units and to warn all their subordinates against disloyal acts. The influencing politicians he was referring to was notably Mbazulike Amaechi an MP and NCNC’s publicity secretary, RN Okafor an MP who was on that day appointed the minister of state for trade, and Paul Nwokedi. They had befriended Donatus Okafor the CO of Federal Guards and was always seen most evenings going to Okafor’s residence in the evenings to lecture him about Revolution, Armed Struggle, Current Affairs and the need for a conscious Army. Ademulegun too had cause to report Nzeogwu to first his boss Col Shodeinde and then to the Army HQ in Lagos which supervised the NMTC. Captain Udowoid complained to Ademulegun through a letter that Nzeogwu’s lectures had become extended sermons of political bitterness that had little to do with military training. Ademulegun in his report wrote that Nzeogwu was “a young man in a hurry that needed to be watched.” Ironsi and Maimalari never envisaged that the human intelligence they received had a false estimate of the scale of what was being planned. It was not just some mere disturbance but a full-fledged treasonable mutiny that would take the army leadership down with it.

Maimalari then officially welcomed Gowon to the Brigade and told him of the cocktail party at his residence that night. Ironsi was there too and being the special guest of honour, he told Gowon he had to be there. Gowon politely declined saying his sweetheart who came to welcome him had to be taken back safely to University College Ibadan. She was in the middle of her exams. But Ironsi did not accept the excuse. He told Gowon:
‘Edith Ike? We know her. Bring her to the party. That’s an order.’

Ironsi was a member of her network. They laughed and Gowon consented. After the cocktail party, Jack and Edith later left for Ikeja Cantonment as Pam had advised and they had to make do with a makeshift room to spark magic from a cold starless night and explode bam, bam like fireworks.

Commotion rose. It was around five in the morning. Army vehicles zoomed back and forth and soldiers in different degrees of undress were running in haphazard directions. Gowon sprang from bed to the window and could make out Captain Martin Adamu from the chaos. As the adjutant and the chief of staff of the outgoing commander, Adamu was in charge of all the organisation, administration and discipline for a battalion. He told Gowon that the GOC came to inform them there was some disturbance in Lagos in the order of a coup; the bugle had been sounded and every soldier was ordered to report to their company. Gowon too left the cantonment for the battalion HQ. There he found the GOC and Njoku huddled over a map, jotting down some information and sipping tea. There were captains, company commanders and the battalion hierarchy already present. The GOC then told him there were some unknown soldiers ‘creating trouble in Lagos.’ He and Njoku had just dispatched a platoon on a fact-finding mission. Gowon was shocked that he was not specifically sent for as the incoming commander of the battalion. What he did not know was that Ironsi did not send for Njoku too. He went straight to the RSM’s office and asked a sentry to go and fetch him. It was Njoku who moved the meeting to the conference room the battalion headquarters from the RSM’s office. Gowon then started having doubts. He asked if they had contacted the brigadier and other senior officers down in Lagos. The answer was negative.

Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe: Leaked Ojukwu’s coup idea to Peter Enahoro published in the Sunday Times of 2nd of June 1968 when he (Azikiwe) had fallen out with Ojukwu during the Biafra war

Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe: Leaked Ojukwu’s coup idea to Peter Enahoro published in the Sunday Times of 2nd of June 1968 when he (Azikiwe) had fallen out with Ojukwu during the Biafra war

Had the night being normal, as the General Officer Commanding, the first person Ironsi supposed to contact for action was Brigadier Maimalari who would then mobilise the Federal Guards, the combat force immediately accessible to him in Lagos. That was why Maimalari was running to the Federal Guards. Should more infantry reinforcement be needed, the next unit to draw from would be 2nd battalion in Ikeja then 4th battalion in Ibadan. And if mechanised and artillery support were needed to augment combat power, 2nd Field Battery and 2nd Recce Squadron in Abeokuta would be mobilised. The battle order and operations procedure was that clear and basic. But the night was not normal and the GOC was a certified mediocre. According to the British intelligence assessment report, Ironsi was “a notorious profligate and twenty years of British Army records show him up militarily as a consistent flop.” Only Ironsi would reach a battalion in a time of action and order for the RSM when there were 460 officers between him and the RSM. The history of Nigeria would have been very different had Maimalari refused to solicit lift from Ifeajuna and reached the Federal Guards by himself. He was already less than 100m away.

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below
  • Donnie williams

    I understand the feelings and notion that it had the bearings of an Igbo coup. However, you have failed to dwell on the crisis in the western region as a big part of the trigger that even made the soldier boys want to take over. CAUSE AND EFFECT brother

    • David

      The remedy did not fit the injury, which was merely an excuse for the stratagem.

      • Musa Efuna

        The Revolution was very popular along the length and breadth of the country. It was hailed as freedom from bad luck: “the end of corrupt regime.” Daily Times the leading newspaper in the country led the chorus: it called Nigeria since 1960 a sick bay: “Something just had to be done to save the Federation. Something has been done. It is like a surgical operation which must be performed or the patient dies. The operation has been performed. It has proved successful. And it is welcome.” The National Union of Nigerian Students welcomed the coup. All the trade unions issued statements supporting the Revolution

      • Musa Efuna

        My question is WHY WAS THE COUP VERY POPULAR ALONG THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF THE COUNTRY. WHY WAS IT HAILED AS FREEDOM FROM BAD LUCK according the author’s account in the portion of text I quoted?

  • Raphael

    I
    have gone through many literature to know that there was nothing like
    Igbo Coup, the Euro-America use Igbo as patsy for their aspiration to
    come back and control Nigeria. The coup plotters are not only Igbos, why
    are they calling it Igbo Coup. The indices of Coup was on ground in the
    Country, such as the Census crises in the North and Political crises in
    the West. Now, the inability of the FG to control the situations was
    the one the reason why they struck.

    We are familiar with covet operations of early 1950s dirty jobs of CIA,
    MI5/MI6, KGB, MOSSAD etc in setting war across the globe. An example is
    the Guatemala Coup that remove Jacob Carlos Arbenz. The same happen in
    Congo to the removal, Patrice Lumumba,
    one of the most patriotic citizen in the history of man. Still Belgian
    government and CIA backed up coup that killed him. Have we forgotten
    how US backed up coup that killed Quaddafi of Libya? Nobody should tell
    me that Igbos plotted the coup. The list of the plotters is here for
    judgement.
    1. Major Chukwuma Kaduna
    Nzeogwu(Delta Igbo)
    2. Major Adewale Ademoyega
    (Yoruba) author of “Why we
    struck”
    3. Capt. G. Adeleke(Yoruba) 4. Maj. Ifeajuna(Igbo)
    5. Lt. Fola Oyewole(Yoruba)
    author of “The reluctant rebel”
    6. Lt. R. Egbiko(Esean)
    7. Lt. Tijani Katsina(Hausa/
    Fulani)

    8. Lt. O. Olafemiyan(Yoruba)
    9. Capt. Gibson Jalo(Bali)
    10. Capt. Swanton(Middle Belt)
    11. Lt. Hope Harris Eghagha
    (Urhobo)
    12.
    Lt. Dag Warribor(Ijaw)
    13. 2nd Lt. Saleh Dambo(Hausa)
    14. 2nd Lt. John Atom Kpera
    (Tiv).

    People should read books not
    written by Nigerians and not directly related to Nigeria. I have read
    two books that can help us understand the nature of civil war. The books
    are 1. The Puppet Masters: Spies,
    Traitors and the Real Forces Behind World Events by Col. John
    Hughes-Wilson (Rtd)
    2. The Secret
    History of Assassination: The Killers and their Paymasters Revealed By
    Richard Belfied

    • Damian

      Oga, the shit here is that military has totally no business with government! We all know what Ironsi brought to table when he assumed power, trying to enforce a unitary system of government in a state as heterogeneous as Nigeria. Nigeria as one remains a threat to the US, left for the US other countries are to be shredded into smaller pieces while they act as a big brother, exploiting and controlling the entire world!

  • GodwinA

    The bias is written all over this account.

    Lying liars

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