Frustrated, Ifeajuna fled to see Okigbo in Ibadan and then Ghana to see Brigadier Hasan Ghana’s Director of Military Intelligence and Lt Col David Zanlerigu, commander of Nkrumah’s Soviet-trained-and-equipped presidential bodyguards. (He was Ghana’s equivalent to Major Donatus Okafor, Commander of Federal Guards). Ifeajuna was intent on raising a specialised expeditionary force of 100 troops to finish the job while Okafor remained in the East until his arrest by Ojukwu two weeks later and subsequently transferred to Kirikiri. Ifeajuna’s decision to go to Ghana was grotesque and enigmatic just as his decision to come over to Enugu without informing Anuforo and Ademoyega. It must not be ruled out that Ifeajuna was already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder so his sanity was no longer steady. For instance, from January 14 – 18, he did not sleep at all. Even before that, being the chief engineer of the Revolution, he worked harder than anyone plotting the moves, recruiting and mobilising resources, planning cocktail, organising brigade conference and other cover-ups, yet still fulfilling his duties as Maimalari’s chief of staff to give the appearance that nothing unusual was going on. The accumulated stress must have prevented him from being normal and ensured he continued to make relentlessly irrational decisions.
Ifeajuna could have gone to team up with Nzeogwu in Kaduna where the Revolution was fruitful; he would not only have had a battalion to himself but the whole 1st Brigade which was the most powerful in the Army. But he and Nzeogwu had diverging egoistic agendas. The master plan was:
- Phase 1: kill all senior military officers, abduct the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and the regional premiers;
- Phase 2: the abducted would be forced to willingly sign and transfer power to the new highest ruling body in the country, Supreme Military Revolutionary Council which would then unite all the four regions under its dictatorship. Make a national broadcast to this effect and suspend the Parliament.
- Phase 3: Free Obafemi Awolowo who had been unjustly stored in jail; manufacture their long-awaited Revolutionary Prime Minister out of him. Their ally S.G. Ikoku was there to persuade him if he disagreed.
But Nzeogwu went on air with a pre-recorded broadcast announcing his takeover of the Northern government and listed the public offences punishable by death (corruption, peddling rumours, homosexuality, etc). He appointed as the new Head of Government, Sardauna’s secretary Ali Akilu who he had earlier regarded as the face of corruption and almost shot had he not fled to the residence of a British diplomat seeking asylum. Nzeogwu made all other appointments while his Southern brethren were in disarray looking for strength and direction. The unbridled clash of egos compelled Ifeajuna to disdain seeking support from Nzeogwu whom he thought was flawed and blindsided by the zeal for glory. Ifeajuna absurdly chose to go to Ghana for help. Spending a day in Dahomey, he was picked up by David Zanlerigu and SG Ikoku one of Awolowo’s henchmen after being driven there by Okigbo dressed as a young and stressed lady. He quickly sat down to write a book as a ferocious critique of Nzeogwu who had gone on air and into the limelight to claim leadership of the North and the Revolution. (Achebe ignorant of the context later described the manuscript as self-serving; he did not know it was written against the self-almightyfication of Nzeogwu who was claiming what was not his. Only an ego roar could achieve that ferocious critique). The coup plotters wanted to manage Nigeria better than the politicians; they could not even manage themselves first.
Joan Mellors, a British expatriate in Eastern Region’s Ministry of Town Planning under Chief Nwoga had been living in Nigeria for five years. She summed up the people’s reaction at the university town of Nsukka in a report to the British Deputy High Commission Enugu:
“The reaction of the people was remarkable – without exception all with whom I spoke made comments that could be summarised in ‘Let us pray that they [coup plotters] have the strength and organisation to carry through what they had begun – something like this was bound to happen for things could not go on as they have been doing.’ The [Nzeogwu’s] broadcast from Kaduna radio, giving the reasons for the “mutiny” was hailed for all fortunate to hear it, and when after the broadcast, the National Anthem was played, lecturers at the University of Nigeria [Nsukka] confessed to me that was the first time they had stood for their Anthem because that was the first time it meant anything to them. Now they began to think, it might be possible to work for ONE Nigeria free of corruption, nepotism, tribalism and bribery – now maybe qualifications for jobs would be based on ability and not one’s place of origin and relationships.”
Nigeria was a mounting mess seeking a ceiling; it was overheating and in dire need of sorting out. What the coup plotters did not foresee was that by using the agency of selective murders to actualise their lofty ambition, they polluted their own vision and inevitably set the scene for the wide scale massacres to come.
In the morning of 15th January, Nzeogwu summoned media executives to his new office which still had Brigadier Ademulegun’s possession to co-opt them into his Revolution. According to the description given by Bernard Floud the British MP who was supposed to honour his appointment with the old Sardauna that morning but was then summoned to meet a new Sardauna, Nzeogwu was “very young, calm and polite to him, the KTV station manager, the Nigerian news editor and another British expatriate engineer.” Nzeogwu only told them that their daily programming should continue as normal provided that a statement which he had taped should be broadcast before 1pm that day and regularly thereafter. Just that? Thank you and they left.
The tape began to spool at 1135am and Nzeogwu appeared in many people’s sitting rooms and emerged from several other radios. Poet Okigbo who was one of the enablers of the Revolution jubilated with his Ibadan intellectual circle at Risikatu restaurant when they heard:
“In the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I declare martial law over the Northern Provinces of Nigeria. The Constitution is suspended and the regional government and elected assemblies are hereby dissolved. All political, cultural, tribal and trade union activities, together with all demonstrations and unauthorized gatherings, excluding religious worship, are banned until further notice.”
He then issued the ‘Extraordinary Orders of the Day’: “You are hereby warned that looting, arson, homosexuality, rape, embezzlement, bribery or corruption, obstruction of the revolution, sabotage, subversion, false alarms and assistance to foreign invaders, are all offences punishable by death sentence. …Illegal possession or carrying of firearms, smuggling or trying to escape with documents, valuables, including money or other assets vital to the running of any establishment will be punished by death sentence… Demonstrations and unauthorized assembly, non-cooperation with revolutionary troops are punishable in grave manner up to death… Doubtful loyalty will be penalized by imprisonment or any more severe sentence… Refusal or neglect to perform normal duties or any task that may of necessity be ordered by local military commanders in support of the change will be punishable by a sentence imposed by the local military commander… Tearing down an order of the day or proclamation or other authorized notices will be penalized by death… Spying, harmful or injurious publications, and broadcasts of troop movements or actions, will be punished by any suitable sentence deemed fit by the local military commander….
Nigerians wanted change. They got one. But they didn’t know the kind of change it was. But it was still change so they welcomed it. Floud, the British MP noticed that the BBC which Radio Kaduna had been retransmitting was describing Nzeogwu and his coup plotters as “rebels.” He then asked the news editor and the station manager to consult with the Brigade Headquarters as to the suitability of this description. Nzeogwu again thanked them for bringing this to his notice. He told them to discontinue forthwith with BBC’s mischaracterisation and retransmission. It was sabotage, subversion, obstruction of the Revolution hence punishable by death.
It was a fact: military rule had arrived.
The Cabinet’s Takeover
At the very time Ifeajuna shot his boss Maimalari, Shehu Shagari, a devout Muslim who later became president of Nigeria woke up at his Bourdillon Road residence at the other side of Ikoyi to eat his predawn meals and say his prayers as the Ramadan period required. When he was the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, it was he whom Sardauna tasked with housing over 200 hooligans in the legislative quarters- that was the block of flats meant for the nation’s lawmakers. The hooligans who were on the ruling party’s(NPC) payroll were meant to protect Northern politicians (’Yan Carter Bridge- Sardauna’s name for them) from Western thugs who depending on the political temperature of the debates in the parliament made it a sport to attack the Northern politicians as they commute on trains from Lagos back to the North. Under the leadership of John Lynn the colonial police officer turned British expatriate head of CID, Alagbon, the police in conjunction with the Federal Guards swooped on the hooligans. The operation in the Army’s Nigerian Magazine was called The Arms Swoop. According to Shagari in his straight-faced memoir Beckoned to Serve, it was his responsibility even as the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister to go and bail the hooligans. That mass arrest prompted many NPC legislators to hasten to Shagari’s residence to deposit their arms and ammunition for safe keeping pending the time John Lynn stopped sniffing around. And oh there was a mountain of weapons: guns, ammo, knives, swords, daggers, bow and arrows, cleavers, hatchets. “A ministerial dwelling had become an arms depot!” Shagari observed.
That morning of the Revolution, when Ahmadu Kurfi, the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence alerted him that the Prime Minister had been abducted under gunpoint by unknown soldiers, Shagari said: “my immediate reaction was to telephone the Sardauna in Kaduna but the telephone was dead.” Such was the power of Sardauna’s political machinery that the PM’s Cabinet colleague’s immediate reaction was not to call the police or other security forces when his boss was missing but to call the Sardauna instead. Like many politicians, civil servants and diplomats who lived in Ikoyi, they heard sporadic gunfire, but they conflated them with the noise of the Tiv dancers at Maimalari’s party that rent the air hours earlier. Therefore, as the destiny of the country was violently changing, they were at peace, sleeping.