Sunday, June 12, 2016 3:01 pm
When he saw some headlights turning in from Kingsway Road, he ducked into the shrubs again thinking it might be Okafor and his men. Instead, he recognised the red Mercedes Benz and his famous brigade major. It was not immediately clear to Maimalari that Ifeajuna was no longer in mufti but in combat uniform. Instead, Maimalari saw Ifeajuna as his hope and dashed for him. Ifeajuna slammed the brakes, stepped out with his SMG and sprayed his boss. In 1965, according to the outgoing British GOC, Major General Welby-Everard, Maimalari was brilliant but too young that was why he was excluded from the list of his possible replacement. When Maimalari’s killers lifted his body into the Land Rover, its spring sank. Maimalari was born in a little town called Maimalari in Borno Province on 2nd of January 1932. He attended Officer Cadet School, Eaton Hall in England from January – May 1951; attended Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst from August 1951 – February 1953; attended Staff College, Quetta, Pakistan from January –December 1961. He spoke five languages (English, Fulfulde, Hausa, Arabic, and Kanuri). He enlisted in the army on 10th of July 1950 and on 5th February 1953, he became the 6th Nigerian commissioned into the army after Ugboma, Bassey, Ironsi, Ademulegun and Ogundipe in that order. Maimalari was survived by his parents, a teenage wife and three children.
When Ifeajuna arrived at the Mess which also doubled as the senior officer’s mortuary, Anuforo and Chukwuka had returned with Pam’s corpse. Major Adewale Ademoyega too had finished his assignment of placing rebel troops at NET building, Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), and disabling the telephone infrastructure. The fifth Major unaccounted for was Donatus Okafor who was still searching for Maimalari. Ademoyega and Captain Adeleke then jumped into the Land Rover driven by Lance corporal Omeru and off they sped to Maimalari’s residence to inform Okafor that the Brigadier had become a stiff corpse at the Mess. The night was eventually going on as planned. It was around four o’clock. The rebels were already feeling the triumph of flying to the highest skies where stories transformed into glories. This was the time Ahmed Kurfi Secretary of State in Ministry of Defence went to inform Shehu Shagari the Minister of Works that some soldiers had vanished with the Prime Minister.
Then a comedy of errors took off that grounded the rebels and enhanced the failure of the Revolution. The general alarm in the Federal Guards barracks next door had been sounded. They had been disturbed by vehicle and troops movements up and down the barracks. Two batches of NCOs had been turned out for alleged IS operations and some gunshots were heard in the proximity of the barracks. All soldiers were ordered by the head of NCOs, RSM Samuel Tayo to gear up and proceed to their various platoons. But according to military standard operating procedure, being NCOs, they needed an officer to give them commands. So the RSM led a platoon to their Officer Commanding’s(OC) residence at No 5 George Street, Ikoyi. But Okafor was not in. He was five streets away at Thompson Avenue searching for the Maimalari. Then they headed to knock on Lt Ezedigbo – the second in command’s door at the block of flats at No 4 Lugard Avenue. He was not in too. He was part of the Revolution. So was the next in line Lt Igweze. Of all the five Federal Guard’s officers, only a very junior officer Lt Paul Tarfa was at home. Lt Joseph Osuma was not in too. He was not part of the assassins though; he had only gone out to sleep with a friend following Friday night’s festivities. If Tarfa later turned out to be somebody in his military career, it was because on that night of nights, he was present at home when the RSM arrived flustered looking for leadership. There had never been mutiny in the barracks before and so no one knew the standard procedural response.
According to his later account, Tarfa said he geared up in battle dress and was driven to the Federal Guards by the RSM’s convoy to take command. He was briefed on the situation and was told that most of the Igbo soldiers in the barracks could not be accounted for including the OC. Tarfa put the Federal Guards on a defensive alert like a cobra coiled to spring. He ordered sentries and machine guns emplaced on sandbag to be posted round the barracks walls. They made up and circulated a call out with its password “Black/Boy” so that dissent soldiers who were still coming in and out of the barracks could be identified and rounded up. Corporal Sarwuan, a Tiv rifleman became the victim of this coiled cobra. Seeing a soldier coming in from the dark, RSM Tayo challenged,
‘Halt. Who goes there?’
‘Friend.’ Sarwuan was said to have replied.
‘Advance to be recognised.’ Tayo ordered and called out “Black.”
But Sarwuan did not respond and continued to advance. Tayo called out again, “Black.” No response. The RSM’s finger twitched in the trigger guard and his heart beat faster and faster. Tayo for the third and last time called out “Black.” But Sarwuan kept advancing without replying. He had forgotten the password and Tayo concluded he was an enemy. He squeezed the trigger plunging Sarwuan’s wife and children into sadness of incomprehensive depths. Major Adegoke, who took over from Ifeajuna as the DA and QMG at 1st Brigade in Kaduna was similarly killed in 4th battalion in Ibadan having been mistaken for a mutineer/enemy. He was holidaying in his native home when he heard about the coup; he hastened to the barracks for more information only to be handed his death. Black/Boy. His Boy did not follow Black and Adegoke met his death.
That night, Tarfa who had assumed the command of the Federal Guards went to the OC’s office adjacent to his. In a file in the cabinet, he saw planning documents, operations orders and a recent signal note from Nzeogwu which read: “Ensure the Tiger is in the net. Even if recruiting more captains.” The tiger he later understood was Maimalari; the net was his death. The extra captain they managed to recruit was Adeleke who only knew of the plot hours earlier at the Apapa residence of Ifeajuna after being brought by Major Ademoyega before some departed for the cocktail. Adeleke at first refused and was told that if the Revolution to free Nigeria started and he was not with it, he would regret it maybe not that day, maybe not the following day, but soon, and for the rest of his life. He fell in enthusiastically. At around quarter past four, Adeleke was with Ademoyega at the Officers Mess when Okafor came to report that he had just lost his command; that the Federal Guards were no longer responding to his orders, that in fact they almost shot him when he went back to the barracks to mobilise more troops. The only infantry force on which much had hinged and much of the second stage would hinge was no longer with the Revolution. What had happened?
When Okafor’s lieutenants roused the NCOs for the assignment, they were told they were needed for an IS operation. They were expecting to be taken outside Lagos to crush one of the hotspot of the Western Region’s crisis or to Mushin to quell a riot as they had done three weeks before. Instead they were taken to Brigadier Maimalari’s residence and they saw his guard commander and another soldier shot dead. The guard commander was known to them. They lived in the same quarters at the barracks. They had started to doubt whether they were truly on IS operation. Again, they were ordered not give the Brigadier a chance to surrender; they were ordered to shoot him dead on sight by Okafor, a disgraced thief and a liar pardoned by the same Maimalari they were asked to kill. They concluded that this was not an IS operation; this was an assassination squad they were forced to join. The final straw came when Ademoyega arrived to tell them that Maimalari had been found and shot by Ifeajuna. His corpse laid at the Mess. It was a terrible blow to the NCOs. Okafor was relieved to hear the news and ordered his second in command Captain Oji with four NCOs to proceed to check the situation at Airport Junction in Ikeja. The remaining men were ordered to proceed to Mess for further instruction. Instead, they rebelled, passed the Mess to the barracks and threatened to shoot Okafor if he tried to give them orders anymore. It was righteous mutiny within an unholy mutiny.
According to the testimony Ifeajuna later gave after his arrest a month later, he saw the GOC’s official car and his guards driving past the entrance of the barracks. This made them conclude that it was the GOC that had roused the soldiers and placed the barracks on a defensive alert. As envisaged, the Revolution was not meant to be a one-night stand. They had anticipated that at one point, soldiers still loyal to the Nigerian Army would wake up and fight them. That was why in the first place they decided to kill off all the senior officers that will command the loyal troops. In addition, that was also why immediately Nzeogwu finished off Sarduana up North, he went to take over Brigadier Ademulegun’s office at the Brigade. Knowing that the Brigadier or his deputy would not come back, the revolutionaries had expected that the shock of seeing all the senior officers dead was enough to sag the morale of the loyal soldiers to fight back. Furthermore, Ifeajuna had planned for a further arms advantage: The firepower of the Southern brigade was in Abeokuta with the 2nd Recce Squadron and the field artillery battery. Their officer commanding, Major Obienu was a central plank of the Revolution. He was supposed to mobilise his armoured, mechanised and artillery support: all the ferrets, the scot cars, 105mm Howitzers and assemble at the airport junction in Ikeja. A unit from the Revolution high command set up at the Federal Guards Mess was supposed to go to Ikeja bring this armoured squadron into Lagos and position them menacingly in front of the barracks and other military installations to neutralise any threat to the Revolution.
But with the presence of the GOC and his perceived rousing of troops against them, Federal Guards Mess was no longer the place to set up the Revolution High command. They had to hasten up connect with Obienu’s unit and quickly establish their firepower supremacy. All the 9 corpses were quickly loaded into the 3 tonner including the Minister of Finance who was still alive and scared to death. They left in a convoy of 6 vehicles: two army Land Rovers, Okafor’s private Peugeot 403, Ifeajuna’s Red Mercedes Benz, Anuforo’s private car and the 3 Tonner.
Unfortunately for their Revolution, Obienu overdrank at Maimalari’s cocktail party. Instead of attending the briefing at Ifeajuna’s house or proceeding straight to Abeokuta as expected, Major John Obienu branched at Shomolu to taste his mistress and became glued to a cleavage of extraordinary amplitude. He lacked the strength to get up as his name was melodiously chanted with Gregorian devotion. The Revolution to save Nigeria and do better than the politicians began to fall apart piece by piece.
The 4th battalion in Ibadan was the oldest and the second biggest batallion in Nigeria. It had 26 officers and 829 NCOs. During the centenary celebrations at Mapo Hall in Ibadan in June 1963, the Olubadan of Ibadan, Sir Isaac Akinyele conferred on the battalion Freedom of Ibadan City and handed it the Key of Ibadan City. More than anywhere in Nigeria, Ibadan was historically a war-crazy city. At midnight just before his pre-battle rousing plan, to the other four Majors, Ifeajuna telephoned Captain Nwobosi, the officer commanding the Field Artillery Battery in Abeokuta. He issued the all-clear message and ordered Nwobosi and his unit to proceed to Ibadan 90km away and achieve the Revolution’s objectives there. Had the Revolution succeeded, Captain Nwobosi would have been the most rewarded.
Solving the bloodbath of the Western Region was one of the reasons they had plotted the Revolution in the first place. But up till two days before the planned date, they had no officer to actualise the operations in Ibadan, the Western Region’s capital. Nwobosi was recruited on January 12 when he came to Apapa for the Ifeajuna-organised Brigade Training Conference. Ifeajuna tried to recruit Madiebo over lunch on the same day, but Madiebo started preaching about failure being an option and tribal loyalties being stronger than national ambition among the revolutionaries. Ifeajuna had to cut him out and relied on Nwobosi who did not even know places in Ibadan very well. The 4th battalion in Eleyele which they had initially planned to use was just 10 minutes’ drive away from the Premier’s Lodge. Their commander Lt Col Abogo Largema like other battalion commanders was already earmarked for the end at Ikoyi Hotel. That would give his second in command Major Mac Nzefili a safe space to take over the command. Like all the seconds in command of all battalions in the Nigerian Army, Nzefili was Igbo. Up to the last minute, Ifeajuna harboured no doubt that he would come on board for the Revolution. He spent all of December travelling to his residence in Ibadan to discuss operational and tactical requirements but he only met his wife at home; he was always away on assignment. Also Nzefili as the British records disclosed was awaiting court-martial for getting drunk, wondering into the female quarters of the police barracks, resisting arrest and biting the ear of the arresting police officer. Nzefili declined Ifeajuna co-option.
On the night of the assassinations, Nzefili was at the officers’ mess in Ibadan when Justice Kayode Eso, Akin Johnson, the administrator of Abeokuta Local Government Council and his wife Mosun met with him. The Johnsons came to seek asylum at Eso’s residence in Ibadan having escaped Action Group’s hoodlums who accused him of gravitating towards Akintola. Eso told them he did not consider his own home safe since 12th of December 1965 after inadvertently humiliating Akintola by freeing Wole Soyinka, the un-mysterious gunman. Eso and Akintola were neighbours. Since the Johnsons knew Largema, Justice Esho took them to the barracks for refuge. According to Esho, Nzefili told them Largema was in Lagos but once he finished drinking with his mates at 11pm, he took the Johnsons to their safe rooms without knowing them personally. Largema his boss was widely respected both outside and inside the Army and Nzefili too when not drunk was a kind man.
To Ifeajuna, Nzefili was a disappointment. It was a huge relief when Nwobosi accepted to head the Ibadan task. Ifeajuna then gave Nwobosi a forged order issued in the name of Brigadier Z Maimalari authorising him to take a detachment to Ibadan for an IS operations there. This signal (instruction) was necessary in case a senior officer challenged him or the quartermaster needed proof before issuing ammo.
When they reached Ibadan shortly after 2am, they headed straight to Agodi Telephone exchange and ordered all workers to go home. Unlike Lagos, where the telephone exchange was partly automatic, Ibadan’s exchange was fully automatic. Asking the workers to go home did not silence the phones. Nwobosi and his men then proceeded to ECN (Electricity Corporation of Nigeria) Eleyele, ordered the workers to halt all power generation and go home. Ibadan was plunged into darkness. Ibadan people were already used to transcending the dark. This was the time the British head of ECN was woken up and was told soldiers had shut down the generators. Nwobosi even offered some of the workers lift to town. He was a gentleman. As they set out for the operations in Abeokuta, he saw a lonely pregnant woman in labour who couldn’t make it to the hospital. He halted his convoy and took the woman to the hospital in the army Land Rover. But it was not only because he wanted to be kind that why he gave the workers lift; they did not know the house address of their first target, Chief Fani-Kayode, the deputy premier. The lifted ECN workers showed him the address.
Of all the regions in the country and at the federal government, the Western Region was the only government with a deputy premier. When Nwobosi’s convoy arrived at the front of Fani-Kayode’s residence at Iyaganku GRA, they were shocked at the number of armed thugs that were present between the hundred metre road main gate and the main residential building. The thugs quickly ran way after being awoken by a slowly moving convoy of 16 gunners, 2 lance bombardiers, 2 sergeants, 1 battery quartermaster sergeant, 1 second lieutenant, 1 trooper and 1 captain in two 3 tonners and a Land Rover. If the violence, the rapes, house burning, lynchings, intimidation of opposition lecturers, election rigging and all other woes that had engulfed the Western Region had a face, it was that of the 44-year-old Remilekun Fani-Kayode, a Cambridge-educated lawyer who presided over the government thugs infrastructure. From 1959, he was a pro-Zik NCNC politician before Akintola poached him in 1962 and made him the Minister of Local Government and Deputy Premier of the most advanced Region in the country. According to Nwobosi, they were surprised that Fani-Kayode’s thugs quickly ran away because it contradicted the legendary stories of Fani Power they had heard. They were rather prepared for a confrontational showdown.
“Fani-Kayode! Come down you are under lawful arrest by the army” Nwobosi shouted. He said lawful because the forged signal issued in the name of Maimalari stated Fani Kayode’s arrest as one of their objectives. The compound like the city was in darkness. Visibility was provided by the headlamps of the convoy parked on the driveway.
“I am coming. I am coming; don’t shoot.” Fani-Kayode was reported to have responded from upstairs. He did not move. Nwobosi called out again. But Fani-Kayode did not move. Nwobosi then fired his gun into the ground as a warning. When their target did not bulge, they broke a glass panel in the door to gain entrance and started ransacking the house and intermittently shooting. The children were terrified and weeping. They found Fani-Kayode in his bedroom with his hands already upstretched like twin towers above his uncombed high hair.
“I surrender…I surrender…I surrender…” he chanted repeatedly already drenched in fear. Again Nwobosi and his gunners were surprised to see the feared embodiment of the legendary Fani Power shuddering.
Nwobosi, 23 addressed the 44-year-old deputy premier: “You have wasted a lot of time – we could have shot you.”
They tied him with rifle slings in front of his wife and 3 children and tossed him in the 3 tonner. His wife picked up the phone and called the Premier to report the arrest. Akintola tried to calm her down and assured her that he would get him released as soon as possible. It never occurred to him the soldiers could be coming for him too until he heard the convoy and saw the headlamps. He grabbed his gun and gathered ammunition. That night of nights, of all those fell by bullets all over the country, Akintola was the only one who died the death of a true warrior. He was not interested in the Akintola-you-are-under-arrest noises he was hearing from outside. No way! Oya, say hello to my little friend: he cocked his SMG and began to blaze furiously like Tony Montana as Nwobosi and his men tried to open his bedroom door.
Akintola was the 13th Aare Ona Kakanfo (Field Marshal General) of Yorubaland. After the previous Kakanfo, Aare Latosa who reigned from 1871 – 1885, no one had the courage to accept the title for 79 years because of the mysterious curse associated it. Since Alaafin Ajagbo inaugurated the first Aare Kokoro Gangan (Scorpion) of Iwoye in 1650, no Aare was expected to live long and enjoy a soft death. The title was like the warrior Achilles in Homer’s Iliad whose fate as explained to him by his mother, Thetis, was either to die young and gain glory, or to live a long boring life in obscurity. When Ojo Aburumaku (meaning: the wicked always live long) was installed as the 11th Aare Ona Kakanfo in 1860, Yorubaland was so peaceful that he had to foment a civil war in Ogbomosho which he then proceeded to supress with uncommon brutality just to justify his title. He was struck by lightning in 1871 and Aare Latosa, Akintola’s immediate predecessor took over. One of the reasons the Kafanfo Curse became self-fulfilling was that the overdose of courage which an Aare was supposed to possess actively insulated him from siding with peaceful resolutions, seeing reason and knowing when to stop. Several times from the 3 Tonner, Fani-Kayode called out to Akintola to cease firing; that the soldiers only came to take him to Lagos. Instead, Akintola continued to blaze his gun at Nwobosi’s men even though he never successfully hit anyone. They had fled the house and ducked behind the garden shrubs. Justice Kayode Eso who was a neighbour described the relentless shooting as sounding like the crackle of rapid bush bushing. Akintola then ran out of ammo but Nwobosi and his men did not know this, they thought he was reloading and waiting for them.
After a while, Aare Akintola held out a white handkerchief of surrender and proceeded to his balcony with his hands up. Nwobosi and his men proceeded to end him.
When Akintola’s wife saw his lifeless body surrounded by empty casings drenched in blood, she screamed. In less than three months, she had lost her husband and first child, Modele Odunjo to the Western crisis. That night, if one put one’s ear to the echo chamber of Nigeria to hear the deafening roar of woes on one side and joy on the other, one would surely break into pieces. Nwobosi and his men then made a mistake: they left for the Federal Guards Mess in Lagos without packing Akintola’s corpse with them. (He was buried the 23 January 1966 at his home in Ogbomoso)
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series. The hard copy is circulating nationawide. Damola Awoyokun, was, on 12 February 2016, inducted as a Chartered Engineer and Member of the British Institution of Civil Engineers(ICE). The first Nigerian honoured that way was Hebert Macaulay who was inducted on 5th December 1893. We celebrate his achievement with this cover story.
Readers can direct their questions to the writer (he is ready to respond) through: [email protected]