How The Counter Coup Got Out Of Hand -IBB Reveals 52 Years After

How The Counter Coup Got Out Of Hand -IBB Reveals 52 Years After

Saturday, December 8, 2018 6:23 pm


More than 52 years ago, Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (Ironside for style), the first Nigerian Military Head of State and Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, the first military governor of the former Western Region, were killed in a counter coup considered to be one of the bloodiest in Africa. It was spear-headed by Majors Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, Joseph Naven Garba, and others.

One of the participants in that putsch, who later ruled Nigeria in the 1990s, is General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. Days before the 52nd anniversary of the bloody coup, General Babangida granted an exclusive interview to TheCrest.

For the first time after that event that changed the course of history in Nigeria, the former Military President explained why the coup went out of hand and what really motivated it.

“The coup went out of hands,,” he told The Crest. “There was no control.The officers allowed things to go out of hands, even other ranks were taking laws into their hands, it is unfortunate it happened.”

When TheCrest asked General Babangida, popularly known as IBB, whether, looking back, he saw the coup as marking the turning point in the history of this country, he affirmed that yes, the military didn’t “get to understand the consequences of what was happening and that is probably why we had a longer period of military regime for 23 years.”

With the first coup of January 15, 1966, and the angry reactions it provoked in the North, it’s alleged lopsidedness became the talking point. And the more people talked about it, the angrier Northern officers and northerners in general got angry. This, according to General Babangida, provided the perfect ambience for the plotting of events that followed.

IBB also spoke about the motivation for the coup. In his words: “The motivation was very simple. They succeeded in calling the January (1966) coup a sectional coup d’état where most of the people we revered were murdered, even in the military. People like (Brigadier Samuel) Ademulegun (and his wife), Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, (Colonel Kur) Mohammed, and so on. To us, the young officers, these people were our role models. Then, politically, leaders like Sir Tafawa Balewa (Nigeria’s Prime Minister at the time), Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto (and Premier of the Northern Region), and Chief Ladoke Akintola, Premier of Western Nigeria, were killed.

So, it was not unusual that, sometimes, we would go to organizations and we would sit down, and people would talk about what went wrong. The atmosphere was conducive for a revenge coup. The atmosphere was there because people were talking freely about the one-sidedness of the coup. Radio and television stations were reporting it. And one of your papers, I can’t remember its name now… It started from Ghana…

The interview:
June 12: We warned Nigerians – Babangida

What is the highest point of your life? At 77, what are the highs and the lows?

First, when I was commissioned into the Nigerian Army, a young officer from the Indian Military Academy, full of life, coming to provide service to the country. Second, while providing the services to the country, you come across people, you meet people who operate either in defence of the country or in aiding people to provide for safety of lives and properties in the country. Then, when I was given a command during the war. The high point (in that) is that here was Major Babangida, and I had over 500 soldiers under me. Their lives, their welfare were dependent on me.

So, you have to be concerned about how you make them have confidence in you that you are not going to lead them into a disastrous situation; you have to be concerned about how they will follow me to the war. I’m glad because I mingled with them, I trained and ate with them. We played together and they developed that confidence. And if they knew that we were going to war, fear was no longer in them because, as an officer, I was capable of doing what they could do. As an officer, I could do what a corporal could do. So, they just followed. That is a good point and it has been very successful.

How many of those people under your command then are still around you now?

Oh, they are quite a few. But most of them are very old now. You can’t even recognize them if you see them. There are very few alive.

Those who know you well say what you had going for you during your military career was that you have friends across the country and among all the tribes in Nigeria. They also attest that if you saw a person 20 years ago, and you meet him again, you will call him by his first name. How were you able to do that?

When we were growing up, one of the things they taught us to do was to create what we call ‘Unit bible’. In the unit bible, you have names of everybody – their names, their wives, their children, where they come from and so on. We, the young officers, competed amongst ourselves. Every officer knew everybody in his command. It was a sort of competition. So, it became part of us.

Let us go into more serious matters now. Many of your colleagues, including the late Benjamin Adekunle, regarded you as a political officer.

Fortunately for me, I never held any political office that time.

In the military, there was a category of officers who were politically conscious and were always calculating, and ‘doing things’ in that direction…

When I say political office, what did you see during the military regime? We had ministers. We had governors. We still referred to them as political office holders. But after military intervention, a lot of interests began to manifest amongst us. We took a lot of interest in events in the country. But bearing in mind that we have to remain there for a long time, we also knew that we should be subservient to democratically elected government. In our case, we made a lot of friends. I had a lot of intellectuals who were my friends. I mixed with them. We attended parties together; went to conferences together; attended seminars together; and that developed our interest in politics–at least mine. I never missed any opportunity to go to conferences to listen to people, get their own ideas, just to enlighten myself.

Is politics compatible with the military profession?

I think it is. Yes, it is. Compatible in the sense that the military is subordinate to a democratically elected government; so, we should be subservient to the civil authority. We were taught from the Defence Academy-that ours was to do and die, and not to reason.

Why I mentioned the term political officer was that you took part in most of the coups that place in this country.


What was the motivation? Starting from the first coup on January 15, 1966.

Read the full interview here:

June 12: We warned Nigerians – Babangida

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