Oil, Politics and Violence: “A Breath Taking Narrative….Mr. Siollun’s book must be considered something of a miracle”
Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) – “A Breath taking Narrative“
After a long hard slog, my book is finally available.
The book can be purchased from:
Oil, Politics and Violence is also available to read in e-book format, and on mobile devices such as iPad, tablets, Android, iPhone and even your internet browser. You can get the e-book from Google Play at:
“What is the book about?” I hear you say. Well, read on….
Review by Anote Ajeluorou – published in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper
Oil, Politics and Violence: Revisiting military adventurism into politics
Monday, 13 September 2010 00:00 By Anote Ajeluorou Art – Arts
MAX Siollun’s new book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966 – 1976), (Algora Publishing, New York; 2009) is a historical treatise on military adventurism in Nigerian politics as the infant nation took its first tottering steps shortly after independence. That intervention was to last almost forever, and at a staggering cost to the nation and its quest for democracy.
Himself a historian, Siollun takes his readers through a breath-taking narrative of the socio-political setting of 1960 to 1966, when the tables turned. The ouster of politicians who had behaved badly from power led to the enthronement of a military that was not prepared for the enormity and subtlety of political office. What was worse, the coup, which was led by the majors in the army, was perceived to be sectional because of those killed. Then there was a counter-coup that led to retaliatory killings of one section within the army. The Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu’s first coup had failed because of several factors. His was purely an idealistic coup to give the reign of leadership to Obafemi Awolowo, who was imprisoned at the time following the corruption of the Abubakar Balewa-led government. His colleagues in Lagos had failed to execute their own part of the coup as he had done in Kaduna leading to Major-General Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi rallying the army to squash the coup in Lagos.
Aguyi-Ironsi assumes the office of head of state to stem the breakdown of law and order. But a counter-coup stops him dead in his track following some controversial decrees he promulgated, and the sectional slant to the coup. Northern soldiers go on the offensive and target Igbo soldiers. It spirals into the streets and the consequent infamous pogroms of 1966 that led to the civil war. Siollun also looks at the next nine years following the end of the war and how the military badly fared.
In providing the festering climate for the political logjam that led to the fall of the first republic, Siollun writes, “Underestimating the win-at-all-costs mentality of the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA), the UPGA unwisely decided to bycott the elections on the ground that the NNA was planning to rig it… Due to the widespread electoral malpractices, President Azikiwe refused to call Balewa to form a new government following the elections. For several days, Nigeria teetered on the edge of an abyss as the President and the Prime Minister tried to scheme each other out of power”.
Events in the Wild Wild West did not help matters with Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola locked in their own political struggles to warrant the declaration of a state of emergency in the region. And then onto the coup that was to unsettle Nigeria for most of its political life.
“THE DEPTH OF RESEARCH….IS STUNNING”
Siollun’s Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is a well-researched book on Nigeria’s military experience. The book is unique in many ways. The depth of research into the events, activities, personalities involved in the planning, execution, who did what, how and its implication is stunning. The author meticulously accessed every record that needed to be accessed to bring to the reader a dense meal of military adventurism into the politics of the most populous black nation on earth.
Also, Siollun brings a measure of balance and accuracy that has eluded many a writer on the touchy subject to bear on his writing. A lot has been written on the subject but most of it with a given mindset to colour and taint the facts. Some writers on the subject have often contradicted themselves on points of facts and sequence of events or personalities involved. Siollun brings all these to bear on his writing as he harmonises them to create an authentic recreation of a critical period of Nigerian political history.
In a sense, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture resituates the horrendous adventurism of the military and places it starkly for what it was: a political aberration that should never have been! The ills the military set out to cure sooner came to haunt them as the military soon compromised itself, and performed a lot badly than those they deposed from power.
One point in favour of Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture is its pace of narrative. Although, it’s a historical account of what most readers already know, yet it turns out a fascinating read on account of its detailed and accurate reconstruction of events. With the planning, shootouts and executions and murders on such a large scale, it tends to read like a thriller of sorts. This indeed is its strength.
Indeed, but for the horrendous killings of real life persons that accompanied the coups, and the tragic loss of lives during the civil war with the distortion of the polity, the coups as detailed by Siollun would whet the palate of lovers of thrillers with the dexterity of narrative he employs. The book is well worth a rereading for its cinematic affect!
Review by Kaye Whiteman
This first review of the book was very kindly written by Kaye Whiteman, whom many of you will recognise as the former Editor of the esteemed magazine ‘West Africa’. He is one of the leading writers on West Africa and has also written for the UK’s Guardian newspaper. This review was published in Business Day magazine.
Unpacking the Past
As we approach the great stock-taking of the fiftieth anniversary of Nigerian independence (which is going to be continuing all year), there is going to be a growing consideration of the history of these past fifty years. This is bound to include a re-examination of the coups and civil war of the 1960s. If this decade brought to a head the post-independence trauma of national identity, as a shakedown of the British-engineered independence settlement, it made a profound mark on subsequent decades.
There are so many aspects of Nigeria’s recent history that cannot be studied without reference to the 1960s – for example, the onset and collapse of the idea of military rule; or the effect on society, economy and political culture of the ‘curse of oil’, a central factor in the war for Nigerian unity. There was the phenomenon of the creation of states, initiated with the first twelve states of May 1967, mainstay of fiscal federalism, and the campaign for local resource control. Behind lay the scourge of corruption, and the electoral fraud whose worst manifestation in the Western Region led to the January 15 coup of 1966.
These thoughts arise from a book titled Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-76) by Max Siollun (published in New York this year by Algora publishing). For those interested in a detailed and objective study of these particularly sensitive moments, I cannot commend this book too highly.
For an old-timer like myself, who was partly around at the time, this book is a revelation. For this is a period which, for understandable reasons, has all too often been buried. After the books written by journalists at the time, and Professor Tamuno’s official history published in the 1980s, it has not been a subject that has been much written about, other than in a series of memoirs, or lately in novels such as Half of a Yellow Sun. This shows that the interest is there in unpacking the hidden legacy.
Siollun’s is not a full history of the crisis and the war, however. He restricts himself very much to the military, and although you cannot escape the politics, his self-imposed framework is sometimes a limitation. July 29 has to be seen in the context of the massacres in the North which lasted from May to October. Again, the important neutrality of Major General Welby-Everard in the 1964 federal elections (who now recalls that there was still a Brit commanding the Nigerian army at that time?) perhaps benefits from being seen in a more fully described political setting.
The author’s military priority does permit him, however, to go into his subject matter with a great depth of detail. He is also able to mobilise a spectacular range of sources, some of which your columnist was not aware of, and would love to have in his own collection of Nigeriana. There are tables of which officer was where and when, and many potted biographies, although only of members of the armed forces. Space does not permit exploring further subjects such as the “classmate syndrome” or the theory that January 15 was an “UPGA coup”, and there are odd little details from exceptional sources, like Welby-Everard’s eulogistic commendation of Brigadier Ogundipe.
In such an amazing mastery of detail, it is not surprising that there are the occasional minor errors – for example he says there was but one Igbo among the civil servants that took part in the July 29-31 negotiations in Ikeja barracks, but from his own list there are three. It may be that those that participated personally in these events will find more to quibble with – just as he already pinpoints some of the controversies that have been raised in the memoirs of the period that have emerged.
There are also mysteries that not surprisingly he is unable to solve, and myths that he cannot penetrate, although I would have liked him to have examined more thoroughly the legend that it was Captain Dickson (who does get a brief reference) who led the Middle Belt rank-and-file objection to Murtala as leader of the coup, and ended up as the self-styled airport commandant, carrying on for months before his final removal. Was it Dickson who indicated that power must go to Gowon, or else…? This is tantalising, because the author does describe the absolutely historic moment when Murtala abandoned his ambitions and suddenly says to Gowon “you are the senior, go ahead”, and is most instructive on the extent of secessionist sentiment among the far-northerners (although the raising of the flag of the north at Ikeja was Biafran myth-making).
Review Two – By Ohsee of Toronto, Canada.
In the West, considerations of truth and objectivity in history are seen in some quarters as marks of a lack of sophistication. In Nigeria, however, they are matters of life and death. People there die as a result of history forgot, of lessons not learned. Many people die.
Such questions loom large in Nigeria’s violent political history of the first two decades after independence. The most problematic have been, what really happened during the first two coups and the resultant civil war? It is here that Nigerians need to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because such reliable knowledge has proved useful in the past. But most Nigerian histories of those turbulent times, are often clouded by the malodorous presence of ethnic chauvinism and hatred of the Other, and the need for self-aggrandizement.
Many readers despaired of ever seeing an unbiased history from Nigerians themselves, and sought such objectivity from outsiders who often had little understanding of the subtleties of the Nigerian political milieu.
Thus Mr. Siollun’s book about the first four coups (1966-1976) must be considered something of a miracle. Unlike prior writers on the topic from that country, the Nigerian-born historian successfully checked at the door the ethnic biases he surely must have, in order to combine the dispassionate objectivity of the outsider with the nuanced knowledge of the insider. The result is a truly insightful book that is highly accessible to the general reader. The book also has enough new information to serve as a starting point for future investigators who wish to tackle some of the issues in greater detail.
Mr Siollun, whose essays about the first two coups are familiar to those who visit Nigerian websites, has tackled the four coups sequentially, and shown how they are related in terms of personnel involved and lessons to be learned. For instance, some of the participants in the second coup—such as Babangida, Abacha, Yaradua, and Buhari—dominated Nigerian coup-making culture for thirty years. Mr. Siollun shows how failing to punish murderous putschists can and did come back to bite coup beneficiaries in the arse, since “unpunished coup plotters will re-offend. The coup plotters behind Nigeria’s military regimes were repeat offenders—often with fatal consequences for themselves. They were men who lived life on the edge, snacked on danger and dined on death. For them, coup plotting was in the blood.”
Mr. Siollun’s summary of the pre-coup political situation is concise and lucid, and looks at the events in new ways. For instance, most people probably do not see the Nzeogwu coup as the second attempt at overthrowing the Balewa government by force. While many followers of Nigerian history may know that Awolowo—leader of the Action Group, one of the opposition parties in the First Republic—was jailed for treason in 1964, few are aware that it was not a trumped up charge, and that three decades later, Action Group General Secretary, S.G. Ikoku, confirmed that there was a genuine AG plot to topple the federal government.
Mr. Siollun is at his strongest where he skillfully cuts away the myths that have grown weed-like around the more controversial of those 1966 events. One of the more pernicious of these is the lie that the January 15 1966 coup was an effort at Igbo domination organized by the Igbos. Mr. Siollun demonstrates that there is a very strong case for seeing January 15 as an UPGA (United Progressive Grand Alliance) coup, or in other words, a second attempt by the South or southern political parties to wrest power from the North. By examining the national character of the Igbos, and the stereotypes that grew around their business activities, he carefully shows us the historical process via which the Igbos became the national scapegoat; we see how one section of the country practiced what he calls “transferred malice,” where the Igbos were singled out for punishment during troubles in which they only played a bit part.
In this absorbing and fascinating work, there is a good deal of new and startling information: who knew that in private moments, the genial Ironsi, the first military ruler, liked to refer jokingly to his fellow Igbos by the pejorative Northern term “Nyamiri?” We learn of the enormous family pressures on Northern officers and men after January 15 demanding vengeance for the Northern officers killed. The blood relationships between Northern People’s Congress (NPC) politicians, and some of the July 1966 plotters are revealed—Inua Wada, defence minister in the Balewa government during the First Republic, was Murtala Muhammed’s cousin, for example. We begin to understand the Machiavellian Ibrahim Babangida—military president from 1985 to 1993—better when we find out his closest friends were among the Dimka coup plotters of Feb 1976, a coup in which those very friends marked him for liquidation. We learn that Gen. Obasanjo wept when the poisonous chalice of leadership would not pass him by. Such brief character and biographical sketches of principal players inject life into the narrative, and make the historical protagonists more than just names on a paper.
The book of course has its flaws, some quite minor and perhaps fixable in later editions. The footnoting seems somewhat haphazard and sparse. To some, this may be considered a benefit, but it could be frustrating to the reader or researcher who wants to learn more by exploring sources. And one of the more vexatious things is that the footnoting, like Carlyle’s History, “is silent where you most wish her to speak.”
More egregious are the omissions and failures to explore some controversial areas. We do not know the extent of Lt. Col Adekunle Fajuyi’s involvement in January 15 even though Mr. Siollun was involved a few years back in a debate about it with someone on the Internet who went by the moniker “Arthur Unegbe”. Perhaps there is nothing to know or find out, but Mr. Siollun’s complete silence—no discussion of rumours, or analysis of possibilities—is troubling. Also surely we could learn from a brief exploration of the contradictions in the public statements of Gowon’s apologists and the actions of the man that suggest some foreknowledge of the July horrors? However, in light of the importance and intelligence of this work, it would be churlish to carp about these matters.
I admit to being skeptical before reading this work, expecting the typical tendentious and ethnically jaundiced approach that colours most Nigerian commentaries on the coups of 1966. What Mr. Siollun has given us rather is a deft, measured, and just examination of those tragic events, all done in very accessible prose. All Nigerians owe him a debt of gratitude. I wish I could find a way to get a copy into the hands of every educated Nigerian.
The book can be purchased from:
Review Three:by Australia’s Former High Commissioner to Nigeria During the 1966-1967 Crisis
This book, by an industrious, questing and objective historian, brings together the most comprehensive and authentic documentation on the Nigerian coup and counter coup of 1966 and the Biafran War that I have ever seen.
The author does not “make a case” for anyone. Rather he sets out the evidence, gives a variety of parties their say and, by and large, then leaves you to make a judgement on the very best evidence available.
I do not think that any of us can responsibly write about the Biafran War and the steps leading up to it unless they have first read and thoroughly digested Max Siollun’s book. I say this against the background that I was Australian High Commissioner in Nigeria at the relevant time and I knew the principal players personally.
In early October 1966, I embarked on a Mission to Enugu to talk to Ojukwu – with General Gowon’s blessing – in an effort to find a negotiated resolution of Nigeria’s deep constitutional, political, racial and tribal problems. Above all, I wanted to avoid the brutal and bloody conflict that, in the event, became known as the Biafran War. In the wake of my meeting with Ojukwu, agreement was reached between Ojukwu and the Federal Nigerian Government at a meeting in Aburi in Ghana in January 1967. However, the agreement fell to pieces shortly afterwards and the first shots in the Biafran War followed within a couple of months or so.
With this background, I can responsibly and, I think, reliably assess the authenticity of what Siollun has to say and recommend his outstanding book to those who want to know, understand and be familiar with Nigerian history of that troubled period.
Review Four: by Iwedi Ojinmah for Nigerian Village Square
Once in while there comes a book that makes us either sit up straight or reflect on our lives… past and present. It is even more appreciated and of importance when such a book is a serious one and about a subject matter, that even 4 decades after it engulfed Nigeria in arguably Africa’s most vicious war pitching suspicious cousin against each other , it is still rife with so much controvesy and emotional debate that one can seriously question if true National reconcilation has not remained deferred.
Max Siollun, has produced such a wonder in Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) Algora Pub Hardcover : $33.95 Softcover $23.95
Right out the gates the English born Nigerian but US based Professor, separates himself from the rest of the pack of historians that have feebly tackled early Nigerian Politics with his pronounced objectivity and absolutely impeccable research. In a detailed chronological sequence of events he locks the door on many a propagated myth and exposes among others how for instance the Igbo’s became political scapegoats not by choice but by default. He also amazingly shows how for the better part of 3 decades it was pretty much “old wine in new bottles” as the same vagabonds in power continued -just like some morbid spoke of a wheel- to keep in place Nigeria’s wobbly and corrupt coup culture.
Each of the 268 pages is saturated with such intricate fact that you often have to pinch yourself back into reality to realize again that all this stuff really did occur, and is not the draft of an up till now unknown Shakespearean tragedy. The man really names names and one has to virtually munch on a mint to supress the subsequent but delicious bite.
Things Fell Apart and Have Never Been the Same Since
However while his book will serve hopefully as salve on the deep festering wound inflicted on Nigeria, it does not address the more dangerous and ever present infection that lingers on still robbing her of her full potential; because it summates just ten years out of almost 45 years. Since there is an undeniable thread linking the past to the present and vice versa ; we salivate at the possibility……NO I take that back …..“ we implore” the absolute need of a part 2 that will continue to explore the murky dysfunctional rot that is Nigerian Politics. The story after 1976 must also be examined with as equal objectivity and openness and till then we will remain hungry at the table like guests denied of a spectacular entrée after being treaded to array of amazing o’dourves….pounding our forks and just like Twist – asking for more.
The book can be purchased from:
Igbo soldiers plotted coup from independence day – Ejoor
From the Nigerian Compass
In a three-part thriller that is sure to send historians about the Nigerian Civil War back to library shelves, the Military Governor of the… defunct Midwest Region, Major General David Akpode Ejoor, says military coups in Nigeria began right from independence in 1960.
In this interview with BIMBO OGUNNAIKE and AZEEZ FOLURUNSHO, he shredded several claims and set-positions about the country’s past and future. Firing from the hips, like a war veteran that he is, and in a no-holds-barred interview, [b]Ejoor maintains that the political and military leaders of Igbo extraction had nursed the ambition of upturning the Nigerian political space because their leading light, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, emerged only as a nominal Governor-General while power resided in another geo-political zone. [/b]The concluding parts of the rare interview will be served you, dear readers, next Saturday and the week after. Excerpts:
You appear to be more of an enigma to Nigerians, most of whom know very little about you despite being an open-book; one about whom so much has been said and written. Who, really, are you, sir?
A woman called Uvwerhero gave birth to me. I was born in 1932. She put me in school and when I finished my school, she sent me to the Government College , Ugheli. When I finished college, I didn´t have money to continue to do the HSC or to enter the university. My school principal gave me a letter to the Comptroller of Customs in Warri. I didn´t know what was in the letter and so when the Comptroller read it, he said your principal said I should give you a job. He asked me: “When are you starting?” I said now. He said: “All right, come tomorrow”. That was how I started work in the Customs.
What year was that?
In 1953. After the first six months, one of my colleagues came from the college to say that they were looking for the people to join the army. I told him that I was already working but he gave me the form. Out of interest, I filled the form and by September 1953, they replied me and said that I should come to Enugu for examination to join the army. I didn´t know that day, I didn´t know Enugu . To tell the Comptroller of Customs that he should excuse me to go to Enugu for exam, I couldn´t do it. I had to resign and go to look for money because at that time any money they gave to me at the end of the month, I gave it to my elder brother to keep for me. I did not keep the money. When I wanted to resign, I didn´t have any money. so, I had to rush to him in school and told him that he should give me money; that I wanted to resign. He said. `you are playing with your certificate.´ He gave me money and I went to the treasury, paid and dropped my letter to the Comptroller of Customs and I didn´t allow him to read it before I left. I just ran away from him because I knew he would not let me go. The following day, I asked my mother to get me some money and three days after, I found my way to Enugu to do the exam there.
How many of you sat for the examination that day?
We were six, but at the end of the day, we were asked to come for an interview in Lagos . I was the only one who passed from Enugu . We did the interview in Lagos and only four of us passed. The four of us were then sent to Ghana to do our initial training at the Regular Officers Training School . After six months, those of us who passed, about four, were selected to go to England to do the Officers Cadet Training. When we got to England , we went to another selection board and it happened that two of us passed — that is I and Victor Banjo, who worked with Ojukwu. So, Banjo and I went to England to do first, the Short Service Commission Course which lasted for six months. At the end of the six months, we were asked to go to Sandhurst for interview. At Sandhurst , we did almost three years course. We were commissioned in 1956 by the Queen, the present Queen, and then we came back to Nigeria . Some of us later went back to England for other military
When you were about joining the army, what was your parents´ attitude?
The immediate brother by my mother was killed by some people in 1951. So, as far as Army was concerned at that time, people would say when you join the Army, you were going to die. So, I couldn´t tell my mother that I wanted to join the army because she would never agree. I did all these, went to Accra for the training and after the training I now told her that I was going to England but it would be training in the army and she couldn´t say no then because I was the only boy left and the other two sisters were the only three left out of seven children which she had before.
Do you share the view that Biafra was a tragic mistake in Nigeria ´s history?
First of all, let me tell you this, when the British were here, we were the last Nigerian officers to be commanded by the British soldiers. (He called for a picture hung on the wall of his sitting room to be brought down to show the first set of Nigerian military officers at that period).The senior person to me in Nigeria was Bassey, the second was Aguiyi Ironsi. The Igbos wanted to rule. Why they wanted to rule was that (Nnamdi) Azikiwe was the then Governor-General and more or less Head of State. The constitution did not give any power to Azikiwe. So, this annoyed the Igbo people and they used to say: “How can we run a constitution in which the Head of State cannot advise the government, the government cannot contact the Head of State for any advice?” So, the answer was well to take over since they were already leading and yet they had no control over the government. That was why the Igbo soldiers decided to organise a coup. But at that time, there were four major leading officers which included me, Yakubu Gowon, Bassey and Ojukwu. Igbo people relied on Ojukwu for the coup and they were able to convince the Yoruba. Ojukwu and Banjo now contacted me and Gowon for a coup. But we refused.
How many of you refused to participate in the planned coup then?
Gowon and I refused and they went on their own. But we then reported to that European officer, General Foster. I and Gowon reported to him that some people were trying to plan a coup. He called all of us — the Nigerian Army officers — and advised us not to organise any military coup. When Ojukwu´s father heard about this, he put a memo into House of Assembly that all Europeans should leave the army. It was that year that all the Europeans in the army were sent back to their country. Then, Ironsi, who was Number Two, took over the command of the army. While he was there, Ojukwu still had the coup plot in his mind. He told Ironsi that he should not allow Ejoor and Gowon to be in Army Headquarters, saying as long they remained in Army headquarters, they would not be able to execute the coup. So, Ironsi sent Gowon on a course in the United Kingdom but he left me alone.[/b] When Igbos were worrying him that Ejoor was still there, he told them that: “This man from that small state, minority state? You can handle him, he cannot do anything. Go away, and leave me.” So, he left me. By December when Gowon came back, it was like a small war in Ironsi´s office. Some army officers told Ironsi that: “We told you to send these two people away, now Gowon has come back. What can we do now? Ironsi was embarrassed and after Gowon came back on the 20th and on the 23rd of that month, Ironsi now sent me away from Army headquarters to Enugu, saying: “He should be hidden there.” I went there and then they tried again but the one they tried was in January 1966 after I had left the Army headquarters. But at that time, they said whatever happened, Ejoor and Gowon must die. They threatened the person who was to organise a coup on behalf of the Igbos in Lagos side.
Who was that person?
Emmanuel Ifeajuna. The one in Kaduna , Nzeogwu. I think you know that one. Ifeajuna was holding a very big post in the Brigade then. He was a Chief of Staff to Maimalari. He sent a message that we had this meeting which would last a week; that I should come to Lagos . He was the one who booked me into Ikoyi Hotel in Room 17 and my number in the army was 17.. It was a lucky number for me. I got to Lagos for the meeting and then the meeting started on Monday. Then on Thursday, I can’t recall what happened in my hotel room. I just complained that I didn’t like the room. They couldn´t change it on Thursday. It was on Friday, the last day of the meeting that I came back to the hotel by 4.30 pm. When I got to the hotel, they had changed my room because they knew that the following day, I would leave. I said all right. Because of the cocktail party which Maimalari organised for us, we could not come back on time. I left the cocktail party at about 11 p.m when
we should have left at 8.00 pm.There was no need for us to come on time. Although he called it a cocktail party, it was like a buffet dinner. So, I ate to my satisfaction and when I got to the hotel, I didn´t go to the dining room to eat again; I just went straight to my bed and slept off. It was at three o’clock that night that the coup plotters came. [b]They killed my colleague, the one commanding the Western Region, and after putting his body in the booth of the car, they rushed to my room, to Room 17, to kill me thinking that I was there. According to their story, they didn´t want me to see them. So, when they kicked the door open, they just sprayed the bed with bullets and then round before they switched on the light. When they switched on the light, nobody was there and they started saying to themselves, “he is gone, he is gone” and I was snoring downstairs. That was how, at least, I can tell that God saved me from the coup.[/b] Now, for Gowon.
Gowon had just come back on the 20th of December and he was posted to take over a battalion in Ikeja. He had not moved to his official house.. He was staying in one of the Officers Mess accommodation. On that night, he did not come back to where he was staying because he went to see his prospective in-law. He did not come back in time, so when the coup plotters went there, they did not see him. They were now saying it is me and Gowon that would counter their coup and on the following day the news was that there was a coup. The following day, I was told that my colleague was killed and I went to his room and all what I saw was just blood. His body was not in the room and so I went to the person who was in charge, Brigadier Pam to come and take the blood sample and check. But when I got to that place, his wife told me that his husband was taken away in the middle of the night around 3.00 a.m. to a rendezvous where he was killed. Then, I rushed to Maimalari’s house who was then our commander where we had the cocktail party. When we got there, his soldiers just told me that Maimalari was killed in Ikoyi, Awolowo Road by the petrol station that night. I now told myself, ‘how can I just rush to Enugu when I have heard this bad news.’ So, I went to Ironsi´s house whether he could tell me anything before I went to Enugu . But when I got there, his soldiers said he left his house at 4..00 o’clock in the morning. What do I do? The head of the army, we could not find him. So, I said to myself, let me go to the Army unit, maybe I would get more information from them. I rushed to Ikeja Battalion and it was there, luckily, I saw his car in a car park. I sent my guard to check his office if there was anybody, and to ask if I should come in. And then I heard them all shouting: “Tell him to come. Tell him to come.” So, I went in. He opened the door for me and when I got in, I saw Ironsi sitting opposite the door pointing a gun at me, saying: ” David, are you with me or against me?” It was a surprise to him because he thought I was dead. So, I shouted back at him that “you are our father. Whatever it is, I am with you. What is it, anyway?” He said: “All right, sit down.” So, I sat down and he told me how the Prime Minister contacted him to say that he was being attacked with Okotie- Eboh and all that. He promised me he was going to get some help, but he couldn´t raise any help and that was why I had to go to the battalion itself, to get some soldiers under his command. He told me that he had to send Gowon out with soldiers to trace the coup plotters. I couldn´t see Gowon at that time. After I had told him the story, then he said he was going to the Police headquarters for a meeting where he was appointed Head of State. I told him I was going to Enugu to join my troops and also to join my wife and children. He just turned round to me and said, “David, I cannot order you to Enugu now.” He did not want me to go to Enugu.
Why did he not want you to go to Enugu ?
Probably, in their plan, I was to have been killed. I was not in their team. He said I should not go to Enugu and he left. I now concluded that Ironsi was part of the coup and that I could no longer rely on him because he was part of the coup plotters. I said to myself that my loyalty is to my country and I would not take any instruction from any officer anymore. I said if I went to Enugu by road, I would not arrive there. So, I went to the airport for an aircraft to take to Enugu . When I got to Enugu , everybody was shaking. The officer, my Second in Command, Major Gabriel Okonweze, told me that he was not expecting me. I asked him why he was not expecting me. He said he was given instruction to take over the command of the battalion, that I was not coming back. I said how did you get this information? Is it by radio, telephone or what? He said no and put his hand in his pocket and brought out a letter saying he should take over the command of the battalion. When I put the letter inside my pocket, he said no, that it was his letter and I said, “but I am still the commander.”
I left the battalion and went to see Dr. Opara, the governor of Eastern Region, came back to the battalion and ordered that all soldiers that were deployed outside the battalion should be brought back to the barrack. I assembled them by 4.00 o’clock and addressed them. My second-in-command was telling me, “don´t tell them that anybody is dead. Don´t tell them anything?” I said I would tell them; these people were taken to unknown destinations, I will not say I saw any dead body, I saw blood. Yes, I cannot say so but if I do not mention it that way, when they get to know, you and I would be the first victim of Hausa soldiers. I told them what I knew and then we ran the battalion with peace. Then on the third day when Ironsi was made the Head of State, he withdrew me from Enugu and called me back to Lagos .
Why do you think he removed you from Enugu ?
He removed me from Enugu because since I was still not dead, he could not trust me in Enugu . When I got to Lagos , he now said that I should be the Governor of the Mid- West.
Did he do that to compensate you?
More or less. But, you know that he had to behave in a way to show that he still liked me. Having removed me from Enugu , he brought me to Benin and that time, most of the officers in the Mid-West were from Anioma area, predominantly Igbo, because as it was, we were nine Lieutenant-Colonels in the Mid-West. I was the only Urhobo and the remaining eight were Anioma. Now that the person they wanted to kill was the governor, how was I to rule that place with satisfaction? I worked with them. I did not know that they were against me. I worked with them in the day time, but in the night, they worked against me. It wasn´t easy. God just preserved me because they did all sorts of things to see whether I could die.
When General Ironsi came on a visit to your region, 24 hours after he left your zone, he was kidnapped by some sections of the army along with the Governor of the Western Region where they were killed.
What was in your mind when you heard the news?
The fact was this. He visited Western Region after leaving my place. The idea was that he did not want my killing to take place while he was there
Your own killing?
Yes. When he got to Ibadan , the counter-coup people, Brigadier Danjuma, waylaid him. It was there they waylaid him and killed him in Ibadan . When he was with Fajuyi, Fajuyi did not want them to take Ironsi away just like that. That was why they killed Fajuyi with Ironsi, not that they had anything against Fajuyi at that time. That was how I escaped death for the second time. As I am talking to you, I have looked at death, where there was nothing I could do, I was just waiting for death to come, for seven times. How many people have gone through that? Looking at death, not that I was told. The other ones that happened when I did not know is different, but the ones I saw, I know.
Are you saying the lack of trust and the in-fighting among the top generals at that time led to Nigeria ´s civil war?
The civil war was straightforward. the Igbo wanted to take over the ruling of Nigeria . When all these cunny-cunny actions that people who were preventing them from organising a coup had not been killed, that is Gowon and I, the only thing left was to have a civil war. That was why there was a civil war and in the civil war, the first place Ojukwu attacked was the Mid-West. Now, I do not know that he was already in league with all the officers from Anioma area. When the Federal Government was suspecting them, most of them ran away to the East and joined Ojukwu in the Biafran army. At that time, Banjo himself, being a friend to Ojukwu because they joined the army the same day and commissioned, was suspected to be organising a coup. Ironsi had sent him, well not to prison but more or less arrested but sent to the East where he was detained in one of the prisons there. But being a friend to Ojukwu, Ojukwu released him and made him the Commander of the Biafran troops. And he was the one who commanded the Biafran soldiers to come and attack Mid- West before moving to Lagos . The Igbo tried to rule Nigeria by force, what they cannot do through the ballot box; they tried it through coup. They tried the coup, it failed and now decided to do a civil war. It was a contract. That is the basic thing.
During this war, you said Ojukwu was coming from the East through your zone to Lagos . What were the things you put in place to checkmate him at that time?
As I told you, I did not know. It was just that morning that I heard firing in the State House where I was told that the Biafran Army was in the Mid- West. I could not believe that Banjo would be the person to kill me because he was the nearest person to me in the army. What happened was that when they got to Ikpoba Hills in Benin , the person that was sent by Ojukwu to kill me was ordered to take me dead or alive to Enugu was different because Banjo did not know about this. When they got to Ikpoba Hill, this officer from the Mid West, from Anioma, told Banjo he should give him time; let him go and find out where I was in Benin and take me to Enugu , dead or alive. The firing started at about 7.00 o’clock. I just managed to get the radio to tell Gowon that I was being attacked by the Biafran army. I took the weapon of the operator and ran down to the gate to join the soldiers who were firing and we started firing together. But after sometime, we ran out of ammunition.
What do we do? I knew that if they came in, they were coming for me to kill me. These soldiers who were defending me, why should I allow them to die? And then if I leave this place they would be killed, including my wife and children. Why should I allow any of these people to be killed? I said they had to kill me first so that other people would survive. I jumped down from where I was and walked towards where they were firing. I thought that that was the end. I didn´t know what was happening and then I found myself in a veranda in one of the houses not far from the State House. I decided to move my leg but I couldn´t move any part of my body. I looked up and I saw somebody holding my leg and my hand. He was kneeling down when I was thinking about other things. I did not know that somebody was holding me. I now asked him who are you? He said he was Chief Asemota. I thanked him and said I had to go now. He sad “no, you can´t go, they are everywhere.” When he got up and started dragging me in, I asked him have you not seen any of the Biafran soldiers here? He answered that they were two in this veranda. It wasn´t long when they left that you came.These are the ones that would have killed you. I said: “My time has come; those who sent me here want me dead. My time has come. Let me go so that you or any of your family members will not die.” He said no. I argued and argued but he did not agree. So, I got up annoyed, to walk out. But before I could get to the door, he ran past me, he locked the door and threw the key out through the window. So, what do I do now? I could not break the door like that. Then I persuaded him that he should go and look for an Urhobo person around the area who could take me away from Benin . I waited for him and he found somebody from Urhobo who said he was coming. In the afternoon, in the night, we did not see him.
So, I said he was not interested. The following morning, around 7.00 o’clock, I heard a woman shouting: “There is war; you are going there if they kill you now, who will bury me?” That was what he was saying in Urhobo. I peeped through the window and I saw the woman running after the son, and returning into the compound I recognized him as one of the people with whom we grew up together.
What is the name of that person, sir?
John Ebuche. So, I opened the door and told him, “look, take your mother home,” and turned. He took his mother home.
That Major General David Akpode Ejoor (rtd) parades an intimidating profile is an understatement. Commissioned in 1953 in the United Kingdom , he is a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) and an Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR). Ejoor also holds the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), UK ; a Pass Staff College (PSC) and a honorary Doctor of Letters (LL. D), of the University of Benin (UNIBEN).
He was a member of the Supreme Military Council from 1966 to 1975, the first Military Governor of Mid-Western State between 1966 and 1967; Chief of Army Staff, from 1972 to 1975, when he retired.
His medals include the Congo , Independence , Republic, Defence Service, General Service and National Service. He is a Grand Commander of the Republic of Togo , and has received the Order of the two Niles-Ist Class Sudan , the Grand Officer O.N. Du Lion Senegal and Kt. Order of the Crown, Belgium . His chieftaincy titles include the Olorogun Oloho of Olomu, Okakuro-Egbe of Agbon, Okakuro of Ovu, Onotuku of Ebor and Orhuerakpo Ru Ughelli.
Flashback to January 1966. Nigerian’s government has just been overthrown in a military coup led by a group of young army Majors. Major Nzeogwu had declared martial law across the Northern Region of Nigeria, but by January 17, 1966 had agreed to stand down and hand over administration of the Northern Region to the officer designated by the army’s commander: Major Hassan Katsina. Katsina became the first Military Governor of the Northern Region and appeared for a joint press conference with Major Nzeogwu at which Katsina made the following speech:
“Fellow country-men and women. I, Major Hassan Usman Katsina, having been appointed by the Supreme Military Commander as the Military Governor for the Northern Provinces of the Republic of Nigeria wish to address you all on the responsibilities falling on all of us and the new philosophy we intend to follow.
It is our intention to build the nation on the foundation of honesty and hard work and to bring about unity among all Nigerians living in whatever part of the country with respect, love and understanding towards one another. Everyone must realize that we are one nation irrespective of the tribe from which each of us originates. At our present stage of development we need not be divided by tribal unions, political parties or trade unions. It is our experience in the past that such bodies had not worked for the common good but for sectional interest. I do not need their greetings or congratulations as this is not the time for jubilation or flattery but for hard work and selfless service. This is the way to reach our common goal in satisfying the aspirations of the common man.
My assumption of office does not change the administrative structure, and machinery set up by my colleague, Major Nzeogwu at the end of the last Government. Civil servants will continue to run the civil administration under my authority. I warn them, however, that they must be honest and show in everything they do concern for the rights of the common man. They are not masters but servants of the public.
In local administration the Native Authority system will continue but reform will be introduced. Native Authorities must cut down on unnecessary expenses, do away with redundant staff and use public funds correctly and efficiently. Misuse of authority will not be tolerated. Administrative Officers who are charged with advising Native Authorities in the Provinces and seeing to it that Government directives are carried out must wake up to their duty with vigour and zest.
The new Government will support private initiative in industry, commerce and agriculture. However we must wipe away immediately the attitude of the past when it was regarded that Government money could be borrowed with no intention of repaying. In future the Government will only help businessmen who are serious and honest. The Government will also see to it that past debts arising from loans by public corporations are repaid according to the terms of the loans. Those who refuse to pay will have to face the consequences.
Public funds must be spent wisely and honestly. The new Government has no intention to be vindictive but it will at the same time watch closely the activities of people who had in the past engaged in corrupt practices. Any subversive activity on their part will be severely dealt with. The Military Command will maintain vigilance.
I said at the beginning that I need your support. I expect this from those in the public services whether Government or Native Authorities or the private sector but what I particularly pray for is the support of the ordinary private Nigerian citizen.
Jama’a Allah shi ba mu alheri.”
Today is January 15 2009, the 43rd anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup on January 15, 1966. To commemorate this anniversary I have reproduced the full text of the famous radio broadcast made by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu announcing the coup in Nigeria’s Northern Region.
Also reproduced at the end of the text is a video chronicling the events leading up to, and after the coup.
Radio broadcast by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu – announcing Nigeria’s first military coup on Radio Nigeria, Kaduna on January 15, 1966.
“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 unauthorised gatherings, excluding religious worship, are banned until further notice.
The aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife. Our method of achieving this is strictly military but we have no doubt that every Nigerian will give us maximum cooperation by assisting the regime and not disturbing the peace during the slight changes that are taking place. I am to assure all foreigners living and working in this part of Nigeria that their rights will continue to be respected.
All treaty obligations previously entered into with any foreign nation will be respected and we hope that such nations will respect our country’s territorial integrity and will avoid taking sides with enemies of the revolution and enemies of the people. My dear countrymen, you will hear, and probably see a lot being done by certain bodies charged by the Supreme Council with the duties of national integration, supreme justice, general security and property recovery. As an interim measure all permanent secretaries, corporation chairmen and senior heads of departments are allowed to make decisions until the new organs are functioning, so long as such decisions are not contrary to the aims and wishes of the Supreme Council.
No Minister or Parliamentary Secretary possesses administrative or other forms of control over any Ministry, even if they are not considered too dangerous to be arrested. This is not a time for long speech-making and so let me acquaint you with ten proclamations in the Extraordinary Orders of the Day which the Supreme Council has promulgated. These will be modified as the situation improves.
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.
Demonstrations and unauthorised assembly, non-cooperation with revolutionary troops are punishable in grave manner up to death.
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.
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.
Shouting of slogans, loitering and rowdy behavior will be rectified by any sentence of incarceration, or any more severe punishment deemed fit by the local military commander.
Doubtful loyalty will be penalised by imprisonment or any more severe 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.
Wavering or sitting on the fence and failing to declare open loyalty with the revolution will be regarded as an act of hostility punishable by any sentence deemed suitable by the local military commander.
Tearing down an order of the day or proclamation or other authorized notices will be penalised by death.
This is the end of the Extraordinary Order of the Day which you will soon begin to see displayed in public. My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law abiding and if that citizen has religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since 1st October, 1960.
Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.
Like good soldiers we are not promising anything miraculous or spectacular. But what we do promise every law abiding citizen is freedom from fear and all forms of oppression, freedom from general inefficiency and freedom to live and strive in every field of human endeavour, both nationally and internationally. We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say that you are a Nigerian.
I leave you with a message of good wishes and ask for your support at all times, so that our land, watered by the Niger and Benue, between the sandy wastes and gulf of guinea, washed in salt by the mighty Atlantic, shall not detract Nigeria from gaining sway in any great aspect of international endeavour. My dear countrymen, this is the end of this speech. I wish you all good luck and I hope you will cooperate to the fullest in this job which we have set for ourselves of establishing a prosperous nation and achieving solidarity.”
There have been a lot of requests for me to post the full text of Lt-General T.Y. Danjuma’s interview with the Nigerian Guardian regarding his role in the July 1966 coup and the arrest/death of the then Head of State Maj-Gen Aguiyi-Ironsi. Here is the interview….
SUNDAY GUARDIAN-17th february,2008
You were quoted as saying that your memoirs would be one grenade of a book, why?
You know; there are so many versions of some the critical events that took place over the years in which I was involved. Some of the versions are sanitized; some of them are slightly inaccurate, which I will endeavour to correct. And in correcting them, there will be a few explosions. You know what a grenade is- it explodes.
Unfortunately, for me, each time I pick up my notes and try to write, I have to relive some of those very tense periods and I am so worked up. So, what I have decided to do is oral history- tell the story to a writer who’ll record, transcribe and so on and the book will bear his name and mine.
Will you, in the book correct, for example, the many stories around the coup in Ibadan in 1966 and your alleged role in the killing of Aguiyi-Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi?
The interesting thing about the Ibadan coup where Ironsi was arrested is that the full story is already in print. If you take the book written on me by Lindsay Barrett, the account given there with General ( Yakubu ) Gowon’s biography written by Professor Isawa Eliaugu – if you read that part of the book, the account there of what happened – if you put them together, a lot of the grey areas will be clear.
Well, you still have to clear some speculations here concerning your role. It is said that you broke Ironsi’s famous swagger stick, which was thought to be his magic wand. Did you? Did your people drag Ironsi on the road? Did you take him to Iwo road and shoot him?
No, it is not true. What happened was that after we arrested him, I lost control. Remember that I was a complete stranger. I came from Lagos with Ironsi as a staff in the Army Headquarters attached to him. I stayed in the barracks with the Adjutant ( the Chief of Staff of the Commanding Officer ). I stayed with him in his single officer quarters. And it was there, that at one or two o’clock in the morning – I was in bed – when he came and knocked at my door. He said, “sir, do you know what has happened.” I said, “no”. he said there was some trouble in Abeokuta, who was an Igbo officer holding secret meeting with all the Igbo officers in the officers’ mess and our boys went and shot all of them.
Who are the “our boys?”
Northern soldiers. Remember, Igbos did the killings that took place in January (1966 ).
They killed non-Igbo senior Army officers. Only one Igbo officer the killed but Igbo wiped out almost all the senior non –Igbo officers. We rounded up all the people, who did the killings, because we all help Ironsi to abort the January coup. They were rounded up and put in jail, where they were being paid their full salary.
They had television, they had everything there despite being detained and nobody was talking about court marshalling them. Instead, the newspapers including the Daily Times, in fact Peter Enahoro, who was named Peter Pan; in his Sunday newspaper(wrote a column) to the effect that The boys being detained were national heroes. National heroes because they killed corrupt politicians! He didn’t say anything about Army officers…
they killed corrupt politicians and replaced them with lronsi whom we would call Iron-side Very insulting and in my own opinion, very provocative article! He was saying that those boys should be freed. Tension started building. Riots broke out in the North and it was because of the riots that broke out in the North that Ironsi started going round to talk to traditional rulers and the Army leaders. I was in his convoy.
We got to Ibadan. We had a meeting with traditional rulers and leaders of thought at the end of which everybody was asked to sing the National Anthem. We all sang the National Anthem. In the night, we had dinner and we came back. We dropped him (Ironsi) at Government House, and then went to the barracks to stay with the AdjutantThen, at one o’clock in the night (there was) gbam, gbam, gbam on my door. I said what happened. He (Adjutant) said there was some trouble in Abeokuta. I said what was it? He said the man on duty – duty officer – saw the Commanding Officer holding meetings in the officers’ mess … all the officer that attended that meeting were Igbos. They left out non-Igbo officers. The duty officer called one or two soldiers; they cocked their guns, went there and rounded up every body. They thought it was a joke. One of them had his staff machine gun by his side and he bent down and attempted to pick it up; they opened up on him and shot him down.
They sprayed everybody, killed everybody there and started tele phoning.
They rang Ibadan. It was then that this boy woke me up. This was what happened. The press had been calling for the release of the January coup plotters. Now, our boys had created an excuse for the release. After killing these people, it is a draw – they killed Army officers in Lagos and all overNigeria. Igbos did it. Now,Igbos had been killed in Abeokuta; that’d be the end of it. I said no. I asked the Adjutant, who was in a position to know, if the Supreme Commander – at that time lronsi was known as Supreme Commander – had been told? He said, no; he didn’ think so. I said okay; he
should get me some soldiers. He brought soldiers. I didn’t come to lbadan with combat dress. I had to borrow the combat dress of an officer about my size. It was an American combat dress. This officer had just come back from the US. You know, when you travel with the Head of state you have to dress decently, wear service dress and so on. So, I borrowed fatigue, wore it. In fact, I wore it over my pyjamas and left with the Adjutant. I said, “take me to Government House”. We got there. We asked soldiers who
were on duty to ground arms. They all grounded their arms. I told the Adjutant what to do. Soldiers grounded their arms; we disarmed them and armed the soldiers that we brought.
Meanwhile, the anti-tank gun (lronsi convoy) was there, the commander was there. The commander was from the garrison in Ibadan. We knew him; we told him. He said we should use the gun to blow down the building. I said no,There’s no need; the Head of State was there; we had to arrest him. We were there and waited. Any time anybody came out from the building, we arrested him. They removed their shoes and we asked them to sit down.
Why were you doing this?
We didn’t want any violence. we wanted to arrest him ( Ironsi ) alive and go and lock him up.we wanted to interrogate him, to find out the role he played in the coup ( January 1966 ); his stories didn’t add up about how he escaped from flagstaff House where he was staying at No.1,Glover (Ikoyi), and ended up in Ikeja.How it came about Njoku,who was supposed to have handed over the command of the largest garrison in lagos, which was then the Ikeja Garison, did not handover.Njoku was still in commandand he (Ironsi) went to join him. We were going to interrogate him about all those, or at least, that was what I thought we were
going to do.
So, every I told the soldiers to do or not to do,they obeyed until eventually, first, (Adekunle)Fajuyi (Millitary Governor of Western Region) came out of the building after he Waited… every time they sent somebody out of the building, nobody went back. So, Fajuyi Came down. As he came down the steps, I saluted-him-and said; “sir, you are under arrest; hands up’ He looked at me and called me, “Danjuma?” I said, “Sir, you are under arrest.”
He raised his hands, and came down. He said, “What do you want?” I said,
“we want to arrest you and we want to arrest the Head of State.”
He said,”and you are going out with him?” I said, “yes .. .”
And you were supposed to be on the Supreme Commander’s
I was;I was there. I went to Ibadan with him. What do you mean by,”supposed to?”
Because you were now arresting…
Yes, I was arresting. He (Fajuyi) pleaded with me not to go up with armed men;that he was going to go up and call him (Ironsi) provided I guaranteed his safety. I gave him my guarantee: I said, “I guarantee your safety.”
He went there, and didn’t come down. So, I decided to climb up. As I climbed up the steps, armed soldiers followed me. I had a grenade in my hand. I didn’t have any arm. As I came, lronsi was sitted; Fajuyi was by his side.
I said, “Sir, you are under arrest.” And I gave him the order to stand up.
Reluctantly, Ironsi stood up. He used to carry a staff crocodile. He had it in his hand. They both came down. Fajuyi was still asking me about guaranteeing safety. I guaranteed his safety absolutely. So, we came out of the building down toward the car.
One of the soldiers said we shouldn’t allow him to carry his crocodile, that there’s juju. I said no; there’s nothing in it. He said he’d disappear if we allowed him to carry it. He started to stop and I told him to shut up. That was the time I lost control. The soldier batoned me and pushed me aside and took charge. To my greatest surprise, the Adjutant, who was, you know, these were his troops – I was a stranger,
they were obeying me because everything I did they liked; they liked what I was doing, but the moment I told them not to do some thing they didn’t like, they rejected – I expected the Adjutant, who was there, to intervene. He probably incited them. He said,”Yes, the soldier is right. This thing here (Ironsi’s crocodile) is his Zasa; it’s juju that will make him disappear.”
So, they took the thing from him, pushed me aside and bundled him and Fajuyi in a vehicle and drove away. It was six O’clock in the morning.
The front of the Government House was littered with people without shoes; people who had come to get ready to go. They asked every one of them to sit on the floor and they removed their shoes. They all sat, including the then Head of Service (Chief P Odumosu). I came down. They (soldiers) drove away.
There was nobody to tell these people to go; so they all sat there. It was I who said, what’re you people still doing here. Quietly, they realized they were free to go. They (soldiers) had driven away Fajuyi and Ironsi.
What of you?
I had to hitch a ride to go to the barracks. They left; there was no vehicle even for me to leave that place; they Just drove away, taking them away.So, I had to make my way back to the barracks. If you read Gowon’s book, it’s there. They named names , of the people who actually took Ironsi away.
Now, there are a lot of lies. I read some very funny lies told by Ironsi’s ADC whose life I saved. He was an Igbo officer from Abakaliki area, tall, a good-looking chap. After the war he came back, I saw him, we shook hands and I gave him some money.
I read his account. You know we captured a lot of literature in Enugu. The Igbos named his account, including what happened in Ibadan, and what happened in the North – as pogrom. I read all the accounts there. It was there that I saw the evidence given by this man in order to … he must have felt guilty, when his boss was arrested and taken away and he went away and he went home empty-handed, without anything even though he was his ADC and nothing happened to him. He had to tell a lie to justify how he came out with his limbs intact. He gave a long story of how he escaped, what happened and so on.
That man told a lot of the lies that gained currency. Ironsi had two ADCs. One of them was Col. Sani Bello and the other was this man. I prevailed on the soldiers not to do anything to anybody. We arranged even for him to escape, and go away. He went home and started telling lies. He told a lot of lies, which I read in the account he gave in Biafra. We had an inquiry. People came to give account and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, but I remember that the stories that gained currency were from that man.
The Adjutant created the problem?.
He didn’t create the prob1em. The Igbos who killed our senior officers all over the place created the problem; they created the problem. They sowed the wind and reaped the problem; it wasn’t him (the Adjutant). They were reacting;they were avenging what happened in January. The July coup was a revenge coup.
What’s the name of the Adjutant?
Was he a major?
Major! He was a Second Lieutenant.
You were his senior?
Oh yes! But when it comes to coup-making, there’s no rank. Coup is abandwagon of hierarchy. This was his unit. He knew the boys; I didn’t know them. But he knew me.He used me…
You’re lucky they didn’t mistake you for an Igbo.
Oh, easily! I was lighter in complexion than I am no. Many times, they took me for an Igbo.
So, he (Adjutant) didn’t create the problem?
I don’t think you people know what happened. What would you do when you went to bed and woke up and found that all the people from your area in the Army, innocent people were killed in their beds, some of them even with their wives – all done by Igbo officers? We bottled up this for six months from January to July. Then, the opportunity came for revenge.
In the Army, you are taught that when you are fired upon, you take cover and return fire. We didn’t return fire immedi¬ately. We gave Ironsi a chance to deal with the people who killed our seniors. He did not. Then foolish people like (Peter Pan) Enahoro were talking about national heroes ¬that people who did the killings were national heroes.
We couldn’t understand! If politicians were corrupt, why didn’t you confine yourself to killing politicians? If it was necessary that the Army should take over, why was it that this same Army should eliminate the cream of that Army and leave us With absolutely useless people, like Ironsi who was a desk-clerk Head of State? We couldn’t understand it. But we bottled this up till July and when the opportunity came, we decided to revenge. This is what happened…
People blame you for what happened in Ibadan, but as it is, the Adjutant more or less, instigated the soldiers..
Yes, this is what I suspect. My suspicion is borne out by the fact that he did not do what I would do if I were in his position. He (Adjutant) approved of what the boys did.
This is another series of documentaries on Biafra. Produced by Nigeria’s own NTA, these videos feature interviews with the key players such as Gowon, Ojukwu, Babangida, Maj-Gens Mohammed Shuwa, Adeyinka Adebayo, Godwin Abbe, George Innih, and David Ejoor, Brigadiers Samuel Ogbemudia and Mobolaji Johnson, plus civilian participants like Philip Asiodu and Ahmed Joda who were key players in the abortive negotiations prior to the war.
Of great vintage is the footage of the Aburi debate in Ghana in 1967. Amazing footage of Ojukwu chatting with Gowon, Hassan Katsina, Commodore Joseph Wey and other members of the federal delegation to Aburi.
Another nugget from Nigerian history. This is the text of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu’s famous interview with Dennis Ejindu in May 1967. This interview took place just before the start of the civil war. It is probably the most detailed question and answer session with Major Nzeogwu. Enjoy….
Ejindu: I am glad to meet you, Sir. How would you feel if you knew that you are being regarded as a hero?
Nzeogwu: Very pleased naturally. But the truth is that I am not a hero. If there was any famous Major Nzeogwu, I have never heard of him.
Ejindu: It is rumoured that you have just finished writing a book, what is it like?
Nzeogwu: Good gracious! Ninety-nine per cent of all the stories you hear in this country are false. I have not written any book because there was nothing to write about. You can only write about a finished job. It would have been a useful means of warding off boredom though, but one did not do it for the fear that the authorities might seize the papers. However I had enough time to make detailed notes on what happened, and one might use them if in future there was any need to write something.
Ejindu: Before you went into prison, the cloud was so clear above this country that one could see very far into the future. Now that you are out, what do you see?
Nzeogwu: A job very badly done. If I may borrow your metaphor, the atmosphere is admittedly somewhat cloudy. But I don’t think there will be rain. Indeed if you look steadily up you will find that the sun is not yet set and might still peep through. The trouble is that people generally can’t tell which is a rain cloud and which is not, and as a result they tend to be confused. As you know there is too much bitterness at present in the country, and in the past people had imagined that they could conveniently do without one another. But the bitterness will clear in the end and they will find that they are not as self-reliant as they had thought. And they will long to be together…. The .same applies to the Northerners. It may take ten or fifteen years for them to come together again but there is no doubt, as far as I can see, that they will. You see, in this world of imperfection, it is sometimes very difficult to capture the ideal. But we can, at least start with the second best.
Ejindu: What is the second best?
Nzeogwu: A Confederation.
Ejindu: Before I come back to that, may 1 take you back to January, 1966. What exactly happened at Nassarawa (the premier’s residence at Kaduna) on the night of the 14th?
Nzeogwu: No, no, no; don’t ask me anything about that, I don’t want to remember it.
Ejindu: All right. A lot has been talked and written about the January coup. But how tribalistic was it really in conception and execution?
Nzeogwu: In the North, no. In the South, yes. We were five in number, and initially we knew quite clearly what we wanted to do. We had a short list of people who were either undesirable for the future progress of the country or who by their positions at the time had to be sacrificed for peace and stability. Tribal considerations were completely out of our minds at this stage. But we had a set-back in the execution. Both of us in the North did our best. But the other three who were stationed in the South failed because of incompetence and misguided considerations in the eleventh hour. The most senior among them was in charge of a whole brigade and had all the excuse and opportunity in the world to mobilize his troops anywhere, anyhow and any time. He did it badly. In Lagos, even allowing for one or two genuine mistakes, the job was badly done. The Mid-West was never a big problem. But in the East, our major target, nothing practically was done. He and the others let us down.
Ejindu: You must have anticipated that Gen. Ironsi would let you down in the end. Why did you surrender to him the way you did?
Nzeogwu: I was being sensible. The last thing we desired was unnecessary waste of life. If I had stuck to my guns there would have been a civil war, and as the official head of the Army, he would have split the loyalty of my men. Again, you must remember that the British and other foreigners were standing by to help him. Our purpose was to change our country and make it a place we could be proud to call our home, not to wage war.
Ejindu: It has been said that Gen. Ironsi set out to complete your job for you. Was there anything you did not like in his administration?
Nzeogwu: Yes, everything. First he chose the wrong advisers for the work he halfheartedly set out to do. Most of them were either mediocre or absolutely unintelligent. Secondly, he was tribalistic in the appointment of his governors. Thirdly the Decree 34 was unnecessary, even silly in fact.
Ejindu: But you wanted a unitary government?
Nzeogwu: No. Not a unitary government as such. We wanted to see a strong centre. We wanted to cut the country to small pieces, making the centre inevitably strong. We did not want to toy with power, which was what he did.
Ejindu: Tell me, what do you think of him as a soldier?
Nzeogwu: I am afraid I cannot tell you that. But I will say that as a person he was very well liked and as the Supreme Commander, his orders were promptly carried out.
Ejindu: If he joined the Army as a gunner, he must have progressed as a military strategist?
Nzeogwu: Yes, if he had, he could have done so. But he actually joined the Army as a tally-clerk and was a clerk most of the time.
Ejindu: From the present chaos, what type of Nigeria do you envisage?
Nzeogwu: In the first place, secession will be ill-advised, indeed impossible. Even if the East fights a war of secession and wins, it still cannot secede. Personally, I don’t like secession and if this country disintegrates, I shall pack up my things and go. In the present circumstances, confederation is the best answer as a temporary measure. In time, we shall have complete unity. Give this country a confederation and, believe me, in ten or fifteen years the young men will find it intolerable, and will get together to change it. And it is obvious we shall get a confederation or something near it. Nothing will stop that.
Ejindu: Do you think there will be any war?
Nzeogwu: No. Nobody wants to fight. The East which is best equipped and best prepared for war, does not want to attack anybody. The North cannot fight. And Lagos cannot fight now. If they had attacked the East in August or September, they would have had a walk-over. Today, I think they will be ill-advised to try.
Ejindu: An Englishman said to me the other day that the best thing Ojukwu can do is to take over Lagos. Do you think he can do it even if he wanted to?
Nzeogwu: Yes, I think the East is strong enough to do it if they want to. But it will serve no useful purpose. It can only serve to destroy life and property. You see, the effective power does not lie in Lagos but in Kaduna, and if you remove Gowon somebody else will take his place. If you capture the South against the North, all you can achieve is civil war, disintegration and border clashes.
Ejindu: Finally, let me come to the controversy over your release. Much as it has been a popular action you have been released by the east government against the wish of the federal government. What do you say to that?
Nzeogwu: All I can say is that I am happy and grateful to be out. We feel grateful to the Nsukka students for their persistent demand, and to the boys in the barracks for their pressure on the authorities in the east. And to the Nigerian public in general for their concern over our welfare.