British secret files on Nigeria’s first bloody coup, path to Biafra

Jun 12 2016 - 3:01pm
Gowon: Sang a line of Lord Bryon's poem, The Eve of Waterloo, to a London Guardian journalist at the night party, the song, a probable foreboding of what might happen. However, he decided to lead a quick reaction force to Balewa's residence, but too late

Gowon: Sang a line of Lord Bryon’s poem, The Eve of Waterloo, to a London Guardian journalist at the night party, the song, a probable foreboding of what might happen. However, he decided to lead a quick reaction force to Balewa’s residence, but too late

On December 1965, Maimalari took another wife in Kano. The reception was held with great pomp and pageantry at 5th battalion officer’s mess with the guard of honour raising swords to form a colonnade for the newly wed to pass under. The wife was 15 years old, the brigadier, 34 years old. And so he used the cocktail as an opportunity to introduce the young girl to the South. The Queen’s cousin, Prince William of Gloucester and two other British diplomats were there at the party. There also was Colonel Tom Hunt, the former GSO1 at the Army HQ who had turned into the British High Commission’s military adviser. Colonel Berger of the US Defence Intelligence Agency was also there under an embassy defence attaché cover. While he was primarily an overt collector of open source information, he also engaged in covert collection operations. The CIA station chief’s house was nearby too. Yet no one suspected that in a few hours’ time, some junior officers who were drinking and joking with their senior officers would soon end the lives of one colonel, three lieutenant colonels and turn Maimalari’s new bride into a teenage widow. It was the eve of Waterloo and the drinks and dance continued.

Around ten o’clock, the junior officers left the party only after all the senior officers had left as it was customary. To avoid suspicion, they left one by one to dress up in full combat dress. Ifeajuna was the last to leave being the busiest person that night. He coordinated the bar, the dancers, drummers, the food and drinks servers, the orchestra, the cleaners. Once he ensured everyone was done and left, he went to salute his boss who thanked him for a job well done.

At 1 o’clock, Ifeajuna having changed into combat dress, stood up to address the 13 officers including four Majors that had been converging in his sitting room in Apapa since 11 o’clock. Major Mobolaji Johnson, a staff officer at the Army HQ and neighbour to Ifeajuna saw nothing unusual in their convergence at such an hour. Unlike Nzeogwu who at the same time was giving his pre-battle rousing speech to his fellow soldiers up North to pump up their morale, Ifeajuna did not have his finger to the trigger. Operation Damisa was organised in the North to draw and nightly train unsuspecting NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers) from various military installations under the 1st Brigade for their Revolution while their officers lied to them that it was part of a course designed to teach new nocturnal attack procedures. When in December Ifeajuna asked Maimalari for permission to do the same for the Federal Guards, the Brigadier refused. Not only because Ikoyi was the national capital with international presences, but because there was constant uneasiness that the violence in the Western Region would soon overrun Lagos as well. Conducting nightly manoeuvres even with dummy bullets and flares instead of grenades would only heighten public panic and hence was unacceptable.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo: Leader of Opposition

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However, Ifeajuna had a Plan B. Unlike in the North where the military units did not have call outs for IS (internal security operations), troops and transport from various units in 2nd Brigade down South and were frequently requested by the Police high command for IS operations to reinforce police activities in stamping down riots at a new flash point in the Western Region. This was the South’s Operation Damisa cover that Ifeajuna used to draw the pre-selected but unsuspecting NCOs for the Revolution and he had forged the necessary documents to justify the troops mobilisation. Why was it necessary to lie to the NCOs? Because no matter their feelings about the government, none would willingly take up arms against it.

After Ifeajuna finished addressing the officers and reminding them their assignments and their duty to the nation, he went to the brigade HQ to the waiting head of the NCOs – Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) – James Ogbu who went to turn out the NCOs of Camp, Signal Squadron barracks and Lagos Garrison Organisation for the so-called emergency IS operation. They were issued arms and ammunition and divided into units to be commanded by the 4 majors. Only Major Okafor left without an allocation of troops because he needed special troops for his own assignment. Away at Ikoyi, Lt. Ezedigbo and 2/Lt. Igweze had roused and primed these special troops and they were at the Federal Guards guardroom awaiting further instructions. At exactly 2am, convinced they were the five points of a bright new star for a new Nigeria and not the five fingers of a leprous hand, the five Majors led their various units to enact the Revolution. They never called it a coup nor a mutiny; they convinced themselves it was a Revolution comparable to Fidel Castro’s.

One of the Majors, Chris Anuforo was a General Staff Officer II (training) at the Army Headquarters. Assisted by second lieutenant (2/Lt.) C. Ngwuluka, he led 6 NCOs in private cars to his boss Lt Colonel Kur Mohammed on 1st Park Lane, Apapa. Mohammed had been acting chief of staff at the Army HQ since November 1965 when Adeyinka Adebayo went for a course at Imperial Defence College in London. It was Mohammed that Maimalari always requested to act when he was not in the country. When Major Anuforo’s unit arrived at his front gate on foot having left the cars some distance from the house, they tricked the guards, put them at gunpoint and conducted a room-to-room search for the Colonel. Mohammed recognised Chris being his immediate superior at the HQ but Chris had become a rebel and no longer recognised Mohammed as his superior but an enemy. Anuforo ordered the NCOs to tie his hands with rifle sling.

They all left for the home of Lt. Col. Unegbe on Point Road which was only two streets away. Unegbe like Brigadier Maimalari and Lt Col Njoku, the head of 2nd Battalion were alumni of Command and Staff College in Quetta, Pakistan. Returning from Quetta, on 1st March 1964, he took over as commander of 5th Battalion in Kano. He dispatched a company headed by Captain Tim Onwuatuegwu to quell another of the Tiv riots in Gboko. Later as the Quartermaster General at the army HQ, Unegbe was responsible for the provision of every article, clothing, equipment, weapon, ammunition, food, vehicles for the Army in general. He held the keys to the armoury and the control of armoury was vital to the success of the second phase of the Revolution. When Anuforo asked Unegbe for the keys, he refused and was shot immediately in the presence of his wife Enuma Unegbe. Even if he had handed over the keys, he would still be terminated with extreme prejudice because he was guilty. His offence was that in a Revolution packaged together by junior officers, he was a senior officer. If the Revolution succeeded, what could prevent the senior officers from using other soldiers to overcome them? Without the senior officers dead, their Revolution stood no chance. Anuforo then ordered his NCOs subordinates to carry the corpse to the waiting cars downstairs.

Anuforo then asked Col Mohammed in the car to say his own final prayers too. The Colonel did not plead for mercy nor remonstrate in any manner; he was silent and gentle as a breeze even as Anuforo’s bullets reached him from the back, took his heartbeat and fell him down. Less than an hour after they started, Anuforo’s unit had completed their mission objective. They drove to the Officers Mess of the Federal Guards in Ikoyi which was the agreed rendezvous for the units that have completed their tasks.

Unlike in the North where the Revolutionaries used the Brigade HQ as their rendezvous, why did the South opt for the Federal Guards? First, it was the only military unit at the seat of government. All government officials were easily accessible from there and they could easily be brought there as a corpse or as a living object to be paraded in front of the TV later in the day. Two, the Federal Guards was the only military unit whose head was part of the mutiny. Hence, the resources and manpower of the unit could easily be put in the service of the Revolution without seeking authorisation from anyone or forging cover-up signals like was done with other military units. It was the Federal Guards’ net and radio systems that was cryptically used to coordinate operations with Nzeogwu’s group up North.
Major Humphrey Chukwuka’s unit assisted by 2/Lt Onyefuru and five other NCOs had already finished their own assignment too and they were waiting for others at the Federal Guards Mess. Chukwuka was DAG 1 (Deputy Adjutant General) at the Army HQ. His assignment was to arrest his boss, Lt Col James Pam. Being the Adjutant General, Pam was responsible for enlistment of new soldiers, payment of all soldiers, and promotion of some soldiers. He looked after the discipline and welfare of all soldiers and supervised their medical care. He was ultimately responsible for their discharge or burial in the case of death.

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