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

Jun 12 2016 - 3:01pm
Brigadier Zakari Maimalari: Commander of 2nd Brigade hosted Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, Lt Col Yakubu Gowon, to a cocktail in Ikoyi, Lagos while the coup was afoot.

Brigadier Zakari Maimalari: Commander of 2nd Brigade hosted Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, Lt Col Yakubu Gowon, to a cocktail in Ikoyi, Lagos while the coup was afoot.

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When Anuforo’s unit arrived at the Mess at around 10 minutes past three, they delivered their own two dead bodies and saw that Pam the objective of Chukwuka’s unit was still alive, unbounded and under guard in one of Chukwuka’s unit Land Rover. Anuforo called Chukwuka to the side and reprimanded him for not delivering a finished job. To Anuforo, nothing, not even the force of conscience or the fear of blood must stop an idea whose time had come. According to the account which 2/Lt Godwin Onyefuru who assisted Chukwuka later gave, he said Chukwuka told Anuforo that Pam offered no resistance during his arrest and followed him voluntarily thereafter, why should he then kill him? But to Anuforo, Kur Mohammed offered no resistance and followed him voluntarily too yet he still terminated him with extreme prejudice because the Revolution demanded it. As Nzeogwu instructed: all senior officers must no longer be viewed with ordinary eyes but must be “seen through the sights of your rifles.” Anuforo then ordered Chukwuka to go back with the Pam and obey the Revolution. Chukwuka refused. Anuforo then angrily entered their Land Rover with Pam and ordered them to drive. Just drive. He was sick of abstinence.

During the recruitment for the so-called Revolution, there were moderates who shared the ideals of a Revolution but they did not favour bloodshed. Ifeajuna was interested in the firebrands who could stand in solidarity with his resentment of the political system, embrace the need for a radical solution and boldly sacrifice as many people as was needed including all their superiors in the army. One of the reported ways of recruiting was by asking, how do you feel about the situation in the country? Nzeogwu was reported to have answered: “If I have my way I will gun down all the politicians.” That was in 1965 after Ifeajuna succeeded the British Officer Major Gilliver as the DA and QMG at 1st Brigade in Kaduna. Ifeajuna was pleased with Nzeogwu’s intoxicated temper and he marked him down as a future asset. Ifeajuna knew the heart was the seat of fire and the same fire that could give birth to ashes could also refine gold. And so Ifeajuna preferred firebrands who had cruelty in place of a heart. He had no use for moderates. He only co-opted them in the plot because they commanded positions that were strategically useful to the Revolution and promised them there would be no bloodshed only to arrest and retire the senior officers. Chukwuka was one of those moderates and he was co-opted because one of the ways of getting the senior officers was to tell them they were needed in the office for an emergency. The phones of course would have been disabled so they would not be able to confirm with other senior officers. Up to the time he abducted Pam from his bedroom, moderate Chukwuka was still promising Pam’s wife, Elizabeth, that he would be okay, that he would ensure he was okay. But the plot’s drivers had other designs.

Anuforo led them to the furthest edge of the Ikoyi Golf Course in the dark. He asked Pam to come down and say his last prayers. Pam was reported to have softly pleaded with him: ‘Oh Chris, don’t do this, please.’ Please? Chris? To listen to pleas and cries was to pay homage to error and testify against the Revolution. Anuforo squeezed the trigger and watched as the dry grass welcomed Pam. He then ordered the NCOs to come down and load the dead body unto the Landover. The men were frightened and they refused to leave the vehicle. Pam, the Adjutant General of the Army who was responsible for the welfare of every soldier would just be so summarily executed? They were there when Pam asked his children to stop crying and told his wife to look after them that he would soon come back. Was this the IS operation they were woken up for? Anuforo, a devoted believer in the ability of gun to set the agenda then pointed his still smoking SMG at the reluctant NCOs. They immediately obeyed without complaint. They all drove back to the Mess where the body was off-loaded and placed alongside the bodies of Col. Mohammed and Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe. Excepting the GOC, that was a clean sweep of the top command of the Nigerian Army HQ accomplished.

Why was it necessary to drive away from the Mess in order to shoot Pam in the first place? Because the loud noise of fired guns would wake the Federal Guards barracks before the time. The Federal Guards was a company strong combat unit with 5 officers and 179 NCOS. Though they were often used as ceremonial guards of honour at the airport and at Azikiwe’s State House, they still received infantry training like weapons training, field craft, minor tactics and signal communications like any other combat unit. Most of the rebels in the South were drawn from administrative, signals, army workshop, logistics, supply and transport units. They were service troops not combat troops. The rest that were drawn from the Federal Guards which was a combat unit were given the most difficult assignment of the night.

Major Donatus Okafor, the officer commanding the Federal Guards was tasked with the assassination of the Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari. Above every other person in southern operation, it was important Maimalari was cold dead if their Revolution was to succeed. As the commander of the Southern brigade, Maimalari had under him all the fighting forces of the battalions, the field artillery corps, the armoured and mechanised squads. He could effectively mobilise the entire brigade even if the country was suddenly attacked by a neighbouring army. He knew how. Without his name, the Revolution would not have taken off at all. It was forged orders given in his name that Ifeajuna had handed Captain Nwobosi head of the Ibadan operation and Lt Nwabuchi the liaison officer of the Enugu operation in case any senior officer challenged their troop mobilisation. It was forged instructions issued in his name that Ifeajuna had handed Nwobosi to bring the 105 mm Howitzer from the battery gun park in Abeokuta to Lagos. It was in his name that Ifeajuna had sent signals over the army signal network to give the all clear H-message and commence operations two hours earlier. The 3 day Brigade Training Conference which Ifeajuna used to bring all the battalion commanders together in Lagos for easy assassination was organised in his name. To ensure that these commanders did not travel back to their stations when the conference finished by 2pm on 14 January, Ifeajuna persuaded Maimalari to hold a small cocktail in his house to be attended by the brigade hierarchy. It was financed with brigade funds withdrawn in the name of Maimalari as Njoku the next brigade commander later revealed. Maimalari mattered too much. That was why he had to die.

Babatunde Jose: Editor of Daily Times that was after the neck of Mbadiwe for diverting government land at Ijora Causeway to personal use

Babatunde Jose: Editor of Daily Times that was after the neck of Mbadiwe for diverting government land at Ijora Causeway to personal use

Unlike Brigadier Ademulegun’s guards that were compromised up North around the same time, Maimalari’s guards challenged the intruders. Okafor ordered the sentry to call out the guard commander and tell him to take off his men and return to the barracks, there was some emergency. Okafor was his officer commanding but he doubted the emergency. According to the standard operating procedure, the guards were on duty to a superior officer, any change of instruction had to come from him not Okafor. The guard commander refused and Okafor’s men barged in.

Meanwhile the phone was ringing and Maimalari had woken up. It was Pam calling to report some shootings in his compound and that some soldiers had gained forceful entry into his bedroom to arrest him. Maimalari had hardly spoken to Pam that he heard the shootings at his front gate too. Pam also heard the gunshots before the line went dead. Pam immediately called the GOC stating that there was evidence of an ongoing munity. Just then Chukwuka re-entered Pam’s bedroom to inform him that the time they had given him to dress up was over. The gunshot Maimalari heard was that of Captain Oji the 2ice (second in command) to Okafor. He had killed Maimalari’s guard commander who adamantly denied the mutineers entrance. In the process a bullet ricocheted and hit L/Cpl Paul Nwekwe of 2 Brigade Signal Troop in the neck. They were roused for an internal security operation. They had prepared themselves to travel as far as Ibadan to engage Fani-Kayode’s thugs and Adegbenro’s hooligans. But they found themselves in front of their Brigadier’s residence wondering whether they had not been turned into demolition ants dedicated to bringing down the roof of their own house.

Christopher Okigbo: Ifeajuna informed him of the plan

Christopher Okigbo: Ifeajuna informed him of the plan

Immediately Maimalari heard the splash of submachine gunfire, he dropped the phone, ran upstairs to pick up his wife whom he did not want to disturb by picking up the phone downstairs. He fled across the large garden where cocktail party ended five hours earlier. He kept his wife at the boys’ quarters, scaled the tall fence and disappeared into the darkness. All senior officers that night were in their pyjamas when they escaped. They did not have time to dress up in combat fatigues. Except the GOC who left up fully geared up and even took his walking stick with crocodile carved into it.

When Okafor realised Maimalari had fled the house, he became very angry. He ordered his men to comb the compound and shoot the Brigadier on sight; he must not be given any chance to even surrender. He then jumped into the Land Rover driven by Lance Corporal Noji and searched around Brown Street, Thompson Avenue all the way to Glover Road and Bourdillon Road. Without Maimalari dead, they were doomed. As Ifeajuna later wrote in his manuscript, “We fully realised that to be caught planning, let alone acting, on our lines, was high treason. And the penalty for high treason is death.” Therefore, they had to be successful or die trying.

Okafor like other officers joined the Revolution because he wanted to free Nigeria from the corruption and indiscipline of politicians. But four weeks earlier, the Army Legal Officer, Chief Arthur Worrey found Okafor guilty of stealing his subordinates’ funds. The Federal Guards held a monthly raffle draw and social nights (Wassa). The proceeds from ticket sales and lucky dips were recorded in Army Book 64 and saved in the PRI (President of Regimental Institute) account. For months, false figures were recorded as Okafor was stealing this money and giving a fraction as hush money to the treasurer Corporal Magaji Birnin Kebbi, a NCO in his fifties. Unknown to Okafor, Magaji was recording actual figures in his private file. Later Magaji interceded on behalf of a friend and colleague Private Mamman Sokoto at the Motor Transport Section of the Federal Guards who had been overlooked for promotion for four years. Okafor did not honour his pledge to promote the man when the list of the promoted was published. When Magaji went back to Okafor in his office in November 1965, Okafor ordered him to be locked up as he a Major and the OC of the elite Federal Guards did not feel he was answerable to a mere corporal in matters of promotion. Magaji then spilled the secrets. Eventually Okafor was found guilty of stealing his soldiers’ funds. Lieutenant Tarfa who was one of Okafor’s junior officers at the Federal Guards served as Magaji’s interpreter before the panel of inquiry. For Magaji was an old illiterate soldier. Tarfa later wrote in his account that, Okafor was afraid of being severely punished that he appealed to Brigadier Maimalari to help. But then they never knew then that the main reason he was scared of punishment was that he would have been suspended and relieved of his command of the Federal Guards. That would have deprived him of both participating and making the resources of the Federal Guards available to their Revolution.

Maimalari, a Northerner intervened and cut tapes that let Okafor, an Easterner, off the hook. But Okafor had lost the total respect of most soldiers in the barracks for his action towards the elderly illiterate Northern corporal and for stealing their money. Had Maimalari allowed army procedures to properly take its due course, had he not allowed “kindness” to get in the way, that night of nights, he would not had been in a position where he had to be scaling his own high fence, hiding in shrubs, fleeing from the man whom he thought he had saved from punishment. Well, 90 minutes later, it was his own world famous brigade chief of staff, Ifeajuna, who had organised a befitting cocktail at his residence that eventually pulled the trigger, took his heartbeat and finally put him to rest.

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