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

Jun 12 2016 - 3:01pm
Balewa: Killed too

Balewa: Killed too

Why was Sir Tafawa Balewa (meaning Black Rock) so powerless an agent of change in the face of his colleagues’ corruption extremisms? Why wasn’t there enough of him to go around? In February 1964 for instance, the NCNC parliamentary leader and Minister of Trade Dr Ozumba Madiwe was caught using his office to divert a government land at Ijora Causeway to his private company Afro Properties and Investment Company since 1961. He then assigned the land lease to Nigerpool in return for a hefty annual profit. The discovery generated another media-exposed corruption scandal. Abubakar met privately with Babatunde Jose, the editor of the powerful Daily Times spearheading the intense campaign to remove the corruption extremist if he declined to resign. Mbadiwe never bothered. There were those who were attracted by the durability of rock. They wished to be massive and unmoveable. They wished not to change. Abubakar told the editor: “You want me to remove this man? What he did fell below what is proper. Under British standards, he would go, but the NCNC who put him in my original coalition are solidly for him. Its central working committee had just passed a unanimous vote of confidence in him. If they withdraw, since Awolowo can’t join, the [coalition] government will collapse.’ Hence, Abubakar made peace with being a little rock thrown to the bottom of a polluted river; the polluted waters washed over him all the time but never penetrated him. On 19 December 1965, he even attended the commissioning of the Mbadiwe’s Palace of People constructed with the proceeds of corrupt practices in the village of Arondizuogu. But on the night of the Revolution, it was Abubakar that Ifeajuna arrested and marched on to his eventual death while Mbadiwe kept on sleeping at home undisturbed by bedbugs. He lived happily ever after.

Obasanjo: He and Nzeogwu slept in the same room, yet he did not know about impending coup

Obasanjo: He and Nzeogwu slept in the same room, yet he did not know about impending coup

When Ifeajuna and Ezedigbo’s unit reached the Federal Guards Mess, Anuforo was nowhere to be found. He had gone with Chukwuka to end Pam on the Ikoyi Golf Course. And so Ifeajuna decided to take up his assignment of terminating all the 2nd Brigade battalion commanders residing at Ikoyi Hotel. But he did not know the rooms where they were lodged; Anuforo and the Brigade adjutant were in charge of the reservation. The assassinations supposed to have happened on the night of 13th of January. All the principals slated for death were already within reach except Brigadier Ademulegun who went to attend an OAU Defence Commission meeting in Ghana from 6th – 10th January. When he was told of an imminence of a mutiny in Nigeria, he argued against its possibility. He said none of the top commanders was interested in taking over government. And if some renegade unit in the South –they had to be from the South because that was where the seat of government was – he would mobilise troops from his brigade in the North to crush them. The maths of an armed takeover in Nigeria unlike Egypt (1952) or Togo (1963) could not add up.

When he arrived Lagos on the 12th January, Major Anuforo the staff officer in charge of accommodation offered the Brigadier reservation at the plush Ikoyi Hotel before his flight to Kaduna the next morning. The Brigadier refused. He then asked Major Madiebo, lodged at the Apapa Officer’s Mess chalet and who had just finished eating a recruitment lunch with Ifeajuna, to vacate the place for the Brigadier. Ademulegun was not interested. Had he accepted to stay at Ikoyi Hotel, his assassination would have been blessed for that very night: His door would have been knocked several times in the middle of the night by the night receptionist just as he did to Largema’s Room 115 door. He would have been told there was an urgent phone call for him. And because the phone was situated at the end of the corridor, he would have been told to come out and pick the call. He would have come out and like Largema, bullets would have been pumped into his heart and lungs as he picked up the phone. Ademulegun refused Anuforo’s hotel offer. Instead, he went to stay with a friend somewhere in Lagos and was off the radar. On the morning of Friday 14 January, he showed up at his office at the 1st Brigade. Captain Ben Gbulie confirmed his presence to his fellow mutineers. Like a clock’s hands at twelve o clock, both the Northern and Southern rebels joined hands to set the H-hour.

Azikiwe: President

Azikiwe: President

Ifeajuna then went to fetch 2 NCOs to load Largema’s corpse into the boot of Mercedes Benz in the car park. The Prime Minister heard the gunshots, saw the corpse and lost his cool. There was another senior officer, David Ejoor the commander of 1st Battalion in Enugu who had come for the Ifeajuna-organised Brigade Training Conference and was in Room 17. He was at the cocktail hours earlier. They knocked and burst into many rooms but they could not find him. As it will be seen later, a modesty incident caused Ejoor to change rooms earlier hence missing his allocation of death.

When Ifeajuna left, the night manager of the hotel picked up the phone to report the incident to the police but the phones were dead. He drove down to the Force HQ. Two incidents had been reported: the kidnap of the Prime Minister and the assassination of a senior officer of the army. There was a coup going on. The scrambling of police chiefs and senior politicians began in earnest. It was around half three.

As Ifeajuna’s unit tore through the dark to the Mess (a mere three minutes’ drive), the headlamps sprayed out light as if from a water hose until they picked out an impossibility. They did not notice it until they passed by and they had to stop when they were hailed down. It was Brigadier Maimalari in pyjamas hailing them to stop, stop. When he escaped from his home, he hid in shrubs and watched as Okafor’s Land Rover sped up and down searching for him. He had been hiding and running trying to make his way to the Federal Guards barracks. When he heard or saw the light of an oncoming vehicle he dived into the road side shrubs again. An average walk from his house to the barracks was 22 minutes. Running was around 10 minutes. One hour after scaling his fence, he was already on the last lap of his journey to the Federal Guards.

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