Nigeria’s first coup, Biafra: British Secret files (Part Two)

Nigeria’s first coup, Biafra: British Secret files (Part Two)

Sunday, June 19, 2016 5:22 am

 Samuel Ogbemudia(rtd)

Samuel Ogbemudia

Prof Adeyemo Elebute is the biographer of Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies who like Ajayi Crowther and Aina Forbes Bonetta   was one of Nigeria’s founding fathers. Elebute was also one of the founding members of LUTH. In an interview with this author, he confirmed he was one of the doctors who treated Nzeogwu’s neck injuries when he was brought to LUTH prior to his proposed absorption into the Ironsi government that was used to deceive him into coming over to Lagos. For months, burnt people including children partially turned into carbon were brought to LUTH everyday from Western Region’s Operation wetie. The hospital staff, bed spaces and medical resources had been overwhelmed many times over. Yet LUTH was only at the periphery of the Western crisis. UCH and other General hospitals all over the Region were completely swamped by the crisis. According to Elebute, it was the coup that provided the hospitals the much needed relieve. When eventually, Nzeogwu arrived at LUTH, he was feted like a rock star by the staff. The revolutionaries were seen as Igbo Beatles and Nzeogwu was their John Lennon. I Want to Hold Your Hand: The doctors, nurses and other health officials were ecstatically eager to catch a glimpse of him in his heavily guarded ward and shake his hands. To many, the general joy was comparable to the day the Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. But to deeper minds, it was comparable to the day Albert Einstein published the theory of general relativity (what was heinous murders to some can be called national liberation to others). Great intelligence specialises in heresies.

The first set of people to call the coup an Igbo coup were Igbos. According to M. Chidi and C. Usonos who were traders in Kano at that time, since the coup was popular and welcomed all over the country, it was a thing of joy and pride that their brothers had ‘saved’ Nigeria. When Ifeajuna won Gold in 1954 Commonwealth Olympics, because of its immense popularity, it was first regarded as a victory for the black race, then victory for Africa, then Nigeria. Eventually it was rightly and naturally claimed as a victory for Igbos just as Jesse Owen’s victory in the presence of Hitler in 1936 Olympics was a victory for all Americans and later narrowed down by black Americans as an exclusive victory for them.


Major Samuel Ogbemudia, a non-Igbo was an instructor at the NMTC; he shared the same office with Nzeogwu but did not know about the imminent Revolution. His other colleague Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu, an Igbo was co-opted as the deputy commandant of the Northern operations of the Revolution. Major Olusegun Obasanjo, another Hausa-speaking non-Igbo was Nzeogwu’s best friend. He was serving with 1 Field Squadron (Army Engineers). He arrived the country two days before the coup and slept in the same room with Nzeogwu in the bachelor’s quarters at No 13, Kanta Road barracks just as before he left the country. He was not told of the Revolution too but his deputy, Captain Ben Gbulie, an Igbo at the same 1 Field Squadron (Army engineers) was invited and was tasked with securing the Brigade HQ and other key points.


With the public adulation that hailed the execution of the Revolution, Ogbemudia and Obasanjo went to the brigade HQ the morning after and asked Nzeogwu, “Why didn’t you tell us?” They saw the Revolution as history in the making and they were jealous. According to Ogbemudia in an interview he had with this author, Nzeogwu’s response was, “We couldn’t tell everybody.” But what criteria did they use to determine who to invite, who to exclude, who to eliminate with extreme prejudice? Why did Nzeogwu after killing Sardauna hastened to the home of Major Hassan Katsina, the only Northerner heading a military unit in the North to demand at gunpoint if he supported the Revolution or not? Had Katsina said he was against it, he would have been shot in front of his wife and children. But why did Nzeogwu not perform the same stunt with Major Alexander Madiebo, another Igbo Easterner heading a combat unit (1st Field Battery(Artillery))? According to Madiebo in his book Nigerian Revolution and Biafra War (pg 16): “Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, for instance, invited me for lunch (on 12 January 1966), during which he expressed a view that an immediate coup was the only solution to the nation’s numerous political problems. In agreeing with him, I expressed doubts on the chances of the success of such an exercise in a country where tribal loyalties were much stronger than the national and ideological ones. He immediately changed the topic of conversation and never mentioned it again.” So Nzeogwu knew Madiebo who was already in Kaduna was not for the Revolution yet he never accompanied his gun with gra gra to Madiebo’s bedroom to give him the Katsina treatment. Madiebo rightly knew and said that the ethnic loyalties binding the coup plotters would be stronger than any national or ideological ones no matter how they choose to spin it to the contrary. He knew that instead of being hailed as national youth service corps, they would end up damned as ethnic youth service corps.


When the dust of euphoria that greeted the selective assassinations finally settled after 3 months, it became crystal clear to Igbos and non-Igbos alike that the list of those killed and those left un-killed can neither be a fluke nor a coincidence; that the lack of equal opportunity to the assassinations was the result of a lack of equal representation amongst the assassins; that it would be difficult to escape the conclusion that the Revolutionaries had removed a predatory domination of the country by North only to impose another predatory domination by the East.


With the promise of revenge, the Igbos who were proud to say our boys did it began to beat a frightened retreat: “It was not an Igbo coup, a Yoruba man was among… Nzeogwu is Igbo in name only he is actually a Northerner…No, no, the coup plotters wanted to hand over to Awolowo… (This never featured in Nzeogwu’s speech) …etc…etc…”


But in the North and all over the barracks, driven by the desire for vengeance and by the conviction that hell was not even half full yet, the first of the many revenge massacres of 1966 started on 29 May in Kaduna and Kano. A war followed the following year. All because of an ill-conceived Revolution.


In 2001, at the age of 65 years, Elizabeth Pam, a Northerner and the widow of James Pam went to see Humphrey Chukwuka in Enugu the former capital of Eastern Region. She was 30 years old in 1966 when Chukwuka took James away and never returned him to her as promised. Elizabeth did not call for justice as an alternative to the loss of her beloved husband neither was she avid for tribal accusations that was common to Chukwuka’s people. She just uttered those difficult words: “I forgive you.” She died soft on 10th of May 2011 surrounded by her children and her illustrious moral superiority. Amazing Grace.

*Damola Awoyokun, an engineer,  is a writer and historian. This excerpt is from his forthcoming trilogy on Nigerian history from 1700 – 1970. He can be reached on twitter @osoronga or email

Join The Conversation


  • Donnie williams says:

    I understand the feelings and notion that it had the bearings of an Igbo coup. However, you have failed to dwell on the crisis in the western region as a big part of the trigger that even made the soldier boys want to take over. CAUSE AND EFFECT brother

    • David says:

      The remedy did not fit the injury, which was merely an excuse for the stratagem.

      • Musa Efuna says:

        The Revolution was very popular along the length and breadth of the country. It was hailed as freedom from bad luck: “the end of corrupt regime.” Daily Times the leading newspaper in the country led the chorus: it called Nigeria since 1960 a sick bay: “Something just had to be done to save the Federation. Something has been done. It is like a surgical operation which must be performed or the patient dies. The operation has been performed. It has proved successful. And it is welcome.” The National Union of Nigerian Students welcomed the coup. All the trade unions issued statements supporting the Revolution

        • Sampson Iroabuchi Onwuka says:

          The author pointed out that Zik was politically weak and was facing a Northern domination. It is not a well argued point but he is leading

      • Musa Efuna says:

        My question is WHY WAS THE COUP VERY POPULAR ALONG THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF THE COUNTRY. WHY WAS IT HAILED AS FREEDOM FROM BAD LUCK according the author’s account in the portion of text I quoted?

  • Raphael says:

    have gone through many literature to know that there was nothing like
    Igbo Coup, the Euro-America use Igbo as patsy for their aspiration to
    come back and control Nigeria. The coup plotters are not only Igbos, why
    are they calling it Igbo Coup. The indices of Coup was on ground in the
    Country, such as the Census crises in the North and Political crises in
    the West. Now, the inability of the FG to control the situations was
    the one the reason why they struck.

    We are familiar with covet operations of early 1950s dirty jobs of CIA,
    MI5/MI6, KGB, MOSSAD etc in setting war across the globe. An example is
    the Guatemala Coup that remove Jacob Carlos Arbenz. The same happen in
    Congo to the removal, Patrice Lumumba,
    one of the most patriotic citizen in the history of man. Still Belgian
    government and CIA backed up coup that killed him. Have we forgotten
    how US backed up coup that killed Quaddafi of Libya? Nobody should tell
    me that Igbos plotted the coup. The list of the plotters is here for
    1. Major Chukwuma Kaduna
    Nzeogwu(Delta Igbo)
    2. Major Adewale Ademoyega
    (Yoruba) author of “Why we
    3. Capt. G. Adeleke(Yoruba) 4. Maj. Ifeajuna(Igbo)
    5. Lt. Fola Oyewole(Yoruba)
    author of “The reluctant rebel”
    6. Lt. R. Egbiko(Esean)
    7. Lt. Tijani Katsina(Hausa/

    8. Lt. O. Olafemiyan(Yoruba)
    9. Capt. Gibson Jalo(Bali)
    10. Capt. Swanton(Middle Belt)
    11. Lt. Hope Harris Eghagha
    Lt. Dag Warribor(Ijaw)
    13. 2nd Lt. Saleh Dambo(Hausa)
    14. 2nd Lt. John Atom Kpera

    People should read books not
    written by Nigerians and not directly related to Nigeria. I have read
    two books that can help us understand the nature of civil war. The books
    are 1. The Puppet Masters: Spies,
    Traitors and the Real Forces Behind World Events by Col. John
    Hughes-Wilson (Rtd)
    2. The Secret
    History of Assassination: The Killers and their Paymasters Revealed By
    Richard Belfied

    • Damian says:

      Oga, the shit here is that military has totally no business with government! We all know what Ironsi brought to table when he assumed power, trying to enforce a unitary system of government in a state as heterogeneous as Nigeria. Nigeria as one remains a threat to the US, left for the US other countries are to be shredded into smaller pieces while they act as a big brother, exploiting and controlling the entire world!

  • GodwinA says:

    The bias is written all over this account.

    Lying liars

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  • Sampson Iroabuchi Onwuka says:

    The coup of January 15th 1966 was a covet operation to arrest political dissidents in Nigeria especially N.P.C that was obstructing justice, and countering executive orders. It was countered by these politicians and those resisted the arrest were gunned. It was perhaps not a coup since Azikiwe was the man in Charge, and there the political measures necessary to homage all the dissident group was within the struggle in the house. Some of his orders were privately and publicly countered by some of the Premier, especially in the North, which if it becomes obvious in a country like U.S was death sentence through the Police and not even the military. But some of the allegation are usually false, but then there was others who saw Nigeria deteriorate from lawlessness. Whether it was a political sabotage is a second argument, the administration was weakened by entrenched protest psychology from the days of ‘indirect. So the northern was expecting Nnamdi Azikiwe to rule through them – which I think he was doing, but when became the President, it was beginning of direct rule over the South where it prospered and then to North were it was not accepted in good faith unless perhaps Sarduana became President. Nzeogwu mentioned something important that the Igbos unlike other peoples of the world that harbored a sense of their own superiority, the Igbo who – according to him were not necessarily better – usually get message to you in your face. I believe making a reference to the poorly orchestrated operation in Lagos and Ibadan, and in the East, but it is important for what he subconsciously entertained that it seems to him and not to us, that Igbos or the South were not interested in ‘indirect rule’ – they wanted as a matter of fact, direct rule which Britain didn’t think was necessary. It was Nnamdi Azikiwe’s administration as the elected President of the Country. N.C.N.C was dominant in Nigeria until the Northern Peoples Congress began to challenge their dominance. The party decided the outcome of the results was Action Group, but from 1963 they faced internal split between S.L Akintola who lost in the election to Obafemi Awolowo’s group who were also popular in Lagos. But with the influence of N.P.C he was installed in office and Awolowo was imprisoned and so on…

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