Sunday, January 15, 2017 1:50 pm
But Ejoor was desperate to go. Military doctrine required that in time of crisis, a commander must connect with his unit and take charge. More so, the signal signed by Ironsi and circulated by Maimalari at the Brigade Training Conference the previous day stated that Commanders should tighten security when they get back to their units and to warn all their subordinates against disloyal acts. Had Ejoor joined Njoku and Ironsi in having breakfast and postponed going to Enugu, the coup would not have ended up as one night stand but would have dragged on and on taking with it many lives.
Coup High Command in Transit
When the coup high command reached the airport junction, they could not wait there. Being a strategic junction, there was an unanticipated police check point there. They had to travel further outwards towards Abeokuta because they had corpses and the Finance Minister was on board so they did not want to risk police attention. Of the six vehicles that left Federal Guard’s Mess, Okafor’s private Peugeot 403, Ademoyega’s army Landrover, Anuforo’s private car and the 3 Tonner arrived. Ifeajuna’s car and Chukwuka Landrover did not turn up. Major Humphrey Chukwuka’s unit assisted by 2/Lt Godwin Onyefuru were detailed to go and do to Gowon what they had been doing to all other senior officers. Being the new commander, it was important he was dead so that the battalion made up of mostly Northern soldiers of Tiv origin will not be mobilised for the upcoming showdown during the second stage of the coup.
On reaching the cantonment gate, the sentries told Chukwuka they did not know where the new commander was. It was then that Ironsi and his escorts arrived and Chukwuka left for his block of flats at Ikeja. It was some minutes after five. When Major Nzegwu saw their building awash in the arriving Land Rover’s lights, he berated Chukwuka from his opened window:
“Humphrey, your wife has since being crying, where have you been?”
Nzegwu was Chukwuka’s next-door neighbour in the same block of flats. They were both staff officers at the Army HQ. While Chukwuka was the deputy Adjutant General under Pam, Nzegwu was a Staff Officer under Kur Mohammed. Nzegwu was the Army’s liaison officer with the Air force and with the airport commandant in case flights were needed to be booked or army’s visitors welcoming protocols needed to be prepared. He was the one Kur Mohammed had in mind to deploy hours earlier at Maimalari’s cocktail, when Ironsi asked Mohammed to bring the London Guardian’s correspondent Patrick Keatley to his office at 10am the next day for a discussion on the Smith rebellion in East Africa and to take him to the airport afterwards to catch his flight.
Nzegwu did not know that Chukwuka, his colleague and neighbour had just participated in an event that would lead to Nzegwu’s own death six months later. In other words, Nzegwu had just 6 months left to live without knowing it. Had he known, he would not have asked, “Humphrey, your wife has been crying, where have you been?” He would also have asked: “Humphrey, why have you done this to me?”
Shortly afterwards, the barrack alarm went off. Being a combat battalion, all soldiers had to report to their various company offices. According to Onyefuru’s account of that night, to obey the alarm, he had to leave the Chukwuka to join his company. Chukwuka later called his company office to ask for Lt Zacchaeus Idowu, the Quartermaster of the battalion. But on hearing Onyefuru’s voice in the background, he asked him to come on the intercom. Chukwuka then asked if anyone knew anything yet. Onyefuru replied that they were awaiting the GOC’s briefing. Chukwuka panicked, left his crying wife and fled to the East for refuge via Ijebu Ode road while Ademoyega, Anuforo and the rump of the coup plotters were still waiting for him on Abeokuta Road. The Revolution that looked so promising an hour earlier was no longer itself. Its drivers were staring into a deep well and seeing a trapped sky. It started to dawn on them that their stories may not become glories after all. But there was no going back.
At some minutes past 5 o’clock, Anuforo and Ademoyega decided to proceed to Abeokuta, mobilise Obienu and his firepower to keep the Revolution on track. There were nine corpses in the 3 tonner and it was not necessary to give them a lift to Abeokuta when they could easily dispose them right there in the bushes by the roadside. It was then that Anuforo noticed the drum-waisted Okotie-Eboh.
‘Who is the man?’ he asked.
When Anuforo was told he was the man who controlled the public wealth and the nation’s finances, Anuforo was angry and he became very horny to end him. After all, pulling trigger and watching blood splutter gave Anuforo high voltage hickies and monkey bites. He was already the busiest killer of the night with three officers’ lives under his belt. As the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal said: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” Using his church mind, Anuforo helped the Finance Minister descend the steps of the 3 Tonner, and asked him to say his last prayers. He cocked his SMG and Okotie-Eboh’s corpse was dumped along all the corpses in the bush by the roadside. Then the convoy drove down to 2nd Recce Squadron in Abeokuta to activate the command there. They arrived at around half seven in the morning around the same time Ironsi’s tea and biscuits arrived at the battalion headquarters at Ikeja.
David Ejoor left Ironsi and Njoku and ordered Major Henry Igboba, Njoku’s 2ice to radio Joseph O’Neill who was the senior operations officer and the airport commandant to arrange a security flight for him to Enugu. Unknown to Ejoor, Ifeajuna and Donatus Okafor having missed Anuforo and Ademoyega were racing to Enugu to raise infantry troops to continue their Revolution.
According to the testimony Ifeajuna gave to his interlocutors after arriving from Ghana on 14 February 1966 in the company of Okigbo, when he and his fellow revolutionaries left the Federal Guard Mess en-route Ikeja, he had to shear from the convoy to deposit Lt Ezedigbo at Yaba Military Hospital. A bullet ricocheted and hit him during the assassination of Largema and he was losing so much blood. He then rushed to quickly re-join Ademoyega and others at the agreed rendezvous. But the problem was that there were so many roadblocks on the way manned by soldiers and police; they thought Ironsi ordered the roadblocks as part of his effort to subvert their Revolution. Ifeajuna was even criticising Okafor for not going to kill Ironsi first instead of Maimalari. Ironsi was an administrative general; he commanded no troops hence ranked low in their initial threat estimate. Unknown to them, the roadblocks were the initiative of the police high command to prevent the Western crisis from spreading to Lagos. Also the convoy comprised army Land Rovers and a 3 Tonner, and so they sailed unobstructed through all the roadblocks. But after leaving the hospital, Ifeajuna discovered that since they were no longer in a military convoy, they were susceptible to being stopped and searched at any roadblock. Moreover, he had guns, ammo, an easily recognisable Prime Minister in the car and Abogo Largema was in the boot pillowed by an extra tyre. According to his later testimony, they had to take side roads to reach Abeokuta Road. They arrived 10 miles away from their rendezvous. He said Abubakar had become a mess of panic and had grown hysterical since the shooting of Maimalari. He was blabbering to himself, his jaws and limbs vibrating uncontrollably. In other words, the Prime Minister had become totally ordinary. And Ifeajuna did not like that. He did not plot a coup to possess the ordinary; he was interested in capturing the Absolute just like in Vancouver in 1954 where he conquered gravity and vaulted higher than any man in the history of the world. He was not interested in the gold medal; he was interested in the record. (In an interview Ifeajuna’s wife Rose gave, she said he did not even know where the gold medal was even before they married in 1959. It was the record that mattered to him.) Ifeajuna said he did not intend to harm or hurt Abubakar. And so they took him out of the car to see if fresh air would do him some good, rescue him from being common and ordinary so that Ifeajuna could enrich his record.