51 Years of Nigeria’s 1st coup: What British Intelligence officials wrote about it

51 Years of Nigeria’s 1st coup: What British Intelligence officials wrote about it

Sunday, January 15, 2017 1:50 pm

The truth was: Dr Abyssinia Akweke Nwafor Orizu being a crook should never have held any political office had Nigeria been a proper country. In 1946, Orizu presided over a new form of heartless fraud. Families and whole villages in the East sold their possessions to send a single student from their village to university because like Awolowo, they were passionate for the benefit of good education. Orizu a PhD holder, formed an agency, American Council on African Education (ACAE) to find these village students admission into American universities. He collected the maintenance funds from their parents and other sponsors and diverted them partly or totally to other personal and business schemes. In 1947, two prominent African Americans Alain Locke and George Schulyer resigned over Orizu’s conduct of affairs. Horace Mann Bond, the African American president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania who provided Orizu’s agency with many tuition-free scholarships complained regularly and bitterly about Orizu’s failure to financially support the students whom Orizu had placed in his school.

The 32-year-old Orizu was found out and on 2nd of February 1953 was arrested. Azikiwe, Mbonu Ojike and Kola Balogun went to bail him out. On 9th February, his brother Joseph Onyekusi Orizu was arrested in Gusau and taken to Port Harcourt. On 12th February both brothers were charged in a statement that read: “That you between May 1, 1946 and December 31, 1951 at Port Harcourt, in the Port Harcourt Magisterial District, conspired together with other persons unknown to defraud such person as might be induced to deposit money with you as officers and agents of a body known as the American Council on African Education Incorporated, and you thereby committed an offence punishable under the Criminal code.” When their lawyer told the court that Orizu was a honourable man, a PhD holder, a royal Prince in Nnewi, a member of the regional legislature, and also Azikiwe’s nominee for Minister of Local Government, Magistrate Dickson retorted: “This court is not a department under the Government and it is not subject to any political party.” Orizu was later jailed for 7 years. On Tuesday 22nd September 1953, he arrived Lagos Prison by train under escort to serve his term. At the House of Commons debate of 29 April 1953, James Johnson the MP for Kingston upon Hull West berated Oliver Lyttelton, the secretary of Colonies for taking so long to arrest the Orizu brothers: “Is not it somewhat disgraceful that it has taken so long to investigate this case of defrauding parents and students?” Hence allowing him to cause untold hardship to his own people?

Herbert Macaulay

Herbert Macaulay

The so-called father of Nigerian nationalism and founder of NCNC, Hebert Macaulay was working in the Ministry of Land and Surveys when he was caught twice for diverting public lands for personal benefits. In 1914 he was convicted for forgery and in the second instance he was convicted of perjury. As an ex-convict, he could not hold any elected office despite many pleas for pardon to first L ord Lugard and later to Donald Cameron the colonial governor who enabled elective politics in Nigeria. To Cameron who was then the warmest, friendliest governor with the Lagos high society, there was nothing politically-motivated in Macaulay’s conviction, it was pure criminality. Hence no pardon. His son, Oged (Ogedengbe) Macaulay lost his eligibility for elective office when in 1952 as a councillor on Lagos Town Council, he swindled J.M. Jazzar, the Lebanese transport magnate in Lagos by falsely pretending that he was in a position to influence the councillors of the Lagos Town Council to get him a bus route permit. (This was even different from the 1-year sentence handed him in 1950 for sedition and being a member of Zikist movement that promoted violence to achieve anti-colonial agenda). The logic behind the rule was that the government was a sacred job; if crooks were allowed to determine the destiny of the people, the people would suffer indefinitely.

Nwafor Orizu: convicted for fraud

Nwafor Orizu: convicted for fraud

But in the case of Orizu, who was the intellectual proponent of Zikism, Mbonu Ojike, Azikiwe, Mbadiwe started to entrench the false narrative that Orizu was convicted by the British colonial government not for embezzlement but as a revenge for his fiery anti-colonial speech given at the 1947 Enugu Coal riots rally. Never mind that more important figures such as H.O. Davies also gave fiery speeches at the rally too but were not fraudsters hence not fated for conviction by the colonial government. But in the case of Orizu, colonialism became the excuse for a crook to be turned into a national hero. Azikiwe made Orizu whole by nominating him unopposed to represent Nnewi in the Federal elections of 1959 that ushered in self-rule.

The existence of colonialism provided Nigeria’s moral system the perfect excuse to develop and strengthen the disdain for the objective perception of value on which any civilised society must rest. When colonialism expired in 1960, the disdain remained alive and thriving through the force of habit. In 1961 for instance, Dr Okejukwu Ikejiani, the pro-chancellor of University of Ibadan was caught lying about a certificate he never had. A visiting scholar from University of Toronto who happened to be from the same department which allegedly awarded Ikejiani’s certificate was the first to point out that Ikejiani never had that esteemed Doctor of Science degree. Ibadan erupted and there were calls for Ikejiani to resign and be prosecuted. To Azikiwe who was the head of government, the visitor to the university and in charge of such appointments, Ikejiani was being “persecuted” because he, Azikiwe, had dared to appoint an other Igbo after Francis Ibiam as the Pro-chancellor and head of the governing council of a flagship Federal University in a non-Igbo region in particular when the Vice chancellor was already an Igbo. Before departing Toronto University where he rightly earned his undergraduate medical degree, Ikejiani seduced and frequently unhooked the lovely secretary at the Vice Chancellor’s office until she embossed a Doctor of Science certificate in his name complete with authentic signatures but with no education behind it. After the Toronto University investigation into the matter, the secretary realised her wrongdoing and quietly accepted her dismissal. But that was Canada. In Nigeria, one of the criteria of eligibility for being considered a national hero was to be a bonafide crook. When Ikejiani was forced to finally resign, being a medical doctor, Azikiwe made him whole like Orizu by appointing him to the State House as one of his personal physicians. He was not done: Azikiwe then reappointed him again to his former unfilled post less than two years later. He still was not done: In 1964, Azikiwe decorated him with the national honour – Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) – pun unintended – ‘for his service to the nation.’ If anyone is interested in why Nigeria ended up being a pit latrine of implacable corruption where intelligence cannot assert itself in the conduct of public affairs, the Orizu and Ikejiani Affair is where to begin. Azikiwe put into disorder all considerations based on value. And the absence of the objective perception of value produced the will to tribalism which eliminated the prospect of any meaningful progress for the nation.


Had the ministers who came to Orizu for the swearing-in request been from his party NCNC, had the candidate they presented been Ozumba Mbadiwe, Orizu would never foot-dragged or pretended to be calling Azikiwe on a phone that lacked dialling tone. Ironsi too would have looked the other way, gone back to his subordinate officers and inform them that according to their code of conduct, the military must aid civilian power not to take over it. Orizu who claimed he needed Azikiwe’s consent before considering swearing in Dipcharima would later publicly hand over the government to Ironsi without the need for Azikiwe’s consent. The Northern soldiers saw through all these phonies and they quietly fumed.


Why was the Revolution regarded necessary in the first place? A false analysis of the Nigerian condition grounded in weak data and rapid decadence of the love of truth resulted in a widely believed myth of Northern domination. Whereas the truth was more salient: One, for 50 years since 1912, the North was the richest region in the country with even the highest employment opportunities for anyone willing to work. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Emeka Okujwu, Bola Ige, Sonny Odogwu and Maryam Babangida were born by parents who like millions of Southerners went to seek economic fortunes in the prosperous North. Two, Kaduna and Kano had more than military installations than the whole of South combined. This is because Northerners joined the army’s lower ranks than Southerners when Britain needed troops for the colonial and world wars. That was why the colonial government built more military institutions in the North. However, only the 1st Recce Squadron in Kaduna was headed by a Northerner, Major Hassan Katsina. All the other units where headed and administratively staffed by Southern officers and very few expatriates. Three, on 26th January 1953, Awolowo’s Western Regional Government published the list of 200 successful candidates for the highly coveted scholarship scheme for teacher training courses and university studies. Western scholarships were also given to Eastern students resident in the West but no Northerner was on the list. On 2nd February 1953, the Eastern Regional Government published the list of its own 121 scholarship awarded. There was no Western or Northern student on the list. On 6th April 1953, Northern Regional Government published the list of 60 successful candidates. There were Easterners and Westerners on the list.

Four, 1st October 1960 only marked the final process of independence from Britain, but the first stage started in January 1952 with the inauguration of indigenous regional governments. Sardauna was the first to appoint non-Northerners to the Northern Regional Assembly. He appointed Felix Okonkwo an Igbo Easterner, as special interests’ representative of Kano and Solomon Oke James a Yoruba Westerner resident in Kaduna. Awolowo reciprocated by appointing Alhaji Mukthar, Seriki of Sabo in Ibadan. There were already Easterners in the Western House. The Eastern Regional Assembly never reciprocated the gesture by appointing any Northerner or Westerner. Other Regions opened up to embrace non-natives in their governments. Except the East. It was true then; it is true today. The myth of Northern domination then was an organised distraction from something else.

The origin of “Igbo Coup”

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. The northern party, NPC too not wanting to be left out of the party expressed support. Sultan of Sokoto whose Prince the dead Sardauna was prayed for the success of the new regime. His press statement read: “Both regimes, the old and the new, came to us from God.”

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