Wednesday, January 15, 2020 4:30 am
By Damola Awoyokun
Today, 15 January, 2020 is the 54th anniversary of the first coup in Nigeria, led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu. Below is a story we published on this platform and hard copy in 2016. It details the British intelligence reports on the putsch, entitled:
British secret files on Nigeria’s first bloody coup, path to Biafra
Damola Awoyokun, an engineer and historian has perused hitherto hidden dispatches from British diplomats and intelligence officers on Nigeria’s first coup—a very bloody one—executed by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna on 15 January 1966. The coup in which political leaders and military officers of northern Nigeria extraction were majorly killed triggered a counter-coup and eventually declaration of Biafra and a civil war.
TheNEWS today shares the rare insight into the bloody event of 15 January 1966 and we believe it may serve as a good lesson as the drums of war are being sounded in some parts of our country
It was a soundless morning, dark, pulsating, starless. The harmattan spiked the 2am air with prickly cold and fog. With his finger to the trigger, the 28-year-old Major Patrick Chukwuma Nzeogwu addressed the soldiers from Charlie Company of the 3rd Infantry Battalion and some Nigerian Military Training College (NMTC) personnel. They were armed with fury, submachine guns, knives, grenades, torchlights, rocket launchers. Nzeogwu reeled about how the politicians had dragged the country to the cliff of fall and kicked it down into a worst-case scenario. He reeled about nepotism, large scale looting of public wealth, persistent poverty of the people, the yearnings of millions hollowed out by afflictions, the epidemic of insecurities, the Tiv riots, the Western Region’s daily bloodletting, the country’s tireless race to the bottom instead of high up to the plane of regard.
He pointed to Sardauna’s residence right behind him as the ultimate symbol of the filth Nigeria had become. His fellow soldiers were stunned. They did not know they had been turned into reluctant rebels. They thought this was supposed to be another night’s training exercise the brigade high command had approved for them which they started two weeks previously. Nzeogwu then asked the soldiers to concentrate on how to be necessary and to feel proud that they were the ones called upon to rescue the nation, to show the way, to be the new founding fathers of a better Nigeria. In other words, like Homer’s Illiad, he was asking them not to see the epic bloodbath that was about to start as an outbreak of evil, but their generous contribution to the redemption and welfare of the nation.
They Charged Forward
Four hours earlier around 10 o’clock, the last lights in the Sardauna’s household had gone out. They were expected to wake by 4am to eat suhur, the predawn meal to begin the fast. Ramadan started on 23rd December 1965. A week earlier, the Prime Minister Mallam Tafawa Balewa Abubakar met the Queen and the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He had invited all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers for a special meeting in Lagos from 11- 12 January to resolve Rhodesian crises. It was the first of its kind outside London. On 19 December, he went to the small village of Arondizuogu in Orlu for the commissioning of his trade minister, Dr Ozumba Mbadiwe’s Palace of the People. Built by Italian contractors, it was a three-storey affair resplendent with blue terrazzo walls, swimming pool and a fountain, grand conference halls and event rooms, red carpet and gilt chairs. All these in a village where most houses were still born of mud and thatched roofs.
Since the first tarred roads were constructed in 1890s in Lagos, and the first dual carriage way in Nigeria – Queen Elizabeth Road – appeared in 1956 in Ibadan, no road in Arondizuogu or in Orlu had ever been graced with bitumen before. Yet Mbadiwe situated the grand palace there as a source of pride for his people. At the commissioning ceremony, the Eastern Premier, Dr Okpara never saw the project as a white elephant planted by megalomania and watered by corruption, rather he hailed the project as “a great achievement for one of the priests of pragmatic socialism to have been so clever to accommodate this building within the context of pragmatic African socialism.” The press placed the value of the house at least half a million pounds. Mbadiwe said it was “at most £40,000.” After the commissioning, Abubakar then proceeded to his farm in Bauchi for his annual leave. On Tuesday 4th of January, he joined the retinue of well-wishers in Kaduna airport to bid farewell to his in-law and godfather, the Sardauna, who was going to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra, a lesser hajj, in the company of 184 other state-sponsored pilgrims. The cost of the one-week pilgrimage to the government was around £17,000.
That morning, The New Nigerian newspaper wrote an unprecedentedly scathing editorial laying the blame for the region’s financial woes and lack of development on Sardauna inefficiencies and ineptitude and asked him to “put his house in order.” When Nzeogwu read the editorial, he went straight to the paper’s newsroom and demanded to see the writer. He was in his uniform and his eyes were red. No one knew him nor had seen his face before. The staff did not know what to make of his demand. The expatriate managing editor Charles Sharp then stepped forward. Nzeogwu shook his hands and said the content and tone of the editorial reflected their thinking in the army and they had resolved to put that house in order. The newsroom did not understand what he meant until the morning of the January 15. The paper was the first to publish for the world the picture of Sardauna’s house still smouldering in the flames of Nzeogwu.
Meanwhile, the premier of the Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola received a tip from his NNDP ministers in the federal cabinet that after the Commonwealth special meeting, the Prime Minister planned to impose a state of emergency on the Western Region, drop him as an ally and appoint a federal caretaker just as he did in 1962. Market women staging protests against skyrocketing costs of foodstuffs, burnout cars, shot and charred corpses, politicians and civil servants’ houses set on fire, intellectuals’ houses emptied onto the street were weekly occurrences in the West. Ever since the rift between Awolowo the Action Group leader and Akintola his deputy, the Western Region that was an Africans-can-do-it model of governance and jaw-dropping development was turned into a landscape of sorrow, blood and tears. With fund from the public treasury and under the command of Fani-Kayode the deputy premier, Akintola’s well-armed hooligans held the upper hand while AG’s bully-boys sponsored by Dr Michael Okpara and the NCNC leadership were on the defensive. After the elections of 11 October 1965, Akintola used the state broadcasting services to announce false counts while the Okpara-sent Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Service team secretly camped in Awolowo’s house declared the correct results ward by ward. On the night of 15th October, when Akintola was to announce himself the winner, Wole Soyinka, with a generous assistance from his pistol, forced the Western Broadcasting Service to air his own subservice tape asking Akintola to resign and go. Akintola and his supporters went berserk. The police declared Soyinka wanted and he fled to Okpara in the East for temporary refuge until his arrest on 27th October 1965.
On Thursday, 13th January when Sardauna arrived from Mecca, Akintola flew to Kaduna to meet him to dissuade Abubakar from imposing a state of emergency on the West or replace him with an Administrator. Akintola had recently buried his daughter and staunchest ally Mrs Modele Odunjo who on 26th October died allegedly of overdose of sleeping pills. She was married to Soji Odunjo, who was a staunch enemy of her father and he was also the son of the Alawiye’s Chief J.F. Odunjo whom Akintola also sacked as the Chairman of Western Region Development Corporation for being pro-Awolowo. Akintola had also sent his son, Tokunbo (who died in 1973) faraway to Eton College in England. He had imported the first ever bulletproof car into Nigeria: an £8000 Mercedes Benz. As the 13th Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, he felt unchained and fired up for a total fight. With more men and firepower, he told the Sardauna, he would crush all disturbances from AG’s supporters and their Eastern sponsors. The Sardauna promised to discuss his request with the Prime Minister. Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu, a 27-year-old instructor at the NMTC who was detailed to track Sardauna’s daily movements reported this surprise meeting with Akintola to the Revolution’s high command. From his No 13, Kanta Road residence, Nzeogwu promptly dashed to the Kaduna airport where Sardauna had already gone to see off Akintola. Nzeogwu went to the VIP lounge saluted the Sardauna and wished Akintola safe journey back home convinced that in 48 hours at most, both VIPs would be counted among the dead.
That evening, Nzeogwu went back to the airport to pick up his best friend Major Olusegun Obasanjo the Officer Commanding the Field Engineers who had just finished his course in India and flew in via London. Obasanjo’s deputy Captain Ben Gbuile was supposed to pick him up at the airport but he was busy mobilising for the Revolution. And so he telephoned Nzeogwu who promptly came to the airport. Though they slept together in the same room, Nzeogwu never told him of the death awaiting certain personalities.
The following day, 14th January, Bernard Floud a British MP and director of Granada TV (now ITV) which partly owned the Northern Region Television Station was staying at the plush Hamdala Hotel in Kaduna. He had met with the Sardauna briefly to discuss funding and expansion of the television reach. They were supposed to meet the following day Saturday 15th January to continue the business talk. But there would be no tomorrow.
For Nzeogwu and his soldiers had cut through the Premier’s Lodge fence by the side and at the entrance rounded up three policemen (Police Constables Yohanna Garkawa, Akpan Anduka, Hagai Lai) and a soldier (Lance Corporal Musa Nimzo) rubbing their hands together between their knees to resist the harsh harmattan. Nzeogwu asked them to face the wall and coldly pulled the trigger on them. He was trying to man up his fellow soldiers who were still acting like reluctant rebels and give them a taste of where the night was heading. He then posted two new sentries by the entrance while he and other soldiers conducted a room-to-room search in the main house for the Sardauna. Routine police patrol that sighted the mutineers converging menacingly in front of the Premier’s Lodge radioed the British Police officer on duty in the Kaduna Police Operations room. He in turn phoned Mallam Ahmed T. Ben-Musa Sardauna’s Senior Assistant Secretary (Security). He immediately sprang up and went to the Lodge. He was shot on arrival by the sentries who were motivated by Nzeogwu’s earlier example. They had accepted the transformation from reluctant rebels to motivated mutineers.
The general alarm had woken Sardauna. He was not in the main house but upstairs in the rear annex with his senior wife Habsatu, the daughter of Mallam Abbas, the Waziri of Sokoto, his second wife Goggon Kano, the third, Jabbo Birnin Kebbi and Sallama, a house retainer. They listened and rattled prayer beads in fear for an hour as Nzeogwu and his motivated mutineers booted down doors, pumped bullets into guards mounting resistance and shouted to others, “Ina Sardauna? Take us to the Sardauna.” It was dark, Sardauna and his wives went downstairs and into the courtyard connecting the annex and the main house. They were trying to escape. On finding them, Nzeogwu shot the Sardauna and his senior wife who was trying to protect him. He then blew a whistle which was the agreed signal for all soldiers to converge at the rallying point at the front gate for the final onslaught on their symbol of national decay. The rocket-launching party then began shelling the house. Boom! Boom! The ground shuddered like the cannon fire which the great Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky laced into his 1812 overture. Nzeogwu was a lover of jazz and classical music.
Their beauty heightened his sensitivity to the decay which Nigeria was. He even mentored Captain Theophilus Danjuma to become a classical connoisseur. With the huge flame before him overpowering the harmattan and the night with abundance of light and heat, Nzeogwu was satisfied his own unit’s assignment was a success. He felt like a single note from an oboe, hanging high up there unwavering, avid for glory, above pulses from bassoons and basset horns till a drag from a clarinet took over and sweetened the note into a phrase of such delight, such unfulfillable longing making the coup’s failure unlikely with every passing bar. Nzeogwu then left for the brigade headquarters to await news from other units confident as ever like that high oboe note from Mozart’s Serenade for the Winds in B Flat that the news would be good news.
The mutineers had divided themselves into three groups. Nzeogwu headed the group that looked after the Sardauna, Captain Gbuile was to seize the 1st Brigade Headquarters, the TV and radio stations and Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu headed the group to delete the existence of Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun and his Deputy, Col Raphael Shodeinde. Ademulegun was startled when Onwuatuegwu entered his bedroom just after 2am. He was reported to have asked, how did you get in here? As the commander of the 1st Brigade of the Nigerian Army, he was the most protected personality in the whole of the Northern Region. While police personnel guarded the Premier and the Governor, Sir Kashim Ibrahim, his own guards were drawn from the 3rd infantry battalion. They guarded not only inside and outside his compound but around his main house too. But the guards had been compromised and they led Onwuatuegwu straight into the Brigadier’s bedroom. Had Ademulegun survived the assassination, he would have ordered all the guards, the guard commander and their officer commanding to face firing squad because as guards, they were supposed to die first before anything happened to him.
But he was not scheduled to survive. Onwuatuegwu asked the Brigadier, “Get dressed and come with us sir. Those are my instructions; to bring you to the headquarters.” It sounded like nonsense to him. As the head of that headquarters since 17 February 1964, he was the only person that could give such an order. His wife Latifah, 8 months pregnant, planted herself fearlessly between her husband and the pointed guns knowing full well that if she remained glued to the comfort of their bed those weapons would not be diverted away from her husband. The Sardauna’s senior wife did exactly that at that moment somewhere else. (Any other Nigerian woman would have done the same. Contrary to what the New Feminists led themselves to believe, Nigerian women were never born to be weak. In the top bedside drawer was a service pistol. As a Brigadier, Ademulegun knew a pistol was no match for 6 soldiers armed with SMGs. But he would rather fight and die gallantly than degrade the honour of his office by surrendering to subordinates.
As he made a dash for a quick draw, Onwuatuegwu opened fire on the Brigadier, his wife and the unborn. Cruelty resulted when anything stood in the way of the indefinite expansion of the will to power. Without Ademulegun dead, Nzeogwu could not preside over the biggest Brigade of the Nigerian Army. Ademulegun’s children Solape and Kole were in the next room. They heard all the clash and they were the first to see their lifeless parents surrounded by a pond of blood. Onwuatuegwu and his mutineers then strolled out across the street unchallenged by the guards to the home of Colonel Shodeinde, Deputy Commandant of Nigerian Defence Academy whom Ademulegun usually handed over the Brigade too when he was not around. They killed him too in cold blood with an angry grenade. They then left for the Brigade Headquarters satisfied their mission was a success. That was what Nzeogwu meant when he asked his fellow mutineers not to see the epic bloodbath that was about to start as an outbreak of evil but their unique and generous contribution to the development and welfare of the nation. Anything that benefitted their Revolution cannot be injurious to morals. That was their driving belief. And it freed them to be terrible.
Down in Lagos, at 11 Thompson Avenue Ikoyi, home of Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari, the commander of the 2nd Brigade, there was an elaborate gathering of all the senior officers and some junior officers for a cocktail party. It started at seven in the evening. The compound was a green sprawl patterned with stout palm trees and garden benches. Ramadan was ongoing but Maimalari did not concern himself with such rituals. Instead, military stewards in white gloves moved gracefully around with trays on which were delicately perched wine bottles with bow ribbons tied to their necks. All senior officers including their ADCs were in mufti except the Joe Nez-led regimental orchestra who amongst other songs played popular hits from the British comic play, Pinafore. Zak Maimalari was under his jacaranda tree with the GOC, Major General ‘John’ Aguiyi-Ironsi, Lt Col Yakubu ‘Jack’ Gowon and Patrick Keatley, a British journalist for the London Guardian. (Note: all Nigerian officers had English nicknames so that their erstwhile colonial officers could easily remember them) As the guests swayed to the orchestra, Jack Gowon said, “There was song of revelry by night.” It was the famous opening line of Lord Byron’s poem The Eve of Waterloo in which Byron narrates how the night before their defeat at Waterloo, French soldiers kept on drinking and dancing and womanising at a party thereby ignoring the advancement of death and destruction from the animated enemy forces. In his later account of that night, Keatley said he replied Jack Gowon:
“But surely we need not conclude that Nigeria is facing her Waterloo?”
Jack replied deferring to his superior, the guest of honour for the night: “The politicians may not know it but John sees danger but you can take it from me John will never allow this country to be torn apart. The Federal Army is his pride and joy and its final barrier that will save us from tribal warfare.” It was a tactical cleverness on the part of Major Ifeajuna, Maimalari’s Chief of Staff who organised the party to make “General John” the special guest of honour. That made it impossible for the pre-selected senior officers in Lagos to find an excuse not to attend and miss their appointment with death.
Tiv drummers and dancers from 2nd battalion in Ikeja who had performed at the send-off party for outgoing commander of the battalion Lt Col Hillary Njoku on 12th January filled up the serene Ikoyi air with a native flavour after the regimental orchestra paused for drinks. Maimalari used the occasion to show-off his new wife from Kano. His previous wife, Doinmansey Mariamu was killed on Major Fajuyi’s balcony. They were officially married on 4th January 1961 and they had two children: Abubakar, born December 1961; Amina, 1962. Fajuyi was returning from a hunting expedition when he noticed Mrs Maimalari and Mrs Fajuyi sitting at the balcony. He greeted them cordially, went into the sitting room and propped his Beretta 12 gauge shotgun against the wall. He had forgotten he still kept the shotgun loaded and primed when he left for the bedroom. Then came his little son who began to play with it. The powerful explosion razed down the sitting room window and ended the previous Mrs Maimalari outside.
On December 1965, Maimalari took another wife in Kano. The reception was held with great pomp and pageantry at 5th battalion officer’s mess with the guard of honour raising swords to form a colonnade for the newly wed to pass under. The wife was 15 years old, the brigadier, 34 years old. And so he used the cocktail as an opportunity to introduce the young girl to the South. The Queen’s cousin, Prince William of Gloucester and two other British diplomats were there at the party. There also was Colonel Tom Hunt, the former GSO1 at the Army HQ who had turned into the British High Commission’s military adviser. Colonel Berger of the US Defence Intelligence Agency was also there under an embassy defence attaché cover. While he was primarily an overt collector of open source information, he also engaged in covert collection operations. The CIA station chief’s house was nearby too. Yet no one suspected that in a few hours’ time, some junior officers who were drinking and joking with their senior officers would soon end the lives of one colonel, three lieutenant colonels and turn Maimalari’s new bride into a teenage widow. It was the eve of Waterloo and the drinks and dance continued.
Around ten o’clock, the junior officers left the party only after all the senior officers had left as it was customary. To avoid suspicion, they left one by one to dress up in full combat dress. Ifeajuna was the last to leave being the busiest person that night. He coordinated the bar, the dancers, drummers, the food and drinks servers, the orchestra, the cleaners. Once he ensured everyone was done and left, he went to salute his boss who thanked him for a job well done.
At 1 o’clock, Ifeajuna having changed into combat dress, stood up to address the 13 officers including four Majors that had been converging in his sitting room in Apapa since 11 o’clock. Major Mobolaji Johnson, a staff officer at the Army HQ and neighbour to Ifeajuna saw nothing unusual in their convergence at such an hour. Unlike Nzeogwu who at the same time was giving his pre-battle rousing speech to his fellow soldiers up North to pump up their morale, Ifeajuna did not have his finger to the trigger. Operation Damisa was organised in the North to draw and nightly train unsuspecting NCOs (Non Commissioned Officers) from various military installations under the 1st Brigade for their Revolution while their officers lied to them that it was part of a course designed to teach new nocturnal attack procedures. When in December Ifeajuna asked Maimalari for permission to do the same for the Federal Guards, the Brigadier refused. Not only because Ikoyi was the national capital with international presences, but because there was constant uneasiness that the violence in the Western Region would soon overrun Lagos as well. Conducting nightly manoeuvres even with dummy bullets and flares instead of grenades would only heighten public panic and hence was unacceptable.
However, Ifeajuna had a Plan B. Unlike in the North where the military units did not have call outs for IS (internal security operations), troops and transport from various units in 2nd Brigade down South and were frequently requested by the Police high command for IS operations to reinforce police activities in stamping down riots at a new flash point in the Western Region. This was the South’s Operation Damisa cover that Ifeajuna used to draw the pre-selected but unsuspecting NCOs for the Revolution and he had forged the necessary documents to justify the troops mobilisation. Why was it necessary to lie to the NCOs? Because no matter their feelings about the government, none would willingly take up arms against it.
After Ifeajuna finished addressing the officers and reminding them their assignments and their duty to the nation, he went to the brigade HQ to the waiting head of the NCOs – Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) – James Ogbu who went to turn out the NCOs of Camp, Signal Squadron barracks and Lagos Garrison Organisation for the so-called emergency IS operation. They were issued arms and ammunition and divided into units to be commanded by the 4 majors. Only Major Okafor left without an allocation of troops because he needed special troops for his own assignment. Away at Ikoyi, Lt. Ezedigbo and 2/Lt. Igweze had roused and primed these special troops and they were at the Federal Guards guardroom awaiting further instructions. At exactly 2am, convinced they were the five points of a bright new star for a new Nigeria and not the five fingers of a leprous hand, the five Majors led their various units to enact the Revolution. They never called it a coup nor a mutiny; they convinced themselves it was a Revolution comparable to Fidel Castro’s.
One of the Majors, Chris Anuforo was a General Staff Officer II (training) at the Army Headquarters. Assisted by second lieutenant (2/Lt.) C. Ngwuluka, he led 6 NCOs in private cars to his boss Lt Colonel Kur Mohammed on 1st Park Lane, Apapa. Mohammed had been acting chief of staff at the Army HQ since November 1965 when Adeyinka Adebayo went for a course at Imperial Defence College in London. It was Mohammed that Maimalari always requested to act when he was not in the country. When Major Anuforo’s unit arrived at his front gate on foot having left the cars some distance from the house, they tricked the guards, put them at gunpoint and conducted a room-to-room search for the Colonel. Mohammed recognised Chris being his immediate superior at the HQ but Chris had become a rebel and no longer recognised Mohammed as his superior but an enemy. Anuforo ordered the NCOs to tie his hands with rifle sling.
They all left for the home of Lt. Col. Unegbe on Point Road which was only two streets away. Unegbe like Brigadier Maimalari and Lt Col Njoku, the head of 2nd Battalion were alumni of Command and Staff College in Quetta, Pakistan. Returning from Quetta, on 1st March 1964, he took over as commander of 5th Battalion in Kano. He dispatched a company headed by Captain Tim Onwuatuegwu to quell another of the Tiv riots in Gboko. Later as the Quartermaster General at the army HQ, Unegbe was responsible for the provision of every article, clothing, equipment, weapon, ammunition, food, vehicles for the Army in general. He held the keys to the armoury and the control of armoury was vital to the success of the second phase of the Revolution. When Anuforo asked Unegbe for the keys, he refused and was shot immediately in the presence of his wife Enuma Unegbe. Even if he had handed over the keys, he would still be terminated with extreme prejudice because he was guilty. His offence was that in a Revolution packaged together by junior officers, he was a senior officer. If the Revolution succeeded, what could prevent the senior officers from using other soldiers to overcome them? Without the senior officers dead, their Revolution stood no chance. Anuforo then ordered his NCOs subordinates to carry the corpse to the waiting cars downstairs.
Anuforo then asked Col Mohammed in the car to say his own final prayers too. The Colonel did not plead for mercy nor remonstrate in any manner; he was silent and gentle as a breeze even as Anuforo’s bullets reached him from the back, took his heartbeat and fell him down. Less than an hour after they started, Anuforo’s unit had completed their mission objective. They drove to the Officers Mess of the Federal Guards in Ikoyi which was the agreed rendezvous for the units that have completed their tasks.
Unlike in the North where the Revolutionaries used the Brigade HQ as their rendezvous, why did the South opt for the Federal Guards? First, it was the only military unit at the seat of government. All government officials were easily accessible from there and they could easily be brought there as a corpse or as a living object to be paraded in front of the TV later in the day. Two, the Federal Guards was the only military unit whose head was part of the mutiny. Hence, the resources and manpower of the unit could easily be put in the service of the Revolution without seeking authorisation from anyone or forging cover-up signals like was done with other military units. It was the Federal Guards’ net and radio systems that was cryptically used to coordinate operations with Nzeogwu’s group up North.
Major Humphrey Chukwuka’s unit assisted by 2/Lt Onyefuru and five other NCOs had already finished their own assignment too and they were waiting for others at the Federal Guards Mess. Chukwuka was DAG 1 (Deputy Adjutant General) at the Army HQ. His assignment was to arrest his boss, Lt Col James Pam. Being the Adjutant General, Pam was responsible for enlistment of new soldiers, payment of all soldiers, and promotion of some soldiers. He looked after the discipline and welfare of all soldiers and supervised their medical care. He was ultimately responsible for their discharge or burial in the case of death.
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.
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.
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.
The 31-year-old Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna was the brain behind the Revolution. He studied zoology for 4 years at Ibadan University and graduated with a B.Sc before being commissioned into the army in 1961. At the age of 20, he brought glory to the nation when at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, he won Nigeria’s first ever gold medal at any international games and set a new record in high jump. He refused to wear the athletes’ spiked boots or any shoe at all for the run-up competitions. At Vancouver, in front of the international cameras, he was persuaded to wear the boots. As a compromise, he wore a boot only on one leg and jumped the highest setting a new world record in high jump and in bizarre outfitting. Ifeajuna knew he was not born to be ordinary and so was addicted to breaking rules and setting new records. As a charismatic orator and Director of Information at University College Ibadan Students Union, he led the protest against the Queen’s visit to the University in 1956.
Ibadan City was born by dissident soldiers headed by Lagelu among seven hills as a refuge for immigrants fleeing wars in 1829. By 1960, Ibadan had become the most cosmopolitan city in Nigeria. Being an embodiment of the lure of consistent non-conformism, Ibadan like New York of that time, held an extraordinary collection of flame-headed intellectuals avid for novelty and whose creativity and distinguished activisms enriched the city and the country. There was nowhere in Africa that matched Ibadan’s assemblage of fire then. There was SG Ikoku who challenged and defeated his own famous father Alvan Ikoku at the Eastern Region Assembly elections of 1956 and then radicalised his new adopted father Chief Obafemi Awolowo into socialism. There was Anthony Enahoro, Chris Okigbo, John Pepper Clark, Chinua Achebe, Tayo Akpata, Benedict Obumselu, Chike Obi, Wole Soyinka, Sam Agbam, Akin Mabogunje, Bola Ige, Emeka Anyaoku, Elechi Amadi. Ifeajuna was a friend to most of them. He wrote in his manuscript:
“It was at Ibadan also I learnt my third lesson. One morning, workmen arrived in the campus with what looked like burglar grills. In a matter of days, they had sealed off each hall or residence from the outside and turned all into cages. Altogether, they gave the place the look of a zoo, so that students saw themselves as animals on show…Then the students took a decision – the cages would have to come down faster than they had been put up. But how to do it? Everybody knew what was wanted but they had not or did not know the means and the manner of effecting the change desired and demanded by all. Each waited for the other to act or simply waited in the hope that something would happen by way of providential intervention.
“At the appointed hour, I and two others met in a hidden rendezvous. We worked out the detailed plans and assembled hammers for the job. The events which took place a week or so later went according to plan. We called a Union meeting. There were speeches, moving speeches. Then one of my friends shouted: ‘Down with the cages.’ He led the way to the hammer dump. Before long the cages were down. At the end of it all a student friend reflecting on the incident made interesting comment that a collection of professors would still be a crowd: a group must have a leader or remain in chaos. The University College was closed for a term but we made our point. And the lesson that emerged for me from this incident was the need for careful planning before [undergoing] any operation; the chance of success can be said to be proportion to the work put into the planning.”
Ifeajuna informed Okigbo the discussed Revolution was in the works. According to Wole Soyinka, Okigbo informed Achebe and informed him also without going into details. Soyinka was then on trial for allegedly using a gun to persuade the state broadcaster that instead of Akintola’s tape announcing himself as the election winner, his own tape asking Akintola to pack and go was of better value to the people. He was later freed by Justice Kayode Eso on 12 December 1965.
Ifeajuna was pleased to hear about Okigbo’s friend subversive broadcast. He regarded it as theatre; they were plotting the real stunt. On the day of this stunt, more than anywhere else in the country, there was great euphoria of vindication in Ibadan as the people leapt around on the streets like compressed chests freed at last from the tyranny of pushdown bras. Ibadan claimed Ifeajuna as one of its very own and Okigbo distilled the joys of that day into his poem Hurray for the Path of Thunder. When Nzeogwu’s voice fountained out like a genie of the lamp amongst some Ibadan intellectuals clustered around their radio at Risikatu’s restaurant, Okigbo was reported to have called for patience, patience, patience. He confidently proclaimed that there was still another voice that would soon follow suit. He was referring to his friend and chief engineer of the Revolution, Major Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna born on 3rd March 1934, married to Rose on 16th June 1959 at Lagos Registry in Ikoyi and commissioned into the army on 6th December 1960.
On the night of the coup, after Ifeajuna concluded his address to his fellow mutineers in his sitting room, he led the largest unit comprising 22 soldiers. Reaching Onikan roundabout, he divided them into three groups. One officer, 2/Lt. G. Ezedigbo and 8 NCOs would go to arrest the finance minister, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh who was then the most corrupt politician in the history of Nigeria. Just like the Downing Street model in London, the Prime Minister and Finance Minister lived side-by-side. But they had become respectively like church and state that did not mix. Another unit comprising 5 NCOs commanded by second warrant officer Onyeacha was left behind to watch over their vehicles and ensure that no other vehicle entered or exited the Onikan roundabout during the course of the operation. Ifeajuna himself commanded the remaining soldiers whose task was to arrest the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa Abubakar, the novelist and teacher turned Prime Minister.
Abubakar was widely known to hardly surround himself with guards at home or even when commuting. He always cautioned his household against striving for the inessential and ostentatious materialism which expressed itself in need for elaborate security measures. Only Abubakar could have a disabled cripple called Inspector Kaftan Topolomiyo from Nangasu in Chad as his head of security. It was only in 1964 that he consented to a supplement ADC, Sgt Maxwell Orukpabo fondly called “the Igbo” in the household. In February 1963 during a police council meeting with the four regional premiers, the newly restored Western Premier, Akintola proposed a budget for armoured cars for themselves given the security situation in the country. Abubakar softly reprimanded him: “Mr Premier, if I ever thought I would need an armoured car to go anywhere in Nigeria, I would resign.” In the pornography of corruption called the Nigerian government, Abubakar was a monk. And so Ifeajuna knew his task would be very easy. The soldiers he took to abduct him were service soldiers drawn from Signal Squadron, Lagos Garrison Organisation and Camp. None were combat soldiers.
Around thirty minutes later, without a single shot fired, the cool and soft-spoken Prime Minister emerged from the front gate of his residence untied, gently rattling his prayer beads and was dressed in a white flowing jalabiya and a pair of sandals. A lifetime of emotional discipline had rendered his signature face docile and unconquerable by fear. The dead silence of the night lent a hallowed majesty to his steps as he advanced towards his Golgotha. Behind him was Ifeajuna and eight other non-combat soldiers with guns drawn. By the time the entourage reached the parked vehicles, Okotie-Eboh his NCNC Finance Minister had been arrested with his hands tied. Abubakar was assisted into the backseat of Ifeajuna’s luxurious red Mercedes Benz while Okotie Eboh was tossed like a sack of potatoes into the back of the 3 tonner. The convoy drove to report to Federal Guard’s Officer’s Mess.
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.
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.
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.
When he saw some headlights turning in from Kingsway Road, he ducked into the shrubs again thinking it might be Okafor and his men. Instead, he recognised the red Mercedes Benz and his famous brigade major. It was not immediately clear to Maimalari that Ifeajuna was no longer in mufti but in combat uniform. Instead, Maimalari saw Ifeajuna as his hope and dashed for him. Ifeajuna slammed the brakes, stepped out with his SMG and sprayed his boss. In 1965, according to the outgoing British GOC, Major General Welby-Everard, Maimalari was brilliant but too young that was why he was excluded from the list of his possible replacement. When Maimalari’s killers lifted his body into the Land Rover, its spring sank. Maimalari was born in a little town called Maimalari in Borno Province on 2nd of January 1932. He attended Officer Cadet School, Eaton Hall in England from January – May 1951; attended Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst from August 1951 – February 1953; attended Staff College, Quetta, Pakistan from January –December 1961. He spoke five languages (English, Fulfulde, Hausa, Arabic, and Kanuri). He enlisted in the army on 10th of July 1950 and on 5th February 1953, he became the 6th Nigerian commissioned into the army after Ugboma, Bassey, Ironsi, Ademulegun and Ogundipe in that order. Maimalari was survived by his parents, a teenage wife and three children.
When Ifeajuna arrived at the Mess which also doubled as the senior officer’s mortuary, Anuforo and Chukwuka had returned with Pam’s corpse. Major Adewale Ademoyega too had finished his assignment of placing rebel troops at NET building, Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), and disabling the telephone infrastructure. The fifth Major unaccounted for was Donatus Okafor who was still searching for Maimalari. Ademoyega and Captain Adeleke then jumped into the Land Rover driven by Lance corporal Omeru and off they sped to Maimalari’s residence to inform Okafor that the Brigadier had become a stiff corpse at the Mess. The night was eventually going on as planned. It was around four o’clock. The rebels were already feeling the triumph of flying to the highest skies where stories transformed into glories. This was the time Ahmed Kurfi Secretary of State in Ministry of Defence went to inform Shehu Shagari the Minister of Works that some soldiers had vanished with the Prime Minister.
Then a comedy of errors took off that grounded the rebels and enhanced the failure of the Revolution. The general alarm in the Federal Guards barracks next door had been sounded. They had been disturbed by vehicle and troops movements up and down the barracks. Two batches of NCOs had been turned out for alleged IS operations and some gunshots were heard in the proximity of the barracks. All soldiers were ordered by the head of NCOs, RSM Samuel Tayo to gear up and proceed to their various platoons. But according to military standard operating procedure, being NCOs, they needed an officer to give them commands. So the RSM led a platoon to their Officer Commanding’s(OC) residence at No 5 George Street, Ikoyi. But Okafor was not in. He was five streets away at Thompson Avenue searching for the Maimalari. Then they headed to knock on Lt Ezedigbo – the second in command’s door at the block of flats at No 4 Lugard Avenue. He was not in too. He was part of the Revolution. So was the next in line Lt Igweze. Of all the five Federal Guard’s officers, only a very junior officer Lt Paul Tarfa was at home. Lt Joseph Osuma was not in too. He was not part of the assassins though; he had only gone out to sleep with a friend following Friday night’s festivities. If Tarfa later turned out to be somebody in his military career, it was because on that night of nights, he was present at home when the RSM arrived flustered looking for leadership. There had never been mutiny in the barracks before and so no one knew the standard procedural response.
According to his later account, Tarfa said he geared up in battle dress and was driven to the Federal Guards by the RSM’s convoy to take command. He was briefed on the situation and was told that most of the Igbo soldiers in the barracks could not be accounted for including the OC. Tarfa put the Federal Guards on a defensive alert like a cobra coiled to spring. He ordered sentries and machine guns emplaced on sandbag to be posted round the barracks walls. They made up and circulated a call out with its password “Black/Boy” so that dissent soldiers who were still coming in and out of the barracks could be identified and rounded up. Corporal Sarwuan, a Tiv rifleman became the victim of this coiled cobra. Seeing a soldier coming in from the dark, RSM Tayo challenged,
‘Halt. Who goes there?’
‘Friend.’ Sarwuan was said to have replied.
‘Advance to be recognised.’ Tayo ordered and called out “Black.”
But Sarwuan did not respond and continued to advance. Tayo called out again, “Black.” No response. The RSM’s finger twitched in the trigger guard and his heart beat faster and faster. Tayo for the third and last time called out “Black.” But Sarwuan kept advancing without replying. He had forgotten the password and Tayo concluded he was an enemy. He squeezed the trigger plunging Sarwuan’s wife and children into sadness of incomprehensive depths. Major Adegoke, who took over from Ifeajuna as the DA and QMG at 1st Brigade in Kaduna was similarly killed in 4th battalion in Ibadan having been mistaken for a mutineer/enemy. He was holidaying in his native home when he heard about the coup; he hastened to the barracks for more information only to be handed his death. Black/Boy. His Boy did not follow Black and Adegoke met his death.
That night, Tarfa who had assumed the command of the Federal Guards went to the OC’s office adjacent to his. In a file in the cabinet, he saw planning documents, operations orders and a recent signal note from Nzeogwu which read: “Ensure the Tiger is in the net. Even if recruiting more captains.” The tiger he later understood was Maimalari; the net was his death. The extra captain they managed to recruit was Adeleke who only knew of the plot hours earlier at the Apapa residence of Ifeajuna after being brought by Major Ademoyega before some departed for the cocktail. Adeleke at first refused and was told that if the Revolution to free Nigeria started and he was not with it, he would regret it maybe not that day, maybe not the following day, but soon, and for the rest of his life. He fell in enthusiastically. At around quarter past four, Adeleke was with Ademoyega at the Officers Mess when Okafor came to report that he had just lost his command; that the Federal Guards were no longer responding to his orders, that in fact they almost shot him when he went back to the barracks to mobilise more troops. The only infantry force on which much had hinged and much of the second stage would hinge was no longer with the Revolution. What had happened?
When Okafor’s lieutenants roused the NCOs for the assignment, they were told they were needed for an IS operation. They were expecting to be taken outside Lagos to crush one of the hotspot of the Western Region’s crisis or to Mushin to quell a riot as they had done three weeks before. Instead they were taken to Brigadier Maimalari’s residence and they saw his guard commander and another soldier shot dead. The guard commander was known to them. They lived in the same quarters at the barracks. They had started to doubt whether they were truly on IS operation. Again, they were ordered not give the Brigadier a chance to surrender; they were ordered to shoot him dead on sight by Okafor, a disgraced thief and a liar pardoned by the same Maimalari they were asked to kill. They concluded that this was not an IS operation; this was an assassination squad they were forced to join. The final straw came when Ademoyega arrived to tell them that Maimalari had been found and shot by Ifeajuna. His corpse laid at the Mess. It was a terrible blow to the NCOs. Okafor was relieved to hear the news and ordered his second in command Captain Oji with four NCOs to proceed to check the situation at Airport Junction in Ikeja. The remaining men were ordered to proceed to Mess for further instruction. Instead, they rebelled, passed the Mess to the barracks and threatened to shoot Okafor if he tried to give them orders anymore. It was righteous mutiny within an unholy mutiny.
According to the testimony Ifeajuna later gave after his arrest a month later, he saw the GOC’s official car and his guards driving past the entrance of the barracks. This made them conclude that it was the GOC that had roused the soldiers and placed the barracks on a defensive alert. As envisaged, the Revolution was not meant to be a one-night stand. They had anticipated that at one point, soldiers still loyal to the Nigerian Army would wake up and fight them. That was why in the first place they decided to kill off all the senior officers that will command the loyal troops. In addition, that was also why immediately Nzeogwu finished off Sarduana up North, he went to take over Brigadier Ademulegun’s office at the Brigade. Knowing that the Brigadier or his deputy would not come back, the revolutionaries had expected that the shock of seeing all the senior officers dead was enough to sag the morale of the loyal soldiers to fight back. Furthermore, Ifeajuna had planned for a further arms advantage: The firepower of the Southern brigade was in Abeokuta with the 2nd Recce Squadron and the field artillery battery. Their officer commanding, Major Obienu was a central plank of the Revolution. He was supposed to mobilise his armoured, mechanised and artillery support: all the ferrets, the scot cars, 105mm Howitzers and assemble at the airport junction in Ikeja. A unit from the Revolution high command set up at the Federal Guards Mess was supposed to go to Ikeja bring this armoured squadron into Lagos and position them menacingly in front of the barracks and other military installations to neutralise any threat to the Revolution.
But with the presence of the GOC and his perceived rousing of troops against them, Federal Guards Mess was no longer the place to set up the Revolution High command. They had to hasten up connect with Obienu’s unit and quickly establish their firepower supremacy. All the 9 corpses were quickly loaded into the 3 tonner including the Minister of Finance who was still alive and scared to death. They left in a convoy of 6 vehicles: two army Land Rovers, Okafor’s private Peugeot 403, Ifeajuna’s Red Mercedes Benz, Anuforo’s private car and the 3 Tonner.
Unfortunately for their Revolution, Obienu overdrank at Maimalari’s cocktail party. Instead of attending the briefing at Ifeajuna’s house or proceeding straight to Abeokuta as expected, Major John Obienu branched at Shomolu to taste his mistress and became glued to a cleavage of extraordinary amplitude. He lacked the strength to get up as his name was melodiously chanted with Gregorian devotion. The Revolution to save Nigeria and do better than the politicians began to fall apart piece by piece.
The 4th battalion in Ibadan was the oldest and the second biggest batallion in Nigeria. It had 26 officers and 829 NCOs. During the centenary celebrations at Mapo Hall in Ibadan in June 1963, the Olubadan of Ibadan, Sir Isaac Akinyele conferred on the battalion Freedom of Ibadan City and handed it the Key of Ibadan City. More than anywhere in Nigeria, Ibadan was historically a war-crazy city. At midnight just before his pre-battle rousing plan, to the other four Majors, Ifeajuna telephoned Captain Nwobosi, the officer commanding the Field Artillery Battery in Abeokuta. He issued the all-clear message and ordered Nwobosi and his unit to proceed to Ibadan 90km away and achieve the Revolution’s objectives there. Had the Revolution succeeded, Captain Nwobosi would have been the most rewarded.
Solving the bloodbath of the Western Region was one of the reasons they had plotted the Revolution in the first place. But up till two days before the planned date, they had no officer to actualise the operations in Ibadan, the Western Region’s capital. Nwobosi was recruited on January 12 when he came to Apapa for the Ifeajuna-organised Brigade Training Conference. Ifeajuna tried to recruit Madiebo over lunch on the same day, but Madiebo started preaching about failure being an option and tribal loyalties being stronger than national ambition among the revolutionaries. Ifeajuna had to cut him out and relied on Nwobosi who did not even know places in Ibadan very well. The 4th battalion in Eleyele which they had initially planned to use was just 10 minutes’ drive away from the Premier’s Lodge. Their commander Lt Col Abogo Largema like other battalion commanders was already earmarked for the end at Ikoyi Hotel. That would give his second in command Major Mac Nzefili a safe space to take over the command. Like all the seconds in command of all battalions in the Nigerian Army, Nzefili was Igbo. Up to the last minute, Ifeajuna harboured no doubt that he would come on board for the Revolution. He spent all of December travelling to his residence in Ibadan to discuss operational and tactical requirements but he only met his wife at home; he was always away on assignment. Also Nzefili as the British records disclosed was awaiting court-martial for getting drunk, wondering into the female quarters of the police barracks, resisting arrest and biting the ear of the arresting police officer. Nzefili declined Ifeajuna co-option.
On the night of the assassinations, Nzefili was at the officers’ mess in Ibadan when Justice Kayode Eso, Akin Johnson, the administrator of Abeokuta Local Government Council and his wife Mosun met with him. The Johnsons came to seek asylum at Eso’s residence in Ibadan having escaped Action Group’s hoodlums who accused him of gravitating towards Akintola. Eso told them he did not consider his own home safe since 12th of December 1965 after inadvertently humiliating Akintola by freeing Wole Soyinka, the un-mysterious gunman. Eso and Akintola were neighbours. Since the Johnsons knew Largema, Justice Esho took them to the barracks for refuge. According to Esho, Nzefili told them Largema was in Lagos but once he finished drinking with his mates at 11pm, he took the Johnsons to their safe rooms without knowing them personally. Largema his boss was widely respected both outside and inside the Army and Nzefili too when not drunk was a kind man.
To Ifeajuna, Nzefili was a disappointment. It was a huge relief when Nwobosi accepted to head the Ibadan task. Ifeajuna then gave Nwobosi a forged order issued in the name of Brigadier Z Maimalari authorising him to take a detachment to Ibadan for an IS operations there. This signal (instruction) was necessary in case a senior officer challenged him or the quartermaster needed proof before issuing ammo.
When they reached Ibadan shortly after 2am, they headed straight to Agodi Telephone exchange and ordered all workers to go home. Unlike Lagos, where the telephone exchange was partly automatic, Ibadan’s exchange was fully automatic. Asking the workers to go home did not silence the phones. Nwobosi and his men then proceeded to ECN (Electricity Corporation of Nigeria) Eleyele, ordered the workers to halt all power generation and go home. Ibadan was plunged into darkness. Ibadan people were already used to transcending the dark. This was the time the British head of ECN was woken up and was told soldiers had shut down the generators. Nwobosi even offered some of the workers lift to town. He was a gentleman. As they set out for the operations in Abeokuta, he saw a lonely pregnant woman in labour who couldn’t make it to the hospital. He halted his convoy and took the woman to the hospital in the army Land Rover. But it was not only because he wanted to be kind that why he gave the workers lift; they did not know the house address of their first target, Chief Fani-Kayode, the deputy premier. The lifted ECN workers showed him the address.
Of all the regions in the country and at the federal government, the Western Region was the only government with a deputy premier. When Nwobosi’s convoy arrived at the front of Fani-Kayode’s residence at Iyaganku GRA, they were shocked at the number of armed thugs that were present between the hundred metre road main gate and the main residential building. The thugs quickly ran way after being awoken by a slowly moving convoy of 16 gunners, 2 lance bombardiers, 2 sergeants, 1 battery quartermaster sergeant, 1 second lieutenant, 1 trooper and 1 captain in two 3 tonners and a Land Rover. If the violence, the rapes, house burning, lynchings, intimidation of opposition lecturers, election rigging and all other woes that had engulfed the Western Region had a face, it was that of the 44-year-old Remilekun Fani-Kayode, a Cambridge-educated lawyer who presided over the government thugs infrastructure. From 1959, he was a pro-Zik NCNC politician before Akintola poached him in 1962 and made him the Minister of Local Government and Deputy Premier of the most advanced Region in the country. According to Nwobosi, they were surprised that Fani-Kayode’s thugs quickly ran away because it contradicted the legendary stories of Fani Power they had heard. They were rather prepared for a confrontational showdown.
“Fani-Kayode! Come down you are under lawful arrest by the army” Nwobosi shouted. He said lawful because the forged signal issued in the name of Maimalari stated Fani Kayode’s arrest as one of their objectives. The compound like the city was in darkness. Visibility was provided by the headlamps of the convoy parked on the driveway.
“I am coming. I am coming; don’t shoot.” Fani-Kayode was reported to have responded from upstairs. He did not move. Nwobosi called out again. But Fani-Kayode did not move. Nwobosi then fired his gun into the ground as a warning. When their target did not bulge, they broke a glass panel in the door to gain entrance and started ransacking the house and intermittently shooting. The children were terrified and weeping. They found Fani-Kayode in his bedroom with his hands already upstretched like twin towers above his uncombed high hair.
“I surrender…I surrender…I surrender…” he chanted repeatedly already drenched in fear. Again Nwobosi and his gunners were surprised to see the feared embodiment of the legendary Fani Power shuddering.
Nwobosi, 23 addressed the 44-year-old deputy premier: “You have wasted a lot of time – we could have shot you.”
They tied him with rifle slings in front of his wife and 3 children and tossed him in the 3 tonner. His wife picked up the phone and called the Premier to report the arrest. Akintola tried to calm her down and assured her that he would get him released as soon as possible. It never occurred to him the soldiers could be coming for him too until he heard the convoy and saw the headlamps. He grabbed his gun and gathered ammunition. That night of nights, of all those fell by bullets all over the country, Akintola was the only one who died the death of a true warrior. He was not interested in the Akintola-you-are-under-arrest noises he was hearing from outside. No way! Oya, say hello to my little friend: he cocked his SMG and began to blaze furiously like Tony Montana as Nwobosi and his men tried to open his bedroom door.
Akintola was the 13th Aare Ona Kakanfo (Field Marshal General) of Yorubaland. After the previous Kakanfo, Aare Latosa who reigned from 1871 – 1885, no one had the courage to accept the title for 79 years because of the mysterious curse associated it. Since Alaafin Ajagbo inaugurated the first Aare Kokoro Gangan (Scorpion) of Iwoye in 1650, no Aare was expected to live long and enjoy a soft death. The title was like the warrior Achilles in Homer’s Iliad whose fate as explained to him by his mother, Thetis, was either to die young and gain glory, or to live a long boring life in obscurity. When Ojo Aburumaku (meaning: the wicked always live long) was installed as the 11th Aare Ona Kakanfo in 1860, Yorubaland was so peaceful that he had to foment a civil war in Ogbomosho which he then proceeded to supress with uncommon brutality just to justify his title. He was struck by lightning in 1871 and Aare Latosa, Akintola’s immediate predecessor took over. One of the reasons the Kafanfo Curse became self-fulfilling was that the overdose of courage which an Aare was supposed to possess actively insulated him from siding with peaceful resolutions, seeing reason and knowing when to stop. Several times from the 3 Tonner, Fani-Kayode called out to Akintola to cease firing; that the soldiers only came to take him to Lagos. Instead, Akintola continued to blaze his gun at Nwobosi’s men even though he never successfully hit anyone. They had fled the house and ducked behind the garden shrubs. Justice Kayode Eso who was a neighbour described the relentless shooting as sounding like the crackle of rapid bush bushing. Akintola then ran out of ammo but Nwobosi and his men did not know this, they thought he was reloading and waiting for them.
After a while, Aare Akintola held out a white handkerchief of surrender and proceeded to his balcony with his hands up. Nwobosi and his men proceeded to end him.
When Akintola’s wife saw his lifeless body surrounded by empty casings drenched in blood, she screamed. In less than three months, she had lost her husband and first child, Modele Odunjo to the Western crisis. That night, if one put one’s ear to the echo chamber of Nigeria to hear the deafening roar of woes on one side and joy on the other, one would surely break into pieces. Nwobosi and his men then made a mistake: they left for the Federal Guards Mess in Lagos without packing Akintola’s corpse with them. (He was buried the 23 January 1966 at his home in Ogbomoso)
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series. The hard copy is circulating nationawide. Damola Awoyokun, was, on 12 February 2016, inducted as a Chartered Engineer and Member of the British Institution of Civil Engineers(ICE). The first Nigerian honoured that way was Hebert Macaulay who was inducted on 5th December 1893. We celebrate his achievement with this cover story.
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