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Brigadier Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi

Brigadier Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi

Last week was a week of reminiscences. It was the week when egg heads in the academia, political enthusiasts, patriots and other sundry leaders of thought across the country gathered to remember some fallen heroes, who, without the efforts of the conveners of such glittering gatherings, would have continued to remain unsung and forgotten.

Some of these memorial events took place in Ibadan, Kaduna and in some towns, South East of the country. It was not a celebration as such but the events were intended to remember the sad events of July 29, this day which has the dubious distinction of being a counterpoise to January 15, in the country’s chequered political calendar.

The first military coup took place on January 15, 1966. Regarded as the coup of the five majors, it led to the killing of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first and only prime minister to date, as well as Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, premier of Northern Nigeria who was also the Sardauna of Sokoto and his Western Region counterpart, Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Federal Minister of Finance, Festus Okotie-Eboh was also killed in the coup. Many leading officers from the North were also killed. They included Brigadier Zakari Maimalari, Col Kur Mohammed, Lt Col Yakubu Pam, and Lt Col Abogo Largema. Death toll included three southerners, Col R. Shodeinde and Brigadier Ademulegun from the West and Col Unegbe from Mid-West. Because of the selective killings and the lopsided composition of the coup plotters, majority of them, Igbo officers, led by Major Chukwma Nzeogwu, the coup was seen as an Igbo plot to eliminate the Northern political as well as military leaders.

No Igbo political leader was killed in the coup and no attempt was made, thereafter to punish the coup plotters who were regarded as mutineers. Indeed Major General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi who took over as head of state and supreme commander of the Armed Forces, to all intents and purposes, seemed to have found himself on the horns of a dilemma. He promised to try the coup plotters not only to assuage the feelings of the North but to restore order and discipline in the force. But he prevaricated. In the south, Nzeogwu and his colleagues, who were arrested and detained, were regarded as heroes. The North saw them differently. Apparently Ironsi did not want to sacrifice the support of those from the south who did not want anything to happen to their heroes. And he took no steps to restore disciple as Supreme Commander. Sadly he paid with his life.

On July 29, officers from the North, led by then Major Yakubu Danjuma, went on revenge mission. They got General Ironsi who was in Ibadan to hold a meeting with traditional rulers and shot him along with his host, governor of Western Nigeria, Col Francis Adekunle Fajuyi. Thirty-two-year-old Colonel Yakubu Gowon succeeded Ironsi as head of state.

Fifty years down the line, the events that shook the country to its foundation and which eventually culminated in an unfortunate civil war from 1967 to 1970 have not been erased from our collective memories. In fact, that was the main reason for the Ibadan gathering; to remember and celebrate the gallantry of Colonel Fajuyi, the host who courageously offered himself to be killed with his guest, if he could not do anything to save him.

Fifty years on, Nigerians seem not to have come to full terms with this ugly chapter in the country’s history. There have been no unanimity of views of what happened and why it happened. Each side has a story to tell. And each narrative is so impressive and so convincing until you get into another narrative. From the Ibadan gathering last week where Major General Olufemi Olutoye, the Owa of Ido-Ani who presided over the function came a totally shocking revelation. General Olutoye was not a stranger to Major Nzeogwu, the coup leader. They were course mates in India in 1964.

General Olutoye said he knew about the coup plan way back in 1964. Nzeogwu told him of the coup. He said he lost interest in it because Nzeogwu said it was going to be bloody. Olutoye said he did not join the army to turn the gun against his own people. The real bombshell, I think, is the Owa’s claim that the coup plotters would have transferred power to Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was then serving a prison term in Calabar convicted of treasonable felony. He said Nzeogwu did not lay claim to any political leadership qualities and did not intend to govern Nigeria after the coup. This brilliant academic-turn soldier now a traditional ruler must know what he meant. Very revealing. But how would this have suited Awo, the democrat and nationalist who was then serving term for a similar offence? Proof of Awo’s culpability or the wishful thinking of Nzeogwu, a clear-eyed radical idealist, who wanted to remake the country in his own image? We can never know.

But the bottom line is that till this day, 50 years later, the wounds inflicted on the nation by the January 15, 1966 misadventure have not fully healed despite Gowon’s famous three Rs – rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction that signalled the end of the civil war in January 1970.

One significant fall out of this crisis is the continued tales of conflict, contradictions and agitations even threats of secession as if they are our local equivalent of the weapon of mass destruction. Today, those who want Nigeria restructured seem not so sure, in my view, how they want it done. Before the advent of the military in 1966, Nigeria started off as a federation of three regions: the North with NPC in power, the East of NCNC and the West of Action Group, a federal structure which Ruth First likened to a tripod of three regions with the legs of uneven length and fashioning. The North was too big and it was domineering, so said its critics. The West under Action Group put up a ferocious fight to see to the breakup of the North into more manageable pieces. The agitation which this engendered led to the Tiv riots of 1964 and the demand for Middle Belt Region. It did not come to be but the brinkmanship deployed by political rivals led, instead, to the breakup of the Western region and this resulted in the creation of Mid Western region. There was a similar agitation by the minority ethnic groups in the Eastern Region that wanted a space for themselves.

This was the situation up to the time of military intervention in 1966. When Ironsi crushed Nzeogwu’s rebellion and took power from the rump of the federal civilian cabinet, the first wrong step he took was the abolition of the regional governments and putting an end to federalism. Instead of the regions, Nigeria was to be broken into groups of provinces and in place of federal structure, the Supreme Commander imposed a unitary system of government with the military’s central command structure.

This misstep was one of the reasons for the overthrow of his government. Gowon who took over from him listened to the yearnings of majority of the people and after due consultation broke the country into 12 states, bringing, as the popular parlance went then, government closer to the people. There was louder agitation for creation of more states. In response, the Murtala Mohammed regime that came into office in 1975 created more states and brought the number to 19. Today, the number of states has morphed to 36. Those who want the country restructured want a return to the regional structure and government further away from people? The Ijaw, the Ibibio, the Kalabari, Ogoja and sundry others who wanted states of their own distinct from the one that they felt choked them in the Eastern regional arrangement want a return to status quo ante? Or this agitation is merely a political ploy, in the manner of impudent child, full of tantrums, mischievously drawing attention to himself?

I thought someone was being uncharitable when he said the other day that the tribe of the proponents of restructuring grows rapidly large each time it falls out of the loop of power and political reckoning. With recent events – Edwin Clark and co shouting loudest- I don’t know what to believe. His man Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan set up the last national conference and generously funded it to come up with a formula for dealing with the Nigerian project. The conference did its job and submitted its report in volumes. What happened? Was it merely a political ploy? Was the conference merely to generate sound and fury?

Honestly, I am for structuring but it has to start with the structuring of the elite, their inordinate appetite for wealth at the expense of the ordinary people and their appetite for corruption in all its ramifications. And when they are in power, their appetite for kleptocracy needs restructuring. Let us for once be honest with ourselves.


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12 Comments
  • Basil Ogbanufe

    “…. a formula for dealing with the Nigerian project”. Truly, Nigeria is a project, not a nation, and certainly not working or walking towards nationhood. The reason for “a formula” at different times “for dealing” with it.

  • vincentumenyiora

    THEY SHOULD READ THIS again; I said earlier that talk with your leaders is like – Kaman ana zuba luwa akai dogon dutse – like Zuma Rock – not assimilation even the capillary action is resisted in your example! Consider the height to assail about ‘Zuma Rock’ before you even think about poring the water, folks? And so is the size of the difficulty about Nigeria! How many times have I stock my neck out to mention names of those O met with your problems yet no replies coming from any of them! People wallowing in plenty natural ‘resources-wise’, yet you can’t pay and won’t pay people salaries! The issue now is about ‘padding’ and I gave definition also about budgeting – what it entails! May God help you people in Nigeria!

    [But the bottom line is that till this day, 50 years later, the wounds inflicted on the nation by the January 15, 1966 misadventure have not fully healed despite Gowon’s famous three Rs – rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction that signalled the end of the civil war in January 1970.]

    Nigeria Big country with Big problems and yet with simple solutions to make it whole again and I keep saying it, folks, like that child you cited in this article! I just want to know why Gen. Olutoye and Obasanjo in particular, reported to be Nzeogwu’s bosom friend as Usemi Jeremiah made us think knew about the plan of the coup and they did not report or raise the alarm as stipulated in Military charter and they are still walking the Streets in Nigeria and talking about Maj. C. Nzeogwu and his men! Those of you who studied history and the present INEC Chairman will tell what ‘ revolution’ means in nd that it take in vaied forms – some violent and some subtle! The Nigerian case am sure the boys must have explained their intentions in that termed ‘revolution’ but it turned sour – not managed as they intended all because of what I think was responsible – their age which determined how cowardly their responses were for the objective! In the same manner we set out in the 2015 election – a group like Barr. Festus Keyamo including surprisingly, Obasanjo called it ‘revolution for Nigeria’ and soon reneged from the use of the term like Obasanjo did when he was quizzed about the meaning of the phrase! What it is and I said it earlier the officers were very young – 28 to 30 years of age not properly sensitized in the act of ‘revolution’ as we learnt about Mao Ze-dung of China or Napoleon in France even in the United Kingdom they had 30 years war at end of which they had the Bill of Right and all! And we are talking anout 18 months war in Nigeria, folks!

    What I am saying in effect, is that these boys made mistakes and am sure President Buhari somehow could have used the same phrase – ‘Nigeria needs a revolution’ in all the effusions about 2015 elections! Yes, he probably knows what it takes to successfully manage one, but how many of his civilian friends or military colleagues understand the implications of the act and for Nigeria even in that military parlance? Since I am not part of the ‘advisory team’ what I want to say here is that you have been given solutions to help you correct many things in Nigeria politically that early but because you do not quite comprehend the imports (or simply that you don’t want to act), you delayed and the children have all grown to now demanding things, which ordinarily should be of their constitutional and natural rights and you as the leaders failed to provide the requirements and still cannot see their reasons for such protestations/ demands; again due to that lack of understanding and acceptance of your responsibilities as political leaders who should know better! I mean, I gave you definition of what Nigeria is as a country – how many sat back to consider the definition and what it means? And the definition paints the right picture of what is happening in Nigeria and need to be done to solve some of the problems! Even at that how many of you in the corridors of power appreciates what has been handed-in? I am told that they regard ‘Vincent’s’ thinking/ solutions as coming from an Oyibo-man yet, you’re aiming at getting to Oyibo-man’s kind of society, folks! That is the irony in what you’re doing in Nigeria – you want to eat the cake and still want to have it in tact! It doesn’t work like that – something must give!

    To conclude just to say that I have handed to you the solutions you need including one for your corruption and to help you more go to my website whatever you can copy that can help you, i. e.: http://www.virgo-enterprised.com I want to see how many in Nigeria has this kind of catalogue of solutions regarded now, am told, as a ‘repository’ for Nigeria, folks! The contents of the book; “Nigeria – survival or disintegration – 1986!”, could have solved all your political problems that early if they carried on with the solutions expounded in it! You’ll find Option A-4, ‘Asset declaration’ and need for ‘National Orientation’ even reforms for your civil service programmes for Nigeria in the book!

    They say better late than never – you’re in office to find solutions for your people and when your time comes there is not much you can do other than leave the scene just like PM. David Cameron has done in the United Kingdom after the referendum with cheers! I wonder how many of you on Nigeria watched his deportment in his last Prime Ministers Question session, where he displayed not only maturity but that statesmanship talked about in politics! Thank you,folks!

  • Mystic mallam

    It has become formal for fellow Northern intellectuals to either trivialise change campaigns on crucial national matters that do not appear to favour the region, or simply go out of their way to blackmail those who advocate such change as enemies of one Nigeria. Unknown to them perhaps, is that their revisionist distortion of history and visionless addiction to momentary advantages, have actually made them out to be the true enemies of one Nigeria. Yakubu Mohammed failed for instance, to inform us on whom Gowon consulted and listened to before creating the 12 states. Contrast Yakubu’s rationalisation with Gowon’s own words about why he created 12 states: to blunt the Eastern region’s ability to secede from Nigeria. That certainly, was a smart tactical action to win an unnecessary war that he and his young, hot-headed colleagues had orchestrated. But, what served the desired tactical purpose did not necessarily serve any useful strategic value to a country that needed calm reflections and rational negotiations to evolve a more organic means of political development. Yakubu further states that those who want the country returned to regionalism are seeking to take government further away from the people. Well, if return to regionalism is the only aspect of the restructuring debate that he understands, he should work on his own ignorance. The fact remains that the present enfeebled state governments and omnipotent federal government that the military created and enforced on us, are as near to the people as planet earth is to Mars or Jupiter. As for his recommendation that Buhari should ignore the “tantrums of the impudent children” seeking attention by demanding for a restructured country, I have news for Yakubu Mohammed: if the tantrums of those many, and growing number of, hurting, impudent children are patently ignored, those impudent but hurting children might give their ailing parent enough high blood pressure to die a gradual, painful death.

  • Wise Head

    Look at these two account by somebody as old as Yakubu Mohammed, who many would regard as veteran journalist:
    (1)
    “The first military coup took place on January 15, 1966. Regarded as the coup of the five majors, it led to the killing of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first and only prime minister to date, as well as Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, premier of Northern Nigeria who was also the Sardauna of Sokoto and his Western Region counterpart, Samuel Ladoke Akintola. Federal Minister of Finance, Festus Okotie-Eboh was also killed in the coup. Many leading officers from the North were also killed. They included Brigadier Zakari Maimalari, Col Kur Mohammed, Lt Col Yakubu Pam, and Lt Col Abogo Largema. Death toll included three southerners, Col R. Shodeinde and Brigadier Ademulegun from the West and Col Unegbe from Mid-West. Because of the selective killings and the lopsided composition of the coup plotters, majority of them, Igbo officers, led by Major Chukwma Nzeogwu, the coup was seen as an Igbo plot to eliminate the Northern political as well as military leaders.”

    (2)
    “On July 29, officers from the North, led by then Major Yakubu Danjuma, went on revenge mission. They got General Ironsi who was in Ibadan to hold a meeting with traditional rulers and shot him along with his host, governor of Western Nigeria, Col Francis Adekunle Fajuyi. Thirty-two-year-old Colonel Yakubu Gowon succeeded Ironsi as head of state.”

    In his account of the January Coup, he said “many leading officers from the North were killed” and identified the “many officers” as “FOUR”! (Nobody deserves to be killed, even if one person!)
    But when he related the account of the July Northern “Revenge Coup”, the only thing he said happened was that Ironsi and Fajuyi was killed and Gowon took over. The same man who described FOUR officers as “many” refused to say anything about the hundreds of Southern (mainly) Igbo officers and men sought out and brutally killed by Northern soldiers in the Revenge Coup and the most horrible pogrom that followed which also executed against countless civilain alongside soldiers. No wonder they removed History from the School Curruculm, so that they can feed people with crude lies and half truths. That is how they are going to enforce “One Nigeria” – with all these lies and slanting of the truth by people that expect to be respected. Bury your head in shame, Yakubu Mohammed. What a pity

    • Iskacountryman

      sorry…

    • Basil Ogbanufe

      Excellent.

  • nnanta

    Can this ‘erudite’ scholar mention the names of the officers that carried out the first coup in 1966. It shock those who don’t know that they’re not all Igbos.

    • Iskacountryman

      nyamiri..

      • nnanta

        If you are trying to be insolent, I have nothing but pity for you.

        • Iskacountryman

          why should i insult you?…you are nyamiri…that is a fact…

          • nnanta

            Then you deserve my pity indeed.

          • Iskacountryman

            okay…you be eboe…