The Bible, unarguablely, the most widely read literature on earth makes it clear that any house built on faulty foundation cannot stand. Obviously, in the last 54 years, Nigeria has been sliding hopelessly on a false, faulty and fragile foundation.
This is a major reason the country fumbles here and wobbles there.
This week makes it exactly 54 years since the first military head of state, Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi was cruelly assassinated. The dastrad event took place on July 29, 1966, in Ibadan.
Those behind Ironsi’s tragic death wrongly accused the supreme commander of complicity in the January 15,1966 coup.
His traducers said he supervised the coup that ended the First Republic for the purposes of handing over Nigeria to Ndigbo. To that effect, the January 1966 coup was an Igbo affair. Were these allegations true?
Could Ndigbo have planned a coup in January, 1966? The answer is in the negative.
This is so because, in 1966 in Nigeria, the Igbo had worked so hard, despite an initial disadvantageous position, to place themselves in the forefront of the country’s affairs. For instance, in 1966, an Igbo, Zik, was the president. An Igbo, Aja, was speaker of the federal house. An Igbo, Orizu, was senate president.
Another Igbo, Ironsi, the GOC of the army. Besides, all of Raymond Njoku, Mbazulike, Amaechi, Mbadiwe, etc were ministers of repute. The same way, an Igbo, Prof K. O. Dike was the vice chancellor of University of Ibadan. An Igbo, Prof Eni Njoku was the vice chancellor of University of Lagos. And another at Nzukka. So, of what benefit would be to Ndigbo if they plan a military intervention in Nigeria in 1966?
Certainly, the allegation that Ironsi aided his Igbo tribesmen to execute a coup in January 1966 was a brute lie. Sadly, such a falsehood has been sustained by successive governments and their beneficiaries. This has continually haunted Nigeria ever since then.
Let the truth be told. Overwhelming majority of the January 1966 coup plotters were of Igbo origin.
Look at the names: Majors Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Christian Anuforo, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Adewale Ademoyega, Humphrey Chukwuma, Donatus Okafor, Timothy Onwuatuegwu and Obienu. There were captains Nwobosi, Ude, Adeleke, and Ben Gbulie. Lieutenants were Ezedigbo, Okaka, Oyewole, and Oguchi. And Second Leautenants were Igweze, Ikejiofor, Olafemihon, Azubugo, Nweke, Amuchienwa and Wokocha. Of course, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi was a member but was on leave when the coup took place. Of the 24 active participants, 16 were Igbo.
Does this make it an Igbo coup? Never! This is because successive governments in Nigeria have been constituted with over 85 per cent members from the North, yet, they bear the name – Federal Government of Nigeria. Even today, the present administration is almost 90 per cent North, yet, it has the seal of Federal Government of Nigeria at its logo.
At least, there are 14 security chiefs and none from South East even 12 are from the North!
Now, the casualty list was not evenly distributed. Take a look: Civilians were – Sir Tafawa Balewa, prime minister, Alhaji Ahmed Bello were from North. Chief Okotie Eboh from Mid West.
Chief Ladoke Akintola and Mrs Ademulegun were from West. None from the East. Military men had the following figures: Brigadier Ademulegun, Brigadier Maimalari, Colonel Muhammad, Colonel Sodeinde, Lt. Col. Unegbe, Lt Col. Pam, Lt Col. Largema and an unidentified non commissioned officer. The above figure sparked off a national outcry. (Ben Gbulie’s Nigeria’s Five Majors. Page49, page 162., Adewale Ademoyega’s Why We Struck, 49-70). These pages also stated it clearly that the coup was meant to make Chief Obafemi Awolowo the head of an Interim National Government!
As it turned out to be, Ironsi, in his capacity as the most senior military officer in the country was called on to take over power. Hence he emerged as the first military head of state.
Realising the circumstances that brought him to power, Ironsi played patriotism, made nationalism his watchword and fairness his article of faith. In doing this, he never gave his Igbo people an undue advantage. He promoted 60 army officers to various ranks and only five were Igbo. He had 21 permanent secretaries and Ndigbo were not up to five.
When Ndigbo complained that he was not considering them in his government, he even shocked them the more by announcing the following appointments on April 19, 1966: Ironsi appointed Alhaji Sule Katagum as the chairman of public service commission of the federation.
He appointed Mr. Howson Wright, chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. Ironsi appointed Mr. A. I. Obiyan, chairman of Nigeria ports authority. He equally appointed Mr. H. O. Omenai, chairman, Nigeria airways. None was Igbo. No other Nigerian head of state or president has ever equalled this record of fairness and balance in the distribution of public appointments. Even his supreme military council had nine members and only Ojukwu and Ironsi himself were Igbo.
He had four service chiefs and none was Igbo to wit: chief of staff, armed forces, Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, West. Chief of army staff, Lt. Col.Yakubu Gowon, North. Head of the navy, Commodore J. E A. Wey, West. Head of the air force, Col. George Kurubo, South South. In spite of this immaculate performance, Ironsi was brutally assassinated on the account of Decree 34 that unified the country( Chuks Iloegbunam’s IRONSIDE, page 91/94).
After the counter coup of July 29, 1966, Gowon announced himself as the new head of state. Before that, even while Ironsi was the head of state, the Igbo in the north had been massacred in their tens of thousands. Alexander Madiebo graphically captured these events in his historic book, The Nigerian Revolution and the Nigerian War, pages 35/70.
Ojukwu, supported by facts made available by international press, called the Igbo killings in the north as pogrom and put the death at 50,000. (Chinua Achebe’s There Was A Country, page 82.
Meanwhile, Ojukwu resisted the imposition of Gowon as head of state, insisting that, the army operates on hierarchy, and so, in the absence of Ironsi, there were other nine army officers, senior to Gowon. They included Ogudinpe, Adebayo, Philip Effiong, Hilary Njoku, himself Ojukwu and few others.
He noted that in the January 1966 event, hierarchy and seniority in ranks were followed, therefore, the July case should not be different. This was even as he demanded to know the whereabouts of Ironsi. All efforts to reconcile Ojukwu and Gowon failed and a meeting was agreed in Aburi, Ghana, for that purpose.
The Aburi Conference was held between January 4 and 5, 1966 at the behest of General Ankrah, the then Ghana head of state.
A French journalist working for the BBC Radio, John de St Jorre, in his book, The Nigerian Civil War, noted that the Eastern government’s proposals were all accepted by Gowon and others at the conference.
He quoted Ojukwu as saying that that, “It is better that we move forward slightly apart and survive. It is much worse that we move closer and perish in the collision”.
The French journalist observed that Aburi amounted to a de facto confederation, though no one on the federal side of the table appeared to realize it at the time…For Ojukwu, Aburi was a perfect solution. Realistically, the BBC reporter remarked that Gowon caused the war “Clearly much influenced by the civil servants and other federalists, he (Gowon) back tracked some distance and produced quite a different interpretation”, pages 91/99. Ojukwu wasted no time in declaring “On Aburi we stand”. And that was the war!
You would have noticed that, between 1966 and 1970, various lies were told against Ndigbo, against Ironsi and against Ojukwu. Till date, Nigerians still sustain and welcome those lies against the Igbo country.
This is a major factor why the country cannot move forward. It is a reason things are bad for the country. Free the Igbo and Nigeria will fly. How can you justify that Nigeria supervised the killing of 50,000 Ndigbo, including 162 army officers of which Major Donatus Okafor was buried alive and it was followed with a senseless war that consumed about 2m of Igbo wards?
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