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The unending oppression of Igbo people in Nigeria has often been explained away
with the coup of 1966 that now has the erroneous and ahistorical label of ” Igbo
Coup “. The uninformed in this bandwagon see the unrelenting massacre and
marginalization of Igbo people in Nigeria as a just repercussion for the crime
soldiers of Eastern origin perpetrated in 1966 when they took arms to slaughter
Northern elite in an ambitious stride to complete Igbo primacy over the country.
The question a Hausa friend fired at me yesterday in a conversation came in this
shape: ” who struck the first blow? ”
It is immaterial to these poor students of history that long before Nigeria dreamed
of becoming a self-governing state that pogroms and cleansings have been
variously implemented on Igbo people by their waspish and inhospitable northern
brothers. Since Lugard began his unlucky business of piecing irreconcilable
ethnicities together, the stereotype against the Igbo man has always been that of
an uppitious and overambitious infidel who should not be allowed a cat’s chance
in hell to survive.
As early as 1945, an outbreak of well-nigh meaningless violence in Kano
accounted for the heads of countless Igbo people. The killings were genocidal
and hate-born. Again in 1953 , Inua Wada, a hate-filled rabble rouser incited
Northern youths against a delegation of the Action Group intended to pay a
courtesy visit to Kano. Realising that the coast wasn’t clear, the shrewd Yoruba
politicians cancelled the visit. Blood splattered northern youths saw no Yoruba
man on whom to inflict their vengeance and in a frenzy to satiate their implacable
lust for blood fell upon unsuspecting Igbo Traders, slaughtering them and
shamelessly looting their sweat.
It is lamentable that the business-oriented government of England feigned a blind
eye to the swift death of the canary in the Nigerian coalmine and went on to wed
inharmonious, mistrustful and irreconcilable tribal groups into a heedless political
arrangement that makes perpetual friction even more likely.
The message of this piece is to throw impersonal illumination on 1966. It is an old
saying that history is written by the Victor and not the vanquished. The new lords
of our country have deliberately proscribed the study of history in our schools and
colleges. But there remains one thing upon which they cannot legislate. They lack
the power to extinguish historical curiosity in young minds. I am among those
who have vowed to know history and who took a correlative oath not to mingle it
with passion and prejudice.
And so it came to pass that in 1966 Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu led a contingent
of mutinous soldiers to Kaduna, 75% of whom were Hausa and others from other
parts of the country. They road-raged to the luxurious residence of Almadu Bello.
When they got there Kaduna told his colleagues that they had come to kill the
Sardauna.The Hausa soldiers did not disagree. If they had demurred, they could
have killed Kaduna for they were sophisticatedly armed and were in the majority.
It was a unanimous and undivided agreement among the officers who hailed from
all parts of the country that the revolution was necessary to save the country
from the twin evils of tribe and corruption.
The Lagos coup was Led by Emmanuel Ifeajuana who by the reason of his rank
among the conspirators was naturally positioned to get the show on the road. He
was again flanked by soldiers drawn from all parts of the country. The Prime
Minister, Belewa, a northern and Festus Ekotie-Eboh, a Midwesterner, were
victims. They were however not the only casualties from the Lagos side. Major
Arthur Unegbu, an Igbo officer was gunned down and finished off. The mutineers
lost Kingsley Mbadiwe by a hair’s breath as he stole into the State House and
disappeared. The State House was frantically frisked but he was not found. The
Ibadan side took out Akintola who resisted the boys with a private force he had
kept and trained.
It was after this phase that an Igbo man struck in to destroy the mutiny. The man
was the G. O. C, major General Ironsi. Nobody was more determined to end blood
shed and arrest the chaos.
The first beneficiary from Ironsi ‘s intervention and knight-service was Chief Fani
Kayode. When the blood-stained Ibadan contingent swept into Lagos with a badly
pummelled and trussed Kayode, soldiers loyal to Ironsi apprehended them and
quickly freed Chief Kayode.
The tribal interpretation of 1966 is often hinged on the complete failure of the
coup at Enugu. However, it was not the intention of the plotters that the
revolution should flunk in any part of the country. What happened was that the
first battalion garrisoning Enugu moved in and besieged the Premier’s lodge,
impatiently waiting for an order in line with military tradition before striking. It was
that order that never came.
The commanding officers at Enugu, Colonel Adekunle, a Yoruba man and his
second in command, David Ejoor, a Midwesterner, were both away. The
supposition that Enugu battalion was predominantly officered by Igbo soldiers is
unfounded and false as they were Middlebelt infantrymen from the Northern
region. Those Middlebelt men waited in the wings for a command from their
superiors before employing the trigger. It was that command that Ifeajuana and
Okafor hurried in from Ibadan to issue.
Meanwhile, Ironsi pulled out all the stops in his adamentine resolve to foil the
coup. He took over Ikeja Barracks and lost no moment before dispatching orders
for the immediate suppression of the mutiny. That was why Major Ejoor was
airborne to Enugu to resume his command and meet the plotters in the open
field. Okafor, unreflectingly speeding from Ibadan fell into the embrace of officers
loyal to Ironsi and was arrested. A wilier Ifeajuana snaked out to Ghana only to
return shortly and join his co-plotters in prison.
The reaction of the public after the coup is another factor that should be
evaluated before 1966 is given an ethnic label. It is incontrovertible that in
Kaduna a crowd of happy and festive Hausas swung into the house of the fallen
Sultan and sacked it in jubilant triumph. There attitude was that of a people who
obtained freedom from an insupportable autocracy. Major Hassan Usman Katsina
leagues up openly with Nzeogwu. Alhaji Ali who was in charge of the northern
civil service did not muffle his solidarity with Nzeogwu. This is to mention but a
It is therefore an incontestable fact of history that 1966 was not an all Igbo
affair. It was not schemed to weaken any region politically. It was egged by a
group of red-blooded and young revolutionists with a modus to purge the country
of hate, tribe and dibiliating corruption. A greater bulk of those who labored
cloack and dagger to carry out the revolution came from the north. That it failed
in Enugu was a mishap unenvisioned by the plotters.