The fallout since dailytrust began publishing secret diplomatic minutes from the British embassy in Nigeria has continued. In the latest batch, files have revealed that it was the then Lt Col Yakubu Gowon that crushed the first coup, contradicting an earlier account by mostly Biafran sympathizers that Aguyi Ironsi somehow salvaged the day by bringing the coup to a halt.
Below is an excerpt:
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,
‘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)
Ejoor excused himself when the tea and biscuits that had been ordered for breakfast came. In his later account, Njoku wrote that when Ironsi turned up at Ikeja battalion at half five, his hand vibrated with fright as he struggled to write down the places that he wanted guarded with troops in Lagos and the junior officers he wanted arrested immediately. That was why he, Njoku, had to order tea to calm him down. These newly arrived tea and biscuits were for breakfast and small talk while Gowon was still with his crack force in Lagos willing to slug it out with the rebels. Ejoor did not want to be part of the grotesque. He told Ironsi:
‘Well, no, I cannot order you to go to Enugu now,’ was Ironsi’s reply.
But Ejoor was desperate to go. Military doctrine required that in time of crisis, a commander must connect with his unit and take charge. More so, the signal signed by Ironsi and circulated by Maimalari at the Brigade Training Conference the previous day stated that Commanders should tighten security when they get back to their units and to warn all their subordinates against disloyal acts. Had Ejoor joined Njoku and Ironsi in having breakfast and postponed going to Enugu, the coup would not have ended up as one night stand but would have dragged on and on taking with it many lives.
Coup High Command in Transit
When the coup high command reached the airport junction, they could not wait there. Being a strategic junction, there was an unanticipated police check point there. They had to travel further outwards towards Abeokuta because they had corpses and the Finance Minister was on board so they did not want to risk police attention. Of the six vehicles that left Federal Guard’s Mess, Okafor’s private Peugeot 403, Ademoyega’s army Landrover, Anuforo’s private car and the 3 Tonner arrived. Ifeajuna’s car and Chukwuka Landrover did not turn up. Major Humphrey Chukwuka’s unit assisted by 2/Lt Godwin Onyefuru were detailed to go and do to Gowon what they had been doing to all other senior officers. Being the new commander, it was important he was dead so that the battalion made up of mostly Northern soldiers of Tiv origin will not be mobilised for the upcoming showdown during the second stage of the coup.
On reaching the cantonment gate, the sentries told Chukwuka they did not know where the new commander was. It was then that Ironsi and his escorts arrived and Chukwuka left for his block of flats at Ikeja. It was some minutes after five. When Major Nzegwu saw their building awash in the arriving Land Rover’s lights, he berated Chukwuka from his opened window:
“Humphrey, your wife has since being crying, where have you been?”
Nzegwu was Chukwuka’s next-door neighbour in the same block of flats. They were both staff officers at the Army HQ. While Chukwuka was the deputy Adjutant General under Pam, Nzegwu was a Staff Officer under Kur Mohammed. Nzegwu was the Army’s liaison officer with the Air force and with the airport commandant in case flights were needed to be booked or army’s visitors welcoming protocols needed to be prepared. He was the one Kur Mohammed had in mind to deploy hours earlier at Maimalari’s cocktail, when Ironsi asked Mohammed to bring the London Guardian’s correspondent Patrick Keatley to his office at 10am the next day for a discussion on the Smith rebellion in East Africa and to take him to the airport afterwards to catch his flight.
Nzegwu did not know that Chukwuka, his colleague and neighbour had just participated in an event that would lead to Nzegwu’s own death six months later. In other words, Nzegwu had just 6 months left to live without knowing it. Had he known, he would not have asked, “Humphrey, your wife has been crying, where have you been?” He would also have asked: “Humphrey, why have you done this to me?”
Shortly afterwards, the barrack alarm went off. Being a combat battalion, all soldiers had to report to their various company offices. According to Onyefuru’s account of that night, to obey the alarm, he had to leave the Chukwuka to join his company. Chukwuka later called his company office to ask for Lt Zacchaeus Idowu, the Quartermaster of the battalion. But on hearing Onyefuru’s voice in the background, he asked him to come on the intercom. Chukwuka then asked if anyone knew anything yet. Onyefuru replied that they were awaiting the GOC’s briefing. Chukwuka panicked, left his crying wife and fled to the East for refuge via Ijebu Ode road while Ademoyega, Anuforo and the rump of the coup plotters were still waiting for him on Abeokuta Road. The Revolution that looked so promising an hour earlier was no longer itself. Its drivers were staring into a deep well and seeing a trapped sky. It started to dawn on them that their stories may not become glories after all. But there was no going back.
At some minutes past 5 o’clock, Anuforo and Ademoyega decided to proceed to Abeokuta, mobilise Obienu and his firepower to keep the Revolution on track. There were nine corpses in the 3 tonner and it was not necessary to give them a lift to Abeokuta when they could easily dispose them right there in the bushes by the roadside. It was then that Anuforo noticed the drum-waisted Okotie-Eboh.
‘Who is the man?’ he asked.
When Anuforo was told he was the man who controlled the public wealth and the nation’s finances, Anuforo was angry and he became very horny to end him. After all, pulling trigger and watching blood splutter gave Anuforo high voltage hickies and monkey bites. He was already the busiest killer of the night with three officers’ lives under his belt. As the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal said: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” Using his church mind, Anuforo helped the Finance Minister descend the steps of the 3 Tonner, and asked him to say his last prayers. He cocked his SMG and Okotie-Eboh’s corpse was dumped along all the corpses in the bush by the roadside. Then the convoy drove down to 2nd Recce Squadron in Abeokuta to activate the command there. They arrived at around half seven in the morning around the same time Ironsi’s tea and biscuits arrived at the battalion headquarters at Ikeja.
David Ejoor left Ironsi and Njoku and ordered Major Henry Igboba, Njoku’s 2ice to radio Joseph O’Neill who was the senior operations officer and the airport commandant to arrange a security flight for him to Enugu. Unknown to Ejoor, Ifeajuna and Donatus Okafor having missed Anuforo and Ademoyega were racing to Enugu to raise infantry troops to continue their Revolution.
According to the testimony Ifeajuna gave to his interlocutors after arriving from Ghana on 14 February 1966 in the company of Okigbo, when he and his fellow revolutionaries left the Federal Guard Mess en-route Ikeja, he had to shear from the convoy to deposit Lt Ezedigbo at Yaba Military Hospital. A bullet ricocheted and hit him during the assassination of Largema and he was losing so much blood. He then rushed to quickly re-join Ademoyega and others at the agreed rendezvous. But the problem was that there were so many roadblocks on the way manned by soldiers and police; they thought Ironsi ordered the roadblocks as part of his effort to subvert their Revolution. Ifeajuna was even criticising Okafor for not going to kill Ironsi first instead of Maimalari. Ironsi was an administrative general; he commanded no troops hence ranked low in their initial threat estimate. Unknown to them, the roadblocks were the initiative of the police high command to prevent the Western crisis from spreading to Lagos. Also the convoy comprised army Land Rovers and a 3 Tonner, and so they sailed unobstructed through all the roadblocks. But after leaving the hospital, Ifeajuna discovered that since they were no longer in a military convoy, they were susceptible to being stopped and searched at any roadblock. Moreover, he had guns, ammo, an easily recognisable Prime Minister in the car and Abogo Largema was in the boot pillowed by an extra tyre. According to his later testimony, they had to take side roads to reach Abeokuta Road. They arrived 10 miles away from their rendezvous. He said Abubakar had become a mess of panic and had grown hysterical since the shooting of Maimalari. He was blabbering to himself, his jaws and limbs vibrating uncontrollably. In other words, the Prime Minister had become totally ordinary. And Ifeajuna did not like that. He did not plot a coup to possess the ordinary; he was interested in capturing the Absolute just like in Vancouver in 1954 where he conquered gravity and vaulted higher than any man in the history of the world. He was not interested in the gold medal; he was interested in the record. (In an interview Ifeajuna’s wife Rose gave, she said he did not even know where the gold medal was even before they married in 1959. It was the record that mattered to him.) Ifeajuna said he did not intend to harm or hurt Abubakar. And so they took him out of the car to see if fresh air would do him some good, rescue him from being common and ordinary so that Ifeajuna could enrich his record.
As a teenager, Abubakar was never interested in politics. He wanted to be a teacher and a novelist. In 1933, at the age of 20, his novella Shaihu Umar written colloquially came third in a literary competition organised by the colonial education department in Zaria. The novella is a bildungsroman that parallels Shaihu Umar’s journey amongst an enslaver’s caravans across the Sahara Desert with a person’s journey through life from birth, wedding, child-nurturing to death. The sandstorm and other natural disasters experienced in the desert is contrasted with the inevitable hardships and mishaps one must suffer in life. It was useless looking for someone to blame including his wicked brother who contributed to some of his most brutal hardships. If Abubakar could be compared to his hero, Shaihu Umar, then his wicked brother was Emmanuel Ifeajuna and the enslaver’s caravan he travelled with in the desert was Okotie–Eboh, Mbadiwe and other government corruption fundamentalists who enslaved him to bad luck.
According to Ifeajuna, when they opened the door for him to get some fresh air, he surprised them: even though everywhere was pitch dark, Abubakar began to race into the bush. It was his white flowing jalabiya that gave him away. Quick, Ifeajuna grabbed his SMG from the car, cocked it and painfully set the darkness echoing before the dense forest could snatch his Abubakar away from him. He closed his eyes to unsee what he had done. But Abubakar was a rose that could grow out of mass concrete. It was love at last sight. The 54-year-old Prime Minister and a father of 18 children was not thinking straight; he, the 30-year-old Major and the father of 2 sons (Emmanuel and Bay), had to find a way to correct him. He could have been chased, captured and tied up. But Ifeajuna felt he was ripe for death anyway because he had become a liability to the Revolution and a pain to their free movement.
Ifeajuna reckoned that to outgun Ironsi and keep the dream of the Revolution alive, they needed more than the armoured, mechanised and artillery support that Obienu had to offer; they had to mobilise an additional company strong infantry at least. Going to 4th battalion in Ibadan was out of the question because they had no loyalist there. All their efforts to recruit Majors Nzefili and Ohanehi in December failed. Besides, the soldiers were extremely loyal to their commander Abogo Largema whose remains they had just tossed into the bush with Abubakar. The nearest military unit from which they could draw combat troops was 1st battalion in Apankwa Barracks in Enugu. Their commander, David Ejoor was supposed to be dragged out of the boot too and tossed into the bush like Largema, but he missed that fate by being unavailable in his allocated room in Ikoyi Hotel. They knew he was still in Lagos because he attended the Maimalari cocktail. Ifeajuna and Okafor decided to head back to Ikeja in order to proceed through Shagamu and race to Enugu to mobilise the battle ready troops. It was an impromptu journey that would have been inconceivable was Abubakar still with them.
In August 1962, the Federal Guards was formed and 150 of its initial 200 elite fighters were deployed from the Enugu battalion. It was the largest battalion in the country with 26 officers and 843 NCOs. Major Okonweze, Ejoor’s second-in-command in Enugu was part of the coup plot. He would not hesitate to grant Ifeajuna’s request for troops to Lagos. Using the privilege of their military uniforms, Ifeajuna and Okafor went through all the security roadblocks unobstructed. Combat fatigue and the post-traumatic stress disorder occasioned by his killing of two personalities with whom he had emotional connection – Maimalari and Abubakar – was already bossing him into making extremely individualistic decisions which prevented him from finding a way to inform Anuforo and Ademoyega of his new move.
Lagos – Ejoor
As the morning lights came and flushed away the stench of the night, Lagosians and Abeokutans woke up thinking the day was like any other day. It would take another 7 hours (at 2:30pm) for Radio Nigeria to announce the coup to the general public. Vehicles coming from Abeokuta to Lagos overtook a column of slow-moving armoured vehicles which Ademoyega and Anuforo had mobilised. In Ikeja cantonment, rumours blazed around like wild fire that the mutineers had been seen coming en masse to attack Lagos. The cantonment was in a state of heightened security. Bullet-resistant fighting positions were constructed with sandbags at strategic positions. When Ejoor reached the cantonment gate, the sentry did not allow him out. He told Ejoor he was under strict instruction to refuse any soldier from going out or coming in without authorisation. Ejoor had to go back to fetch Igboba. Ejoor was a lieutenant colonel. Igboba was a Major. Circumstance had turned the chain of command unto its head like the grave condition that made crayfish to bend.
Something strange then happened. Major John Obienu, the cleavage extremist, turned up at the battalion’s gates wanting to enter. When Obienu woke up in the morning, he tried to find out if the Revolution proceeded without him and if he might still fit in the scheme of things. So he went to the Airport junction; there were no sign of his squadron. He then dashed to Ikeja cantonment. He saw none of his ferret or Saladin and was making enquiries. All of a sudden he was recognised by one of the sentries as the officer commanding the unit rumoured to be coming from Abeokuta to attack. Igboba who came to the gates to authorise Ejoor’s exit ordered guns trained on Obienu. He protested his innocence. He swore that he didn’t know about any mutiny nor that his Recce squadron was making their way from Abeokuta. He said that he went to Maimalari’s party, slept in a friend’s place in Shomolu and was here trying to go back to Abeokuta. Liar, Igboba screamed at him. How was it possible that your unit was bringing their firepower to come and fight in a pre-planned mutiny and you their commanding officer did not know? NCOs do not mobilise for actions if they were not instructed by their OC. Who authorised them? Obienu swore he did not know anything. Ejoor then intervened. He suggested Obienu went ahead on Abeokuta road to neutralise his renegade unit. Obienu replied without troops to back him up, it would be unwise to go out there to stop them. That sounded reasonable to Ejoor and confirmed that he actually wasn’t part of the mutiny. Had he been part of the rebels, he wouldn’t have hesitated to go out there to meet his unit, Ejoor said. Henceforth, Obienu switched loyalty and joined the loyal forces trying to neutralise the Revolution. Not wanting further delay to the airport, Ejoor left them. In his account of what happened that morning, Ejoor wrote:
“As we approached the junction of the road that led into the Ikeja GRA and the Airport Road, I saw three artillery trucks approaching us. I immediately sense that this was what Major Igboba had talked about. I felt cornered as I had no way of knowing how these troops would react to me; whether they would take me as a foe or a friend. I did some quick thinking and decided to put the troop at some psychological disadvantage. Accordingly, I stood in the middle of the road and help up my hand indicating to them to stop. As the lead vehicle got close and stopped, I snapped at the troops, asking why they took so long to arrive, thereby slowing down our operations. The trick worked. They straightaway went on the defensive, explaining that they had some problems with tyres and fuel. I accepted their explanations and warned them that they were to be no more delays. “Go straight to Ikeja Cantonment and get your next orders,” I said and proceeded to lead them to the barracks as the traffic cleared for the military trucks. When we got to the battalion headquarters, I gave orders that all the troops escorted there be immediately disarmed and arrested. While this was being done, I resumed my journey to the Airport. Thus, by sheer accident, I was involved with the first major arrest of those involved in the coup of 15th January 1966.”
In a widely read article Head With Creative Thinking, in the influential Army journal The Nigerian Magazine, Ejoor lamented the absence of active creativity in the Army. He wrote: “Creativity is necessarily the lifeblood of a successful business concern. This is because competition in civilian life is so severe that a heavy premium is placed on ideas of all kinds. In the military world in peace time, we have not the same spur of competition, and yet if we cannot instil a creative atmosphere within the Armed Services, we are in the danger of failing both in peace and war. I believe the classical example of an Army which failed because it was in a rut and lacking in ideas was the French at the beginning of World War II.” Creativity inspired Ejoor to distance himself from Ironsi and Njoku. It led him to single-handedly neutralise the rebel detachment from Abeokuta which Obeinu their commander could not even do. Creativity would also save him from another assassination plot by Ifeajuna awaiting him in the East.
Ejoor – Enugu
The sun was already up in the East staining the skies with fire. Ejoor landed in at 11:30am after the eighty minutes of flight. At the airport, he saw a platoon of soldiers sleeping around in different degrees of disorderliness. He snapped them to attention and asked them what they were doing there. The platoon commander replied that they were ordered there since 3:00am by the acting battalion commander Major Gabriel Okonweze to whom Ejoor handed the battalion before he proceeded to Lagos for the Brigade Training Conference. When Ejoor asked for his service car and a platoon of guards to come and pick him from the airport, Okonweze himself followed them to confirm it was true Ejoor was truly back. Okonweze couldn’t contain his surprise. When Ejoor asked why he had deployed troops all over town, Okonweze said he received a signal from Brigadier Maimalari ordering the troop deployments.
As of early December, Major Chude-Okei the battalion’s second in command was the head of the Revolution in the East. But he went for a course in India and the coup command was handed to Okonweze. Ifeajuna used Lieutenant Jerome Ogbuchi who was in Lagos for a course to transmit a written instruction for troops mobilisation to Okonweze once he was certain that Ejoor was already in Lagos. Captain Joseph Iledigbo was to take his company across the Niger River and arrest the Premier of the Midwest, Chief Dennis Osadebey and his ministers. Captain Agbogu was to take his company to arrest the Eastern Premier, Dr Michael Okpara and his ministers. Captain Gibson Jalo was to seize the Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (ENBC) studio buildings. Major Okonweze and Chude-Sokei were to command the Joint Operations Centre. Unlike the operations in other parts of the country, none of the politicians were to be moved to any rallying point or shot, they were simply placed under house arrest pending further instructions from Lagos.
To the political establishment in Enugu, the capital of Eastern Region, the first omen of the coup was at the airport. In the afternoon of 14th January, the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios arrived for a visit in the Prime Minister’s plane to great pomp and pageantry. He had come to Lagos to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference and intended to use the opportunity to visit all the regions in Nigeria. Enugu became his first and last point of call. All the ministers, state officials and heads of the American, British diplomatic outposts were present at the welcoming ceremony at the airport. Conspicuously missing was the military guard of honour. When President Julius Nyerere came visiting in 1965, the guard of honour was one of the spectacles he enjoyed most. He said he did not know Africans too could stiffen breathlessly for so long as he inspected the guards and savoured their regimental drumming with Dr Michael Okpara. Okpara was very proud that no one else but him provided that unique spectacle to the eminent Africanist. But this time around while awaiting the plane of the Archbishop Makarios, there was no guard of honour in place even though Okonweze was there representing Ejoor. Okpara was so angry that he summoned Okonweze and berated him publicly. “You say Lagos put a ban on guard of honour. What are they afraid of? That Enugu will be mistaken for the capital of Nigeria?” This was according to Charles James Treadwell, the Deputy British High Commissioner who witnessed the incident at the airport. Okonweze did not tell Okpara that he was keeping the troops ready for the confirmation of the H-hour.