For absenting himself from the meetings, Ojukwu tried to use insecurity as excuse. But to me, that was absolute nonsense. Even in Accra, in Aburi, there could be the question of insecurity there. Anything could have happened. If we wanted, could we have not have arranged for some deranged persons in Ghana to deal with that particular problem? That was really the question that he tried to raise. That it is insecurity. We promised him security. That all of us were there and none of us would have had any desire to hurt or harm him, or to hurt the Ibos. Because if you do anything, you are hurting the Ibos. And if you do that, then they would have had all the rights to say that if you have done this to our leader, we are not accepting anyone else, unless you produce him. At least, we are honest and honourable enough to ensure the security of everyone there, for the sake of the country.
I don’t know why people keep referring to the so-called rivalry between me and Ojukwu. There was no question of rivalry between us at all. As young officers in the army, our relationship was exceptionally good. We were very friendly. The only time that anything happened was in 1964 after the election, when Zik sacked Balewa and Balewa sacked Zik. That was the time that probably you can say certain developments led me to give a warning, because there was this question of some of the senior military officers between Banjo and Ojukwu, urging the military to intervene on behalf of Zik.
Of course, I listened to their presentations and what I thought they meant was that there should be military intervention led by us the senior officers at the time: With David Ejoor as the GSO 1, as the Senior Staff Officer, and then myself as Adjutant General of the Nigerian Army and then Ojukwu as the Quartermaster General and then Banjo as the head of the electrical and mechanical engineers. Now, four of us: Ejoor from the Midwest, myself from the North, Ojukwu from the East and Banjo from the West. So if you have four of us from the four regions of the country at the time saying that we are heading a change on behalf of Zik, and not the government, what does that mean? So, I warned, asking: “Is that what you meant? Count me out! God help anybody who starts any such nonsense.”
Afterwards, I went to see our commanding officer, a British officer and told him he should get all of us senior officers and brief us on to whom our loyalty belonged. Yes, our loyalty belongs to the government. Zik is part of government and Balewa is also part of government. So when you start talking of starting something like that in favour of one particular person and not the whole government, there would be problems. So I asked the GOC to call of us and discuss. And I can assure you that I did not mention any name. No name was mentioned but he called all the senior officers to be briefed on the correct thing to do, which he did and made contact with the Inspector General of police Mr. R. Bovell and the attorney general and all the legal people to be able to define what our loyalty should be. And of course, we were briefed on what our loyalty was. And so, probably that stopped the possible first coup in Nigeria. The next time it happened, it was not by the senior officer but by the majors and captains at the time.
‘Ghana had a hand in Nigeria’s coup’
After Nigeria’s coup, there was Ghana’s first coup that saw the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. So you can probably say that Ghana copied from Nigeria, even though Ghana had a hand in Nigeria’s coup, I would say. Did you remember what Nkrumah said about the coup that took place in Nigeria and what he said about the prime minister? Did he not say that Tafawa Balewa does not know or that did not understand the situation in Nigeria and was not capable? He was virtually saying that he welcomed the coup. And when the coup took place in Nigeria, a lot of the young people who did the coup in the end fled to Ghana where they were given protection by the Ghanaian government before the Nigerian government got them back later. It is from this that one can draw conclusion that Ghana must have had a hand in Nigeria’s first coup. As the saying goes, those who ride on the back of the tiger end up being eaten up by the tiger. Nkrumah was overthrown shortly after in Ghana’s first coup. But that doesn’t erase the fact that Nkrumah was a great son of Africa.
Awo and me
Another great son of Africa was Chief Obafemi Awolowo. As a young officer in Ibadan, I knew Awolowo. And of course, one knows about Awolowo with all the political events that were happening in the country at the time—whether in the North or in the East or in the West and in the nation as a whole. He was certainly a well-known political figure and personality. We respected him as the premier of the Western Region in the ‘50s. And when I finished my training of course, it was Ibadan that I was posted to. And so, he was the one running the show as premier with the British governor. Later on, it was changed to Sir Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife. That was how one came to know Awolowo. And of course, our loyalty has always been to the government of the day. Just as we are loyal to the federal government, we are also loyal to the state government.
We in the military are not involved in politics. Since we are federal army, our orders will come from the federal government. And of course, it is also to give support to the law enforcement agency in the state when called for. That is our main role in the West. The premier and the government in the West cannot give direct instruction to us, but they can request for support from the centre. And we would be given the go-ahead to give support to the security forces in the state, mainly the police.
My very close contact with Chief Awolowo was in the mid-sixties after all the political crises that the West went through—Operation Wetie and then the trial of Awolowo, his imprisonment and the military intervention. Of course, by that time he was in prison and after having the serious problem that we had in the country politically, especially what happened to the Ibos and then they had to go back to their state. It got to the stage that when I came into office, I had to find a solution to some of the problems that we were having in the country. And certainly, the case of Awolowo was one of the things that one needed to do in order to give the country a fresh sense of belonging—after the death of the premier of the North, the Sardauna of Sokoto, the premier of the West, Akintola and of course the prime minister Tafawa Balewa and the finance minister Ekotie-Eboh. That was the time that something had to be done.
(To be continued)