“On the first day of the killings of Igbo officers, Lt. Gora, the Adjutant, came into our cell and sharply ordered, ‘Ihedigbo come out!’ Major Ihedigbo stood up, and walked up and was led out to a spot and shot dead. About the same time the next day, this same agent of death, Gora, shouted with obvious disrespect, ‘Maduabu, where are you? Come out.’ Captain Maduabu followed him. He also was led out and shot dead. The third day was the turn of 24/Lt. Dic Ovuzire…. A Deltan. On the fourth day Lt. Egbuna was called out and murdered like the others.”
– See Lambert Iheanacho: The Last Biafran Commander, Owerri 2008 pg. 44.
In his own chronicle of the July ’66 event, Max Siollum wrote: Most Nigerians do not know how perilously close their country came to disintegration. On Monday, August 1, 1966, Lt-Colonel Gowon, who had been inside Ikeja barracks incommunicado with the outside world, finally broke his silence to a mystified population. As a bachelor of 32 years old, Lt-Colonel Yakubu Gowon became the youngest head of state in Africa, despite the presence of several senior officers in the chain of command (all from the South) such as Brigadier Ogundipe, Commodore Wey and Colonel Robert Adebayo. It now lay with those who had first access to, and use of instruments of violence.
Northern soldiers had an immense advantage in this regard. With their overwhelming numerical advantage in the infantry, their Igbo colleagues did not stand a chance. It was easy northern for infantry soldiers to get access to weapons and take over their units as they had ready access to armories. The mismatch was compounded by the laissez-faire attitude of Igbo soldiers who retreated into a comfortable complacency in the expectation that Aguiyi-Ironsi would somehow save the situation as he did in January (they were unaware that he had already been murdered).
Within three days, every Igbo soldier was either dead, wounded or fleeing for their life. Although a northerner, Gowon, was a Christian (his father was a minister) from a northern minority ethnic group called the Angas and was engaged to an Igbo woman named Edith Ike. Unlike his predecessor, Aguiyi-Ironsi, Gowon did not have an ethnically hostile army against him.
Many of the infantrymen in the army were, like Gowon, from northern minority ethnic groups in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. Although many southerners ignorantly claim that the counter-coup was the work of “Hausa” soldiers, it was mainly Middle Belt soldiers from varied ethnicities that did most of the damage. For example, Walbe and Dimka were Angas, Danjuma (Jukun), Garba (Tarok), Mwad-kon (Birom), Dickson (Idoma), and all the foregoing were Christians. In contrast to the events of January, the July “counter-coup” was not actually a coup at all. It was a mutiny. The revolt lacked the common characteristics of a coup such as the seizure of broadcasting facilities, public announcement of a change of re-gime and denunciation of the previous regime. Unlike the Majors’ attempted political revolution, the rebellion was a matter of internal army discipline for northern sol-diers, and vengeance against colleagues.
The term coup d’etat translated from French means “a blow to the state.” The term refers to the sudden overthrow, often violent, of an existing government by a group of conspirators. The phrase originated in France after Louis Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the Assemblee Nationale (French national assembly) in 1851. In the author’s opinion, a coup conceptually connotes that its executors intend to seize the apparatus of governance. The July plotters did not originally intend to replace the Aguiyi-Ironsi regime, they originally had no political objective or pre-defined parameters for their mutiny. Attacks on Igbo soldiers continued. The commander of the LGO, Lt-Colonel Tony Eze, had a lucky escape. Eze had emerged from hiding and returned to work after being assured by Gowon that things had calmed down. On his first day back at work, he was alerted just in time to jump out of a window as a group of armed northern soldiers were making their way to his office to kill him. Dodging machine gun fire, Eze escaped by tearing his way through a barbed wire fence, which severely lacerated his flesh. One of his staff officers was not so lucky. Angered by their failure to capture Eze, the soldiers directed their aggression at Captain Iloputaife. Iloputaife was tied up, picked up and repeatedly thrown down onto the floor, and then tied to a Land Rover and dragged around on the concrete in front of his office. Eze’s RSM Warrant Officer Elijah Anosike was killed. Anosike had been awarded a gold medal for his service during the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo.
The Ibadan based 4th Battalion proved to be the most undisciplined and violent unit in the history of the Nigerian Army (quite an achievement in a country as unruly as Nigeria). The battalion seemed to be the epicenter of northern military anger as it had a large concentration of northern soldiers and many of its former members were also prominent in the revolt that overthrew Ironsi (Danjuma, Joe Garba, Gowon, Walbe, Longboem). The battalion had also not endeared itself to the local population in Ibadan due its allegedly partisan and heavy-handed tactics during the state of emergency in the Western Region that preceded the January coup. Most of the key January plotters such as Majors Ifeajuna, Nzeogwu, Ademoyega and Onwuatuegwu were unscathed as they were incarcerated and inaccessible to northern soldiers. However, a few of them were not so lucky and were unfortunate to be detained in prisons that were accessible to northern soldiers. Such detainees were subjected to grisly treatment.
“The most prominent of these incidents occurred on August 19 and once again involved the notorious 4th Battalion who managed to take their exploits as far afield as Benin in the Mid-West Region. Soldiers from the 4th Battalion came to Benin for a funeral. Mindful of the 4th Battalion’s reputation, the police kept a cautious eye on their activities. After the funeral, the soldiers learned that some of the January detainees were held at the nearby Benin Prison. Rather than heading home after the funeral, the soldiers took a detour to the prison, broke into and raided it, then released northern troops who were detained there for their part in the January coup. Igbo officers also held for the same offense were not spared. Five of them were tor-tured to death.”
Wole Soyinka, in “The Man Died” told the world how the handsome Kings College aluminous trade unionist died a pathetic death: “Gogo Chu Nzeribe was arrested for some undisclosed offence during Gowon’s regime, and imprisoned in Dodan Barracks, where he died. Among the various versions of his death, the most credible appears to be that Gogo Nzeribe was starved to death. He was brought out daily for flogging, and when one day he fought back, he was tied up on the orders of Captain Paul Tarfa and permanently locked up in a solitary cell and ‘forgotten.’ Gogo Nzeribe in chains was fed to rodents and cockroaches.”