By Emma Okocha
AS an eyewitness, the body that I saw was a fresh body… no marks of bullets. It could be that day (January 21, 1966) or overnight that the body was put there. There were no signs of gunshots on Tafawa Balewa’s body… the first thing that my Editor told me about the story as I got to the office that day was that “don’t embellish your report, don’t be flamboyant, just be factual” and the facts I stated, have never been denied… Why now? Fani-Kayode had many flaws in his claim. The evidence he is producing is fluid third party. “General Danjuma told me”, “M.D Yusuf told me”… Kayode’s father was abducted and captured. If the coupists didn’t kill his father, what makes him think they would kill all those they abducted? If they didn’t kill his father who was highly controversial… what makes him believe that Balewa, a gentleman, highly respected, loved by Nigerians for his mild disposition, would be killed? – See Balewa is Dead, Found By Roadside. – His Excellency, Segun Osoba, as a Reporter with Daily Times, January 23, 1966
Without provocations whatsoever, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, fellow fallen Angel, Dr. Reuben Abati, in the month of January, when most Nigerians are in a somber mood of reflections, decided to open up the Pandora’s Box and spit on the graves of the magnificent January 15 Boys. In his eyewitness diatribe of the 1966 uprising, published in The Sun of January 26, 2016, Fani-Kayode relayed a mariner’s fable, distorting the actions of the fine officers, who, in their supreme sacrifices, extraordinary courage, nationalistic fervor and professional ethics, took action on January 15, 1966 to save Nigeria from plummeting to the cavern. For whatsoever it is that they confronted, and did not totally revise, remains the cancer that has continuously eaten into the fabric that has prevented the nation from meeting its obligations to its forlorn peoples, and that also has denied the nation from assuming its manifest destiny to lead the black man in the mother continent.
In order to secure their rightful place in the space and time of history, we present, for the first time, lean and the intimate profiles of these so-called “Murderers.” It is our expectation that the Nigerian public, after getting to know these officers and also having learnt their true motives and the end game of that operations, we shall trust that the people will be in a position to judge if Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emma ‘Vancouver’ Ifeajuna, Christian Anuforo, Adewale Ademoyega etc were indeed the blood-sucking vampires Fani Kayode would persuade us to believe they were.
Before Dick Tiger, the first African to be inducted to the American Sports Hall of Fame, before Hogan Bassey, former Nigerian featherweight champion of the world, before Thunder Balogun, Garuba Okoye, Albert Onyeanwuna, Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo; Emma Ifeajuna was the first Nigerian super athletic hero personality. His Greek god Alexandrian sculptured features, Hollywood bewitching hazel eyes concealed an ingenious mathematical mind. A Science Teacher who went to DMGS, was with Rotimi, Olutoye, the first Nigerian graduates from Ibadan to be commissioned into the Nigerian Army. In Biafra, he was the originator of the Biafran ingenious RAP Scientific group that produced the great Ogbunigwe and other Biafran war equipment.
Emma’s fairytale started in far away Vancouver, Canada. Amid a melee of white faces, he feared an intimidating high jump crossbar set at the dizzying height of 6 feet 8 inches. Armed with pent-up determination, driven on by forces that appeared to come from beyond and intent on not disappointing a laurels-starved nation, the man faced his task with a single-minded resolve. At his first attempt, he knocked down the crossbar. Then he turned dramatic. Removing one of his spike shoes, Emma ran forward, leapt up and scaled the crossbar of history. With that feat, “Emma Vancouver”, July 31, 1954, bagged Nigeria’s first Gold Medal in an International Competition. Like Lionel Messi of Barcelona, Emma was the first to pull off his shirt before the crowd! He swept the whole nation into unprecedented street celebrations. Banner headlines beamed him and on the cover of all the African Newspapers. School Exercise books featured him and his one spike shoe incredible Ifeajuna jump style was on the cover for all the primary school pupils in the country. The lad instantly became a folk hero as youths, emulating him, started copying his style of jumping which they called “Ifeajuna hop.”
In his own reminiscences and firsthand introduction of his friend and leader of the January 15 Coup, Professor John Pepper Clark averred that “Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, was a complex person, for a man who was loved by men and women of all classes, the choice of who among them truly loved him was a difficult task for him. The amount of love and attention he had was enough to spoil any young man, but he kept his head. Although he read General Science, he was a voracious reader who took keen interest in Nkrumah, Nasser, Nehru and Machiavelli. We were all committed young men who took great critical interest in what great politicians, such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and the Sardauna were doing at that time. A committed nationalist, his politics cut across tribes and classes.” See THISWEEK May 18, 1987, Who is Afraid of Ifeajuna…
Elsewhere in the final hours of their treason trial against the Republic of Biafra, Brigadier Victor Banjo testified that he knew Major Ifeajuna and his involvement in the coup of January 1966. “I know he regretted the bloodshed. In fact, his aversion to bloodshed is in the nature of an obsession, which, to a certain extent, militates against his efficiency as commander of troops in the battlefront. These considerations were primary in my mind when he was offered to me as Commanding Officer for the Mid-West operations. Instead, I chose to make him my Chief of Staff. He discharged himself with such thoughtless confidence that contributed in no small measure to the success of the operation. See Nelson Ottah, The Trial of Biafra’s Leaders Pp. 45
On his motivation in carrying out the January 15 Coup, Ifeajuna stated: “Politics has become the best paying profession, corruption accepted as the way of life… when it was said that salaries were too high, the legislators who met only 64 days in a year upped their salaries. When people cried that there were too many ministers, they will appoint some more. They used the Army to terrorise the population and they expected we should go on slaughtering our own people for a few criminals to stay in power. The duty of the Army is not just to protect a government; it is to protect a government in so far as that government’s interest are those of the nation… we fully realised to be caught planning was high treason and the penalty is death. We knew. We could not leave 55 million people to live in the ever-present chaos caused by a bunch of hooligans. We heard them challenge us to stand up for our people or fall supine with them, and their voices kept ringing in our ears, calling us to emergency actions… The elections held in October 1965 proved the last straw of iniquity that broke the crooked back of the government… they said they were prepared to rule even if only one man survived among our people. We could not wait to see our people die to one man. We could not wait to see the nation destroyed because of evil men.” – see Ifeajuna unpublished manuscript Indictment, 1966
Ifeajuna and the Majors were not alone in sympathy for the people and the nation, following the violence precipitated by the interested politicians in Ibadan and Kaduna. African Nobel Laureate, as a young man, had earlier acknowledged, “the question of willingness to take up arms against a cruel despot was not one which I found myself suddenly confronted. I had once resolved it during the Western Nigerian uprising during the 1964/65, which had necessitated the takeover of the Broadcast station in Ibadan. See Wole Soyinka, You Must Set Forth At Dawn. Pp. 428
Professor Wole Soyinka’s suicidal takeover of Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation was a part-climax to the crisis in the West, as stated by Moses Ihonde, Press Secretary to General Gowon, who, in his book, FIRST CALL, detailed the crisis in Western Nigeria… “When Gowon left Nigeria in May 1965, there were indications that political developments were far from smooth. The first post-independence elections into the Federal Parliament had been held in December 1964 under circumstances that underscored the inherent instability in the body politic. Before that, observers had witnessed how the census enumeration exercise had been acted out, first in 1962, when the results had been unacceptable to the northern leadership, and again in 1963, when the new count had been unacceptable to the southern leadership.
The provisional results of the census submitted by Mr. Warren, the Chief Census Officer, had shown that the population of the Northern Region, although recording an increase of about 30 per cent over the previous census figures, had, in comparative terms, declined to less than half of the population of the whole country. Whereas the North had accounted for over 55 per cent of Nigeria’s population in 1952/53, the provisional figures for the 1962 census put its population at about 49 per cent. Since numbers were an important factor in political participation, a decline in the population of the North undermines their ‘right’ to govern the country. Before verification tests were conducted, the government of the Eastern Region, which was dominated by the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), pressed that the figures be released because it would agree with the impression already created by politicians in the South that the North was not as populous as previously claimed. Among those who learnt about the provisional figures, either by accident or design, were young, politically minded officers in the Nigerian Army. In refusing to let the provisional figures be released, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC)-controlled Federal Government created the impression that it had something to hide. When the provisional figures were subjected to verification and the population of the North emerged as 22, 777, 987, or 53.3 per cent of Nigerians, it was widely believed, within and outside government circles, that the figures had been manipulated!
About the same time, a rift within the ranks of the Action Group (AG) in the Western Region was taking its toll on that party’s ability to participate effectively as one leg of the tripod ruling the country. The leader of AG, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had relinquished the Premiership of the Western Region government to vie for the leadership of the central government in the pre-independence election in 1959. The mantle of leadership fell on the deputy leader of the party, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, but his perception of the Western Region vis-à-vis the nation at large conflicted with that of Awolowo, who ventured to break out of his narrow ethic base. From later studies, it is now known that three major factors were responsible for the conflict.
The first was personal but that might have been smoothened over, had efforts at matching, at least one or other, of their children materialised. The second was political and had to do with the party’s failure at the 1959 federal elections.
The third was ideological. On the one hand, Awolowo saw the need to extend his constituency beyond his ethnic group by having an executive committee that enjoyed a broad geographical base. Although that was behind the support he gave to the candidature of Mr. S.G. Ikoku as AG’s Secretary General, the result appeared to blame Chief Ayo Rosiji for the party’s failure in 1959.
Akintola, for his part, criticised Ikoku’s appointment as unacceptable. He considered it unethical for Rosiji to be made a scapegoat for what was a collective failure.
Awolowo had propounded the theory of democratic socialism as the ideological platform on which the party was to fight the elections. To give effect to this, AG needed control of the centre, which meant an executive committee with a broad-based membership. Akintola disagreed. A political realist, he believed that this was irrelevant to the needs of the Yoruba people in particular, and the Western Region in general.
Akintola urged coalition with the NPC; Awolowo preferred the NCNC. In the end, AG lost out at the centre and constituted Her Majesty’s opposition, Nigeria then still being a monarchy under Queen Elizabeth 11.
By the time of the AG’s next major convention, Akintola had so consolidated his position that he even challenged his party leader. On the one hand, he ensured that members of his cabinet swore personal allegiance to him: on the other, he controlled a majority of elected members of the Western House of Assembly. Consequently, he felt emboldened enough to openly disagree with Awolowo at the Convention. Awolowo’s supporters attempted to remove Akintola from office as Premier of the Western Region and install Chief Adegbenro, a staunch Awoist. Violence ensued and the Federal Government declared a State of Emergency in the Region. In accordance with the provisions of the constitution, the Prime Minister appointed a Sole Administrator, Chief M.A. Majekodunmi, a medical doctor, for an initial period of six months.
At the expiration of the Emergency, Akintola who had succeeded in courting a majority of the suspended AG parliamentarians was reinstated as Premier. He formed a new political party, the United People’s Party, which courted the NCNC.
All of this was relatively easy for Akintola to achieve because, during the Emergency, Awolowo and some of his supporters were arrested and charged with treasonable felony.
The trial resulted in Awolowo’s incarceration, at the end of which he was found guilty of plotting to overthrow the Federal Government of Nigeria by force and he and some of his supporters were sentenced to varied terms of imprisonment.
Below is the Chief’s address to Justice Sowemimo at the Lagos High Court, September 11, 1963.
For upwards of 30 years, I have been in politics in Nigeria; during this period I have operated in various important theatres in the life of this great Federation. I have, with others, fought against British imperialism….
Together with other nationalists, we have successfully thrown out British imperialism and enthroned Africans in positions which, 20 or more years ago, they never dreamt of occupying.
I have been unyielding advocate of a Federal Constitution for Nigeria. I have all long with other leaders of this country, been a very active and constructive participant in all the constitutional conferences which have taken place since 1953, and which have culminated not only in the attainment of independence but in the production of a Constitution of which Nigerians are very proud.
This Constitution is now being gradually violated. I have also fought against anything, which savours of injustice. It is thus an irony of history that, as one of the architects of Nigeria’s independence, I have spent almost half of Nigeria three years of independence under one form of confinement or another.
Since 1957 I have fought, as your Lordship remarked, with vigour against the feudal system in the Northern region and for its eradication. I have also fought to prevent the spread of this evil political system to other parts of Nigeria.
During the same period, I have strongly advocated the breaking up of the Northern region into more states in order to have due federalism in Nigeria, to prelude the permanent subservience of the people of Nigeria to the autocratic ruling caste in the North, and to preserve peace and unity in the country.
In short, I have always fought for what I believe, without relent and regardless of consequences to myself. I have no doubt, and I say this without any spirit of immodesty, that in the course of my political career, I have rendered services to this country which historians and the coming generations will certainly regard as imperishable.
Naturally, sir, in the course of my long, turbulent and active political life, I have attracted to myself a sizeable crop of detractors and political adversaries.
I personally welcome any sentence you may impose upon me. At this moment, my only concern is not for myself, but that my imprisonment might do harm to Nigeria for three reasons.
First, the invaluable services which I have hitherto rendered and which I can still render be lost to the country…
Second, there might be a heightening of the present tension, which has lasted for 15 months, and has done incalculable injuries to the economy of the country.
Third, for some time to come the present twilight of democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law, will change or might change into utter darkness.
With Awolowo behind bars, the AG was rendered toothless, which was why it did not feature prominently in the disagreement over the 1963 census controversy. It was also during that time that the Western region was excised to create the new Mid-West Region, even though the two other larger regions were left intact.
UPGA had been formed from an alliance between the NCNC, which regarded itself as progressive, and the AG, which it regarded as close to it in its philosophy. Into that alliance, the NCNC brought the Northern Progressive Front (NPF), which was a merger of the former Northern (later Nigerian) Elements Progressive Union, and the former United Middle Belt Congress. The formation of UPGA encouraged Akintola, the Premier of the Western Region, to seek a counterforce in allying his Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) with the NPC to form the NNA. The formation of the two alliances tended to enhance the bipolarization of the struggle for power in Nigeria.
At independence, three political parties, drawing their strength from the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, had predominated in the struggle for political hegemony. Nigerian politics tended to follow ethnic/cultural lines. Some, therefore, came to believe that the alternative to a ‘detribalised’ leadership was the domination of the country by one of the major groups which, after eliminating the competition from the other two, would impose a fair system of government which the country in its entirety would find acceptable. With all the ethnic sentiments and emotions that were generally invoked during election campaigns, it was impossible for any major ethnic group to hope to impose any system on the whole of the country through an election.
After its apparent success in the 1964 federal elections, the NNA entered the following year’s election into the Western Region parliament with considerable confidence. The tactics employed by NNA in the federal elections were again brought into play. The UPGA leadership alleged that the nomination of candidates was so manipulated that a number of NNDP candidates were returned unopposed, whereas AG and UPGA candidates were prevented from filing their nomination papers. The Western Region government, which controlled the regional electoral commission, forbade electoral officers from announcing any results directly. All results were to be handed over to the government, which would declare them.
If the elections itself had been brazenly rigged, with women in various parts of the Region discovered to be pregnant with ballot papers (and even a funeral procession found to be conveying ballot papers in a coffin!), the outcome of the elections was even more ludicrous. It was alleged that NNA candidates fared so badly that they lost their deposits because they failed to secure five per cent of the vote cast. The Western Region election of October, 1965, therefore, marked a turning point in Nigeria’s political development and it was clear, from the look of things, that people at that point had to depend on their own efforts to change an unwanted government since that government had effectively killed the constitutional process.
The people resorted to direct action, including the setting up of roadblocks the length and breadth of the South-West and the burning of vehicles suspected of NNDP affiliations. In no time, the Region had the singular infamy of being the most insecure part of the country. Operation Wetie, as it was called, became the symbol of that insecurity as persons, vehicles, and goods travelling by road through the South-West to the capital city of Lagos risked being ‘wet’ with petrol and set ablaze. No Western Region government vehicle unescorted by armed soldiers could travel safely to or from Lagos without running the risk of falling victim of the Operation Wetie group on hand to set the vehicle ablaze.
The fear and anxiety, and insecurity generated by the situation in the Western Region had become palpable and everybody expected something to happen. It was generally believed that the government would come up with a solution. What that solution was, nobody knew.
Gowon had been in Nigeria during the December 1964 federal elections, which almost created an impasse when Azikiwe refused to invite Balewa to form the government, on the basis of the disputed NNA victory. He was also aware of the various moves by both the President and the Prime Minister to woo support for respective positions. He was further aware of the possible role of the armed forces in the deteriorating political crisis and disclosed to this writer that two of his colleagues, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Lt. Col. Victor Banjo, had made overtures to him to join them in a possible military intervention to resolve the crisis.
One man who felt strongly that something should be done about it and believed that doing anything required courage was Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Those who attended St. Joseph’s Primary School, Kaduna and were Nzeogwu’s classmates – as I was – remember only that there once was a boy named Nzeogwu who was fondly called KDJ (Kaduna Junction) and who stood out among his mates because he was able to organise even children his age for a common purpose. In those days, children did not often use surnames.
Meanwhile, before Chief Obafemi Awolowo was sent to jail, one of the people inside the court listening to the Chief, in disguise, was Major Kaduna Nzeogwu who was then a Security operative of the Nigerian Army.
This was confirmed by Col. Hillary Njoku, who in 1963 stated that “Captain Nzeogwu became the first Nigerian Intelligence Officer at the AHQ. I had time to train, study, and supervise him actively. Within a short time he had established himself as a hardworking, intelligent, military intellectual, highly religious and principled.” – See, A Tragedy Without Heroes, Col. H.M. Njoku. Fourth Dimension Publishers 1987. Pp. 27- 28
In his own words, General Joe Garba, ex-President of the United Nations General Assembly, noted that Nzeogwu had a vision of Nigeria, which I share. He exuded charm, warmth, and assurance… his favourite subject was building the Nigeria nation. He was a first class officer, who was quite popular with everyone.” – Joe Garba, Revolution in Nigeria.
Such was his family’s affinity to the city of Nzeogwu’s birth that his military colleagues called him “Kaduna.” When not in his army uniform he wore northern mufti and frequently referred to himself as “a Northerner.” Nzeogwu spoke fluent Hausa (the lingua franca of the Northern Region) like a native. In fact, Nzeogwu’s command of Hausa was better than his Igbo. He was an exceptionally devout Catholic who attended mass daily, a teetotaler, a non-smoker, and despite being a bachelor, unlike many men of his age, he did not spend much time chasing women. Yet he was prepared to kill in a military coup that he believed to be just.
•To be continued