PLANNING TO OVERTHROW GENERAL IRONSI
There is no doubt that fairly soon after January 15, the motive for a northern counter-coup also known as “return match” was established. What remained were the means and the opportunity. In Kaduna, the Platoon Commanders Course at the NMTC provided an opportunity for young northern subalterns to come together to share ideas and vent frustration. These officers included Lts. Shelleng, Hannaniya, Muhammadu Jega, Sani Abacha, Sali, Dambo and others. They held secret meetings and even wrote a letter of protest to the Chief of Staff (Army) – Lt. Col. Gowon – openly stating that if senior northern officers did not take action within a certain time frame, they would, and that senior northern officers would have themselves to blame for the catastrophe. Indeed, the Ironsi government was sufficiently alarmed that on at least two occasions the course was suspended. For a brief period, thereafter, things were relatively quiet, but not for long. Matters began to stir in Lagos.
Although it is said that practically all northern officers serving in Lagos, Abeokuta, Ikeja and Ibadan eventually became involved, three officers formed the innermost circle of the plot to overthrow Major General Aguiyi Ironsi. They were T/Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed (Inspector of Signals), T/Major TY Danjuma (General Staff Officer II, SHQ) and Captain Martin Adamu (2nd Battalion, Ikeja). The coup leader was T/Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed.
According to late Major General Garba (rtd), others involved in planning in the South include Captain JN Garba, Lt. William Walbe and Lt. Paul Tarfa (Federal Guards), Lts. Muhammadu Buhari and John Longboem (2nd battalion), Lts. Pam Nwatkon (Abeokuta garrison, Recce), Lts Jerry Useni, Ibrahim Bako and Garba Dada (4th battalion, Ibadan), and Lt. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (Adjutant, 1st battalion, Enugu). Air force conspirators included Majors Musa Usman and Shittu Alao. However, other officers were clearly involved because Muhammed compartmentalized the planning and also encouraged officers to recruit additional local conspirators and storm troopers. Examples include Lts. Nuhu Nathan and Malami Nassarawa at Ikeja, IS Umar in Abeokuta, Abdullai Shelleng, Haladu, Magoro, Obeya and Onoja in Ibadan and Captains Jalo and Muhammadu Jega in Enugu, among others.
Active planning for the coup began after the promulgation of the Unification decree. In fact there was a brief scare in Kaduna when false rumors of Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina’s arrest in Lagos by Ironsi after the May riots rent the air. Katsina had gone to Lagos for a meeting at which fruitless efforts were made to get the decree repealed. When he eventually returned to Kaduna he found the airport surrounded by irate northern soldiers.
Captain Garba was recruited in Lagos by being told that northerners were planning a coup to “pre-empt” an expected one by Igbo officers. This so called expected Igbo coup was also known as “Plan 15″ – part 2 of the so called final solution to the northern problem perhaps (as the propaganda went) made all the more urgent by the killings of Igbos in the North during the May riots. Lagos conspirators, who were being closely watched, met in various locations, including their private cars, Muhammed’s house, Garba’s house, and during games at Abalti barracks.
At Ibadan, Lt. Col. Muhammed would often drive into town from Lagos, pick up Ibrahim Bako and Abdullai Shelleng at a pre-arranged location and drive around without stopping while they discussed.
The Kaduna group was not as formally organized as the Lagos-Ikeja-Abeokuta-Ibadan axis at this stage although it later consolidated and was in the habit of having meetings at Lugard Hall with northern civilians. However, Capt. Ahmadu Yakubu was the liaison who would drive from Lagos to Kaduna with messages from Lt. Col. Muhammed for Lts ADS Wya, Ibrahim Babangida, Garba Duba, BS Dimka, Dambo, Sani Abacha, Hannaniya, Salihi and others. Messages were also passed to the 5th battalion in Kano under Lt. Col Shuwa primarily for reasons of coordination. But Lagos was to be the fulcrum.
In order to keep tabs on what was going on inside the government, Lt. Col Murtala Muhammed maintained contact with northern civil servants in Lagos (like Muktar Tahir), while Captain Baba Usman of military intelligence provided insights into what the Army knew and did not know. Nevertheless, the Ironsi government had other mechanisms of information gathering outside official channels. For example, at least one officer, Lt. Jasper, then the intelligence officer at the 4th battalion in Ibadan, was suspected of passing information directly to Supreme HQ and perhaps even to Ironsi himself, bypassing the Army. All sorts of self appointed civilian informants were also known to mill in and out of Army formations passing rumors to Igbo commanders who would then find ways to get it to Ironsi. Major Danjuma, at that time a staff officer, was attached to General Ironsi as a military scribe, dutifully taking notes at his public hearings.
At the outset of planning for the coup, late General Garba says in his book ‘”Revolution in Nigeria”, Another View’, that “We intended explicitly to kill no one. The aims were, firstly, to get Decree No. 34 abrogated; secondly, to bring the coup makers of January 15 to trial; thirdly, to accord due honour to the military and political leaders – especially the Prime Minister – who had been killed.”
However, as we now know, the rebellion was anything but bloodless as other agendas took center stage when all hell broke loose. Garba insists that there was no specific plan to annihilate all Igbo officers and soldiers – although it appeared so to neutral observers from the way many northern NCOs (aided by some officers and civilians) were carrying on with reckless abandon and total disregard for life and property. Garba himself admits that they went “berserk”. The late General says, though, that had there been such a formal plan, specific Igbo officers would have been targeted and “no one would have escaped”.
In my view, it is hard to know what to make of this comment, seeing as it means little considering the scale of killings. Nevertheless, thankfully to God, although many died, most Eastern officers, the vast majority being completely innocent of any connection either to the January 15 coup or to the Ironsi government, survived the July 29 rebellion. Unfortunately, thousands of innocent civilians were murdered in orgies of deliberate and mindless bloodshed that began in May and continued until September. There can be no justification for what transpired, although the circumstances have been explained and the sensitivity of the issues involved better understood with the passage of time. Interestingly, the vast majority of those soldiers detained for the January coup escaped primarily because they had been kept in jails located in the eastern region.
As planning developed, loose as it was, it was influenced (as are all coups) by issues of timing and opportunity. It is said that at least four plans were discussed. The first was to seize State House and place the Head of State under arrest. However, this would have entailed much bloodshed because of the security set up inside the State House grounds, bristling with weapons. In any case the General was also fond of leaving without warning to sleep on a Boat along the Marina which, on occasion, would set for sea. A decision was, therefore, made to stage the coup when he was outside Lagos to minimize bloodshed. The second was when initial plans were being considered for the transfer of the 1st battalion at Enugu to Ibadan in exchange with the 4th battalion. Lt. Shehu Yar’Adua was to be the coordinator of that plan. He would create some kind of confusion as a signal for the coup. This too was put off, likely because the decision to exchange both battalions also kept being put off and was not formally announced until late July. In any case, rumors (again, without foundation) soon had it that the regime may have been aware of a “battalion switch plot” and that the 4th battalion would be derailed by Igbo sappers.
On July 14, however, the government announced plans for General Ironsi to undertake a Nationwide tour. The tour would take him first through Abeokuta, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Zaria, Jos, and Benin. He would return to Ibadan from Benin for a meeting of traditional rulers on July 28, spend the night, return to Lagos on July 29 and then resume his tour in early August to the East. The third plan, therefore, was to abduct General Ironsi during a visit to the North on July 19th. It too was put off, some say in deference to northern traditional leaders, while others say it was for reasons of military coordination. For one, Ironsi hardly slept outside Lagos thus reducing the window of opportunity to get him, and secondly, then Captain Garba, who was practically in command of the Federal Guards company in Lagos was scheduled to be in Fernando Po for a basketball game and would not be on the ground to help seize the capital.
The fourth plan, therefore, was to take place on July 28/29 during Ironsi’s visit to Ibadan for the National conference of traditional rulers when he would be arrested by troops from the 4th battalion. His decision to spend the night there, guarded by the 4th battalion, provided a perfect opportunity. The code word for the coup was “Aure”, a Hausa word for “marriage”. Conspirators in southern Nigeria made coded reference to it by talking about “Paiko’s wedding”, Paiko being the nickname for (and hometown in Niger Province of) one of the northern subalterns at the 4th battalion who was to be the spearhead. But even this plan was put off by Lt. Col. Muhammed when it became apparent to him and Captain Martin Adamu that it had leaked, likely through Lt. Jasper. This is why Major Danjuma did not go to Ibadan with his combat dress.
A rough plan for early August when Ironsi would be in the East was thus discussed but not finalized. Nevertheless, Captain Baba Usman (GSO II, Int) had left for Enugu to coordinate with Lt. Yar-Adua when news of what happened in Abeokuta on July 28 came through, taking him by surprise. He is not the only one who was taken by surprise. Difficulty in getting the message of cancellation across to all parts of the country and all conspirators without using regular Army signals (then dominated by southerners) led to some complications elsewhere, including Kaduna, where Lt. BS Dimka was arrested on July 27/28 by Major Ogbemudia for attempting to break into the armoury, albeit drunk. As will be apparent later, a combination of panic, unplanned coincidences and accidents eventually triggered off the July 29 rebellion when northern NCOs at Abeokuta took matters into their hands.
ABEOKUTA GARRISON, THURSDAY, JULY 28, 1966
Shortly before 2300 hours on July 28, 1966, Lt. Col. Gabriel Okonweze, Commander of the Abeokuta Garrison was tipped off by Lt. Col. Patrick Anwunah, General Staff Officer (1) for Intelligence at Army HQ in Lagos, that the long anticipated Northern counter-coup was scheduled to begin that night. What Anwunah did not know for sure was that the coup had in fact, once again, been put off by its chief planners on account of a leak.
Earlier that evening Anwunah had confronted Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed in Yaba, Lagos with information that he was behind a planned counter-coup, leading to a mean-spirited (some say violent) exchange between them. Anwunah initially thought this confrontation would in fact deter the plot from going forward, and planned to do nothing. But having been prompted by Lt. Col. Alexander Madiebo to take some precautionary steps, and perhaps being in receipt of additional information, he took it upon himself to alert some unit commanders, one of whom was Okonweze. (An alternative account says Okonweze was also alerted by Njoku)
Lt. Col. Okonweze, therefore, called a meeting in the mess of all available officers (Igbo and non-Igbo) at the Abeokuta Garrison where he made the following announcement:
Gentlemen, I have just been informed that there is going to be a coup tonight. Anyone of you who knows anything about the coup should please tell us. You may know the beginning but you never know the end. I am not ambitious. My only ambition is to become a full Colonel. If you know anything, please let me know; I am not going to report anyone. What we are going to do is to avoid what happened in January where officers were taken unawares. We are going to wake up all soldiers, ask them to go to the armoury to get issued with arms and ammunition.
Officers present included Okonweze himself, Major John Obienu (Recce Commander), Lt. Gabriel Idoko, Lt. DS Abubakar (“Datti Abubakar”, Recce), Lt. IS Umar, and Lt. AB Mamman (Arty). Lt. E.B. Orok (Recce) later came in his Volkswagen. Captains M. Remawa (Recce 2ic) and Domkat Bali (Artillery Battery Commander) were at the Abeokuta club. Captain Ogbonna (Infantry company commander) was also in town.
Thereafter, an Igbo NCO went around the barracks, waking soldiers excitedly and saying “Come out, come out, there is trouble; go to the armoury and collect your armour.”
This alert woke up Sergeant Sabo Kole, an NCO from the Bachama area of Adamawa State. In the charged atmosphere of prevailing rumors at that time, Kole wrongly interpreted the Igbo NCO’s actions as an attempt by Okonweze to selectively wake up Igbo soldiers who would thus have an advantage in what was alleged to be an effort to finish what they did not finish in January. He, therefore, woke up another neighbor, Corporal Maisamari Maje, also Bachama, who happened to be the armourer of the unit. He told Maje to go to the armory and ensure that only northerners would be issued weapons. Meanwhile, assisted by Corporal Inua Sara, he mobilized a small guard of northern soldiers to protect the armory against any attempt to dislodge them while he made arrangements to disarm the quarter-guard. Having secured the armory, Sgt. Kole issued weapons and ammo to a section of assault troops. Assisted by Maje, and including Corporal J. Shagaya, the group advanced to the Officers Mess under the direction of the duty officer, Lt. Pam Mwadkon, younger brother of the late Lt. Col James Pam who was shot in Ikoyi by Major Christian Anuforo in January.
Once in the mess they ordered all officers present to raise their hands. When Okonweze challenged them, he was summarily executed right there and then. Major John Obienu, Commander of the Recce Squadron, sitting next to Okonweze, was also shot dead. Lt. E Orok, driving in to join them, saw what was happening, shouted at the soldiers, and was himself shot dead right under the tree where he parked his car. In the chaos, some northerners were shot too, notably Lt. Gabriel Idoko, mistaken for Igbo because he was wearing an “English dress”. He was lucky to survive. Some Igbo soldiers (other ranks) in the garrison were subsequently rounded up and shot.
INITIAL CONTACTS WITH IBADAN, LAGOS, ENUGU, AND KADUNA
Not all Igbo officers in the Abeokuta garrison were killed. Ogbonna escaped and was the one who initially made urgent informal phone calls to Lagos (2nd Battalion), Ibadan (4th battalion) and much later to Enugu (to Lt. Cols Ogunewe – 1st Bn – and Ojukwu at the State House).
Almost simultaneously, Lt. Pam phoned Lt. Garba Dada (Paiko), the Adjutant of the 4th Battalion in Ibadan at Mokola Barracks saying “Look, we have done our own oh! If you people just siddon there, we have finished our own…….We have finished the Igbo officers here. We liberated our unit.” He was wrong, though, because Ogbonna was alive. Lt. John Okoli also survived.
When Captains Remawa and Bali returned to the Barracks from town, they met the dead bodies of Okonweze, Obienu and Orok in or around the mess. They changed quickly into combat dress and got themselves armed.
Captain Remawa then contacted Army HQ in Lagos to notify Lt. Col. Gowon of events. Gowon ordered Remawa to collect the corpses, secure the garrison, and await further instructions. This order from Gowon to Remawa sent shivers down the spines of the junior northern officers at Abeokuta like Lt. DS Abubakar who feared that they would all be arrested for the killings in the Mess. Therefore, they decided that come what may, they would fight to finish to ensure the end of the Ironsi regime. The impulse was primarily self preservatory.
Gowon then contacted Brigadier Ogundipe, then Chief of Staff, SHQ and got orders to mobilize Army units in Lagos. Both Ogundipe and Gowon initially tried to reach Ironsi directly in Ibadan and failed. (It was when Gowon was trying to get Col. Njoku at the guest house that he spoke to Major Danjuma). Ogundipe then notified the Police hierarchy, including the Commissioner in Ibadan, whose first attempt to investigate events at the 4th battalion was strongly rebuffed by the Battalion adjutant who told him to steer clear. “Flying Policeman” Mr. Joseph Adeola eventually got through to Government House Ibadan, sometime around 1 am (some say 0030), to notify General Ironsi of events. (Adeola replaced Timothy Omo-Bare as the Commissioner of Police in the Midwest and was one of those kidnapped by Biafran forces to Enugu in August 1967.)
By this time Major Danjuma, Lt. James Onoja and elements of the 4th battalion were in process of arriving to cordon off the building.
Before he was finally arrested shortly before 8am, Ironsi had made requests for a Police helicopter from Lagos and made other efforts, as are described elsewhere in this essay, to mobilize loyal units. By the time a helicopter arrived, though, he and Colonel Fajuyi had been taken away. General Ironsi’s last formal military contact was with Kaduna to mobilize the 1st Brigade. The commander, Lt. Col. Wellington “Papa” Bassey was not around so he spoke to Major Samuel Ogbemudia, then the Brigade Major, telling him “All is not well.” Unfortunately, the Brigade was too far away to be of immediate tactical value, even if it wanted to be.
Ogbonna’s call to Lt. Col. Igboba at the 2nd battalion in Ikeja preceded Remawa’s call to Army HQ. Unfortunately, it was intercepted by Lts. Nuhu Nathan and Malami Nassarawa. Nathan was the duty officer and had been contacted earlier by Murtala Muhammed about the postponement of the coup. When Ogbonna gave him the message to deliver to Igboba about events at Abeokuta, he immediately contacted Murtala Muhammed instead, who, having just gotten off the phone with the boys at Ibadan, finally realized that events were moving faster than he thought initially. Muhammed gave the go ahead to Nathan and Nassarawa to mobilize northern troops at Ikeja and launch operations to pre-empt predictable efforts by the establishment to regain control. They secured the armoury, distributed weapons selectively, and got busy rounding up Igbo soldiers. Northern NCOs and ordinary soldiers later went wild. If their officers did not explicitly give an order for an Igbo soldier to be shot they would shoot him anyway and shout “accidental discharge, sah!”
Meanwhile, Muhammed began making rounds of Army units all over Lagos to see things for himself and wake up other coupists in the Lagos area asking them to “adjust to the new situation”. Two of those he woke up himself were Captain JN Garba and Lt. Paul Tarfa at the Federal Guard. As they were dressing up, the call from Gowon came in. By the time Muhammed got to Ikeja, Captain Martin Adamu, Lts. Nathan, Nassarawa, Muhammadu Buhari, Alfred Gom, Longboem and a bunch of NCOs were already in control of the battalion, having executed several Igbo soldiers and officers (including Major B Nnamani, one of the company commanders) and arrested many others by cordoning off the quartermaster section of the barracks or grabbing soldiers as they came out for morning PT. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Henry Igboba, narrowly escaped a dragnet deployed around his house by Lt. Longboem and got away.
Muhammed reportedly gave orders to stop the killing, and focus instead on securing the perimeter as well as approach roads and taking measures to ensure the eventual success of their activities. Captain Martin Adamu went to Army HQ and placed himself in the intelligence center to monitor information and disseminate disinformation. Muhammed then contacted Abeokuta garrison directly and asked Lts. DS Abubakar and Pam Nwadkon to fuel up, arm a troop each of armoured vehicles (ferrets) and head out for Lagos and Ibadan respectively, accompanied by a section of assault troops to provide support in case of any shoot out with loyal troops being mobilized by Lt. Col. Gowon, Lt. Col. Anwunah, Major Mobolaji Johnson and Brigadier Ogundipe from SHQ. Sergeant Paul Dickson, a fearsome Idoma NCO who was later to acquire a reputation as a bloodthirsty savage, was despatched to take Ikeja Airport. A typical example of a coded order (in Hausa) for the murder of an Igbo captive was: “Take him to the house of chiefs.”
Later that morning, after Abubakar and Pam had left for Lagos and Ibadan, northern NCOs from the Abeokuta garrison set up check points in town and decided to pay a visit to the Abeokuta Prison where Major DO Okafor, former Federal Guards Commander, January 15 co-conspirator and alleged co-executioner of the late Prime Minister was held. He was tortured and killed in the courtyard, some say buried alive. The soldiers did not stop there. At one of the checkpoints, 2/Lt A.O. Olaniyan, oblivious of events, was stopped. As he tried to identify himself, he was summarily shot dead. The situation was clearly out of control.
LAGOS, JULY 29, 1966
After being alerted, first by Lt. Col. Muhammed, then Lt. Col. Gowon, Captain Garba and Lt. Tarfa secured the Federal (then known as ‘National’) Guards Barracks at Obalende, better known as ‘Dodan Barracks’. It is named after a town called Dodan in the Arakan peninsula in Burma where Nigerians fought back in World War 2. They rounded up all Igbo soldiers and locked them up in safety. Not a single Igbo soldier in that unit lost his life. Garba and Tarfa overcame a challenge by a northern soldier called Adamu Lamurde who emotionally threatened to kill them both if he was not allowed to avenge the death of Brigadier Maimalari by liquidating the Igbo soldiers in the unit. Indeed, this achievement was one of the very few successes of northern officers against northern NCOs seeking revenge. Garba later got a letter of commendation and appreciation from Col Hilary Njoku, his erstwhile Brigade Commander, when all the Igbo soldiers including Sergeant Vidal, Private Oligbo, Private Calistus Chukwu and others in the unit eventually arrived back safely in the east.
After Lt. Col. Gowon completed the first round of calls to Army commanders in Lagos early that morning, a decision was made to establish an operations room at the Police HQ on Moloney Street in Lagos. Brigadier B. Ogundipe, then Chief of Staff, SHQ, was joined by acting Police IG Kam Salem, Commodore Wey of the Navy, Lt. Col. Gowon (Army COS), Lt. Col. Anwunah (PSO I), and Major Mobolaji Johnson. Although he had previously served as DAQMG at the 2nd Brigade in Apapa under late Brigadier Maimalari, on this day Johnson was a fish out of water because he was supposed to be the second-in-command to Lt. Col Akahan at the 4th battalion 100 miles away in Ibadan where junior officers had run amock. However, he had long since settled down as Lagos military administrator. The commander of the 2nd battalion at Ikeja could not be reached.
Meanwhile, Lt. DS Abubakar had arrived from Abeokuta with his troops of ferrets, only to run into an ambush mounted by troops from the 2nd battalion under Lt.
Longboem at Ikeja from which he was very lucky to escape. Longboem had recognized him at the last minute when he stuck his head out of the hatch. Apparently Lt. Nassarawa had forgotten to alert the boys that Abubakar was coming with ferrets on Muhammed’s orders. Anyway, once this misunderstanding was resolved, Muhammed deployed DS Abubakar to Abalti Barrracks for “mopping operations”. This essentially meant that Muhammed was now in control of Ikeja, Dodan and Abalti Barracks as well as the airport. Indeed, Sergeant Dickson’s boys took control of two BOAC VC10 aircraft at the airport and ordered the Captains to fly northern families of soldiers back to Kano before returning to Lagos to pick commercial passengers. The soldiers involved had been completely taken in by frivolous rumors of a “second Igbo coup” and, like northern civil servants, wanted to get their families away.
After a quick appreciation, a decision was made by Brigadier Ogundipe to scrap together a fighting force from Army HQ elements commanded by an Igbo Captain.They were to go to Ikeja and try regaining control of the airport, by then under the control of Sergeant Paul Dickson of the 2nd battalion. This group advanced right into an ambush of machine gun nests along Ikeja road, losing about 30 soldiers in the process. In the confusion, two expatriates (including the General Manager of Bata Shoes in Lagos) were killed in cross-fire.
Lt. Col. Gowon volunteered to go to Ikeja Barracks to negotiate with the rebellious troops. By this time he and Brigadier Ogundipe were already aware from reports coming from Ibadan that General Ironsi and Colonel Fajuyi had been snatched from Major Danjuma and were probably dead. When he arrived at Ikeja some reports say he was initially detained, but there is no corroborative evidence that this really occurred. Aghast at what he saw, he was, however, said to have issued orders in support of Muhammed’s earlier orders that there should be no more shooting. This order was quickly sidelined by northern soldiers who proceeded to use other methods, not firearms, to slaughter their victims. Daggers and other more primitive contraptions for ritual murder became weapons of choice. In one illustrative case, northern soldiers at Ikeja airport took Captain Okoye, then based at Abalti Barracks but enroute to the US on a course, tied him to an Iron cross, whipped him unconscious and then left him to die in the guardroom. Okoye was suspected of being an informant for the Igbo underground network in Lagos.
About this time, first Major Johnson and then Brigadier Ogundipe himself gave an order to a northern NCO deployed to the Federal Guards Company. The soldier blatantly said he would not take orders from the Brigadier unless approved by Captain JN Garba. So, Captain Garba was sent for and came to the Police HQ. He was initially interrogated by Lt. Col. Anwunah, searching for information about what was happening in the country. Garba then aggressively confronted Anwunah with the grievances of northern soldiers and why they had struck. When Anwunah reported Garba’s intransigence to Ogundipe, Ogundipe told Garba: “I wish you boys had waited. I have just received the report about the January coup this morning and it’s on my table right now. Try to talk to your friends in Ikeja, and I am sure we can settle this matter, even at this stage.”
Capt. Garba, now placed in a difficult position, went back to his office to make a call to Murtala Muhammed in Ikeja and brief him about what had just transpired. Muhammed endorsed Garba’s actions and instructed him to maintain contact. Garba says he later discovered that Ogundipe had been bluffing about the report. Indeed, at the Military Leaders Meeting at Aburi, a full six months later, Commodore Wey said: “A decision has been taken on the boys of 15th January….They were to be dealt with in August but later on it was shifted to October.”
Meanwhile, Brigadier Ogundipe made a public broadcast on Radio Nigeria at 2:30pm which was repeated in 30 minute cycles until about 8:30pm:
As a result of some trouble by dissidents in the army, mainly in Ibadan, Abeokuta and Ikeja, the National Military Government has declared a state of emergency in the affected areas. Consequently, the following areas have been declared military areas under the Suppression of Disorder Decree of 1966: Ibadan, Ikeja and Abeokuta. Military Tribunals have been considered and accordingly set up. Curfew has been declared in the affected areas from 6:30 pm. The National Military Government wishes to state that the situation is under control and hopes to restore peace and tranquility very soon. The government appeals to the public for cooperation in its effort to restore law and order in the affected areas.
At about 3pm, though, Ogundipe sent for Garba again and instructed him to contribute a platoon to a second assault force which he was sending to dislodge the boys at Ikeja. Garba notified Muhammed at Ikeja and then contributed a platoon to Ogundipe under one 2/Lt. Osuma (then known as “Usman”) with separate orders that should he be ordered to shoot at fellow soldiers he was to refuse and return to base. 2/Lt. “Usman” did exactly as he was told before subsequently escaping from Lagos on August 1st himself. When he got back to the east, he used his real name (Osuma) to request that his property be sent back to him there. Needless to say that Ogundipe’s second attempt to establish military supremacy had failed.
Meanwhile phone calls and signals were coming in from other parts of the country, including Enugu (from Lt. Col. C. Ojukwu, the governor). At one point Ojukwu was able to speak to Lt. Col. Gowon at Ikeja. It is said that Gowon told him that he was no longer a “free agent”. Ojukwu encouraged Ogundipe to keep fighting even though he himself at one point escaped from Enugu to Onitsha from where he was calling Ogundipe. The rebels later made Brigadier Ogundipe aware that they would only accept Captain JN Garba as his intermediary for negotiations. Meanwhile, angry about the phone calls from Ojukwu, Lt. Col. Muhammed began making plans to march on Enugu – from which he was eventually restrained.
LAGOS, SATURDAY JULY 30, 1966
At about 0600 hrs, Capt. JN Garba was ordered back to Police HQ. Over the course of that day he made three trips back and forth to Ikeja on behalf of Brigadier Ogundipe, including one trip in which his vehicle was even shot at by northern troops. Emotional demands were made back and forth, including initial declarations that they no longer wanted to share barracks with Igbo soldiers, and demands that either the North be allowed to secede or that the Unification decree be repealed with a return to the position before January 15 under a civilian government. As John de St. Jorre put it, “It was the northern soldiers, roaming around outside the conference room in their dark, satanic mood, who were the ultimate arbiters of power”.
It was during this back and forth ado that Gowon is said to have been pressurized by the soldiers at Ikeja to participate in the discussions and lead them as the senior northern officer. This may have been assisted by calls from Kaduna and Kano by Lt. Cols Hassan Katsina and Mohammed Shuwa. Having been alerted overnight of goings on, Ojukwu had now joined the chorus of phone calls and signals coming in from other parts of the country seeking clarification. He was even able to speak to Lt. Col. Gowon at Ikeja. It is said that Gowon told him that he was no longer a “free agent”. Ojukwu encouraged Ogundipe to keep fighting even though he himself at one point escaped from Enugu to Onitsha from where he was calling Ogundipe. Angry about the phone calls from Ojukwu, Lt. Col. Muhammed began making plans to march on Enugu – from which he was eventually restrained.
Another authority (Kirk-Greene) claims that Gowon’s change of status from government messenger to rebel representative occurred when Ogundipe declared that he could not accept the proposals being put forward by northern soldiers and wanted to remove himself from the negotiation seeing as he could not exert his authority over them. Indeed Captain Alfred Gom had bluntly told him that they no longer wanted to deal with him or the SHQ at all. More recently, Gowon has revealed that main grouse the mutinous soldiers at Ikeja had against dealing with and accepting orders from Ogundipe was that he had sent two separate assault teams to attack them. General Olusegun Obasanjo, however, thinks an additional reason was that Ogundipe “did not belong”. According to Biafran propaganda, a northern flag was even flown at this point over the Ikeja Barracks, but no other independent source, local or foreign has ever confirmed this allegation.
Meanwhile Lt. DS Abubakar of the 2 Recce Squadron Abeokuta and his troops of Ferrets were ordered from Lagos to Ikeja Barracks. But he was first ordered to secure Carter Bridge which was when he told the notorious Sergeant Lapdam to man the checkpoint while he left for Ikeja. Lapdam later shot Major Ibanga Ekanem, Provost Marshall, who was on his way to SHQ, allegedly with a list of northern officers who were behind the revolt. [As a Captain, Ekanem survived injuries sustained in combat as an officer in the 4QNR in Katanga during Congo Operations in 1961]. Quite a few other soldiers (and possibly civilians) were also killed on Carter Bridge and at least two southern airforce officers later rescued from him. When Lt. DS Abubakar got to Ikeja, as reported in the Army’s official history, Col. DS Abubakar (rtd) recalls that one of those who was most strident about separation was Lt. Nuhu Nathan who reportedly told Gowon:
“Let us all leave now – we all go back if we cannot form a confederation”. Gowon replied: What is that word you mentioned”? Nathan said “Confederation”, to which Gowon retorted: “What does that mean”? As Nathan proceeded to explain, Lt. Malami Nassarawa said “I have an encyclopedia”. DS Abubakar explains that “They brought an encyclopedia and Gowon saw the meaning of confederation in it. He was about to buy the idea – thank GOD the British High Commissioner and some of the permanent secretaries advised against it.” DS Abubakar says ‘the British High Commissioner said: “If you dare do this kind of thing – confederation – that is the end of you”. So that is why we came back to federalism.’
Others who were present include Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed, Major Shittu Alao and Captain Baba Usman.
While Captain Garba was away on his second visit to Ikeja, Federal Permanent Secretaries met with Brigadier Ogundipe at the Police HQ. He told them that the soldiers at Ikeja were not willing nor ready to assume responsibility for running the country at that point. On his part he was not ready to do so either unless he had both legal and military backing.
Although he had suspicions that Ironsi was already dead he was not absolutely certain. To compound Ogundipe’s position, the Attorney General , GC Onyiuke advised him that there was no provision for an acting Supreme Commander in the Constitution, as amended by Decree No. 1 of 1966. Having rendered this advice, Onyiuke left Ogundipe at the Police HQ and then proceeded to depart Lagos for safety. Others did too, abandoning him and Wey there with no clear answers.
During Garba’s third visit to the Ikeja Barracks he was accompanied by the delegation of senior civil servants including Musa Daggash, Abdul Aziz Attach, HA Ejueyitchie, Yusuf Gobir, BN Okagbue, Ibrahim Damcida, Allison Ayida, Phillip Asiodu, along with Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, acting Police IG Kam Salem, Sule Katagum, Muktar Tahir, Justice Mohammed Bello, and Ali Akilu. When Garba arrived at Ikeja with them, he confirms that Muhammed was the “leading personality” in the room, doing most of the talking until he suddenly turned to Gowon and said: “You are the senior, go ahead.” This acquiescence may have been influenced by other senior northern officers as noted previously, citing seniority. DS Abubakar recalls that there was certainly an argument about who should take over and Major Abba Kyari was even briefly mentioned. However, after Gowon took over the discussions, Muhammed kept interrupting until Gowon had to turn to Muhammed and say: “Look, it’s either you have deferred to me and will allow me carry on this discussion, or you have not, and you can continue.” Garba pointedly recalls that Allison Ayida, permanent Secretary for Economic development, forcefully insisted that Nigeria not be broken up and kept repeating this view “despite the fact that Murtala was from far from receptive to such a view; instead he was constantly telling Ayida, his eyes red with rage, in effect to shut up.”
After complex informal negotiations brokered by Lt. Col. David Ejoor, Military Governor of the Midwest, involving Commodore Wey and Lt. Col Hassan Katsina, Gowon was finally quietly sworn in late that day, Saturday July 30, 1966, at Ikeja but he did not make an announcement to the nation until Monday August 1st.
He spent the time notifying senior Police officers like Kam Salem and Hamman Maiduguri, getting information and consolidating his ‘control’ over other parts of the country – except, as later became apparent, the eastern region. In an interview with Elaigwu, Gowon described his emotions when he was anointed as C-in-C as follows:
Honestly, I felt as if I was under a battle. I had a feeling of death – virtually choking me. I felt my throat go dry immediately. I was cold and yet sweating. If I could then I would have run away. But two things kept me on – one, a strong belief in God who had seen me through the Congo and two, a number of questions I kept asking myself – ‘Are you not a man? Are you not a soldier? ‘What would people and history say of you?’ ..My first objective was to restore discipline in the army and to prevent killings. I called the soldiers, and as I stood on the rostrum, tears were in my eyes. I was angry and at the same time moved. I told myself that if I cried, the soldiers would have had me. I took courage and addressed them. I told them that if I heard of any more killing, they should also remember that I was a soldier, and that I could and would, kill.
In his speech to the nation on August 1st, Gowon said, among other things:
This is Lt. Col. Y. Gowon, Army Chief of Staff, speaking to you..I have been brought to the position today of having to shoulder the great responsibilities of this country and the armed forces with the consent of the majority of the members of the Supreme Military Council as a result of the unfortunate incident that occcurred on the early morning of 29th July, 1966…
…As a result of the recent events and the other previous similar ones, I have come to strongly believe that we cannot honestly and sincerely continue in this wise, as the basis of trust and confidence in our unitary system has not been able to stand the test of time. I have already remarked on the issues in question. Suffice to say that, putting all considerations to test – political, economic, as well as social – the base for unity is not there or is so badly rocked, not only once but several times. I, therefore, feel that we should review the issue of our national standing and see if we can help stop the country from drifting away into utter destruction.
All members of the armed forces are requested to keep within their barracks except on essential duties and when ordered from SHQ. Troops must not terrorize the public, as such action will discredit the new National Military Government..” ”
I promise you that I shall do all I can to return to civil rule as soon as it can be arranged. I also intend to pursue most vigorously the question of the release of political prisoners. Fellow countrymen, give me your support and I shall endeavour to live up to expectations. Thank you.”
Shortly thereafter, on the same day, Lt. Col. Ojukwu, Military Governor of the East, made a counter-broadcast from Enugu. The next morning Gowon signed an instrument of pardon for Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro, and others who had been convicted and jailed in September 1963 for treasonable felony, conspiracy to commit a felony and conspiracy to effect an unlawful purpose in 1962 with the object of forcefully removing Alhaji Tafawa Balewa from office as Prime Minister.
On August 3rd, Lt. Col. David Ejoor made a public speech as the Military Governor of the Midwest, in support of the new regime. Likewise, on August 4, Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo, Military Governor of the West, broadcast his support for the new government as Gowon was addressing a press conference at the Lagos City Hall, having earlier that day released Isaac Boro and others. Gowon was later to announce his plans for return to civilian rule four days later, followed the next day by a meeting of delegates representing the Regional Military Governors.
However, Gowon or no Gowon, northern NCOs were still running amock killing people arbitrarily, even threatening northern officers who stood in their way. Lt. DS Abubakar was very nearly shot at Ikeja airport in this manner by one Edward William allegedly for “hiding some Igbo people”. Lagos Garrison Commander, Lt. Col. Eze, barely escaped a mob of northern soldiers on August 2nd but his staff officer, Captain Iloputaife, was not so lucky. Indeed, a few days after the mutiny, a northern corporal at Ikeja summarized his own motives for the mutiny by telling Norman Miners: “The Ibos killed our leaders in January; they were taking all the top jobs; we had to get rid of them. Now we have only got Northerners in this barracks; all the Southerners have run away.” In fact northern NCOs and soldiers were in the habit of taking uniforms of dead Igbo officers and NCOs and wearing their ranks. On August 8, all Igbo soldiers at the Army workshop in Yaba were expelled. But as the nation was to find out, the worst was yet to come. Colonel DS Abubakar (rtd) recalls: At that time, if an other rank does not like the face of another person he will just kill him like an animal and nobody will do anything.”
But it would be simplistic to presume that some northern officers did not take part in the killings in Lagos. Lt. Nuhu Nathan, for example, was later personally credited in eastern publications with the execution of some Igbo soldiers at Ikeja. There were undoubtedly others.
… To be continued