KADUNA, JULY 29 WEEKEND, 1966
The weekend of July 29, 1966 was not the first time northern soldiers had contemplated action in the North. As previously noted, quite aside from tensions during the Platoon Commanders Course, when there were false rumors of Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina’s arrest by General Ironsi in Lagos after the promulgation of Decree #34, northern soldiers surrounded the Kaduna airport waiting to see who would alight from his returning plane. Things were so tense that Hassan ordered his ADC, then Lt. Ugokwe (Recce), not to step out of the plane before he did, lest he be shot because he was Igbo.
On June 15, there was a false alarm in Kaduna when the sound of planks being offloaded from a Goods Train at the Train Station was misinterpreted as rifle shots. According to Madiebo, all hell broke loose as northern and southern officers and men at the Brigade HQ (including the commander, Col. Bassey) fled in different directions asking themselves: “Who is doing it this time.?”
During Ironsi’s trip to Kano in July, Lt. Garba Duba of the 1st Recce Squadron had been tasked to take a troop of Ferrets from Kaduna to Kano to provide security for Ironsi, only to find himself stopped and nearly arrested in Zaria, accused by furious northern infantrymen and civilians of betraying the North by providing security for Ironsi in Kano. After much ado, he was allowed to proceed. Later on when Ironsi was scheduled to arrive at the Zaria Civil aerodrome, enroute to Kaduna, there was an accidental discharge from an armored car in his receiving security detail. Therefore, upon finally arriving at the Officers Mess at Kaduna, all Army officers were rigorously searched before being allowed entry to meet the C-in-C. The situation was anything but normal.
Anyhow, on July 29, Major General Ironsi telephoned the 1st Brigade HQ in Kaduna at about 0730 hrs to alert the Brigade about events in Ibadan and seek help. He revealed that as of that time he had not been able to get a helicopter sent from Lagos. This was most likely because there were no night flying helicopter capabilities in Nigeria then and certainly no night landing facilities at the government house, not to mention the fact that any such Police helicopter would likely have been shot down by disloyal troops that had already ringed the premises. They were even armed with a 106 mm recoilless rifle which could have destroyed any helicopter. As it were, a helicopter did eventually show up, but it was too late for the General although his son was smuggled out of Ibadan by the Police in the third Class compartment of the Train to Lagos.
The substantive Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. W. Bassey, was on leave. The acting Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Phillip Effiong was away, engaged in community outreach. The Governor, Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina was also away on tour. Ironsi spoke to Major Samuel Ogbemudia, the Brigade Major, who in turn informed him of prevailing tensions in Kaduna. Two nights before he had arrested Lt. Buka Suka Dimka in a drunken state trying to break into the armoury after he had earlier been spotted going from house to house of northern officers passing messages. After checking with Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina, he locked Dimka up until he could be sober enough to be interrogated. During interrogation Dimka denied any wrong doing and accused Ogbemudia of mistreating him because he was a northerner. He was later released. Other northern officers and NCOs had also been spotted milling around army facilities apparently aimlessly, essentially “casing the joints” and quite a few were briefly detained. Although it was not yet apparent, a few southern officers had already been kidnapped on the 28th and were later killed “attempting to escape.”
Lt. Col Alexander Madiebo, Commander of Artillery Regiment, whose aircraft had departed Lagos 10 minutes before Sergeant Dickson’s boys seized the airport, acting on Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed’s orders, was in Kaduna on July 29th. For some reason, Anwunah had failed to alert him of the mutiny when he found out about it in Lagos at about midnight. Having been met at the Kaduna airport by one of the Brigade Staff Officers (Captain Dilibe) he was apprised of developments in other parts of the country. Madiebo took charge as the senior officer on the spot and contacted Lagos. The person on seat at military intelligence was none other than Captain Martin Adamu who denied that anything unusual was occurring. But Madiebo wasn’t fooled. He ordered Ogbemudia to order all units to surrender their weapons and have them locked up in unit armouries which were then to be guarded by mixed combinations of northern and southern troops. Some units refused, citing fear of being attacked. One notable example was the 3rd battalion under Lt. Col. I. C. Okoro (an easterner) whose Regimental Sergeant Major, one Ahmadu Bello, a northerner, advised against the move. Okoro told Madiebo that he had extracted a pedge of loyalty from his troops at a muster parade. He went further to say that Bello advised that the entire battalion be disarmed except a platoon specially selected by Bello himself.
Ogbemudia recalls that although the day started out well, things became increasingly tense as it progressed and news began filtering in from the south. Initially, it was not clear whether the coup was a northern counter-coup or the rumored so called radical “Plan 15” Igbo coup. Indeed even foreign news media were not so sure initially. The New York Times reported that radical Igbo officers were leading a revolt against Ironsi. This confusion was later clarified in Kaduna as signals poured in from Ibadan and Lagos. Madiebo recalls that T/Major C.C. Emelifonwu, DAQMG, openly condemned the apparently northern inspired coup in the south to the hearing of Major Abba Kyari of the Artillery regiment who disagreed. Although subsequently accused in eastern publications of chairing private tribunals to condemn Igbo soldiers to death, Kyari was, however, later to save the lives of many southern officers and men in Kaduna when northern troops mutinied.
At this point, though, Madiebo contacted Lt. Col. Ogbugo Kalu, then Commandant of the NMTC to discuss options. At about 1330 Lt. Col. Madiebo, Lt. Col. Kalu, T/Major Emelifonwu, S/Major Ogbemudia and T/Major A.D. Ogunro met in Lt. Col. Effiong’s house. Unfortunately, the commander of the 3rd battalion, Lt. Col. Okoro did not attend. He completely misjudged the threat, perhaps misled by his long service in that battalion and assumed bonds of loyalty forged in combat, bonds which had long been shattered by the events of January 15. As far back as June 1961, then Captain Okoro served in the same 3rd battalion (then called 3QNR) at Kamina in the Congo under then Lt. Col. ABM Kavanagh. In late July that year, the amiable Okoro was in charge of a regimental welcoming parade for Katanga President Moise Tshombe. When they met, Tshombe was said to have spoken French to Okoro, who promptly replied in Igbo!
Later that night, at a pre-midnight party at the Brigade Officers Mess, a young officer who had just completed a course at the NMTC, T/Capt. I.U. Idika was summarily executed, having refused all entreaties by Madiebo to leave. Following this ‘signal’, Lt. Col. Okoro was shot dead at midnight of July 29/30 in front of the 3rd Battalion guardroom, allegedly by Lts. Dimka and Dambo, after being lured there by his RSM (Bello). After despatching a landrover to take his corpse to the military hospital, the group – joined by others, including Lt. Saninegeria Abacha – disarmed the quarter guard, rallied the battalion for a muster parade on the hockey pitch where easterners were separated, and then locked them up in the guard room (if they were lucky). Then they went hunting for others at the Brigade HQ and in their homes. Initial arrests were guided by lists of so called “jubilators” who had allegedly taunted them or celebrated in the days after the assassination of the Sardauna. Those northerners who had attended “January Victory” parties had used the opportunity to take names of their southern hosts. Many were shot immediately, but six were taken to the undamaged Guest House at the late Northern Premier’s Lodge, wined and dined, given a visual tour of the damage wrought by Major Nzeogwu’s 84 mm Carl Gustav anti-tank guns, then interrogated about the alleged “Plan 15 Igbo coup”, before being made to kneel in front of a portrait of the Sardauna and bow in awe (“yi gaisuwa”). Then they were led out and executed before their corpses were then transported to locations along the Jos, Lagos and Kachia roads and either left for hyenas to devour or shoddily buried.
After being hunted down, those who were spared the Premier’s Lodge ‘pre-operative’ treatment were simply trucked out to mile 18 on the Kaduna-Jos road where they were shot (allegedly under Captain Ahmadu Yakubu’s supervision) and then reportedly robbed of personal belongings. The process was not totally successful, however, because thankfully, some who feigned death were able to crawl away to safety. Interestingly, others were protected by Captain Swanton and the same RSM Ahmadu Bello who had earlier set Okoro up for his execution at the outset of Kaduna operations. When guardrooms were too congested or unsafe, eastern, (particularly Igbo) soldiers and officers were taken to the Kaduna Prison for safe keeping.
Madiebo, Kalu, Okon, Ogbemudia and many others eventually escaped back to their home regions from Kaduna, while some, like Major Olusegun Obasanjo were later smuggled to Maiduguri for safe-keeping. But others were not so lucky. As the days progressed, however, it was clear that there was inconsistency in the degree of discrimination being made between southerners or “jubilators”. T/Capt. L.C. Dilibe (Staff Officer, 1st Bde), T/Major Emelifonwu (DAQMG, 1st Bde) and T/Major Ogunro (Chief Instructor, NMTC) were murdered. Major A. Drummond, half cast Igbo-Scot, was killed on Sunday July 31st. Major OU Isong (Commander, 1st Recce Squadron) who had actually expressed scepticism about the January 15 coup, risking death at the hands of Major Nzeogwu, was also killed during the July rebellion in Kaduna, among others. The details of his death have never been fully clarified but the young northern officers in his squadron at that time include Lts. Ibrahim Babangida, Garba Duba, Sunday Ifere and others.
After hitchhiking with Igbo contacts across the North, Madiebo escaped across the Benue bridge at Makurdi by hiding in a water tank dressed in a firesuit, avoiding capture by a detachment of the 5th battalion commanded by Captain Daramola during the penultimate leg of his relay race back home. Ogbemudia’s escape from death at the hands of Lt. BS Dimka was partly made possible by Major Abba Kyari and Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina. Hassan himself had allegedly been briefly detained by mutinous troops and then released, only to be falsely accused of being behind the whole plot (along with Ali Akilu). It was already known that Dimka was not happy that Ogbemudia had arrested him earlier, although Dimka did not know that it had been sanctioned by Hassan who had his ears to the ground. When, therefore, Dimka was making plans to gather soldiers to seize him, and was talking carelessly about Ironsi’s phone call and its implications, Ogbemudia was tipped off and advised in the nick of time to escape. A landrover was immediately provided which Ogbemudia jumped into (armed with an SMG) and sped out of town (without bothering to pack) chased by a landrover load of northern soldiers led by the Lieutenant.
Dimka’s group pursued him to Kontagora where he refueled, barely eluding them at the fuel station. But they refused to give up, chasing him all the way to Jebba, crossing the Niger Bridge behind him, sometimes shooting. They followed him all the way to Owo in present day Ondo State where he ran out of fuel, abandoned his vehicle and scaled a six foot fence into dense jungle. At that point they gave up and began their journey back to Kaduna. Ogbemudia later hitched hiked back to Benin City laying low for some time, moving from house to house until things cooled down. The strange thing is that Major Ogbemudia was Nzeogwu’s deputy at the NMTC in January and had been asked by Nzeogwu to take leave so he would be out of station during the coup. Nzeogwu did not take him into confidence. In fact, for a brief moment after discovering – at a road block – that there was a coup in progress led by his boss, Ogbemudia considered moving against Nzeogwu but was stuck with his desperately ill daughter who had to be taken to hospital. But paradoxically, here he was in July barely escaping death from Dimka, who was convinced that he was part of the so called “Plan 15”!
Indeed, Ogbemudia was not the only example of this paradox. There were many others. Then Major H. Igboba, who barely escaped death on July 29 (as a Lt. Col. and CO of the 2nd battalion ), had led one of the companies from the battalion that helped in crushing the January mutiny along with Major Anago (a Camerounian) both under Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon who was transitioning in to replace Hilary Njoku. Njoku, for unclear reasons, was still at his post even though already posted out. But Igboba fully cooperated with Gowon, who in turn, was supporting Ironsi. In fact, according to Ben Odogwu, Chief of Biafran Intelligence, Col. Igboba later met his death at the Benin Prison in September 1967 at the hands of ex-January 15 mutineers he had manhandled in detention after they were arrested in Lagos.
KANO, JULY 29 WEEKEND, 1966
The 5th battalion in Kano was under the command of T/Lt. Col. M Shuwa, one of the two battalions in the country commanded by a northern officer – the other one being the 4th battalion in Ibadan. On July 28, 29, and 30 the unit was deceptively quiet although Shuwa was abreast of events elsewhere. However, on the night of July 31/August 1st, four Igbo officers were suddenly hunted down and shot. It remained relatively quiet again until September when all hell broke loose at the Kano International Airport. As Lt. Col Hassan Katsina put it at Aburi, “I have seen an Army mutiny in Kano and if you see me trembling you will know what a mutiny is. …. for two good days I saw a real mutiny when a C.O. of Northern origin commanding soldiers of Northern origin had to run away.” One northern officer was actually reportedly killed by angry northern soldiers for giving them an order to protect Igbos. The slaughter of Igbos at Kano airport by elements of the 5th battalion was one of the more gruesome events of that era.
ENUGU, JULY 29 WEEKEND, 1966
According to the transcript of tape recordings of the military leaders meeting from January 4-5, 1967, held at the Peduase Lodge, Aburi, Ghana, then Lt. Col. C. Ojukwu, Military Governor of the eastern region, said (among other things):
“When this affair of the 29th July occurred, I remember for certain, the first 24 hours nobody thought it necessary to contact the East from Lagos.
I made the contact later and I know the advice I gave Brigadier Ogundipe at that time. I said to him, ‘Sir, the situation is so confused that I feel that somebody must take control immediately.
Also, I would suggest that you go on to the air and tell the country what has happened and that you were taking control of the situation.’ Then I was told about concern for the whole country. I knew that if this thing resolved itself into factions we would get ourselves into so much trouble that we would never or we would find it difficult to get out. I maintained and still do that the answer would have been for the responsible officers of the Army to get together thereby trying to get the Army together to solve the problem that we had on our hands. I said to him ‘As soon as you have made your speech I guarantee you within 30 minutes, I needed time to write my own, in 30 minutes I would come on to the air in the East and say that I, the entire Army in the East and the entire people in the East wholeheartedly support you.”
Indeed, official circles in the eastern region were “blacked out” initially from information flow, particularly during the first 24 hours of the revolt. The commander of the 1st battalion in Enugu, Lt. Col. David “Baba” Ogunewe, a thoroughly professional and experienced officer who had risen from the ranks, found out about the Abeokuta mutiny late at night on July 29 by accident. Captain Ogbonna had tried to reach the battalion from Abeokuta.
The duty officer at the 1st battalion (who happened to be a northerner) was not on seat when Ogbonna’s message came through, so it was passed directly to Lt. Col. Ogunewe, thus giving him an early insight into events, which proved to be crucial. He went to the mess in the early hours of July 30 and found a group of northern officers (including Lts. Shehu Musa Yar-Adua, A. A. Abubakar, Sale Mamood, Daudu Suleiman, Captains Muhammadu Jega, Gibson S. Jalo and others) fully dressed in combat fatigues and apparently talked them out of taking precipitate action, tapping an incredible reserve of goodwill he had always had with the boys. Ogunewe’s successful confrontation with the northern officers is all the more remarkable when it is realized that he was unarmed and had only been in command of that battalion for six months. It was truly a testimony to his man-management skills in crisis, well worth study for future reference. It turns out though, that these officers had already been having meetings behind Hotel Presidential in Enugu to discuss their own contributions to the “Aure” plot and the neutralization of Lt. Col. Ojukwu. However, they had decided after careful appreciation of the situation, surrounded by a hostile population, to restrict themselves to self defence to avoid reprisals against their families.
In an October 1979 interview with the FRCN, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua (rtd), now deceased, recalled his role as the Adjutant of the 1st Battalion in those dark days. According to him, there was no plan initially to kill anyone although he clearly intended to arrest Lt. Col C. Ojukwu, then Military Governor. He corroborates other sources who have since said that the coup date had in fact been put off when informal word came late on Friday night, more likely early Saturday July 30, from Captain Remawa in Abeokuta, that violence had broken out. At first Yar’Adua did not know what to make of it since Remawa was not part of the original “Aure” plot. But then he got dressed and alerted other northern officers. By the time he returned to the office at about 4 am, as he put it: “……..my CO and all the Igbo officers had been there at three, because somebody had also rang them from Abeokuta and told them what was happening.” This “somebody” was none other than Captain Ogbonna.
A joint guard, consisting of northern and southern soldiers was then posted to guard the armoury, choking off weapon flow. Ogunewe then notified Lt. Col Ojukwu and later ordered that all officers irrespective of regional origin should live together in the mess while all Other Ranks were to live on the parade ground. In this manner, no group could conspire or make a move without detection. The only officer authorized to be armed at this point was Ogunewe himself who sat with the other officers while everyone looked at everyone.
At 11am on July 30, Ojukwu called a meeting of the regional executive council at which they were briefed on events in other parts of the country. Before then Ojukwu had been on the telephone all morning contacting units and eastern officers all over the country to get a picture of events. He is quoted by NU Akpan, former Secretary to the Government of the Eastern region after one of his calls, as saying: “One thing is clear, however; these people are quite bent on annihilating the Ibos.” Later that day, for reasons that have never been clarified, he slipped out of Enugu (leaving Ogunewe behind) and went to Onitsha from where he was making his calls to Ogundipe in Lagos encouraging him to stand firm. Much later that night, urged by Mr. P. Okeke who was then Commissioner of Police, he returned to Enugu, moving his office, home and relatives to the Police HQ, surrounded by a special guard of Mobile Policemen of Igbo origin. That same evening, eastern chiefs and traditional rulers arrived back from the Traditional Rulers meeting in Ibadan, bringing with them information about the kidnapping of Ironsi and Fajuyi.
By Sunday July 31st, when Ojukwu called the executive council again, he announced that Brigadier Ogundipe had since told him that the situation was out of control. Shortly thereafter, Ogundipe himself could not be contacted. It was not until Lt. Col. Gowon’s broadcast on August 1st that a transient semblance of order became discernible. Ojukwu made a broadcast in response in which he said, inter-alia,
“In the course of this rebellion, I have had discussions with the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Brigadier Ogundipe, who as the next most senior officer in the absence of the Supreme Commander, should have assumed command of the Army…”
“During those discussions, it was understood that the only condition on which the rebels would agree to cease fire were: that the Republic of Nigeria be split into its component parts; and that all southerners in the North be repatriated to the South and that Northerners resident in the South be repatriated to the North..”
“…the brutal, planned annihilation of officers of Eastern Nigerian origin in the last two days has again cast serious doubts as to whether the people of Nigeria, after these cruel and bloody atrocities, can ever sincerely live together as members of the same nation…”
“..I have further conveyed to the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, my fellow military governors and the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, my understanding that the only intention of the announcement made by the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters today is the restoration of peace in the country whilst immediate negotiations are begun to allow the people of Nigeria to determine the form of their future association. Good night and thank you.”
Ojukwu then spent the next one week insisting that northern soldiers in Enugu (who comprised no less than two thirds of the battalion) be removed from the city before he would consider leaving the safety of the Police HQ back to the State House.
Through all this, Ogunewe kept in touch with Gowon in Lagos and was crucial to arrangements that were subsequently made to successfully repatriate non-eastern soldiers and their families out of the region – a remarkable achievement for which he was rewarded by being fully reabsorbed into the Nigerian Army without loss of rank after the civil war. But even this was not so straightforward. For one, Ogunewe had to resist all kinds of entreaties to allow vengeful Igbo mobs gain entry into the barracks to liquidate the northern troops there. Secondly, according to then Major (later Brigadier) Benjamin Adekunle, Lt. Col. Murtala Muhammed had contacted Lt. Yar’Adua secretly and ordered him to break into the armoury to secure arms and ammunition for northern soldiers – to the exclusion of others. This led to a clash between them which almost cost Adekunle his life later on.
Just under two weeks after Gowon came to power, Major Adekunle was tasked to lead the 1st battalion detachment by train which was granted safe passage to transport non-eastern soldiers and their families to Kaduna enroute to Lagos in exchange for surviving eastern soldiers in other regions. The suspicion was so high that Adekunle gave orders that every individual soldier was to guard every other individual soldier. When Adekunle got to Kaduna, some Igbo officers released from Kaduna Prison were placed onboard the train (without his knowledge, he says, but with his knowledge others say) on their way to Lagos enroute to the eastern region. Some of the northern soldiers on the train did not like the arrangement seeing as they felt they had not yet contributed their quota to the mayhem going on elsewhere, so they mutinied, killing the Igbo officers. As Brigadier Adekunle (rtd) put it: “Yar’Adua arranged for their heads to be cut and threw their bodies over the door, chained with other officers …” Other sources say the bodies were thrown into a river near Minna. It turns out that there were a few pregnant women onboard the train who went into labor when they witnessed this spectacle. Therefore, Adekunle ordered the train stopped at Minna Station to take the women in labor to hospital. It was there that he says Lt. SM Yar’Adua attacked him with a bayonet.
According to Adekunle:
“I got to the railway station. Madness started. Alright put your hand inside my head and see wound, that is blade, that is Yar’Adua’s work. Immediately I got down they wanted to kill Adekunle. You see this, it was for my stomach. Yar’Adua, see my hand, it was cut but they couldn’t cut it, they cut and cut but the knife no go. You don forget say na Ogbomosho na him I be. Then they put my head on railway line that when the train coming to Lagos moves it will cut my head.”
Adekunle, however, has never publicly explained how he survived but others say he was saved by then Captain GS Jalo, who shared the same Bachama ethnicity as Adekunle’s mother. In an interview, Lt. General GS Jalo (rtd), now deceased, also credited Alhaji Suleiman, then District Head in Minna and his former Principal in Yola, for saving then Major Adekunle’s life. Other sources allege that it was Yar’Adua himself who drove Adekunle to Hospital in Minna from where he was aero-evacuated to Kaduna and claim that Yar’Adua was neither the instigator of the Train mutiny nor Adekunle’s attacker.
In any case, when the 1st battalion detachment eventually arrived at Ikeja Barracks in Lagos, northern soldiers who left Enugu unmolested got themselves involved in molesting departing Igbo refugees and looting their property. According to General Jalo: “The Igbo were going away and looting set in and some senior officers, I must confess, encouraged this to happen.”
On August 27, in another broadcast from Enugu, Ojukwu stated, among other things,
“I last spoke to you on August 1, following the unfortunate and tragic events of July 29. I am sure that you all have since followed through the Press and Radio the sad turn of events. One thing has come out very clearly from this, the preceding and subsequent events, that is, that there is in fact no genuine basis for true unity in the country…”
Ojukwu unilaterally declared August 29 a day of mourning in the East, a move which was, however, viewed with suspicion as an act of defiance by hawks in the Gowon government. It proved to be one of many “Stations of the Cross” along the long windy road to the Nigerian Civil War, a road some say began in January 1914.
TO BE CONTINUED.