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HomeHow Britain Branded Jan 15 ’66 ‘Ibo Coup’, Stopped North From Seceding

How Britain Branded Jan 15 ’66 ‘Ibo Coup’, Stopped North From Seceding

For the past 58 years, the January 15, 1966 failed revolution has been described as “Ibo coup” without convincing evidence or origin of the term. In this reflection on that turning point in Nigeria’s history, CHIMA NWAFO, authoritatively states that Britain, through its mouthpiece, BBC, was the author of that ethnic profiling.

Being a nation scared by the truth, it is compelling to remind Nigerians of the immortal words of the great Usman Danfodiyo: “Conscience is an open wound; only the truth can heal it.”

As Nigerians grapple with hunger and the economy gyrates from inflation to stagflation, it’s time to look back in search of a solution. January 15, 1966 has been generally misconstrued in the South, and deliberately misinterpreted in the North to suit a programmed agenda. Truth is that it was the failure of the revolution in Lagos that brought Gen Ironsi into the picture. Therefore, the five majors were not progenitors of Nigeria’s socio-political decadence. While the younger generation could be pardoned because they were fed with lies, knowledgeable members of the older generation feign ignorance of the truth about January 15 coup given the secrecy of military operations. But available facts show that it was a failed revolution by concerned patriotic officers and men of the Nigerian Army, mischievously interpreted at No 10 Downing Street, London, as “Ibo coup”. This ethnic profiling achieved the desired negative reactions that reversed the order of events and turned free travelling Igbo people as separatists, whereas the North that first demanded Araba – Let’s secede – in May 1966, became “champions of one Nigeria.” Such is the manipulative power of propaganda. But every lie has an expiry date.

In a recent post on the Flagship platform a writer ended his brief with: “Who invented the term ‘Ibo coup’?” Last year, the cerebral Prof Mike Ozekhome, SAN, at a lecture described the tag as “historical revisionism.” Yet, those that know the truth keep mum as for fear of attracting the wrath of the powers-that-be, just as no one remembers that Gen Yakubu Gowon’s original speech after the July 29 reprisal coup was scripted to announce secession of the North from the federation. But he was halted by British officials. Given her filial tie with the caliphate, Britain had already reached a conclusion a few days after the generally acclaimed coup, ignoring the tensions in Middle Belt and crisis in Western region as likely prompters. Their interpretation was passed on to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which immediately came up with an analysis branding the revolution “Ibo coup.”

British officials in the North followed it up with consultations and nocturnal meetings across the North, especially at the University of Northern Nigeria (now Ahmadu Bello University), Zaria, majorly staffed by British nationals, from VC down. By March, riots began and increased in tempo by May when Araba (let’s secede) rented the air, and in July killings spread to Lagos and Abeokuta; by August and October, the intensity of the strategically coordinated massacres had attracted the attention of world media. And it was Collin Legume of the London-based Observer Newspaper that first described the killings as Pogrom, while a horrified Sierra Leonean resident in the North wrote home: ‘The killing of Ibos has become a state industry in Nigeria’ (Achebe, There was a Country).

Same BBC, last year, audaciously aired a false account of what transpired during the globally publicised Chicago University certificate scandal against the Chatham House-ordained presidential candidate, who must win at all cost. And he won. Pained by what spokesperson of Nigerians in UK noted as “BBC’s hypocrisy,” they protested at the Corporation’s headquarters in London. In retrospect, much as one John Reith (1889-1971) founded the British Broadcasting Company in October, 1922 as a private set-up; 10 years later, the (Colonial) Empire Service was born. This metamorphosed into today’s BBC World Service. Thus, for close to a century, it has been the mouthpiece of British government. Back to 1966.
This narrative will draw majorly from the personal account of the only surviving member of the inner team of the revolution, Adewale Ademoyega, whom Providence preserved after surviving eight years of jail in Biafra and Nigeria. He released Why We Struck in 1981. And it has been reprinted four times.
But curiously, 43 years on, no Nigerian or even the BBC has deemed it fit to interrogate the title: Why We Struck, by a Yoruba officer on the failed operation that everyone has been forced to accept as “Ibo coup”?
In the Preface, the Major wrote: A lot has been written about the motivations, actions, and purposes of the revolution that jerked Nigeria into self-consciousness on January 15, 1966… So far, nothing has been published (written) by any of the actual revolutionaries. This is the first authentic account of the revolution. It is written by the only surviving member of the innermost group that planned the revolution.

On media reports which mirrored public reaction to the coup, he quoted as representative of other newspapers, Daily Times Front Page Comment, with the intro: “When the army turned out to save the country from disintegration on Jan 15, the whole country gave a sigh of salvation and hope. The Daily Times in its front page of January 18, 1966, commented:

‘For some time now – almost right from the day we came onto our own, the country has been, as it were, at the sick-bay. We have been groping along – rudderless, hesitant, unsure of which foot to put forward first. Almost right from that day in October 1960 when we put out flags and buntings in celebration of the dawn of a new era… but it certainly did not flourish. Opposition was virtually reduced to a position of nullity. For a long time, instead of settling down to minister unto the people’s needs, the politicians were busy performing a series of seven days’ wonders as if the art of government was some circus show….

Indeed, at one period it seemed as if the country has reached the famous last days about which Paul wrote to Timothy… Still we groped along as John Citizen watched politicians scorn the base by which they ascended. We groped from one trouble to another; from one calamity to another. It was too much; it was enough, but none there was to bail the cat, until the last straw that broke the Carmel’s back.

Today, there is a new regime in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a new military regime. About time too! The new administration deserves praise for the calm manner it effected the change, without causing public panic. Something just had to be done to save the federation. It is like a surgical operation which must be performed or the patient dies…

We must trust in the head of the new federal military government… that he is capable of bringing peace that has eluded us for so long…and law and order in this hate-torn country of ours.’ (pp160, 161).

Please, note the above phrases – PEACE that has eluded us…, LAW and ORDER…, HATE-TORN country of ours (emphasis mine) – which confirm that the commentary did not only capture the state of the nation under Tafawa Balewa’s administration, but accurately stated the socio-political mishmash in which Nigeria is embroiled till today, because same reactionary agents continued in power.

An officer of integrity with balanced analytical skill, Ademoyega stated on P169: “The British had always showed themselves as friends of the North. It was they who installed the NPC hegemony in Nigeria, and they always stood by it… They were the first to read tribalism into the result of our highly principled coup. They also read tribal domination into the action and inaction of Ironsi. They were shocked and jolted by the success of our coup and were quick to send in men and materials to awaken the (Northern Peoples’ Congress) NPC oligarchy to their loss of political power and to help them fight back…”

Any man of conscience who witnessed or studied the pattern of the pogrom could easily discern superior brains in the planning and execution of the riots, especially the absence of spontaneity.

July 29, when a Sergeant shamed Brig-Gen

“So it happened that on May 29, fire swept through many cities of Northern Nigeria, taking tolls on thousands of Nigerian citizens – not only Ibos, but also on Yorubas, Efiks, Annangs, Ijaws, and so on. The fire was let loose by the machinations of NPC politicians. They claimed that the riots were a practical protest against the over-centralisation of government by Decree No 34 of May, 1966. If it was so, it was a shame that Hassan Katsina’s Government in the North did not act promptly to halt the riots. Instead, his government both connived with the rioters and tacitly supported them. This was made evident by Hassan’s refusal to use troops to prevent or suppress the riots; and when a unit commander like Maj Muhammed Shuwa used his initiative to suppress the rioters in Kano and prevent them in Katsina, he was reprimanded by Hassan and made to withdraw his troops, giving rioters freer hands to run down their victims… A government which sanctions disorder is not worth its salt, A government which uses disorder as an instrument to intimidate some of its subjects can be said to be extremely evil and tyrannical… (pp158, 159).

Has the approach changed? No! Maj AA continued:

“It was not entirely surprising that after Ironsi’s assassination, at the Supreme Military Council which sat in Lagos on July 29, 1966, only Lagos members were present. Brig Ogundipe, next in command to Ironsi, could not assume control of the Army and of the nation, because, a Northern Sergeant said to him, ‘I do not take orders from you until my Captain comes.’ It was the height of insolence from an NCO and a rude shock to an old soldier of a Brigadier’s status…(However) Ogundipe had backslid; and all other officers who survived the atrocities were scattered all over the place. There was nothing left except Gowon’s new Rebel Army… His only problem was – how, now, could it be made legitimate?

“The nearest and quickest answer to this question had been on the lips of many Northerners: ‘ARABA,’ meaning secession. They had shouted for it in May, and had it in their minds ever since…”

The oligarchy and political elite of the then monolithic North was agreed on the issue of secession, but uninformed about its implication. This also reflected in the venom and orgy of killings by both soldiers and rioters during the July 29 counter-coup.

North determined to secede

“In those crucial days when Gowon had become the head of the Rebel Army, he made it clear to Brig Ogundipe that his group wanted nothing short of secession of the North from the remainder of Nigeria. The latter had nobody else to tell it to since the West was already devoid of a leader, and Hassan of the North was already privy to the will of Gowon’s rebel group… So the Brigadier gave the green light to Gowon that the North was free to secede. It was yet July 31, 1966, and Gowon was being groomed up to make his broadcast the next day.

“It was at this juncture that things happened very fast…The British were quick to point out to them that it was the North that would suffer if they seceded – because the wealth of the nation mainly emanated from the South.… This was how the secession speech already drafted for Gowon to broadcast on August 1, was hastily edited to remove the secession aspect.

“Nevertheless, that same speech, though hastily mutilated, has remained an everlasting document to prove that the North aimed solely to secede after the July 29 counter-coup…” (pp168-170).

Dependence and duplicity

Basking in the gains of this insuperable master-servant relationship, Britain took advantage of the political atmosphere and returned Nigeria to a second phase of dependence. From Jack Gowon (July 1966) to Jagaban Bola Tinubu (2003–), London decides who rules Nigeria. Through that intervention, Britain laid the faulty foundation of ethnic profiling and mistrust, mediocrity and prebendalism that etched treasury looting as a norm and corruption as a way of life. As if the cancerous corruption is not enough, Ademoyega flays the following double standard, which permeates the public service till date.

“Over 100 other soldiers were detained with us; practically, all of them had taken part in the revolution, but no one of northern origin who took part in the revolution was included. It was made to seem as if they had neither taken part nor approved of the actions. Some months later when allegations of tribalism and sectionalism were mounted against us and abuses hurled at us, no mention was made of any northern officer or men, whereas many Northern officers and men did not only take part and approved of the coup, but were extremely jubilant and most vociferous that the revolution should continue…” (pp151, 152).

Against the foregoing backdrop, why has the Nigerian Military High Command refused to publish names of northern soldiers involved in the revolution, given that Nzeogwu who held the North firmly from January 15 -18 was an Instructor, not a unit commander with troops and weapon under his control?

Again, BBC couldn’t have been absent at the World Press Conference in Kaduna, which covered Nzeogwu’s handover of power to Lt Col Hassan Katsina on January 18,,before leaving for Lagos (p138). “The press, the radio, and television were present, together with the world press. Hassan made a brief speech in praise of Nzeogwu. He lauded the selflessness of his fight and principles… After that, he embraced Nzeogwu and both of them parted as comrades-in-arms….”

Last word

Again, this emotional parting was deliberately eclipsed from both Nigerians and BBC’s global audience. As a result, a segment of Nigeria has been subjected to hate, political exclusion, and oppressive military presence since 2015. Notwithstanding, the question is: Why has Nigeria been wobbling and economy receding amid gargantuan oil earnings despite claims of political savvy and management expertise of the ordained groups since 1966?

Nigerians Ronu!

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