Friday last week was exactly 50 years that a group of young and idealistic soldiers attempted to bring about a revolution in Nigeria’s politics via the barrel of a gun. The coup, a first of its kind on our soil marked the beginning of a chain of events that have shaped the social-political milieu of this nation.
The coup was said to have been planned and executed by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, although some allege that it was indeed the idea of another plotter by name Major Ifeanyi Arinze Ifeajuna, Nzeogwu’s role in the coup cannot however be diminished.
The putsch sought to bring sanity to the Nigerian political landscape, some sort of cleansing for the Augean stables. The new country which had been birthed in hope of a strong and virile nation for the black race was at that point mired in what many would call a downward spiral of catastrophes. The nation was surely adrift, as its leaders sought to engage each other in a macabre dance laden with ethnic tones. Corruption was rife, democracy then was subjected to the whims and caprices of the ruling class or should I say the ruling NPC; The leader of the opposition, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had been arrested and jailed on trumped up charges, his rival in Chief Samuel Akintola was rigged in as Premier of the Western Region sparking the crisis known as “Operation Wetie”
And so on January 15th these patriots struck and the rest they say is history. One thing led to another as there was a counter coup, two senseless pogroms and a civil war. All these events did have reverberations of the first coup which can be understood given the myths that were associated with it. These myths, or should I call them canards about the real intentions of these soldiers have been sold to us. The date, January the 15th has been marked as a day which will live in infamy, with a number of persons made to suffer as the scapegoats of our history. This I intend to correct!
MYTH 1-THE COUP WAS AN IGBO COUP
Given the fact that of the five leaders of the coup, four were of Igbo extraction does not make the coup of January 15th an Igbo coup. This argument stems from the fact that the ultimate aim of that coup was to release and install Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Prime Minister. Surely, an Igbo coup would have rooted for a Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe or a Michael Okpara as Prime Minister and not an Awolowo.
MYTH 2- THAT THE KILLINGS WERE LOPSIDED
Within this thread, arguments would also arise that the within the victims of the coup, only one victim was of Igbo extraction, the rest were either of Northern or Western extraction. But history tells us that the likes of Ironsi, who foiled in the coup in the South and Ojukwu were targets too. Micheal Okpara, escaped simply because of the presence of Archbishop Makarios and though a number of persons might make light this argument, it will interest them to know that the coup had been scheduled a week earlier but the parties involved shelved it owing to the presence of foreign dignitaries attending the Commonwealth summit in Lagos then, a coup then would have cast Nigeria and the soldiers responsible in bad light.
MYTH 3- THAT THE COUP OF JANUARY THE 15TH BROUGHT ABOUT TRIBAL HUBRIS IN NIGERIA
On the subject of the coup bringing about tribal hubris in Nigeria, pray what did the defection of legislators elected on the platform of the NCNC to Awo’s Action Group bring? Or what did the forceful removal of Eyo Ita as Premier of the Eastern Region bring? Now as prominent Nigerians with knowledge of the coup have asserted and as I have buttressed here the coupists had plans of making Awolowo as Prime Minister. I then wonder if there was also some form of tribal hubris in such a plan? Let me also state that it will be most unfair for anyone to affix the puerile suspicion of NdiIgbo by the rest of Nigeria on Nzeogwu and his coup since such a suspicion is as old as Nigeria itself and Nigeria did not begin in 1966.
The tribal hubris question waves at Nzeogwu later fighting on the Biafran side. Nzeogwu, however is not to blame. This is because Biafra was never a secessionist agenda in the mould of Moi Tshombe’s Katanga, far from it, Biafra was the last line for the security of the people of then Eastern Region, Biafra then was justified following the counter coup and the two senseless pogroms. . Should Nzeogwu have pitched tent with the federal forces? Had Gowon whether as a usurper or leader shown enough leadership to the battered people of that region? The answer is no!
Without these myths, Nzeogwu’s coup like every other coup (except the July 29th Coup) in Nigeria was largely justified. Any attempt at its revision will obviously be in bad faith.
The Myths About Nzeogwu’s Coup