The first coup in Nigeria is no news to the Nigerian citizen. Planned by a group of military officers, it was a radical coup carried out with the only goal of curbing corruption in the country. The coup was initially planned by officers who were completely dissatisfied with governmental proceedings. These military officers include; Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Adewale Ademoyega, Donatus Okafor and Major Anuforo. Unfortunately, betrayal set in at the H-hour, and the revolutionary coup was hijacked by their senior colleagues, thus rendering the original coup ineffective.
Societal event during the first republic, were nothing to write home about. The first republic was characterized by corruption, nepotism, tribalism, greed, and so on. The atmosphere was quite chaotic. Something which defies all principles, needed to be done to prevent the country from imploding. The nation needed serious cleansing. Hence, at that moment, a radical revolution seems the only plausible solution. It was for this reason that the first Nigerian coup of 15th January 1966, was organized.
However, Lieutenant Ifeajuna had entered the black book of Uche Chukwumerije (a new army recruit). They both knew each other in their school days at the University. According to Uche, back in their school days, Ifeajuna deserted their group in the H-hour during a planned protest. Unfortunately, this same mindset of Ifeajuna will gradually become evident, at a critical turning point in Nigeria’s history.
At this juncture, this article will attach the greatest importance to the introduction of the 3 principal coup planners. Lieutenant Emmanuel Ifeajuna was a graduate of science in the University of Ibadan (UI), and also the winner of a Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Canada, 1954. On the other hand, Lieutenant Adewale Ademoyega was also a Sandhurst-trained officer, and was finally enlisted to the army in 1961.
On getting to know of each other’s mutual presence, the trio gradually started to plan a revolutionary coup which will purge Nigeria of societal ills. The trio decided to recruit other officers such as; Donatus Okafor, Lieutenant Adekunle Fajuyi, Major Anuforo, Captain Olusegun Obasanjo, Christian Madiebo and a rank of additional officers. On the other hand, Ifeajuna, Ademoyega, Okafor, and others, were stationed to take over the South. Their aim in the coup was to detain all political leaders, but if any should resist arrest, they should be shot at will. Regrettably, Obasanjo was unavailable for the coup due to a military course in India. To atone for this, he, Obasanjo, pledged his loyalty and support for the coup.
The trio had already plan to form a new government, if the coup became successful. They had also plan to eliminate the Regional system, and divide the Country into fourteen States. In fact, they had already spoken with loyal officers who would become Military Governors. Also, they had plan to adopt a socialist form of government, and a collective ownership of goods and services. The education sector was not left out also. The trio expressed their grievances towards the educational system in Nigeria. According to them,”the educational system in Nigeria was an hopeless enterprise that made everybody a consumer of foreign products and a zombie of present-day technology”. It is really quite shameful that a University Professor of Mechanical Engineering couldn’t service his own car. These and more, made up the form of societal proceedings that the coup plotters had planned for. Unfortunately, this plan did not see the light of day.
While Major Nzeogwu recorded a enormous success in taking over the north due to adequate preparation like;” Exercise Damissa”, there were still complications from the south. Major Donatus Okafor whom had the job of arresting The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Army, General J.T Aguiyi Ironsi, had failed. General Ironsi had escaped from him and started to summon other troops to mount a defence. At this point, Majors Ifeajuna and Okafor fled, leaving just Majors Ademoyega and Anufolo from the South. It was at this point that the cowardly character of Ifeajuna, hinted at by his schoolmate Uche Chukwumerije, became evident. Eventually both Ademoyega and Anuforo went back to Nzeogwu from the north, and the South dropped entirely under the control of General Ironsi. Here, the coup gradually started to fail.
The coup was redeemable under major Nzeogwu who was planning an attack on Ironsi from the south. In actuality, he’d even made a public broadcast to the Nation;”… Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the guys in high and low places that seek bribe and need ten percent; those that attempt to keep the Nation divided permanently, so that they can stay in office as ministers or VIPs at least…” But that strategy was shattered when Christian Madiebo, a close friend of Nzeogwu, advised him to abandon the plan and surrender to Ironsi in the South. Little did he know that his close friend, Madiebo, was simple the mouthpiece of General Ironsi, and had secretly been in contact with him. Seconds later, Nzeogwu was arrested. It was at this stage that the revolutionary coup, bent on the Nigerian society, breathe it last breath.
On a final note, it’s crystal clear that while Nzeogwu maintained the pride of this revolution till the very last end, another coup planners grew cold feet at the H-Hour of the coup. The other officers were simply cowards who did not foresee the need for a military revolution in a ill-stricken society. Exactly like Dr. Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, the trio’s revolutionary coup could have cleansed the Nation completely. However, the forces of betrayal prevailed, thus rendering the revolution unsuccessful. Major Nzeogwu was right to have said,”we were five in number and initially we knew quite well what we were to do… he (Ifeajuna) and others, let us down”. Therefore, the revolutionary coup of 15th January 1966, failed for one reason; betrayal.