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Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna

How time flies: What happened on this day in 1966..

The two most marginalised regions in Nigeria are the Northeast and Southeast. The last time the Northeast held power at the top was exactly 58 years ago today. On this day, in 1966, it was revealed to the nation that the Prime Minister was dead. His body was later discovered in a bush outside Lagos by several persons, including Segun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun state, who was then a reporter at Daily Times. 

He had been killed by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who later lied that the Prime Minister died naturally, ostensibly from an asthma attack. But upon examination of his dead body, that claim proved hollow. Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, from the then Eastern Region, took power after the then acting President, Nwafor Orizu, handed over to him, instead of Zanna Bukar Dipcharima of Borno, the ranking Minister of the ruling Northern Peoples Congress. Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, an Itsekiri, would have been next in line, being Finance Minister (Chancellor of the Exchequer). 

However, he had also been killed by the bloodthirsty Major Chris Anuforo. Orizu ignored the NPC ministers, who were waiting for Zanna Dipcharima’s swearing-in, and instead elected to hand over to Ironsi. Six months later, Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was himself killed at Ibadan, and power was transferred to Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon from the Middle Belt, now part of the North-Central. Since then, both the Northeast and Southeast have not tasted power.

 Whenever it pleases God that President Bola Tinubu should finish his tenure, whether for four or eight years, and both regions BEHAVE themselves, then in the interest of national reconciliation, power should shift to them. One of those deprived regions should produce the President, while the other, provided they BEHAVE, should produce the vice President. However, if any region conducts itself in a way that threatens the unity, peace and progress of Nigeria, then this does not apply, and democracy becomes a game of numbers. Nigerians, have I spoken well? 

Amazingly Igbo Ministers Wanted Mbadiwe To Takeover After Ifeajuna Murdered Balewa After the coup failed, the remaining cabinet members asked the British for military assistance, but the then British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce, said that such a request would have to come from either the Prime Minister or an acting Prime Minister. At that, there was a quarrel between the Northern Peoples Congress Ministers who felt that as senior members of the coalition, their candidate, Zanar Dipcharima, the Minister of Transport, should be sworn in as the acting Prime Minister.

However, the NCNC Ministers felt Ozumba Mbadiwe, a man who had been indicted for corruption, should be the interim Prime Minister after a coup that was ostensibly meant to rid the nation of corruption. Talk about corruption fighting back! That the NCNC ministers were lobbying to have an Igbo replace Balewa after a coup where Igbos killed Balewa and other top civilian and military leaders is just stunning! As a result of this stalemate, they invited the Attorney General of the Federation, Taslim Elias, who said the Constitution was on the side of the NPC. From there, the rump of the cabinet proceeded to the acting President, Nwafor Orizu, to swear in Dipcharima. But Orizu demurred. And while the ministers waited, Major General Ironsi came to meet with Orizu. The optics appeared to be lost on the two men.

Either that, or they were indifferent to it. Two Igbos meeting to the exclusion of other top government officials from other ethnicities, under the very charged and sensitive circumstances at that time. After that meeting, Nwafor Orizu made a national broadcast announcing that the cabinet had ‘voluntarily’ agreed to hand over to the military headed by Ironsi, an Igbo general. To the NPC ministers, it was just too neat. But they could not voice out their opinions seeing as they had no cover. There is controversy on whether the cabinet actually agreed to do that. The NPC ministers have one version, while the NCNC ministers have another version. What we know for a fact is that the next day, January 17, 1966, Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi announced the formation of the Supreme Military Council and the end of the First Republic. Aguiyi-Ironsi’s emergence as Military Head of State caused restiveness in the Army, as he was Igbo, and the January 15, 1966 coup plotters were also mostly Igbos.

Northern military officers felt it was too tidy to be a coincidence. The core Northern officers were pacified to an extent after Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi promised them he would try the January 15, 1966 coup plotters. Unfortunately, Aguiyi-Ironsi did not try them. Maybe he planned to do so later on, but up until July, he had not. Then word got out that those arrested, including the most brutal of them, Major Chris Anuforo, were still receiving salaries in prison and, worse, were scheduled to be promoted. That riled the Northern officers. Additionally, Igbos in the North were accused of mocking the late Sardauna, Ahmadu Bello. Some people had printed almanacks of his face on a goat’s body.

Others had made posters of Major Nzeogwu as Angel Michael, with his sword drawn and his leg on the head of satan, who was depicted as the Sardauna. To add salt to injury, a highlife musician named Celestine Ukwu released a song in Igbo titled Ewu Ne Ba Akwa, meaning ‘the goat is crying’, which Northerners felt was mocking the Sardauna. According to insiders, the chief reason for the coup was the Unification of Assets Decree Number 34, promulgated on May 24, 1966, by then Head of State, Major General Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, which seized all the assets and powers of the regions and domiciled them in the Supreme Military Council headed by him, and perceived by Northerners as being dominated by Igbo officers.


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