The first coup in Nigeria isn’t any news to the Nigerian citizen. Planned by a group of military officers, it was a revolutionary coup carried out with the sole aim of curbing corruption in the country. The coup was initially planned by officers that were completely dissatisfied with governmental proceedings. Regrettably, betrayal set in at the H-hour, and the revolutionary coup was hijacked by their senior colleagues, thus rendering the original coup unsuccessful.
The first republic was characterized by corruption, nepotism, tribalism, greed, etc. The air was quite chaotic. Something which defies all principles, needed to be done to stop the country from imploding. The country needed serious cleansing. Hence, at that moment, a radical revolution seems the only plausible solution.
Simultaneously, during the first republic, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, and Adewale Ademoyega (who was a new recruit), met each other at the Queen’s Own Nigerian Regiment (QONR), as the Nigerian Army was called in 1963. They both knew each other in their college days in 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 attitude of Ifeajuna will gradually become evident, at a critical turning point in Nigeria’s history.
At this juncture, this article shall attach the greatest importance to the introduction of the three principal coup planners. Lieutenant Emmanuel Ifeajuna was a graduate of science from the University of Ibadan (UI), and also the winner of a Gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Canada, 1954. On the other hand, Lieutenant Adewale Ademoyega was also a Sandhurst-trained officer, and was eventually enlisted to the military in 1961.
On getting to know of each other’s mutual existence, the trio gradually began to plan a revolutionary coup which will purge Nigeria of societal ills. The trio decided to recruit other officers including; 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 arrest all political leaders, but if any should resist arrest, they are to be shot at will. Unfortunately, Obasanjo was inaccessible 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’d also plan to eliminate the Regional system, and divide the nation into fourteen States. In fact, they had already spoken with faithful officers who would become Military Governors. Also, they’d plan to adopt a socialist form of government, and a collective ownership of products 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 goods and a zombie of present-day technology”. It’s truly quite shameful that a University Professor of Mechanical Engineering couldn’t service his own car. All these and more, made up the kind of social 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 in 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 began to summon other troops to mount a defence. At this point, Majors Ifeajuna and Okafor fled, leaving only Majors Ademoyega and Anufolo in the South. It was at this point the character of Ifeajuna, hinted at by his schoolmate Uche Chukwumerije, became evident. Finally both Ademoyega and Anuforo went back to Nzeogwu from the north, and the South fell totally under the control of General Ironsi. Here, the coup slowly began to fail.
The coup was still redeemable under major Nzeogwu who was already planning an attack on Ironsi in the south. In fact, he’d made a public broadcast to the Nation;”… Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places which seek bribe and need ten percent; those that seek to keep the Nation divided permanently, so they can stay in office as ministers or VIPs at least…” But that plan 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 easy the mouthpiece of General Ironsi, and had secretly been in contact with him. Eventually, Nzeogwu bowed to the forces of betrayal, and surrendered himself to Ironsi. Moments later, Nzeogwu was detained. It was at this stage that the revolutionary coup, bent on the Nigerian society, breathe it last breath.
On a last note, it is crystal clear that while Nzeogwu maintained the pride of this revolution till the very last end, another coup planners grew cold feet in the H-Hour of the coup. The other officers were simply cowards who didn’t foresee the need for a military revolution in a ill-stricken society. Just like Dr. Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, the trio’s revolutionary coup could have cleansed the Country completely. But the forces of betrayal prevailed, thus rendering the revolution failed. 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 radical coup of 15th January 1966, failed for one single reason; betrayal.