The first coup in Nigeria is no news to the Nigerian citizen. Planned by a group of army officers, it was a revolutionary coup carried out with the sole aim of curbing corruption in the country. The coup was originally planned by officers who were completely dissatisfied with governmental proceedings. These army 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 unsuccessful.
Societal proceedings 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 country needed serious cleansing. Hence, at that time, a radical revolution seems the only plausible solution. It was for this reason that the first Nigerian coup of 15th January 1966, was organized.
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. 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 at the H-hour during a planned protest. Unfortunately, this same attitude of Ifeajuna will eventually 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. To begin with, Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was a Sandhurst-trained military officer, who eventually became the first Nigerian to be trained in military intelligence. Lieutenant Emmanuel Ifeajuna was a graduate of science from 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 eventually enlisted into the army in 1961.
On getting to know of each other’s mutual existence, the trio gradually began to plan a revolutionary coup that will purge Nigeria of all societal ills. The trio decided to enlist other officers including; Donatus Okafor, Lieutenant Adekunle Fajuyi, Major Anuforo, Captain Olusegun Obasanjo, Christian Madiebo and a rank of other officers. Nzeogwu and some other officers, were stationed to take over the Northern part of Nigeria. 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 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 eradicate 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 could not service his own car. All 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 huge success in taking over the north owing 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 that the cowardly character of Ifeajuna, hinted at by his schoolmate Uche Chukwumerije, became evident. Eventually both Ademoyega and Anuforo went back to Nzeogwu in the north, and the South fell totally under the control of General Ironsi. Here, the coup gradually 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 had even made a public broadcast to the Nation; “… Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribe and demand ten percent; those that seek to keep the Country divided permanently, so they can remain 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 simple 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 arrested. It was at this point that the revolutionary coup, bent on revitalizing the Nigerian society, breathe it last breath.
On a final note, it is crystal clear that while Nzeogwu upheld the pride of the revolution till the very last end, the other 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. Just like Dr. Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, the trio’s revolutionary coup would have cleansed the Country completely. But 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 the others, let us down”. Hence, the revolutionary coup of 15th January 1966, failed for one single reason; betrayal.