Tuesday, February 2, 2016

January 15, 1966 Was Not An Igbo Coup (2)

By Chuks Iloegbunam
The object of this second half of my article is to challenge Nigeria and Nigerians: Please make an honest effort at determining the truth of Nigeria’s contempo­rary history! It is the sure way of exorcising the demons need­lessly thwarting every chance of Nigeria attaining nationhood. If Nigeria refuses to confront the truth of its history, it will con­tinue to tug at centrifugal forces guaranteed to eternally forestall any contingency of mastering the contradictions that dog every centimetre of the country’s path.
*Reuben Abati 
The 50th anniversary of the January 1966 coup d’etat afforded the country a golden opportu­nity to turn its back permanently against historical lies, especially lies of the variety that inflame passions and further entrench the existing divisions between the disparate peoples forged into one country by the sleight of British colonialism. Unfortunately, revi­sionists seized the public space, retold falsehoods previously dis­credited and, thus, blew the op­portunity.

Reuben Abati is one such revi­sionist. In the first half of this article, we exposed his lies in an article he entitled Armed Forces Day: January 15, Remembering Where We Came From. Abati had claimed in that article that “An Igbo man, Nwafor Orizu, the acting President, handed over power to another Igbo man, General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi.” We proved that this was blatantly untrue. He had also downplayed Aguiyi-Ironsi’s central role in putting down the coup, for which we pointed out that he was being disingenuous.

There are two other distor­tions in Abati’s article that must be discredited. He wrote that (1) Aguiyi-Ironsi treated the January coup plotters with kid gloves, and (2) Aguiyi-Ironsi imposed Igbo hegemony on Nigeria. Whether in scholarship or in journalism, whoever made claims such as these, would be expected to de­ploy empirical evidence in sup­port of his assertions. But not Abati. We must dismantle his fab­rications, of course. Before doing that, however, some background information is imperative. Fif­teen years ago, Abati wrote a two-part article entitled Obasanjo, Se­cession And The Secessionists (The Guardian on Sunday, December 16 and 23, 2001).

That article contained all the lies that he regurgitated in his lat­est piece. It elicited a lot of reac­tion from observers of the Nige­rian condition who believed that Abati should know better, and should wield his pen with some circumspection. We will return to this. Let’s first reexamine the facts. Abati said that Nzeogwu and his cohorts were treated with kid gloves? In Nzeogwu: An Inti­mate Portrait Of Major Chukwu­ma Kaduna Nzeogwu (Spectrum Books, Ibadan 1987) Olusegun Obasanjo reproduced copies of handwritten letters from his friend, Nzeogwu, which detailed the ill-treatment they suffered in detention. But far more impor­tant is the fact that Aguiyi-Iron­si’s Supreme Military Council (SMC) took a decision to subject the coup plotters to public trial.
 In his biography, Reminis­cence, (Malthouse, Lagos, 1989), General David Ejoor states that Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Supreme SMC, of which Ejoor was a member, decided on the trial of the Janu­ary coup makers (p39). Also, in The Barrel Of A Gun: The Politics Of Coups d’Etat In Africa, (Allen Lane The Penguin Press, Lon­don, 1970), Professor Ruth First attributes the following to Hassan Usman Katsina. “By July (1966), the minutes of the SMC recorded that the young majors were to be court-martialed not later than October. The proceedings were to be in public.” (p307). General Hassan, also a member of Ironsi’s SMC, lived for over 25 years af­ter First’s book was published but never denied the statements credited to him. Aguiyi-Ironsi was assassinated two months before the court-martials were to begin. So where is Abati’s kid and where are his gloves? I must state in parenthesis that Yakubu Gow­on was Head of State for nine years, without court-martialing a single participant in the January and July coups. Yet no one ever blamed him.

It is a horrendous amputation of Nigerian history for Abati to state that Aguiyi-Ironsi’s re­gime was a promotion of Igbo hegemony. Of Aguiyi-Ironsi’s nine-member SMC, the high­est decision-making body in the country, only two were Igbo – Ironsi (by virtue of being Head of State) and Ojukwu (because he was a Military Governor). The SMC had three Yoruba members – Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe (Chief of Staff, Armed Forces), Commodore Akinwale Wey (Head of Navy) and Colo­nel Adekunle Fajuyi (Military Governor, West). The North had two members: Colonel Yakubu Gowon (Chief of Army Staff and Colonel Hassan Usman Kat­sina (Military Governor, North). Other members were Colonel George Kurobo (Izon) (Chief of Air Force ), Colonel David Ejoor (Urhobo (Military Governor, Midwest).

The Federal Executive Coun­cil had the same membership as the SMC, plus Attorney Gen­eral Gabriel Onyiuke (Igbo), and Police Inspector General Kam Selem (Borno). Aguiyi-Ironsi appointed 21 Federal Perma­nent Secretaries. Of these, only three were Igbo – P. C. Asiodu (Industries), T. C. M. Eneli (Es­tablishments) and B. N. Okag­bue (Health). Four were from the West, five from the North and eight – If Asiodu is included – from the Midwest. Aguiyi-Ironsi also appointed Alhaji Sule Katagun the chairman of the Public Service Commission. He appointed Mr. Howson-Wright the chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC). He appointed Mr. A. I. Obiyan the chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). He ap­pointed Mr. H. O. Omenai the chairman of the Nigeria Airways. None of the four came from the East; none was Igbo. No North­erner was superseded in military promotions. No officer was pro­moted under Aguiyi-Ironsi that was not due for promotion, ex­cept Major Hassan Usman Kat­sina who was pitchforked over about 15 Igbo officers to become a Lieutenant Colonel!
If Aguiyi-Ironsi’s appoint­ments are compared to those of President Muhammadu Buhari, for instance, it will readily be determined who the hegemonic cap fits.

To return to Abati’s 2001 arti­cle! It provoked numerous indig­nant responses. Obi Nwakanma took him to the cleaners in Aba­ti’s Revisionisms And Distortions Of Nigeria’s History and Samuel Bayo Arowolaju made a mincemeat of him in The Fal­lacy Of Reuben Abati: Igbo And Secession.

I have provided these web links for people to read and con­firm that our subject is an incor­rigible artist in perfidy. Although I count Abati as a friend, I had tagged him “a conceited ignora­mus” in my 2011 piece. Today, the temptation is overpowering to dub him a recalcitrant recidivist. But, I will resist it and, instead, introduce specificity in my chal­lenge to Nigeria and Nigerians.

The original copy, and exem­plifications, of the Magna Carta, the charter of liberty and politi­cal rights that rebellious barons obtained from King John of England in 1215, survive to this day and are available for public scrutiny. That is the way of seri­ous countries desirous of learning the appropriate lessons of history. In Nigeria, priceless historical documents are either doctored or destroyed or dumped in private vaults, a lamentable practice that encourages Abati’s ilk to go sow­ing the seeds of discord. Nigeria should place the transcripts of the meetings of Aguiyi-Ironsi’s SMC in the public domain. This will, among other things, confirm that the body had decided to court-martial the January 1966 coup plotters.

Also, 50 years after the event, the document by which parlia­mentarians handed over power to the military remains in private hands of Alhaji Abdul Rasak (SAN). He should be persuaded to relinquish it to the Nigerian state.

*Mr. Chuks Iloegbunam, an eminent essayist, journalist and author of several books, writes column on the back page of The Authority newspaper every Tuesday.


  1. Nebukadineze AdieleFebruary 2, 2016 at 11:55 PM

    What a brilliant, accurate, and an exceptionally delightful commentary by Mr. Iloegbunam? Reuben Ngbati Abati has always been an Igbophobe and it was on that account that I frowned at president Jonathan's appointing of him as his media aide. I told my fellow Igbos that Ebele could not love or respect Igbos if he could appoint an unapologetic Igbophobe like Abati to speak for him.

    What we know now, as has been confirmed by that Ijo leader (Edwin Clark, who recently denounced Jonathan) is that Abati under-served Jonathan. At various points, and because of his incompetence or willful sabotaging of the then president, attempts were made to fire him but he held the president hostage by always threatening to write a book about the on-goings and inner workings within the Jonathan administration. That had me wondering if president Jonathan could stupidly have given him that job without getting him to sign a non disclosure form (other than on strictly non classified government business matters).

    Reuben Abati is afflicted with the intellectual laziness for which most Nigerian intellectuals are notorious. Some of the symptoms of that intellectual laziness are rumor mongering, Igbophobia, making claims without proofs, distortion of facts, outright dissemination of falsehood, etc. Reuben Abati is so intellectually blemished by these foibles that a veteran journalist, Duro Onabolue, cautioned him severally over them and even warned him against his obvious Igbophobia.

    The sad apart on Nigerian scholarship is that people like Abati append "Dr." to their names but write like bolekaja high school dropouts.

    Nebukadineze Adiele

  2. Little Boy thinklilliesFebruary 2, 2016 at 11:58 PM

    Nebu has made so many claims here. And in order to avoid the tag of "intellectual laziness" that he accused others of, he should have made at least a little effort to prove some of his allegations.
    Nebu, please send us a link of where Onabule accused Abati of Igbophobia and cautioned him.


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